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Canning Jam... It's Far Easier Than You Think (a tutorial)

No, I'm not joking.  It's not hard.  And once you've canned some jam, the world is your oyster.  Pickle relish?  No problem.  Canned peaches?  Easy as pie.  And speaking of pie, apple pie filling?  Yes please.  So take my word that it is simple, and follow my super instructive tutorial.

First, Gather your ingredients and supplies:

  • Roughly 4 cups of mashed fruit (just get a bunch, you know your kids will any leftovers)
  • 1/2 cup sugar or honey
  • Pomona's Pectin (the box includes the pectin, the instructions, and the calcium powder to make the calcium water... you need it all)
  • Lemon juice (for some fruits)
  • White vinegar (only for the canning water, and you only really need it if you have hard water)
*I am proceeding with the recipe assuming you are also using Pomona's Pectin (available at most health food stores or online... your local store might also carry it, but I can't promise it).  BUT you can use whatever pectin you can find.  HOWEVER, read the directions in the pectin box very, very carefully and follow their directions.  You'll still process the jars the same way that I describe below (and admit it, that's the part that scares you the most), but every pectin type/brand needs to be mixed in a different way.  I repeat- read carefully, and follow exactly.  Read before you start and read again as you complete each step.  The only batches of jam I've ever messed up were because I didn't carefully follow the directions on the pectin package.

Jar lifter, headspace measure-y thing, canning funnel, rings, jars, and lids.  And the towel is clean, I swear...
  • Jars and lids.  People typically can jelly and jam in 1/2 pints.  If you want to give them as gifts you may even consider the adorable little 4oz (1/2 of a 1/2 pint) jars.  I do the jam we are going to eat (organic, low sugar stuff) in pint jars because I can make more at once that way.  I wouldn't suggest quarts... the jelly would go bad before you finished the open jar, unless you're the Duggars.  For 4 cups of fruit you'll need 5-6 pint jars.  Always boil more jars than you need, though.
  • Large kettle (deep enough for your jars to fit plus at least a few inches- the enameled aluminum pots you can get at big box stores are cheap and great for this, or buy a kettle specifically made for canning).
  • Large pot for boiling the mashed fruit
  • Jar lifter**
  • Magnetic lid lifter**
  • Canning Funnel**
  • Headspace measure-y thingy**
  • Ladle
  • Potato Masher
  • Dish towel
  • Small, clean dish cloth
**These items can be found in big box stores in the canning section, near the jars.  Often you can buy them as a kit.  The headspace measure-y thingy (yep, that's what it's called... in my world) and the magnetic lid lifter are not absolutely necessary, but very helpful.  The jar lifter and the canning funnel are pretty important.

Before you even touch your fruit, you need to prepare your jars and set up your equipment.  First wash your jars.  Then place them in your canning kettle and fill the whole thing with cold water, to just below the rims of the jars.  Add a little vinegar, then place over high heat with the lid on.

Also, place a tea kettle or small saucepan of water over high heat as well.  You'll need the hot water for the lids and rings (in the glass bowl below).
 Make sure all of your supplies (listed above) are clean and laid out.  Spread out the dish towel on the counter nearest the burner you plan to cook your fruit on.

NOW you can get to your fruit.  Wash and stem/pit the fruit.  Cute helpers are a bonus.
Yep, my kids with sharp knives.
 Place fruit in the large pot over medium heat and mash with a potato masher.

My pot has measuring marks on it, so I use those to measure the fruit (it doesn't have to be horribly exact)- I just keep adding fruit and mashing until I have the desired amount of fruit (in this case, 4 cups).  You can mash the fruit in a large glass measuring cup if you would like- the heat isn't necessary, it just makes firmer fruit easier to mash.

 After the fruit is mashed, mix the calcium water as per the directions in the Pomona's pectin package (if you use another brand, don't worry about this, Pomona's is the only brand that requires calcium water), then add to your fruit as per the instructions.  Add the lemon juice if your recipe calls for it as well.

While waiting for the fruit to simmer, mix the recommended amount of pectin for your recipe to your 1/2 cup of sugar or honey.

Sugar and pectin.
When the fruit has come to a boil, dump in the sugar/pectin mixture all at once, stirring vigorously.  Continue to stir for 2 minutes to ensure the pectin is fully dissolved.
 Bring the mixture back to a boil, then remove from heat.  Make sure you've poured some hot water over your lids.  Working quickly, remove the jars from the boiling water using the jar lifter, carefully dumping the hot water back into the kettle.  If you reduced the heat under the canning kettle at any point, crank it back up to high NOW.  Place the hot jars on the towel and place the canning funnel on the top of one.  Carefully ladle the hot jam into the jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space (the space between the top of the jam and the top of the jar).

Once you have filled all of your jars, use your headspace measure-y thingie (okay, I need to make up shorter names...) to check your headspace.  I'm not gonna lie, though, this doesn't have to be super precise.  Close is good enough.

 Then, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP, wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp cloth.  This ensures that no little pieces of strawberry prevent your jars from sealing.
Then, using the magnetic lid lifter, remove the lids and rings from the hot water.  Place the lids and rings on the jars.  Only tighten the rings as much as you can with your fingertips (and not holding the jar... which would be hard, since it's flaming hot anyway).  It has to be loose enough to allow air to get out.  But get it as tight as you can with your fingertips only... too loose and water gets into the jar.  Then, using the jar lifter, carefully lift each jar straight up and, keeping it level, set it into the boiling water.
After all the jars are placed in the kettle, make sure the jars are covered by at least an inch of water- if not, add more hot water from your tea kettle.  Place the lid back on the kettle.  Process jars for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and remove the jars back to the towel.

While your jars are processing, deal with the odd amount of jelly you had left over.  You'll almost always have an odd little amount- too much to throw away, but not enough for a full jar.  Just pour that into a jar, lid, and throw in the fridge.  You can use it as soon as it's cool.
The odd jelly... this jar ended up being 1/3 nanking cherry and 2/3 strawberry rhubarb.

When your jars have processed fully, remove them- lift jars straight up out of the kettle and keep them level as you move them.  Do not be tempted to tip them to get the water off the top, if the lids aren't sealed yet jelly could seep out the side, preventing a proper seal.
The water on the top of the jar will drain off.  And you should also begin to hear the satisfying "pop" of jars sealing.  Once they have cooled just a little and the lids have popped down, tighten the rings a little more (they will be loose by this point).  Then just leave the jars and do not disturb them for at least 24 hours.

The next day, label the jars (I just write a quick label and the year on the lid, like "straw, '13").  Then remove the rings (it's a bad idea to store canned goods with the rings on- it makes it more difficult to tell if a lid is loose, and the rings tend to rust) and, with your thumb, push up firmly on the lid to ensure a proper seal.  Store in a cool, dark place.

Please ask questions if anything is unclear!  And remember, I over explain everything, so these instructions are on the long side (but in all fairness, there are a lot of pictures...).

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