Sweet cherry jam

Sorry, I was lost in the early ’70’s there for a moment, with the tune for “Sweet Caroline” going through my head. I’m back now, with more jam. Sweet cherry jam to be precise –

SweetCherryJamI turned into a real rebel with this effort. I definitely wanted to go with the low sugar version of this jam. I didn’t know exactly how many pounds of cherries I needed to buy, so I decided that however much I bought I was going to turn into jam.

The Ball pectin that I use is called “Flex Batch,” implying that you can increase or decrease the recipe by varying the amount of pectin and other ingredients. Within reason, of course, as jam and jelly recipes are not meant to make really large batches. They just don’t work when they get too big.

The low sugar recipe calls for 3 2/3 cups of prepared cherries, and I wound up with six cups. Not only did I adjust the recipe, I decided to make it all in one batch in the automatic Jam & Jelly Maker. You are not supposed to make a batch that will yield more than two pints in the J&J Maker, but I had read reviews from various users where they had even doubled the batch size without any problem. My experience with the strawberry and peach jam told me that the contents of the pot did not get too high while cooking, so I thought I should be okay to do all five cups of cherries at one time.

I don’t have a lot of pictures for the cherry jam – only two really – the one at the top and this one –CherryPitterI don’t eat sweet cherries and have never cooked with them, and it has actually been many, many years since I cooked with sour cherries. It dawned on me that I needed a cherry pitter. After reviewing my options, this OXO Good Grips Cherry and Olive Pitter seemed like the best bet. Yeah, you only pit one cherry at a time, but it’s not like I’m going into mass production. I found the pitter at my local Bed, Bath & Beyond, but at $12.99 I thought I should be able to find a better price elsewhere online. Hmm, no such luck, same price online. However, I did have a 20% off one item coupon from BB&B, so back to the store for the best deal.

I washed the cherries in a colander a few at a time and then pitted those few right after washing them. I’m paranoid about leaving pits in the cherries, although it’s unlikely you are not going to see any missed pits as you are spreading jam. To help alleviate my concern, I pitted into a plastic container, listening and watching for the pit to fall into the container and emptying the container after each small batch. While the cherry pitter worked pretty well and is well constructed, it was nowhere near 100% consistent in removing all the pits. Still, as I was watching so closely I was able to catch the cherries that didn’t pit and do it manually (although I did find half a pit as I was putting the finished jam into jars – you just better plan on missing one).

So, here I have bowl full of pitted sweet cherries. The instructions for almost all jam is to cut up the fruit and then mash it (usually in a single layer) with a potato masher. Do you know what a pain it is to try to cut up sweet cherries? Small, round things that do not want to stay under a knife? I finally succeeded in cutting several up and went to mash them. Did you know that sweet cherries are pretty sturdy little fruits? They don’t like to be mashed any more than they like to be cut up.

I suppose if you like really chunky jam you just proceed like that. Me? It just was just too much work and looked like it would result in some pretty inconsistent product. Out came the food processor. A few minutes later and wham, bam, there you have it – cherries chopped and ready for cooking. Yes, I’ve read that you shouldn’t use a food processor because, at least with some fruits, it reduces the effectiveness of the pectin that is in the fruit. I don’t know if this is true for sweet cherries, but I didn’t care. It worked much better than the chop and mash method.

Loading up the J&J Maker, the larger amount of ingredients didn’t seem to fill it too fully. It looked reasonable to me, so I set to “jam” and added two minutes to the cycle time, thinking I should since I was cooking more. Other than the increased recipe and extra cooking time, I processed the batch normally. While the contents did riser higher in the pot when they reached the boiling stage, they didn’t come close to overflowing the pot, which I was very happy to see. That would have been a hassle to deal with.

I canned and processed the jam in jelly jars as usual in the hot water bath canner. I ended up with six half pint jars and one 4 oz jar. I let them cool completely and afterwards removed the rings and washed off the outsides of the jars. With my strawberry and peach jams, if I turn the jar of jam on its side, the jam stays put.  I found that my sweet cherry jam wasn’t quite so sturdy. The 4 oz jar is fine and doesn’t do anything when I tilt the jar, but the half pint jars seem a bit loose. There is one jar in particular (why just one jar?) that seems to have a particularly soft, dang near liquid, set.

