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Monday, 23 May 2011

Understaning Fruit Jams & Canning, together with my Favourite Figs Jam Recipe...

Everything can be found in a supermarket, but if you have grown up in a home, where the majority of your food is home-made, you will definitely know the difference! Home-made foods taste fabulous. When you make your own, you use the best quality ingredients, which totally changes the outcome. The freshness of the fruits and your attention will ensure results unmatched with mass produced products. With that said, you are totally free to flavour your jams with your favourite spices, additions and you are also free to go for purees, chunks, halved or whole fruits, which of course make up for presentation and the whole experience of devouring your delicious creations.

By making Food @ home
you are creating
your children's memories
I know I have said this a lot, but it never gets old!! By making foods at home, you are creating your children's memories. They will be off with their lives, and then somehow, somewhere they taste or smell something that takes them right back to HOME, where they first experienced it! That is a moment when they look back with fondness of you, of home and their childhood -  the roots. This in itself is very rewarding!

I do remember the sweet aromas of caramelising fruits as my mum made Jams. The kitchen smelled SWEET, literally sweetness has an aroma. Try it, make my Supreme Sugar Syrup Recipe and smell the steam coming from the pot. You will smell SWEET. The whole process from preparing the fruits, to sterilising the jars, to filling them and finally having them for breakfast... Unmatched!

When it comes to making fruit jellies & jams, you need to buy top quality produce. You also need to know the basics of canning. In this post, I will explain to you the whole procedure from fruit to Canned Jam. It is a bit of a read, but well worth it. Once you know these basics, you will be able to jump right through to the recipes and start making your own. You will then find below the recipe for my favourites Figs Jam, which you will love. So lets get to it :)

Use the freshest
best quality ingredients
Every food creation starts with the Ingredients. When it comes to picking the fruits for making jam, go for the freshest fruits available, this ensures the best colour and flavour. This is the reason why, it is best to use fruits that are in season. Don't go for conventionally frozen fruits, they have absorbed a lot of liquid and the quality is not good for Jamming. Unsweetened canned or frozen fruits can be used for making Jams, but the best result is achieved with fresh fruits.

An example of
pectin powder

In some recipes you will find Pectin as an ingredient. Pectin is naturally present in some fruits, but not all. It is usually added as an ingredient when not present in the fruit. You cannot substitute a form of pectin for another, and you should always add it as indicated by a recipe, no more no less. Using less pectin than specified in the recipe will produce a product that is more syrup than Jam. Make sure to use pectin that is not expired!

Sugar is an important ingredient in creating Jams. It isn't used only for sweetening, it is in fact used as a preservative and aids in the jelling process. Therefore, always use the exact amount specified by the recipe.

Some recipes will include some lemon juice or citric acid. In jams, Acid is needed to aid in the jellying process as well as in developing the depth of flavour. It is not added in all recipes, as its addition is determined by the Acid content of the fruit you are jamming.

Always wash your fruits thoroughly before you start the jamming process. Prepare one batch at a time, and do not double a given recipe. When making jam, make sure you have sufficient time and work without interruption, as you will have to keep an eye on your cooking fruits, and will have to sterilise the jars before filling them. There is no point sterilising if you are going to end up leaving them on the countertop, as you will have to repeat the process.

In general, when cooking fruits for making jam, you will want to reach a state of vigorous boil, that is when the mixture is boiling so fast that you cannot stop the boil by stirring. Be careful as hot sugars can cause sever burns.

Use a big pot to avoid the mixture from falling over the edge. Ideally your pot should not be more than a third full. You will notice that a foam forms as you are cooking the fruits. This is normal as a result of boiling. You will have to skim the foam off though throughout the cooking process using a metal spoon with a long handle.

Sterilise your jars before filling with Jam (process explained fully below), then fill and seal off. Let Jams sit 12-24 hours to set before opening the can. Jams done this way can last up to 6 months, if not opened.

Canning & Sterilising Jars 
When it comes to canning Jams, you will have to sterilise your jars before you fill them. This is done in order for the Jam to be preserved in a clean environment that does not allow harmful bacteria to form. If you do not sterlise your jars, the jam will go bad.

Choosing the jars Go for standard canning jars that are tempered to withstand the heat. After all you will boil these jars to sterilise them, and you will pour hot fruit jam into them before sealing. Make sure your jars are not cracked, chipped around the rim. Opt for flat metal lids that have a built in sealing compound, or go for screw band lids. Flat bands are designed for one time use only, while screw band lids can be reused if the band is in good shape and not rusty...

If you do not have a water bath canner, which is a deep pot with a wire rack that goes inside it to hold the jars, then make sure you have a deep enough large pot that can hold the filled jars while being fully covered with boiling water. Pressure canners are not used in making jams, they are more for vegetables and low-acid foods.

You will need a jar lifter to take the jars out of the boiling water, but any non-slip tongues would do.

Keep your work surface clean at all times, and thoroughly wash your hands before you start and throughout. You need everything to be clean, or you will contaminate your sterilised jars.

