So, you know those magazines at the supermarket checkout counter? Not the gossipy ones like People and US, but the specialty Do It Yourself mangazines? De-clutter your Life, 100 ideas for your Patio, Kitchen Renovations. Well, a few months ago, I picked up a Better Homes and Gardens one called Canning: 120 Ways to Savor the Season Year-round.
Oh this is fantastic, I thought. I’ll pickle and can my way through the summer and then spend the winter like Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie, brightening up hum drum dinners with homemade, delectable treats from my cool, dark cellar. Yes, I’ll make corn relish and pickled onions, raspberry jam and apricot jelly. Yum, even zucchini pickles!
Frankly, canning has always scared me. There are specialized tools needed – like tongs and canning racks and jars that come in 12 packs. There are vague stories from acquaintances (and YouTube videos from strangers) that involve exploding jars and cherry jam on the ceiling. Then, there’s the fear of Clostridium botulinum, a deadly toxin that can thrive inside sealed jars of home canned food. Just one spoonful of jam containing this neuro-toxin can cause respiratory failure and paralysis. Up to now, this has been quite enough to put me off canning.
However, I am an adult now and folks have been canning food for over a hundred years. And there were only 110 deaths from botulism in the US last year, so it seems pretty safe at this point. Plus, I always have a case of those canning jars on hand anyway since I like to use them for food storage instead of plastic, so the only thing I needed to buy was some pectin.
But what IS this pectin? Why do I need it? Does it protect me from botulism or does it just make the jam gel? Oh Internet . . .
Pectin, I’ve learned, is a fiber found in fruits, especially apples and citrus fruits, extracted and turned into powdered form for the home cook. Seems innocuous enough, I guess.
Pectin is not strictly necessary in the jam making process, but without it, you will have to boil your jam for hours to get the sugar to caramelize and make your jam firm up properly. Pectin, then, is a shortcut so you can make jam in 10 minutes rather than an hour. Plus, I suppose there are taste and maybe even some health benefits to cooking your fruit for less time.
Once I exhausted the Internet with the above, and convinced myself to go on this jam-making lark, there was nothing left to do but find some berries and throw them in a pot. I had purchased some blackberries and raspberries earlier in the week with the intention of making a summer pudding, but hadn’t done so yet. Rather than let them go to waste, I mixed them together with some quartered strawberries and pitted cherries, to give me about 4 cups of berries altogether. Then, I followed the recipe in the Pomona Pectin box and came out with three and a half jars of ruby red jam! Perfect for cream cheese and jam sandwiches on the next rainy day.
Mixed Berry Jam
4 cups mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, quartered strawberries, pitted cherries)
½ cup sugar
Lemon to taste
Pinch of cardamom
Pinch of cinnamon
2 tsp. Pectin powder*
1 tsp. calcium water*
1. Place jars, lids and rings in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and let sit in hot water until needed.
2. Crush berries in pot, add sugar mixed with pectin powder, and boil for about 3 minutes. (No need to add any additional liquid! The berries will release plenty.)
3. Take hot jars out of the water bath and place on an old tea towel (to catch drips and stop the jars from sliding around.) Ladle hot berry mixture into jars, leaving about ½” room at top of jar. Wipe rims clean before tightly screwing on the two-piece lids. Put filled jars back into boiling water and boil for about 10 minutes. Remove from water and let cool. Once cool, lids should be sucked down to indicate a good seal. Jam lasts about 3 weeks once opened.
* I bought “Pomona’s Universal Pectin” and it came with powdered pectin and this calcium powder. I just followed their directions. The benefit to Pomona’s, I understand, is that you can use a lot less sugar and your jam will still gel.
And then, once I realized how easy jam-making is, I bought more fruit at the Pleasantville farmer’s market and made the following:
Apricot Plum Jam
4 cups chopped fruit
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Juice of ½ lemon
3 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin Powder
4 teaspoons calcium water
Use above method for jam. Perhaps add a tiny bit of water during the initial boiling phase. Or not. I did, though.