Wedding Jams, Part 1: The Blackcurrant Edition

Flashback time! This post is technically from 2011, but since I took these photos in the middle of being a one-woman wedding production team, I didn’t so much get around to writing it up back then. One month went by, then another… you know how procrastination snowballs. Then last month, I gave a friend some homemade jam and she mentioned that she’d really like to get into canning. I was all, “I have a post about tha… oh, wait, I DON’T.” So it’s time we fix that, eh?

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This was the homemade blackcurrant jam I did for wedding favors back in autumn of 2011. I decided on jam because I wanted something homemade that reflected a bit of terroir — something that my overseas guests and family, especially, could easily pack to take home with them that would remind them of Finland. The blackcurrants were generously donated by various friends and their family members, since lots of Finns have the bushes in their yards, but never seem to get around to harvesting them. We were living in an apartment at the time, so wouldn’t have had access to the amount of fruit I was after otherwise. Those adorable labels, by the way, were designed by GersonCurse and are available through their Etsy shop. They do lots of custom work for weddings, well worth a peek.

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The first batch of supplies for jam making – sugar, 500ml jars with lids, a food mill, and an asparagus pot. Canning and preserving isn’t as big a thing here in Finland as I would have expected, given the popularity of fruit trees/shrubs at home and their long winters. I had to go to three different stores before I found suitable jars and still had to improvise for the jar sterilizing equipment, since there’s nothing like the canning kettles we have back in the States.

1kg of frozen blackcurrants, getting a quick rinse and stem-picking (top and tail) before cooking. Did I mention that this was my very first attempt at jam making? Luckily, blackcurrants are very forgiving and practically make themselves, thanks to the high amount of pectin. I didn’t use any one particular recipe — just did a lot of reading, then compiled the best pieces of advice from them all and went for it.

1kg of white sugar measured out on the scale. A 1:1 ratio of fruit to sugar seems to be the standard for tart berries. I added 2 cups of boiling water to the sugar, to make a syrup, then set it aside for later use. Dissolving the sugar beforehand means you don’t have to worry as much about fiddling with temperatures to get it to combine properly with the heated fruit halfway through cooking.

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Meanwhile, on the stove, the blackcurrants have been cooking down on medium high heat. Since I started out with frozen, they took a while to heat up. I photographed at regular intervals to show how much juice they released as they broke down. While I used berries that I had picked and frozen myself, this could just as easily have been done with store-bought frozen berries. Something I might actually consider one of these days, should our own harvest ever be smaller than expected.

While the fruit is cooking, I start sterilizing the jars (process mentioned in my apple jelly post) so that they will be ready to fill when the jam is cooked. After the jars are in the oven, I also pop a small saucer or a couple of metal spoons into the freezer to use for testing gel points.

After the berries had softened and gotten juicy, I used the wand blender to puree them as close to liquid as possible. I did this to make sure there would be no noticeable pieces of peel that would detract from the texture of the finished product. When using whole fruit with peels, there’s always the possibility that if the sugar isn’t added at the right time or heated properly, it could end up rendering the peels chewy. I blended thoroughly to be on the safe side, and because I like my jams to be smooth and spreadable.

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Then it was time to carefully pour the hot syrup into the hotter fruit puree.

Stir well, then bring to a rolling boil for 5 minutes. This is when the magic happens. Pectin partners with acid and sugar, jammy goodness ensues!

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After the five minutes of boiling are up, you’ll want to remove the pot from the heat and test if it has set. Take out that cold saucer in the freezer and place a small spoonful of jam on it. Let it sit for a few minutes and then push at it with your finger. As you can see in the picture on the right, when it is ready a skin will have formed and that will wrinkle up when your finger intrudes. That means you’ve got jam! If there are no wrinkles, give the pot another few minutes of boiling then test again. Repeat until it passes the test. I never had to test more than twice for all of my berry jams.

Then it’s time for my favorite part – filling the jars. I have no idea why pouring molten fruit into a glass jar is so much fun, but it is. Probably the danger factor 😉 Use a jam funnel if you’ve got it and leave enough head space at the top (about 1/4 inch) to create a good vacuum during the hot water canning process. Make sure to wipe the outside of the jar clean so that nothing stuck there can compromise the lid’s seal.

This is where my silly asparagus pot canning method came into play. Since I couldn’t find a pot big enough to take several jars at at time, I had to process each jar individually. You don’t want to know how many I went through to make all our party favors, but I will show you a picture of the final spread at the end of this series if you are curious. Let’s just say that the kitchen felt like a sauna by the time I finished up every night. Because my jars were pre-sterilized in the oven, I boiled them gently for 5 minutes completely covered in water and that was that. You’ll see bubbles of air escaping the lid near the end of the process.

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My little jam factory in action, churning out a second batch while the first is being canned.

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My first three completed jars! They will always hold a special place in my heart. This was a really tasty jam, by the way — like Ribena but with a much fresher taste. After licking the jam off my finger for the gel test, I might have gone and eaten the whole spoonful. Really nice for putting in oatmeal or spreading on buttered bread for a snack. Sure, it’s half sugar… but think of the vitamin C! 😉

2 Comments:

  1. Re: lack of sterilizing equipment/canning kettles, I think it mainly has to do with canning culture/availability of cool storage/old habits, since I don’t know of anyone in my extended family that would boil the finished jars. Most people seem to be happy with hot jars from the oven, hot lids from boiling water and hot jam poured in and then the lids are just closed, and that’s that. 🙂

    • Heh. I guess we’ve just had the better-safe-than-sorry mentality drilled into our heads in the States — all the “official” instructions on how to preserve food at home make such a big deal out of proper sterilization and pasteurization that even the thought of skipping a step gives me paranoid nightmares about botulism. More of a peace of mind thing, I guess — that, and I’m pretty
      sure the stuff in my cupboards will last 5 years or more if I really felt like putting them to the test o.O

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