The Sterlising Process

Standard screw top Jars
  • Fill a large deep pot with enough water to cover the jars (do not put the jars there yet). Place the water-filled pot over high heat and bring to boiling.
  • Meanwhile; wash empty canning jars with soap and rinse thoroughly with warm water.
  • Place the washed Jars in the boiling water for 10 minutes (Important note: Water boiling point varies depending the altitude you are in. If you live in area that is less than 1000 feet above sea level then place jars in boiling water for 10 minutes. If you live in an area that is more than 1000 feet above sea level, then add 1 minute for every 1000 feet extra)  
  • Once ready sterilised, use your tongs to pick them out of the water. Place them on clean cotton kitchen towel to prevent them from slipping as you fill them.
  • The same process is done for the lids.
  • Fill the jars with the cooked jam allowing head space. Head space is the amount of space between food tops and the rim of the jar. Head space is necessary to create a vacuum and for the jar to seal. Use the head space specified by the recipe, if any. Measure the headspace using a ruler.
  • Once the jars are filled with the cooked jam, use a clean, dry rubber spatula to release any trapped air by sliding down the sides. Do not use a metal spatula or knife to release the air bubbles.
  • Wipe the rims of the jar with a clean damp cotton cloth, as the food on the sides will prevent proper sealing. Seal the jars tightly.
  • Place the sealed, jam filled jars back in the boiling water canner, without touching each other and follow the exact timings of the recipe. 
  • pick up the jars, place on wire rack or dry kitchen towels, leaving space for air to circulate between the jars.
  • Let the jars cool completely for 12 hours. Once cooled, press the centre of the lid to check if it is properly sealed. if the centre remains pressed, then jar is sealed properly. if it pops in and out it is not properly sealed. In this case you will have to sterilise another jar and lid and repeat the canning process. Refrigerate and use within 2-3 days, this allows the jam to set. If you wish to freeze the jam, do so within 24 hours of processing.
  • Canned Food should be covered by the cooking liquid. if the liquid shrinks after sealing the food is safe. But if the liquid was not enough to cover the food before sealing, then the food will discolour and maybe even dry. Make sure to use jars that have less liquid before the fully covered ones. This way you will ensure they do not discolour.
  • Label jars with content and production date. If you are making more than one batch, label the jars with batch number. This way, if a jar spoils, you will be able to identify the batch that it belongs to.
  • Store these sterilised and sealed, jam filled jars in a cool dry and dark place for up to 1 year :)
These Jam filled jars, make a very nice gift. So make sure to share with friends and family and send them jars of your jam creations.

Important Safety Measures
  • The odor from an opened jam jar is supposed to be pleasant. At any point the odor is not right, discard that jar and its content. Do not eat that jam.
  • Always check opened jars for odors, patches of mold, foamy or murky appearance, or if the lid had popped up. If any of those are present, discard the jam and do not consume.
  • Jars for canning jams must be sterilised.
  • Follow altitude instructions in your sterilising process.

Now you can Make your own Jam &Have it :) So here is my favourite
Granny's Very Simple Figs Jam Recipe
You Need
1 kg Fresh, ripe yet firm good quality Figs
200g caster sugar
4 tbsp water
1/4 cup toasted slithered almonds (optional, for crunch)
1 tsp DS Cake Spice mix (optional for an extra layer of flavour)

Wash & dry the figs. Quarter, half or slice the figs into circles.

Start off by preparing the syrup. Place water, sugar and spice mix in a large pot over medium-high heat, and stir till sugar is melted. Once melted add the figs, and almonds to the syrup and vigorously boil till thickened. Skim off the foam when present.

To test for doneness, dip a metal spoon into the boiling mixture, then hold it over the pot. If it is done, a few drops will hang off the edge of spoon, then come together forming an almost transparent sheet-like consistency. or If you have a candy thermometer, then place it into the boiling mixture. The jelling point is when the thermometer registers 220F (or 8F above the water boiling point at sea level).

Jam Spoon test: When it is done the jam will form a sheet-like film as in the demonstration above

While cooking Sterilise your jars as explained above.

Fill cooked Jam inside the prepared jars, making sure the fruits are covered fully with the syrup. Allow 1/2 inch head space between food top and rim. Wipe the rims and seal with sterilised lids. Process sealed jam jars in boiling water canner for 15 minutes for 1 pint jars and 20 minutes for 1 quart jars.

Allow to set at room temperature for 12 hours. Test the lids by pressing the centre and ensuring it remains pressed. Store in cool, dark, and dry place for up to 1 year.

Let the jam rest for 3 days before opening.

Fig Jam is delicious. Both Figs and Fig Jam pair very well with cheeses, specifically soft cheeses like Camembert, Brie, or blue cheeses. Figs Jam is also good with crispy bacon, or roast beef... For the purist, you will love this simply spread on buttered toast! Don't forget that you can gift a homemade jam jar to a friend... and when it is one that is this good, your friends will definitely appreciate it!!
Give it a try, and I assure you, you are in for a treat...

Thank you for reading this post, hope you have enjoyed it :) Speak more about food soon, meanwhile, why don't you share with me your canning experiences? Have you ever made homemade jam? Have you ever sterilised Jars? Would you give it a try after reading this post? Leave me a comment, I love to hear from you...
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