Sunday, April 22, 2012

Strawberry Jam Step by Step

Why can? You may ask. Why not? Is what I will say. Its fun for me, kind of like growing a garden. You take something that is one thing and turn it into something completely different. You save the harvest from the summer for those dreary winter months. You make a huge smile on someones face when you share the bounty. I have always been told that my great grandfather ate a half pint of jelly with every meal. Sounds like we would have got along great. Besides, have you looked at the price of jam or jelly with out high fructose corn syrup in it? Its expensive. I can make the same thing at home. The jelly or jam you make in your own kitchen will have fewer ingredients and less pesticides, not to mention a better fresher taste. The tricks to making it easy and run smoothly is to have all your items out and ready to go before you start cooking and have a clean kitchen. I always keep a sink full of hot soapy water too, so I can chunk unused items in it. When the jam or jelly sets up on items its hard to clean. This is going to be going over the water bath method of canning. Here are the items you will need:

1. A water bath canner
2. Jars, lids and rings
3. A large pan, spoon and potato masher
4. A small pan
5. A coffee cup, a canning funnel, a magnet stick, damp rags, and a jar holder
6. Fruit, fresh and firm not rotten or squishy.
7. Sugar
8. Pectin
9. A plate
10. A measuring cup
11. A large bowl
First, clean your jars, even if you are just taking them out of the box for the first time. If you have a dishwasher not only will they be clean, but they will remain hot. If you don't have a dishwasher find a cleaning helper you can fit into the jar.
 Sometimes hands don't fit, and when you rinse them, keep your jars in hot water. As you clean, rub your finger across every jar lid to make sure there are no nicks or cracks, if there are discard that jar.
Get your canner on the stove and fill it about halfway with water and go ahead and turn it on and put the lid on. Get your other pans on the stove too. In the small pan put some water and flat lids in it. It helps if you flip every other one over so they won't stick together so bad. Make sure you have enough water in the pan to cover the lids and always put more lids in than you need, you never know when one will fly out of you hands. Turn this pan on low, make sure it never boils and put it on a back burner.
On the front burner put your larger pan that you intend to cook the jam in. Pour some fruit in it and crush it with the potato masher, then scoop it into the measuring cup and pour it into the large bowl until you get the amount needed. Once it is measured you can pour this back into the pan and wash your bowl and measuring cup.

Then measure out the amount of sugar you need in that bowl. Have your sugar bowl ready and waiting by you. Arrange your plate, cup, funnel, magnet stick, spoon, jar holder, and damp rag by your stove.
Now that you have everything ready to go you can start making jam. First, stir your pectin into your fruit and turn your burner on.
Stirring slowly and constantly until it reaches a full rolling boil, a boil that will not stop when you stir. Then stir in your sugar and continue to stir until it reaches a full rolling boil. Time your rolling boil for one minute, stirring the entire time. It is important to not scrape the sides of the pan when you are stirring. Then turn your burner off.
It will build up foam on top, its normal. You can scoop this off with your spoon after you turn the burner off and the bubbles calm down a bit.
 After you scoop the foam off, using your rag, get a jar from the dishwasher. Set it on your plate and put the funnel in the top. Using your coffee cup scoop out some jam and fill the jar up to the rim. Leaving a 1/4 inch head space, the gap between the lid and the jam.
Wipe the rim with your damp rag, making sure to leave to no particles on the rim. Otherwise it will not make a proper seal.
 Use the magnet stick to get lids out of the hot water and put it on the jar then screw a ring on firmly.
You may need to use your rag wrapped around the jar for this, they are filled with hot jam. Then take your jar holder and place the jar in the water. Continue this process until all jars are filled.
Make sure when you have all of your jars in the canner that they have one to two inches of water over their lids. When you are done, put the lid on the canner and let it come to a boil, then time it for 10 minutes. Ajusting the time for high altitude. When the time is up, turn the burner off and wait for the boiling to stop, carefully remove the lid and using your jar holder pick up the jars one at a time. I put a rag under them so I don't drip hot water on my toes. Put them on a towel or heat friendly place to cool. I leave a few inches around each one.

