Two years ago we started making jam. It was fun. We already had the basic tools in each of our kitchens, just had to buy some supplies and we put up about thirty jars. If you’ve already seen the blood orange recipe, you have read the next part already. So just skip down to the recipe itself, and go for it.
(One caution: this turned out to be less thickened than we anticipated and it’s quite tart. Tart was the goal, but that may not be to your taste. As always, the results of recipes like this vary quite a bit with the moisture content and flavor of the fruit you use. Assume, for a minute, that you have the same fruit as we did for that magic day. Then you need to add way more sugar if you like it sweet, and way more pectin if you like it to not run a bit as you turn the jar. You have been warned!)
This year, we’re up to 149 jars and it’s not even canning season. The madness that is jam making has taken hold in my heart. I would like to share it with you and MWHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA watch you drift into that dead zone I live in every day. Shelves full of sweetened fruit preserves, specialized spoons, canning tools, and other implements of financial destruction.
Or, I’d like to share my love of a new hobby. It’s one of the above.
Let’s start with the needed stuff to do it right. By right, I mean without struggling with all the mess and horror of using non-specialized implements. The basic premise is that you will do batches of 50-80 jars of your product.
A really long wooden stirring spoon/paddle. It should reach at least 6 inches above the rim of your biggest pot. You don’t want your fingers near that mix when it’s boiling. The one I use is handmade and was a gift. But you’ll find them on the web. Mine has a large paddle surface and it allows me to keep scraping the bottom of the pan so nothing sticks.
A large ladle. One that will hold at least 1/4 of a pint. Again, make sure the handle is at least 6 inches longer than the depth of your pot.
24 quart pot with solid handles (Available at Sams Club for about $40.) That’s the shiny aluminum one on the right.
2 “Canning” pots. You can buy these at Walmart, Fleet Farm, and pretty much any place that sells canning supplies. The prices vary widely, but you can usually score them under $20 later in the season. I use two, because I hate waiting for stuff to cook.
A canning funnel and a jar holder. The funnel is designed for wide-mouth jars. It fits over the rim of the jar and gives you a guide to pouring in the mix for a good seal. It is so much easier than trying to ladle into the jar and then having to clean the rim to get a seal. The stainless ones look cool, but they transfer heat and you will be pouring 200+ degree jam through it 80 times. Plastic doesn’t transfer heat as well. I like plastic.
The can gripper is the only way to go when placing and extracting jars in boiling water. It is designed to grab wide-mouth jars, keep your little fingers out of the boiling water, and give a good grip on the jars.
The two items are each under $15, and can be used over and over. Money well spent.
Jars. I like the wide mouth jars. Easier to use in my opinion. Pick the brand you want, all are pretty similar. Just beware when you buy them on sites like Snaigs list that the price is often no deal and the rims may be chipped. Buy new, they’re about $9.00 for a dozen jars. That’s the 1/2 pint and pint sized jars. Just sterilize them before using them. I wash them all by hand the morning of the cook while the “brew” is coming up to temperature. I do not reuse the lids, but I do reuse the rings. Shop the web for lids and rings, the prices vary widely and there are great specials all the time. I will never have to buy a lid again, I’ve got about a five year supply laid in. Ask my wife.
Preliminaries are over, now for the recipe:
Blackberry Rhubarb Jam
20 pounds finely-chopped rhubarb
8 pounds blackberries
6 pounds black mangrove honey
juice 8 lemons (small)
16 cups white sugar
35 ounces pectin (powdered)
Oh, yeah – and about 80 1/2 pint jars or the equivalent.
Wash and cut rhubarb into 1/4 inch long pieces
MOST IMPORTANT POINT: Stir the mixture constantly. Never let it rest for more than two or three minutes or you risk burning the liquid on the bottom of the pot. I use a heat diffuser (Different than this one, but quite similar) on the burner to even the heat. But you must be ready to stir this mixture for up to four hours. Teamwork!
Place rhubarb, and lemon juice into stock pot and begin with a low heat until the rhubarb softens. Once the rhubarb starts to soften, add the blackberries.
Keep increasing the heat until the blackberries begin to break down a bit and add their color to the mix. Then it’s time to crank the heat all the way up and go for it!
Bring to a rolling boil and add honey while stirring constantly. Leave the heat on high. (I used Walker Farms Black Mangrove honey because the smoky flavor went well with the blackberries. Use whatever flavors you like!)
Once this new mix with the honey has boiled, test for sweetness and start adding sugar until it’s tasting right. I included sixteen cups of sugar in the recipe: our fruits were very bitter and required all sixteen cups. Most people would probably add more, but I like the stuff tart! I know it’s a lot of sugar, but you’re making 79 1/2 pint jars of jam.
Bring it back to a boil and begin adding pectin until the consistency is correct. Generally it’s best to add a few ounces at a time and mix it in completely. Once the dribbles off the stirring spoon are globules versus a drizzle you’ve hit the magic spot. We followed this method and had what we thought was the right consistency. We did not. The final product turned out to be closer to a sauce than a jam. It still holds to toast and English muffins, but you can pour it even after it’s refrigerated. I think you’re probably looking at about 20-50% more pectin to make it set up firmly. Again, it’s all a gamble based on moisture content. It’s tough to judge, but thicker is better for my money. I’m still eating it, but it’s not contest quality.
Once the mix is ready, turn the heat to low, or off. Using the ladle, constantly stir the mix so it stays consistent throughout the pot. Ladle the mix into the jars, using the funnel pictured above. Here’s how we set it up, and how the mix should fill the jar:
Gently place the lids on the jar and secure with the rings. Don’t tighten the ring all the way, leave a bit of play. When you put the jar in the boiling water bath you need to have it loose enough for air to escape from the jar.
Place the completed jar in the boiling water bath using the tongs. I set the water so that I can get three layers of cans in each pot. The trick is to gauge the depth: with each jar you add, the level comes up a bit toward the rim. If you get it just right, the top layer of jars will be 1-2 inches below the surface. The water must be at a fast boil when you add the jars. The jars will be hot, as you just put cooked jam in them. But they will be a bit cooler than the boiling water and so you have to keep the heat on the boiling pot the whole time.
Leave the jars in the boiling water for 15 minutes. This allows all the air to cook out, and when you remove the jar from the water the lid will be sealed in the ensuing vacuum. Set the jars on a table where they will be able to seal. Go back a few hours later and make sure all the jars are sealed. Tighten the rings down to hold the seal.
How do you know they were sealed in the process? Modern jar lids have an indentation on them that will pull down as the vacuum is applied. There is a satisfying “tink” noise as the lid is pulled down. You can also see it visually represented: if the dot is up, no seal. If the lid is flat it sealed.
Your jam should be good for up to a year. Some say marmalade is only good for 6 months. I probably won’t find out- it’s too good to last that long.
The recipe above made 79 1/2 pint jars of jam.
I hope you get as hooked as I am on this hobby. It’s not cheap, you can buy Smucker’s for less. But it won’t be yours and it won’t be nearly as good.
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