Over the past two or three years, I've tried to learn about canning. I've read books, searched the Internet, and tapped the experience of friends and neighbors. My family can't quite understand why I like it. My mom and sister (yes, my blog partner Mrs. E) tease me about it calling me a "pioneer." Despite their teasing, they are more than happy to gobble up jars of goodies that I bring them when I visit. Not to mention Grandpa C (my mom's Mr.) LOVES it when I make him homemade peach jam.
I love the look of canned items. I've even taken some pictures to blow up and hang in my kitchen someday. When I go to the state fair each year, the canned items are some of the things I look most forward to seeing. I love the colors and the varieties of foods--although the canned meats usually looks disgusting. This year, the grand champion of canning entered 39 different items and won 26 blue ribbons. Look at all her hard work:
I find all those jars mesmerizing and beautiful. I'm sure others would find it crazy!
Since my family has been requesting strawberry jam for a while, I unpacked all my canning supplies a couple months ago when I finally found some strawberries on sale.
(Did anyone else notice that strawberries never really went down in price this summer? UG!)
For my strawberry jam I use the non-pectin recipe from the Ball canning book. It's a great overall canning recipe/guide book that you can pick up for 5.00-6.00 at almost any store that sells canning supplies. The drawback to non-pectin jam is that you have to cook it for a while and you get less jam from the batch because your mixture boils down. I started with 12 pounds of strawberries and only ended up with 9 pints of jam. It's not a lot to pass out to the family, but it will do. I like the texture of boiled down jam better than pectin jam because it's not so "coagulated." With boiled down strawberry jam, the texture is just perfect to use the jam as ice cream topping too.
Let me just interject here that freezer jam appears to be a lot like boiled jam in texture to me, but I never make it. I simply do not have the fridge or freezer space to store a lot of jam, so I have to go for preserved jars.
A couple of weeks passed by and I got an urge to try a new jam...PLUM! I watched local sales and found plums on sale for 50 cents a pound. When I told my mom I was going to make plum jam, she told me my grandma used to can whole plums. I consulted my canning book and decided to give them a try as well. Mr. C can't get enough plums during the summer so whole fruits seemed like the perfect item to attempt. Between calculating what we'd need for jam and whole fruit, Mr. C and I decided to buy 40 (yes 40!!!) pounds of plums.
Our kitchen was OVERFLOWING!
(Don't you just LOVE my new gigantic colander?! THANK YOU IKEA!)
One Friday afternoon, with Mr. C's help, I decided to do 10 quarts of plums. Can you spell D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R? It was a horrible experience. We could hardly get any in the jars, I couldn't get the air bubbles out, the syrup half boiled out of the jars, and worst of all, the finished product looked disgusting. The whole adventure was, well, disastrous. After staring at the jars for a day, I decided they were horrible and there was no way I was wasting precious food storage space on them. So, I opened every jar and recycled the plums. Instead of turning 20 pounds of plums in to jam, I was now back at my original 40. 40 pounds of plums for jam! Can you even imagine? Needless to say, I made jam for DAYS!
It was a ton of work, but I must say the final result was more delicious than I anticipated it would be. Mr. C was so enthralled by it, he ate a piece of bread with plum jam every day for two weeks. Not only that, he put some on barbecued ribs and it was FANTASTIC. I ended up with 28 half-pints and 16 pints of this newly discovered treasure. This gives me plenty to hand out to the family, keep for us, and give away (can you say "hello Christmas gifts!").
(If you're wondering what the orange jars are, it's peach jam that I made at the same time as the plum to restock Grandpa C's cupboard. He just loves it!)
In case you want to try this delightful treat, I am putting the recipe at the end of this post. Plums are still a great price right now, so I encourage you to give this one a try.
At the end of the plum overload, my neighbor called saying the house next to her had an apricot tree (just typing that makes me smile thinking of singing "popcorn popping" with my niece!) FULL of fruit that the owners did not want. We spent two days picking and I ended up with three overflowing laundry baskets.
It took me a few days to get them all canned in to halves and jam. By the end of about the fourth day, I was so sick of apricots that I will not cry if I don't see a fresh one for a while. Even after canning 17 quarts of halves and 20+ jars of jam, (and eating a few along the way each day) I still had apricots to give away. GOOD RIDDANCE!
Remember my whole "I love boiled down jam the best" comments from earlier? That went out the window with the apricots. I did my first batch of apricot jam by boiling it down, but after an hour I still couldn't get it to the thickness I wanted. I was too burned out from 40 pounds of plums and probably double that in apricots to deal with boiling anymore. I went to the store for some pectin and didn't look back.
22 pints and 4 or 5 half-pints later I was finally done! My kitchen windows were full of jars for days.
As promised, here is the plum jam recipe from the Ball canning book:
5 c pitted tart plums (about 2 1/2 pounds)
4 c sugar
1 c water
Combine all the ingredients in a large sauce pot. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly almost to a gelling point. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 15 minutes (or 25 if you're in a high elevation like me) in a boiling-water canner. Note: I cut my plums in fourths. Yield: about 5 half-pints
Side note: I have FANTASTIC recipes for canned spaghetti sauce and salsa that I will be posting as soon as my tomatoes finally ripen so I can use them! I'm hoping that happens in the next couple weeks!