Saturday, October 9, 2010

Ode to Garden Huckleberry Jam

Garden huckleberries are a pretty plant, related to tomatoes and peppers.

Pretty berries.  They aren't especially sweet even when ripe, but they make great jam.

Here are about 16 cups of berries (which took Annie and me the better part of a day to pick - they aren't very big) with about 6 cups of chopped apple.

When you add 22 of sugar to 22 cups of fruit - typical jam ratios - you get a very full pot.

Here is the fruit and sugar mixed together but still cold.  The only extra liquid in this batch is about 1/3 cup of lemon juice added to the apples when I was chopping them in the food processor. 

This was really too big of a batch.... I should have done it in two batches.  When you are making jam, you have to boil the mixture for at least 10 minutes.  This has the effect of melting all of the sugar, and making it into a syrup, it also dissolves and activates the pectin (follow the directions on the box.  Measure the fruit, add the right amount of sugar - too much is better than too little.  Add the right amount of pectin - again too much is better than too little.), and cooks the fruit.  I had trouble with this batch because I was afraid to turn the heat up to where it would boil for fear that I would burn the bottom.  So I cooked it for about 30 minutes, and still had to take a mixer to the top layer of berries to make sure they were all broken.

As the fruit mixture cooks it will form a foam on it.  You have to stir it constantly, and be ready for the foam to boil up and over the top of the pan.  It can be rather exciting.  Pull the pan off of the burner to stop the foam from boiling over.  You can control the heat a lot better by pulling it part way off the burner than you can by trying to use the heat adjustment knob - it's way too slow.

You have to realize that you really are making a candy or confection, rather than a healthy fruit treat.  It will taste a lot better than store bought jams, but it is mostly fruit flavored sugar syrup.  But tasty!  :)

After it has boiled for 10 minutes you put it in hot, clean jars.  I like to put them in the oven, and have it heated to about 180 degrees.  This makes  it very unlikely that the jars will crack when you put the hot liquid in them.  You could probably add the hot liquid to cold jars and not have a lot of trouble, but if there is a tiny crack or flaw in the glass, and the bottom cracks around and falls out, you will wish that you had heated the jar first.

These are pints - 12 to a box.  Narrow neck are fine.  Actually old jars of any kind are fine.  More on that later.

If you are going to water-bath process the jam, then you need to leave about 3/4" of air space between the top of the jam and the top of the jar.  When the jar is heated in the steam or water bath, the water in the jam will boil a little, and displace the air at the top of the jar.  It will be filled with water vapor.  As it cools the water vapor condenses and that forms the vacuum that hold the lid to the top of the jar.  If you put too much liquid in the jar, their won't be enough room for the vacuum to form.  Also, the liquid might get in between the rubber seal on the lid and the jar top.  Then it won't seal.  In this picture, the lids are in a hot water bath to soften the rubber, and I'm rubbing my finger around the top of the jar top to make sure that there are no nicks in the top of the glass, and there is no jam on top of the glass.  It has to be smooth and clean.

If you have old glass peanut butter, ragu, or other old jars, they can be used for jam.  Clean them well, heat them in the oven and put the hot jam in them just as if you were going to water bath process them.  Put some paraffin in the clean can and put it in a water bath and melt the wax.  Make sure to use a water bath as heating on the stove directly can be a fire hazard.

Clean the inside neck of the jar carefully after you add the jam.  Pour about 3/8" of melted wax directly on top of the jam and let it cool.  The was will keep any mold spoor from growing on the top of the jam, and can be used again and again.  Also, if you give extra jam away, you don't have to worry about getting your jar back. 

That is about it for jam.  I had a lot of trouble getting this to work.  It was hard to put in the amount of sugar that is called for in the recipes.  So - measure everything. Some things in cooking you can be casual with your quantities - but in making jam it pays to make sure you have the right amounts.  Make sure to boil the mixture for 10 minutes.  If you don't, you might have a yummy fruit syrup, but you won't have jam.

That is about the extent of my experience.  Good luck.  Homemade jam on fresh homemade whole wheat bread.....mmmmmmmmmm