Saturday, May 12, 2012

Making jam

A new grocery store opened in town- an Aldi. When we lived in Columbia, I did not shop at Aldi. I went there once or twice, but it was gross, and I didn't really understand it. Now, I love Aldi. But the closest ones were all at least 20 minutes or more away. Now there is one in town and I'm way excited. They have awesome produce and good prices on other things too. (My produce selections are very limited here. There were three grocery stores in town- Kroger, Walmart, and Mosers. Mosers had ok produce but I wouldn't buy anything else there. Walmart has a large produce section, but the bananas I buy there always either stay green, or go brown immediately. They have no good ripe grace period. I don't know what they do to them. And the Kroger's produce department could fit in my dining room. It's small and sad.)
 When the store opened, they had a special on strawberries- 79 cents a pound. My kids LOVE strawberries. So we picked some up. And went back and got more. They were really good (for store-bought strawberries anyway). A friend on Facebook had found a local farm for pick your own strawberries and I started following the farm. They would post every day about how great their berries were. They were $2 a pound. But on Thursday, when Claire inevitably asked "where we go today mom?" I decided we would go pick some berries. They had fun picking fruit last year. And while $2 a pound wasn't any better than I could find anywhere else (other than Aldi), at least I would know they were local and fresh and ripe. I figured I could try making some jam. We are almost out of jam anyway, and I HATE buying jam with high-fructose corn syrup in it. Or regular fructose corn syrup. Or really any jam that lists something other than fruit as the first ingredient. We are by no means perfect, but as Alann pointed out at the grocery store today "I want a little less process in my life." I try to buy more natural things. And I want to get into canning more. I bought myself a pressure canner with my Swagbucks the other day. So I figured jam was a good place to start. I've dabbled in canning. I canned some pears a few summers ago. Long story short, we went and picked strawberries. OR more accurately, I picked strawberries and Claire ran up and down the row with another little girl and Alex picked strawberries, and then ate them.  He probably ate a good half pound.

In the car before leaving the farm
 It only took me 15 minutes and 4 bug bites to pick 4 pounds of berries. I didn't know about the bug bites until later.
First of all, let me just say, these were by far the best strawberries I have ever had. They were worth every one of the darn bug bites. These are the itchiest bites ever! They are tiny, but itch. Anyway, during nap/quiet time I started cutting up the berries. I washed and hulled about a pound before Claire came back downstairs. No, quiet time wasn't over. She is just a stinker sometimes. So I let her help. I finally popped one in my mouth and decided there was no way I was using all 4 pounds for jam. I had to save some for later. So I used three of the pounds, plus two more from Aldi that were in my fridge. There was such a huge difference. Tasting them side by side like that was amazing. The ones from the farm were delicious and soft and sweet. The ones from Aldi tasted good, but they weren't nearly as soft, or as sweet. I could have hulled the farm ones with a butter knife. Or my finger like Alex was doing at the farm. I definitely needed a pointy knife for the store ones. After mashing the berries and measuring the sugar, I left the kitchen for a moment to double check my recipe/procedure. Then Claire came in from her activity of sorting beads to ask me something and we started talking and soon I hear a distinctive sizzle. You know the one. The one that means "Oh crap something boiled over!" Yup, jam juice all over the stove. So I learned: always use the BIG pot. Not just the big pot. The BIG pot. I felt silly with just the bottom 4 inches of the pot full, but at least it wasn't going to get out again. I simmered and simmered and simmered, and sorted beads with Claire. Finally the jam was done and I put it in jars and processed it. All in all, it was a success. Though I did learn that my water canner only holds 7 jars at one time. I had 8. Oh well, one was a "sacrificial" jar as Alann called it. For dessert that night, we had shortcakes and jam and some of the yummy strawberries. I said to Alann "I think next time, I will try reducing the sugar. This is good, but it's a little overly sweet for me." To which he replied "you know what that means I think about it, right?" Me: Sigh "it's the best jam you've ever had." Any time I think I have over sugared or salted something, he thinks it's perfect. Unfortunately, I didn't think to taste the jam as I was adding the sugar. I just followed the recipe. After I added the last cup of sugar, I thought "was that too much? Is it going to be too sweet?" Sure enough. Oh well. Now I've learned. Add most of the sugar, than taste. Then add more if needed. Since the kids and I eat more jam than Alann does anyway, I can make it to my preferences. It was a long hot day at the stove, but I am quite proud of my jam. It only has three ingredients- strawberries, sugar, and some lemon juice. And it looks pretty too.

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