Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves and How to Can

Last year I made my first homemade jam (preserves) with the Sweet Melissa Sundays baking group.  I was very impressed at how easy it was to make and how awesome the end product turned out.  Who needs store bought jam when you can make your own?  Some of the girls in the group had canned their jam and I was determined to can my own next time the group made preserves. 

I couldn't be happier with this month's pick by Tracey of Tracey's Culinary Adventures to make Strawberry Rhubarb Preserves.  Both strawberries and rhubarb are in season and I love how these two flavors compliment each other.  Rhubarb is actually quite tart on its own...but pair it with strawberries and bit of sugar and it adds a wonderful zing to the preserves.  This recipe also has orange juice, orange zest and granny smith apples in it.  The juice and zest (I also added lemon zest) add another depth of flavor and the apples serve as a natural pectin, or thickener, and the taste of apple is really undetectable in the end product.

The jam is amazingly delicious and very easy to make.  It just takes a little peeling, chopping, slicing and zesting. 

All the ingredients go into a large pot and come to a boil.  Once the mixtures comes up to 212 degrees on a candy thermometer (mine only took 5-7 minutes to reach temperature) you continue cooking at that temperature for 25-30 minutes, or until the jam is thickened.  To test the thickness of the jam, Melissa Murphy offers an easy tip.  Spoon a small dollop of jam on a small plate and place it in the freezer for about a minute.  Once the jam is just cooled, if it runs down the plate, it's not ready yet.  If it holds it's shape it is good to go.  It's important not to overcook the jam because you can end up with an overly thick texture once the jam chills in the refrigerator.  Since I planned to can the jam I made the full recipe and it took about 25 minutes to get to the right thickness.  Check out that gorgeous ruby red color.  It has a bright lovely flavor and if you are hesitant about trying rhubarb this is a great way to do it.

So that's the easy part. If you want to stop there you can store your jam in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Or you can preserve your preserves and take on canning.  Have you ever canned anything before?  It is a little more involved than I realized.  Probably didn't help that I don't have any canning tools and I just made do with what I had in the kitchen.  If I had to do it again I would at least invest $6 in jar tongs.  There are many other tools to simplify canning, but if you are only going to do it on rare occasion, you may able to get by without most of them depending on what you have in your kitchen.  Check out  for every canning accessory you could ever want. 

The key to successful canning is good preparation.  The preserves need to be canned while they are still hot so this means there is some serious coordination involved.  Don't get me wrong, it's not difficult.  But if you are a procrastinator like me, planning ahead might not be your forte.  The whole process took me about 2 hours and 45 minutes from start to final clean up (including time for dishes).  Some of that time was devoted to reading and re-reading the instructions about 42 times because I didn't really know what I was doing.

My stove was was at maximum capacity.  In the photo below the lids were heating in the small pot on the back left burner, the jars were heating in the skillet on the back right burner, the water was simmering in the canning pot on the front right burner and lastly, my preserves were cooking on the front left burner.

If you are thinking of taking canning on, below I've detailed what you need to can, what you need to make the preserves and how to bring it all together.  I didn't fully grasp all that needed to be prepped ahead of time, so I thought it would be helpful for those new to canning to see it all laid out from beginning to end.  For the preserve recipe head over to Tracey's site.  Check out the SMS blogroll to see how everyone else did with their preserves.

Here's what you need for the canning process:

