Last year, I spent much of the summer in the UK so was disappointed to miss out on summer berry season here in Oregon. It is a big deal. And the biggest deal of all in Portland? The Hood Strawberry. Boy, when that one is ripe and ready for eating, people go crazy for it. But I would say that it is worth the hype. A little different to the classic British strawberry it is quite sweet but bursting with flavor.
As I’m currently not in a position to be picking for an hour in a field, I cheated a little and bought myself a tray of them at the farmers market. My intention? Jam. We don’t eat a great deal of jam in the Farrar household but we do enjoy it and it reminds me of the allotment days – and both my mum and dad making it annually.
Here in America making jam – or any other pickling, chutneying, putting things in jars, is called canning. For some time I have been intrigued to know how and what makes the canning process different to jam jar-ing, if at all. I had some ‘cans’ in, so set to my research and got on with my jam making.
It turns out that the difference between canning jam and the UK style of jam making, is that to can something, once you have filled your jar or can, you boil the entire jar and its contents to prevent spoiling and therefore preserve it. Not something I have ever done before, relying on the old fashioned wax topper and a tightened jar lid!
However, cans is what I had so canning is what I did. First you have to submerge your glass jars in water and sterilize them by heating them on the hob. As I don’t have a water canner I used a pasta pan because you don’t want your jars to be in direct contact with the base of the pan. Some people also recommend using a trivet or even a dishcloth on the base of the pan. I prepared these first and just left them on the hob while I did the rest of my jam making so that they would be thoroughly sterilized. In the UK, my preferred method of sterilizing jars was always to put them in the oven for 20 minutes or so.
Onto the jam making. Prepare the strawberries, then mash them up!
There seems to be no such thing as jam sugar here (perhaps because jam is referred to as jelly?) so I had to use regular granulated sugar and liquid pectin. After mashing the strawberries, I added the juice of two lemons and stirred in the pectin while bringing the fruit to a rolling boil. Once boiling, I added in the mountain of sugar required, always a sobering sight. Then you just have to stir it in until you get to the rapid boil stage (being careful not to reach the jam volcano stage of two years ago, as told on Farrars Field). Let the jam boil vigorously for a minute or so.
During this time, I pulled the jars/cans out of the boiling water and set them to the side, so that they would cool very slightly before I put the jam in them. At this point, I realized that my six small jars were not going to hold the vat of jam I had just made. I quickly threw an enormous kilner jar in the oven to sterilize.
I filled the jars with jam, using the jam funnel that I love, and added the rings and lids to the cans, closing them so that they were ‘finger-tight’ as per the canning instructions. Then, the filled jars go back into the boiling water bath. They have to be totally submerged and then have to be boiled for ten minutes. I had to do this in two batches due to the small width of the pasta pan. But this gave me time to sort out the leftover jam and kilner jar situation. I knew that this wouldn’t be properly canned, but thought we could eat this as more of a ‘refrigerator jam’ (which really means quickly and in larger quantities). It will keep fine in the fridge for a few weeks (due to the significant amount of sugar) without the boiling process but would not keep outside of the fridge without spoiling.
After 10 minutes of boiling, I carefully removed the cans from the boiling water and must now hope for the best! The bad thing about the refrigerator jam is that it means we have to put off the actual testing of the canned jam for some time. The jam in the fridge has turned out really well and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. However, I am concerned that the canned jam will be too runny (submerging finger-tight lids in water?) or too thick (I mean technically it’s been boiled for a lot longer). I’ll have to let you know how that one goes. And until then, it’s lots of toast and jam, jam sandwiches (PBJ’s if we’re feeling particularly American) and probably some jam-based baked products in our future.
So, how was the canning experience overall? I felt that I would have done much better with the proper equipment: a good sized canning pan, or at least a wider based pan that I could have fitted a trivet in the bottom of, and a pair of can tongs suitable for lifting hot glass jars out of boiling water. I also felt like the process took an awful lot longer than the jamming I had done previously. I was genuinely exhausted – and very hot from standing over pans of boiling jam and boiling water – by the end of the experience. However, I am pleased with the jam that I have tasted (and my family will account for last year’s very poor product made from Robinson’s Ranch produce) and I do feel confident that the jam will keep for the full year it should do without spoiling.
It turns out that yes, I can and yes, I probably can do again. Bring on the rest of the berries Oregon!