A head start on holiday gift-giving

Margaret
Margaret Prouse
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Plan now to make preserves to give to family, friends

Here we are, at the halfway point, six months past Christmas 2013 and six months before Christmas 2014.

Some organized people are already collecting Christmas gifts so that they can enjoy seasonal festivities without feeling pressure to do gift shopping in December.

If you like to give homemade preserves at Christmas time, you can start preparing now, so that you will be ready to make jams, jellies and pickles as the produce becomes available throughout the summer and autumn.

Always use new snap lids when bottling, and follow current recommendations to process bottles of jams, jellies and pickles in a boiling water canner to get a good seal, something that you want to ensure whether preserving for your own consumption or to give to a friend. Screw bands can be reused as long as they have not rusted.

Besides having a canning kettle with a cover and a rack, it is helpful to have a wide-mouth funnel for filling jars, a wand with a magnet on the end to lift prepared snap lids from hot water when filling jars, and a set of tongs to lift bottles out of the canner.

When cooking jam, choose a large saucepan or kettle with a heavy bottom, so that the fruit mixture can boil vigorously without bubbling over onto the stove top.

If you have some fresh Island rhubarb in your garden, you can get started on preserving projects right away. Rhubarb is great for jam and can be made into spicy sweet chutneys. I often combine the berries from our one gooseberry bush with other fruit, as in this gooseberry rhubarb jam.

If using frozen fruit to make jam, measure before it defrosts.

Gooseberry Rhubarb Jam

From Topp, Ellie and Margaret Howard: The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: over 300 delicious recipes to use year-round, Firefly Books Ltd., Richmond Hill, 2007.

500 mL (2 cups) finely chopped rhubarb

125 mL (1/2 cup) water

500 mL (2 cups) gooseberries, stems removed and coarsely chopped

25 mL (2 tbsp) lemon juice

1.375 L (5 1/2 cups) granulated sugar

1 pouch liquid fruit pectin

Place rhubarb and water in a very large stainless steel or enamel saucepan.

Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, cover and boil gently for 3 minutes.

Stir gooseberries, lemon juice and sugar into rhubarb. Return to a full boil over high heat and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in pectin.

Ladle into hot jars and process for 10 minutes as described below.

Makes 1.25 L (5 cups).

Variation:

Gingered Gooseberry Rhubarb Jam: Add 75 mL (⅓ cup) crystallized ginger along with the gooseberries, lemon juice and sugar.

Here is the technique that Topp and Howard recommend for preparing, filling and processing 250 mL/8 oz jars.

Place required number of jars in a boiling water canner. Add hot water to jars and canner until the water level reaches the top of the jars. Cover and place over medium heat until water is hot but not boiling. If you live in an area with hard water (as we do at my house) add a bit of vinegar to the water to prevent a film forming on the jars. It’s helpful to have an extra kettle of boiling water at hand in case the water level needs to be topped up after the filled jars are placed in the canner.

Place snap lids, but not screw bands, in hot water for 5 minutes just before using, to soften the sealing compound on the lids. Screw bands should be at room temperature.

To fill jars: Be prepared to process jars immediately after cooking the jam, as processing time is based on the food being hot when placed in bottles. Remove each jar from the canner as needed. Use a ladle or small pitcher or measuring cup to pour food into jars.

Leave 1 cm (1/2 inch) of headspace to allow for expansion of food during processing.

Before putting a lid on a jar, remove air trapped between pieces of food by sliding a clean small wooden or plastic spatula between the food and the jar to gently move the food. Then top up the liquid level if necessary by adding more food or liquid, and wipe the rim and side of the jar with a clean cloth to remove any stickiness that could interfere with the formation of a good vacuum seal.

Remove a lid from the hot water and centre it on the jar rim. Then apply a screw band just until it is fingertip tight.

Place filled jars in the canner containing hot water, and adjust water to cover jars by about 2.5 cm (1 inch). Cover canner and bring water to a boil. Start timing when water reaches a steady boil. Maintain steady boil throughout the processing time. When processing is finished, turn off heat and remove cover from the canner. Wait 5 minutes, to stabilize pressure inside the jars, and then remove, being careful to not tilt jars.

Let bottles cool on a cutting board or several layers of towels or newspaper, without drying jars or tightening seals, for 12 to 24 hours.

Then confirm that metal lids on jars curve downward, indicating that jars are sealed. Remove and dry screw bands and replace loosely on jars or store for further use.

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at margaret@islandgusto.com.

Organizations: Firefly Books

Geographic location: Richmond Hill, North Wiltshire

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