Can That Jam!: How to host a canning party

A few weeks ago, my new favorite thing in the world began. Hanging out with friends, new and familiar, and learning to make stuff. I’d been admiring a friend’s macrame creations on Instagram and she FINALLY offered to show a few of her admirers how to make macrame plant holders. (FYI it’s easy as long as you’re relatively focused. This is hard for me.)

After I posted some photos of my newly canned strawberry jam, she suggested I return the favor and host a jamming session. As you can imagine, I did not hesitate.

But there’s only so much traditional strawberry jam I really need in my life so we voted and opted to take it up a notch to strawberry balsamic black pepper jam. I had never heard of such a jam but after googling “fancy strawberry jam” I repeatedly came back to this notion. Before you wrinkle your nose at my jam, you should know it doesn’t taste peppery or like balsamic. It just tastes deeper and richer than normal strawberry jam. It was a hit.

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1// The first thing you need when hosting a canning session is fantastic snacks. I thought I was doing pretty good by purchasing cheese and crackers but my guests took it up a notch. Check out this spread!

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2// Then you should designate a notetaker. Canning is not intuitive and the directions are important. If you have a bunch of people over then socializing may take over and they’ll never know how to do this again unless you provide details.

3//Choose a very reliable recipe. Unless you’re awesome at this, don’t make up your own recipe. Because botulism.

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If you have chickens, save them the strawberry tops!

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And then we decided to make a second batch. 17 cups of strawberries were sacrificed to make jam on this day. 

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Sometimes my house is cleaner than this. Not on this day, obviously. 

I chose a recipe from Serious Eats which did not disappoint! Here’s the basics:

Ingredients

  • 7 cups sugar
  • 5 cups coarsely chopped strawberries (from about 3 farm stand boxes)
  • 1/4 cup best quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 heaping teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One (1.75-ounce) package regular powdered fruit pectin
  • 1/4 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • mason jars, brand new lids, rings
  1.  Boil your jars for ten minutes then let them sit in hot, simmering water. Your jars should be piping hot when you fill them.
  2. Measure the sugar into a large bowl and set aside.
  3. Combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and black pepper in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. To get a nice consistency, mash the strawberries in the pot.
  4. Whisk in the pectin until dissolved. (FYI: 1.75 ounces of pectin is 3.5 tablespoons. Google says so.)
  5. Add the butter and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.
  6. Add the sugar all at once and return the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for one minute.
  7. Remove the pot from the heat and skim any foam from the surface of the jam with a cold metal spoon.
  8. Ladle the jam into hot sterilized jars. Leave a quarter inch of headspace in the jars. Keep the edges of the jar clean so it will seal properly, because botulism. I dip a paper towel in my hot water pot to use to clean the edges.
  9. Process the jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Pro tips:

  • Follow the directions exactly. You don’t want to double or add extra strawberries or go rogue. Your jam will not have the right consistency!
  • I always boil one or two extra jars. If your berries have a high water content, you may need them.
  • If you forget your potato masher for smashing strawberries, you can use a large bottomed jar with a decent handle, such as white balsamic vinegar.
  • Post really good photos of Instagram during the process. Your followers will thank you. #influencer
  • When you put the rims on the jars, only put them finger tight- AKA using two fingers you be able to tighten and loosen it. Everyone wants to use their super strength to tighten the jars, resist that urge. They might not release the air inside and seal otherwise. Then you have to put them in the fridge and eat them up in the next few weeks.
  • You can reuse jars and rings but you cannot reuse lids. Once they’ve sealed a jar, retire them.
  • FYI: It can take up to 24 hours for the lids to pop. So while you can tap, touch and look at them lots you should otherwise, leave them alone. I like to hit the tops with a spoon, because you can hear if it popped. If it thumps in a hollow way, it has not yet popped. If it just kind of thuds, like a car hitting a wall, then it has popped. You can also tell by looking, because the popped ones will have a bit of a divot in the middle, and the un-popped ones will still have a tiny hill. Another option is to try to open it but without using your full strength. You should always be able to open it with your full strength, because otherwise what is the point.
  • It can take a week for the jam to fully set, but you can eat it as soon as you want. If it is too runny, put it on pancakes or ice cream.
  • How do you know if the jam has botulism? You don’t. So wash your hands, sterilize everything and if it doesn’t seal, don’t leave it on the shelf!
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Only a few jam makers are captured in this moment. I think we all feel like this photo is flattering. I have since gotten a haircut. And washed my hair. And cleaned my kitchen. 

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