UPDATED 4/19/2011 with some tips I learned from my fellow bloggers and some additional thoughts I had after the original post.
  • Jars, lids and rings washed (only the rings need to be dried)...these can be bought in a flat of 12 at your local grocery store for $8.50 - $12.00 depending on what size jars you get.  I used 1/2 pint, or 8 ounce jars.
  • Small sauce pan to heat the lids
  • Pot or deep skillet to heat jars in (jars don't need to be steralized if the processing time in the water bath is at least 10 minutes according to this site) OR you can wash and heat your jars in your dishwasher, however, this process must be timed with when your preserves will be finished cooking)
  • Large (canning) pot with a lid to fully submerse jars in
  • Jar rack (I didn't have one so I used my multi pot with a pasta drainer insert which worked just fine...see photo above)
  • Tongs (preferably jar tongs...which I didn't have and used standard kitchen tongs that proved difficult to handle and not disturb the seal on the jars)
  • Magnetic lid lifter (I didn't have one so I used kitchen tongs to handle the hot lids which worked well)
  • Ladle to spoon the preserves into the jars (I used a 1/4 cup ladle)
  • Spatula to stir and remove air pockets in the jam
  • Wide mouth funnel if you have it (I didn't have one and didn't have much trouble getting my jam into the jars since my ladle was relatively small)
  • Several kitchen towels (to place hot jars on and use to hold hot jars while you fill them)
Here's what you need to make the preserves:
  • Preserve ingredients
  • Cutting board and knife
  • Measuring cup
  • Zester
  • Candy thermometer
  • 8 quart pot
  • Wooden spoon
  • Potato masher
Here's an overview of what I did:
  • Washed the jars, lids and rings and dried the rings (the jars and lids go into pots to get heated prior to filling so no need to dry them)
  • Washed my strawberries, rhubarb, orange and lemon and set aside on a cutting board
  • Filled a small saucepan with water and put in the lids and placed it on the stove on low heat
  • Filled a large pot with water and placed it on the stove on medium high heat....I used my "multi-pot" which has an insert for pasta.  This served in place of a canning rack.
  • Filled a deep skillet with enough water to go halfway up the sides of the jars and placed it on the stove on medium/low heat.
  • Filled 7 jars (only ended up using 5 for this recipe) with an inch or two of water to keep them from falling over and placed them in the skillet of water to heat.  The jars need to be hot so they can accept the hot preserves without cracking
  • While all my pots and pans were heating I turned to preparing the preserves and...
  • Hulled and sliced strawberries and sliced the rhubarb
  • Peeled and sliced granny smith apples
  • Zested and orange and lemon and juiced the orange
  • Measured out sugar
  • Placed my fourth and final (8 quart) pot on the stove using the last available burner on my stove and turned it on high.
  • Secured the candy thermometer to the 8 quart pot and added all the ingredients
  • Stirred occasionally and let the ingredients reach 212 degrees then cooked for an additional 25 minutes
  • Halfway through the cooking time I used a potato masher to mash and break down the fruit to make for a smoother jam.  Note...this is where I tasted the jam.  I decided to add an additional 1/4 cup sugar because it was more tart than I like.
  • Tested the thickness by placing a dollop on a plate and putting it in the freezer for about a minute...the jam was not runny and had a nice thickness, meaning it was done!
So here's where the coordination comes this point your lids should be submersed in hot water and ready, your jars should be partially submersed in hot water and ready and your large canning pot should be simmering and ready for the jars of jam.  You should have your spatula and tongs ready and your kitchen towels laid out.  Your ladle should be ready and all the pots and tools should be placed on your stove and workspace where you can easily access everything.  Back to the steps...
  • Used tongs to empty the water from the first jar and moved it over to my kitchen towel
  • Held onto the hot jar using another kitchen towel and ladled jam into the jar until about 1/4 inch from the top
  • Removed air bubbles with a few turns of the spatula in the filled jar
  • Cleaned any excess jam from the jar rim and groves with a damp paper towel
  • Removed a hot lid from the lid pan using tongs and placed it over the jar allowing the sealing element on the lid to come in contact with the rim of the jar
  • Twisted on a ring to close the jar and placed it to the side while I repeated the process with the remaining jars
  • Transferred filled and sealed jars to the canning pot for submersion, making sure there was 1 inch of water covering the jars....what I actually did was use my tongs for this....what I should have done was to remove the pasta insert and place the filled sealed jars in the bottom and returned it to the simmering water
  • Turned heat up on the canning pot to bring water to a full boil and let the jars "process" for at a full boil for the time specified on the instructions that come with your jars or listed in the recipe you use.  I only processed for 5 minutes, but think it should have been 10.  Once processing time is finished, turn off the heat and let jars stand in the hot water for 5 minutes before removing.
  • Lastly, I removed the jars from the pot by pulling out the pasta insert and used a kitchen towel to grab each jar at the base and moved to a kitchen towel to set.  I attempted to use tongs at first, but I realized this may disturb the seal on the jar.
  • The jars need to rest undisturbed for 12-24 hours.  I let mine rest for 12 hours and tested the lids to ensure a proper seal.    
  • If the lids don't flex when pressed in the center, the seal is good.  You should also try to remove the lid with your fingertips.  If the lid stays in place the seal is good.  If the lid flexes up or down when pressed in the center the seal is not good.  If the lid is not sealed within 24 hours you can reprocess the jar using the instructions in the step by step guide link just below or you can refrigerate it.
  • Sealed jars can be stored for up to one year in cool, dark place.
For a step by step guide on how to can preserves click here.  The site also has a link for you to download a PDF to print off, which I highly recommend. 

With a little planning and preparation canning can be easy and very rewarding.  I understand why people can mass time I would double the recipe.  Happy canning!


  1. Wow! Awesome post! You are braver than I am.

    Your jam looks lovely.

  2. I thought about canning this time too but I just didn't have the time to figure it all out this week. Kudos to you for such a great, informative post. I'll definitely be back to read through it again when I take the canning plunge :)

    Thanks for baking along this week, I'm glad you enjoyed the preserves!

  3. What a great post! I froze mine, the easier route!

  4. Wow! That canning looks involved! I follow the Nigella route and sterilise the jars in the dishwasher and coordinate for the dishwasher cycle to finish around the time you need the jars. Yours looks amazing!

  5. I love the combination of strawberries and rhubarb too! I have never canned and didn't have any canning tools either, so I went for the freezer route with my extra preserves. Thanks for the tutorial on it. I've been curious as to the process!