Friday, August 14, 2009

Good jam to be in

One of the things that is changing immediately in the Den is that we won’t be buying things we could make ourselves – that includes jams and jellies, which as you might expect we tend to go through at a fairly rapid pace around here.

In practical terms, this means I’d better get hopping on laying down what we’ll want over the winter – berry season will be over before we know it, and I’m pretty sure the kids will mutiny if we run out of jelly in January and I refuse to buy any more.

Next year, it’ll be our own berries I’m turning into jams and such, but for this year we’re getting most of them from roadside stands. This is part of the flat I got from a farm stand near Byron – they were super-super ripe, so the nice lady practically gave them to me. I paid $6 for a box that usually runs $20…but they were in use them NOW! condition.


A few weeks ago, I made a smaller batch of no-added-pectin strawberry preserves. They’re great, but the Denizens don’t like them much on their sandwiches. They’re too thick, almost chewy, and extremely concentrated in flavor. (Needless to say, the grownups are ecstatic about them.)

They also took forever to cook down enough to set.

This time, I wanted to make a more store-bought-like jelly and wanted to be done much sooner – so I used store-bought pectin. It makes for a reliable set, almost idiot-proof (real handy around here, let-me-tell-you), and reduces the cooking time from an eternity to less than five minutes.

First I ran the berries through the food mill to remove the seeds (diverticulitis flare-ups and those little tiny seeds don’t play nicely together). This left me with what was practically just strawberry juice – albeit a rather thick juice.

Then I did a Super Basic Jelly Recipe (almost right off the pectin box, but with a little more lemon juice, less sugar and a lot more volume), and ended up with these (plus another half-pint in the fridge…and already half gone…):

six pints of jam

It came out awesome. Smooth, sweet, and oh-so-spreadable.

perfect jelly spread

It may set a little more firmly over time, but I think I’ve hit it with this one. It’s enough like store bought to get past the Denizens’ cute little noses, but is just different enough to start their adjustment to homemade staples.

One flat strawberries: $6.
One box of store-bought pectin: $2.49 (ouch) (I’ve found much better deals online)
6-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice: Free from the tree in the backyard
10 cups sugar: $2.00

Total cost: $10.49, to make six and a half pints of strawberry jelly. That’s roughly 104 ounces, or $0.10 per ounce. Not too bad, compared to the on-sale supermarket price of $0.17 an ounce.

Now, the next time I make this jelly, I’ll be using backyard strawberries ($2.25 for the season’s starting plants, with a guesstimate of about fifty cents in growing costs for this many berries) (it’s a pretty un-educated guesstimate…we’ll see how it actually works out…if I can actually track things to that kind of level, which I likely can’t), and bulk-bought pectin ($0.39 an ounce instead of $1.88).

While I could do without the store-bought pectin, I think I’ll stick with it. The time savings alone is worth its weight in gold, but adding in the “sure set” part just clinches the deal. I’ve tried using none, and I’ve tried grinding up an apple or two for a pectin-boost…the results are good, but again there’s added time to cook and uncertainty around how much pectin that particular apple might have had.

I’m really enjoying the benefits of modern science right now. Woot, perfect set!!

The total out of pocket cost of that batch will be $3.25, or $0.03 an ounce. Righteous!

We can easily go through a pint of jelly a month; actually, I think it’s closer to every three weeks. (If I turned my back for just five minutes, we could probably go through a pint in less than that same five minutes around here…)

If I buy the cheap jelly when it goes on sale, I’m spending $2.99 a jar at the supermarket, which works out to roughly $50 a year.

Making it this way, with the supermarket-bought pectin, I’d be spending around $30 a year to make it. Making it from homegrown berries with the cheaper bulk pectin, I’m spending only $9 annually on it…thus “earning” around $40 for my trouble.

And I know exactly what’s in it. Nothing I can’t pronounce. No corn syrup, high fructose or otherwise. No dyes, no extra flavorings, no long chemical names that mean ‘keep it looking bright pink for six years if need be.’

I’ll be making a smaller batch of grape jelly (from store-bought grape juice I have out in the garage), and hopefully I’ll get out there pretty soon for a serious berry-picking day and get enough blackberries to make some seedless blackberry jelly as well. (Mine. All mine. Back off, man, just back off!!!)

These are exactly the kinds of steps I’m looking at taking – the steps we tend to dismiss as being too small to be worth even doing, too much work for the return they give, too much bother to, well, bother with.

At the moment, it’s fun. I’m sure it will become work soon enough…especially when making the jelly is coming on the heels of getting out in the heat to pick all the berries.

Pam, to answer your question from yesterday about the pressure canner – not for these. I only use the pressure canner for low-acid things like corn or green beans (although frankly, I prefer to freeze those – less fussing around to get the job done, and I think they taste better).

These were done with a boiling water method; the near-boiling jelly is poured into hot jars (sterilized in the canner while I was cooking the jelly), the lids and screw bands applied, and then the jars are all put back into the canner (any pot big enough to hold them and their “rack”, which can be something as simple as extra screw bands tied together, without crowding, with enough room at the top for at least an inch of water to cover them) and processed in boiling water. These went for twenty minutes under the boiling water, then five minutes to ‘rest’ in the pot off the heat, then twenty-four hours to cool undisturbed on the kitchen counter.

