Jam Session

Preserving: There's no question -- homemade is much better.

July 16, 2000|By Annette Gooch | Annette Gooch,Universal Press Syndicate

If you've ever compared the taste of good homemade jam with its commercial counterpart, you can appreciate how much select ingredients and small-batch cooking contribute to the quality of the finished product. Some of the best fruits for homemade jam are tart apples, tart blackberries, cranberries, plums and red currants, which are high in pectin and acid. (Low-pectin fruits, such as strawberries, cherries, peaches and raspberries, require commercial pectins to give them enough body.)

Strictly defined, jam is the result of cooking fruits with sugar to preserve them until the mixture thickens to a spreadable consistency. In general, that means a proportion of f cup of sugar for each cup of fruit. Besides the fruit, you will need canning jars with sealable lids, and a large canning kettle with a rack to hold the jars. Some recipes call for a candy thermometer to ensure proper consistency. (Tips on fruit and sugar come from "The Fanny Farmer Cookbook," by Marion Cunningham [Knopf, 1996, $30]; it's also a good source of recipes.)

Putting up a few jars of your own jam is satisfying and more fun than work. It's extremely important, however, to make sure the filled jars are properly sealed. The process of vacuum sealing is accomplished through a process known as waterbath canning. If they're properly processed, your jars will keep their precious contents safe and free of bacteria that can cause illness.

First, wash the jars and the ring bands of their lids in hot, soapy water; rinse. Sterilize jars by placing them upside down on the rack in kettle and filling kettle with water to cover jars. Boil 15 minutes. Turn off heat and leave jars in hot water until they are filled. Sterilize lids by covering them with water in a saucepan and boiling them for 5 minutes. Ring bands need not be sterilized

Fill jars, using a ladle and wide-mouth funnel, leaving

inch of head space or more as recipe directs. Wipe any spills from mouth of jar to ensure a perfect seal. Use tongs to set sterilized metal lid atop jar; screw down ring band.

Set jars in rack of waterbath canner. Do not allow jars to touch one another or sides of the canner. Add enough hot water to cover tops of jars by 2 inches. Put on canner lid. Bring water to a full rolling boil and process according to recipe directions (processing time varies with recipes; begin counting processing time when the water boils). When processing time has been completed, remove jars from canner with jar tongs. Set jars on a folded towel.

As jars cool over the next 12 hours, lids will make a popping noise as they indent, indicating a successful vacuum seal. After 12 hours, test the seal on each jar by pressing center of lid with your finger; if center of the lid stays down, jar is sealed. If jar fails to seal, refrigerate and use the contents within two weeks. If desired, remove ring bands for reuse. Label and date jars before storing in a cool, dry, dark place.

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