Blueberry Jam Winner

blueberry jam winner

We’ve got a blueberry jam winner! The randomizer selected #20, which corresponds with the comment left by Rebecca. Congratulations Rebecca (I’ll be in touch via email soon)!

Don’t forget that you’ve got until Monday at 11:59 p.m. to enter the Fresh Preserving Kit giveaway!

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Seattle Canning Class + Giveaway

pickled cukes and jalapenos

Thanks to the combined power of good people and cross-country emails, I have a world of good news to share. The first tidbit is that I’m going to be teaching a jam-making class in Seattle on Sunday, August 30th. Here’s the official blurb:

Canning Basics with Marisa McClellan: Fruit Jam
Sunday, August 30, 2009
2:00 to 3:30 PM
Learn just how easy it is to make and can a batch of jam from scratch. If you’ve never done any canning because you think it’s too complicated, this class will change your mind and your pantry forever. Each student will head home with the knowledge they need to make their own jam (as well as a small jar of the jam made in class that day). To sign up, email me at foodinjars@gmail.com.

Cost: $45

The class will be held at Starry Nights Catering & Events, 11200 Kirkland Way, #220, Kirkland, WA.

I haven’t determined what kind of jam we’ll make in the class, I’m planning on waiting to see what looks good when I get into town the day before. I assure you though, whatever we make is certain to be delicious.

The other fun item is that I’ve got another giveaway for you guys, and we’re going to get it going before the current giveaway concludes (you have until the end of today to throw your hat in the ring to win a jar of homemade blueberry jam). You might have noticed that a number of food blogs are giving away a Fresh Preserving Kit from Jarden Home Brands, the folks who make the Ball Brand Fresh Preserving Products. Well, thanks to a partnership between the Canning Across America project and Jarden, I’ve got one to give away as well!

giveaway composite

This is a great item for people who are just getting started canning as well as those of you who can regularly, but could really use some new tools. Included in the kit is the pot you see pictured, along with a rack, wide-mouth funnel, jar lifter, head space/bubbling tool and lid wand. Also included with this giveaway is a copy of the Blue Ball Book of Preserving.

So how to you enter for a chance to win? Leave a comment and tell me why you want it. Do you want to make jam? Are you a fool for pickles? Do you have fond memories of canning with your grandmother? Is your spouse tired of you using your stock pot as a hot water bath? Whatever the reason, I want to hear it. The winner will be randomly selected at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, August 10th and will be notified soon after by email.

Good luck!

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Blueberry Jam

measured blueberries

When it comes to canning, blueberries were my gateway fruit (although they didn’t usher me through the doorway into the realm of canning preoccupation until I reached adulthood). Growing up, I’d often pick them with my family, but I always left the jam-making and canning to my mom, participating only when it came time to squish the berries into jammable shape with my fingers (there’s something so deeply satisfying about crushing those juicy little blue orbs into pulpy bits).

However, one fateful July day during the summer of 2007, my friend Seth and I decided to go blueberry picking and everything changed. That summer, I was in grad school and he was unemployed, so we both had free time on our hands. It was the first time I had gone berry picking without parents, a sibling or babysitting charges that needed to be entertained. We spent at least two hours out in the blueberry field, filling up our buckets and eating until our fingers were stained blue and our stomachs were ready to burst with fruit.

smashed blueberries

Later that day, when I was home alone with my berries, I did the thing that was innate. I called my mom for canning advice, ran across the street to the hardware store for some jars and pectin and made my first solo batch of jam. Thinking back on it now, it’s hard to imagine a time when I had so little canning experience, when I hovered anxiously over my filled jars, praying for them to seal (admittedly, there are times when I still check and recheck freshly processed jars, only able to relax when they ring out a ping of sealed success).

Since then, I have made at least 100 batches of jams, marmalades, fruit butters, chutneys and pickles. However, blueberry jam will always feel familiar, foundational and necessary in a way that no other fruit can match. Summer doesn’t feel complete without at least one blueberry picking trip and a batch of homemade blueberry jam cooling on the kitchen counter.

blueberry jam in pot

We’re heading into the end of blueberry picking season here in the mid-Atlantic region, but there are still to be found if you look (as a side note, if you’re interested in the history of cultivated blueberries, check out this interesting little article). You can also get them at the grocery store for relatively cheap prices, if you don’t have any u-pick farms in your area.

