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Monday, October 3, 2011

~Jam On!~ Preserve the summertime goodness!

Summer Berries!!
Blackberries from the local Farmers' Market!
There really isn't anything much better AND depending on where you live, you'll find them growing for FREE!  This year, despite the late frosts, my berry bushes and vines produced enough fruit that I couldn't use it all and I had to freeze it.  
This week, let's start off my canning barrage with fresh WallaBerry Preserves!  Why WallaBerry?  Why not?  Named for the local berries grown and picked right here in my Walla Walla home town!

~4-Berry (WallaBerry) Preserves~

3 Cups Frozen Strawberries 
3 Cups Frozen Blueberries
3 Cups Frozen raspberries 
3 Cups Frozen Blackberries 

2 Tablespoons Pear juice 
3 Tablespoons Cognac Brandy 
2 Tablespoons Lemon juice
5 Teaspoons Calcium Water 

2 ½ Cups Honey 
5 Teaspoons Pectin Powder 

1 2" Cinnamon Stick (optional)

SPECIAL TOOLS: Large copper bottom sauce pot
                                 Large whisk or Potato masher
                                 Canning tool kit, Jars, Lids&rings, Boiler

Yield - 10-12 half-pint jars

NOTE: This recipe is written using a low sugar active pectin powder and a calcium water activator. You may also use a low sugar pectin powder and make minor adjustments based on the instructions

For this recipe, I went with a strait mix of equal parts raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry but feel free to ...mix it up...  Just keep in mind that different fruits have different sugar levels and different natural pectin levels.  It shouldn't affect your recipe too much changing the ratios but experiment with it a bit if the first batch doesn't come out exactly to your liking.  Now lets get started!

First wash jars, lids and rings in hot soapy water to remove any gunk/residue from the factory or packaging.  Get your canning vessel with water simmering very slowly and immerse your jars and rings in it to sterilize them.  Natural yeast that exists everywhere air is usually your biggest enemy but there are other things that are less common but are, in fact more deadly like botulism toxin.  When boiling to sterilize, be careful to not  actually boil your water as the excess heat can deform the lids and prevent sealing!  Lot of work wasted in potentia...

Next for the berries themselves!  I personally like to use fresh blackberries for their better natural flavor, sweetness and pectin content but if you can only get frozen, go for the frozen, no worries.  Combine all of your fruit as well as lemon juice, pear juice, and cognac in a large pot.

I like to add a little bit of cognac to this recipe but feel free to use any liquor you like or simply leave it out all together.  Most of the alcohol in this quantity will boil off in the cooking process. leaving just a subtle flavor accent.

Bring the whole lot to a slow simmer and cook until your berries are slightly softened.  Add your calcium water (if following a recipe where it is called for)  

Take a large whisk or a wire potato masher and gently mash your fruit.  This is a totally optional step but I think it helps to bring out and combine the flavors inside the berries.  Simply a matter of surface area in contact with the liquid!  Reduce heat to low to avoid overcooking your fruit. 
If you like a little bit of spice, you can add a small cinnamon stick here to steep and impart a little sweet spiciness!

Now for the gelling agents and sweetener!  I like to use honey for this one and luckily I was able to pick up some Raw Wildflower honey at the market!


Grocery store honey is pasteurized and filtered for everyday consumption
Raw Honey!  This is the kind of honey you will likely only find at a local outdoor market or in a health food/herbal shop.  This honey is pure and direct from the comb extractor.  It is unpasteurized and contains many things that grocery store honey does not such as bee pollen, comb wax, bee wing, royal jelly, bee proteins, and propolis (a powerful, natural antibiotic derived from coniferous buds.)

a pollen laden honey bee working over a sunflower in her search for nectar
These extra ingredients in local raw honey can have many good-health factors ranging from natural cures for digestive upset and motion sickness to more complex problems like immune hyperactivity and chronic vitamin deficiencies.  
The pollens (from local allergen sources) combine with certain bee enzyme compounds to help to "inoculate" against chronic allergies.  Many other enzymes can help to activate vitamins in food and ones stored in inert forms in your body.  Further, raw honey contains amylase, an enzyme that can help predigest heavy gluten foods like bread and pastries, lessening the impact of gluten on sensitive tissues in the gut.

Next time you're out shopping and looking for a home remedy or just a delicious, natural sweetener, don't forget to keep an eye out for raw honey!

~~~!INGREDIENT NOTES: Raw Honey~~~

Combine your room temperature honey and pectin powder in a large bowl, mixing vigorously to ensure proper homogenization.  Just like when making gravy, large dry bits of pectin powder will give you large lumps of hard, snotty gel in your end product so be sure to get it thoroughly mixed!

~~~Food Science Notes (Pectin Powder): Small Particle Distribution in Thickeners~~~

~RULES TO LIVE BY (Canning): When canning with pectin, always mix pectin into an amount of sweetener no more than 1/2 the amount of fruit/juice you are adding it to. This is to maintain even mixing as well as even homogenization of jelling agents in the final product.~

Now that your sweetener mixture is ready, set it aside and return your fruit to a slow boil.  Add your sweetener/thickener and stir vigorously until it completely dissolves, about 2 minutes.  Bring the whole lot back to a good boil for 1 minute then remove from heat.

Now its time to fill and seal your jars!  Remove your jars and rings from the boiling water with your lifters and set them on a clean towel to dry.
Fill your jars with fruit and liquid, leaving just 1/4" of head space for proper vacuum.  Wipe the rims of the jars (to ensure you get proper contact) add lids, then adjust your rings.  You want to go just about finger tight. Too tight can actually cause the lids to deform in the boiling process.  Bring your processing pot to a moderate boil.

With your canning rack or basket in place, process your jars in boiling water for 10 minutes, allowing for altitude change.

~RULES TO LIVE BY (Canning): Increase in altitude affects standard atmospheric pressure and thus affects the boiling point of water. When canning, this change in pressure and heat is overcome by increasing the boiling time by 1 minute per 1000 ft above sea level.~

When time is up, gently remove your jars from the boiler and place them on a cooling rack or on the counter.  Dry the ops of the lids and tighten the rings down moderately tight.  You will want to check the jars again after the vacuum seals form to tighten the lids again as the glass and liquid contracts during cooling.

This is a great, all-around, semi-tart preserve/jam combo of summer flavor for toast, pancakes even ice cream or cake filling!  It has a lot of flavor but is still a very basic format recipe so it has a lot of opportunity for changing it up in all kinds of ways!  Adding or subtracting to change the berry ratios is the most basic way but keep in mind things like sweetener types, citrus types (orange juice or grapefruit juice instead of lemon) sugar quantities...  Even adding spices or spiced liquors during initial cooking.  Maybe try adding some whole zest and/or fruit pieces.  So many ways to mess with it makes it a good recipe in my book!  Keep on experimenting, everyone!


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