It’s that time of year, and we’ve gone berry picking twice. Or at least, me and Ms. Kentucky once and me and the handsome fella once (I dragged him against his will, but he turned out to be an avid helper (actually he picks faster than me). So far we’ve had strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries and blueberries. It’s actually a little early for raspberries- but the place we pick has a large variety of each berry in order to make the season as long as possible.
First off I made strawberry jam- because that’s just necessary. Going through a season without strawberry jam- well. How can you do such a thing? Jam making is excessively easy once you understand the process. Here are the basic steps:
1. Hull the berries- that means take the green bits and stems off
2. Smash them up in a big pot
3. Add sugar according to the recipe of your choice (I recommend the Ball Book of Canning, see link below)
4. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture reaches 220 degrees (or you reach the “gel stage”)
5. Skim off the foam from the top
6. Ladle the finished jam into sterilized jars (you can sterilize jars in a number of ways, usually by dunking them in boiling water for a few minutes), remove air bubbles, and wipe rim
7. Screw on lid
8. Place in boiling water for 10 minutes, then allow to sit for 5 minutes, then remove
Now, for the detail parts. As I said, we picked twice, and I made three types of jam, so there are lots of pictures. Here’s the strawberries boiling on the stove. USE A HEAVY BOTTOMED PAN. If you have just a regular pan, your berries will burn before they reach the proper temperature (also, you should own a thermometer).
There is a such thing as the “gel test.” I’ve never gotten it to work. Ever. In theory when the jam reaches the right stage it will become gel, and when you dip a spoon into it, it will slide right off in a sheet. If this doesn’t work, you wait til it reaches 220 degrees. Stir a lot. Some people also buy packaged pectin and use that to help it gel, but I don’t bother, and the temperature thing has always worked for me.
There’s the blueberry/ black raspberry/ black currant boiling away. Can you see the foam on top?
While the jam is getting to the gel stage, you should be bringing a large pot of water to a boil and sterilizing your jars in it. I usually just dunk my (well washed) jars in for a few minutes.
Then ladle the jam into the jars, leaving at least a quarter inch of headspace. I have a handy dandy kit that contains all the necessary tools- a jar lifter, a funnel, one of these pokey things for bubbles (see below), and a magnet for picking up jar lids (because you need to sterilize the jar lids too, and they tend to sink to the bottom of a pot of boiling water, where they are hard to retrieve without a magnet).
In the picture above you will see the pokey thing. You push this down along the sides of the jar, and the bubbles that tend to gather along the sides float to the top. This is less important with jam- but it’s essential with tomatoes. Still, it’s a good thing to do. Then, as I said, it’s important to wipe the extra jam off the rim.
The prepared jars go into a large pot of boiling water. I use my pressure canner (without the pressure), because it’s the biggest pot I have. You can also use a large stock pot, or whatever’s on hand.
They boil and boil and then you take them out and let them sit- soon you’ll be hearing little pops that indicate the jars have set- that a seal has been achieved. When a ball jar has set, the lid sucks inward, and no longer wiggles when you poke it. If it still wiggles, you need to put it back in boiling water for a bit. If it still won’t set, you need to just eat it. Because it won’t store right without a set.