27 July 2012

Blueberries IV: canning

First up, blueberry jam:
Six half-pints waiting for February
We are a jam-eating household. The term foodway is a little pretentious, but one of my parents grew up on a farm in Canada, and breakfast at Grandma's always included toast with a fruit spread or honey on it. I've never lost the habit. My usual weekday breakfast is a poached egg, toast with some kind of sweet spread, and coffee. I go through about half a pint of jam or fruit butter a week, so I try to put up at least a dozen pints (two dozen half-pints) myself and welcome the odd gift or farmers market find.

My recipe for jam is pretty standard: 5 cups of crushed fruit plus some lemon juice if it would add nicely to the flavor, 3 cups of granulated cane sugar, and 2 tablespoons of powdered pectin. In my 15 years of home canning experience, most fruit will jell just fine into preserves or jam with these proportions, and there is tolerance for more movement than you'd think on either side. The main trick is to ignore the Ball Blue Book or Ball brand pectin instructions that tell you to dump the pectin, alone, into the pan where the fruit and sugar are cooking: you'll get a mess of undissolved pectin lumps that way. To my absolute mystification, Ball has been telling people to do it that way for years, but you can easily avoid the lump problem by mixing the pectin and sugar together while dry.

Next up, berries for grown-ups:

Two quarts. Smaller sizes would have been wasteful.
I had never done brandied fruit before, but it had been on my mind since enjoying some brandied pears at a friend's place earlier this year. I didn't know what I'd been missing! What a lovely way to top off a dinner party.

Recipe was simple enough: Gently warm up the berries in just enough water and sugar for a hot pack in very light syrup; pack the jars with about an inch of headspace; add a quarter cup of brandy to each jar; and top off with syrup from the cooking pan. Process as ordinary hot-packed berries.

As you can see from the industrial-sized lid there, I was stuck using my pressure canner, because my boiling-water bath canner is too short to handle quart jars. (Long story.) This was a drag, not in the least because it took forever and heated up the house way too much to bring that pressure canner full of water to a boil. Next time I'll do this in pint jars, or I'll bite the bullet and get a larger boiling-water bath canner.

On to the leftovers. What to do with the last sad cup and a half of berries languishing in the fridge at the end of the week?
This was some pint-like European size, and I didn't run it through my canner,
just snapped it down and tossed it in the fridge for immediate use.
I didn't run it through the canner because, one, I didn't have enough product to properly fill the jar; and two, I don't "do" Parfait jars. I think they're great for dry storage and holding stuff like this that I intend to use right away, but I'm much handier canning American-style with snap lids and metal rings. The mileage of other home canners -- say, that of everyone in France -- of course may vary.

That said, I just spent 10 minutes poking around Le Parfait's website and just fell in love with their thermostatic-controlled automatic timer canners. Oh, lordy. Brother, can you spare a voltage converter?

This was supposed to be blueberry syrup, but it jelled accidentally. This is because I added sugar to the berries and water before letting the product reduce while I ate breakfast, by which process I inadvertently brought it all up to jelly temperature. I should have cooked down the berries in water, added some sugar, and cooked it only long enough to dissolve the sugar. A really amateur hour mistake: all the ingredients are the same, so why does it matter what order I add them to the pot? Let's just say I'm happy I put it into a jar instead of into a bottle. The upside is that it's a lovely jell, with the shininess and "sharp" edges that you don't get from forcing the jell with added pectin. Very old-fashioned.

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