Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's Cherry Time! A Jam Making Tutorial

One of the things I like best about living in Central Virginia is the abundance of pick your own fruit.  We've come through strawberry season.  Now it's cherry time!  (A few early peaches are ready too, but that will have to wait... maybe until next week when the in-laws are here).

The kids and I headed out to Critzer Family Farm on the border of Albemarle & Nelson counties this morning.  I was very happy because the high for today was only going to be 27C/81F.  I do much better with this kind of temperature than the 90s and higher we had last week ;-) It's a small, family-friendly place and this morning it was not very crowded.

After we were done, there was time for throwing rocks in the pond.

I scream, You scream, We all scream for ice cream!

Enjoying their just desserts!
This is our second summer in VA and we went picking last year once, when Super-Awesome's parents were here.  We really needed Opa  to reach the ripe cherries where we went last year.  Today, we were able to pick lots, without needing a ladder. Super Beautiful and Super Map were able to reach some of the cherries, which was good, otherwise I would not be writing so fondly of our fun morning.  I learned that it is best to pick the cherries while keeping the stems on.  This helps them last longer, otherwise they deteriorate much quicker.  Unfortunately, I really only observed this after I had already picked a lot of cherries.  The fellow who was picking cherries for the farm had all the stems on his. Anyway, no big deal because I don't need to keep these cherries for a long time as I will be making jam, freezing them and we'll be eating them fresh in the next day or two.

We got to pick Rainier Cherries as well as the more customary Bing cultivar.   I was intrigued.  I thought they would make an interesting jam!  Last year, the early peaches we picked made pink jam because of their redder skins.  I wanted to see if I could have peach-coloured cherry jam...

If you've known me for longer than 2 days, you'll know I'm a huge fan of King Arthur Flour and their blog.  I've learned so much from their step-by-step (ooh baby!  whoops, that was a 90s moment, and wow, the hair, the clothes, the everything...it's actually painful to watch the whole way through!) photo instructions.  Imitation is the best form of flattery; so, I decided to document my jam making experience today a la KAF Blog style, in order to help "somebody" out there have the confidence to try making jam!  Please know I'm not an expert but I've learned a few tricks...  any suggestions would be welcome in the comments below!

I've chosen to make a lower sugar jam using Pomona's Universal Pectin.   I like my "jam" to taste more like fresh fruit.  So, I don't like to boil it forever (therefore needing pectin) and I don't like to add as much, or more, sugar than fruit (can't use regular pectin).  I guess I like to make fruit spread, and not jam at all...  but that's another debate!  Jam is shorter to type than fruit spread, so for all intents and purposes, we'll be using the term jam to describe what I am making.   We'll also be using the instructions from the Pomona box.

So we've gotten the fruit, which is the obvious step one.

You also need to prepare the jars by washing and sterilizing them.  Some newer dishwashers have a sterilize feature, but mine doesn't so I did the two step sterilizing.  Wash the jars by hand or by dishwasher and then immerse in hot water, bring to a boil for 5 minutes, keep them in the hot water until jam is ready.  (Why? No temperature shock and possible breakage from transferring near boiling jam into cold jars.)

Another early step, if you're using Pomona's Pectin is to make the Calcium powder according to the directions on the box.  1 pkg calcium powder in 1/2 cup water.  In a glass jar with a lid.  This keeps for months in the fridge.
Some helpful canning tools.  Kits of these sorts can be bought at the grocery store, big chain stores, specialty cooking stores or of course, online.  This is a very basic set, you can get super fancy stuff, but to start these are great.  

"Alrighty" then,  here's the basic recipe I used:

4 cups of sweet cherries (pitted, chopped & mashed)
1/4 cup of lemon juice
4 tsp.  calcium water

1 cup of sugar
3 tsp.  Pomona's pectin

The yield should be about 5 cups (40oz). (Both my batches yielded 36oz, presumably if I had added the higher sugar amount I might have made the 5 cup mark)
Let's get going!
Wash cherries and rinse and drain.
Remove stems and then pits (I use this nifty cherry/olive pitter, got it at my local B,B and B)
I started to chop the cherries by hand, and then I said... no way, this is crazy.  So I pulled out my food chopper and it reduced the workload like crazy.  I would guess if you had a food processor you could pulse it a few times and get a similar effect.
Ready to chop!
The result of 10 bangs (it's therapeutic!)
Measure chopped fruit into pot.  After you've done all four cups you should also mash the fruit... I forgot this step in my photo taking frenzy.
Add your calcium water to the mashed, chopped, pitted fruit.  We did 4 teaspoons (30ml) for this recipe.
Add the lemon juice.  For sweet cherries it's 1/4 cup (100ml).  Stir well.  (For the purists out there, I did use fresh lemon juice for batch two, either works!)

