Friday, November 6, 2009

Jammity jam jam

In the past year I've become rather interested in the fine art of canning. I haven't done much of it yet - in fact, I've only made two half-batches of jam; each was a learning experience.

The first batch of jam I made was sour cherry. Sour cherries aren't grown locally, and I was delighted when a friend casually mentioned that the local foodie mecca had some back in August. I promptly bought six pounds! So far I've only used about two pounds which, after thawing, pitting, and chopping, worked out to about a cup of fruit. (It also yielded about 32 ounces of sour cherry juice, which I brought to a potluck to mix with sparkling lemonade: YUM.) The main lesson from this jamming experience was that I should've chopped the fruit MUCH finer. As you can see above, it's lovely in the jars, but very chunky on top and then truly jam-like on the bottom layer. I only have a crappy apartment freezer so I'd really better get onto using the rest of those cherries - they're already starting to look a bit frosty, though I've got them double-wrapped in the freezer.

The second batch of jam I made was blueberry-peach. It's.. firm. Very firm. Almost fruit-leather-in-a-jar firm. I don't know why. Well.. I have some theories.
  • Pectin Issues: When I made the sour cherry jam, it was a half-batch; the directions on the pectin said to use half the packet, 2 Tbsp. When I made the blueberry-peach jam, I didn't measure the leftover pectin - I just dumped it in. So, maybe I used too much pectin.
  • Sugar Impact: I didn't use the full amount of sugar called for. I rather expected that it might then be more runny. Was that wrong? 
  • Type of fruit: I've learned that different fruits have different amounts of pectin, I guess, so maybe need less than others to achieve firmness. I.. really don't know for sure.
  • Pureeing the fruit: I used my immersion blender to process the fruit so it wasn't chunky like the cherry jam. I don't know if or how that affected anything. Actually, that leads me to my fifth theory:
  • Pure and Total Ignorance: I just don't know much about jamming, what works, what doesn't, what affects what, etc. So I clearly did something wrong but don't really know what!
Anyway, it's all a learning curve. I don't even have a proper canning setup right now: So far I've boiled the jars in a large soup pot (sort of lined with a towel.. but that tends to float upward) and hoped for the best. They haven't cracked, chipped, or shattered yet, but one of these days I'm going to need to get a proper canning pot & rack.

I am hesitating because I don't have a lot of storage in my kitchen, so I am loathe to purchase a really big pot that can only be used for one thing. The less-expensive canning pots are very thin metal, and so I assume they aren't great for actually cooking or making things like soup (plus, I have an awesome soup pot already). I've found a much more-expensive and more-sturdy-seeming pot that works for canning, but I can't tell from the interwebs if I could also cook in it. Not that I'd NEED to cook in it, but I don't want a really big single-purpose item if I can help it. So, that's my hesitation. Well, that, and being back on a no-shopping month.


  1. I just stuck my toe in the canning waters myself this year. (Other than spending years of being a canning aide for my mom and not retaining a thing). I know that you can buy the insert separately from the canning pot, so I figure if you have a decent pot that also fits the insert you would be good to go. My issue is my large stock pot depth limits me to only doing half-pints or pints, not quarts (which I might want to do for tomatoes), though it might also be slightly too narrow for the insert.

    On jam - I've found so many contradictory recipes for jam. My first batch came out somewhere between syrup and jam consistency, I suspect my second batch is more akin to fruit leather (I should check that). Pectin and sugar amounts vary so much from recipe to recipe while the fruit type and amount might stay the same and all say "use recipe exactly or your jam is dooooommmmmed". It probably about finding the right recipe and sticking with it.

  2. RE: the blueberry-peach jam... my experience has been that blueberries have waaaaaay more natural pectin in them than other fruits. I didn't add any pectin to this year's batch of blueberry jam (and added very little sugar) and the finished product was pretty firm. OTOH, this year's strawberry jam (again, no added pectin) is more sauce-like (think dessert topping). Go figure.

  3. Hmmm. maybe there's a resource somewhere that compares the natural pectin contained in various fruits. The blueberries may well have affected my jam results! Good thing they're tasty.

    My current stock pot isn't wide enough to hold the only canning rack I've seen, which has a 12-inch width.