I haven’t opened a jar yet to try it, so I’m not sure how it will spread. I suspect that if it is stored in the fridge it will firm up a bit, but still be softer than the strawberry or peach jams. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do want to be able to spread it instead of ladle it.

It got me to thinking, though, about Thanksgiving or Christmas. How did I make that leap? The more liquidy jar of sweet cherry jam looked to me like it could be the base for a great ham glaze! Who says jam is only good for spreading on bread?

That’s it for . . .  sweet cherry jam, bum bum bum, good times never seemed so good . . . sigh, sorry, back in the 70’s again. Gotta go play that song.

In the beginning

It was the early 1970’s. My wife and I were newly married and trying to make a life of our own together. We started out living with my mother-in-law but when she remarried shortly thereafter it was time to strike out on our own. A cheap, too hot all year around with a guy across the hall constantly coughing like he was losing a lung, basic, concrete block apartment was next, which was then followed by a considerably more pricey apartment in a newly built complex.

At the time we moved into the latest apartment I was working with a guy by the name of Bill Hardacre. He was living on a farm in a rented house that was once the farmhand’s house. The farm buildings were no longer being used and the fields were rented out. The old farmer lived in the main house on the property. I visited Bill in his house and was instantly envious. Plenty of elbow room and an actual house – not an apartment – and when he told me what he was paying for rent my envy doubled down.

growitTo make matters worse, Bill loaned me a book – Grow it!, by Richard Langer (apparently out of print now, and probably a bit dated anyways). This is what started it all. I was hooked. Homesteading was the way I wanted to go. Now all I needed was a place to do it, because it’s a little tough doing it in an apartment, or at least I thought so at the time.

Timing is everything, and it wasn’t long before Bill and his wife bought a house of their own and through him my wife and I had an “in” to rent the house they were leaving. We jumped on the chance and soon found ourselves in an old, uninsulated, oil-heated, propane fueled farmhand house – and loved it. I have Bill to thank for my introduction to homesteading and for the place to do it.

We lived in that house for ten years. Though the old memory is a bit foggy, I believe we gardened there every year we were there, having at one point in time enlarged the garden to an acre in size. I tried growing almost everything, and what I grew that I couldn’t eat right away, I canned. There were also a couple of old apple trees near the house that provided apples for apple jelly, apple butter and plenty of apple crisp.

While we lived there we were constantly searching for a place to buy for our own small farm. That never came to pass, and looking at it from this point in time I know it was a good thing, because the reality is that I would never have had the self-discipline to make a real go of it. Instead, we moved into a house in the city.

But out on that farm it was great! Sure, we had a really long driveway that I had to spend long frigid hours on my neighbor’s lawn tractor plowing, and the wind would blow through the house like there were no windows, and the ground near the side door would turn to nasty mush (we let the dogs out there) in the spring, and we would run out of propane repeatedly and not be able to cook or have hot water, but it was all the price we had to pay for a little bit of heaven.

It was the start of my homesteading state of mind, and though time has probably improved my memories of the place, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it were not for that experience.

Peach Jam, FreshTECH and canning

PeachJamI’m a jam makin’ fool here. The only jam, jelly or preserve I have made before has been apple jelly and apple butter. (When you have free apples, you have to do something with them.) For some reason I’m in the mood for jam making this year. I’ve already made more than I will probably use in a year, but that won’t stop me. This time I’m tackling peach jam. Prepare yourself for a long post here, because I will cover the whole jam making and canning process. I also have lots of pictures for those who get tired of reading the words.

Now, I don’t have much experience with peaches. When I was a kid my mother would serve them out of a can but never fresh. I may have eaten a fresh peach at some time between childhood and now, but if so, I can’t remember. I’ve never baked or cooked with them, nor canned them. I used to work in a produce department so I know about peaches and can tell when they were ripe, but peaches have never been high on my “to eat” list. However, peaches are in season and on sale and I have empty jam jars, so peach jam, here we come.