And on to the recipe…

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Peach Jam Winner + Some Q & A

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As is my norm, I’m a bit last posting the latest giveaway winner. But better late than never, right?

The lucky winner of this half pint of peach jam is commenter #8, Adrienne Bruno. Congrats Adrienne, I’ll be in touch soon to get your mailing address.

When I first started writing this blog, I was really good about replying to each and every comment you all left. However, since then, life has gotten a little more complicated (wedding planning will do that to a girl) and I’ve gotten a little lax when it comes to replies. You’ve all been asking some really question though, so I wanted to call a few of them out.

Tenaya asked: Why do garlic cloves turn blue in pickling solution? This happened when I made some pickled asparagus based on one of your recipes. It didn’t turn completely blue, but certainly blue-ish. It happened after I heated the garlic in the hot pickling solution, if I remember correctly.

Garlic has a tendency to turn blue when combined with an acid, particularly if it’s very fresh and heat is involved. For more about this, here are a couple of threads on Chowhound that go into bluing garlic. One thing I do in an attempt to avoid bluing garlic is to not include the garlic in the hot brine solution, but instead poke a couple of cloves in among the packed veggies, so that they don’t spend to much time in solo contact with the acid solution. Good news is that though it might not be particularly nice looking, blue garlic is perfectly safe to eat.

More questions/answers after the jump…

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Pressure Canned Ham Stock

ham hocks

This year, for my 30th birthday, my fiancé gave me a pressure canner. Some might look at this gift as decidedly unromantic, but it was actually exactly what I wanted. In fact, I started telling him it was what I wanted sometime back in February, more than three months ahead of time, just in case he got it into his head to get me jewelry or some other impractical bauble.

However, since my birthday back in May, the only thing the canner (a 16-quart aluminum Presto) has been doing is look pretty while sitting quietly under one of my dining room chairs. You see, while I understood the basics of pressure canning intellectually, the reality of it still scared me a bit. So I let the canner sit, satisfying my canning needs by making batch after batch of preserves and pickles, that needed nothing more than a good, hot water bath to set to shelf stable rights.

beginning of stock

But then, a couple of weeks ago, Joy Manning and Tara Matazara Desmond, co-authors of the cookbook Almost Meatless invited me to participate in their blog potluck (Joy is blogging about all the potluck dishes over at her blog What I Weigh Today if you want to check out some of the other recipes). As we talked back and forth about which recipe of theirs I’d tackle, it became clear that this blog and I were best suited to try out a stock recipe, as stock is cannable. In a pressure canner. It was finally time to conquer my pressure canner nerves once and for all.

I decided to make the recipe for Ham Stock that’s found on page 136 of the book. While it’s not a main event on its own, it’s an incredibly useful cooking cast member to have on hand, as it gives you the ability to boost the flavor of many a meal while still keeping them light on meat. Not having the remnants of a ham laying around, I got my hands on a couple of nice, meaty ham hocks with which to make the stock.

one jar in pressure canner

As soon as I fired up the stock pot, a wonderfully smoky/porky scent began to fill the apartment. Scott and I sat around, enjoying the aroma and becoming increasing hungry as the broth bubbled away. After it had cooked for two hours, I fished the hocks out of the pot with a pair of tongs, removed the meat to a plate and returned the bones to the pot for another hour+ of simmer for “maximum gelatin extraction” (a tip offered by Tara that isn’t included in the book).

By the time the stock was done, it was late Sunday evening (and I’d had a stomach ache all day, I’m a trouper I tells ya!). Had I had a spare bit of room in my fridge, I would have put the stock away for the night and returned to pressure can another day (this is actually the recommended technique, as it allows you to completely defat the stock prior to canning). However, being me, my fridge was full to bursting and so I needed to push on. I strained the stock through several layers of cheesecloth to get out the finest of particulate matter and returned it to the pot in order to bring to a boil.

filling jars

While all this stock processing was going on, my quart jars were in the pressure canner heating up. Once the stock had return to a boil, I began the process of removing a jar, filling it, wiping the rim, applying the lid/ring and returning it to the pot. Instead of creating an assembly line, I processed each jar one at a time, in order to keep the jars and stock as hot as possible (part of pressure canning best practices). I’d been told by Doris of Doris and Jilly Cook that it’s important to really get those rings on there tight when pressure canning stock, as otherwise your stock will “siphon” (the official canning word for when the liquid in your jars bubbles out from underneath the lid), so before I returned each filled jar to the pot, I used a dish towel to hold it in place as I muscled the ring into place.

