Slaving Over the Stove

We picked up a small bunch of apricots last week at Costco.   They were the last package and they called my name as I love apricot jam.  I love to can and make jams but have no need to make or desire to have a dozen pints of anything.   I have been doing lots of reading about small size jam making and decided that this was the perfect opportunity to try it out. I was going to make two or three half pints of sunshine in a jar…apricot jam with a little bit of apricot brandy in it.

I grew up with a mother who canned and have done a fair amount myself over the years, but nothing like I was going to try this time. Part of it plays into the fact my house is at 6,000 feet above sea level and that impacts how long things have to process and the temperatures that it reaches are not the same as the cookbooks state.   I was going to have adjust for where I lived.   The second factor was most of my tools were nothing like what I had used in the past.   No big old white and blue speckled enamel canner and not measuring ingredients in pints, quarts and pounds.   I was going to use my stock pot to do the water bath not the big old kettle.   I bought a nifty little jar holder on Amazon. It was a simple wire rack just like Mom had, no sturdier or fancier.  This one fit in my much smaller stock pot (just under 9 inches across) and could only hold 5 half-pints.   I also used my largest in diameter skillet to cook the apricots, no big heavy old pot.     The theory in all of this is that the larger air surface allowed for “quicker” evaporation i.e. shorter cooking times.   I honestly don’t know if it was true, but I ended up with jam.

Making jam in a very small batch

Making jam in a very small batch

When I was done I had two 8-ounce jars and two 4-ounce jars of jam.  It all set up very nicely, in spite of the fact I could not find my thermometer and had to use the sheet test.  Thank heavens I still had an old Ball canning book from years ago when people tested by look and not temperature on a thermometer.    Some of the jars  did not seal, but I attribute that to the instructions having me pulling the jars and setting them on a towel while I cooked the jam.   In the future I will leave them in the pan of hot water until I fill them like in times past and the old Ball book suggested and I used to do.     So my first small jars of sunshine in a jar  will need to be given and used as gifts immediately instead of saving for the winter, but oh well I had fun and it is pretty yummy.

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Bounty for my larder

Spring in Montana – This Means Snow!

This week has been full of reminders of what spring in Montana is like.  Snow and more snow.   Almost everyday we woke up to snow.   We were just above the snow line.   Spring will not happen for us until the snow line moves up another 1,000 feet.   For us that means sometime in June.   Today it feels like  an eternity into the future.

Even the chickens are wondering if we will have snow every morning this summer.

Even the chickens are wondering if we will have snow every morning this spring.

As much as I am ready to turn the soil and put seeds in the ground I know that we will have night-time freezes for weeks to come.   For some reason this year I am not ready to wait that long.   It means that I am going to need to explore season extenders that will work with my low temperatures, occasional snow, regular frosts, howling winds and a small budget.  No putting  seedlings in the ground and covering them occasionally with sheets.    This is going to take a plan and daily effort to get things to go all the way to harvest.

So I hope you will follow along and give me your thoughts and suggestions as I figure out how to extend my growing season on a shoestring.