Turn heat on medium and bring fruit & juice & calcium water mixture to a boil slowly.     Meanwhile , measure your sugar.  We're using 1 cup in this recipe.  The range for Pomona's with this type of fruit is 3/4 cup to 2 cups.  I went with the lower end of the spectrum.  (Why these two pictures and captions are sticking together I do not know... but I'm too frustrated to try and fix it again... so please bear with me!
A tip I've learned is to place your measuring cup in a bowl (see picture above this one for the "before"), pour in your sugar (works for flour and other dry ingredients too), then level off using the flat edge of a knife or cake spatula.  The remaining sugar in the bowl can be put back into the bag/canister.  You don't have to worry about the crumbs on the counter getting swept into the bag ;-)
Here's the Pomona's Pectin (and a photo of the box so you have a visual when you go to the store).  Pomona's is available at natural food/health stores like Whole Foods.  I've also purchased it at Amazon.com because a bulk purchase of 6 boxes makes sense for me!  The pectin is the darker substance.  Most other pectins I've used are not this dark, but this is normal for Pomona's.
Stir pectin and sugar together well!  If you just add them to the boiling jam separately the pectin will clump and not work well.
Bring fruit mix to a boil.  Also notice in the background, a small pot of hot water in which the lids are sitting.  The sealant in the lids requires heat to properly seal the jars.  Most instructions will tell you to pour boiling water over them and let them sit in it.
Pour in sugar/pectin mixture and stir continually for 1-2 minutes, until jam returns to a boil.  Then turn OFF the heat. (This is different than other pectins so make sure you read the instructions with your particular box.)
So, at some point before my jam was boiling and needing the pectin, I removed the jars from the hot water where they had been waiting.  It doesn't hurt the jam to sit in the pot a few minutes after you turn it off, but it is best to ladle the jam into still hot jars to avoid that temperature shock we spoke about earlier.  This is where all our funky canning tools come into play!

I've placed a dishtowel on my baking tray, so that there is another layer to help with the hot/cold issue.  We don't want to ladel hot jam into cold jars, nor do we want to put hot jars on a cold surface.  The towel while not hot, just adds some cushioning and protection between the two different temperatured items.  Blue jar funnel helps lessen the mess.

Headspace (amount empty space between the fruit and the lid) requirements are different according to each recipe.  This recipe called for 1/4" of headspace.  I'm using my funky measuring tool to check.  If they have too much jam, use a teaspoon to remove some until it is at the right level.
You must wipe down the rims to remove any jam that may be stuck on top.  This can prevent the seal from being formed and ruin all your hard work.  I use a damp paper towel.  The threads on the sides should also be free of stickiness.
Now it's time to get the lids out of the hot water.  Using the magnetic wand lift a lid out of the water and bring it over to your first jar.

Center it over the lid, then screw on the band "finger tight".  To me this means as soon as my fingers feel resistance it's good.  We don't want to tighten these too tight as air needs to escape so that the jars will seal properly.  The bands just help keep the lids in place until the jars are sealed.  Repeat with all jars.

Bands added.  Ready to go into the boiling water canner.  (In my case, a giant stock pot)

Here we go.  Using the special jar tongs to lower them in.  There are also racks available that can sit on the edge of your pot and then you lower all your jars in at the same time.  I don't have one yet!
Here they are, all immersed.  I'll cover them and let them sit in the boiling water for 10 minutes (stipulated in my recipe, additional time required at higher altitudes).
After coming out of the boiling water canner. After a few minutes you should hear the pop of the lid sealing.  Seconds after taking this shot, I heard the first one.   Most standard recipes would indicate leaving them sit for 24 hours undisturbed.  Pomona's jams set when completely cool.  I've had issues with "fruit float", all the fruit floating to the top leaving a jelly on the bottom.  The troubleshooting page at Pomona's website directs you to do the following:

 "In the future, when you take the jars out of the water bath, leave them for about an hour to start cooling and seal. Then come back and check to make sure they are all sealed. If you see that you have fruit float, turn the jars upside down to force the pulp to redistribute through the jar. Come back in about 45 minutes and turn the jars right side up to once again force the pulp to redistribute through the jar. Check again in another 45 minutes and if you have a distinct dividing line, turn the jars upside down again. Turn the jars right side up again in about 30 minutes. You always want the jars to end up right side up. By keeping the pulp well distributed throughout the jars, there will not be a dividing line when the jell finally starts and locks everything into place. If your jam has jelled in a separated state, you can gently stir the pulp and juice back together when you open the jar to eat it. Separated jam in sealed jars will store safely."

This happened with my strawberry jam this year and my cherry jam last year.  So I researched it!  And here are my finished cooled jars:

No fruit float!  (Hey, there's red cherry jam there too!)

I managed to do the Rainier Cherry jam while Super Beautiful got in her nap, but then she wanted to help with the second batch.  Here are a few photos from that portion: (warning: your mouth may water and you may feel the need to drive to Virginia and get in on these cherries!)



That's it!  My first and possibly only photo step by step tutorial!  The folks at King Arthur Flour make it look too easy...  more hours than needed went into this, but I must admit I did enjoy documenting it.

No comments:

Post a Comment