I don’t have any pictures of prepping the peaches, but I think I would feel kind of silly if I did. Hell, I feel silly anyways. First, I wanted to skin the peaches. Easy peasy. You slit an “X” in the bottom of the peach, dunk it in boiling water and then in ice water and the skin just slips off. Well, that’s true, but when you lose track of time and boil them for two minutes you really start to cook the peaches. Don’t do that. I did them in two batches and the forty-five seconds the second batch spent in the hot water was plenty.

Taking the skins off like that works really well. They do slip off pretty easily. Slippery describes the fruit, too, after you’ve taken the skin off. Be careful or you’ll be playing “catch the greased pig” across the counter top (and hopefully not across the floor). This makes it tricky to cut them up, too. Fortunately they don’t need much cutting – a quick slice along both sides of the pit, a quick twist, and these freestone peaches came apart in two halves.

Now here’s where my inexperience with peaches came into play. As I pulled the pit out of the peach, it seemed like the peach fruit that had been right next to the pit was “tough”.  I don’t know if it really was, or if it would make a difference once you cook it up, but it seemed to me that I should trim that area out. Wow, what a chore. Remember what I said about being slippery? Not to mention the fruit that I wasted. I’ve since found out that I didn’t need to do that. Oh well – live and learn.

After my experience with the sweetness of the strawberry jam, I decided that I wanted to make a low sugar version of peach jam. I had bought eight goodly sized peaches, based on information I had found in a peach jam recipe, and thought that would be enough. Well, it was, but then I had a dilemma. If I made low sugar jam, I needed more fruit than sugar. I was fine with that, but when I got done processing all the fruit, I found I had enough for about a batch and a half.

I didn’t really feel like trying to deal with a half batch and, coincidentally enough, the one and a half batches worth of peaches I had would make two whole batches of regular sugar jam. Well, I went for volume, so I did the two regular sugar batches instead of the low sugar. To cut to the chase on that issue, the regular sugar tastes fine, but is, once again, a little sweeter than I would like. Oh well – next year . . .

So, I had all my peaches cut up and mashed with a potato masher and all the ingredients assembled. Using the Ball® Jam & Jelly Maker, the first thing you do is sprinkle Ball® RealFruit® Classic Pectin over the bottom of the cooking pot. No, I don’t know about using another brand of pectin, but from what I’ve read the Ball pectin works well and since that was specified in the recipe, that’s what I used. I used the required three tablespoons –

PJ_PectinInThe recipe is pretty simple. If you want the recipe, this is it –

2 2/3 cups crushed peaches (about 2 lbs or six medium)
3 Tbsp Ball® RealFruit® Classic Pectin
2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice
1/2 tsp butter or margarine
3 1/3 cups granulated sugar

That’s from the Ball web site – http://www.freshpreserving.com – it is supposed to make four half pints.

To the bowl of crushed peaches I added the lemon juice and mixed it in a bit. I then poured the fruit evenly over the top of the pectin in the pot. Then I threw in the 1/2 teaspoon of butter.  I guess it isn’t necessarily required but is supposed to keep foaming down. So far it has worked for me. Here we are at this stage –

PJ_WetIngredinInTime to start cooking. I pressed the “jam” button and “enter” and the stirrer began stirring. In the meantime I got the sugar ready to add –

PJ_SugarWaitingYeah, that’s a lot of sugar. At four minutes into the 21 minute cycle, the Jam Maker beeped, telling me it was time to add the sugar. I poured it in as the stirrer continued stirring. They say not to just dump it in all at once, so I distributed it as the stirrer stirred –

PJ_AddSugarAfter this, I put the lid on and let it do its cooking –

PJ_AfterSugar

Before I had even started preparing the peaches for the jam, I had filled my hot water bath canner with enough water to cover the jars by and inch or two and got it heating up. Since I have hard water, I always pour a couple of glugs (what? me measure?) of white vinegar into the water to keep minerals from building up on the jars.

