While my childhood may have involved countless ninja-level baking lessons, one skill decidedly absent from my family’s home kitchen curriculum was canning. Chalk it up to the hazardous nature of the process — the possibility of exploding glass jars and bacteria contamination, the gallons of simmering water — that doesn’t exactly scream “child-friendly activity”. Now that I am (presumably) mature enough to handle the dangers inherent to canning, I have become sort of enamored with the notion of becoming the kind of girl who cans her own homemade fruit jams and summer tomato purees (precious as that may sound).
Canning is not, however, a task to be undertaken lightly, so I prepared as any sensible girl would: by arming myself with thorough research and a capable, wisecracking sidekick. The research was a cinch once I discovered the easy-as-pie, step-by-step directions over at The Pioneer Woman, a wildly popular blog written by a talented (and often hilarious) rancher’s wife. As for the sidekick, there was no better choice than the closest thing in my life to a real pioneer woman, my dear friend, Erika, whose outdoorsy Pacific Northwestern upbringing means she can cook dinner by burying a dutch oven underground and capably handle a firearm if necessary, all with a swish of her gorgeous blonde hair. (She also fulfills the wisecracking part of the job description in spades. Our ongoing text dialogue on the subject of reality television is epic.)
Armed with my shiny new canning pot and several pounds of strawberries, I headed over to Erika and her husband’s lovely home in Potrero Hill to get to work. As per the Pioneer Woman’s instructions, we placed the strawberries on a rimmed baking sheet and smashed the hell out of them with a potato masher.
Erika and I quickly learned that beating up ripe strawberries is a messy affair, so we highly recommend tying on an apron and performing the smashing in a deep pot or bowl. The resulting mash, however, smells like strawberry heaven and gave me a serious hankering for a blended daiquiri. Sigh.
Cooking the jam was a little nerve-wracking at the beginning because the quantity seemed to paltry compared to the 64 ounces of product our recipe claimed to produce, especially once we skimmed the pale pink foam off of the top (which was totally reminiscent of the much-beloved-but-long-gone Jell-O 1-2-3). Mere minutes later the boiling jam nearly overtook the edges of the pot (the sugar and pectin having worked their magic), so be sure to use a GIANT pot even though it may seem overly large at the outset.
Once skimmed, we ladled the hot jam into jars that had been simmering on the stove (to prevent explosions caused by placing hot product into a cold glass receptacle). Erika did the honors!
We then placed the sealed jars back into the now-boiling water to sterilize them, which was the perfect time to tour Erika’s gorgeous yard (did I mention she is a gardening genius?). Her red chard has been ridiculously prolific this spring (and is perhaps destined to end up pickled now that we’ve caught the canning bug).
Erika’s summer lettuces are ready for planting. Aren’t they so tiny and dear at this stage?
Following a quick sterilizing simmer and an even quicker rest in a hot water bath, the jam was done. Seriously, that’s it. Lots of steps, to be sure, but none that are especially complicated and the results are a million times more delicious (and inexpensive) than anything you could purchase at the market. Erika and I were pretty much hooked once we heard the first metallic “pop” from a properly sealed lid (we might have high-fived over it) and we will certainly be jamming again soon. We can’t wait for raspberry season (and blackberry season…and apricot season…) to begin!