The next area of homesteading that had my attention was canning. I watched several canning videos several times, and figured hot water bath canning was within the realm of possibility for a budding homesteadsman like myself.
So I ordered jars, canning equipment, and the Ball book of canning. Cue husband’s sidelong glances of trepidation. But I told him these were all one-time purchases, and that seemed to satisfy him. Just don’t tell him how much pressure canners cost, because that’s probably in our future. 😉
Anyway, I spent a few nights flipping through the various recipes in the Ball book. I chose my first time out the canning gate to be a low-sugar raspberry lemonade jam. Pro tip: if you ever are canning jam for the first time, don’t choose a low-sugar recipe. As appalling as 5 cups of sugar in a single recipe sounds, sugar is your FRIEND when it comes to jam. But hey, as one of my favorite college professors always used to say, “hindsight is 20/20.”
I used frozen raspberries, for the record, but I don’t think that mattered. At least as far as consistency. It mattered for my wallet, though. We’re talking about $25 in raspberries (3 1/2 pounds). And for sure a few bucks in honey.
That first attempt went the way most first attempts do in the kitchen. It took longer than it probably will down the road. It made a mess, splattering molten raspberry magma all over the stove. And sadly, though I was using the frozen plate test, the jam was too runny when I checked a jar the next day. I managed to spread it on some toast, but it was also very tart. Six gorgeous little jars of failure.
I considered throwing them out. Luckily, before that happened, I read somewhere that if jam is too runny, just call it sauce. I felt like that was a cop-out, BUT… when I drizzled it over vanilla ice cream along with some chocolate sauce, it was amazing. So there you have it; raspberry lemonade sauce, the perfect companion for ice cream, yogurt, and oatmeal.
Still, that wasn’t a satisfying result, really.
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
It just so happened, though, we’d been apple picking a few days before. I love supporting our local farm, as my own gardening skills leave much to be desired. (So that’s the rationalization: “yeah, I’m skipping the garden in favor of supporting local farmers. That’s the ticket!”) Besides, fall in New England is well worth paying for.
We are all good apple eaters, but we had a BIG bag of them, which is what you get when you go apple picking. And there was this Apple Pie Jam recipe in the book. This one had plenty of sugar, and given apples are naturally high in pectin…
I found myself jamming again the very next day. When it came time to add the pectin to the recipe, well… you might say I was on the rebound, you know? I added at least a teaspoon more than the recipe called for, for good measure. It’s kind of an ironic term, “for good measure”. It means doing a little more than is called for. Is that REALLY good measure?
I had a lot of trouble getting this one up to the requisite 220 degree temperature, and had to cook it for quite a while. But it was definitely not runny. So that was a good thing. I spooned it into the jam jars, and though I was pretty wiped out, I felt like I was learning the process, and that this batch would be much better.
The next day, I popped open a jar to try it out. It was JELLED. I mean, I’ve bought jelly from the store that was as solid, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. It wasn’t easy to spread on toast at ALL. I managed to squash it down without tearing the toast to bits, and while it tasted great, once again, it just wasn’t right.
I feel like Goldilocks here. The first one was too soft. The second one was too hard. Will the third try be “just right”? Also, while you can call a runny jam “sauce” and get away with it, what can you do with a jam that’s too set?