This summer, I really wanted to be more involved in my food. My garden was part of that, but I also tried to take advantage of the local fruit opportunities. Berries really became my focus, and I went picking every chance I had—strawberries, raspberries and blueberries.
To deal with all my fruit, I attempted to learn the world of canned preserves. My first attempt was basic Strawberry Jam...which ended up being a basic strawberry sauce. Since it took me a while to recover from my first disappointment, I missed out on the rest of strawberry season. So, I moved onto the next seasonal berry.
I did some reading post-strawberries, to figure out how to improve my jam making. Reading about pectin was probably the most helpful. I learned that the less ripe the fruit, the more pectin it contains. Freshly picked fruit, in their prime ripeness are best for preserving—they have both the flavour and the pectin required for a good jam. Since I did not want to use pectin in my jam making, I always picked and mixed a few obviously under-ripe berries in with my baskets. I have no way of knowing if it had any effect, but it certainly didn't hurt, and the two jams I made after adopting this method gelled.
For my raspberries, I used this recipe for Raspberry Jam. It's originally from a book called Putting It Up With Honey: A Natural Foods Canning and Preserving Cookbook, which is a real treasure—so many exciting, sugar-free recipes. I would love to own it, but it's a bit expensive/difficult to find. I did manage to get my hands on a copy through the inter-library loan at my public library and I copied out as many recipes as I could before having to return it.
The recipe for raspberry jam is delicious and I jumped for joy when my jam passed the gel test. There was only one problem—it was supposed to make 3 half pints, but I only got 2 and a half out of it. I am not sure if it was something to do with me, my berries or the recipe. Normally, I would assume it's me. The only reason I hesitate is because I also made her recipe for canned, whole blueberries, which calls for 2 lb of blueberries to make 4 pints, but it barely made 2. I asked a more experienced canner what she thought, and she was fairly certain there was no way 2 lb of blueberries would fill 4 pints. Anyways, it's just something I'm thought I'd mention. When I make more of her recipes, I'll know better.
For some reason, I didn't make any more raspberry jam, though I can't think of why. However, when blueberries came into season, I was ready with this recipe for Blueberry Jam. Another success. The recipe for this jam is great, though I was grateful for the general jam making instructions from Homemade Living: Canning & Preserving with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Chutneys & More, which I used as supplementary material. The instructions from this link aren't terribly informative, and English' book does a good job of explaining the whys of each step, so you know why it is important to following them.
I am certainly no jam making expert at this point, but I will mention one thing—buy a funnel...it is my biggest regret. I cursed myself every time I tried to fill those little jars, and then again when I had to try and get purple stains out of everything.