Does canning scare the crap out of you? I ask because canning used to scare the crap out of me. I was always afraid a jar would explode if I did something wrong.
But then I started canning. Don’t be too impressed, I only do preserves because they’re easy. Not Martha Stewart, hey let’s mosaic the side of your house easy, but Fran easy, which means I can do it. And if I can do it, YOU can do it. In the 30 years I’ve been canning, nothing has ever exploded or gone bad.
Since I had tons of blackberries this month, I couldn’t let them go to waste — my parent’s souls would have haunted me. (They wasted nothing.) So, I made two batches of blackberry jam. I also made one batch of strawberry, and will be making apricot jam with the apricots I just bought at Costco. (Correction, with the next batch I buy. We practically swallowed this batch whole they were so juicy!)
What I like about making my own preserves is that I know what I’m eating, they taste better, they’re often organic, make great gifts and make people look at me in awe.
If you don’t have a canner, you should get one. Lots of hardware stores sell canning supplies this time of year, so do grocery stores. You can also find them online, (here’s a link to online canning supplies at Amazon) or check Craigslist or Ebay. They used to be about 20 dollars. And buy the canning utensils that go with it, they make it so easy.
(They sell long tongs for retrieving the jars and lids from the hot water, a special holder for getting jars in and out of the water, a special magnet to grab the lid if you can’t get it with the tongs and a special funnel so you don’t spill preserves.)
All you need is water, fruit, sugar, and fruit pectin. I use Sure Jell. (They make a low sugar Sure Jell also.) The easiest fruits to can are ones that don’t require peeling. Blackberries, blueberries and strawberries are easy, so are apricots and plums. Peaches, have to be peeled and cherries have to be pitted, but both make great preserves.
Fill your canner 3/4 full with water. Place the wire insert in it to hold the jars. Put on the lid and turn the heat up high, until the water boils. When it’s boiling, put the washed jars and lids in and let them boil for ten minutes. (Most of the work is just washing the jars and lids.)
The directions are on the paper inside the Sure Jell package. But here they are in a nutshell:
First, rinse the fruit, cut it into pieces, then crush it. Blackberries and blueberries just have to be rinsed and crushed. Strawberries obviously have to have their green tops removed, then you can cut them if you like or just crush them.
Once the fruit is crushed and measured, put it in a large pan over medium high heat and start stirring. (This is the part I love because every time I smell the blackberries cooking, it takes me back to my parent’s basement kitchen and the sweet, fruity aroma of blackberry jam. It made those sticky August days in Pennsylvania completely bearable.) Add the Sure Jell and when it comes to a full boil (one that doesn’t stop when you stir) add the sugar. Bring it to a full boil again and stir for one minute then turn off the heat and put it into the jars. See? Isn’t that easy?
Sure Jell tells you to use the exact amount of sugar they say, but I always use a cup less and it tastes fine. So, for five cups of blackberries, I use six cups of sugar instead of seven.
Once the jam is done, you take the jars out of the water with tongs, making sure there’s no water inside. Fill each jar with jam. (Use your nifty canning funnel to make sure your jam doesn’t drip.) Then fish the lids out of the hot water. Make sure the jar’s rim is wiped clean, put the lid on, and screw the ring around it.
When all your jars are filled and the lids screwed on, (you don’t have to screw them too tightly, just snug) put the jars back in the canner. Be careful to balance them equally, so the metal insert/holder doesn’t tip over.
Once filled, lift the metal holder and drop it gently into the pot. The jars should be submerged about one or two inches. Cover the pot and let it boil for ten minutes. Then take the lid off, pull the insert up and hang it on the pot again. You’ll hear the lids clicking which means they’ve created a vacuum and are good to go!
It’s cool science, easy and very tasty. I can never make preserves without toasting a piece of bread and slathering it with peanut butter and fresh jam. It’s delicious.
Give it a try. If I can do it, so can you.