Outside the world of jam, it isn’t that big a deal. Within Jamdom, it is utter devastation, a category 5 wipeout. I have had to throw out 60 plus jars of jam I made this summer — all of the strawberry and strawberry rhubarb and half of the peach. The seals failed, and they’ve sat on the shelf long enough, some of them 8 weeks, so that they can’t be trusted even though they are probably perfectly good. I am trying to keep this debacle in perspective.
I mean, really. At roughly 5 hours of picking, cleaning, peeling, chopping, mixing and measuring, cooking and water bath processing per batch, and 60 jars representing 12 batches, that’s 60 hours of work. An hour a jar. I never really realized that before. Plus growing the strawberries and rhubarb took some time, too. Each batch takes 2 cups of sugar, lemon juice and pectin. Ka-ching, ka-ching. What are a couple weeks of work and a mountain of wasted jam in the Big Picture? The Goddess of Jam says to buck up, view it as an opportunity. Go back to canning school, she says.
It started 8 weeks ago on the noisy 4th of July weekend (see The Jam We’re In). The jam kept separating, the fruit floating to the top of the jars, the worst I’d ever seen it in the 3 years I’ve been jamming. The books said this can happen because the fruit is too watery, but it still happened for me even when I patted each little berry’s head dry.
In the end, I tried the Bearded One’s snow globe suggestion — turning the jars over after they’d cooled for about an hour — because I found the same advice on-line. Well, it does solve fruit float, BUT it also contaminates the still-hot seal with particles of jam and the seal will eventually fail, even if it seemed perfectly sealed at first. Check it a few days later. Lift the jar by the lid. Will it hold its own weight? Can you pop the lid off with your thumb? If so, it isn’t sealed properly and the jam at the top will eventually discolor. This is panicky stuff to the Bearded One in particular after lawyering over unsafe food in an earlier life.
The only safe solution to fruit float I’ve discovered is to stir the jam a few minutes and let it cool down a bit before ladling it into the jars. It thickens a bit that way. You can also reprocess the entire batch, but that’s no guarantee. Otherwise, just live with the float. Stir it up after you open it for use. And for goodness sake, DO NOT MOVE THE JARS FOR SEVERAL HOURS after they come out of the bath.
On to my next lesson. The God of Dehydrators is waiting. It turns out there are other worlds of failure and devastation this week, namely my $50 dehydrator burns out. I must face its cheapness and poor design, even though I have loved it for three summers now. The little electric motor/blower is in the bottom of the unit where it gets dripped upon. And it cannot be opened and cleaned.
I salvage the zucchini that was drying when the dehydrator bit the dust — I dipped the slices in lemon juice first, so they should be fine in the fridge — and then order a new $150 machine that has the motor and fan in the top, has 8 trays, AND comes with 8 mesh sheets which keep things like peaches and tomatoes from sticking to the trays.
Outdoors to the gardens now that the Kitchen Gods and Goddesses are finished with me. They hand me off to the God of the Harvest for more life lessons. Sure enough, with the jam ruination and dehydrator collapse darkening my mood, I’m a sitting duck. As I begin to enjoy the soft pop of the carrots when they release the earth, the Grim Reaper blows through to remind me that all must die to make way for the new. These are the End Times, goats and chickens will die, eagles will swoop down upon the land! I tell the Reaper to beat it, I’m just harvesting carrots, but his presence lingers.
Garfield is awake and comes over to cheer me up. He’s his old self again, hunting all night and delivering the corpses of two rabbits, a rat and a mole just this morning. He inspects the buckets and straw that I’m using to pack the carrots for the root cellar.
I find the weirdest shaped carrot and set it aside to show the Bearded One. Then Garfield follows me up the hill with the full buckets. I can hear the neighbor children in their backyard, 7-year-old Hansel and 5-year-old Gretel. They are homeschooled and are on a recess, and seem to be having a magic show. Hansel has performed some trick and Gretel is cheering him on. “Let’s really hear it!” she says to their 3-year-old brother, the audience, and they scream and clap in approval. The Grim Reaper vanishes.
“I have the Boy Power,” Hansel yells. “You have the Girl Power.”
“I have the Boy Power, too!” Gretel says. And I laugh out loud. The next generation’s Goddess in Training.