Why you and I should make jam

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(L to R) Candy thermometer that hooks over edge of cooking pot, magnetic retriever to get jar lids and rings out of water, tongs to pick up finished jars, wide-mouth funnel. Retriever and funnel came together in grocery canning “kit.”

Because it’s wonderful. Because it’s not that difficult once you have the right gear and a work flow. Because I’m going to give you both of those. Because preserves make great gifts. Because when you’re done, you’ll have something to show for your work, something to put on the shelves and admire.

Gear begins, obviously, with what you’re preserving. Right now we’re probably in the last third of our local strawberry season. Tomorrow I’m going to make my third batch of strawberry jam this season. Tonight I’m using some of the second batch in an Epicurious Strawberry-Chocolate Pie with Walnut Crust. Strawberries are so good this year because, somehow, they’ve persevered through wind, rain and frost.

You will need an “anti-reactive” cooking pot. That pretty much means stainless steel — a big Dutch oven or a soup pot. This is what you set strawberries and sugar in to get to know each other for two hours and what you cook them in.

You need a canner with a rack that raises jars off bottom and, even better, one which hangs above the hot water when you’re ready to pull out your finished jars. I guess you could improvise something, but the ordinary black enamel canners are easily and cheaply available at this time of year.

You need canning jars, rings and lids. Lids (the flat part) cannot be re-used. You can buy them separately if you have plenty of jars and rings. I like half-pint jars for jams. They’re large enough for gifting; small enough so you don’t have one in the fridge forever after opening.

Jars and lids are something else you have to spend money on. Only the tempered canning jars can do what you’re going to ask of them without exploding. Occasionally, you’ll buy something in an actual Mason or Ball jar — that name will be on jar. If it isn’t, use it to hold salad dressing.

Other things you’ll need but which you can probably pull out of your kitchen drawers without buying special canning equipment:

  1.  A candy thermometer.
  2. A wide-mouth funnel for filling jars.
  3. Tongs for pulling the jars out of the hot water.
  4. A ladle.
  5. A wooden spoon for stirring cooking preserves.
  6. A knife for getting bubbles out of jar contents.
  7. Clean kitchen towels to set out jars and paper towels for cleaning jar rims.

That’s it. Get your stuff together and next up will be your work flow that gets you from start to finish in a few well-managed hours. I think you’ll find something very centering in the whole process.


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