Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Preserving Floyd: Strawberries Part III - We Be Jammin'!

Making strawberry jam is a primer for making all kinds of jams and jellies.  The fruits may change but the technique remains pretty much the same.

If you read the last post on pectin you'll know that I prefer low/no sugar pectin that already contains the necessary calcium, and this post will be about strawberry jam and it's variations using Ball brand Low/No Sugar pectin.
First things first.  Fill your water bath canner and a tea kettle or smaller pot with water and place on the stove to boil.

Set up your sparkling clean jars, lids, rings, etc. on the surface where you plan to fill the jars.  You'll need 6-8 half pint jars or 12-16 four ounce jam/jelly jars.  It's always good to have an extra jar or two beyond that.  Likewise, prepare the surface that will receive the jars for cooling after processing.

The Ball strawberry jam recipe in the pectin box is the one we'll be following.  You will need to rinse, drain, and hull a generous 4 pounds of strawberries.  Cut out any bruised or overly ripe or soft areas of the fruit.  Taste several of your berries.  If they are consistently sweet you may want to use only 1/2 to one cup of sugar for the batch.  Even with the sweetest of berries I use a minimum of 1 cup of sugar.  If your berries are tart increase the sugar anywhere up to 3 cups.  Ball recommends using no more than 3 cups of sugar maximum.  My berries were a little tart overall so I used 2 cups of sugar.  It's always good to have a little under ripe fruit in the mix as it contains more pectin than just ripe or dead ripe fruit does.

Crush the berries a single layer at a time in your pot.  Any heavy non-reactive metal pot will do to cook your preserves.  The shape that's best is one with a flat bottom and straight or just sloping sides to allow for even heating and more surface for evaporation.  Stainless steel and enameled iron dutch ovens work great.  There are purpose made stainless steel and copper preserving pots out there.  You'll see the copper one I have in the photos.  They are pricey.  If I had it to do over, I'd spend the money on something else because as pretty as it is, I don't think the copper preserving pot has upped my game any.
I like to leave my berries a little chunky but you can crush them as fine as you like.

Set a timer for 3 minutes.

When your berries are crushed, stir in the entire package of low/no sugar pectin and bring the berries to a full boil over medium high heat while constantly stirring.  Once you've reached the full boil, stir in your sugar and bring the berries back to a full rolling boil that can't be stirred down.  Start your 3 minute timer.

You may have to turn your heat down a little to be able to stir without being splashed but keep the boil going.  The berries will foam.  Gently stir the entire 3 minutes.  When the timer goes off remove the pan from the heat to the spot you set up to fill your jars.  Allow a couple of minutes for the jam to settle and the foam to rise to the top.

Using a metal spoon, scrape the surface of the jam with an edge, pulling the foam towards you.  When you have it collected in one spot, scoop it off  the surface and discard.  The jam is ready to can.

Place your lids in a bowl and pour hot water over them.

There is no huge hurry to get the jam from the pot into the jars at this point.  You can work comfortably at your own speed.  In fact, if the jam cools just a little before going into the jars the fruit distributes better with less likelihood of floating.  Again, float is just a cosmetic flaw.

After skimming off foam
Place a funnel in a jar and ladle in some jam.  You want to fill the jars leaving 1/4 inch of space between the surface of the jelly and the rim of the jar.

Wipe the rim of the jar thoroughly to remove any least bits of jam.  It's important to be ana detail-oriented about this because anything left on the rim is a major contributor to seal failure.

Center a lid on the jar and screw on a ring.  Screw the ring on finger-tight only, like you would screw the lid back on the mayo jar.  Don't crank it down, you want it to be just snug.

The Ball recipe will tell you to process the jars at a full boil for 10 minutes.  Remember, we discussed that if you are processing for 10 minutes or more you no longer need to sterilize your jars before filling.  That's why that step wasn't included today.  Also remember that altitude plays a role in how long you process your jars.  The Ball time of 10 minutes is for sea level.  Here in Floyd we're just above 2,000 feet.  Add 1 minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level.  Our timers are set for 12 minutes.

Lift the lid off the canner directing the steam away from you.  Allow the water to calm and then, using the jar lifter, place your jars in the canner.  Allow space between the jars for the water to circulate.  If you can't fit them all in, it's okay, hold the rest for a second run.  Once the jars are in, replace the lid and return the water to a full rolling boil.  When the water is boiling, start your timer.
After the 12 minutes have elapsed, slide the water bath off the hot burner and remove the lid, directing the steam away from you.  Allow the water to calm and, with your jar lifter, remove the jars to the padded cooling surface.  Do not disturb until the jars are completely cool.  You may or may not hear a ping as the vacuum is formed.
I divided this batch in two so I could customize half of it.  In the above picture you can see the left side of the paper is labeled "plain" and that's where the straight strawberry jam is cooling.  The right side is labeled "spice" and that's where the tweaked strawberry jam will cool.  It's helpful to be sure which is which when it's time to label the jars.

So into the remaining half of the jam I stirred some chiffonaded basil.  I removed the basil leaves from the stem and piled them up, then rolled them into a cylinder and sliced thinly.  Do this just before stirring into the jam because, as you can see in the picture, the cut edges darken quickly.
I didn't really measure how much basil I put in.  I eyeballed it until the distribution of the basil confetti looked good amongst the berries.  It was probably a half cup.  Then I filled, capped, and processed the jars according to the directions above.

Another variation I did this year was to stir two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and one tablespoon of roughly crushed black peppercorns into half a batch of strawberry jam just before jarring it.

When the jars were all cool, I removed the rings and washed the jars.  To test for a seal, press your finger down on the lid. The lid should be concave with no wiggle in any direction including up and down.

Lift the jar by the lid only.  If the lid does not lift anywhere around it's edges or come off completely you have a good seal.
 Label, date, and store your jars in a dark cupboard.

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