Tuesday, 26 March 2013

jam jar etiquette : lesson three

This is it ~ the nitty gritty ~ sterilizing those jars, why and how.

Why sterilize jam jars?

As I said in lesson one, I've tried to make this a virgins guide to jam jar etiquette, and that means including answers to all those 'but everyone knows that!' questions.  If you were lucky enough to grow up in a household where you regularly had the opportunity to see your adults doing these types of things, the whole process probably feels pretty straightforward, but for those of us that didn't ...  well, it isn't all as obvious as it might seem to you!

So, why is it important to sterilize the jars you're planning to use for your jam?  There are a few reasons why this is so important,  but most of them are too do with making sure that your jam or chutney or marmalade doesn't go bad.  Jars of jam that you've made can (if they're properly sealed, sit on a shelf or in a cupboard for several months.  Chutneys actually taste better if you leave them sat somewhere for a few months after they were made ~ the flavours mix together and the vinegary taste fades, so you have the rich flavours of the spices melding with the rest of your ingredients (yum.  Had chutney in cheese and ham sandwiches for lunch today ... mmmm).  But if the jars weren't completely clean at the beginning, then mould can grow inside them, and all your hard work will have been wasted because you won't be able to eat the fruits (bad pun alert ~ fruit ... jam ... see?) of your labours.  Even if they look clean, you have to think like obsessive new parent cleanliness, okay?  Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean there's nothing there ...

There are a few ways for you to sterilize your jars, and which method you choose tends to be based more on your personal preferences than anything else. Some alternative methods are looked at in lesson six {not posted yet}.

This is the way that I sterilize most of my jam jars ~ it's not precise or complex, and it leaves you with warm jars all ready to put the (hot) jam or marmalade or chutney or curd in, thus bypassing the whole 'the recipe says I need to put it in a warm jar and the jar isn't warm what should I do or is it being over cautious and actually it will all be fine' thing.  And before moving on, yes, the jar does need to be warm (I know what I'm talking about here, okay?  So let's say no more about it).  Reason being, hot jam into glass jar = big difference in temperature = jar cracks and you end up with a big sticky jammy mess on the kitchen side, and you can't even nonchalantly whistle while glancing around the kitchen to see if anyone noticed (optional glancing of course, especially if you're the only one in the house) then scooping afore mentioned burning hot jammy mess into another jar or container of some description because it is all full of teeny tiny (and not so teeny tiny) pieces of glass.  Ouch on toast...

Using your oven to sterilize jars

This method can be used for jars of any size or shape, as long as the main body of the jar is made of glass and the lid  is made of metal and detaches completely
For jars which have a rubber seal built into the design, this is not suitable ~ if you put this jar in the oven the rubber seal would melt, and I expect your kitchen would smell a bit like a Formula 1 track!  Check out jam jar etiquette lesson five {coming soon} for the best way to deal with these ones

You also need to sterilize the rest of the equipment you will be using to get the jam safely into your jars ~ I use a jam funnel (with a wide spout to get all those fruity lumps in) and a measuring scoop ~ not because I need to measure, just because it's bigger than a spoon but precise enough to make sure the jam goes in the funnel, not all over the place.  These can be sterilized along with the lids

(Assuming that you have followed jam jar etiquette lesson two and have already de~odourised any vinegar smells...) Unscrew the lids of your jars, rinse off any dust and put them in a saucepan with enough water to cover the lids ~ you don't need to fill the saucepan

Place the pan on the hob, and turn on the heat.  Put it on high, but don't leave it unattended.  You'll see  the pan starting to bubble as the water heats

Keep the heat up until the water in the pan is boiling, then reduce it a little so it keeps bubbling away

Time for the jar bits of those jars...

If you've just washed the jars, great.  Without drying them first, put them on a baking tray.  Use one with edges if you can ~ it makes everything feel a bit more secure when you're holding it ~ remember the jars are made of glass, so pretty heavy.

The jars should not be touching each other, and before you pick up the heavy baking tray, check whether you're going to need to move any of the shelves in the oven ~ the tray with the jars on is probably taller than most things that go in there, and you're not going to want to find that out when you're crouched down in front of the oven carrying that baking tray full of jars!

Turn your oven to about 200°c, (it doesn't matter what kind of oven you have by the way ~ electric or gas or an aga ~ anything goes) and get on with making your jam or lemon curd.  Once your jam is finished turn off your oven, and take out the tray of jars

Drain the saucepan of lids and other equipment.  Carefully, touching only the handle of the funnel, put it in the neck of your first jar

Transfer jam into the funnel using the scoop, again only touching the handle

When the jar is full, switch the funnel to the next jar, and place the matching lid onto the full jar ~ be very careful to only touch the outside of the lid

Once all your jars are full, or you've run out of jam, protect your hands with a very flexible oven glove or else a tea towel and securely screw the lids onto the jars, as tightly as you can

Over the next hour or two those little poppy bits in the centre of (most) lids might pull themselves in, in which case they are now vacuum sealed, and this jar full of delicious home made jam can be safely stored for at least six months.  If the poppy bit hasn't pulled in, press it gently ~ if it then clicks in and stays in, you can store it in that hypothetical cool dry dark place that we all keep our tins and jars.  If it pops out again or doesn't click in at all, put this jar in the fridge with the rest of your jams and eat this one up before moving on to the ones in the cupboard

Hey presto, sterilized jam jars, full of fabulous jam.  Yum.


            ~ You've now completed jam jar etiquette lesson three!

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jam jar etiquette : lesson one asked 'why make jam?'; whether to buy new jars or reuse those you already have; and how to store empty jars should you decide to reuse.

jam jar etiquette : lesson two asked whether you suffer from the stinky jar problem, and showed you a way to triumph over the stinkiness.

Today, on jam jar etiquette : lesson three you found out about sterilizing jars ~ why and how?

Next time, on jam jar etiquette : lesson four asks what saucers in the freezer have to do with jam, and a different way of checking the consistency of your jam.

jam jar etiquette : lesson five asks 'do I have to do it on my own, by myself, all alone and lonely?'

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