My birthday goal – to make jam for the first time
When my boyfriend asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I lit up and said please take me blueberry picking so I can make jam. Why you may ask? Because I just watched an episode of America’s Test Kitchen during which they made strawberry jam and it looked like fun. Plus they used cool tools like jam lifters that allow you to safely lift glass bottles of scalding hot sugary liquids out of huge pots of boiling water; what could possibly go wrong? But I love tools of all kinds, so I ordered my canning equipment and waited for the day to use it. My loving boyfriend obliged.
What I can and can’t do….
Sticking with America’s Test Kitchen, I used their recipe for blueberry jam. It was a Goldilocks experience. The first batch was overcooked. I failed to account for being 2000 ft above sea level and cooked it to a higher temperature than what was needed even though my instincts kept telling me it was done. Batch two looked good, but I ended up with less jam than I was supposed to, which is a big deal when filling jars and getting them to seal properly, hence avoiding botulism. I couldn’t figure out what went wrong until I saw about a fifth of the fresh blueberries still sitting on the scale. Determined not to be defeated by jam, I made a third batch and it turned out just right. The blueberry jam gods were finally on my side.
It was actually so much fun that I decided I needed to can more things. After a visit to the local farmer’s market, I came home armed with 3 pounds of peaches for jam, 14 pounds of tomatoes for crushed tomatoes, and 2 pounds of cucumbers for bread and butter pickles. I had to wait two days to begin and by then the peaches turned brown and had to be thrown away. The tomatoes were showing signs of skin damage. Even with plucking out the worse of them, I was still weary of canning anything that showed any element of bacteria creeping in. Nonetheless, I peeled (par-boiled and ice-bathed) and diced and cooked about 12 pounds or 20 tomatoes and made a tomato puree for a sauce to freeze. The cucumbers held up for Pickering, but the jury is still out as to how they will taste. Everything went wrong and I couldn’t keep the water bath in the temperature range called for in the instructions. I might have soggy pickles.
What I learned is that canning can be frustrating and addictive. It was a ton of fun and very cool to turn a fruit into a jam. But I need to learn more about selecting fruits and vegetables suitable for preserving. And I need to scale my ambition down a bit with a medium that is so susceptible to change, i.e. rot.
Bottom line – can’t wait to go strawberry picking!
The tomato skins are inspiration for another art quilt! As I was dodging staining my clothes with tomato juice I remember seeing an episode of Quilting Arts in which they used rust and botanicals to dye fabric. I now have a pile of tomato skins, some of which I sun-dried, to attempt fabric dying! To be continued….