The Best Jumbleberry Jam Evah

Jumbleberry Jam is my absolute favourite.  It is hard to come by and so when I do I stock up and make it last for as long as I can, scraping the very last skerrick out of the jar and even using my fingers to wipe up the last drip from the plate before putting the dirty dishes in the sink.  Why is it so hard to come by?  Because I make it myself, that’s why.  Truly, it is the best. My grandmother taught be how to make jam when I was very little.  I remember her melting wax in a small pot to pour over the top of the finished jarred jam to create an airtight seal for preservation and storage.  I use the 2 piece lids with the wax seal on the outside but otherwise our techniques are pretty much the same.  This is how we do it.

Step 1 – You’ll need to set up a hotwater bath canner, like this one, to process the jarred jam which will seal it and keep in shelf stable for up to (or even longer than) 1 year. image You also need some sterilized glass jars to put the jam in, and 2 piece lids to seal the jars.  I handwash my glass jars well in hot, soapy water before putting them in the boiling-water filled canner to keep hot and sterile while I make the jam. image It is important to put the hot jam quickly in to hot, sterile, jars and then back in to the hot water canner to keep bacteria at bay.  I find it easy to keep every clean, hot and easily accessed by doing it this way.  I remember my grandmother used to keep her clean jars in a low oven to keep them hot while preparing her jam, but she didn’t process them in the water canner the way I do (she used the melted wax to seal the jars, remember?) If you are nervous about using a hot water canner, don’t be.  Here is a link to some more info if you need to do some research before going any further.

Step 2 – Pick, wash, sort and crush your berries.  Any berries you like are fine.  I like to use a variety to make my Jumbleberry Jam normally strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.  Today I used strawberries we picked locally from the most fabulous organic farm back in May, some of which I froze in preparation for today’s Jumbleberry Jam making event.  Yes, it is really so good I plan well ahead.

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The blueberries are fresh from the farmers market.  The blackberries are boringly from the supermarket.  It is totally ok to mix and match. You’ll need 5 cups of crushed berries to make 5 large jars of Jumbleberry Jam.  What I do is put the cleaned berries in a large pyrex jar and use a potato masher to crush and measure the berries at the same time (clever, huh?).  Just keep adding different berries until you get to 5 cups of crushed berries. imageStep 3 – Once you get to 5 cups put the crushed berries in a large saucepan over high heat, add a packet of powdered pectin and 1/2 tsp of butter to the pan and start stirring.  Pectin is a naturally occuring substance found in ripe fruits that can be added to jams and jellies to help them set.  You can find it at the supermarket.  There is also a low sugar version you can try but I’ve only ever used the full-monty, regular version.

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Not at all certain why this picture is sideways. My apologies.

Step 4 – Bring the berry mix to a rolling boil while stirring all the time.  A full rolling boil is when the bubbles won’t dissipate even when you stir it.

Step 5 – Use the large pyrex jug to measure out 7 cups of sugar.  I use regular white sugar but you can use organic, or even brown sugar if you want.  Understand though that it is a lot of sugar.  A LOT.  That’s the truth about jam and it will shock you and make your teeth itch just to look at it, but 7 cups of processed white sugar is what you use.  Pour the whole amount of sugar in to the pot and keep stirring.

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Truthfully, this is a pic from when I made Strawberry Rhubarb jam a few weeks ago. I forgot to take a pic of my cooking Jumbleberry Jam today. Is much the same though – you can see all the sugar going in.

Keep cooking and stirring over high heat and bring the berry and sugar mix back to a rolling boil.  Boil hard for 1 minute.

Step 6 – Pour cooked jam in to the hot, sterile, jars and put the filled jars back in the hotwater canner to keep hot.  I like to use a pair of rubber tongs to llift the jars in and out of the water, and a funnel to ladel the hot jam in to the jars. image Wipe the rim of the jar with a wet paper towel before fitting the 2 piece lid on.

Step 7 – Once all the jars are filled lower the rack back in to the hotwater canner and bring the water back to a boil.  Process the jars in the boiling water for 5 minutes.  Remove them and let them cool on a wire rack. imageimage

As the jars cool you will hear the lids ‘pop’ as the changes in pressure create the airtight seal.  I’ve never had a jar fail to seal before but the way you test it is by pressing gently in the centre of the lid.  If it pops up and down then the seal did not work and the jam must be kept refrigerated and eaten first. image Step 8 – Voila!  The best homemade Jumbleberry Jam Evah!  Don’t forget to print up some cute labels for your jars.  Believe me, after a few months you will absolutely forget what kind of jam it is that you made and you’ll be glad you did. Homemade jam makes wonderful gifts (I think) for teachers, babysitters and friends who need a boost.  I hope you try it.  Making jam is easy, satisfying and a delicious treat.

