Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How to Make Homemade Jam

Every summer, my Mom turns out batches of the most beautiful homemade strawberry jam you can imagine.  It's a vibrant, beautiful red, almost pink, and it tastes so sweet and fresh even when you crack open a jar at Christmas-time months later.  Nothing I buy in the store compares.

I have always been intimidated by the thought of making my own.  What if it doesn't gel?  How do you know it's sealed right?  That the jars and lids were sanitized right?  Sealing glass jars seemed so daunting, and so important to get right.  Heaven forbid you mess around with food safety when you're giving gifts or feeding your own small children!

Luckily for me, Mom knows what she's doing, and when you have an expert to show you what each step looks like, it's really not hard.  Like so many things in life, the invention of how to do it probably required genius, but once someone who knows how clears up the mystique, it's actually pretty simple.  (Knitting, baking yeast breads, jam.... Mom is so good at teaching me life's little mysteries!)

Since it's not really strawberry season anymore, we picked a fruit that's at it's peak.  Here's how we made Peach jam!

Step One: Invite an amazing friend over who is extremely helpful and good with children

Step Two:  Sanitize the glass jars, flat metal lids, and screw bands.  Boil the clean, empty glass jars in the canner while you assemble other ingredients.  Pour boiling water over the flat lids and screw bands and let them sit.

Screw bands and flat lids, sitting in hot water until needed.
Empty glass mason jars, boiling until use.

Step Three: Peel and finely chop four cups of peaches.  Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.  We peeled and roughly chopped them, then finished them in the food processor so that they were quite finely chopped but there were still visible chunks of peach.  I bought 4 lbs of peaches, and ended up using 7 to get the four cups.

Step Four: Double check to make sure you have the exact amount of fruit required by your recipe (most pectin packages come with recipes if you need one) because otherwise your jam might not set.

Our food processed peaches and the Sure Jell pectin we used.
Step Five: Measure out your sugar so it's ready to be added all at once.  It's important to be exact or the jam might not set.  Our recipe called for five and a half cups of sugar.

Step Six: Stir the box of pectin into the fruit and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil.  (Bubbles even when you're stirring.)

Step Seven: Add the sugar all at once while stirring and return to a full rolling boil, then boil EXACTLY one minute, stirring constantly.  Mom stressed the importance of precision in every step to get the jam to set - she had us prepare a timer before we started heating up the fruit and pectin, so we could press go the second the sugar began boiling again!

Why did you THINK jam tastes so good?
(Just don't eat it all at once.)
The sugar has been added and the mixture is boiling while stirred -
Step Eight: Remove from heat and skim off the foam (see above photograph).

Removed from heat, with the foam scooped off.
Step Nine: Remove glass mason jars from boiling water and get ready to fill them.

Step Ten: Fill the glass jars almost full, to about 1/8th of an inch from the top.  Wipe any dripped jam from the top and threads of the jar.  Cover with the flat part of the lid, then screw a band tightly onto the jam jar.  Place the filled jam jar into the canner.

Probably you should use a towel when holding the hot glass jar! 
Step Eleven: Fill remaining jars and add to canner.  Make sure they're covered by at least one or two inches of boiling water, then boil the jams for ten minutes.

Filling jam jars!
Jars of jam, sealing in the canner.

Step Twelve: Remove jars and let sit upright on a towel to cool completely.  Then let sit out at room temperature for twenty four hours.  As they cool, you may hear little pops as each jar vacuum seals.  To check and see if a jar has sealed, press down on the center of the lid, if the lid springs back, it didn't seal and you need to keep it in the refrigerator and use within a week.  Otherwise, jams can be stored for up to a year before opening and refrigerated three weeks after opening.  (Hence Mom's amazing tradition of gifting people with Strawberry jam around Christmas time!)
We are so awesome. (Alternate caption: Peach jam, cooling on the counter)

*Note: It's recommended by canning experts that you remove the bands for storage, since moisture trapped in the threads of the jar could cause them to rust, and because they can make a jar seem sealed that isn't.  Keeping them on for gifts and transport is fine!

Serving suggestion - homemade white bread!

Mimi entertains Andrew from his supervising position on the kitchen floor. (Will was napping.)

Thanks Mom!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I love my boys.  They are amazing.  AMAZING.  And I love their age difference, because there are things that are so special about each of them that are unique to the phase they're in.  This morning, Will said "Morn - ing, sun, shine" when I opened his curtains, and then counted his blueberries with me, all the way up to ten.  He is soaking up language like a sponge, and then repeating what interests him, and it fascinates me.  Even when he screams "WHHHYYYYYYY SOOOO Louuuuuuud...." at me in Whole Foods.  Maybe especially when that happens.  (Be a good mom, keep a straight face, do it... do it... fail.)

Will has learned the magical word "no", and likes to apply it to a large variety of circumstances.  My favorite is the either/or questions.  "Would you like the purple diaper or the red diaper?"  "Noooo...."  Purple it is.

There are times when I wonder if Will just continues to say no to see what else we will come up with.

"Do you want peas with dinner?"
"A dirty martini with an extra olive?"
"Old vine zinfandel?"
"More mature parents?"

Sometimes, Will gets a little "no" happy on us.  And that's when I am especially grateful to have a 6 month old as well, because Andrew is most definitely NOT in a no phase.  Andrew is in a "YAY!!!" phase.  He reminds me of an old internet joke I read comparing a cat and a dog's diary, where the dog is always saying "A bone!  My favorite thing!  Ride in the car, my favorite thing!", and the cat is like "day 983 of my captivity..."

Well, if Will is "no" lately, Andrew is "yay!!!", and it's wonderful :)

Will: Nooooo.....
Andrew: A Picture with grandparents, YAY!!!!

I'm three months old, YAY!!!!
A stroller ride... YAY!!!!

Another stroller ride?!!  YAY!!!!

A CAR RIDE?!?!!  YAY!!!!

We're at the beach, YAY!!!!

I'm on my stomach, YAY!!!!

Will's about to drop me... YAY!!!!

Coffee with Grampa!  YAY!!!!

My great-grandmother, Nana!  YAY!!!!
My first tooth came through!  YAY!!!

Mimi knit me this blanket.  YAY!!!!

I'm six months old!  YAY!!!!

I'm in a swing.  YAY!!!!

We're in a hammock!  YAY!!!!
Daddy is holding me!  YAY!!!!