Basic Canning: Water Bath Part Four

Part four: Now what

You have almost succeeded in making your first batch of jam.  You have cleaned up the kitchen and let the jars sit in a cool, dark (just no direct sunlight) part of your counter for 24 hours. It’s not quite time to celebrate by eating homemade jam, but it will be soon.

Part One: It’s been 24 hours, now what?

-Test the seal of your lids.  This is important, sometimes no matter how careful you are a jar just won’t seal.  You can do this two ways: one, push down on the center of the lid.  If it is sealed correctly it should have created a vacuum and it will not give.  The second way is to take off the ring and try to pry the lid up with your fingernail.  Again, the vacuum should be tight enough that you should not be able to open it with just your fingernail.  You need to do this with all of the jars.

-The seal tests badly: If you have a seal test badly (i.e. it opened or popped when you pressed it) don’t worry about a wasted batch.  You can still eat this jam it just won’t last long.  Put it in your fridge right away and treat it like you would a store bought jam.

-The seal tests well: Congratulations! You have now canned something.  The jars can now be kept in a cool dark place (like a pantry or cupboard) for at least a year and can last for up to two depending of temperature and other atmospheric conditions.  Remember that once you open a jar though you have compromised that seal and you must refrigerate the jam.

Part Two: What am I going to do with 12 jars of jam?

A lot of people think about canning as a fun thing to try, but you do tend to end up with a lot of whatever you are canning.  In earlier days that was the point, you needed to feed large families and sometimes whole communities during non-growing seasons.  Now though, most of us have smaller families and canned foods have a much smaller place in our lives.  So what can you do with all that jam?

-Eat it.  On toast, on pancakes, on waffles.   Use it as an ice cream topping, we like to mix a little bit of strawberry jam with a little port and pour it over French vanilla.

-Cook with it.  We use jam to make everything from thumbprint cookies to marinating lamb. Remember what we said earlier about cooking being an art.  You’ve done all the math and made jam, now use your imagination and see what you can make with it.

-Give it away.  This is honestly what most people are going to do.  Homemade jam makes a great gift.  You can dress it up by putting it in a basket with a box of scone mix (or a jar of your homemade scone mix) and a pretty spoon or butter spreader to go with it.  You can just put a label on it and tie some string in a bow around the neck of the jar and give it that way.   Homemade jam is a great party favor for bridal showers, tea parties, baby showers, and even weddings.

-Barter with it.  Most states have strict codes meaning that you can’t sell homemade food.  But a lot of community events and web pages have popped up letting you barter with your neighbors. So stock up on some jam and trade it for some homemade bread, or an embroidered flour sack towel.  A word of warning, if you take it to Burning man to barter with you are significantly shortening its shelf life because it is just too darn hot.

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