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The Strawberry Challenge, Part Deux: Jam!

5 May

After the strawberry picking I wrote about a few days ago, a friend and I used some of our bounty to make jam and can it.  I observed my mom can a multitude of foods as a kid–jam, jelly, pickles, tomatoes, corn, and soup, to name a few.  However, I’d never canned anything myself.  Though canning can be anxiety-inducing, I can now say that it in all honesty is wasn’t that difficult. The results of our jam canning journey were fantastic, I have to say.

Before I get into the process, a few tips:

  • Most of the time, you will find jars and lids in the disposable containers section of a store, near the aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and all that type of thing.  The pectin I reference in the recipe below will also most likely be found near the jars.
  • You can reuse the jars and the rings you use to secure the lids.  However, you cannot reuse the lids themselves.  You can buy separate boxes of lids for future canning endeavors.
  • Though I did not know this at the time, canning jam does not require a boiling water bath, which we did here.  My mom says it’s not necessary….I’ll discuss that more later.
  • It’s helpful to have a “jar grabber” to fetch hot jars from boiling water, but metal tongs also work.  You can buy a jar grabber, funnel for filling the jars, and a magnet for retrieving your lids from the water in a kit.  These kits are sold in the same section of the store as the jars themselves.

Step 1:  Prep work.

Take the lids and rings off your jars, put them in a pot full of water, and bring to a boil.  Immediately when the water comes to a boil, turn off the burner and leave the lids until ready to use.

In a separate large pot, bring water to a boil.  It should be enough water to reach 1 to 2 inches above the top of the jars. Then, turn down so the water is still boiling, but much more slowly.  Drop your jars in the water using the jar grabber, cover, and boil for about 5 minutes.  The purpose of this process is to disinfect the jars so your jam will not mold.  Get out a big towel, remove each jar, empty the water, and set on the towel to dry.

Step 2:  Make the jam.

Ingredients

2 quarts strawberries, washed and stemmed

4 cups of sugar

1 package of pectin (a powder that comes in a box, important for giving the jam its texture)

Instructions

Get out a big saucepan or pot, and combine the strawberries and pectin over medium heat.  No water necessary–you’ll be amazed at how much water the strawberries release as they cook.  Stir every few minutes, and bring the strawberries to a boil.  Add the sugar, and stir constantly as the jam mixture boils (about 1 or 2 minutes).  Turn the heat down and continue stirring the jam for a few minutes.  If you want your jam to be smoother, feel free to mash the berries before cooking.  I prefer chunky jam, so I left the berries whole.

Step 3:  Can the jam.

Remove the jam from the heat.  Prepare the jars.  Dry off any remaining water from the sterilization process.  Retrieve your lids from the water using the magnet.  Have the rings at the ready.  Place the funnel over the first jar, and pour in the hot jam, leaving about 1/4 inch of head space.  Wipe the edge of the jar to remove any spillage, cover with the lid, and screw on.  Repeat until you have filled all your jars.  The above recipe produced almost 5 full, 12 oz. jars of jam.  I did not have enough jam to completely fill the fifth jar, so I left that one out to refrigerate.  The other four jars are preserved for a later time.  You’ll notice as the jam and the jars start to cool, the lids will make a popping sound.  This means that they are sealed!  After 12 hours or so, check all the lids for a vacuum seal by removing the ring and checking to see if the lid is secure.  If so, you have a seal, and the jam will be good to use for about a year.  A fun variation on this jam is to add some balsamic vinegar.  Yum!

To cap off the experience, we at some of my jam with a fresh baguette from Sweetish Hill Bakery in Austin, farm fresh butter (purchased from the farmer’s market), and some wonderful balsamic vinegar from Bella Vista Ranch in Wimberley, Texas.  How delicious!


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How to Make Rice

18 Aug

Rice is something that’s so basic yet can be difficult to get right.  My instructions are for stove-top rice cooking only.  Here, I explain the steps and provide some illustrative photos.

measure rice

I generally eat brown rice, but the process is really the same for all types of rice, except maybe wild rice, which isn’t actually rice (it’s a grass).  For each cup of rice, use 2 cups of water and salt to your liking.  The only difference is that brown rice takes about 25-30 minutes to cook, while white rice typically takes 15-20.  Most packages will tell you to cook brown rice for 40-45 minutes, but I’ve found this to be unnecessary.  30 is really all you need.  The trick with rice is to make sure you have the stove at the right heat so that the water doesn’t evaporate too fast.  Otherwise, your rice might burn because it will start sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Also, if the heat is too high, the water will evaporate faster than the rice can absorb it, which is the whole point of cooking rice anyway.  Check out the steps below:

  • Bring the water to a boil.  Once the water boils, add the rice and about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt per cup of rice, stir, and then turn down the heat to medium/medium low.  You want the rice to still be boiling, but just slightly.  Once you turn down the heat, cover the pot.  If you don’t, the rice won’t absorb the water.

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  • Time your rice starting when you cover the pot.  When the rice is nearly done, it will look something like this:

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When all the water is absorbed, your rice is done:

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Taste to make sure the rice is tender.  Brown rice will be a bit chewy, white rice softer.

This is my cat, Helios, after he ate some of this rice.  I think that’s a happy look….

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