PJ_WaterBathCannerI washed my glass jars, bands, lids and canning utensils with the usual hot, soapy water and rinsed them all well. I always wash more jars, bands and lids than I think I need, just in case. Better to have them ready than to need them and not have them. After washing the jars I set them upside down on a folded towel on my kitchen table –

PJ_CleanEmptyJarsThe right side of that towel is reserved for the processed jam jars when they come out of the hot water bath. You need to have someplace to set the hot jars that will not thermal shock them. Setting them directly on a granite counter top would not be a good idea. Once  I have the water in the hot water bath canner up to a simmer, I put five of the half pint jars into the hot water –

PJ_EmptyJarFromCannerNote the handy-dandy jar lifter, which is essential. This is actually me taking a hot jar out of the canner to fill it, but it looks pretty much the same as putting the empty jar into the canner. If you do this like me, here’s a word of warning. As you submerge the empty jar into the almost boiling water, the water can rush into the jar and spit back out at you. Been there, done that, don’t do it – it hurts. Submerge them slowly and carefully. I’ve never had a jar break going from room temperature into the hot water, but I suppose that could be a possibility to watch out for. The jars are supposed to sit in the simmering water for at least ten minutes. Here are the jars sterilizing in the hot water bath –

PJ_WBathCannerWithJarsMeanwhile, I have also filled a saucepan with a couple inches of water and heated it up to simmer. This is for the lids. I put a couple of tablespoons or so of white vinegar into this water to keep the lids from getting coated with hard water mineral. I get the water to the right temperature (again, simmering, not boiling) and then I slide the lids into the hot water one at a time, dropping them on different sides of the pot so they don’t all stack up in one place –

PJ_CanningLidsI also prepare my canning area right in front of the Jam Maker and get my tools set up –

PJ_CanningToolsThe “stick” on the left is my magnetic lid lifter, used to take the lids out of the hot water (I don’t have asbestos fingers). There’s my canning ladle that works pretty well for getting into the corners of the Jam Maker’s cooking pot. My dark green filling funnel is on the right and that light green translucent thing is a tool to help remove bubbles from the jars and a head space gauge. In the past I’ve used a plastic picnic knife for removing bubbles and an actual ruler to check head space, but this was a cheap tool that can be used for both. In addition to these tools I use a silicon spatula to help scrape the last of the jam out of the pot so none is wasted. I also keep a teaspoon handy in case I overfill a jar and need to take some out.

So, twenty-one minutes have passed and the Jam Maker has beeped its final beep at me. I hit cancel, unplug the appliance and take the lid off, being careful not to set it someplace that will be damaged by something hot, nor into cold water. The jam is done and ready to can –

PJ_CookingDoneFirst, let’s take out that stirrer. Use a hot pad or oven mitt – that thing is hot!

PJ_RemoveMixerScrape the stirrer off with the silicon spatula, but don’t hang onto that stirrer any longer than you need to. Now it’s time to start filling jars. Refer to the earlier image to see how to take a hot jar out of the hot water canner. (There should be a winky smilie here – it’s getting so I can’t write something without wanting to use a smilie at some point.) I set the jar right on my laminate countertop without a problem, but it is a better idea to have a tea towel or paper towel or something under the jar if your countertop is cold or cool.

Putting the filling funnel into the neck of the jar, I start to fill it with the ladle –

PJ_JarFilledKeep the jar as close to the cooking pot as you can while filling it to keep from dripping all over. Once the jar is filled, take the funnel out and check the head space with the gauge or a ruler –

PJ_CheckHeadSpaceIn this case it is supposed to be 1/4″. Um, I guess I didn’t say what “head space” is, which is the distance from the top of the jam or jelly to the top of the jar. Sorry. Jam and jelly require very little head space. After you fill a couple of jars and check the head space, you’ll find that you can judge the head space pretty well from where the jam comes up to in the funnel. If you overfill the jar, use a teaspoon to take some out or to put a little more in if needed. After you have the head space right, wipe the rim of the jar with a dampened paper towel –

