I should start this post with an explanation of my extended absence, but I think that would be rather boring for you ;). Let's suffice it to say that in the last 4 weeks I have sold a house, gone to Alberta to care for my mother, renovated a kitchen and started a preserving season. Every day when I reviewed my 'to-do' list there were always 2-3 items that just had to get pushed to the next day. So there you have it - writing a blog post got pushed to the next day over and over again.
Until we arrive at Canada Day (Happy Canada Day by the way), and I find myself with a few moments to spare and about a million ideas in my head bursting to get out.
In case you haven't noticed, Ontario strawberries, cucumbers and rhubarb are in season. This means there are a lot of people making jam and pickles out there. Strawberry Rhubarb, Balsamic Strawberry, Rhubarb Pepper Jelly, Rhubarb Banana - the combinations are endless and the results are delicious.
The worst thing you can have happen after spending all that time lovingly cooking your jam or preparing your pickles is for something to go wrong. So here are some ways to avoid problems with your preserves.
1) No matter how pretty it may look, never store your preserves in a warm or a bright location. Your jams and jellies may look lovely on your windowsill, but the heat and the light will cause them to spoil and in the depths of winter when you are craving that jar of home made jam - you will be disappointed to find it spoiled and gone to waste.
2) Floating fruit - we have all had this happen to us, come on, haven't we? You make that jar of strawberry jam only to have the strawberries float to the top of the jar once they are ladled in. Try to hide your disappointment. But don't let it get you down. You can simply stir it all up once opened. They will be just as delicious whether they float or not. But if you want to avoid it the next time, keep this in mind. Floating fruit can be the indication of under ripe fruit or under cooked fruit. Try letting the jam sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally before you ladle it into your jars
3) Garlic turned green or cauliflower turned pink? Don't take it as a personal failure. You have done nothing wrong and your preserves are not spoiled. It is simply a chemical change. Sometimes it is due to sulfur compounds reacting with copper elements in your water, sometimes it is due from using under dried garlic. No matter what the case, there is no reason to be alarmed or disappointed with your results.
4) Don't over pack your jars. We all want to cram as much goodness into each and every jar that we put up. But this will only lead to problems - trust me. I too have been tempted to overcrowd my jars from time to time. But a jar that is too tightly packed can't expand without pushing some of the juice or brine out of the jar. If you find a jar or two where the brine level has dropped but the jar has still sealed, try laying the jar down in the fridge and rotate it regularly so that all the juice or brine touches all of the contents inside of the jar.
5) Jam or jelly is runny - this is generally because the ratio of sugar, fruit, pectin and acid is off. Doubling or tripling recipes because you want to make more jam is usually the first mistake.Your surface area is reduced to the volume of jam and the amount of evaporation is is not great enough to cook your jam to a set.
6) Can you bounce a spoon off your jam. Come on - raise that hand if you have been here and done that. You have either used too much sugar to fruit ratio or cooked down your jam for too long. Always pay attention to set and don't let your jam or jelly over cook.
7) Always use the freshest product possible. I repeat this phrase over and over again - what goes into the jar is what comes out of the jar. And whenever possible try to use chemical free or organic produce. Another great tip when using dried spices is to ensure they are as fresh as possible or you could end up with pickles that look like they have been pickled in swamp water ;)
Now get out there and pick some produce, visit a farmer's market or local farm and get preserving.