Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Jamming Day

When I got to work this morning, the view from my windows in my kitchen looked like this. Beautiful, but a good day to look at it from the inside! This is the story of what I do when I'm not weaving. I'm a pastry chef at a beautiful resort in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. I make jams, jellies, pickles and preserves from local farms, including our own 3 acre garden. Today, I made blackberry jam from a farm in Kodak, Tennessee. Danny Shelton grows blackberries for us and freezes them as soon as they are picked. I order blackberries all year long from him, and he shows up later the same day, with big black buckets of frozen berries. When they're thawed, about 2 days later, I weigh them. Each bucket holds about 30 pounds of berries, but I have to make sure, to have accurate measurements. I add half their weight in organic cane sugar and some freshly squeezed lemon juice. I bring them to a full rolling boil and put them in clean buckets, cover the surface with parchment paper and put them in the refrigerator. Blackberries have a lot of natural pectin, a jelling agent, but it takes time to make it become active.

Here are the berries after their first cooking. I did that Monday, and then put them in the fridge for my day off. On the table behind the buckets of berries is a HUGE hand blender, about the size of a weed whacker! I use that to break down the berries to make it easier for the next step.
I put the berries through the food mill and get rid of the seeds. The seeds can't go in the compost because they're full of sugar.

Here is the jam in the kettle, seed free and beginning to boil. The kitchen is starting to fill with the smell of summery, sweet blackberries.
Resting on my huge steam kettle is my gigantic wooden paddle that I use to stir the jam. It looks like a canoe paddle, but it really is just for stirring jam! The steam kettle holds about 50 pounds of fruit, as well as 25 pounds of sugar. Any more than that, and it boils over. Not a pleasant site!

This is the gory aftermath, when I'm done putting the jam through the food mill to remove the seeds. It always looks this bad, no matter how careful I try to be. The garbage can fell over when I emptied it, and then turned out to be easier to clean that way.

I fill the jars with the hot molten jam, put the lids on as tightly as I can, using garden gloves to protect my hands from the heat, and give me extra grip, then flip the jars over. The jars' heat combined with the 220 degrees of heat from the jam melt the seal in the lid to close the jar tightly, as well as killing any bacteria.

Here is the jam, finished and cooling. This is actually the inspiration for today's blog. Yesterday, as I sat at the loom at the center, I thought about what I was going to write. I knew I had to make lots of blackberry jam today, and envisioned the lovely rows of finished jam, gleaming in their identical jars, silvery lids reflecting the light from outside. Tomorrow, I'll wash off each jar with hot, soapy water, date them and label them. I might think about jam once in a while when I'm weaving, but I also like to think about weaving while I'm making jam. I listen to WeaveCast, imagine new projects and think about what's waiting on the loom at home.
Happy weaving!


LA said...

OK....I'm heading to the freezer right now to get some blackberries! A cobbler would fit the bill right now after reading your post. They were picked under a hot July sun, and I'll think about that warmth on this COLD evening.

Tina said...

Oh man! My blackberries are all gone! I guess I have to wait for this summer. I have a hard time getting any berries, I usually have too much help. The kind that eat more than they put in the bucket. I do love seeing the jars all lined up.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful serene view! Reminds me of where I grew up, snow covered, only flat! The barn should be red, tho!
That jam has got to be awesome! If it's anything like the other things you've made and we've tasted, wow!!

Bonnie said...

Wow, that pcture of the house could be a postcard. Beautiful. Sounds like work, making jam. But fun work. You can hire me to work for you. I need FUN work.