Sunday, 24 June 2012

Alchemy 101

I have always viewed canning, pickling, and preserving food as being one step removed from alchemy.  I understand the scientific explanation of what is happening and how the process stops food spoilage, but I have never done it myself.  The best I've ever done was put food in a heavy plastic bag and toss it in the freezer (only in the past few years have I started blanching things).  But having jam or pickles sitting on the shelf has always been the Holy Grail of cooking - the prize that was way out of reach.

So last year I decided I was going to put on my big-girl panties and figure out how to do this.  I've read extensively on the subject, watched a few YouTube videos, and figured that if the rest of the world could make jam and pickles, I could do it too.  I got a recipe book, and dug out my enormous stock pot that I use for making beer; but the doubt took hold again.  What if it doesn't work?  What if it doesn't seal properly.  What if the jar breaks in the canner?  What if I just can't do this?  I put the stock pot back downstairs and put pickles on the shopping list.

A few weeks ago, Chuck decided that it would be a fun project for the family to do.  We could all pitch in to help the process and we'd have all these great things stored for the winter.  So we took a few more steps towards preserving and got some jars.  And sat and looked at each other for a week.

Friday, Chuck bought two enormous baskets of the most beautiful strawberries.  I have this thing about throwing out food - the waste just makes me twitch so we had to do something.  We were committed now.  We were making jam.

Ian hulling the berries

Boiling the fruit
Jars in the water to boil

Taking out the first jar of jam!

Eight jars of jam.  

I think it's the food safety alarmists who started the Your-Grandmas-Jam-Recipe-Is-Unsafe-Don't-Make-It that gave me pause.  Every book, website and video I've seen on the subject talks about how our understanding of the process has improved and how unsafe the older recipes are etc. so throw them all out and follow the new safer modern recipes instead.  I'm sure it wasn't their intention to put newbies like me off making preserves at all, and I admit I approached this with a great deal of apprehension (what if I did it wrong and we all died of salmonella?) and and and and

And you know what?  If you can boil water, you can make jam.  It was dead easy.  If somebody had told me that it was easier than making beer (which it is), I'd have started years ago. 

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