PJ_WipeRimYou want to make sure that there is nothing on the rim that will keep the lid from sealing correctly. Also, if you have really dribbled all over the outside of the jar it would be good to wipe that off as well as you can. Next, use your magnetic wand or asbestos fingers to get a lid out of the simmering water –

PJ_GetLidThe lid does not need to be dry; a quick shake will get it dry enough. Place the lid on the top of the jar (do I really have to say, “seal side to the jar?”) and then take a band and finger-tighten it. You should not make like a gorilla and really crank the band down because air will need to exhaust out from under the lid during processing and over-tightening will make this difficult if not impossible. I usually find that the filled jar is so hot that I can only finger tighten the band before I burn my little fingers anyways. Don’t use a band tightener unless you have lost all muscle tone, in which case what are you doing trying to make jam anyways? Here’s with the lid and then with the band added –

PJ_LidOnRingOnNow carefully take your jar lifter and place the filled jar into the hot water bath canner –

PJ_IntoCannerBy the way, when I start filling the first jar I usually crank the heat up on the hot water bath canner to get the water started back to boiling because even though it has been simmering it will still take time to come up to temp. Here is the canner filled with four jars –

PJ_FullJarsInCannerHard to tell but the water is about an inch and a half or two over the tops of the jars. The lid goes back on the canner and I wait for it to start boiling. When it does, the processing time begins with the timer set for ten minutes. (During this time, if I am making another batch of jam, I wash up the Jam Maker to get it ready.) After ten minutes of boiling I shut the burner off and then let the canner sit for five minutes.

After the five minutes I take the lid off the canner and use the jar lifter to move the jars from the canner to the dry, folded towel on the kitchen table. They sit there until they are completely cooled. During this time you will, or should, hear the lids “ping”, “click” or “snap” (choose your own sound effect) as a vacuum is formed in the jar, pulling the middle of the lid down. This indicates that you have a good seal and good product. If the center of the lid doesn’t “suck down” you can try reprocessing the jar, or just stick it in the fridge and use it first.

Here are my first four jars –

PeachJam_Jars4Purty, ain’t they? I wound up with eight jars, total, and a little extra which I put in a small bowl and put in the fridge to use first. Tastes pretty good, if a little sweet.

After the jars have cooled completely, I remove the bands and wash the jars off. Sometimes you get a little haze on the glass from hard water. Washing the jars off usually removes that, or a wipe with a vinegar dampened paper towel will.

That’s the way I do it. Now, don’t bitch at me if you think I am doing something wrong, but if you want to be nice about it I am happy to take suggestions. Also, this process is, to the best of my knowledge, the correct and current way to do this, but please don’t go by just my instructions. Check out a couple of different sources. In addition to the manual and recipe book that came with the Ball Jelly & Jam Maker, I refer to the latest edition of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

So, what’s next? Hmmm, sweet cherries are pretty plentiful right now. All I need to do is find them on sale someplace.

Garden update – July 18

Things are growing well. It’s always rewarding to see your efforts amounting to something.

Garden071813A

I think it is obvious, though, that the back left section of the garden is doing best. It is the part that gets the most sun, and I guess it shows. I was reading that root crops will do okay in partial sun but that they will take longer to mature and will perhaps be smaller. That would work well for my beets if that is true.

The summer squash is really coming along now. It has a lot of blossoms on it and I’m sure will be fruiting in no time –

Garden071813C

The cucumbers are doing pretty good, too. Even though they are not real big and bushy, they are putting out flowers so the prospects of a cucumber crop are looking good. Love those bread and butter pickles!

Garden071813B

The tomatoes have been growing steadily and putting out blossoms, some of which you can see in this picture –

Garden071813D

There are multiple tomatoes growing, too. Pretty soon I’ll need to stack another tomato cage on top of the existing one to keep the plants from growing all over the place.

