Honestly this is the best batch of strawberry jam I have ever made - of course, this is probably only the 3rd or 4th batch of strawberry jam I have ever made. I really haven't made much strawberry jam - probably because the first time (other than 4H) I made it for my husband it turned out horrible! Hard and all the fruit pieces rose to the top. But this one is nice and well distributed with a good soft spread. Even if its the worst one at the ISF it's good enough for me and my family! You say how can one tell if your entry is in the bottom - oh, you know when you watch the judging by where the entry is placed after sampling and how fast its placed there if its on the bottom.
Here are a few tips and tricks I use when making preserves that have really helped me out:
- Always use and follow USDA food preservation guidelines and I always use approved recipes -- here are some of the books I use when canning or freezing:
- So Easy to Preserve by: Cooperative Extension, The University of Georgia (currently on loan from my mom - thanks mom!)
- 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades and Other Soft Spreads by: Linda J. Amendt (some yummy recipes and good guidelines especially on measurement of fruit needed for total processed cups).
- Ball's Blue Book
2. Protect your books from spills (it happens). I discovered wax paper over the pages you need help protect the book from sticky spills plus you can lay your spoon on it and easily retrieve the spoon as needed. Since the Ball Blue Book is a soft cover book a long time ago I tore it all apart and put it in sheet protectors in a 3-Ring Binder - still holding up after at least 10 years.
3. I find the new tool set Ball came out with last year is fantastic. I know I already had a jar lifter, jar funnel and lid retriever but the pre-marked head space/air bubble remover is worth having two sets of the others! Now when I go to check head space I just use that little gadget and know my measurement will be accurate - just set on the edge of the jar at the head space measurement needed and immediately know how close you are!
4. Speaking of head space (or head case - I am a bit of a perfectionist - yes, I just heard my family all snort at me) I fill all of the jars first to about the right head space but leaving some room to fill. Then I fill a little 4 oz jar and take out a 1/2 Tablespoon measuring spoon. I individually place each jar on either one of my small hard plastic or wood cutting boards to ensure a flat surface (my cooling racks are NOT flat and even). I add enough to eye ball the proper head space and then measure with my gadget adding or taking out the needed amount. Remove any air bubbles and wipe the rims. The jar goes back in it's place on the cooling rack (lined with a towel) until they are all complete. Then lid, ring (gently finger tighten only) and into the canner. Do make sure you use the proper process timing for your area of the state - the guidelines have changed slightly if you haven't canned in awhile. Also, it is now recommended to leave the jars sit in the bath after processing rather than immediately removing after the water bath/canner is turned off from the heat. Trust me when it comes to food safety my registered dietitian mom keeps me up to date (I think secretly she'd make a great food/kitchen safety inspector)!
5. Keep your extra in a little 4 oz jar and cap with a lid (I like the plastic versions you can get for the mason jars) and put in the fridge. That is if it lasts that long! This way you get to taste it right away.
6. Preventing floating - OK, I struggle with this and I haven't found an exact method yet but I think after some research and trying to understand the science of jam making I may have some advice that will help. If your fruit floats to the top like mine does (at least in my strawberry and peach jams - which really in my opinion do you need any other types of jam?) try cutting them into small pieces before crushing. Gently crush them with a potato masher - this will release the air trapped inside the cells of the fruit. This will allow for more sugar to be absorbed during cooking leading to heavier fruit. Which in theory should lead to less separation. Also, give the jam a 5 minute cooling process before filling the jars. Stir it occasionally during this time. The fruit will continue to release air and absorb sugar during this time. Plus the liquid increases in viscosity allowing the fruit to be more suspended.
One tip I have been given is to turn the jars over after processing. I wouldn't suggest this - this is not an approved method and can mess with the seal and cause the seal to fail. If you want more great soft spread making tips I really do recommend Linda Amendt's Soft Spread book (see book list above) - there is a lot of good advice in it plus she uses simple science to explain why and why not of doing things which I happen to appreciate.
7. Use the freshest picked ingredients. This year for the first time I bought lemons and used fresh squeezed lemon juice rather than bottled. If you have lemons on hand I highly recommend this method - I noticed a positive difference in flavor. So much for doubting Paula Deen's advice on that matter : )
ENJOY! Nothing is better than homemade jam on a grandma bun (for non-family those are my family's measuring stick against all other bread rolls)! Grant currently enjoys licking the jam off the bun first and eating the bun last.
(Sorry for being a bit behind on blog posts this week - for some reason Blogger wasn't working for me Sunday and Monday).