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June Mastery Challenge Round-Up: Jam

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June is over (how this year is speeding by!) and so it’s time to put another skill to bed in our Mastery Challenge. This month, we focused on jam making and more than 170 of you reported in that you’d made a batch of jam (and some of you made many, many more than a single batch).

Starring jam ingredients included apricot, bacon, berries of all shapes and sizes, black currants, cantaloupe, calamansi, carrots, cherries (both sweet and tart), figs, grapes, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums, red onion, rhubarb, tomato, violets, and one lonely batch of watermelon rind jam. Strawberries were the very most popular ingredient this month, which makes sense since they are in season throughout much of the country during June.

One of the things I enjoy is seeing how deeply people are digging into each month’s challenge. Since jam making is a skill many existing preservers already know and use, I was hoping that it might lead to further exploration of unfamiliar styles of jam. I think both these graphics bear that out.

Up above, you can see that the majority of participants made more than one batch of jam. And judging from this second image, it looks like lots of people played with batch sizes and styles of preserving. I am entirely delighted.

Berries

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Stonefruit

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Other Jammy Goodness

A giant thank you to everyone who participated this month! We’re focusing on hot pack preserving in July. Stay tuned for more details soon!

 

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Submit your June Mastery Challenge Projects!

June is nearly over, which means it’s time to get serious about completing this month’s jam making challenge! If you’ve already finished up your project for this month’s Mastery Challenge, please use the form below to record your information and be counted in the final tally. If the embedded form isn’t working for you, click here.

If you’ve not yet tackled a batch of jam yet this month, check out my jam archive for some recipe inspiration

To be counted in the final tally, please submit your projects no later than Friday, June 30.

Oh, and if you do post to social media, make sure to use the #fijchallenge tag to help spread the word of our preserving activities!

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Jam Making for the June Mastery Challenge

Hello Mastery Challenge participants! June is passing with alarming speed and so it’s well past time for this monthly introductory blog post. This time, we’re focusing on jam making, which is probably going to be one of the most familiar skills we dig into this year. After all, the majority of canners start their food preservation career with a batch of jam.

What is Jam?

For our purposes, we’re going to define jam as a fruit-based preserve that is sweetened. Sugar is the most traditional sweetener, but you can also use honey, maple, agave, coconut sugar, fruit juice concentrates, or non-sugar sweeteners (just remember that jam made without any true sugar will not hold its color or quality for long). And, if you’re curious about making jam with these alternative sweeteners, make sure to check out my book, Naturally Sweet Food in Jars!

What Style of Jam to Make?

There are no rules as to the style of jam you make. You can go large batch or small, conventionally sweetened or low sugar, added pectin or pectin free, and sweet or savory. If there’s a style you’ve been wanting to try and you’ve thus far avoided it in your preserving life, consider taking it for a spin.

The Recipes

There are more jam recipes in the archives of this site than I have time to count and there are yet still more in my cookbooks. Beyond that, there are hundreds of jam recipes online and in the many canning cookbooks out there. However, you really don’t need a recipe to make jam. Prep some fruit. Measure out approximately half as much sugar. Combine them until the sugar dissolves. Add a little lemon juice and perhaps some cinnamon or vanilla paste. Cook it in a low, wide pan until it thickens.

However, if you want to work with a more proper recipe, here are some of my recent favorites.

This month, the deadline for submitting your projects to be counted in the monthly tally is Wednesday, June 28. I’ll have the form up next week for submissions. And don’t forget to use the hashtag #fijchallenge if you post your project to social media!

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Spicy Pickled Green Beans

Flex your cold pack preserving skills with a batch of Spicy Pickled Green Beans. They’re good along side a sandwich and even better pressed into stirring service in a Bloody Mary.

We’re focusing on cold pack preserving this month in the Mastery Challenge and one of my favorite examples of the form is the pickled green bean. I make a lot of these during the summer months when beans are abundant, both because I love them and because they make a really good thing to give to pickle loving friends and family. They also retain their crunch beautifully, which is not something I can say for most processed cucumber pickles.

Pickled green beans are also something of an affordably luxury to my mind. When you make them yourself they’re quite cheap, but they can be outrageously expensive at farmers markets and small grocery stores (you don’t often see them in larger supermarkets). I love when a little time and effort can yield something that feels special.

Green beans are not quite in season yet, so don’t judge the quality of the beans you see before you. I’m sure that the finished pickles will still taste good, but they can be downright sublime when you use those perfect, downy beans available only in high summer.

I typically make them assembly line style, doling out spices and garlic cloves (the more you slice, the more garlic flavor you get) to the jars and then going down the line with beans. Holding the jar at an angle as you pack makes quick work of the initial fill and a wooden chopstick helps ease the way for the last few beans. It’s also an excellent tool for wiggling out air bubbles that get trapped deep in the jar.

