Making and Canning Gooseberry Jam
I was so busy this summer with harvesting food from the garden and processing it that I didn't have time to write about it while I was doing it. I did however take some pictures of some bigger projects. One of those projects was making gooseberry jam, which it looks like I must have done on July 4th according to my photos.
The hardest part about gooseberries is removing the stems from the berries. They are also not the easiest berry to harvest due to the branches being full of thorns. Nonetheless, getting poked and getting tired of the tedious task of removing stems fades to distant memory once the shelf is full of beautiful jars of gooseberry jam!
We have a gooseberry bush in our garden that was planted by the previous owners of our house and this is the third time I've made a big batch of jam from the berries. I don't know why I haven't been able to do it every year, having lived here 10 years, but I'm glad I did it this year. The berries are forgiving in terms of ripeness for making jam. This year I didn't want to miss the harvest, so I went ahead and harvested them when they were mostly still green, but just starting to turn red. That means they were a bit more tart, and definitely more firm.
The cool thing about gooseberries is that they are naturally high in pectin, which means they will firm up into a nice jam without having to add commercial pectin. When I was looking for a recipe to use, I wanted something that didn’t go overboard on the sugar and was as simple as possible. I decided to go with a recipe I found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/food/food-safety/preserving/fruits/gooseberry-jam/. I like to use recipes, or at least read instructions from university extension programs when it comes to canning. Canning is super satisfying (and I think it is fun), but it is very important to know what the safety concerns are for the foods you are preserving and to know the correct way to can each particular food.
One thing that struck me about the recipe is that it said I would only need to simmer the berries for 15 minutes until they were soft. I remember this because I started pretty late at night and thought I’d be done pretty quickly. Well, all I can say is that 15 minutes was not enough time for my berries to become soft. In fact, it took more like 45 minutes! This is more what I expected anyway, but it could also be due to the fact that my berries were picked pretty green, rather than already soft and ripe.
I do want to emphasize something really important - do not overcook your jam. One year when I was making a gooseberry-currant jam, it was tasting delicous, but I thought it could still cook for another few minutes when suddenly it turned into a thick substance almost the texture of tar. It was soooooooooooo disappointing. So I am always super careful with jam since then not to overcook it. I had read about how you can put a plate in the freezer, then spoon some jam onto it and see if it wrinkles up and forms a skin when you tip the plate. If so, that would indicate it is the correct thickness and done cooking. I kept trying this test and it always seemed to still be runny, but not super runny. Eventually I gave up on the test and decided it was thick enough by the looks of it. I canned it but was still worried that I had not cooked it long enough. I also had not added quite as much sugar as the recipe called for because I had run out. You may be wondering about my choice to use white sugar, being a nutritionist and all. Well, sugar is part of what makes jam set and I just wasn’t willing to experiment with other sweeteners on this project.
Anyway, I am happy to report that it came out fantastic, and just the right thickness. I did read more recently that it can take up to 10 days for jam to fully gel, and I think this was the case for my gooseberry jam. When it first came out of the boiling water bath, it still looked runny. But now, it doesn’t look runny at all, and it is super yummy!