Monday, September 8, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

...everywhere you go...

Ok, not so much. Here in Texas, we haven't even moved into that week long season we like to call autumn yet. It's still hot, hot, hot. Just the way I like it, by the way. And what better thing to do when it's a chilling 95° outside than make Christmas gifts? Crazy, I know, but follow me here.

Like many of you, the number of people I would love to give Christmas gifts to each year far outweighs my wallet's ability to do so. The love is much bigger than the green, you see. But a few years ago, a little solution fell right into our laps and it's been a tradition ever since. One happy summer day we went over to my parents' house. At the time they lived on a large lot complete with a back fence that was filled to the brim with wild blackberry bushes. And on this fateful day, Mom and Dad had just finished canning homemade wild blackberry jam. And so the story of how we became jam makers begins.

Seriously, the jam that they made that year was pretty much the best tasting jam *ever*. EVer. I swear. So what did we do? Came back the next day, picked bucketfuls of berries (did I mention that this was July and well over 100° outside?), and marched on home with the jam recipe in hand. The next day we took those fresh berries and made forty-five jars of jam. (Yes, it was a lot of berries.) At the end of that weekend, 45 affordable Christmas gifts were finished and happily put away to await their new homes in a few months. (One jar immediately went to live in my fridge, so it was actually 44 gifts.)

So, now we make jam every year. This was our fourth year, and therefore the fourth recipe we've tried. (Trust me, I would have loved to have made the blackberry jam every single year of my long life, but Mom and Dad moved to another house that year. And, yes, I did contemplate going over to the old house in the dead of night and stealing those bucketfuls of blackberries.) This year's variety is Triple Berry Jam. We always use a low sugar recipe, and I believe that is absolutely necessary to making a great jam. It allows the flavor of the berry to stay true and uncovered by too much sweetness.

You may be asking yourself, "Self, this is a blog about being crafty. How exactly is making jam crafty?" And I would answer you that... uh, I'm not sure. I do know that it's homemade, and I love that in a Christmas gift. I do make stamped labels to go on the top and I package the jars in little bags along with the stamped Christmas card and stamped tag. You'll see that in a sec.

1. First off, choose a recipe. I've included the one I use below. It came straight from the box of Sure Jell Pectin (I use the kind that is for less or no sugar needed). It gives instructions for lots of different fruit jams and jellies. A basic recipe makes about 8 cups (8 half pint jars). Don't double the recipe and try to make 16 jars at once... I'm not sure why, but don't do it. Just make one batch at a time. (If you'd like to view the actual recipe straight from Sure Jell, just click here.)

Triple Berry Jam
3 pints strawberries
1 1/2 pints raspberries
1 pint blackberries

2. Second, assemble the ingredients. We make a little pilgrimage to the Dallas Farmers Market each year to get our fruit. (That is one of the best parts of this gig because you just walk around eating the entire time. Would you like to try some watermelon? Why yes, I would. Tomato? Yup. Corn? Bring it on. This year's sampling even included some Herbal Lemongrass Sorbet... yeah, that was good stuff.)

You'll also need pectin, sugar, jars, and lids. All that can be found at your local grocery store, Wal-Mart, etc. It's usually about $7 for a dozen jars and lids. You'll need one box of pectin for each batch.

Go ahead and wash the jars and lids, then let the lids sit in a saucepan of hot water while you work. (I think this softens the rubber part on the inside of the lid.)

3. Wash the fruit and prepare them as necessary. (Hull the strawberries, etc. I rough chopped the strawberries.) Then, 1 cup at a time, crush the fruit using a potato masher. Jam should have lots of chunky fruit, so don't demolish it. A couple good mashes will do it.

4. Measure the exact amount of prepared fruit into a saucepot. The triple berry recipe requires:
3 cups crushed strawberries
1 1/2 cups crushed raspberries
1 1/2 cups crushed blackberries
4 1/2 cups sugar

5. Mix 1/4 cup of the sugar (from the 4 1/2 cups) with the pectin in a small bowl. Add that to the fruit along with 1/2 teaspoon of butter or margarine (this is to help reduce foaming and it does help.)

6. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly.

7. Stir in remaining sugar quickly. Return to a full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

8. Ladle quickly into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. I keep the clean jars lined up by the stove. We use a canning funnel that I found at the grocery store and it is super helpful. This part is much easier with 2 people - 1 person can ladle and 1 person can move the funnel into each jar, etc.

9. Wipe the jar rims and threads then cover with the lids and screw the bands on tightly. Place the jars in a giant pot. (I don't have a canning pot and won't be getting one... my spaghetti pot works just fine!) Add water to the pot and cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Bring the water to a gentle boil. Process for 10 minutes.

