Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We Be Jammin'

I got a good deal on blackberries at the farmer's market so I decided blackberry jam was in order.  So far, I have only made jam using low-sugar pectin.  Standard jam recipes call for shockingly high sugar to fruit ratios - more than one to one - so that the jam can set using only the natural pectin in the fruit.  The low-sugar pectin allows you to add no sugar at all or sugar to taste (I used about a 1/3 of a cup). 

I followed the recipe included in the pectin packet but added the zest of two lemons and the juice of one.  The jam was incredibly easy to make since there is virtually no prep of the fruit - just wash it and lightly crush with a potato masher. When I pulled the jars out of their water bath and they started to cool, I heard satisfying pops indicating that the vacuums had formed.

I opened a jar the next morning and slathered it on toast.  The small amount of sugar and the lemon meant that it was still pretty tart - certainly not as sweet as a standard jarred jam. I liked that the delicate taste of the fruit came through.

Although I happily ate it on toast every morning all week, the jam really fulfills its destiny in a peanut better and jelly sandwich.  The tartness of the berries cuts through the richness of the peanut butter.  

It occurred to me that canning requires a tremendous amount of science.  You have to think about the relationship between heat and pressure and the role of temperature and acidity in sterilization. I suppose that most of these things, as with yeast and bread making and countless other things in the kitchen, were learned first by trial and error and only later was the science understood.  Still pretty impressive, though.


  1. Any good guides for the canning process itself? I think I want to put up some salsa this summer.

  2. Bryan, I found that canning is pretty easy. I've only used the hot water canning method so far (as opposed to pressure canning) because I don't have a pressure cooker. I've been following the basic directions at the Ball website (

    It's really easy as long as you remember to clean off the rim of the jar before putting on the lid (I'm not always careful about this and I think it might be why I usually have one or two jars that don't seal). I bought a jar lifter that came in a set with a canning funnel, but that is pretty much the only special equipment I have. I just put a towel on the bottom of the pot so that the glass isn't directly on the metal.

    The biggest issue with salsa is that you need to be sure and use a tested recipe. Hot water canning only works with high-acid foods (like tomatoes, citrus, anything with vinegar, etc.) but with salsa you are adding in low-acid foods (peppers and onions). So you have to make sure that the final pH is acidic enough or else you run the risk of pesky bacteria surviving the hot water bath.

    I'm hoping to do some salsa too. so if you find any good recipes (there are a few on that Ball site), let me know!


    this book is pretty great, it's cheap, and it covers more than just canning.


  4. Thanks, Stephen! I added that to my to read list. I saw that it lists a lot of different types of crops that are better for different types of putting up. I would like to start gardening so that I can put up our own food but it is hard to get motivated when we are going to have to break up grassed over areas and we will probably only be here one more year or so.


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