Half pints would take about half the time; quart jars would need a little more.

I don’t use wax to seal the jars – I just make sure the seal is good (the lid is pressing downward, and doesn’t budge when I take the screw band off and push on it), then label and put them away in the cupboard. They should be good for a full year from the date they’re made.

Whether or not they’ll actually last that long is another question entirely.


kimbobim said...

Where did you find pectin so cheap online? I've been choking every time I have to buy it in the store - In Utah one package is anywhere between $1.99 and $3.50. My kids can go through a pint jar in a week (or less if I let 'em), so I've got to find a cheaper source! We made 18 pints of apricot jam the other day and I'm hoarding it in the basement. Apricot jam on homemade wheat toast is the best thing in the world 'round about January. I've got enough apricots in the freezer for at least four more batches - yum! The apricots were free from my Mom's neighbor's tree, and we grew enough strawberries for a few batches of jam, too (also hidden in the basement - I swear my kids are locusts). So I only paid for the sugar, pectin, and new lids.

Lydee said...

thank you. i made jam a few years back and enjoyed it mightily.

Nicole said...

regardless of the work involved, home made jam/jelly is better than store bought. not only is it healthier, tastier and cheaper, but there is love in each of those jars.

Trina said...

Some others to contemplate:

Plum jelly from that neighbors plum tree that keeps dropping crap on the road. The little 'cherry' plums work just fine, no need to spend on 'eating' plums.

Pumpkin Butter, tastes like spreadable pumpkin pie. And you can make plenty from a cheap post-halloween pumpkin. (If you didn't plant any in the garden)

Peach Jam/Butter, The peaches are ripe and nice right now!

My Favorite... Quince Jelly, no pectin needed as this stuff has tons in it. Kids may not latch onto the taste right away, but more for you, right?

Science PhD Mom said...

I have a whole bunch of frozen blackberries from last year's picking to turn into seedless blackberry jam. That is our family's favorite, and the berries are starting to ripen up for this year's crop, too. Our alternate favorite is pear butter--yummy! I make mine with a bit of green cardamom...heavenly! It's definitely one of our favorites. Peach season is here too, so I have some peaches to put up. Pears & apples will really be in about a month from now. Last year I got so sick of canning that I threw out apples. This year I will be aiming to stick with it a little longer, because that homemade, home canned apple pie filling beats the pants off anything you can buy in a can from the store.

Stephanie said...

Yummmmm. I just returned from my parents' house with 2 jars of strawberry freezer jelly and one of stovetop/wax peach jelly. (Although the wax didn't seal so well. Which means that gets eaten first.) Homemade jelly is the absolute best.

RobinH said...

Ah, reading your posts actually brings back so many childhood memories for me! My mom used to make all our jams and jellies. (We had a lot of trouble growing enough strawberries for jam, though- they tended to get eaten at a fearsome rate.)

My mom often froze fruit during the peak fruit-growing times of year and then made the jam as we needed it. She'd have swooned over your lemon tree- marmelade!
We never had enough marmelade. We did have a grape arbor though- the grapes were no good for eating, but she'd freeze the juice we mostly used for jelly. We made elderberry jelly too (don't know if elderberries are found in CA). Apple butter was a sad disappointment- I love it, but I turned out to be the only one who did, so my mom wouldn't make it.

My mom doesn't garden so much now, but she still makes jam for me :). And I occasionally make it for myself- usually rhubarb (which is nice because you can make it with strawberry gelatin, which is cheaper than pectin).

RobinH said...

Ooh, and one more- rose hip jelly! Rose hips have lots of vitamin C, and the jelly is lovely, very sweet and mild, almost like jellied honey. If you have roses (or know people who do and don't use the rose hips), they're easy to come by cheaply.

Theresa said...

I normally just lurk, but I had to comment on the jam post. I love homemade jam (both the making and the eating). Have you considered using the low sugar pectin? It's a little more expensive, but it makes amazing jam and uses less than half the sugar. For us it winds up being a little cheaper to make it that way.

Another really yummy jam that we made is to use 12oz of blackberries and then enough peaches to bring the total up to the 4.5-5 cups of fruit and the low sugar pectin. It tastes amazing, though I had to convince my husband that he really didn't need to lick the jam pot after every batch. :)

Nancy said...

All of this talk about jam is making me hungry! We are going blueberry picking tomorrow and we usually just eat ourselves silly for a couple of days and freeze the rest. I may have to make some jam this year.
I remember my mom making jam and after sealing the jars, she would turn them upside down and leave them on the counter overnight. If any of them leaked, then it didn't seal properly and that jar would be eaten first.

PipneyJane said...

Thanks for explaining your methodology, Tama. In Britain, they don't even use a water-canning method. They just sterilise the jars, fill them with hot jam, put the lid on and tighten it down as it cools. (This recipe is typical: ).

Can you get "jam sugar"? They sell it here - it's fine sugar combined with pectin, designed specifically for jam making. IIRC, it sells for 20p per 3lb bag more than the regular stuff.

- Pa,