And finally, the green beans are putting out flowers –

Garden071813E

They are pretty little purple blossoms which you can most easily see on the larger plants on the right. I think these green beans really show the effect of more and less sunlight. Maybe I can find a section of the yard that has more sunlight during the day. Have you ever done a sun/shade survey of your yard? I haven’t done it here but I have elsewhere. It sure helps to know what the growing conditions are over your whole property at any time of day and any day of the year, or at least during the growing season. Unfortunately, my main growing condition on this property is shade.

I’m happy so far with the results. Though not as good as I would like them to be, they are pretty much what I thought they might be.

New tool – scuffle/Dutch/action hoe

My new hoe has an identity crisis. I’ve heard of the three names mentioned above for this type of hoe, but Wikipedia also lists “oscillating”, “swivel”, “stirrup” and “Hula-Ho.” The original Dutch hoe is a flat piece of steel typically attached to a long handle on each side in a u-shaped fashion.

DutchHoe

The flat piece of steel is angled to the shaft and usually both the front and back edges are sharpened so that the hoe will cut weeds on both the forward and backward stroke, thus the alternate name “scuffle hoe,” as you scuffle it forward and back. It’s meant to cut just below the surface of the soil. It seems that some of these hoes are only sharpened on the front edge, but I think that would limit it’s usefulness.

There is also a version with a narrow blade that is attached to a shaft in the middle of the blade. It can be used with the same action, only it wouldn’t cut in the middle on the pull stroke. I think that some people would claim that that is a real Dutch hoe and the others aren’t, but from what’s on the Internet I don’t think many people see it that way.

The modern incarnation of this hoe is described by all the other names. Essentially it is a U-shaped piece of steel attached to a handle, either through a solid attachment or some kind of attachment that allows a bit of a swivel motion. Here’s some pictures of mine –

ScuffleHoeAScuffleHoeBScuffleHoeC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oddly enough I have never had a hoe like this as I have always used a regular Dego hoe, with a typical broad, flat blade, or a Warren hoe, with a triangular, pointed blade.

I took it out for a spin in the garden and it worked really well. I only got a row and a half weeded with the hoe before I suddenly realized the head was coming off the handle. One of the nuts holding it on had also fallen off, but luckily I was able to find it. All it needed was for the nuts to be tightened, which I did. By that time, though, I was ready to quit. This is a nice addition to the garden tool collection.

More on the Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker

In a previous post I told you about the Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker I bought. I thought I would take a few minutes to show you exactly what you get for your money.

There are really only four parts to this appliance; the base, the pot, the stirrer and the lid. The only part that needs assembly is the lid, which needs to have the knob attached. It’s not tough to do, but it always makes me a bit nervous when I am tightening something down on a glass lid. I did manage to put it together without an issue.

So, in pictures, here is the base on which the pan sits –

FreshtechBaseI think that little silver button is part of the temperature sensing system. Or maybe it doesn’t heat up if the pot isn’t sitting on the base. I don’t know for sure – haven’t had a reason to play with that. The top of it is a black metal surface with lots of grooves in it, kind of like a vinyl album. The cord to plug this in is short. They assume you have an outlet close to where you want to use it.

Here is the pot that the jam or jelly cooks in –

FreshtechPanIt sits on top of the base and locates on the two pointed “ears” you can see in the picture of the base. Yes, it is non-stick. Hopefully the non-stick coating will hold up for a long time.

The stirrer is some kind of polymer and has a metal shaft imbedded into it –

FreshtechStirrerThe metal shaft has a flat on one side and drops into the center of the base through the hole in the middle of the pot. You turn the stirrer until it seats all the way into the center hole so that it will stir.

And finally, the glass lid –

FreshtechLidYou can see that there are holes along the edge of the lid’s rim to let steam out as it cooks. You do NOT want to set the lid into cold water after it has finished a cycle of jam making, or at least not unless you want to have to replace it. Glass doesn’t like that kind of temperature change. You can see the black knob on the lid that has to be installed.

