Even though it is warm this week, you can feel that fall is in the air. The hummingbirds that love to feed on my Black and Blue Salvia have arrived; mums are available at the greenhouses, and it is harvest time, which also means canning season.
My garden plot partner Mary Ann and I have been busy harvesting and canning the last couple of weeks. It first began with pickled beets, then several varieties of jam, and today – tomatoes.
If you are new to canning, there are several online resources to get you started, including the National Center for Home Food Preservation – www.nchfp.uga.edu – which is a good place to start.
To begin your canning adventure, grab a friend and a bottle of wine. I find that canning is much more fun when you are sharing the experience with the company of a good friend.
Next, decide what you are going to can and make sure you have all of the ingredients.
This season, blueberry jam was our first adventure together.
I went to the farmer’s market in Aurora on Wednesday and purchased 10 pounds of gorgeous, delicious blueberries; let the jam making begin.
The recipe we used called for 9 cups of crushed blueberries – so we pulled out the food processor and crushed away. Next, we placed the blueberries in a large pot on the stove to begin the cooking process and added the rest of the ingredients. Be sure to follow jam and jelly recipes as they are written. Do not attempt to double them or they will not gel properly.
The trickiest part of jelly or jam making is to know when it is set. You can either heat it to a specific temperature – typically 216 degrees for our altitude or use the spoon/sheet test.
This test is done by dipping a cool metal spoon into the boiling jelly mixture. Raise the spoon out of the steam about 12 inches above the pan; turn the spoon so the liquid runs off the side. The jelly is done when the syrup forms two drops that flow together and form a sheet that hangs off the edge of the spoon.
Then it’s time to put the jelly in hot, sterilized jars. Be sure to take a damp paper towel and wipe the brim and outside threads of the jar of any juice or syrup that might prevent the jars from sealing. Now it is time to water bath the jars for the time specified. A little tip that makes water bathing a breeze is to use the side burner on your outdoor gas grill. It heats up significantly faster than the burners on your stove; it also frees up stove space while making the jam.
Once the jars have been processed, be sure to let them set out and cool. It’s most important that jellies be allowed to cool for 12 hours before the jars are disturbed. Moving them can break the gel process.
Now, it’s time to uncork that bottle of wine ... you’re done! Jam, jellies and other preserves make great care packages to send to those kids away at college or enjoy in your own home on freshly toasted slice of bread. Happy canning!
• Vicki Hagstotz is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for information.