Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jammin'


One of my many projects this weekend was making jam.....sauce, to be more exact.  Strawberry/rhubarb sauce, to be even more exact.  I had a couple of gallons of strawberries from last summer still in the freezer, along with a few quarts of frozen rhubarb, so I thawed it all out and turned it into my first preserves of the summer.

I'm surprised by how many people get surprised that I make jams, jellies, syrups, and sauces.  Often the question I'm asked is "How do you know how to do it?", followed by "That's a lot of work, isn't it?"  I suppose it is a lot of work when you factor in gathering the fruit, but the process of turning the fruit into a preserved sweet treat isn't that difficult.  And how do I know how to do it?  Well, observation, research and reading, and trial and error.

I watched my mom and my grandma make berry preserves every year as I grew up so it's always seemed like something that needs to get done rather than something hard to do.  When it came time to start making my own jams and such I did some reading, made some calls to my mom for pointers, failed a few times, made notes about what worked and what didn't, and eventually started getting it right.

When you're jammin' you're aiming for two things - good flavor and good texture.  The flavor depends on two ingredients - good fruit and the right amount of sugar.  Pulling year-old berries out of the freezer is NOT the way to achieve the highest quality of taste, but they'll do.  The sugar content is the part that I've experimented the most with.  During my first few batches of jam I followed recipes to the letter, which meant I usually added one cup of sugar for each cup of fruit.  Too sweet....overpoweringly sweet.  I like to taste the fruit, so I want the sugar to bring out and enhance the fruit flavor, not drown it out.  Using older frozen berries necessitated a bit more sugar than usual but I still had about three more cups of fruit than sugar in the sauce I made today.  This has always been the fun part of making preserves, trying to nail the perfect amount of sugar.

The texture of jam or jelly comes from pectin.  When I started my jam career I used solely the boxes of pectin, such as Sure-Jel.  I still use those for some of my concoctions, but I also like to use pectin out of a resealable container so I can more carefully control the firmness of whatever I make.  I wanted the strawberry/rhubarb preserve to be more saucy than jammy, so I used a couple of tablespoons of pectin rather than a full box (which is about five tablespoons, give or take).  In hindsight I maybe could have used three tablespoons since the frozen fruit becomes so watery when thawed.  Add it to the notes, I guess.

So, how does the whole preserve process work?  Smash the fruit to the smoothness or chunkiness your little heart desires.  Stir in the pectin, but first mix the pectin with a bit of the sugar; pectin easily gets lumpy when added to liquid, but diluting it into sugar first prevents that.  Heat the fruit/pectin/sugar mix until it comes to a rolling boil, then add the remaining sugar.  Bring it all to a hard boil, stirring constantly, and then boil for one minute.  Remove from the heat.  Your preserve is made.



You'll notice a layer of foam on my sauce.  Supposedly adding a pat of butter as you cook the fruit will prevent the foam.  Skimming the foam and putting it right onto a piece of bread was always my "job" as a kid....so I'll keep my foam, thank you very much.  After skimming the foam it's time to put the sauce into jars.  I used pint jars for no particular reason, and as you can see in the top picture I sterilize them in a shallow bath of hot water while I make the sauce.  Fill the jars, lid on top, screw on a ring, and submerge the jars into a boiling water bath for 10 minutes to create a solid seal once they are cool.  And you'll know they are sealed when each jar gives its magical "plink" at various times during the cooling off period.



And that's it.  In a nutshell.  Really, it's not that hard.  Go buy the fruit if you don't want to pick it yourself and make the job even easier.  You'll notice there's writing and stickers on top of my lids; I reuse my lids (audible gasp from the oldsters reading this).  It's "recommended" that new lids always be used, but the date on the nearest lid is 2013.....so for five years I've used that lid and get a very solid seal every time.  Stop being duped and ripped off by lid manufacturers - reuse the lids.  If you give your jam or sauce to someone and they politely ask if you'd like the jar back, your answer is "yes".  The initial investment in jars, lids, and rings can be spendy, but once you've got all the pieces and reuse them year after year the cost pretty much disappears.

Try it.  I guarantee once you get the hang of jammin' you'll enjoy it, and you'll never be able to match the flavor of your own creations with anything you buy in a store.  Good luck!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Twitter tidbits.....

Didn't get to keep up with my Twitter feed today; too busy flipping burgers, frying cheese curds, and slowly dehydrating in the 100 degree food wagon.  So now, as I sit on the swing out in my not-as-peaceful-as-I'd-like patio, I get a chance to get caught up on all the quality material I missed during the day.  Such as.....

......Oh gee, a Republican said something stupid.  And oh, look - a Democrat wants everyone to be treated exactly the same.  And golly, can't believe this one - people seem upset with the president.  And wouldn't you know, other people seem upset with the former president.  Life's too short for political nonsense.  Moving on.....

.....to this:


Ha!  Good one!  Except the punctuation is horrible.  Apparently these teachers were so excited to bolt for the summer no one bothered to proofread just a little.  I'm impressed with the correct usage of "you're".....not quite as impressed at the apostrophe being made into an upside down comma in an odd spot.  Speaking of not impressive....



.......sigh.



Hey!  I remember this!


Manute Bol and Muggsy Bogues.  I've never been a huge fan of the NBA, but I clearly remember the shock waves around the league when this 7'7" string bean (Bol) started swatting away shots like they were mosquitos on a patio in late June.  Then he started shooting 3-pointers....brutally ugly shot, but they went in!  Bogues, on the other hand, was 5'3" and could dunk a volleyball.  Which would have been more impressive if that was allowed in basketball games.  And yes, youngsters, there really was a team called the Bullets.  They could shoot the lights out!  Literally.




Oh yeah?  Well I don't follow a basketball feed to get quotes from football coaches.  But he makes a good point.  What about mediocre achievers?  Who likes them?  Or high people?  Wait, that probably won't come across well....




What a beautiful fish.  And look at the lovely fishing equipment!  Huh?  Lady?  What lady?

All right, Tweets are viewed and all is now right in my world.  Except the mosquitos seem to have brought friends to this party.  And the laptop battery is quite low.  And my battery is even lower.  Until tomorrow........