- Pickin' Find a local u-pick farm, a neighborhood berry patch (blackberries grow in abandoned lots and along alleys all over the Pacific NorthWest), or grow your own. I had a hard time figuring out where to go at first, but found a helpful website. My friend and I picked cherries for less than two hours, and got over 30 pounds of cherries! Then we had to pit them all, ugh. Picking is very enjoyable when you're chatting with a friend, and taking time to appreciate the beautiful bounty around you. We also made pepper jelly with peppers that we grew, which is extra satisfying.
- Preparin' Get your fruits ready to cook. For cherries or anything with a large seed or pit, that means lots of time staining your hands fruity-colored and giving yourself carpal tunnel syndrome. It was fun for the first hour or so. Then I excused myself from the drudgery to nurse sweet pea, and my husband and friend completed the task. Yes, caring for a baby is a great excuse to get out of other boring work. The easiest berry that we jammed was raspberry, and blueberry was a close second. For these, all you need to do is wash them and make sure there are no stems, flowers, or leaves in the bowl. Be sure to eat as many fruits and berries as you can at this stage!
- Cookin' This is the part that requires a recipe, for most normal humans (although after the third batch I think my husband is ready to do some experimenting). We used a few different recipes, found at allrecipes.com and in the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving. You'll need a heavy-bottom pan, a masher or possibly a food processor, depending on the fruit, and usually sugar, lemon juice, and pectin. We used powdered pectin for the cherry jam and no pectin for the blueberry, raspberry, and strawberry jams. You might also want to add spices for more exciting flavor. This step is basically where you throw everything in a big pot and boil it for a while. We found that it was important to get the mixture's temp. up to 220, which is jelly stage according to my husband's thermometer. Cook exactly as the recipe states to ensure good "gelling."
- Cannin' and Processin' For this stage, you need hot jars, hot lids, and a huge pot of boiling (or nearly boiling) water. Pour the jam into the jars, leaving the required head space (per the recipe), put the lids on, and drop (or gently set) the full jars into the big pot. Boil for the set time, and remove to cool. As the jars cool you should hear the metal lid of each one pop as it seals. Let them sit for 12-24 hours, then check the lids for a good seal.
- Labelin' After the jars have cooled, label each one with they type of jam inside and the month and year made. You could also add items of interest such as who made the jam, where the fruits or berries came from, ingredients, and anything interesting you or your jam gift recipients might want to know. For instance, our blueberry-strawberry jam is made from organically-grown berries, so I plan to include that on the label.
- Eatin' and Giftin' Jam that has been processed correctly can be stored for a year in a cool dark place, but should be refrigerated once opened. Enjoying the "fruits" of your labor is the best part. My husband is super excited that we don't have to buy any expensive jam this year, and I have already gifted a few jars to friends who were thrilled to get a quality home-made food product.
Of course, I missed a step here, Cleanin', but hopefully you can find someone else to do that for you as it is not part of the fun.
I am just getting started on my home food preservation journey, and have learned a lot from my husband's mother, and from watching my own mother as a child. If you don't have a good personal resource, the National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great source of canning information.