The Answer’s in the Dirt, People

I love these words- Childhood in the Garden – from Kelly at Little Fall Creek.  They remind me of another recent post Teaching Your Children to Grow Food from a friend, Sarhn at Greener Me that echo the same sentiments.  Both women speak of how gardening, and particularly growing their own food, has connected the generations in their families in such delightful ways they (perhaps) had not expected: from their grandparents, to themselves, and on to their sweet toddlers. That both women have chosen to blog this week about how their gardens sustain and facilitate the intergenerational connections in their lives kinda spoke to me.

Cute kid stuff in the garden

Cute kid stuff in the garden

Gardening is definitely not a ‘cool’ thing to do.  Growing kale never gets the same attention as the latest i-Product release or as many hashtags and retweets as Kimye’s latest escapades.  And yet there is something so very grounding and real about it, something that is definitely lacking in our modern cyber-world.  I can completely relate to the feeling Kelly and Sarhn describe when you see your kids getting involved and learning in the garden as I did by my Grandmother’s side so many years ago.  The connectivity.  The realness.  The *feels* of it all.

I’m starting to think that instead of Lexapro it is gardening that is the ultimate counter-balance to all the stressors of our digital world.  Studies have proven the therapeutic benefits of gardening – see here – and now there is a whole thing about horticultural therapy and how gardening can help cure depression.  All stuff our grandparents innately knew that we seem to have forgotten.

‘Coz let’s face it.  You can’t get more real than planting a seed, watering it, nurturing it, watching it sprout and grow, finally harvesting the fruit and then composting what remains to be returned to the soil for the next cycle.  You have to put time and effort in to get a result.  You have to try again when the bunnies eat all your lettuce seedlings.  You have to take a long term perspective and not get hung up on small stuff.  Definitely none of the instant gratification we are all so accostumed to these days.  All very Circle-of-Life and a poignant reminder about what is real, what is important, what really matters in this crazy world we live in.  Family.  Food.  Love.  Persistence.  Kindness.

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow - Audrey Hepburn

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow – Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn said “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow”.  Sounds corny but I think she’s right and this sentiment touches on what we are trying to get at here.  That our gardens are not just about growing veges.  That  they are bigger than that.  That they somehow feed our souls, nourish our families, and create memories and legacies that will persist long after we are gone.

I wish I had had a garden when my boys were very small.  Now they are bigger they are not quite as entranced by yellow sour grass flowers as they once may have been.  Yet my hope is that digging in the garden will help to instill in them valuable life lessons, lessons about sustainability, stewardship, and love, and that they find the same renewing, restorative, therapeutic benefits that I have found amongst the leaves.  As well as some awesome heirloom tomatoes.

The Anti-Valentine

Ugh, it’s Valentine’s Day

Are you in to Valentine’s Day?  Do you love the expensive roses, the sappy cards, and the calorific chocolates?  I’m afraid I’m not.  It’s not that I don’t like the idea of romance, and sweet gifts, and babysitters for the kids so the hubster and I can get some alone time.  I’m just not keen on, in fact really put off by, the whole Hallmark Holiday aspect of it all.  Scheduling romance for February 14th because Godiva wants to sell more bon bons just isn’t my thing, ya know?  As it turned out, February 14th happens to be our youngest’s birthday so VDay tends to be more about him than romantic notions in our house.  Works out perfectly.

But I have to tell you that it was quite refreshing to come across a like-minded somebody in Erica @ Northwest Edible Life.  I’ve been following her blog for a while now and I just love the no-nonsense approach she takes to raising her kids and running her home, growing her veges and raising her chickens, canning and DIYing, and all things I love to do, too.  If I’m honest I’d tell you she is something of a bloggy-crush for me… but perhaps I am oversharing (!!).  I do think she is pretty awesome though AND it turns out that she’s not so keen on Valentine’s Day either!  I’m telling you, we are kindred spirits.

Anyway, Erica wrote a funny post today describing her disasterous first Valentine’s Day date with her then-boyfriend, now husband, and how as a result they tend to stay in on Vday.  I’m sure I could have written that post myself.  But to follow up she offered the most fabulous sounding Anti-Valentine’s Day remedy that I just had to repost.  She calls it: The Bloody Valentine.

The Bloody Valentine pic from Erica@nwedible.com

The Bloody Valentine pic from Erica@nwedible.com

The Bloody Valentine

Makes 1 rather giant cocktail, or 2 petite pours.

Ingredients

  • 2 oz bourbon
  • 1.5 oz. freshly squeezed blood orange juice
  • .25 oz. blood orange liqueur
  • Several generous shakes orange bitters

Method

Shake all ingredients hard with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of blood orange peel.

Sounds divine, right?  And blood oranges happen to be one of my favourite fruits of all time.  Erica describes it as “..charmingly macabre” and “…all exotic citrus and smokey whiskey”.  I mean, it has got to be good, don’t you think?

