Tuesday, May 11, 2010

my other love

... canning. Preserving, putting up, putting by... whatever you choose to call it, I adore making jams, chutneys, butters, etc! And, as far as seasonal produce goes, there's not much out there that gets me going as much as rhubarb does! So what could be better than an afternoon spent with my hubby making two different kinds of rhubarb jams?!


Strawberry-rhubarb is, of course, what everybody thinks of first. And it's yummy, don't get me wrong. But I personally prefer jams that are unique and different from what's available in the grocery store. I do love strawberry-rhubarb, especially in pie form,  but I'm such a rhubarb fan that what I don't always appreciate is how the strawberry overpowers the rhubarb's flavor. So I chose something different: Rhubarb-Citrus Marmalade. Yum!

If you've never tried making your own jam, I promise, you can do it! (get it? har har.) We've never tried jelly or pickles (though my parents have been making them every year since forever), but jams, compotes, and chutneys are so much easier than you'd imagine! Home canning is gaining in popularity, so I bet you could find a class or workshop in your area if you'd prefer to have an experienced "professional" help you out on your first go. That's what my husband and I did. But really, I promise, it's so easy to do and really is relatively foolproof. So here's my little beginners' jam-making primer. Good luck!

The easiest method of home canning is called the "hot water bath" method. It's really foolproof - you don't even have to worry about sterilization! Use glass jars with two-piece lids - these have a lid, which actually seals onto the jar, and a "ring"/"band" that helps hold the lid in place. Jams usually go in 8 oz. or 4 oz. jars. You're also going to need a large pot ("canner"), and a rack that fits into the bottom of the pot to hold the jars. (Yes, you really do need the rack. It's a one-time investment and you can find them at KMart or your local hardware store.)

The first thing you do is wash your jars and rings in hot soapy water. Set the lids aside in a heatproof bowl or small saucepan. Place the rack into the bottom of the canner, set the jars inside, and fill with water until the jars are just covered. Heat the canner on medium heat - don't worry about boiling or anything. You just want it to heat to 180-200 degrees F. Set the rings aside for later. Now make your jam. When the jam is ready to go into the jars, pour boiling water over the lids. Lift the jars out one-by-one (lift, fill, replace, repeat) and empty the water back into the canner. Ladle jam into a jar, wipe the edges with a damp cloth, center the lid on the jar, and screw on the ring - just to "finger-tight." Then put the jar back in the canner. When all the jars are full, put the canner on high heat until the water boils. Once it comes to a rolling boil, set a timer for 10 minutes (or whatever time is specified in your recipe). When your jars of jam have boiled steadily for 10 minutes, turn off the heat and remove the canner's lid. Let the whole mess sit for 5 minutes. Then you can lift the jars out - try to keep them straight upright! - and wait and listen for the wonderful little *pop* of the jar lid sealing!

See? Easy! If you want a little more info, the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving is amazing! And, to get you started, here's the recipe we made - In case you've forgotten while I was up on my do-it-yourself soap box, it's...

 Rhubarb-Citrus Marmalade
1. Roughly chop 4 c. of rhubarb. (Don't bother peeling it.)
 2. Cut up 2 oranges and 1 lemon. (I sliced them thinly and then ran my knife through the slices to cut them up into small pieces.)
3. Simmer the oranges and lemon in 2 c. of water for about 20 minutes.
4. Add the rhubarb and bring to a boil.
5. Stir in 4 c. granulated sugar.
 6. Boil, stirring constantly (or at least really really really frequently) until a "gel" state is reached, which means the liquid part of the jam "sheets" off of a spoon, which looks like this:
7. When you see the "sheeting" occur, remove jam from heat. Go ahead and fill your jars! (See above.)
8. You just made jam! Yummy! :)

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