The Jam We’re In

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.

No blue ribbon for this jam.

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. 

Cooking compost

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.

The corn is as high as a kitty cat's thigh.

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.


3 responses to “The Jam We’re In

  1. kathie prater

    I can picture you with your words. Trying to figure out what the h@ll went wrong. I think it’s funny how Keith suggested turning the jars upside down….and he was right! I have only canned once before, and it was grapes that I grew at the house I shared with my last ex-husband.(he who is not to be named) I did, however work as a strawberry-picker when I was young, one summer. Strawberries grow berry well here in Ohio, and there are at least two strawberry farms nearby that I can think of. I’m hoping that I will get a nice, fat juicy settlement from workers comp. for my arm injury, and maybe I will be able to fly out to see you and meet yuou face-to-face. I would love to be able to sit and comiserate with you over fresh bread and home made jam.That would be a little slice of heaven! Keep it up, Christi! I get transported to another place when I read your “blog” (I still hate that word) Sending my love out to you, Keith, the kids, Garfield, Ditto, and Ruby!

    • Kathie, you are so welcome here! Come and have some bread and jam! But until then, I’ll be sending you some in the mail. Kisses to you and the boys.

  2. Christine Widman

    After several days of computer mayhem, my personal computer world is restored and I can now read your spirit-restoring blog. Ahhh.
    Sun-warmed strawberries just picked from the plant. Ahhh.
    I can never resist eating handfuls of them. Yum.
    Your jam is my rising sun morning treat.
    “lol” – jars of jam are not snow globes! Glad the Bearded One had his NT idea vindicated by the “Pomona Universal Pectin people”. “lol”
    We transplanted 7 small palo verde trees from the scrap of property along our roadside to our much more benevolent land beyond the office. We now have a little tree grove. I am heart happy about this and hope the monsoon season waters them with growth.

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