Sunday, 20 July 2008

The Great Strawbery Jam Experiment -- Part Two

As promised, here is the conclusion of The Great Strawberry Jam Experiment.Step #10: Bring back to boiling, and cook at a rapid boil for 5 minutes. (No, I didn't boil my hand ... I have no idea why it looks so red here. Maybe it's a reflection of the jam!)Step #11: Remove from heat and ladle into hot sterilized jars. (Oops! I dribbled a bit there ... it's hard to ladle and take pictures with your non-dominant hand all at the same time!)

Step #12: Put on hot lids and screw bands. Oh, and if you don't have one of these "do-hickies" or "thing-a-ma-jigits", run out and get one! This clever little magnet on a wand beats the heck out of scalding fingers when fishing hot lids out of boiling water!

Step #13: Into the hot water bath canner for these jars ...

Step #14: ... and into the fridge for this partially filled jar. (I'll just have to eat this little bit on my breakfast toast!)Step #15: Process jars in boiling water for 10 minutes, then remove from canner.Step #16: Wait for that magic "click" that tells you each jar has sealed. Voila! Five bee-oo-teeful half-pint jars of Strawberry Jam to enjoy this winter! Oh, and that partial jar I tucked away in the fridge for breakfast? I thought I'd have a wee "tea-and-toast-in-the-afternoon" break ...Mmm mmm! Fabulous deep red colour ... berry pieces quite firm ... soft but decent gel ...

Tastes VERY strawberry ... slightly tart ... just the way I like it! I hereby declare The Great Strawberry Jam Experiment a GREAT SUCCESS!

PS: I'll bring you a jar, "L", but I'd like to point out that you COULD make your own ... I've just provided you with step-by-step instructions! ;-P

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Great Strawberry Jam Experiment - Part One

Years ago and in another part of the province, canning fruit and making pickles and jams and jellies was a summer "given". The stuff grew all around you, so you preserved dozens and dozens of jars of the stuff for use during the months when the stuff didn't grow around you. I've been away from the Okanagan for a decade and a half, yet every summer I feel like there's something I should be doing ... if only I could remember exactly what it was. I decided the missing element was preserving the summer fruits of someone's labour ... obviously not mine as my gardening is limited to a couple of succulents on a window sill.

The result of that decision is The Great Strawberry Jam Experiment. You see, a decade and a half or so ago, I still lived with ravenous teenagers and thought in terms of industrial-sized quantities. These days, I live with a goldfish and struggle to re-think cooking quantities so I don't end up eating the same meal as leftovers for ten days at a time. I REMEMBER how to make a "small" batch of two dozen or so pints of jam, but I only WANT a half dozen half-pint jars for myself. That goal required an experiment.

Like any good student (have I mentioned I'm starting my MA studies in September?), I proceeded with a thorough literature review:

I purchased this wonderful book back when I was a starving undergrad student living on campus ... and dreaming about the day when I could afford to splurge on fresh fruit again. This book really does provide recipes for SMALL BATCHES. (I can't wait to try Mango-Papaya Chutney!) I put my order in for fresh strawberries a while back, and the local farmer delivered two flats of the luscious ripe things yesterday. It took serious willpower to keep myself from just eating them right away!

The Great Experiment officially began last night. I will attempt to document its procedures (and its results) here.

Step #1: Wash the berries. These ones came with a lot of dirt on them, and I suspect I got less strawberries than the amount I paid for by weight. Step #2: Slice the berries into halves (quarter the really big ones). Step #3: Measure 8 cups of sliced berries into a big pot. Since I don't own industrial-sized cookware anymore, I was a little concerned that this pot ... the biggest one I have ... would be a bit too small. At this point in The Great Experiment, things might have gone awry ... but I won't know until I sample the results. I USED TO buy regular (as in white) granulated sugar ... in industrial-sized bags. These days, I buy tiny bags of natural unrefined sugar. It's NOT white. Hmmm. Will that make a difference in the final product? What do you predict?

Step #4: Measure 4 cups of sugar into the pot with the sliced berries.

Step #5: Mix the sliced berries and sugar together really well, and set aside overnight. Yes, you read correctly ... set aside OVERNIGHT. It's all part of The Experiment. (Trust me ... this is what it says to do in The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving!)

Step #6: The next morning ... it was about 6:26 am ... put the pot on the stove and bring to a rapid boil. Oh man! You should smell this stuff! It's HEAVENLY!

Oh oh! Another point in The Great Experiment where things might have gone awry! No fresh lemons in the fridge! Fortunately, I keep a bottle of this stuff for precisely that kind of emergency.

Step #7: Add 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the pot, and bring it back up to boiling again. Yes, that is a 1/4 cup measure ... I used 2 of them. I'm pretty sure 2 X 1/4 = 1/2 ... at least as sure as anyone can be at 6:26 am!
Step #8: Keep cooking at a rapid boil for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and seat aside for 24 hours. Yes, 24 hours (The book says it has something to do with acid molecules adhering to natural pectin molecules ... way too chemical for my brain ... especially at 6:26 am ... I'm operating on faith here.) Oh, and that concern about the pot being too small? It looked a bit dicey to start, but there was JUST enough room and it didn't boil over the rim. Which was a very good thing!Step #9: Go have your cuppa and toast-without-strawberry-jam, and study for the exam you will be writing in about 3 hours. Oh ... what? No exam? I guess that was just me! I did think, however, have a cuppa and some plain toast and imagined how yummy my toast COULD BE with some homemade strawberry jam!

Stay tuned for Part Two ...

Monday, 7 July 2008


I had one. A vacation. Well ... a MINI vacation. Can't call it a REAL vacation if it's less than 10 days, right? Right. My dictionary defines a vacation as "a scheduled time of rest and relaxation from work", and except for it being too hot to sleep really well, I was definately resting and relaxing away from work!

In a couple of very short days, I managed to:
--gobble down my favourite Me 'N Ed's pizza (the "Gangster" ... whole wheat crust ... extra jalapenos ... YUM!) in the company of good friends, as well as enjoy the company of one special 4-legged furry friend! (If you're one of the good 2-legged human friends I didn't manage to call or see ... sorry! ... next trip, I promise!)
-Catch one Sunday service at a Church that feels like "home" ... and enjoy a piece of birthday cake with a special choir member!

-Travel in a manner unheard of here in PG!

-and feast my eyes on the mountains! I was raised in a valley. I miss mountains. I miss mountains a lot! I DREAM about these mountains ...
-check out at least one "old stomping ground" (which is ... sadly ... closed now)!
-and go shoe shopping! (Ronsonstocks ... $25! What a deal!)
I even managed all this relatively cheaply as I was able to take advantage of a WestJet seat sale ... $69 each way. Of course, the ACTUAL price was more than twice that amount thanks to the fuel surcharge and airport improvement levies and whatnots.
Sadly, it was all too short, and now it's back to work. I think I should do this vacation thing more often!