2014 was also the third year I attempted canning (maybe the fourth)? The first year I canned I was inspired by an excess of produce on the verge of going bad after my brother’s wedding. I had time on my hands, so I tried canning it. It was pretty fun and I liked the idea of ‘preserving the moment’ after this great celebration in the form of something edible. I had also always wanted to try canning because of nostalgic memories of eating my grandmother’s strawberry jam with croissants on holidays. We enjoyed her jam several Christmases after she had passed away, and I remember being pretty impressed by the idea that her good intentions (and good cooking) could be enjoyed even after she was gone.
Lovely as that memory is (and as much as I’d like to replicate it), I have to admit after three years of attempting jam that mine tastes nothing like what she made, and that most of my canning experiments have ended up being pretty disgusting. Because I follow the rules, and boil my preserves to inedibility, I am not concerned that they would actually harm anyone–however with a few exceptions I doubt any recipient of my jam has actually enjoyed the product in the jar. You can read about prior attempts from 2013 here and 2012 here. Going into the 2014 canning season I thought the trouble might be that so far I’d only attempted low sugar/ no pectin recipes. The canning book I have “Canning for a New Generation” advocates this approach, but so far it seems to have yielded some pretty strange tasting strawberry jam. While this year I again rolled with the “Pamona’s Universal Pectin” which allows reduced sugar use, I also used some basic strawberry jam recipes from the internet that were more liberal with the sugar. The results are a little better (the jam had more structure than years past, and the color was a little better), but still not as delicious as my favorite “Bonne Maman” strawberry jam from the grocery store. I also tried making peach preserves, and somehow basically carmelized the jam until it turned a dark brown color from overboiling. The resulting product is a thick, molasses-like product that is better than eating toast plain–but not by much.
As much as I enjoy the ‘trash to treasure’ aspect of gleaning bruised produce at the farmer’s market, and turning it into something useable, I’m beginning to think that making jams and preserves might be one of those crafts that I might have to abandon unless/until there’s more pressing reasons to try it. I was too embarrassed by my results to really give away much of my canned goods as Christmas presents this year, so our own family pantry will be well-stocked in 2015–perhaps based on whether/how we enjoy the results I will return to canning in 2016. But for 2015, I think my new years resolution is to give canning a break.