Do you know the feeling of being paralyzed with fear? When the taste of it in your mouth is far stronger than the bitterness of accepting defeat before even trying to meet the challenge? As a freshman in college I dropped my English composition class during the first week after learning that public speaking was mandatory for a passing grade (I did take it again the following semester). Where did this fear come from? I participated in school programs as a child and was even selected to deliver the graduation speech for my 5th grade class. I was sick that week but my grandfather helped me prepare for the big day–there was no way I was going to disappoint him. Maybe my 10-year old self just didn’t know any better.
Some challenges have been a bit easier to tackle. Like once in 6th grade when I found myself in a verbal spar with an 8th grade boy in my block. My 6-year old tomboy of a sister preferred to hang out with the older boys and inevitably she would always overstay her welcome. When that happened and they’d start to hassle her, I always made sure I was there. On this particular day the 8th-grader called her a shrimp and that was a no-no for this big sister. Not that my bold, spunky youngest sister ever needed my help, mind you, but I liked to think I was her protector. Besides, my middle sister, Bambi and I (her very apt nickname because of her doe-eyes) owned exclusive rights to bullying Gail. The 8th-grader and I exchanged words; no yelling, no cursing and certainly no fist fighting. I earned his respect that day and he would go on to become a close friend of the family. Was I afraid? Yes.
Some fears have gone, being replaced by others over the years. Fear is good, I think. It provides that inner fire to face life’s challenges. Fear and I are very familiar with each other, but like my spunky 6-year old sister, fear can have a tendency to wear out its welcome. It sometimes likes to meddle in parts of my life where it doesn’t belong. How has it enslaved me these last few years?
Well, okay, I may be exaggerating a little but fear has kept me from making jam. You read correctly. J-A-M. Or to be exact, the canning portion of the jam-making process. Putting the ingredients together and cooking them on the stove was a no-brainer (and I’ve had the canning tools in my cabinet for a year, unopened) but one word has kept me from joining the ranks of homesteaders, artisan producers or even just brave home cooks: Botulism.
The C. Botulinum bacteria is found in soils all over the world. They have the ability to form a spore that is very resistant to heat and chemicals and grow best in no-air conditions. Sure, the risk of botulism has been all but wiped out but online sources often talk about how home pressure canners don’t get as hot as commercial ones. How everything should be sterilized, not just the jars but the equipment, too. What if I contaminate the jars or the lids in my less-than-sterile kitchen? What if I give my jam-filled jars away to friends and family and I make them all sick? It was time for help.
As is most often the case, rescue came by way of friends. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one afraid of the canning process. A few months ago a group of blogger friends and I scheduled a “jam session” that would hopefully banish the canning fears (of those of us uninitiated) for good. The momentous occasion took place this past weekend. Hosted by the lovely Azmina and led by experts, Gina and Lisa, we were in business. Ms. BB, Liren, Azmina and I would learn from the best. We’re all quite comfortable in the kitchen, of course and collectively we’ve all tackled more challenging cooking projects…but there’s just something about making jam.
Each of my friends boasts quite a tasty resumé–here’s a sampling of what a buffet would look like at a food-blogger get-together. And the best part? Taking pictures of the food before everyone digs in isn’t rude–it’s part of the merry event.
In one fun-filled afternoon several years of fear were cast away. I watched Gina and Lisa make four jams that day: Vanilla-Santa Rosa Plum Jam, Fig-Balsamic Jam, Strawberry-Lemon Jam and Nectarine-Blueberry Jam. We all stood around the kitchen island prepping fruit, weighing them, measuring the sugar, all the while catching up with each other, occasionally walking over to the buffet table for one more nibble of the goodies and best of all, tasting a whole lot of jam. It was a hands-on class, the newbies were allowed to help and weren’t relegated to mere cleaner-uppers. We learned about proper fruit/sugar/acid ratio, how to recognize when the jam is done (spoon test), measuring headspace in a jar and more importantly for me, Gina and Lisa allayed my anxiety about sterilization and canning. My fears were all for naught and I’ve fallen in love with the beautiful pop of a properly-sealed jar.
I drove home that day with a full belly, current on what’s new in my friends’ lives, a box full of homemade jam and renewed enthusiasm to make jam in my own kitchen. The aftertaste of fear can be sweet when you have friends to face it with you.
* We have Gina to thank for this wonderful Nectarine-Blueberry Jam recipe and for Lisa’s awesome Fig-Balsamic Jam, please click here. She and Liren have written a great recap of our “jam session”. I will post the other links as the others share theirs including the recipes to all the dishes pictures/mentioned here. For my Asian-Style Chicken salad with Spicy Peanut Vinaigrette, the recipe is here. I will share the recipe for the Crab and Shrimp Dip in an upcoming post.
- 6 pounds nectarines, seed removed and diced
- 2 pounds blueberries
- 2½ pounds sugar
- 7 ounces fresh lemon juice
- In a large pot, combine the nectarines, blueberries, sugar and lemon juice.
- Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium when the mixture starts sputtering. Cook until the mixture has thickened a bit and is syrupy. Most of the fruit should have dissolved with some chunks remaining.
- Turn off the heat and cool for 10-15 minutes before ladling the jam into the prepared jars.
- Make there are no bubbles in the jam. You can gently tap the jars to release them. As you fill the jars, be mindful of leaving some headspace to ensure that the jar seals properly. Wipe the jar rims with a clean, damp cloth (again to ensure a proper seal), place the prepared lids and screw bands.
- Place the filled jars into the rack in the canner with . The jars should not touch each other and the canner must be filled with hot water by at least one inch. Cover the canner, bring it to a boil and begin processing time. In this case, leave the jars in the canner for 10 minutes.
- Remove the jars from the canner and set them on a towel-lined counter to cool. You will hear that beautiful popping sound as they cool, indicating a proper seal on the jar. If the lid bounces up and down when you tap it with your finger, it didn’t seal properly. You will have to repeat the boiling process.