Every jam batch — four in all — separates into layers, the fruit at the top, the juicy jell at the bottom. What am I doing wrong? This has happened in previous years, but never in such quantity. I google and troubleshoot. One site says that jam will separate if the fruit is too watery, and that means not crushing it or chopping it the day before, and never puréeing it. Okay. The last two batches I dry the strawberries and the rhubarb with a paper towel, and the jam still separates.
I’m getting desperate for explanations. Could it be the ongoing Fourth of July fireworks, or the continuing war games between Garfield and our visiting cat Ditto? The Bearded One suggests turning the jars upside down, essentially shaking them up, which is against every jamming rule in every book. These are not snow globes, thank you very much. The jars are delicate. The seals!
I open all the jars, throw the used lids away (Grrr…) and re-process all four batches. Five more hours later the jam is perfect. I have no idea why.
I head out to pick another 16 cups of strawberries. I’m excited and optimistic. I have all this ripening fruit and it is still 40 degrees at night. Each berry is precious. I eat just one. Strawberries taste like sunshine to me, and I want every one of these for the long cloudy winter, time in a jar. I want delicious, consistent, unseparated, peaceful, happy jam. I pray to the Goddess of Jam as I pick and am treated to a series of rapid-fire explosions. Fireworks.
Ruby watches me from under the cedar tree between the two cats. She was raised from a pup on the Suquamish Indian Reservation where we used to live, and fireworks — thunderbombs, palm bursts, silver bullets, rockets, shells, cherry and head bombs — none of them faze her. The cats are awake and maneuvering. Garfield digs in.
Ditto leaves her enclosed porch and walks slowly past an armored hut — actually, it’s just the compost cooking nicely under its camouflage tarp. She crosses behind the hoop house and I can’t see her. Definitely maneuvering.
Garfield, ever mindful, watches from his own high ground vantage. His eyes lock on her, his haunches twitch. He yawns hugely.
Ditto is headed for the recently-planted corn and pole bean transplants to pee and whatever. I holler at her from where I’m still picking in the strawberries. More artillery explodes, but this time it’s a farther-away rumbling, not fireworks but the deep rumble of ordnance at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, twenty miles away. It goes off all the time.
Ruby looks up. Garfield stretches and lopes down the back deck steps. He stops at the hot tub, where just two days ago Ditto whacked him.
Ditto leaves the corn and ducks into the salal bushes. Garfield licks his tush, considers his options. A few more weeks, I tell them all. You’re doing great! I pick enough for two more batches of jam, and as I leave the garden I hear a couple of rocket screechers, not the cats.
Before starting my fifth batch of jam, I decide to check the Pomona Universal Pectin website, which is the pectin I’m using this year. Look what I find! “What you have is called ‘fruit float.’ When the jars of jam are very hot and there is no jell yet, the pulp, which is lighter than the juice, is able to float to the top of the jar. Strawberries are prone to fruit float although it doesn’t always happen. Other fruits can have fruit float also.” And finally, the most beautiful line of all, “You are not doing anything wrong.” The co-dependent part of me will always thrill to these words.
And then I laugh out loud at the only solution the Pomona Universal Pectin people offer: “In the future, when you take the jars out of the water bath, leave them for about an hour to start cooling and sealing. Then come back and check to make sure they have all sealed. If you see that you have fruit float, turn the jars upside down to force the pulp to redistribute through the jar.”
I can’t wait to tell the Bearded One as I strap on my 10″ flex lumbo-sacral support. Snow globes after all. This week I earned my black belt in jamming.
NOTE: Please see Jamageddon for an update on this info. Do not shake the jars….the seals actually may be affected.