Thursday, June 4, 2009

Canning--Strawberry Jam Success!

What a fun afternoon I had the other day! Last summer there was a posting on freecycle for free produce that was in desperate need of being taken that day. It turns out that there is a couple that picks up damaged and past prime produce from a vendor at a local flea market every single week during the summer. Much of the fruit is in really rough shape, but some of it is just in need of quick eating or preserving. I was very fortunate to get a lot of fruit to make into baby food for the little guy this way last summer. I froze cubes of it and it lasted about 4 months. Talk about frugal groceries for a baby!

The fair has started up again for the summer and they have started their weekly pick up. On Monday I headed down to see what I could find that could be useful to our family. I was able to get about 10 tomatoes that I turned into salsa, 1 orange pepper that we used in a pasta dish, a dozen or so mangoes that turned into 6 more servings of baby food, 2 heads of lettuce that we are eating up quickly and a flat of strawberries. Keep in mind this is not like going to the grocery store. There were totally rotten strawberries in most of the containers, there were spots in almost all the tomatoes, a few mangoes were totally bad when I cut into them and some were partially bad. It isn't the prettiest of work, but I am grateful for what it provides for our family. And our compost bin appreciates the rest!

I had gotten a small canning pot at a garage sale years ago and got a few other supplies, including jelly jars from my mom. I bought new lids and rings a few weeks ago in preparation for doing some canning this fall. Lucky for me I got to do a test run with strawberry jam this week. I jumped online and found a few different versions of jam recipes with and without pectin. I do not have any pectin and was glad to see I could do this without it. The recipe could not have been easier.

There was a bit of a time commitment and the juggling of sterilizing everything. There was a lot of stirring and lots of hot water boiling. There were lots of strawberries to wash and pick through and mash and compost. There were sticky spatulas, pans, and counter tops. But, it was so much fun! And in the end there were 7 half-pints of strawberry jam! We are so excited about it and I can't wait until I try canning something else. If you've never tried canning do not be afraid! If I can do it, so can you. We'll learn together this type of produce at a time.

Strawberry Jam

4 cups mashed strawberries

4 cups sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

Stir all together in a large pot cooking over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and stir constantly until it reaches 220 degrees. This will probably take at least 10 minutes of hard boiling. You can use a candy thermometer or use the freezer plate* method to know if you are ready to can it. Once it reaches the jelling point fill hot sterilized jars leaving 1/4" head space (space between the top of the jelly and the top of the jar. Put into the hot water bath and bring to a boil. Once boiling process (with lid on) for 6 minutes. Remove from water bath and let cool. Listen to the pops that tell you that you have successfully canned strawberry jam!

*The freezer plate method is very cool, especially for those of us without candy thermometer. You put a few small plates in the freezer and when you think the jam has boiled enough you put a small puddle on the cold plate. Let it cool a moment and run your finger through it. If it stays separate and doesn't run back together it is ready to use or can. If it is too runny it needs more time. Keep stirring and boiling and try again!

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