Tag Archives | canning 101

Canning 101: Why You Should Bubble Your Jars

bubbling the relish

Often, when you read a recipe for pickled vegetables, chutneys, relishes or whole fruit preserved in a syrup solution, you’ll come across a phrase that says something along the lines of, “bubble your jars thoroughly.” For new canners, this is often a confusing statement. What exactly is the recipe asking you to do and why do you need to do it?

When a recipe instructs you to bubble your jars, it is telling you to take either a plastic or wooden utensil (I really like that long, skinny spatula you see in the picture above. However, a wooden chopstick or a plastic knife work well too) and insert it into your jar. You use that utensil to wiggle your product around in order to release any trapped air bubbles. You do this after you’ve packed your jars and topped them with your brine or syrup (or after a chunky sauce/chutney/relish has been ladled in).

The reason you want to choose a tool that is made of either plastic or wood is that they will not scratch up the insides of your jars. Metal utensils can leave very small scars behind that end up shortening the lifespan of your jars. When working with glass, it’s always a good idea to do what you can to prevent breakage. This is one of those things.

The reason it’s important to rid your jars of trapped air is that in canning, the empty space to product ratio needs to balanced carefully. You need to have enough air in the jar so that after processing, the escaping heat can pull the oxygen out of the jar and create the vacuum seal. However, too much air and you find that some of your product is left sticking out of the preserving liquid, leaving it prone to discoloration and the development of off-flavors.

Additionally, if you leave those air bubbles trapped somewhere in the middle of the jar, they may try to escape during processing and can end up pushing some of your liquid out of the jar, leaving you with even less of your precious brine or syrup.

If you’ve had that loss of liquid happen to you in a previous canning attempt, don’t despair! As long as the seal is good and firm, the contents of the jar are still fine. You will want to move them up to the front of the consumption queue though, as they will not keep as long.

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Canning 101: How to Ensure That Your Jam Sets

temperature test

One of the trickiest things about making jam is achieving the set sweet spot. Cook it too long and you worry about the integrity of your cutlery as you reach in for a spoonful. Cut the stove time short and when it comes time to eat, the jam threatens to run off your toast in sticky rivulets (do know that jam this consistency is still amazing on pancakes or in yogurt. Call it a rustic syrup or old fashioned preserves and your friends will still be wowed).

plate test

First off, know that even the most experience jam maker has an off day here and there. The same recipe can yield a perfect set on Saturday and make an unfortunately sloshy batch on Sunday. Jam is influenced by the width of the pot you use to cook it, the ratio of sugar to water in the fruit, the amount of pectin in the fruit (as well as whether you add additional pectin), the elevation at which you’re cooking and even the amount of humidity in the air.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare to make a batch of jam…

  • As I mentioned above, the width of your pot can influence the set of your jam. Always choose the widest pot you have at your disposal that also has enough height to let the jam boil vigorously. More surface area means faster evaporation and ample height means you can crank the heat and let it boil. Getting the water evaporated out of your cooking jam at a speedy clip is integral to having a nice, spreadably sticky jam.
  • Take the jam’s temperature. Jam making is much like candy making in that you’re applying enough heat to the fruit and sugar to raise the temperature over the boiling point of 212 degrees and alter the structure of the sugar. The jam reaches its ideal set point at 220 degrees, so keep careful watch. Know that if you reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe too drastically, you may not be able to get your cooking jam up to the set point.
  • Before you take the jam off the heat, try the plate test. At the beginning of cooking (or even before) stash a couple saucers or sandwich plates in your freezer. When you believe the jam is cooked, grab one of the plates and plop a small spoonful at the center. Let it sit for a minute or two and then gently prod the puddle of jam with your finger. If it’s formed a surface skin and seems to be developing a certain solidity, it is done. If it is runny and saucy, give it a few more minutes.
  • Another test is the sheet test. Here, you stir a spoon through your jam and the remove it from the pot. Holding it over the cooking jam, watch as the remnants on the spoon drip back down. Do they fall back in runny drips, like rain on a window? If so, it’s not quite done. However, if they seem thick and run together in more of a sheet, your jam is finished.
  • Cooking times are estimates. When the recipe gives an amount of time for you to let the jam cook, know that that is only an approximate time. The recipe writer doesn’t know how hot your stove cooks, whether you’re in arid New Mexico verses sticky Philadelphia or what size pot you’re cooking the jam in. Use your judgment.
  • Additional pectin can help improve set, but it isn’t always a panacea. I’ve had jams that included additional pectin end up runny and then made others with no additional pectin that have firmed right up. Additionally, I’ve found recently that my beloved Certo liquid pectin isn’t working as well this year as it did in years past. I don’t know if they’ve changed the formula, but it’s thrown me off and made me remind myself of the basics of set all over again.

What are you tips for making sure your jam sets well?

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Canning 101 – Label Your Jars Promptly

unlabeled jars

For weeks now, I’ve been playing with an idea for this site. A series of posts, gathered under the header “Canning 101” that could become a resource for those who are new to canning and serve as good reminders for people who have been doing it for years. I’ve been keeping a running list in a little red notebook, jotting down topics as they occurred to me. Though the idea queue has been growing, I’ve been hesitant to start. I felt like I had to find the absolute right topic with which to begin, and my search for perfection has left me a bit paralyzed.

Then, this last Sunday morning, I found myself frustratedly rooting through the boxes of filled and processed jars that have taken up residence on my dining room table. I was looking for a half pint of Strawberry Rhubarb Butter. Unfortunately, as you can tell from the picture up above, my jams were criminally unlabeled, so finding that particular jar was a irritating treasure hunt. In order to find the right preserve, I had to hold each jar up to the light, tilt it and search out the signs of strawberry seeds (I still managed to bring the wrong jar with me to brunch that morning).

As I was going through the jars, trying to discern strawberries from cherries, I thought to myself, “I really need to write a post, emphasizing the importance of labeling processed jars promptly.” And so, in that moment, I knew where to start this series.

Labeling is a simple endeavor. When I’m doing it just for my own benefit, all I do is take a blue or black Sharpie to the lid and scrawl the name of the product and the date it was produced. When I want to be a little be fancier, I use a self-inking stamp I bought that leaves an impression on a sticker with room for the name and date. If I want something truly elegant, I get in touch with my friend Lelo and order some of her customizable labels.

However you do it, make sure to label the jars clearly and always date them (so you know just how old that applesauce that you’re about to eat actually is). Even if you’re certain that you’ll always be able to tell your blackberry jam from your blueberry butter, I promise you that you will eventually be proven wrong and you’ll find yourself wishing you had quickly labeled those jars.

Tune in next Tuesday for another installment of Canning 101.

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