I have always wanted to learn how to can my own food. Husband is adamantly opposed to the idea and thus far, I have been hopelessly unsuccessful in my attempts to convince him otherwise. He thinks I will poison us. Thanks for your vote of confidence, honey.
I am hoping this post, brought to you today by my very talented friend Brittany, will help my cause. She makes it look practically foolproof. And I can tell you from personal experience that her jam is to-die-for. (But not in the literal, poisoning sense.)
Brittany and I go way back, to when she and I were both pregnant with our first babies. We met on an online pregnancy message board and became pen pals after we discovered all the things we had in common (we are both married to engineers, both love to write, both spent a year in Holland as exchange students in high school, just to name a few.) We then bonded as we navigated those first scary months of motherhood together. In addition to some some serious culinary skills, Brittany is an extremely talented writer and the the proud mommy of 2 adorable boys who shares snippets of her life juggling the two on her blog, Re-writing Motherhood.
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I have a confession to make. For the longest time, I was too scared to can food. And my family has always canned food. They canned before there were ever such things as Mason jars. (Until the 1850s, when the Mason jar was invented, food storage was limited to burial in the ground, storage in root cellars, or in large earthenware crockery sealed with wax.) I was the lone holdout. I’m a very low-tech person, and the thought of canning terrified me.
And what was I so afraid of? My hand-me-down pressure canner, the one that was so old its handles had fallen off (they had been replaced by handmade wooden handles a couple of decades before I was born) and a pressure gauge permanently set at 5 lbs. I was fairly sure I would blow myself up if I even took it out of storage.
But last year, after several years of worrying about exactly how much extra “stuff” was being put into the food I was buying my family, I decided to re-visit the whole canning concept. With canning, I would know exactly what we were eating, where it had come from, and how much sugar and salt I had prepared it with. And then when the local raspberries ripened last summer, I was finally motivated to buy a shiny new (and therefore, not-terrifying) combination pressure/ water bath canner and attempt a small batch of jam using the easier (and in my estimation, more intuitive) water bath canning method.
Having the right equipment is essential, but the initial investment in it isn’t cheap. My pressure canner cost about $65 and I spent about $37 on my stock pot, making that first batch of raspberry jam the most expensive in history. My suggestion to someone who’s never canned before is to get a combination pressure canner/water bath canner right off the bat. Water bath canning is easy, and an excellent way to can high acid foods (most fruits vegetables, applesauce, jams, jellies, and pickles), but low acid foods (like corn, beans, and meat) require pressure canning to kill all potential bacteria.
Making jam using the water bath method is as easy as boiling water, and with strawberry season upon us, I’ve created a tutorial to teach you how to can strawberry jam in five easy steps. It’s so easy that, like me, you’ll wonder what took you so long to get started!
Before you begin to make your jam, run your canning jars, lids, and seals through the dishwasher to sterilize them. You’ll want to time this so that they are still hot when you are ready to fill them with the heated jam mixture.
Fill a hot water bath canner with enough water to cover your canning jars. This recipe yields about 4 pints of jam, so, in this case, you’ll want to use 8 half pint-sized canning jars for each batch. Heat to boiling. Steps 1 and 2 always take me about an hour to an hour and a half (but maybe I have an especially long dishwashing cycle).
Prepare the jam.
Ball Blue Book Basic Recipe For Strawberry Jam (without pectin)* yield: about 4 pints
*I prefer jam without pectin because a thinner jam can double as cheesecake or ice cream topping.
2 quarts strawberries
6 C sugar
Right away, I hit a snag when I realized that this recipe calls for 2 quarts of strawberries, and I could only buy prepackaged strawberries by the pound. I planned to double the recipe, so I guesstimated that 2 quarts of strawberries were approximately equivalent to 2 lbs. I bought 4 lbs of strawberries and canned 13 half-pints of jam.
Wash strawberries, drain. Remove stems. Crush strawberries one layer at a time (in a food processor). Combine strawberries and sugar in a large saucepot.
I did not double the sugar in this recipe. I used 8 C in total.
Bring slowly to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook rapidly to gelling point. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. You will need to cook it at a full rolling boil for 1 min in order for the sugar to start to gel. Remove from heat. Skim foam.
Ladle the hot jam into the hot jars, leaving ¼ in headspace at the top of the jar. Wipe off any spills on the mouth or sides of the jar because they will prevent the lid and seal from sealing well. Adjust the two-piece cap, centering the seal on the mouth of the jar and then screw the lid on.
Using a canning jar lifter (another important piece of equipment), place the jars into the boiling water. Cover with the canner lid and process (boil) for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the jars with the canning jar lifter and place on a countertop where they can sit undisturbed for a day or two. When you remove the cans from the canner, they will start making popping sounds. This is the sound the seals make as they shut. However, if the lids pop up in the center—this indicates an improper seal and you should either re-process the jar with a new seal or plan to eat the contents immediately.
That’s it. You’re finished! Now all that’s left to do is clean up. (Or, if you’re like me, and have a little unprocessed jam left over, you pour it over vanilla ice cream and have a well-deserved treat. Yum!)
Cost breakdown: 4 lbs strawberries at $1.98/ea = $7.92 10 lb bag sugar (used less than half) = $5.64 12 half pint canning jars = $7.47 Total: $1.61/jar
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