This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo challenge is CREATE. This is a timely topic, as I was thinking last night about how many things are creative even when we don’t think of them as crafty or artistic.
I decided several months ago that I would try canning this summer. I’ve thought about this previous summers walking through the abundant farmers’ markets, but I had never thought about it seriously. The overabundance of ripe berries right now prompted me to buy an enormous amount of them. “It’s now or never” I thought, although I suppose it really is a “now or sometime” sort of endeavor. I bought 9 cups of raspberries and thought I would start looking for canning equipment. The berries continuing to ripen in my fridge sent me to the grocery to buy a stock pot and jars last night. The canning had become “now-or-never” for this bunch of berries.
Looking at various recipes, it seemed so simple: berries, sugar, boil. Most steps in cooking are simple, but you have to know the specifics and be precise — and sometimes patient.
I cleaned the new jars and lids, placing the jars in a warm oven and the lids in a pan on the stove. I started the water boil in the stock pot knowing that it would take a long time to bring the water to a boil. I was using a 20 quart stock, so it was a lot of water! I started cooking the berries and 6 cups of sugar.
One has a lot of time to think when stirring 9 cups of berries, but this isn’t a job to leave unattended. They hold their shape for a few minutes, but they quickly turn to a mush as you stir. Just as quickly, the sugar begins to melt and before long you have a pot of warm berry liquid.
The recipe called for stirring frequently until the mixture thickened, about 10 – 15 minutes of boiling. It started a very slow boil and maintained this for about 5 minutes. A bubble would rise and pop, rise and pop, but it wasn’t a full on boil for a long time. Then, it was very bubbly and as liquid as juice.
The faster boil continued for about 5 – 7 minutes. Suddenly, the tone of the boil changed. I looked up to see that the mixture, while still very runny, was beginning to change slightly in tone, and appeared very seedy. I continued to stir and continued to refer to the recipe.
“How is this suppose to look? What does it mean that it will fall off like a sheet?” I thought. “Will I know when it is done?”
After 10 minutes, I put a teaspoon of the mixture on a chilled plate, as instructed, and put it in the freezer for 1 minute. The edges were suppose to crinkle and appear set. They didn’t — so back to the boil. I tried again in 5 minutes. This time I understood — it was exactly as described. I stopped the boil and took my jars out of the oven.
I filled each jar carefully, glad that I had bought the jar grip set with the wide-mouth funnel. It made the messy task easier. I carefully filled the jars, measured the distance between the preserves and the top of the jar, and put the lids and rings in place. The water was boiling now in the canner and I carefully lowered the jars, put the lid on and waited. “A watched pot never boils”. Or so it seemed.
Finally, I heard the unmistakable sound of water roiling in a pan over fire. I set the timer and began to clean up the mess I had made in the kitchen. I had just a bit that hadn’t fit in the jars and I could see that it was setting up the way you expect preserves to congeal. After the kitchen had been cleaned and the jars cooled, I treated myself to a spoonful of it on top of a scoop of ice cream. Yum!
The 11 jars of jam — one jar didn’t make it through the boiling process, the lid having come loose — are lined up on my counter. I heard a few of them “ping” last night as they cooled, the created vacuum pulling the lid securely in place. I can’t wait to open one of them to eat. In a few weeks, once I’m sure that this worked the way it was supposed to and I don’t have 11 jars of spoiled preserves, I’ll likely give a few of these away.
This isn’t the type of thing that I usually create. While cooking can be enjoyable to me, often it is just a task. Engaging in a process like this though — going from berry to jam — is a creative act, one that I’m glad I tried. Although it isn’t difficult, it takes a long time in a hot kitchen. I don’t know that I’ll do this regularly, but I’m ready to try a few other canning adventures. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this creation for many months with the occasional small bit of raspberry jam on my toast.