Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jamboree: Day One-Set Up

If we've been around each other even a little bit, I've probably sent you home with a jar of homemade jam. And sharing food with you means I like you...which is why sharing some of my little secrets in the kitchen mean I'm just full of squooshy lovey dovey mush I guess. yeah, er, something....Or maybe I just hate the idea of the concept of hospitality drying up and blowing away like last summer's blossoms. Food is a simple kindness in my mind. And homemade preserves are also smart. Being able to turn an abundance of fresh fruits into a year-long treasure for you (and your family and friends) gives a sense of accomplishment.

I'm not going to tell you that the first time I did this wasn't a little fraught with anxiety. "What if I do this wrong and everyone I love dies of botulism?" But with a little practice and some basic cleanliness, making jam (or jelly) is actually an enjoyable process for me, with rewards that spread into the blah days of February when I open a jar of strawberry lemon marmalade and remember that spring is surely around the corner. See what it does to me? I'm waxing poetic here.

I'm going to walk you through the basic process here. I'll share some of my favorite recipes sometime later. My purpose today is to simply show you that the process is totally do-able, even in a small kitchen. Perhaps you will feel inspired to pick up a canning set (found pretty much anywhere at this time of year-Walmart, the grocery store, Bed Bath and Beyond I think even). Perhaps you will find yourself at a local farmer's market with a desire to turn a basket of peaches into a few jars of heaven. Perhaps you will find that you can do better than a squeeze bottle of Smuckers.

This is a water canner. It's little more than an enamel covered metal pot with a wire holder for the jars to sit in. They come in two sizes. I have a the smaller of the two because it's easier to do jam with. Today, when you buy a canning set, you will get this, along with a few gadgets to make filling the jars easier.

Let's talk jar sizes. For jams and jellies, the best sizes are pint, an 8 oz and a 4 oz. jars. When I make stuff for just us, I use the pint. For sampler gifts of jam, I like the 4 oz because they're so damned cute (and sometimes you'll find you don't have enough to fill an 8 oz. jar so they are nice to have around).

In your canner set, you'll find a funny-looking funnel that fits into the top of the jar so you can ladle stuff in without spilling it all over your pretty self. Also, you will find a wand of sorts with a magnet on the end. This is to help you lift the lids out of hot water before placing them on the filled jar. (sidenote, my mom didn't have one of these and I have many memories of watching her dip her hands into hot water and deftly pick out the lids without flinching). Your flat of jars will come with lids and rings already on the jars so remove the lids and put in a small saucepan with hot water. Place the rings in another container (I don't really think they need to be in hot water, but I do like having them on the stovetop so I don't have to try to find them elsewhere). Clean your jars with soapy water; rinse and dry them. When I had a good dishwasher, I would simply wash them in there (with no other dishes) and then pull them hot from the washer to fill. However, my washer here is craptastic so I put my clean dry jars on a cookie sheet and put them in the oven at 200. This keeps the jars sterile. Plus, you know it's kinda bad to put piping hot stuff in a cold jar (unless you really WANT exploding glass in your kitchen and eyes....no? okay, keep them hot then).
But how will you handle hot glass? Oh, your set also comes with a jar-holder. We used to steal mom's and chase each other with it but really it's for grasping hot jars without removing all your skin with a third degree burn. Oh the technology!

You'll see I also have a ladle and a pyrex measuring cup here too. You'll need these and a couple of dishtowels (preferably your junky ones, not the ones your mother in law gave you that you set out when she visits). A wet dishclothe is needed as well.

This whole process is about having all your stuff set up and ready to go first so you aren't wondering where the hell that spoon went. This also is a bad time to call your sister and tell her what you're doing. Keep your head in the game. Skin grafts don't go well with swimsuit season.

Tomorrow, how to cook and process jams and jellies...(this is what they call baiting the hook, kids)

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