Sunday, February 5, 2012

Homemade Jams

The other day on TV, I saw a show where a bunch of well-known chefs went around NYC to various markets and restaurants collecting food that was headed to the dumpster. This food was by no means bad, spoiled, or inedible. It was fresh and perfectly good food to cook with and consume. And there were copious amounts of it too! In fact, one guest on the show regularly spent his evenings "grocery shopping" through the garbage bags put outside of these markets and restauraunts. You might say he's a modern day hunter-gatherer.
The food he collected consisted of produce that may have had a few blemishes and meats and dairy nearing their expiration date which made them less appealing to the overly-discerning customers of today. But what a travesty to discard of all this food when there are millions of people starving in the U.S.?! It was eye-opening and quite painful to learn that such markets and restaurants do not have a mandatory program under which they must direct these items to food banks and soup kitchens locally. It broke my heart.
With that in mind, I've been trying to be more efficient with the food I buy. Sometimes, though we are inevitably left with more food than we know what to do with. So, if foods are beginning to go south, I have been tring to come up with ways to save them and prolong their shelf life. For example, a few weeks ago, I had a bunch of strawberries that I had purchased from the market. They were so inexpensive, I had to stock up, but I could only eat so many of them. My kids eat like birds, so they didn't eat too many either and quite frankly, my husband would rather eat a meatball hero than a handful of strawberries. So I was left with quite a few strawberries.

Well, when life gives you strawberries, make strawberry jam. If packaged and sealed properly in sterile jars, they will last for up to a year in your pantry! Jam is such an easy food to make that is versatile in its use. They make super gifts too!
Here is the recipe that I use to make my delicious jams:

Berry Jam

1 pint of fruit (any berry or combination of berries)
1 t lemon juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated white sugar (if the fruit is sweet, use less sugar, to taste)
1/4 cup water

Bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Add in your cleaned berries and lemon juice and stir to coat. Bring jam back to a boil and then turn down the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes or until thickened. You can use a potato masher to break up the berries while they are cooking for a less lumpy consistency. Meanwhile, in a large, deep pot, bring water (about 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pot) to a boil. Insert your washed mason jars, lids and all, fully immersed for 10 minutes. Using tongs and very carefully, remove the jars and lids and place on a clean paper towel, mouth side up. Your jars are now sterilized. Once the jam is thickened, spoon it into your sterilized mason jars to about 1/2" from the tops and tighten the lids. Carefully insert the jars (lids well tightened) back into the pot of boiling water. Make sure the jar is completely immersed (the tops of the jars are 2" from water level) and let it sit for 10 minutes as the water continues to boil. Then turn the stove off and let the jars sit for an additional 5 minutes. Again very carefully, remove your jars from the water and set them on a kitchen towel to come to room temperature. After several hours and once cooled, if you press on the lids you will notice that it has sunken down and doesnt make a popping sound. This confirms that your jars have been correctly sealed. Jams such as this one may be stored for up to 1 year in a dark, dry and cool area such as your kitchen pantry. Once opened, use within two weeks and store in the fridge.
*Note: Different types of fruits and foods need different canning times and methods. You can refer to a canning chart or click on this link for helpful and safe canning information.

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