Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The basics...

Wow, I am surprised at my stats for this blog!  It is taking off like wildfire, which is GREAT!  Thanks to you all for reading it and spreading the word...keep those links to it going.

Today I want to cover the basics of canning jams, just in case any of you have never done it before or are new to it, like I am.  I only have 4 batches under my belt and learn more with each one.  One of the first things I had to grasp was that the time that the jars are processing in the canner will vary by your altitude.  I always use the minimum, with no adjustments, due to the fact that I live at sea level, but if you are in the mountains you will need to adjust for your area.  Typically the chart is as follows:

Altitude in Feet                           Add this to processing time listed
 1,001-3,000                                                  5 minutes
 3,001-6,000                                                10 minutes
 6,001-8,000                                                15 minutes
 8,001-10,000                                              20 minutes

The things you will need to can jams and jellies include, but are not limited to the following:

1.  A hot water canner with a lid (I use a large, deep pot with a lid and a round cake cooling rack sitting on the bottom).  A rack inside is very important because you don't want the jars sitting on the bottom of the pan, where they may get bumped and broken.  I have read that if you don't have a rack you can tie some lid bands together and put them in the bottom of the pot.  The pot or canner needs to be deep enough to cover the jars you are using with water by at least 2 - 3 inches.

2.  The appropriate sized jars, with lids and bands, according to your recipe.  You can reuse your jars and bands but always use new lids to get an appropriate seal. 

3.  The correct utensils (pots, measuring cups, wooden spoons) called for in your recipe along with fresh ingredients.

4.  A jar lifter.
5.  A magnetic lid lifter (to take the lids one-by-one out of the hot water).

6.  A headspace tool that also serves as a bubble remover.

7.  A canning funnel.

8.  A candy thermometer that will measure the jam and jelly setting point, which is 220 degrees for me.

You can buy canning kits that will give you most of the utensils you will need.  I bought the Ball brand kit and just had to add the thermometer.

Now that you have the proper tools, ingredients and a tested recipe you are ready to start!

The first step in preparing your jars for canning is to wash them, along with the lids and rings, thoroughly in hot soapy water and set them on a towel to dry.  Next, fill your canner about half full with water and add 1/2 cup of white vinegar, if you have hard water, to keep the outside of the jars crystal clear.  Bring the canner of water to a simmer on the stove and submerge the jars to simmer until ready to fill.  By keeping the jars hot until ready to fill, it will keep them from cracking or breaking when you add the really hot jam or jelly!  When you remove the jars later, I use a long set of tongs, so I can pour the water back out into the canner as I am removing them. 

In a small saucepan, fill it half full of water and bring to a simmer and drop in the lids.  Make sure not to boil the water and this will help the lids form a better seal if they are nice and warm when you put them on, later.

Next you would prepare your recipe, as directed.  One of my family secrets, per Mabert, is to always add 1/2 teaspoon of unsalted butter to your recipe and this will help reduce the foam that forms while you are boiling your mixture.  After you fill the jars, using the funnel, wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth to assure a good seal.  Usually you leave about 1/4 inch headspace in each jar.  Remove your lids, one at a time, and center them on the jar.  Apply a band until finger-tight.  Using the jar lifter, place each filled jar into the canner on the rack, trying to make sure the jars do not touch each other or the sides of the canner.  Next, place the lid on the canner and turn the heat to high.  Start the timer, for your processing time, AFTER the water has come to a full rolling boil.

Mabert says that when your processing time is up, to carefully remove the canner from the heat and let it "rest" for 5 minutes before you remove the jars with the jar lifter.  Always set the jars directly on a towel on the counter (they are hot) and leave them undisturbed for approximately 24 hours then check your seals to make sure they are slightly depressed.  If you do not have a good seal, make sure to stick that jar in the fridge or give it to someone with instructions to refrigerate and use within 3 - 4 weeks.

That's about it for the basics!  I have 3 more recipes to post to catch up on what I have done to date, which will be peach, strawberry margarita and carrot cake jams.  Then, I am ready to go again...jars are purchased and recipes are waiting...get ready for some new ones that you may have never seen before.  I have everything from sangria jelly, white wine jam, banana rum, banana pineapple, tomato basil, peach melba, and pumpkin with rum and vanilla jams.

Be blessed and be sweet, till next time!

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