by Nora Hennesy
My husband I have been married for almost 8 months now (June 12th 2010) and it already feels like it's been a year! The planning for our wedding was a really enjoyable process for Ben and me and was actually one we started even before we were engaged. We started talking about getting married six months into dating and once I felt like I was in the free and clear to start gushing about plans and details, I knew the first thing I wanted to do was make jam as favors.
We were discussing a date one day (again before we were engaged) and realized that June was really the only month we could have the wedding without having to wait another six months. By this time it was the end of August and summer was coming to a close, as well as the summer fruit harvest! Peaches would be our last chance at a summer fruit jam since the next harvest wouldn't be until strawberries in late May/early June (which are also 2-3 times more per pound than peaches), and I sure as heck wasn't going to be canning 125-150 half pints of steaming hot jam a few weeks before my wedding (though I did think about it, until Ben figuratively slapped me back to reality).
So we went, along with my parents, and caught the LAST weekend available for peach picking at my favorite pick-your-own orchard. We picked 45 lbs of peaches. They weren't the most attractive peaches, but just as long as they tasted good and weren't rotting, they were good enough for jam. That's the beauty of jam and canning; you are giving unattractive produce a second life.
I spent the next two days peeling, slicing, bagging and freezing. It was a little overwhelming, but it had to be done otherwise those tree-ripened, end-of-summer peaches could have ended their lives in the trash bin. Over the next five months, we canned, and canned, and canned. It was definitely a labor of love. The end result, however, was totally and completely worth it. Our guests had something yummy to enjoy for weeks after the wedding.
I feel like jam, local honey or other edible items have become a popular favor to have at weddings and I wanted to share our experience, the process, and tips for anyone who was considering canning. Like Sara, I LOVE lists:
- When you decide on making jam visit, your local pick-your-own farm's website, or if you have never visited such a place visit this website for a list of farms and orchards. When you find, one check out their harvest calender and then call to make sure that it is accurate for this season (sometimes weather or drought can affect the times of harvest). Bring some friends and get picking!
- If you are picking stone fruit, wait until they are ripe to process. When they are ready to be peeled, bring a pot of water to boil, cut a cross on the bottom with a sharp knife while trying not to cut the flesh too much, blanch for two minutes, transfer with a slotted spoon into a bowl of ice water, once they are cool the skins should be able to be rubbed off, if not, then put back into boiling water for another minute or so.
- If you are picking berries, you have to freeze them immediately. Wash, gently towel dry and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet in one layer, freeze, then bag (you do this so they don't all stick together in one big ice block). When you go to freeze I recommend either weighing or measuring out before you put into bags so you know how much you have in each bag so you can make in batches without having to guess, thaw and then refreeze the unused fruit.
- You will see a lot recipes on line for jam that don't use pectin. I've tried a few and wouldn't recommend going without. I feel like it doesn't last as long and it definitely doesn't firm up. I just use the recipe that Ball provides in their pectin box. If you already have pectin but no recipes, visit Ball's website to see their recipes.
- Make sure you only use white sugar. I tried with a batch using organic raw cane sugar and it ends up giving the jam a dark hue. Otherwise, it doesn't change the flavor at all.
- Don't try to skimp on the sugar either. In order for the pectin to work properly, it needs the right amount of sugar (the amount given in the recipe). If you want to go with a low sugar jam, Certo (another pectin brand) makes pectin for sugar free recipes.
- When you process the jars after you have filled them, make sure you have a large enough pot--one that will cover the jars with at least an inch of water. We didn't have a traditional canner (a big enameled pot with a rack inside for the jars to rest on) but they are available at Walmart or Target for under $20. If you are not going to use a canner, just make sure you don't use a nice stainless steel pot because when you process the jars, the metal from the lids seemed to darken the metal inside the pot.
- Ben and I used 8 oz jars, but I kind of wish we used 4 oz jars. It just made a lot more work for us and the portion was more than generous. Several people commented on how big they were for favors, and I think they were right.
- I had a lot of left over scraps of fabric, or you could go to the fabric store and get some fat quarters of a few different types of fabric to decorate the lids. Tying them on can be a big pain and you need another person to help you, so I just unscrewed the band (after the jars have been processed, which means sealed), placed the fabric on the lid, and screwed the band back on.
- Lastly, don't try to conquer 100+ jars of jam in one day. It's impossible, and you will hate every second of it after jar 30. Do them in batches. One batch every other weekend. That's why you freeze the fruit, so there is no rush. You do not want to feel trapped, stirring and ladling over a hot stove...it's a labor of love, but not one of blood, sweat and tears (nothing's that important, yes, even your wedding favors!)
I hope I have offered a little inspiration and diffused any fears about the labor and process of making jam favors. It turned out to be a fantastic bonding experience for Ben and me, so have fun with it...you may just get addicted to canning!