That’s it – no more parts. The only thing you can’t put in the dishwasher (if you have one) is the base – duh! I guess they have to put it in the manual, but they say don’t submerge the base in water. That would seem like a no-brainer to me, but I must be a genius. Here’s the whole thing put together and ready to run –

FreshtechComplete

To get into the operation of the it, here’s the control panel on the base –

PJ_FreshtechControlsThose two lines are what displays when you plug it in, before you start it up. Pretty simple controls. Press the “jam” button and the display changes to “21” – the length of the cycle in minutes – and pressing “jelly” will give you 25 minutes. You can press the minus or plus button to add or subtract time. I’ve seen recipes that tell you to increase it to the maximum cycle length of 30 minutes, but so far nothing that requires less than 21 minutes. Actually, I’m not sure how little time you can set it to.

Before pressing the “enter” button you can change whether you want jam or jelly and can make adjustments to the time setting. Once you press the “enter” button you are committed. You can press the “cancel” button at any time and it will stop, but the J&J (Jelly & Jam) Maker needs to cool down between batches. The manual says it needs 30 minutes to do so, so if your unit has already started running when you hit “cancel” it may take a little while before you will be able to start it again. Make sure you have chosen the right cycle and time to avoid having to cancel and wait.

After you have added your ingredients and started the J&J Maker, the stirrer starts stirring and the timer counts down. After four minutes it beeps several times to tell you it is time to add whatever sweetener you are using. Don’t expect to hear this in another room if it isn’t close to the kitchen – it’s not a loud beep. The stirrer keeps stirring while you add the sweetener (you’re not supposed to just dump it all in at once) and the time keeps counting down. For jam you put the lid on after adding the sweetener, but not for jelly.

At the end of the cycle the J&J Maker beeps again, at which time you press the “cancel” button and unplug the appliance. You’ll note that the display changes to “CO” once you press “cancel.” This means the machine is in cool down and won’t run again until cool enough. As mentioned earlier, the manual says 30 minutes to cool enough, but either I lost track of time during the cool down or it actually can take just a little less than the full 30 minutes. I assume when you plug it back in and the “CO” is gone and the two dashes are there, it is ready to go.

When the J&J Maker has finished running you take the stirrer out, using a hot pad or oven mitt. They tell you to be careful of the metal shaft because it will be hot, but I’ll tell you not to expect to hold onto the top of it for long either right at first, because the whole thing will be hot!

While ladling jam into jars I found that when I got to the last jar, I was able to hold the handle on one side of the pot to tilt it to get the jam to one side. Don’t take my word for this, though. Use a hot pad to grab it, or at least test whether it is hot first or not. I found a rubber (actually silicone) spatula useful for scraping the last bits of jam to one side.

As a rule, the recipes make about two pints of finished product. This works fine for me, yielding four half-pints of jam or jelly. There are people who say you can push this, but if you guess wrong you are going to have a mess to deal with, not to mention a hassle trying to salvage any jam or jelly. There are also recipes for things like tomato and pizza sauce as well as jelly and jam, but I haven’t tried them yet.

I think that’s about it. If anything above conflicts with the manual that came with your J&J Maker, follow the manual. Your safety is your responsibility.

Garden update – July 7

Still wet –

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I have been able to get into the garden occasionally to do a little weeding now and then, and I have the beets thinned out. I replanted the missing part of the row of green beans, as well as planting in a few other bare sections, but it just doesn’t seem to be doing well. I don’t know if there is something in the soil there that is causing problems (like a root?) or what, but it is disappointing. I think I may try to fill in the area with some bunching onions.

The summer squash is doing quite well –

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I think it will probably provide me with more than I can eat. The beets, as I said, have been thinned, though they are looking a little scraggly. Then again, they usually do when they are young –

Garden070713BThe cucumbers are growing –

Garden070713CThe tomatoes are looking good and I have to keep coralling them in the cages –

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And best of all, they have tomatoes!!

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Unless something goes unexpectedly bad, I should be having tomatoes in a few weeks.

