Like any blog writer, I struggle with what to write to share with you all. And I use the term "blog writer" very loosely given that my last post was over a year ago (or two). Ha! But what I've noticed through my IG posts is that people enjoy the side ventures I post about like preserving foods, organic gardening, attracting butterflies and bees, and other things beyond silversmithing. So, I'm going to use this space for a little more in-depth discussion or a "how-to" for things that interest YOU! Send me a message if there are topics you'd like me to cover.
Let's start with one of my favorite summer activities. Making fig jam! Technically, making jams and jellies are called "canning" but "jarring" is more accurate. However, "jarring" also means jarring, so... ;) My grandmother was one of 9 children raised on a farm during the Great Depression in South Carolina. To say she and her siblings were very handy is an understatement. They could "put up" anything. Putting up is an oldfashioned term describing the process of preserving in-season foods to enjoy during the rest of the year. I remember my grandmother and great aunts making muscadine jelly, chow chow, icebox green tomatoes, and of course, no holiday table was complete without artichoke relish! Given that heritage, I've tried to continue some of these family traditions! Here are two of my favorite books that describe preserving foods. I highly recommend both of them to get you started on how to preserve food safely.
Our fig tree has gone crazy this year!! Last year, the tree rebounded from the previous year's late freeze and grew so much that it began to lean and pull out of the ground. Matt chainsawed half of it off last fall and this spring it has flourished to the point that we can't use or give away enough figs. That means it's fig jam time!
Recipe (of sorts)
Slice fruit and put in heavy large pot, add citrus juices and seed bag to fruit, and bring to a boil. I like to reduce the mixture to about half or three-quarters. Then add sugar and bring to a boil again. Stir, stir, stir! You are ready to start jarring!
Just a word about pectin
Pectin is an ingredient that many people add to jams and jellies to cause it to gel. But many fruits are high in natural pectin including citrus fruits, blueberries, and blackberries. I made a blueberry marmalade one year that was so high in natural pectin that I could barely get it out of the jar! Oops. But I'm averse to adding chemicals to foods when you can create it naturally so I gathered the seeds from the citrus in a tea bag which I added to the fruit mixture. There is a whole process books describe about putting a plate in the freezer, swiping some hot jelly on it, and then seeing if it gels. I tend to just let it go because there are a million uses for a juicier jelly (ice cream, pancakes, on top of cheese...) The longer you cook the fruit mixture with the citrus and seeds, the more your jelly will gel.
This recipe can be leveled up to accommodate all your fresh fruit. I've added blackberries and peaches in the past. And spices are your choice. I just sprinkle, taste, and see what is delicious. I don't think my grandmother used measuring cups. She just KNEW how much of each ingredient to use. I'm not at her level, but I can pretend! Ha! I just try to keep the fruit/sugar ratio about the same while leaning on the side of slightly more sugar. Some people use refined sugar, but I like to use organic cane sugar because it adds a richness to the flavor. To reduce the fruit down, I would say the cooking process is up to an hour.
Sterilization of jars and utensils
You have two options for your jelly. First, if you just want to make a quick jelly and bypass the canning process, just put your delicious creation in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. But if you want the wonderful taste of figs during the holidays, you need to can the jelly properly. It's not hard so don't let it intimidate you!!
What do you need?
A big cooking pot deep enough to cover jars with water while cooking
Glass jars with NEW lids and bands (Target is killing it with all the varieties this year!)
Tongs to get jars out of the hot bath (there is a canning set you can find at the grocery store or the Target canning section -I swear there is one there right now!)
Glass measuring cup to fill jars
Funnel to fill your jars
2-3 paper towels
1. Boil and let dry all of your jars, funnel, measuring cup, any spoons, and lids before filling them. You need to lightly boil the lids you are going to use, but once you boil a lid, you need to use it. I tend to boil the lids as I go so that I don't waste them. Once a lid has been boiled, you can use it to close jars again, but you can't use them for preservation purposes because the seal is less effective.
2. Filling jars is MESSY! Have your jars lined up in a single row with paper towels ready. I like a single row because I always have jelly drip out the back of the measuring cup and want to keep the jars clean. Put your funnel on the jar, stick your measuring cup in your hot jelly mixture, and fill the jar leaving 1/2" of headroom. The headroom is important. It allows the right amount for preservation. Too little space will not allow preservation, too much will overflow.
3. After you fill a few jars, you can put some lids on. First, leave your glass measuring cup in the mixture (putting it on the counter isn't sterile), then use your paper towels to make sure each glass jar top is clean. If there is jelly on it, it could affect the seal. Put the lid on and hold in place while you gently spin the band on the lid. You want to put the lid on "finger-tight." This means the lid and band are on, but you did not crank it down super tight. Bubbles can get out during the next step.
4. Have your canning pot ready with boiling water. Some of the big canning pots come with a basket so you can lift a bunch of jars in and out at the same time. Line up your jars and lower into the hot bath. Make sure the water can flow around the jars and that they didn't lean over when you set them inside. Then boil for 10 minutes for figs or 15 minutes for other fruits like peaches.
5. The reason you put the lids on "finger-tight" is so that the contents in the jar can expand while they are boiling. This pushes out air and causes the jars to contract as they cool making a seal. The most satisfying sound is the jar lid popping as it cools and drawing in the lid tight. When you pull the jars out of their boiling bath, use towels to go ahead and tighten the jar bands. They are hot so be careful!
A quick note- some people recommend turning the jars upside down at this point to help them seal. Turning upside down also pulls larger fruit pieces up and through the mixture so they aren't floating on the top. With the fig jam, I've generally chopped the fruit so much that it doesn't float. I did make a second round of marmalade where I quartered the figs and added cherry halves and peaches. Marmalade varies from jam or jelly by having less sugar and a thicker fruit zest. I used oranges instead of lemons for the citrus. This chunkier fruit I actually pulled out of the mixture early and put in the jars, boiled the liquid down, and then added this concentrated liquid to the fruit in the jars. Because the fruit floated, I rotated the jars several times until they cooled.
How much jam does all this make? For the first round, I think I used almost 30 cups of figs and wound up with 36 half pint jars of jelly. Wow! I tend to like half pints for jelly because they are a perfect size for gifts. Have fun and enjoy putting up all the summer goodness!
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