So who’s with me?  Wanna take a stand against the VDay madness and enjoy a few Bloody Valentines with me this weekend?

A Laundry Do-Over – Using White Vinegar in the Wash

UPDATE: You might remember this old hand knitted blanket I found squashed in a plastic case all the way in the back of a closet.  It had been knitted by my husband’s grandmother about 30 years ago and I don’t think it had seen the light of day since then.  It was really quite dirty and uncared for but with a little cleaning it had been resurrected.  Or so I thought.

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Hubby’s Grandmother’s blanket freshly washed after a 30 year absence. Looks good but smells … ugh!

I’d used a fab product called Eucalan on it and, you know, the Eucalan was great for softening and cleaning the blanket but it came out of the washer with a very over-powering floral fragrance.  It didn’t smell of the Eucalan which has a light eucalyptus scent.  It smelled of flowery, chemically, dryer sheets and those floral airfresh refills and … I dunno what else.  It was too much.  Really.  To the point of being awful, actually, and I couldn’t stand to have it near us much less try to snuggle under it 😦  In our home we don’t use air fresheners, dryer sheets, Febreeze-type products.  I feel that clean doesn’t smell of anything and if there is some ‘freshener’ wafting in the air it is likely be trying to hide some nasty, odiferous, yuckiness lurking underneath.  Now, I know some folk just love those fresheners and that’s just peachy but I.Don’t.Like.It!  Hubby said that the blanket always smelled like that and that he was completely taken back to when he was a little boy when I brought the blanket out and he smelled it again.  Huh.  Maybe the years in the plastic had super charged the smell?  Well, either way, it couldn’t smell like that and stay in my house.  Bleck.

So I washed it again but this time I added some plain white vinegar to the wash cycle.  White vinegar is a great product to use in the laundry.  When added to the final rinse cycle white vinegar will act as a natural fabric softener and will help combat lint and remove static cling.  When added to the wash water is will strip out any leftover manufacturing chemicals from new clothes, particularly important when washing new baby clothes.  Vinegar will also bleach out stains and freshen up whites and can be used to clean the machine itself of any soap scum and grime.  Amazing right? WikiHow has some nice instructions on the quantities to use here.

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Just regular white vinegar from the grocery store. Easy.

So I wondered if it might work to remove the overpowering fragrance of the blanket.  I added a good slosh to the wash cycle, threw the blanket in and crossed my fingers.  And you know, it worked!  The smell was definitely much reduced…. but …. still more noticeable than I’d like.  Gah!!  What to do?  I was running out of non-toxic ideas.

I knew that the sun can really help strip offensive odours and stains from things like cloth diapers and I wondered if it might help me with my current dilemma. I laid the still damp blanket outside in the sunniest part of the garden for a few hours to see what would happen.  Eureka!  Success!  When I brought it inside the remaining smell was all but gone and the blanket was soft and squishy and cosy again.

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Like a phoenix from the ashes the blanket has been resurrected – huzzah!

Here it is all folded and lovely and ready to be turned in to the roof of a fort, or the base of a battleship, or just to snuggle under by the fire on cold winter nights.  Love it!  Yay!

Reviving Old Woolies

A Lesson in Laundry

I was rummaging through the back of a cupboard the other day and I came across a plastic case with an old, hand knitted, blanket inside.  It turns out that my husband’s grandmother had made it for him when he was a little boy and somehow it ended up hidden in the back of the closet.  I’d never seen it before and figured it would be nasty having been uncared for for so long but when I took it out it was actually quite nice.  There were some very dirty patches and a musty smell from the plastic so it definitely needed a wash but from all the ends that were woven in I could see that it had been pieced together and that much care and attention had gone it to creating it.  Hmmm…. I wondered if I could resurrect it?  My husband, being the practical man that he is, was quick to want to toss it out logically stating that it hadn’t been looked at much less used in over 30 years and would be one less thing to clutter up our house.  Hmmm ….  It might be nice for the boys to snuggle under while they’re watching TV, or to make a cubbyhouse out of ….  I couldn’t quite tell what the yarn was, seemed like it might have some acrylic in it. I wondered how it would fare if I put it on a gentle cycle?  Hmmm…. I decided that that would be the test.  If it survived the washing machine then it could stay.

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Hand knitted blanket back from the dead.

I spot treated the stains and dirt marks, chucked the whole thing in the washer and crossed my fingers.  Despite its terrible treatment it survived!  Grandma really knew how to make a blanket.  It didn’t felt and the dirty marks had all disappeared.  Success!  Except that it came out, kinda, stiff.  And not nice to snuggle under.  Kinda yucky really.  (sad face)

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Super Hero Eucalan, here to save your woolies!

