Living in 100 Mile House meant we didn't have a lot of access to large grocery stores, so many people canned, hunted, fished, and grew their own food to save a little money and to have things accessible. I remember being a small kid and sitting at the island in our kitchen, knife in hand, coring or slicing strawberries and peaches while Mom bagged them for the freezer, or canned huge jars so that in the winter we'd have peaches to enjoy.
My Mom, as far as I remember, made her own jam. I don't think I ever really ate a lot of store bought jam, and to be honest, once you've had home made it's really difficult to go back. People have this idea that making jam is really hard but honestly, it's not. It's just a bit technical. You really have to follow the directions, and you can't stop part way through or get all "I'm going to do my own thing" with it.
What do you need in order to make your own jam? Go over here and read an article I wrote that tells you what you'll need equipment wise, and gives you some really good tips before you start.
For Christmas last year, I told my husband I wanted a cherry pitter from Lee Valley. In fact I was so insistent that I get one that I drove him to the store and put it in his hand. I liked this one because it's all metal, unlike some cheap versions, and hopefully that means it will last me a very long time. Also, at $11.50 it's super cheap compared to some!
I LOVE this cherry pitter. Pitting this many cherries without one would be ridiculous and tons of work, but the pitter made things really fast. The only issue is that cherry juice sprays everywhere so unless you want your kitchen to look like a murder scene, you may want to do this outside. Or in a deep sink, while wearing red or an old apron. This is a part of the jam/canning process that you can allow kids to help with, and they will likely find it lots of fun, but you might need to hose them down after. You could set the kids up with a wading pool outside and let them pit the cherries, then put the finished cherries in the fridge until later to make the jam.
On to the recipe! This one is adapted from Bernardin. Certo is the brand I've only ever used and I swear by, but I could only find the Bernardin brand at the store. Before you start any jam making, it's a good idea to open the package of pectin and read the instructions. They usually vary slightly from brand to brand, even if it's basically the same kind of pectin. I prefer liquid just because it's what I'm used to and seems easier than powdered. The insert in each package of pectin will give you tips, tricks, a number to call if you have questions, and give you all kinds of recipes.
This particular jam makes a wonderful spread on toast, and the addition of vanilla gives it almost a cream soda flavor. It would be wonderful as a filling in cookies or cupcakes, in a layer cake, or heated and used as an ice cream topping. If you want to think ahead, try making it in 125 ml jars for Christmas gifts!
3 3/4 cups pitted, finely chopped cherries (buy about 2 1/2 lbs. This will give you enough plus some left over for the kids to snack on while they work)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 vanilla bean, cut in half and seeds scraped out (optional)
7 cups sugar
2 pouches of Bernardin liquid pectin
7 (250 ml) mason jars, or about 4 (500 ml jars)
snap lids and rings for each jar
1. Assemble all your equipment. You will need:
- canning tongs, for lifting hot jars out of the water
- lid picker upper (basically a stick with a magnet on the end)
- space to set very hot jars, and something to protect your counter with. This can be a large cutting board or some old tea towels on a space of counter beside your stove
- long handled wooden spoon to stir the jam
- canning funnel
- ladle (not metal)
- 9x13 inch metal cake pan, for putting your jars in (makes it easier to move them around)
- jars and NEW snap lids. Used rings and jars are ok, but the lids must be new each time
- canner, with a rack inside and a lid
- large pot, like a stock pot
- mug or cup for your pectin
- clean, damp, cloth
2. Get your canner about 2/3 - 3/4 full of water, put the lid on, and put it on the stove on high heat so that it can get going before you are ready to make jam. You want it to boil before you proceed, and this may take as long as 20 minutes or more. Once it boils, turn down the heat and move on to #2!
3. Pre-heat your oven on to 225 F. Put your clean jars in a metal 9x13 cake pan and set them in the oven while you continue. This will sterilize the jars. I like using the cake pan because it makes getting the jars in and out of the oven far easier. They need to be in a 225 F oven for at least 10 minutes. I often just put them in and let them hang out there while I make the jam.
4. Get a small saucepan and fill it about 1/2 full of water. Bring it to a simmer. Place your snap lids in it and turn the heat down. You don't want it to boil but you want it to be hot enough to soften the glue on the lids. Take your pouches of pectin, snip off the tops, and set them, open side up, in your mug or cup and set them beside the stove.
5. Pit and chop your cherries. To save yourself some time, use your food processor to chop them and just pulse it until they are finely chopped but not pureed. Measure the chopped fruit into your large pot. Add your sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and lemon juice.
**Yes, I know this is a lot of sugar. It's just the nature of jam. Don't reduce the sugar or the recipe won't work. If you don't like this much sugar, then this recipe isn't for you. You can get 'light' versions of pectin, and those may be better for you. **
6. Over medium high heat, begin to heat your jam, stirring as you go. The sugar will liquefy and it will begin to look more like a sauce. This really is the point of no return - once you are HERE, you can't stop and go do something else. Put a TV show on for the kids and tell them to stay out of the kitchen. Keep stirring and watching the jam until it begins to boil. You want it to get to a full, rolling boil that you can't stir down. Turn the canner on high heat to get it back to a good simmer.
7. Add the pectin directly to the jam. Keep stirring, and boil it hard for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Most recipes say to skim the foam off at this point, but a little foam doesn't bother me that much so I often skip this step. As you can see below, there's a little bit but I don't think it affects the quality of the jam. You can decide.
8. Get your jars out of the oven and set them on the counter beside the stove, on that cutting board or tea towel that you have ready. Fish out the vanilla pods and set aside. Put the funnel on a jar and using a ladle, fill the jars, but be sure to leave 1/2-1/4 inch head space (space from the rim of the jar to the jam. Once all the jars are filled, you need to move fast - wipe the rims of the jars with a clean, damp cloth (careful, it's really hot) and, using the lid picker upper, fish a lid from the hot water and place it directly on the clean jar. Screw on a ring until just finger tip tight. Continue with the next jar.
9. Once all jars have been filled, rims wiped and they have lids on, carefully lower the jars one by one into your canner with your tongs and crank the heat under the canner to bring it to a boil. The water of the canner needs to cover the top of the jars-and depending on the size of the jars and your canner, this can be a bit tricky. Mine isn't big enough to process 1 liter jars, and only barely big enough for 500 ml ones. I don't get the stated 1 inch of water coverage on the top, it's more like 1/2-3/4 inch. If you don't have enough water, put some in your kettle, bring it to a boil, and add to the pot (don't pour it directly on a jar though)
Tip: adding the jars displaces some of the water and you may find you have too much water in the canner. No problem, grab your ladle and just ladle some right back out into that empty jam pot.
10. Process the jam in the boiling water (put a lid on on the canner, slightly askew) for about 10 minutes. You don't want it to be at a hard boil here, but bubbling. Too many jars and boiling it too hard can cause jars to crack and then you end up with a big mess. When the time is up, gently remove the jars from the canner with your tongs and set them on a cutting board or towel lined counter to cool.
11. You will hear the telltale 'pop' of the lids sealing, sometimes even just as you are removing the jars from the water. The lids will feel loose, but DON'T tighten them. Just leave the jars on your counter to cool. Don't bother to touch them or do anything, just let them sit there.
12. When the jars are cool, check the lids. if they don't have any give, they are sealed and will last about a year. You can take the rings off, or just store them with the rings loosely on the jars. If there is give in the lid, it didn't seal. You need to put the jar in the fridge and use it up.
Sealed jam lasts about a year, if you can go that long without eating it.