The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. ~ Psalm 16:6 nasb

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Maple Berry Smooch | Canning With Agar Instead of Pectin

A new blog post in my continuing saga of agar experimentation.  :)

Here's the little bottle of agar powder I purchased from Fruitful Yield:

I ran out of agar I purchased from Country Life Natural Foods, the bulk dry goods food purchasing co-op that Fernando and I coordinate.  So in desperation, I drove the 25 minutes to Fruitful Yield and purchased more from them, since no one else, not even Whole Foods, seemed to carry it.  It was more expensive than the co-op price, but I needed it.

As far as using agar instead of pectin, please read this blog post.  It'll tell you about why I'm doing this, and the advantages of using agar over pectin.

The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving contains this recipe, called Maple Strawberry Smooch.  A smooch is a quick kiss, and you'll get a quick kiss of maple flavor when you taste this jam.

On one visit to Costco this summer, I discovered organic strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries.  Perfect!  I would change this recipe to Maple Berry Smooch and try it out with agar.

I must tell you that since apple juice is involved in this recipe, and apples are a natural source of pectin, you'll use less agar than is typically used.  I found this out the hard way.  My smooch is pretty solid, though still spreadable.  The neat thing about agar, though, is that it softens and liquifies when heated.  So I put a dollop of smooch in my hot oatmeal in the morning, add some chopped toasted almonds or other nut, top it with a drizzle of pure maple syrup, and yum yum.

Enough said about all that.  Here we go...

Maple Berry Smooch -- The Agar Way
Yields about 6 half-pint (8-oz.) jars.

4 3/4 cups pureed berries (I used strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries)
1 1/2 cups pure maple syrup (don't substitute!)
1 cup unsweetened apple juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons agar (powder or flakes)

Prepare canning pot, jars, and lids.  Fill the pot with water, put it on the stove and get the burner started.  It takes a long time to bring to a boil!  I place my canning jars (thoroughly washed/rinsed) into a dishwashing tub and fill it with really hot water.  My seals go into a bowl with boiling water poured on top.  I replace the water if it cools off during the time I'm preparing the jam.

In a large, stainless steel saucepan/pot, combine pureed berries, maple syrup, apple juice and lemon juice.  Bring all this to a boil over medium heat, and make sure you stir frequently so it doesn't burn at the bottom.

Once it comes to a boil, sprinkle in the agar powder, a teaspoonful or so at a time, whisking until it's blended in, then sprinkle another teaspoonful and whisk, until all the agar is incorporated into the mixture.  Keep this mixture at a simmer, stirring pretty much constantly for about 20 minutes.  When you first start this, stick a small dish in the freezer (this will help you test the jam for thickness toward the end of the simmer/stir process).  If your agar ends up in blobs, use a stick blender and blend them away right in the saucepan.  This works well, and I speak from first-hand experience.  :)  (Note:  I perfected this sprinkling method on the third canning attempt.)

At about the 15-minute mark in your simmering and stirring, spoon a bit of jam out and onto the dish, then return the dish to the freezer.  Wait 2-3 minutes, then take the dish out and run your finger through the jam.  It shouldn't be liquid; there should be a little firmness to it.  It will continue to thicken as you can it, and as it cools back down to room temperature.  That's what agar does.  :)  So be careful not to add too much!

If you think you need to add more agar, add maybe 1/2 to one teaspoon, sprinkling and whisking like before.  Continue the simmer/stir process until the 20 minutes are done.  I went over that time trying to figure out the thickness thing, so it's okay to do that; you don't have to be exactly precise here.

Okay, now that that's all done, you're ready to can!  Hopefully your water is boiling (if it boiled too soon, turn it down but high enough to keep a good simmer); if not, crank that baby up on high.  Preparing the jars will take 5-10 minutes, so the canning pot has a little more time to come to a boil.

Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  I use a ruler to measure this, since I'm terrible with distances and length.  Remove air bubbles (with something glass or plastic, not metal which will cool the liquid too much) and adjust headspace if necessary.  Wipe the rim of the jar, center the lid on the jar, and screw the band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.  Do not crank it closed!

For this process, I usually work with 2-3 jars at a time, filling, placing seals and rings, and placing in my canning rack.  You can do one at a time, or whatever you're comfortable with.  Just try to keep the jars hot for as long as possible.

Place jars (or place canning rack with jars) in canning pot, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring back to a boil (with the lid on the canning pot!) and process for ten minutes.  Make sure it stays at a good boil the entire time!  Remove canner lid and wait five minutes.  Remove jars to a cooling rack.  I remove my canning rack, pulling it up and out of my pot, and place it on a large cutting board.  From there, I use canning tongs to remove the individual jars to a cooling rack, where they sit for 24 hours.

After a day, I check the seals to make sure they've sealed, and refrigerate any unsealed jars.  I gently wash the outside of the jars with warm (not hot) soapy water (to remove any residue from the canning process), then dry them, label them, and store them in my Bomb Shelter (a.k.a. the basement pantry area).

I didn't take many pictures while making this recipe, so here's what I have: 

Adding pureed blueberries to the pureed strawberries.

No in-between pic's, just the final result - jars of sweet yumminess!

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