10. Remove the jars (we use long tongs to to that) and allow to cool completely. After a while, you should hear the little jars start "pinging" as the lids pop down and seal. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

Just some of this year's jars:

11. Clean your kitchen. Or come clean mine.

Important to note... keep the boxes the jars come in!!! Stick the jam back in the boxes and they'll be nice and protected until Christmas.

Here's how I normally package mine:

I like to print the labels on the computer so that I can do a bunch of labels on one sheet of cardstock, then use a punch or circle cutting system to make the circles. I overstamp the lables with a design that complements that year's Christmas card. Then I run the labels through my mini Xyron (the tiny X" shaped one) to get the back nice and sticky. I like to use the mini size handled kraft bags that are available at Michael's, etc. to stick the jars in because I can also stick the card in there, too! Then I add a coordinating tag and the name so that I can quickly identify each bag as I hand them out (I do write in each Christmas card, so each bag has to have the right name on it). For the card that goes with the pic above, I used some Wordsworth clear stamps on shimmery white cardstock and did some simple watercoloring. I scribbled with a glue pen and added glitter to make the snowy ground.

This past year I was sending out both Christmas cards and a birth announcement in one envelope, so I kept the Christmas card super duper simple. I just printed the sentiment on patterned paper and used an SU punch to cut them out. I printed the greeting on PP as well and cut those into strips. The card is not actually a card - just a panel - so I stuck the picture on with clear photo corners, then stitched the sentiment and greeting on. This left the backside open so I could write there.

Here's what I love about this crafty project:
1. All in all, the jam usually comes out at a total cost of around $1.25 a jar, depending on what kind I make.
2. The entire project, from start to finish, is done in one day. (I do save the label making for a little later so that I can coordinate the design with the cards.)
3. Not only is it done in one day, it's done several months in advance, ahead of the busyness of the holidays. It's such a good feeling knowing that I've got a jump on things!
4. It's homemade.
5. Have a mentioned that it is good? Go-od. Trust me.

So, I encourage you to craft a little homemade Christmas project now! What are you waiting for? It's already September, people!



Lindy Stamper said...

Yeah, I'm in Houston, and felt weird that it's 90 out and yet the stores started to sell the Xmas decorations... that's just crazy.

christina d said...

I know from the heat. I'm in Wister OK. I miss Oregon with all the wild blackberries. I'd have purple fingers for weeks! LOL! I like how you've labeled your jars and the tags. Thanks for the ideas.

k a r i s a said...

great post jessica! the detail pics are very helpful. i would really love to try this one year and am bookmarking your post in case i ever do :)

Linda Beeson said...

Oh my goodness, my mouth is soooooo watering! What great photos of the process - I so remember when my mom would make jam. LOVE the card too.

Kate said...

Reminds me of mom! Love the way jam smells!

Miki said...

Your crafting with berries! I have never even thought of attempting something like this but you made me want to try. I wish I could just come to your house though since you already had a mess, LOL!! I know I would love to receive a nice gift like this for the holidays...what a great idea. I think we'll have another round of strawberry season here soon (we usually have a 2nd one this time of year since were so darn hot) and maybe I'll attempt this.

Love how you decorated your little jars Jess. Great ideas all around!

Melanie said...

Oh Girl! This is just WONDERFUL! Wish I knew where to find some berries (other than the blueberries in my freezer). Thanks for the wonderful how-to!

Jenn said...

WOW - I'm completely shaking my head!!! You are so WITH IT!! And you make it look so doable. "I think I can, I think I can..." Thanks for the inspiration, Jessica!

Julia said...

You are amazing! I love this project and actually think I Miss Non-cooker can make these!

Love the cute packaging too and your cards ..that Joy To the World seriously one of my favorite cards I've ever received! ;-)

Savor the Journey said...

Wow! Triple berries?! Can we please be on the list this year for a jar?! Ohhhhh my, what a sweet post!

Sharon Caudle said...

Wow! Thanks so much for the inspiration! I do believe I will do this for Christmas this year! Last year I made home made caramel sauce for ice cream, but the jam sounds delicious! I can't wait to try it! Thanks so much for the idea and the wonderful directions!

Julie Brooks said...

I'm so glad I found this post Jessica!!! I have had your recipe written down forever and have never made it. The photos of the process made it so clear!!! I will be making me some jam now!!

StamperSharon said...

Jess, thanks for making jam look so easy to do! My Aunt used to make the best jam and I'm going to get the recipe for hers now and try it. Love your fun post . . . and those Christmas cards & birth announcements last year were fabulous!!

Stacey S said...

WOW! I'm WAY impressed at such homemade goodness and your being so ahead of schedule! Holy moly!!

Sage Mommy said...

I just love this post,i roastedcoffee this year and flavored it for Christmas with pepermint..everyone loved it. Great ideas. I am going to do this this year. I'm going with orange marmalade. thanks again!

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