Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vote for Jam!

So, you may have noticed the little "featured publisher" button on the right side of my blog that appeared a few weeks ago. I joined a community called Foodbuzz that is basically Facebook for food nerds like me. We all "friend" each other and post photos of the things we make, discuss trends, techniques, tips, and basically bask in the warmth of a diverse group of people who are just like ourselves: obsessed with virtually breaking bread. Someone over there accepted my application to be a featured publisher and I'm pretty happy about that. More importantly, I've been meeting fabulous people. (Like Chef Dennis! He actually reads my blog! Check him out too at http://morethanamountfull.blogspot.com/).

The exciting news is that Foodbuzz is launching a blog competition. They are searching for the best new food blogger among 1,733 contestants at last count. The first competition post will be up on September 20th and the task is to create or make something that is uniquely "you". I'm putting on my thinking cap to decide what that might be. I already posted about pickles, so what is left that defines "me"? Meanwhile, get your index finger ready to vote for me with that little button on the top right corner. YOU will have a chance to weigh in!

OK, business over. Now on to fun.

I wish I'd saved this posting for that "uniquely you" assignment because my life can be defined by jam as much as pickles. However, until the age of 26 I would only eat one kind of jam: my mom's strawberry. The sad thing is that I've never tried to make it by myself. Why reinvent the wheel when my mom can do it better than me? I leave my annual supply of strawberry freezer jam to the pro until she says she won't do it anymore. (Deal, mom?) Oddly, strawberry jam on white bread reminds me of cauliflower because I used to eat it while in the back of the cauliflower trailor on wet harvest mornings. A strawberry jam sandwhich is best eaten in a big cardboard cauliflower box fort. You should try it sometime.

So, because I leave the best to mom, I decided to try entirely new flavors. Peaches are by far my favorite fruit, so that one was a given. I looked for an orchard where we could pick peaches and found Homestead Farm in Poolesville, MD. They also had blackberries in season. BINGO. I should note that this jam came at a high price: Eric's sanity. He didn't wash his arms off immedietly after the blackberry picking and got chiggers for 4 days. Poor guy. Let that be a lesson to you all!

An afternoon of picking gave us about 6 pounds blackberries and 15 pounds of peaches at a cost of about $42.00. It yielded 9 half pints of blackberry jam, 3 pints peach, 4 half pints peach and 3 pints of peach/blackberry mixed.

We used the reduced sugar SureJell recipe instead of full sugar which calls for SEVEN cups sugar for five cups of fruit. It's enough to make you never want to eat jam again. Even the reduced sugar SureJell was a bit too sweet for my taste, so next year I vow to find a way to use even significantly LESS sugar than this. Perhaps I can find a way to produce my own brand of pectin and market it to people who (a) don't like overly sweet jam and (b) refuse to use Splenda for the "no sugar" recipe. I'd rather use too much real sugar than one ounce of fake sugar.

Please assume that for all recipes we washed and rinsed the jars in scalding water and scalded the lids and rings.

We prepared the peaches by dropping them gently, one-by-one into boiling water for 1 minute, then an ice bath for 2 minutes. The skins slid right off and the stones separated from the flesh when cut in half.

So for both jams, it went like this:

5 whole cups blackberries (or 5 cups peaches) crushed
4 cups sugar
1 packet SureJell mixed with 1/4 cup of your measured sugar
Crush the berries/peaches into a 6-8 quart saucepan and let them slowly heat up and release their juices. Add the 1/4 cup sugar with the pectin. If you want to strain out a few seeds, go for it. But make sure you aren't taking away significant volume from the saucepan. Let it all come to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. When the boil is constant, add the rest of the sugar and boil 1 minute more.

Ladle immedietly into jars with 1/8 inch space on top. Wipe the mouths of the jars clean and cover with the scalding hot lids and tighten with rings immedietly.

This is where it gets fun: my mom and grandma say that processing isn't necessary and that you can just flip your jars over for 5 minutes on their lids. When they flip back up, gravity will slowly pull the hot fruit down and seal the jar. I wanted to test this hypothesis so I didn't process the blackberry, but I did process the peach.

To process: lower the jars into boiling water that covers them 1-2 inches. You don't need a canner for this, people, so that can't be your excuse for not making jam. Just don't let the jars touch the bottom of the pot. I use a stainless steel trivet. The guys from The Bitten Word used this ingenious contraption: http://www.thebittenword.com/thebittenword/2010/08/canning-tomatoes-how-to-tomatoes-packed-in-water.html#more
Let them boil for 10 minutes in this manner before gently removing them to cool.

Surprise! ALL the jars sealed, including the ones that stood on their heads for 10 minutes. It certainly saved a step.
We also made a mixture of peach and blackberry that turned out to be my favorite of the whole bunch. Because the blackberries have a stronger texture, we just used one cup berries to four cups peaches.

Jam is time intensive, but I prefer to think of it as "love intensive". You've just got to give it a lot of love. Certainly when I can give jars of homemade organic sunshine away in the miserable winter, I hope people think of it as jarred love!

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