Grrrr.  OK, one last try.  This time I washed it in the machine on a Rinse, Spin only cycle with Eucalan.  Have you tried this stuff before?  It is amazing.  It is a non-toxic, biodegradable, lanolin based product that makes the world of difference to knitted items turning stiff, scratchy, nastiness into soft, squishy goodness.  Just a teaspoon full in either a big bucket of water for hand washing or added to the softener dispenser in your machine magics your items back to life.  The website says it can be used for a range of applications although I’ve only ever tried hand knitted or crocheted items.  It is great for blocking some beautiful hand knit you have just finished.  Will have to keep it in mind next time a laundry emergency arises.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Snow-Maggedon 101 – How to Survive When the Power Goes Out

This week the New York, Boston and Philadelphia region is expecting a storm of historic preportions which will create blizzard conditions and dump up to 3 feet (close to 1 metre!) of snow over the next day and a half.  Some 58 million people will be affected over a 200 mile area.  I can’t even imagine.  Schools and businesses have already been closed and states of emergency have been called in at least two states in preparation for the big dump.

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Digging out – Snowmaggedon 2014

I have to tell you, I don’t care for the snow.  We lived in mountains of lake effect snow when we lived in Cleveland getting over 100″ of snowfall each of the winters we were there.  It was a record breaking string of cold, snowy winters.  How lucky for this Aussie girl, eh?  Seriously, if I never have to bang my shoes together to shake the snow and salt off before I come into the house or slide into the car again it will be too soon. I feel for everybody up North.  Ugh.

Here in Charlotte we are lucky to enjoy (relatively) mild weather.  Last year was a big snow year for us where the kids got, I think, 5 snow days off from school (whoo hoo!).  All it takes is a light dusting of snow for the whole Charlotte metro area to grind to a halt and close up until it melts.  I thought everyone was crazy when we first moved down here after living in the SnowBelt for 5 years but they have good reason.  Charlotte doesn’t have the snowplows, or salt spreaders, or block heaters to start the school buses in the mornings, things that cities that face terrible winter conditions use regularly to deal with all the snow and ice.  We don’t normally need them in Charlotte and they would go largely unused year to year if we did – such a waste of resources!  So we don’t have them.  And when on the rare occasion we need snowplows and salt spreaders and block heaters we just close up shop and everyone stays home for the day.  It is actually very civilized and quite lovely.

Snowy backyard 2014

View of our backyard during Snowmaggedon. Charlotte, NC, Feb 2014.

What we do get from time to time is ice storms.  I’d never heard of an ice storm until we moved down here.  An ice storm is when super cold rain freezes when it touches a surface producing a thick layer of ice over everything, causing telephone poles and trees to break and fall down due to all the extra weight.  This, in turn, causes major power outages all across the city which can be life threatening during a cold winter.  People here still talk about the big ice storm of 2002 where nearly 1 million Charlotteans were without power for days.  Scary.

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From the Polar Vortex last year.

I’ve never had to put my ‘keep warm in the cold’ ideas in to practice and I hope (touch wood) that I’ll never have to but this is what I have planned should an ice storm (or whatever) cause long term power outages in our area during a cold winter period.

How to Survive a Snow-Maggedon Induced Power Outage

  1. I’m going to make use of our gas log fireplace.  The gas lines (as I understand it) should still all work which means we could, theoretically, heat at least one room in our house.  Now, the gas logs are more pretty than practical and really don’t generate a whole lot of heat but they will be better than nothing and I’m sure we’ll be grateful for them.
  2. I’ll need to conserve what heat we do generate and I’m going to do that by closing all the doors and windows to the office where the fireplace is, drawing all the curtains and blinds, and stuffing towels underneath the doors and around the window frames to prevent drafts.
  3. Next I will hang heavy blankets, carpets, doonas, whatever I can find in front of the doors and windows to cover them up.  The glass panes in the doors and windows will be major conductors of heat and the main source of heat loss.  The carpets and blankets will help to keep the heat inside.
  4. Everyone will sleep in the one warm room together.  Our couch actually pulls out to be an (uncomfortable) fold-a-way bed and will sleep two.  I’ll put extra doonas and blankets on the floor, maybe the kids mattresses, and whoever is left will sleep there in front of the fire in sleeping bags and blankets.
  5. We’ll all snuggle and play card games and board games by candlelight.  Our grill is a gas grill and maybe we could cook something warm over it if someone (not me!) were game to go outside to do it.  Otherwise it will be cold cuts and sandwiches for dinner.  And breakfast and lunch, no doubt.

If you don’t have any gas and a way to keep warm other than using some electrical source then bring wine and come over to my house!  We’ll all camp on the floor and have a party until Duke Power rescues us and turns the power back on.  It’ll be fun (ish).  Good luck to all those 58 million souls up in the North East!  Thinking of you all.