Once the jars have spices and green beans, it’s time to fill them up with brine. Apple cider is my vinegar of choice for most things, though some prefer white or red wine vinegar in its place. Any vinegar is fine as long as it has 5% acidity. The spices can also be adjusted to suit. For this batch, I called on brown mustard seeds, dill seed, black peppercorns, red chili flakes for heat, and slivered garlic. Sometimes I make them with cayenne, which tints the brine a pleasing red and makes for bracing eating.

These pickles need just a quick trip through the canner (10 minutes for pints and 15 minutes for anything larger). They often lose a little brine during their bath, but it’s not typically enough to cause distress.

Oh, and just a note on the jars. I used the new pint-sized spiral jars that Ball Canning released this year. I thought they would be awesome for pickles because they’re slightly taller than your average pint. However, I found that their narrow middle was absolutely incensing when it came to thoroughly packing the jars. If you have some of these, use them for your jams, sauces and chutneys and save yourself the annoyance.

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Cold Pack Canning for the May Mastery Challenge

It is the start of May, and that means it’s time to tackle a new food preservation skill. This month, we’re turning our focus to cold pack preserving.

What is a cold pack?

Also known as raw pack, to cold pack something simply means something that it put into jars while cold and uncooked. If you’ve made dilly beans or garlic dill pickle spears, you’ve already tried your hand at a cold pack. Other things that get cold packed a lot are peaches, pears, and tomatoes that are peeled but uncooked, pickled vegetables where you’re trying to retain their crunch, and much of what goes into a pressure canner.

Why cold pack?

  1. The primary reason to choose this style of preservation is to retain texture. When fruits and vegetables go into the jars raw, they don’t spend as much time in contact with heat, which means that they don’t cook as much. That leads to a crisper, firmer texture.
  2. The secondary appeal of the cold pack is speed. Food gets peeled, pared, packed into the jars, topped with either water, brine, fruit juice, syrup, and goes into the canning pot.

What are the downsides?

    1. There is often some likelihood of liquid loss. Raw produce often contains tiny pockets of air. As the produce cooks while undergoing the canning process, some of that air is released into the jar. That air then heads for top of the jar in order to escape the container (physics at work!). But because it often has to travel the length of the jar, it often pushes liquid out with it in its rush to escape the vessel. It’s frustrating but entirely normal.
    2. Product shrinkage. You worked so hard to squeeze as many peach halves into the jar as possible, but now having taken the jars out of the canner, you see that what had been a tightly packed jar now has two inches of liquid at the bottom. The fruit has reduced in mass and is floating up towards the lid. It’s not dangerous and as long as the lids are tightly sealed, the fruit is safe to eat. They’re just not as pretty for displaying on your kitchen shelves.

  1. Surface discoloration. When you have some liquid loss and product shrinkage, you will often also see some surface discoloration occur over time. This typically manifests as a generalized darkening of the product that is un-submerged or that is in contact with the empty portion of the jar. It’s not dangerous, but that darkened portion does lose flavor more rapidly than the balance of the jar. If I find a jar in this state, I scrape, trim or otherwise discard the darkened portion before tucking in.

The goal for this month is…

Simply to get to know the cold pack technique and figure out where it functions best. We’ll be exploring hot packing in July (which I think of as the other side of the jar packing coin), so hopefully you’ll start to see how the two styles work together and can serve in equal measure.

Recipes

Here are a handful of recipes from this site’s archives that use this technique.

And here are some options from elsewhere.

Finally, use this challenge as a chance to read through a preserving cookbook or two. You’ll find cold pack preservation at play in any number of different recipes, so do a little exploring!

The deadline for this challenge is Tuesday, May 30. Submission link coming soon!

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April Mastery Challenge Round-Up: Quick Pickles

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April is over and so it’s a wrap for our quick pickle challenge! This month, 202 people submitted their projects and lots more joined the conversation in the Facebook group and on Instagram. As always, it was so much fun for me to see everyone trying new recipes and finding ways to create interesting flavor combinations.

As is so often the case in these monthly challenges, there was a huge amount of space to move and explore within the confines of the topic. And while it appears that the most popular things to quick pickle were cucumber, cauliflower, eggs, and red onions, you guys managed to pickle more than 30 different fruits, vegetables, and protein (primarily chicken and quail eggs).

As you can see in the image above, a little less than half of you made just one batch of pickles. The remainder of you let the challenge inspire you throughout the month and you made many more batches. It’s a lot of quick pickles and I couldn’t be more pleased!

This pair of images tells us that while many of you were already feeling quite friendly towards quick pickling, even more participants are happy with the way their projects turned out.

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