Monday, March 7, 2011

Jams and Jelly!

Over the weekend, my mom and I took some time to make jams and jelly. This is something I never thought I'd have the energy to do...or enjoy doing. But it turned out to be so much fun, and the results are not only beautiful in their jars, but a wonderful set of treasures to put away for the rest of the year.

It started out a with a phone conversation where I was going to track down blueberries by the ton and lots of jars. But it turned out that we made three unexpected flavors, mostly using what we had on hand in our pantries. Why go buy fancy ingredients when you have stuff on the counter, right?

So we made Fallbrook ruby red grapefruit jelly, strawberry jam, and fresh pineapple jam. And the only thing we had to buy was one pineapple and the jars to can. Pantry jam! We used two cases of half pint jars and one case of little mini jars (they hold about half a cup).

The deal with jars, as it turns out, is that you have to sterilize them and then throw the lids in water that you boil to soften the lids' seals. My mom usually sterilizes jars in the dishwasher and then heats the lids, keeping the rings out and handy on the counter.

My mom was very skeptical about grapefruit jelly, but she agreed to try this recipe I found:

3 c. ruby grapefruit juice (we fresh squeezed ours)
1 box pectin
4 1/2 c. white sugar

This one is super simple if you have rubies on hand. Squeeze the grapefruits, and set the juice aside. Measure out your sugar, and get your pectin ready. Clean your jars, and fill them with hot water. Throw the lids in a pan of water, and bring it to a boil to soften the seals. Keep the rings handy.

Set up a cookie sheet near the stove, and place the lid rings behind it. Mix your juice and pectin in a pan until the pectin is dissolved. Then turn on the heat, and bring the mix to a rolling boil. (That basically means that stirring it won't reduce your boil.) Once it's at a rolling boil, add your sugar, and stir vigorously. Once the mixture comes back to a rolling boil, set your timer for one minute, and boil for that full minute. Then remove from the heat. Dump the hot water from your jars, and bring them to your cookie sheet.

This jelly won't need skimming, so you can proceed to ladle the hot jelly into jars. We did this using a kitchen ladle and a wide-mouth funnel. Wipe the rim with a hot washcloth to remove anything that might be sticking. Then use tongs to carefully remove a lid from the pan and place on top. Carefully, and with the washcloth, pick up the jar and screw on the ring so that it's tight but not all the way tight.

Then turn the jar upside down for 30 seconds to a minute, and flip it upright again. Move to the next. This recipe yielded 12 of those small jars for us, and they're so pretty! I'm eager to use it to make a quick glaze for hamsteak: mustard and grapefruit jelly. It would also be terrific to throw into crockpot bbq ribs--that grapefruit tang is irresistible.

You get the idea here about the jar prep, the ladling, the lids, and so on. Next, we made strawberry. I'm not a fan of strawberry jam, but we had strawberries, so what the heck. It's too sweet for me. However, as LM, my mom, says, there's nothing better than strawberry jam on toast right after you've made the jam. So, ahead we proceeded...

We used the MCP Strawberry jam recipe for this one...yes, it was like eating a spoon of sugar, but I suppose that's the point.

Strawberry Jam

5 3/4 c. stemmed, chopped strawberries
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 box pectin
8 1/2 c. sugar

MCP says to use 1/2 t. butter too, but my mom says that's nonsense, and she runs the jam show. So we didn't add it--it's supposed to help with the foaming/skimming, but she's not a fan.

Pulse the strawberries in the food processor until they're desired consistency for jam. (How jammy do you like your jam?) Put into pot with lemon juice and pectin, and stir. Turn on heat, and bring mix to rolling boil. Then add sugar. Bring to rolling boil again, and then boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and skim off the foam. This skimming is a little beyond me, so I watched and tried only breifly. Then we filled the jars. Same deal as with the jars and filling for the grapefruit.

We got 11 half pints of strawberry out of this recipe...your results may vary a bit. I'm not sure why, but my understanding is that that happens with jam. :) It was pretty good on peanut butter toast.

Finally, we made fresh pineapple jam. LM was very skeptical about this one, but we were all so happy with the results. We'd only ever seen pineapple jam recipes that use canned pineapple, and we happened to have fresh on hand (and bought a second one). So I searched for a recipe for fresh pineapple jam and was so pleased with this one.

Fresh Pineapple Jam

4 1/2 c. chopped pineapple (two pineapples is all you should need, unless they're small ones...)
1 box pectin
5 1/2 c. white sugar

We omitted the called-for butter in this one too. Same drill--process the pineapple in the food processor to desired consistency for jam. Add to pectin in a pot. Heat to rolling boil. Then add sugar, and bring to rolling boil again. Boil for one minute. Skim a bit. Lots of foam here too. Remove from heat, and fill jars.

We only got 7 half pints out of this recipe, but boy is it delcious and fresh tasting. Just like fresh pineapple. I'd prefer it a little less sweet, but the rule seems to be not to monkey with ratios in jam recipes, for fear of them not setting.

The pineapple jam is by far the prettiest and most distinctive jam we made, and it's great on sourdough toast, English muffins, cheesecake, bread....what is it not good on? It's even good with peanut butter in a sandwich. It doesn't sound great, but it is delicious.

By far, the best part of this experience was learning the art and the pleasure of jam making from my mom, who's been doing it for years and reliably (and magically) produces these wonderful jars that fill our pantry. In our Tahoe move, we lost several of her prized peach jams that very few people get, and of all the things broken in our crazy packing endeavor, it was those jams that I missed the most. Not the plates I'd each peanut butter and peach jam sandwiches on. Not the other cooking utensils that broke. It was the jam.

It's so satisfying to look at a table full of food (okay, condiments....) that you've made and know that you've been the ant saving for the lean months. Would insert picture of me in this play from third grade, but it's not handy at the moment.

As I told my dad, if there's ever some natural disaster and there's peanut butter in the pantry, we're now going to be able to eat well for a very long time! Next time, we're going to try making curds: lemon, lime, and tangerine. Stay tuned!

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