Sunday, October 5, 2008

Equipment for making jam and jelly

It's easy to make fruit jam and jelly using minimal equipment, especially if you choose to make small batches of "freezer" jam, which I've never done. But if you want to make a dozen or so of 250ml jars that can sit safely unopened on the shelf for a year or more, you should invest in some proper canning equipment.

1. Water-bath canning pot. This is a really big enamelled pot with lid and wire rack. You use it both to sterilize the jars in boiling water and to heat-process the filled jars (applies to pickles and jams/jellies and other preserves). It takes a long time to heat with the volume of water used. You can't just place filled jars in the bottom of a big pot without a wire rack.

But---you need to keep the jars very hot until they are filled. So once the water boils you plop the empty jars in the water, then time the sterilization process from when the water returns to a boil (10 minutes boiling to sterilize; don't do it in the dishwasher or the oven). Reduce heat to simmer. Remove the hot jars just as the fruit is ready, return the hot water to boil, then fill and seal the jars. Then you carefully use your handy-dandy patent jar-lifter and return them to the boiling water in the canner. Wait until the water returns to boiling and then time off five minutes (this is at sea level; for other elevations and other recipes the timing is different). Last few batches I didn't try to process more than 5 jars at a time.

2. Funnel. These are wide-mouthed plastic or metal funnels that you put in the jar before you ladle in the boiling-hot preserves. If you're careful you have little need of wiping the jar rim before you put the snap-lid on. But just in case, use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims before you place the snap-lids on.

3. Hotdog tongs. This is the best tool for slipping the jars into the water-bath canner to sterilize them, and for removing them before filling ("keep jars hot in canner until ready to fill"). Ow.

4. Magnetic lifter for snap-lids (ALWAYS use new snap-lids; you can re-use sealing rings). I have one of these but couldn't find it for this season's canning. I just use my fingers for snatching the hot lids to place on the filled jars. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Note: Do not boil the snap lids for too long! Temperature for sterilizing the snap-lids is just below boiling.

5. Some Bernardin(R) recipes ask you to slip a plastic wand around the contents of the filled jar to remove air bubbles, but I have never had to do this with jam or jelly. I have one, but I've never used it. It's probably hiding with the magnetic lifter.

6. Tray, table, or platter to put the jars on that is close to the cooking area. I have a crash cart (an actual stainless steel hospital crash cart) that I wheel over to the stove when I start to ladle the fruit into the jars. The jars sit on a Teflon cooking surface that I pad with a dish towel.

You can find lots of recipes and information by googling canning web sites.

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