 I usually clean up and have the next batch ready to start when the ones in the canner are done. You can double up a batch, but it may not set properly. It will also not set properly if you use too much or too little sugar or fruit, use a sugar substitute or don't leave it at a rolling boil long enough. You can always check out the Ball website for more info on canning. I have the Blue Book of Preserving and its like my canning dictionary. Here is the website they have a lot of facts. You can make low sugar or no sugar jam by buying a low, no sugar pectin. You can also not use pectin, which I have never done. Or you can use a high pectin fruit in with it, I have never done this either. To me it is easier to use pectin. Here is a recipe that uses tart apples instead of pectin. Here is a page with lots of info too. Canning is fun for me, I hope it is fun for you too. I figure when it becomes work to me instead of fun I'll quit doing it. If I have missed any steps or it just doesn't sound right to you let me know and I'll fix it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gardening with Children

Gardening is fun for me, maybe fun for you too, and it can be fun for kids too. Just think of how fun it is to you to plant a tiny seed and watch it grow into a big plant that makes food for you to eat. Kids think that's awesome too. The last two years I have shown cub scouts how to plant seeds and given them tidbits of info about certain plants. Nothing is more entertaining than a bunch of boys asking crazy questions about things in the garden, and they learn about how things grow along the way. I always ask what are the three main things a seed needs to grow into a plant. Most know that it takes water, dirt, and sunlight. What they don't know is that it takes patience and work. They take their tiny cups home after they have planted their seed and put it in the window sill. I tell them to give it sips of water everyday and let me know when it has grown a bit. I have kids come up to me at school saying that their plant has grown and is out of the ground! They get so excited about it, but I do too. Here are some ideas on how to get your kids involved:
1.  Have them watch you play in the garden, and let them get dirty too. When we moved into our house several years ago it was the first time we had a yard in several years. It didn't take too long for them to start playing in the dirt. Then the next spring I started planting a garden. My boys had their tiny hoes and shovels and where out there with me. When I was planting something and they were with me I always explained what I was doing, what the plant would make and maybe how we would eat it too. That first summer I constantly caught them digging up the gardens. One day it was hot, I had been working in the garden all day and was tired. I heard them giggling around the corner at another garden spot and I just knew they were tearing it up. When I turned the corner I was shocked to find them standing by the broccoli, happily munching away on it. I just backed up and left them to it. After that year I started letting them pick plants they wanted to grow. I have learned that if they grow it they are more likely to eat it themselves. Without me making them or them sitting at the table for an hour staring at it on their plate.
Here they are writing corn on canning labels and adding the date.
Cosmos, my son picked these out years ago and we save the seeds for the next year.
2. Let them help pick seeds or plants. Since the above story, we have grown sunflowers (which are a big hit for kids), peas, gourds (can't eat but fun to grow), pumpkins, melons and many more items the boys have picked out themselves. Including flowers too, my favorites were mexican sunflowers and orange cosmos, which I still grow the cosmos. Now we have moved on to multi colored popcorn and jelly melons for planting this year. I always try to get them in on the seed buying, and they love planting them too. Don't forget seed saving either, they can collect pods or seeds off of plants too.
3. Give them jobs they can do well. My boys like to hoe and find worms to feed the chickens, when they start getting wild with the hoe and swinging it around I have them stop and do something else. They like to water and pull weeds, more so when a fancy or cute watering can is involved. They can also scoop dirt into pots and pick bugs off plants. Mulching is another entertaining job to give to kids.
Digging wild onions up.
4. Let them have their own area or specific plant. This year I have given my boys their own garden spot, which has seeds from the cub scouts planted in it. The food they grow in it is donated to the local mission, I took the first batch of lettuce there the other day. Granted my boys are 8 and 6 and I end up doing a lot of the work in their spot, but when school is out I think I will let them do it all.
 5. Save your back and let your kids do it. When the veggies or fruit start to grow and are ready to pick kids should be in on that too. You will have less bending over to do and they will have fun picking, especially if its fruit. When we hunt blackberry's my boys are purple mouthed and a little scratched up too, but they are very happy to help. I also get my kids in on preparing the food to eat or can. Children can shuck corn and snap beans. Just make sure you give them age appropriate jobs. One of my boys likes the job of finding worms in the corn and collecting them to feed the chickens or smash in his hands. I wouldn't give a small child a knife to go cut the okra off the stalk with but they can hold the bucket while you drop them in.
My boy getting ready to snap yard long beans last year.
6. Kids can help take the garden down too. In fall we clean are gardens up taking the old plants down and I sprinkle veggie bits on the dirt then we layer newspaper on it and cover it with hay or straw. I call it putting the garden to bed, and my boys help with this too.