Once all the jars were full, I locked the pressure canner lid into place and began the process of venting the air out of the canner. After ten minutes of venting, I popped the weight onto the vent stem and watched as the pressure began to rise. Quarts of stock need to process for 25 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure (that is, if you have a gauged canner like mine. If you have a weighted canner, you process at 10 pounds of pressure).

I only have six heat options on my stove (and that includes ‘off’) so I was never able to get the canner at exactly 11 pounds, it hovered around 13 pounds for most of the canning session. However, I knew from what I’ve read that it’s okay for the pressure to be a bit over (it can lead to overcooking, which isn’t a concern with stock, but could be a problem if you were working with fruits or veggies), as long as the pressure doesn’t drop below 11 pounds during the 25 minute processing time.

filled jars

I’ve never been so delighted as I was when the timer beeped to announce that the 25 minutes were up. I danced to the kitchen to turn off the stove and wait until the pressure had dropped enough for me to remove the lid. Nearly every jar pinged  the moment I lifted it out of the water, and I’ve never had lids that have so vigorously sealed. Those things are seriously concave.

canner at pressure

So now I have seven quarts of homemade, shelf stable stock (in my insanity, I also made a batch of chicken stock – from chicken feet! – the same day I made the ham stock. In for a penny…) in my pantry. I’m particularly in love with the ham stock though, and am already dreaming of making a big pot of rice with it that I will then turn into a vege-ful fried rice. Such flavor!

The Ham Stock recipe from Almost Meatless can be found after the jump and is reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press and the authors. Make it!

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Mid-Summer Preserving Check-In

sweet cherries

With just a few more days left in July, we’re now about halfway through the height of the summer preserving season. So far this year I’ve made jam from strawberries, plums, peaches, apricots, rhubarb and done some mixed fruit compotes. I’ve pickled asparagus, string beans, cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, carrots and okra. I’ve canned peaches with vanilla bean and star anise, brewed some homemade syrups, made chutney and experimented with tomato jam. Over the weekend, I led a canning workshop in which we processed 58 quarts of whole tomatoes (I came home with several) and I finally pulled out the pressure canner and put up seven quarts of homemade stock.

I’ve learned a lot through all that canning. Here are some of the most useful things I’ve gleaned recently.

  • A melon baller does a great job of extracting the pits from stone fruit (peaches, nectarines and plums).
  • Sour cherries make the best jam ever and should be purchased whenever you find them at reasonable prices.
  • Always cook jam in a larger pot than you think you need. It’s easier to scrub out a pot than it is to scour burnt sugar and fruit off your stove.
  • Make sure to keep a couple of wooden spoons that are just used for jam, there’s nothing worse than stirring your strawberry jam with a spoon that smells like garlic or onions.
  • Although I often preach that you don’t need to buy any special tools in order to can, having a jar lifter and wide-mouth funnel handy makes everything (at least in the world of home canning) easier.
  • Measure everything out before you start.
  • When it comes to canning peaches and whole tomatoes, pack ’em tight to avoid float.
  • A mortar and pestle is great for breaking down berries for jam (just make sure it doesn’t smell like garlic).
  • Taste what you’re making. Adjust your seasonings before committing food to jar.
  • When using a pressure canner, make sure to put a bit of white vinegar in the water, otherwise you get ugly water marks on all your jars.
  • Don’t be afraid to experience with new herbs and spices.
  • Just about everything can be pickled.
  • Making jam from the fruit you’ve picked with your own two hands is hugely satisfying (admittedly, I knew this one before, but I continually reaffirm it).
  • It’s okay if you aren’t perfect as long as you follow good safety precautions (a good lesson for life in general).
  • If the jam doesn’t set, call it sauce. No one will know or care.
  • Pickles just keep on getting better.

Okay kids, now it’s your turn. I want to hear about what you’ve made so far, the mishaps and the things you’ve learned. What will you make again next year and what’s going into the blooper pile? How do you feel? What still scares you? Has canning changed how you approach the summer?

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