May 12, 2010

Full Cupboards and Excitement

And the jam is done.Phew. Let me tell you, 15 pounds (well, really 12, we ate or froze the rest, but still!) of strawberries makes a lot of jam. On a whim I picked up an extra set of 8 ounce jars when I bought the pack of 12 ouncers I intended to use for the jam and a good thing because I used all but three up. So we now have a very full (almost groaning) store cupboard in the basement with rows of deep red filled jam jars. Which is a satisfying thing.

I decided to go ahead and go the pectin free route this year, just to see. The test batch seemed to please everyone, it was sweeter but still very good. The much bigger batch turned out much the same. I used a combination of lemons and grapefruit for this one because I was worried about getting enough natural pectin for that many berries and you can kind of taste the difference. It's consistency is just the way I love it, thick enough to be jam, thin enough to blob and spread on bread without pulling things apart. One of my issues with the pectin variety is that I think the jam comes off too thick.

I think, however, in the end, I prefer the brighter strawberry flavor of the low sugar pectin based jams. If I had to choose between regular pectin jam and using citrus however, citrus would win hands down. Both use an enormous amount of sugar. It shocks me every year to add THAT much sugar to something that already seems sweet and perfect, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. Strawberries aren't fresh in February, so jam it is.

Here's the recipe although I'll warn you that this takes a VERY big pot and it foams quite a bit (which was ok because we mixed the foam with ginger ale to make a yummy drink- even yummier with a little vodka thrown in!) but you can pare it down easily to a much smaller recipe. In case you're not insane, like me.

Strawberry Jam (Pectin Free)

12 pounds of Strawberries, hulled and sliced at least in half
12 (yes 12) pounds of sugar
8 lemons
4 grapefruit (basically one citrus per pound)

Squeeze the juice into the pot with your strawberries and drop in the peels. Mix in half the sugar and let it set overnight. Pull out the lemon and grapefruit peels and add in the rest of the sugar. Put over high heat and bring to a rapid boil, stirring all the while, for about 6 minutes then reduce to simmer until the jam is set, skimming off the foam as you go. How long it takes to set varies according to how much fruit you have and how ripe they are. You can tell if jam is set by dropping a few tablespoons on a plate and putting it in the freezer for one minute. The surface should wrinkle when you push against it. If it doesn't, it's not ready, keep it a cooking.

And have I told you that a wide mouth funnel is an absolute must? Well it is. I went for years without one and have no idea why. It was, maybe, a dollar and made filling the jars so much easier. In fact, I would have had absolutely no mess at all to clean up except for the fact that while the jam was in it's hard boil the kids came roaring through with a lacrosse stick and a broom and I had to chase them down and explain, again, that that was probably not the best thing to do while mommy is dealing with boiling hot sugar, and some of the foam boiled over while my back was turned. Yuck. But really, get the funnel. It's awesome.

OK, so now that's out of the way I can get to the exciting news.

So after little chicklet # 1 didn't make it through the night, the other two eggs failed to hatch. Turns out you aren't supposed to move the eggs close to hatching time. Oops, and we thought we were being so clever by cleaning out the coop and nesting boxes in preparation for the hatch. (come on lady, that's not exciting! I know I know, I'm getting there)

Once it became apparent that we would have no chicks and still had two very broody hens, we decided to go the adoption route and snuck four little day old chicks from a nearby farm under the sleeping hens Monday night. All day yesterday we made quiet checks to see if the mamas were down with the switch. We caught a few glimpses of little feet so all seemed well.

This morning Evie and I went up to check on them and found the four little puffballs hopping around in and out from under their mamas wings. So freaking cute. No really, who can resist a chick. I want to carry them around with me in my pockets but I don't think the hens would like that much, so I'll leave them where they are. Although I'll probably have to go look at them again, just because.