Trimming my waste: Week 30 (zero-waste jam) | the ReFab Diaries

Goals - Week 30: 

1. Make the most of things that come free
2. Make jam/preserves for the first time
3. Make sure that an abundance of fruit (free of pesticide and packaging) isn't wasted

I've never picked raspberries (I grew up in South Africa - I picked avocados, pecan nuts, papaya, passion fruit, lychees etc... but not raspberries). And I've never made jam or canned anything. So what prompted this series of firsts? Free fruit growing wild in Chicago. A huge, overflowing hedge of wild (ish) raspberries. In its prime right as my friend Johnny became a tenant of the property. Giving him some right to pick the berries. So we picked them. How could we not?

And we picked and picked. I discovered that these berries have nasty thorns. And smaller barbs. I decided that the fat clusters are somehow perfectly designed for a human hand to efficiently clutch. I fell in love with these shining little red jewels. And so we kept picking. 

Because the hedge produced SO much fruit (and we felt the need to pick most of it), we didn't have time to use the berries immediately. So we had to wash and freeze them. In total, we have about 40 cups of frozen fruit. It might not all be turned into jam. But that's where we started. 

So here's our recipe for zero-waste jam! 

First, a little jam math:

8 cups of pre-washed and frozen berries, defrosted (Note: this small amount of processing squished them quite a bit. Freshly picked, these 8 cups were quite a lot more)
4 cups of sugar (I'd use less next time) 
8 tablespoons of classic pectin = 6.5 jars of jam (8oz jars)

... we added 1/2 cup of cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) right at the end. Yes. Yum.

Other things you really do need:
  • a simple recipe. Very hard to find... we mostly followed this one
  • a few small plates or saucers to pop in the freezer before you start (this was the best tip!)
  • proper canning jars
  • jar tongs (I don't see a feasible work around that wouldn't result in bad burns!)
  • at least two large pots for both the cooking and the final sealing
  • a stainless steel funnel. We used a ladle and then had to clean all the rims before we could seal the jars. Trying to do this when everything is HOT is a bit silly.

Things you really don't need or need to do:
  • we did NOT have canning racks. The jars sat in the pot quite nicely without a rack.
  • We didn't remove any seeds or pulp... or foam, for that matter. 
  • Pectin. Or as much pectin. The best reason I read for using it: it reduces cooking time. And the less you boil the fruit, the more nutrient-rich the jam.

Every recipe we found suggested a complex first-this-then-that order to getting things into the pot. But we liked the spirit of this "no gunk, no junk" recipe and threw everything into the pot at the same time. Then we put it on the stove and spent the next half hour stirring. Well, Johnny stirred. I took pictures. And sterilized jars and lids. 

MEANWHILE: Prep the jars and lids. They need to be immersed in boiling water for 10 mins. We left the lids in the water until they were needed. We pulled the jars out, stood them upside down on a baking tray and put them in a warm oven until we were ready. Why did we do this? Because some recipes said the jars needed to be kept warm. Others indicated it didn't matter. We played it safe to avoid any chance of cracking a bottle. 

When it's getting close to ready, it starts to look like gooey lava. This is where the little plates in the freezer play their part. 

If you aren't experienced enough to just know that the jam is ready, using a freezing cold plate is like magic. You test the consistency by dropping a small dollop of jam on the plate. Give it about 5 seconds. Then, if it doesn’t run or drip off the plate, it’s done. I LOVED this part. 

The cassis was added and then we were ready to put pretty jam into pretty jars. As I mentioned above, using a ladle to get the jam into the jars wasn't ideal because it meant having to wipe the rims again. The rims of jars already sterilized. So, next time we'll use a funnel.

Look at the color! I thought the berries would lose their brightness when they got jammed. But if anything, the jam glows just like the fruit. 

Then the jars were closed up and popped into a pot of boiling water for 10 mins. Based on feedback from my office, my own taste buds and my 6 yr old, we did a decent job considering our lack of experience. The stuff is delicious! I should probably end with a styled shot of jam dollops on scones. But instead, here's another picture of the berries on the hedge. Because they really blew me away! 

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