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Monday, September 15, 2014

Let's Hear it for Raspberry!

In the interest of keeping my body from reaching record-breaking girth, I don't eat a LOT of jam. There. I said it. I do, however, make a lot of jam--and when I do eat jam, I want that jam to be made with fresh ingredients and bottled by my own hands.

I've just had a jam season like no other. I have rock-hard muscles (and some degree of pain!) in my calves to attest to the long hours spent tending the jam kettle this summer/early fall. I've been experimenting with jam flavours. The rhubarb-orange jam I made with rhubarb donated by my country neighbour has been pronounced "outstanding" by jam connoisseurs in my circle; even I have to admit it comes thisclose to reproducing the delectable rhubarb-orange jams of my Newfoundland childhood. But that jam takes hours of finely chopping rhubarb, finely shredding orange peel, and boiling the peel before its addition to the jam kettle. The jam I choose to showcase in this post is a most unassuming and downright easy one. It has two ingredients: raspberries and sugar. You can make as much or as little as you like because the ingredients are a perfect 1:1 ratio. If you have 1 kilo of raspberries, you mix them with 1 kilo of granulated sugar, and boil them until the jelly stage.

I prefer to measure jam ingredients by weight; one gets a much more accurate measure and with jams, the ratio of ingredients is crucial. Too much sugar and your jam is nauseatingly sweet; too little sugar and your jam won't jell.

For the season's final batch of raspberry jam, I used frozen berries from Lakeshore Farms Market in Wellington, Ontario. They have their own fields of berries (their strawberries are awesome, too) and they clean and flash freeze the berries at the height of their ripeness. The resulting jam is every bit as tasty as jam made with fresh berries--and a heck of a lot less work!

Raspberry Jam
Makes 10- 250 ml (half-pint) jars with a little leftover to snack on

2 kilos raspberries
2 kilos granulated sugar
Juice from half a lemon, optional

Sterilize 10 250 ml (half-pint) jars, lids and bands. It is very important that pantry-stored jars be sterilized properly. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, submerge jars and bands in the water, add more boiling water till there is at least 1 inch of water over the top of the jars. Bring back to a boil and sterilize for 15 minutes. Remove with sterilized tongs and upend on clean paper towels just before filling. Put lids in a shallow pan (not touching each other) and pour boiling water over them. Keep lids in the hot water until needed, then remove to clean paper towel (rubber seal side down) with sterilized tongs.

Mix berries and sugar together in a large, heavy stainless steel or enamel pot over high heat until sugar melts. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring often (so berries don't stick). If the jam boils too high, drop the heat a bit. (The cooking will take longer, but at least you won't have a mess on your stove.) Boil until the mixture reaches the jelly stage. You can hasten the jelly stage by adding the juice of half a lemon. Bear in mind that the longer you boil, the more the chance of losing some of that sharp raspberry taste.

I've been making jams and jellies for close to 50 years, so I am an old (uh huh, REALLY old) hand at finding the jelly stage. I can tell by the feel of the mixture as I stir, I can tell by how the mixture looks, and finally, I can tell by the way the mixture sheets off a metal spoon, that the jelly stage is near. If you are a new hand to making jams, you might wish to use a candy thermometer to help point out the arrival of the jelly stage.

As soon as the jam reaches the jell point, remove from heat, ladle into hot, sterilized jars, wipe the tops of the jars with clean paper towel to remove all food residue and ensure a good seal, carefully top with the sterilized lids, attach the bands and set the jars on a folded dishcloth on your counter. The reason you need the dishcloth is not to save your counter top from the heat of the jars; it's to keep your jars from cooling too rapidly and ruining your proper seal. I put paper towel over my dishcloth in case there's any jam sticking to the bottom of the jars!

You will hear pop after pop as your jars seal. After 4-5 hours, examine your jars. Press your fingertip gently into the middle (seal) part of the lid. If the jar is properly sealed, you will not hear a popping sound and there will be no "give" in the lid. If any of the jars have failed to seal, either store those jars in the refrigerator or subject the jars to a water bath. Purists will insist on the water bath if you need to store the jam on your pantry shelves. I've never had a problem omitting this step--unless the jar failed to pop (seal properly).

Before storing, check whether there's any jam residue on your jars that might attract unwanted visitors. If there is, wipe the jar with a damp cloth till all residue is gone.

As you can see, the colour of this jam is amazing. Jewel-like. But it's the flavour that will keep you holding on to the recipe and making it year after year, even in the dead of winter if you use frozen berries. With peanut butter or cream cheese on a piece of multi-grain toast, it's a doubly yummy treat that I allow myself every now and then. My housemate? He gobbles it by the spoonful, sometimes omitting the toast.

Interesting facts about raspberries:

1) The individual parts of the berry's pulp are called drupelets.
2)  8% of the raspberry's weight is fibre.
3)  In 2011, Canada produced only 2% of the world's raspberries; Russia produced 26%.
4)  If you don't place some kind of barrier in the earth around raspberries, they can and will take over your garden. I know this from personal experience!

Till next time, keep on cookin',

Copyright © 2014 by Ev McTaggart