August, with all the farmer’s produce spilling over in the markets, is a perfect time to try your hand at canning or making jam. Many people shy away from canning because they view it as a lot of work or difficult, but the reality is that if you have a large pot and can stir, you can make jam. Fresh from the farm means you know exactly what is in the jam and trust me, you won’t believe the difference in taste! Also, it’s a fantastic activity to get the kids involved in! I remember being a young child and sitting at the island in our kitchen, paring knife in hand, helping to hull and slice flats of strawberries or pit and slice peaches.
Canning or jam making is much easier if you have the following equipment, which is readily available at many houseware or hardware stores:
Canning funnel: a funnel catches all the drips of boiling hot jam and makes filling the jars a lot easier. I have a plastic one that I throw in the dishwasher when I finished with, but you can splurge and get stainless steel ones.
Lid picker-upper: basically a plastic stick with a magnet at the end, it allows you to grab those snap lids right out of the hot water they sit in to soften up their glue. That way you don’t burn your fingers trying to fish them out.
Canning tongs: Large tongs that allow you to put the jars in your boiling water canner and remove them with ease, and without burning yourself
Boiling water canner: A large pot with a rack that you put on your stove. This pot is made especially for canning, and can hold many jars. Processing the jars is necessary to seal them up tight so that there is no bacteria that can make the jam go bad and cause you to become sick. Make sure you buy one big enough for the jars you plan to put in it.
Snap lids: These must always be bought new. You can re-use the rings and jars, but the lids must be new every time. You can buy them in various sizes at the grocery store, and they usually go on sale in mid-August.
Jars: They come in various shapes and sizes. I prefer the 250-500 ml jars for jam, wide mouthed ones for canning tomatoes, and the little 125 ml jars if I’m making jam to give away. They come with lids, which is a bonus. Throw the jars in the dishwasher before you begin to make sure they are all clean. You can use extra or leftover jars to store things in, if you wish. I’m a huge fan of mason jars.
Ladle: To scoop the jam from your pot into the jars.
A large pot: You need this to cook the jam, pectin, sugar, and lemon juice in. There needs to be space so that the mixture can come to a full rolling boil and won’t boil over.
Wooden spoon: something with a long handle to stir with. A long handle is essential, because as it boils then you won’t burn yourself. You don’t have to use a wooden spoon, but you want something that is non-reactive and I find these work really well.
Various old tea towels to protect your counter tops from hot jars: I lay these on the counter where the jars will sit, to catch any drips and minimize mess, as well as to protect my counter from screaming hot jam jars. Don’t use your good ones, as they may become stained.
Cutting board, knife, and a colander for washing and prepping the fruit: Prepping the fruit is a really essential, if not tedious, task. This is where I helped my Mom the most as a kid. Don’t be afraid about letting your children try their skill with a small paring knife. I was hulling strawberries at around 8 years old with ease, and enjoyed the time in the kitchen. Start with small batches of jam so that it doesn’t seem overwhelming, and once you are confident, work your way up to larger batches.
Tips and tricks:
Don’t be scared of jam. Just follow the directions exactly, and you should be fine! Set aside a lot of time, pay attention, and you will be rewarded with fantastic results.