Alex – the jam afficianado in our house – has pronounced this jam "Not bad…it's actually pretty good." With two approving nods of his head. So I'm thinking I got about an A-.
As I'd mentioned after my trip to the Farmers' Market on Friday, I bought a total of 4 quarts of strawberries: 6 individual pints of berries from one farm, one quart from another farm. All were gorgeously ripe and red all the way through. I also bought 2 lbs of rhubarb from the Honey Stick Man. So I figured I'd have enough for a batch of jam and a pie. Happily, I was wrong – I got two batches of jam and a pie out of the deal. Well, nearly two batches. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
While I was chopping rhubarb and hulling strawberries, I figured I'd measure out the amounts for the jam AND the pie at the same time, just to get all that part out of the way. So I took pictures of everything as I went along, and sorted them about five minutes ago.
But before I chopped a single thing, I put my recipe up on the board.
Well, not the board. If I have a recipe on a single sheet of paper, I'll often tape it up to one of the cupboard doors near where I'm working. It's nice to look UP for a change, since so much of the work in the kitchen involves looking down. I like to be able to work in a little neck stretch as part of the cooking.
So here it is – the recipe I used:
If you squint…but that's no fun and it causes wrinkles.
I used the proportions that came in the Ball Liquid Fruit Pectin package. The box contains two packages of liquid pectin and this little folded sheet of paper with a whole range of fruit/sugar ratios to use when making jam with the liquid pectin AND the whole canning process how-to as well. Very handy.
The Strawberry-Rhubarb recipe called for 2 and 1/4 cups hulled and crushed strawberries, 1 and 3/4 cups finely chopped rhubarb, and 6 and 1/2 cups of sugar. I know! That's a ton of sugar. But I used it all, though I will be working toward low and no-sugar jams or preserves as I go along with this project.
Anyway. First – since it was the least messy task – I chopped up the rhubarb.
These stalks I'd bought at the market were HUGE! A few of them were probably two feet long, the rest not far behind. I trimmed the ends off and then sliced the big stalks lenghthwise before chopping them into little 1/8" thick slices.
Oh, and you know how when you're reading about making jams or preserving foods, that you want to choose only the best specimens? Fruit (or vegetables) with no bruises or blemishes? That means you want to trim away sections like this in your rhubarb:
And not just slice lengthwise to trim a couple of layers off the surface of the stalk. You want to just cut that whole length of rhubarb out of the picture. Because if you only go down a few layers, you still find this:
And sure, it would cook down and probably no one would notice, but YOU would know it was in there, somewhere. And how would that make you feel? Not very good, I hope. So get rid of it. Into the compost it goes!
Okay, so now you've got your cup and three quarters of finely chopped rhubarb.
I love rhubarb – there's just something about it that's very delicate and pretty, in my little opinion.
Oh, want to hear a funny story? Good. Like I mentioned earlier, I was doing all the chopping at the same time – all the rhubarb for jam and pie, and then all the strawberries for jam and pie. So here I go, I chop the rhubarb for the jam…then I chop the rhubarb for the pie…and then I see that there's a good amount left over, so maybe I'll have enough for TWO batches of jam!…so I chop the rest of the rhubarb and it's close, but not enough…so then I go outside and cut about 6 teeny tiny stalks from our slacker rhubarb plant, chop them up, and hooray, I have enough!
But wait! That's not the funny story. I put each batch of chopped rhubarb in bowls, covered them in plastic and stuck them in the fridge. Then I went ahead and started in on the strawberries for everything. And at some point, I don't remember exactly when, my brain lost a spark plug or something and I realized that OH NO! I DIDN'T MEASURE OUT THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF RHUBARB FOR THE JAM! and that I'd need to take some from one bowl and add to the other so I'd at least have the correct amount for one batch. I'd figure out something else to do with the other bit that was left. So I took out the two bowls of JAM-designated rhubarb, and measured half a cup from one bowl and dumped it into the other bowl. Drat it all! I'd been so psyched to make two batches. But no…the recipe called for two and a quarter cups of berries, and one and three quarter cups of rhubarb…and the picture IN MY HEAD told me I'd filled one big measuring cup and one little one…so that had to mean I'd only portioned out a cup and a quarter per recipe, and I KNEW that the quantity of berries + the quantity of rhubarb would = a whole number. 2.25 + 1.75 = 4. And so that one and a quarter cups of rhubarb was wrong, dammit, and how could I have been so stu-
I was using my fancy-dancy Williams-Sonoma odd-size measuring cups. Specifically, the one and a half cup measure. So I had one and a half cups PLUS a quarter, which equals – DUH – one and three quarters and I'd measured the rhubarb right the first time and didn't need to rob peter to pay paul that half cup of rhubarb after all and how do i make it through the day with this faulty brain of mine????
So I scooped that half cup of rhubarb back into the proper bowl, sighed with exasperation and relief, and went back to my strawberries.
Isn't that gorgeous?
And we're getting gorgeous berries from our own plants, but not nearly enough in quantity to make a pie or jam. We just eat them.
Okay. So the recipe calls for you to "hull and crush berries one layer at a time using a potato masher." I'm figuring you want a fairly uniform standard of crushedness, and that's why you don't just mash up the whole two and a quarter cups at once. Some would be completely obliterated, others would remain nearly whole. And that would never do. So I hulled some, crushed them, and then poured them into a measuring cup until I had the right quantity of berries.
