Canning is one kitchen activity that can intimidate even the most confident cook. The truth is, it's dead simple. Every August I make jars and jars of wild blueberry jam at my parents' house in Maine, and every Christmas I know exactly what I'm giving out as presents. The best part? It takes all of an hour to make the jam, and both the ingredients and equipment couldn't be simpler.
Here are a few tips you may find useful if you're canning for the first time:
• Make sure you have a ladle (metal or plastic), a wide-mouthed funnel, a set of tongs with strong grippers, a large pot or Dutch oven and a rack that will fit inside it, sitting at least 1 inch above the bottom.
• You can reuse jars, but make sure you buy new lids and bands each time you make preserves, or they will not seal properly.
• Run your jars through the dishwasher to both clean and sterilize them right before you start your preserves. Do not remove the jars from the dishwasher until you are ready to fill them. Sterilize all other equipment (lids, bands, ladle and funnel) by putting them in a large saucepan and covering them with boiling water 15 to 20 minutes before you start filling your jars.
• If you are canning anything with low-acidity (vegetables, starches, meat), you must use a pressure canner. If however, you are canning high-acid foods (jams, jellies, most fruits), you can use the water bath processing method (see recipe below). Although some will swear that all you need is hot jam and hot jars, processing in a water bath takes only a few minutes and assures that your preserves will keep safely.
• If you have any further questions about safe canning procedures, this is a helpful site.
Wild Maine Blueberry Jam
Makes 7 to 8 cups of jam
- 6 cups crushed blueberries from about 2 quarts berries (slightly underripe berries work best)
- 6 cups sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- juice of half a lemon
2. Stir in the cinnamon, salt and lemon juice and return to a gentle, rolling boil. Boil the jam for about 40 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is quite thick and a small dollop spooned onto a plate and set aside to cool for a minute does not run when you tip the plate to one side.
3. While the jam is cooking, run 8 one-cup jam jars through the dishwasher (a short cycle will do) and using a large saucepan, cover 8 new lids, 8 bands, a ladle and a wide-mouthed funnel with boiling water. Fill a large Dutch oven or soup pot two thirds full with water and place a rack that is at least one inch high in the bottom of the pot. Bring the water to a simmer and then turn off the heat.
4. Ladle the jam into the hot jars using the funnel, wipe the rims and seams of the jars with a damp paper towel and screw on the lids (do not tighten them completely). Using tongs with a good grip and being very careful, gently lower the jars into the pot of hot water, resting them on the rack. Do not allow the jars to touch each other or the sides of the pot. The water level should be at least 1 1/2 inches above the tops of the jars. If it is not, add some boiling water.
5. Bring the water in the pot to a gentle boil, and simmer to process the jars for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the jars and turn them upside down on the counter. Leave to cool for 12 to 24 hours before turning over and tightening the lids. At some point, you will hear the lids pop, which means they are sealed properly. To make sure all of the lids are sealed, push down on the center of each. If the lid pops back up, the jar isn't sealed; you should refrigerate and eat any jam in unsealed jars within a couple of weeks. Properly sealed jars will keep in a cool, dry place for several months.