Saturday, September 26, 2009

Boring Canning Details

My brain functions with a Catch and Release sort of mentality. Reel em in and Let em go, is the general idea of all my knowledge. Right now my brain is full of Xterra athlete and event details, because that is what I spent all week writing stories about. Next time they come to town though I won't be able to remember who won what or how the event is run. I might even have to look up if I was there. I used to be smart. I'm not quite sure what happened.

With that preamble, here is a boring post about canning because I get tired of re-inventing the wheel. Last year I posted about peaches and pears and boy oh boy did I use that post this year. By the time I dusted off my canning equipment, I'd forgotten what a peach looked like, let alone how to can it. I'm a little less thrilled about how my peaches turned out this year, the color is not as beautiful as usual, but I'm sure I can figure out a way to fix that and still manage to be a lazy canner.

This year you will be treated to a post about Blackberries! And how I made my kitchen look as if I had killed someone in it. Isn't that appetizing. Makes you want to open a fresh jar of jam right now, doesn't it?

Early this month we were invited by Mike's aunt and uncle to pick from their stash. Holy Canoly. It was marvelous. The girls stuffed themselves and turned their fingers and mouths purple. We filled five huge cookie sheets and one 10x10 pan with blackberries. What to do with all of them? JAM! And freeze a few. And give some to my mom (with hopes she'll make me a pie with them) And give some to Sherrie. And eat some, sweetness exploding in my mouth! Oh yum.

I've never made Blackberry jam before and I thought syrup sounded good too. Well, toss the idea of syrup right into the Canning Hall of Fame terrible tragedies. It was not worth the effort.

I decided to experiment with jam recipes. I'm somewhat obsessed with how much sugar is in everything. I'd like to use less and have my kids consume less, so I was basically trying to see how much sugar I could do without before I put the jam in the freezer for my posterity to be grossed out about when they find it after I die. Because I wouldn't throw it away. I would pretend that I was going to eat it. So I wouldn't be wasteful. Anyway here's the recipes I used:

Batch 1:
I used a recipe (kind of) from Savory Sweet Life. I found this site while looking for jams without pectin. I had some strange idea that pectin made jams unhealthy. The more I read about pectin the more I realized that it's just dried fruit rinds. Or something equally benign. Anyway, I wanted to make some jam without pectin, mostly because I didn't have any.

So I used 6 c. berries and 3 c. sugar and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. I cooked it the way she said to. It tasted great, was a little runny, and yielded 7 pints. I processed them for 15 min in my canner, but I put two in the freezer. Just to see. Someday I'm going to be blogging from my hospital bed about horrible indigestion, but until then I'll keep trying to figure out exactly what I can get away with in the kitchen. Besides I have a stomach of steel. (knock on wood)

Batch 2: This was freezer jam. I broke down and bought some pectin. Like I said, it's only citrus rinds. You can mimic its effects by adding orange rinds (or something. I didn't try this. It seemed much easier to dump in a box of pectin.) I used 4 c. berries and 1.5 cups sugar and a box of pectin for this recipe. Yield: 6 pints. This was by far easier than my first batch and the method I will use in the future. Pectin, I believe in you. I actually followed the recipe in the pectin box on this one, since it called for minimal sugar. Here's a link to the Ball freezer jam pectin I bought. If I wanted to get all crazy and go sugar-free, I could even buy sugar-free pectin. Mah-ve-lous.

Now for the syrup. A Disaster. I blame my sieve. Supposedly you can strain all the seeds out of the berries and have delicious syrup. Well. Here's what I got for my effort. 1 lousy half pint of syrup. Pssh. That's not worth canning. I found a couple syrup recipes and tried this one, kind of. I used 4 c. berries and added sugar to taste. Someone said the syrup was super runny, so I brilliantly though I would just eliminate the water in the recipe. Brilliant. It just got stuck in my sieve. I left it for hours hoping it was just a really slow drip. Nope. The leftover berry mixture in the sieve looked a lot like jam to me. So I poured it into a jar and canned it as jam. It's a little seed-thick, but tastes fine to me. So my yield from that was 1 pint jam and 1/2 pint of syrup. Not an effective method at all.

Second Syrup Batch.
I decided to give the syrup a second chance. After all it was my fault for not putting in the water right? Right-o. Poor little syrup it never had a chance. This time I was going to follow the blackberry syrup recipe that I found here. I really was. But it called for a lot of sugar. A lot. How much do you really need? This requires further research which I am far too lazy to do. I just thought I'd subject my stomach to a few experiments. I'll let you know when I open my last bottle of blackberry jam if diarrhea or other horrors ensue. Until then I'd consult some other source for recipes and canning tips. Like the Ball Website. I just read their FAQs and you don't have to add sugar to can safely.

Anyway I used 6 c. berries and 1/4 c. sugar and 1/2 c. water. Seriously, these blackberries were sweet. I followed their method until it said add more sugar and boil it all again. Nope didn't do that. Yeah. If I were you, I don't think I'd accept any form of jam or syrup from me except the pectin freezer jam. That was done according to regulations. I got 3 c. syrup (1.5 pints) that tasted fine. But again with the sieve! I poured it in and waited and waited and then gave up, scooped out the leftovers, turned them into 2.5 pint jars of jam and gave up on canning syrup completely.

Well, this experiment was completely unscientific. What have we learned? 1. Not to take blackberry jams and jellies from Stephanie. 2. Blackberries are delicious and will stain. 3. Canning syrup is not worth it. I would make some fresh syrup or syrup from frozen berries for breakfast, but I will never, ever make syrup with the intent of canning it unless someone introduces me to a cheap and easy way to do it. 4. Freezer pectin jam is the method to use. 5. Picking blackberries makes you feel like Huckleberry Finn 6. Consult somewhere else for safety and recipe tips.

P.S. Dear neighbors: I plan to give you all a jar of jam for Christmas. I bought a half bushel of pears and made pear honey (scroll down for recipe). This yielded 48 half pints of jam. (I told Mike we could have as many friends as we wanted this Christmas. We certainly have enough jam) I followed the recipe and safe canning guidelines. I canned it safely. I did not perform experiments with it. No worries. I promise. If I give you a jar of blackberry jam though, consider our friendship to be in dire straights.


Kristina P. said...

The very first jam I ever made was blackberry jam, and it was delicious. Strawberry jams is not my friend. I feel your pain.

Natalie said...

You are amazing! Have you ever tried Ultra-Set from Kitchen Kneads? It's basically Pectin, but you get a large bag (it will last for the entire season...seriously!) it is a fraction of the price, and it calls for less sugar. It works great!

Stacie Marietti said...

I am impressed with your canning skills!! That picture makes me want to run out and find some blackberries.

Trevor and Liz Covington said...

Steph... as for the sugarless freezer jam, DON'T Do IT! My mom mistakenly gave me a box of pectin and a bunch of strawberries to turn into jam for her. I naturally, chose to follow the sugar free method just adding fruit juice... o it turned out sour and gorss and these were really ripe and sweet strawberries! I was really disappointed... I'm not sure how you get sweet delicious sugar free jam but don't follow that recipe on the box!!

Trevor and Liz Covington said...

it was actually more gross than gorss.. but who's paying that close of attention to my typing?

Annie said...

Way to go on the canning!! I am new to canning this year. -Annie Clayton