So that’s where it’s at today. Slower growing, I think, than it would be if it were in the full sun. I don’t have that option, but at least it looks like I should be able to grow at least a little produce this year.

If anyone is reading this, what are you growing this year?

Garden update – June 30

Things are growing, though not as well as I would have hoped. Here’s an overall view –

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It is wet! There is a big gap in the row of green beans on the right and I had to replant one hill of cucumbers as they just didn’t show up at all. The cuke seedlings in that hill have sprouted and the other two hills are growing their true leaves now –

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The summer squash – at the bottom of the next picture – is doing well, as are the tomatoes, though the tomatoes aren’t taking off like I thought they should.

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The beets are doing well, but they need thinning badly –

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I need to get in there and do some weeding, too. There are scads of little maple trees (surprise!) growing everywhere. It is just too wet to go in there though. I would just make a mess trying to do anything right now.

For the record, these are the varieties I planted this year –

Beets – Detroit Dark Red
Cucumber – Picklebush
Green Beans – ContenderSummer Squash – Early Prolific Straightneck
Tomatoes – Supersauce Hybrid

All except the tomatoes were seeds (Burpee), and the tomatoes were purchased from Burpee as plants. I bought way more green bean seeds than I needed to and I had leftover seeds of everything in varying quantities. Altogether I spent $13.10 on seeds and $11.96 on the tomato plants, which I managed to get on sale and with free shipping.

Rain rain go away

I heard on the news that as of today we have had as much rain so far this year as we had in all of last year. I believe it. A garden needs rain, but it also needs sun and needs to dry out a bit now and then. All that rain makes crusty soil, too, and yes I know mulch would help with that. With my luck it will stop raining and then not rain again til October.

Strawberry jam

StrawberryJamWhew! I did it. I was sweating up a storm and ready to collapse by the end of it, but I now have seventeen half pints of strawberry jam, all produced in the Ball® FreshTECH Automatic Jam & Jelly Maker. In hindsight, that was not the appropriate technology for this batch of jam. Given the volume, I should have done this the old fashioned way, but I certainly learned how to use this new appliance.

I bought four quarts of Michigan strawberries at the local farmstand, because they have a better flavor (I think) than those giant, mutant strawberries in the grocery stores. However, because I wasn’t sure if I would have enough strawberries, I did buy a package of strawberries from the store, too. I really didn’t need to.

I prepped all the strawberries, washing, hulling and crushing them. Being the first time in a long time that I made jam, I was re-familiarizing myself with the process. It’s not difficult, and actually the bulk of it is prep work. In addition to preparing the fruit, you have to wash the jars, lids and rings, get water boiling for the canner and for the lids, wash your canning tools, layout your workplace, etc. Once all that is done, actually making the jam and canning it is relatively quick.

The FreshTECH J&J Maker has to cool down between batches, so that gave me time to concentrate on the canning part of the process and getting all the ingredients measured and ready for the next batch. They say it has to cool down for thirty minutes, but I swear that it was less time than that. I also washed the J&J Maker pot out between batches. I assume I needed to do that, though nothing in the instructions said so. It just makes sense. Perhaps washing the pot helped to cool things down more quickly.

I decided to make “regular” jam, with the full amount of sugar as I wanted to make sure my jam was successful the first time. Since I’m actually writing this the day after I made the jam, I can report that it is sweeter and has less strawberry flavor than I would like. It’s certainly not inedible, but the next jam I make I think I will try a low sugar version. They have regular, low sugar and no sugar recipes for most fruit jams.

I had intended to keep the jam made from store bought strawberries separate from the rest to see if I could tell if the jam tastes different. Unfortunately I forgot about that and after washing the jars off after they cooled, I mixed them up. Oh well. With all that sugar I’m not sure I would have been able to tell the difference anyways.

Now on to my next victim. I’m not sure what will fall under my potato masher next, but whatever it is I will try to give a detailed description of how to make jam with this automatic jam maker. Next time, I’ll try to make less, too. Once batch would be fine, or two at the most. I’m looking forward to another jam session.