How do you keep summer in a jar?
On a recent trip to Sonoma County, we harvested so many fruits we ended up with more than we could possibly eat. We got busy preserving them not to let them spoil.
Amy, our friend and certified Master Food Preserver, guided us through an afternoon of transforming our freshly picked berries into luscious preserves.
Her preferred method of jam making, (and ours too now!) is to pass on adding pectin. This method has benefits and drawbacks, but in our opinion the benefits win out: a softer set preserve requiring less sugar, darker colour, and a slightly caramelized flavour.
Here is the method we used, with some tips and photos to help you along the way. The ingredients and tools are listed at the end.
Now you can prep the fruit. Start by mashing the berries in a bowl or flat pan. Mash them just well enough to break the skins and release the juices.
Once it is mashed, measure out the fruit into heavy stainless steel saucepan. Add the sugar, and stir to dissolve.
Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly keep the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Add the lemon and lemon zest.
The mixture will need to boil for about 15 - 25 minutes (depending on the fruit).
It will start to thicken and will coat the spoon nicely, as it begins to reduce.
Now is a good time to set out the jars you will be using, and to start boiling the water in your processing pot, equipped with the drop-in rack.
To test if the preserves are ready, remove one plate from the freezer and drop a small amount (about the size of a quarter) onto the plate. After a couple of seconds (when jam is cool enough to touch), run your finger through the drop. If the jam runs back together, it needs to keep simmering. Test again on another cold plate every 2 - 3 minutes. When the jam retains a clean path where you finger passes, it is ready.
Once the jam is ready to start placing into jars, remove from heat and skim off any foam.
Using a ladle, fill each jar until it is 1/4" from the rim. Remove any air pockets, and add more hot jam if needed.
Dampen a paper towel with vinegar and wipe the jar rims and threads clean. (Vinegar helps cut through the sugar to wipe off the sticky jam.)
Do a final check to be sure each jar is adequately full, and is properly cleaned.
Place the clean, flat metal lids on each jar. Screw on the metal bands just until resistance is met, then increase to "finger-tip tight." Do not over-tighten the lids.
Carefully place your filled jars into the jar rack over the boiling water. Drop the jars into the water, ensuring that they are covered by at least 1" of water. Add water if necessary. Cover the pot, and bring the water to a roiling boil.
Once water is boiling, set the timer. Jars must remain in fully submerged in boiling water for 10 minutes.
Remove lid, lift jars and allow to cool for a few minutes. Using a jar-lifter, carefully remove each jar and place in a location where it can rest for 24 hours, undisturbed. Do not touch or jostle the jar or lid, so as not to interfere with the seal.
After 24 hours, unscrew the bands and gently check to be sure each lid has properly sealed. Now is a good time to wipe the lids and bands to remove any moisture, so rust will not form.
Replace the bands, and store in a cool, dry place.
You may want to add labels or decorative wrapping - especially if you've made more than one type of jam, or if you plan on gifting them.
We used scraps of linen and colorful twine to attach hand-written labels. The possibilities are endless - get creative!
Old-Fashioned Blackberry Jam
Makes seven 8oz jars
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