Saturday, June 19, 2010

SACG Loves Our Raspberries

By this time last year, the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden had the scrawny beginning of a raspberry patch. We had been blessed that Gardener Rayna had visited her mother for Mother's Day and spent some quality time together in the woods on their farm digging up black raspberry bush seedlings. (Apparently, they had quite the patch the year before, but had mowed it down before realizing that we needed and wanted them). She planted around 12 seedlings along our south fence and we even had about five black raspberries to harvest last year. We realized that the bushes would grow and spread and hoped that they would take over the fence line (thus creating an effective and edible barrier against vandals, etc.). Rayna and I did our best to keep them alive last year during our dry spell and they grew and grew. When we broke ground again for the 2010 season, Rayna even found some new volunteer bushes in our lot and transplanted them into our south fence line.

This year, we had lots and lots of black raspberries (as you can see from the pictures). We'll probably have even more next year. I have extremely fond memories from when I was growing up of scavenging for black raspberries behind the Highland District Library with my best friend Susan when we would go swimming during hot summer days (and by myself from my own backyard). I don't know if we ever harvested enough to bake a pie, but we often picked enough to fill a tin. I have been encouraging the neighborhood kids and our volunteers to help themselves to the berries (and, trust me, I've helped myself every time I visit the SACG). The kids have been a little dubious about our home-grown delicacy, but our older volunteers have needed little encouragement because they have similar memories from their youth.

Our black raspberries have only whetted my appetite for all things raspberry this month. Kroger is having its annual red raspberry sale and I used this opportunity last year and last night to make raspberry jam (which is soooo much easier to make than strawberry jam). Not counting the cost of the jars (which I recycle every year) and the pectin (which I get on sale at the end of the season), I made 7-½ - 8 half-pints (or cups) for only $1/jar. You can't buy commercial jam for that price. Even if you figure the cost of buying new basic jars (because you're new at it or because your friends and families failed to return the empty jam jars from the yummy home-made goodies you gave them last year) and had to buy new pectin at retail, the cost is still only $2.25/jar – a bargain by any measure. (It will cost more if you buy uber-fancy jam jars, like the ones made in Germany or sold at Target). Best of all, it only takes about 90 minutes to make from start to finish (because you don't have to trim all of those strawberries).

Step 1: Get your super-tall stock pot, put in 8 jam-sized jars and fill it with enough water to cover the jars by at least 2 inches. Put the lid on the pot (to control the steam) and put it on the stove. Turn the heat on high. Continue on with the next steps while the water comes to a boil.

Step 2: Get 1-¾ pints of berries. Rinse your berries & shake them in a colander. Pour them back into your giant measuring cup. (Mine hold 2 quarts). Mash them a bit until you have 1 quart of smashed berries.

Step 3: Get a large stock pot (preferably one with a heavy bottom). Pour in the berries. Then pour in 6 cups of sugar. (Yes boys and girls, there is almost twice as much sugar as berries in jam. Be afraid). Throw in a tablespoon of lemon juice for good luck. Mix the berries and sugar and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir the mixture until the sugar is melted. This will not take long. (By this time, the water in the tall stock-pot should be boiling. Turn the heat to low and when it stops boiling throw in the lids to the jars).

Step 4: Cut, rip or stab open a package of liquid pectin (while simultaneously stirring the jam with your third hand). Squeeze the contents into the hot jam mixture and stir well. Bring to a rolling boil and stir crazily (without burning yourself or getting burned by splattering jam) for 1 minute. Do not let it boil too long (i.e., more than 2 minutes) or the pectin will turn the mixture from a pretty red to a less attractive brown. (It will taste the same, but who will want to eat it?). Turn off the heat (and consider removing the pan from the burner if your kitchen is big enough). (As a test of the jam, you can put a tablespoon of jam on a small plate and put it in the freezer. If it jells quickly, you're good to go to the next step. You can also just act on faith and see where that gets you). If you have a lot of foam at the top, you should probably skim as much of that as possible off with your mixing spoon. (I save the foam to eat later when I'm cleaning up).

Step 5: Pull the jam jars out of the tall stock pot with tongs or a jar lifter. (Leave the hot water in the stock pot). Get a ladle and funnel. Put the funnel in one of the jars (which you will only be able to handle with a towel wrapped around it because it is HOT) and then ladle some hot jam mixture into the jar until it is filled to ¼ inch from the top. Remove the funnel and put it in the next jar before it starts dripping all over your stove. Inspect the top of the filled jar (and clean off the rim if necessary with a clean white cloth). Using a magnetized lid lifter, pull a lid out of the tall stock pot and place it ever so gingerly (because it is HOT) on top of the filled jar. Screw on the band (the rest of the two-piece lid) and set aside (using a towel to handle the jar because it is HOT). Repeat this step until you run out of jam. If you have some jam left, but not enough to fill most of a jar, then put it in a small storage container and put it in the freezer or refrigerator to eat tomorrow and the next day, etc.

Step 6: Carefully using your tongs or jar lifter, place the filled jam jars back into the tall stock pot (filled with hot water) and turn the heat back on high. Put the lid back on (to control the steam which will otherwise fill your already hot kitchen). When the water reaches a rolling boil, set your timer for 10 minutes (and consider turning down the heat a bit). Start cleaning up the mess you've just made of your kitchen (or, like I did last night, go watch the news and lick clean the spoons, ladle, funnel and stock pot used in making the jam and filling the jars).

Step 7: When the timer goes off (telling you that the jam jars have been boiling for 10 minutes), turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner. Ever so carefully lift the jam jars out of the hot and steamy water using your nifty tongs or jar lifter. Place the jars someplace where they can sit for 24 hours without being disturbed. The wax on the lids needs to harden and the jam will jell, etc. Put the lid back on the tall stock pot (to control that pesky steam) or, if you have really long arms and long oven mitts, empty the water. If, like I once did, you drop a jar on the floor, you will need to replace the lids and reprocess in the boiling water bath for another ten minutes (or put it in the refrigerator to eat this month).

Step 8: After 24 hours has passed, remove the bands and make sure that the lids are on securely. If so, put the jar somewhere safe (and darkish) until you need them. I have an unheated room in my basement where I store all of my canned goods. If the lids are not secure, put it in the refrigerator and eat this month.

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