Here's another little bit of math for you –
Perfectly Ripe Strawberries + Potato Masher = Lots of Splatter
Anyway. I mashed up all the berries for both batches of jam (and also sliced the berries for the pie) and then I took a little time to clean up all that mess before launching into the next part of the process.
Oh, and I also measured out all that sugar for both batches of jam. And I put a package of liquid pectin with each batch of jam-making ingredients.
Then I put about twenty large pots on my stovetop, filled a lot of them with water, heated the water, moved glass jars around with tongs, and managed not to burn myself at all.
Okay, the long version:
I don't have an official "Canning Pot" – one of those lovely wide enamelware pots that I'd really like to get, along with a pressure canner. Some day.
Instead, I used – for the actually processing part of the jam-making – my great big stock pot/pasta pot. I was hopeful that I could use the pasta strainer insert to hold all the jars, but there wasn't enough room above the tops of the jars for the requisite 1-2 inches of water, so the strainer went back into the cupboard below. I set a small, round cooling rack inside, which fit perfectly and worked great, except that it left little marks inside the pot where the "feet" of the rack touched the metal.
I think I REALLY REALLY need an enamelware canning pot. Don't you agree?
Anyway. So that's one pot – and I set that one on the "Power Burner," which is the front left burner on the stove. I also needed another fairly deep pot to keep my cleaned and sterilized jars hot while I cooked the jam. That pot went behind the big stock pot on the left.
I also needed a little pan of hot water for the lids…that went on the rear right burner.
And that left the front right burner for the cooking of the jam.
I got my jars and lids all ready to go – washed and set in the pot of simmering water, then just kept hot while I stirred dangerous sugary stuff.
Into the pot they went: the sugar, the strawberries, the rhubarb.
I stirred everything together and cooked, stirring often, until the mixture was at a "full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down." It really didn't take very long at all. The above picture was taken at 12:12.
This is at 12:14 – it's starting to become more liquidy. (Is that a word?)
12:21 – see, it's got all those tiny bubbles on the surface? It's getting hotter….
12:23 – more bubbles – it's starting to look more like foam…
And – it's still 12:23 – here comes the boil – see along the back where it's looking more pink and foamy and you can't see the fruit?
It's 12:24, I'm stirring, but THE ROLLING BOIL CANNOT BE STIRRED DOWN! RUN! RUN FOR YOUR LIQUID PECTIN!
12:25 – Liquid pectin has been added, stirred in for a full rolling-boil minute. And now you shut off the heat. Time to fill those jars.
I also REALLY REALLY need a funnel for this job. I have a nice little ladle, but I still slop stuff over the sides of the jar and I don't like the mess.
But anyway – here it is, the first jar of strawberry rhubarb jam! Yay! To get to this point (and I couldn't take pictures because I kind of needed both hands for the job) I took one of the jars out of the hot water with my silicone-tipped tongs, tilted the jar to dump out the water, and set it on that little potholder. (The pot holder was probably, in retrospect, not a great decision.) Then, steadying the jar with those silicone-tipped tongs in my left hand, I ladled the jam into the jar using my right hand. All that needed to be done was to wipe a little of the jam that had slopped down the sides when I poured that first bit of jam in, then take a lid from the hot water using a metal-tipped pair of tongs, set the lid on top, and then place a band on top and tighten so it's "fingertip tight." Then place the jar in the canning pot and move onto the next jar.
That was the plan.
But when I went to wipe that little bit of jam off the edge of the jar…well…I don't like to talk about it. Let's move on. Suffice to say that jar of jam never made it into the canning pot.
Here's jar #2:
Complete with lid and fingertip-tight band.
What? That what? Oh, that mess in the background? Oh, that's nothing.
It's certainly not around 12 ounces of jam-to-be that spilled out of the jar and slurped down the top of the stove into the burner wells on the right side. Nope. Couldn't be anything remotely like that. I have no idea what you're talking about.
I proceeded (bravely) to the next jar, and the next, and ended up with three 12-oz jars in my great big canning pot.
I put the lid on, brought the water to "a gentle, steady boil" and from that point "processed the jars" (kept the water at a gentle, steady boil) for 10 minutes. (I cleaned up the spillage from the ill-fated jar #1 during this time.) Then I removed the lid from the pot and let them sit for five minutes before carefully, with my silicone-tipped tongs, removing them from the water.
The loveliest part was when each lid gave a little sharp "POP" as the vacuum seal kicked in. Yay!
Aren't they adorable? I set them on a dish towel on a shelf in my pantry, washed the jam-cooking pot and moved on to the next batch of jam.
I did one or two things differently.
One little tip they give you on that little sheet of paper in the Liquid Pectin box is to add about half a teaspoon of butter to the fruit/sugar mixture before you cook it, which will reduce the foam. I tried that.
I stirred the butter in and then cooked like before. I really didn't notice a huge difference in the amount of foam.
And the other change I made was I opted NOT to knock over any of the jars this time, which gave me a nice yield of FOUR 12-oz jars this time. I also had a little bit of jam left in the pot. Not enough to warrant another jar – just enough to put in a ramekin and taste-test with Alex later on.
Pretty, isn't it?
It's even prettier waiting for a slice of toast (from the big loaf of bread I made on Friday)…
And, of course, prettier still once the toast is ready and it's got some jam smeared on it.
(Notice the pink stains on my cutting board?)
Oh, and the jam is EVEN BETTER when you taste it.
So go on now – be confident – get some fruit – make jam!
And a pie, too!