As soon as I found my stockpot, canning rack, and jars, I plunged back into canning after a more than three-month hiatus. I watched everyone in the northern hemisphere reveling in summer’s bounty while I tried to keep my feet warm through a Canberra winter and tried to manage everyday cooking in the TUK. I really missed my whole domestic routine, of which canning has become an integral part since early last year.
Well, Saturday was the official first day of spring in the southern hemisphere; my kitchen is nearly back to being fully stocked; and there are already fantastic strawberries available at equally fantastic prices at the farmers’ market. So I’m back to my regular schedule of small-batch canning. I’ve been on the receiving end of a few incredulous responses of the “What are you, Superwoman?” variety from recipients of my first jars, but I’m so in the routine of it now that it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. I decided to document this week’s session as representative of my usual commitment of time and effort.
Small-batch strawberry jam, Friday 21 September
I often do canning projects on Friday afternoons - if time and work commitments permit - when I’m ready to wind down after a week of work, school, and running around. (Yes, if I have enough time and if they’re not overwhelmingly big, I do find canning projects relaxing.) Plus, it’s a good way to make room in the fridge before my Saturday-morning trip to the farmers’ market.
4:00 Get out all ingredients and supplies and set up work area.
4:18 Finish de-stemming and roughly chopping strawberries. Weigh chopped fruit, then dump into cooking pot. (I use half as much sugar as fruit as my standard ratio for making jam, so weighing the fruit is necessary to determine how much sugar I need.)
4:23 Prepare pectin popsock. (I don’t usually bother with commercial pectin, as I found it made the texture of the jam too rubbery for my taste. Instead, I save apple cores and citrus peels, and chuck a few in while I’m cooking the jam to provide natural pectin. The popsock is an idea I borrowed from Nigella Lawson, and I promise it has never been on anyone’s foot.)
4:25 Weigh sugar; add to fruit and begin cooking mixture over medium heat. (Stir regularly throughout cooking process, and mash fruit with a potato masher, depending on desired texture of finished jam.)
4:30 Squeeze lemon and add juice. (Acid is a necessary part of the jelling process of making jam, and I usually add lemon or lime juice to any jam mixture – about 2 Tbsp/30 ml per kilo – for flavor balance and acid insurance.)
4.34 Once all ingredients are safely in the jam pot, fill the stockpot and put on the stove to heat, adding the jars to sterilize. (I usually calculate the number of jars I’ll need based roughly on the weight of the prepared fruit, estimating one jar for every 250 g fruit. So for 966 g I’m boiling four jars.)
4:48 Water in stockpot starts to simmer and jars start to rattle; put lids in a small saucepan and pour over hot water so they can soften.
5:17 Jam is done. (I assess this by stirring the jam; as soon as I can see the bottom of the pan for any amount of time when I scrape a silicone spatula across, I shut the heat off. I generally don’t bother with a thermometer or a plate in the freezer.) Remove jars from stockpot with tongs and place on the counter near the jam pot, preferably on a dish towel to protect the hot jars from the cold counter and vice versa. Make sure the heat under the stockpot is on high so it can come to a rolling boil.
5:20 Fill, wipe, and seal jars. Place in canning rack.
5:26 Place filled canning rack into stockpot. (As soon as water returns to a full boil, time boiling for 10 minutes.)
5:36 Turn gas off.
5:44 Remove canning rack from stockpot and leave jars to cool overnight.
And there you have it – 1:44 start to finish, and I would guess that is longer than usual, as the amount of fruit I was prepping and cooking was on the larger side for me. I had to be in the kitchen the entire time, but not working on the jam every minute, so I also got most of my dinner prep for that night done, made a batch of salsa, boiled up the strawberry tops (just to see what would happen), and poured myself a Friday-night cocktail. I got four full half-pint jars, as I expected, of really good jam (if I do say so myself), plus a bit left over for quality control sampling. A much more tangible result than I often get from 2 hours’ investment of time. Oh, and in case you’re wondering where Miss B was during this? Sitting at the kitchen table, alternating between talking to me and plunging deep into the world of make-believe with various small critters. (Often she would be having screen time during part of this time slot, but she decided she was having more fun with what she was already doing.)
So what do you think? Is this your idea of a good time, or the last thing you'd want to be doing on a free Friday afternoon?