There’s a favorite saying in journalism that goes something like this: “I love deadlines. I love the sound they make as they go whizzing by.”
Such is the case with Cake and Commerce’s first Can-o-Rama Challenge, which I fully intended to participate in. And I did, in my own way…. I just didn’t get around to blogging about it by the Oct. 3 deadline.
It’s been just over a month since I attended the Can-o-rama Cantacular, a day-long seminar devoted to teaching folks like myself about the joys of home canning. I left there rearing to make my own jellies, jams and butters, bursting with confidence and bravado… I went to Allandale Farm and bought local blueberries, pint jars and the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. I got my hands on a candy thermometer and a 5-pound bag of sugar. I dusted off my potato masher. And then finally, on Saturday I made my very first jam.
I decided to start simple with blueberry jam. The recipe was easy: 9 cups of blueberries, 6 cups of sugar. Boil to 220 degrees. Process 15 minutes.
Step on was easy enough. Take these berries:
and mash them up. Then, add sugar. It will look like this:
From here, things got a bit dicey. “Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly to a gelling point,” the book said. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. I kept the heat on medium, stirring the mixture until the sugar liquefied and started to boil. Then, I turned the heat to high to get it to the gelling point. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be stirring the whole time, so I didn’t. My jam boiled over, creating something of a mess. Finally, after a while, my thermometer read the magical 220 degrees.
From there, things got really precarious. I’d resisted going nuts and buying *all* the canning equipment since I wasn’t sure if home canning was something I’d do all that much. I figured I could find other kitchen implements to stand in for the jar lifter, canning rack and funnel. However, trying to use kitchen tongs to lift empty jars out of boiling water proved difficult and using them to place full jars into the pot was just plain treacherous. Also, trying to get the molten jam into the jars with just a ladle was kind of stupid, as it meant I dripped sticky purple stuff pretty much everywhere. There were some scalded fingers, some splashing of boiling water and a few screams. I have no photos of this part as I was trying mightily not to maim myself. But this aftermath shot of my cooking area should give you an idea of what it was like:
I processed the jars for 15 minutes and then moved them to a quiet spot on the counter where they started making little pinging noises.
Lo and behold, 24 hours later, I had sealed jars. I did not, however, have set jam. Linsey wisely advised me to simply call it “blueberry sauce” which I’m more than happy to do. It tastes great on biscuits.
A few thoughts after my home canning experience:
– Bigger isn’t always better. A pint of jam is a lot of jam. Half-pint jars would have been a more manageable size and enabled me to share better. This recipe promised eight half-pints, but I was only able to process three full pints as the fourth wasn’t full enough.
– I will be investing in a can lifter and funnel. No more burns or spills.
– I’m not sure if adding an apple peel would have been prudent here in order to get more pectin into the jam for a better set.
While my first home canning experience wasn’t exactly sublime, I like the idea of trying to master this… October Pear Challenge, here I come!