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Canning - Buy In Bulk From A Local Farmstand Market & Make Some Jam!

“Make a mean peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” ~ Jack Black

Biscuits and Jam


The end of August means the beginning of harvest in the Northeastern United States. We ran 3-5 acres of field crops in our family garden. Foraging pounds of raspberries and blackberries on our property until supplies ran out. But, up the road, Uncles Buck and Mike tended to 5+ acres of High Bush Blueberries. The McIntosh Apples, located at The Farm, were in growth mode - ready to be harvested by late September to early October. But those blueberries could be picked from late June through well into August.

As kids, we were constantly reminded to cover the berry bushes with agricultural netting to protect our harvest from the Blue Jays. Our family and neighbors would get together to make jam every year. By mid-August, we took stock of pressure cooker valves, rubber seals, and the infamous Ball Jars. Ball Jars are glass canning jars made in Ball, Indiana—virtually indestructible glass with twist tops and seals for food preservation—a thick, French Glass made to withstand the test of time. I love being the keeper of Ball Jars and French glass. I use them to showcase coffee beans and hold homemade aioli or salad dressings. Without these jars, canning and preserving wouldn’t be possible.

Blueberry Jam

The History of Canning & Preserving Fruit In My Home

I didn’t begin canning and preserving until 2007, around 37. I settled in Sonoma County, California, to raise my son, Isaac, and wanted to feed him the best and healthiest foods possible. I remember walking down memory lane through Petaluma’s Rex Ace Hardware in the store's canning and preserving goods section. I knew there was a way I could share something from my childhood with him. So, I started down the path of acquiring those Ball Jars and preserving equipment.

The project commenced once I gathered supplies from Rex and some Ball Jars from second-hand stores. My first objective was to make 24-pint jars of jam. How did I get to a number like 24 pints? Good question! I pulled out a notebook and pencil and called Aunt Mary. Because I thought she would be able to clarify how much jam I should make and offer a few pointers along the way. After speaking a few times, we both realized that Aunties Bobbi and Irene were the jam-makers of the family. I learned from those conversations I needed to find a farmer to sell me a ton of organic fruit.

When the Aunties made jam in the 1970s, they spent weeks preparing, planning, harvesting, and cooking down sugar and berries. They boiled down pectin or corn starch, berries, and sugar. They based their canning numbers on the previous year's usage. How many pint jars did their household go through in a year? They made batches of 36 pints for each family of 4-6, lasting about 12-18 months. The Aunties would get together with other members of the Grange and prepare thousands of jars over a weekend of cooking and preparing jam. I had a lot to learn and long road ahead. I was invested in the process, and Isaac was excited to invite his friends to make jam too. And, before we knew it, three other moms were ready to join the ranks of preserving fruit for their shelves that summer!

U-Pick Blueberries

The Art Of Making Jam: What’s Your Plan?

Early on, we need to make a plan when we are about to spend a bunch of money on our annual grocery bill. How many jars of jam does my family go through? What did it cost me last year? Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Jam jars come in sizes 8-16 ounces.

  2. I bought 15 jam jars the year prior.

  3. Each jar is estimated at $4.36 per 8oz jar.

  4. The total annual cost of $65.40 in jam purchases.

  5. Don't forget to add the $6.75 jam jars purchased at a local farmstand, totaling $67.50.

  6. In total, I calculated a spend of $132.90 in jam from the previous year.

The next question begged, how many pints and pounds of berries did I need to make next year’s jam? This project started to monopolize a lot of my free time. At any point, I could have gone to any grocery store to stop this madness. But this was about nostalgia, heritage, and hand-making Isaac's organic jam. Luckily, I could buy pounds of berries from several organic providers at the Saint Helena Farmers Market Stand.

Isaac’s Organics had a mind of its own, and I was bound and determined to source 50 pounds of Blueberries for this venture. How did I come up with 50 lbs? According to the State of New Jersey’s Agricultural Division website - the scientists say - 12 lbs of Blueberries = 7 Quarts of jam. At this point, I discovered reverse engineering weights and measures for bulk jam-making was getting complicated. It was a jar of jam, after all! Well, maybe it wasn’t……

Is this what my ancestors were doing on a pad of paper and pencil while sitting at the table in the middle of winter? Were they planning their food storage down to the last pound? Was it this tedious when manufacturing processed food for the following year on a homestead? I don’t know, but I forged on to my goal of making the best darn jam for Isaac’s Organics.


Gathering Supplies and Prepping The Space

Once you know how much to make, you must think about how much to buy—taking the recipe and exponentially scaling it out to accommodate your 12-month storage needs. Break down the sugar, berries, and pectin to the ounce, and then multiply it out until you achieve your total requirement.

For example: 1 cup of sugar per 8oz Ball Jar Xs 30 8oz Ball Jars = 30 Cups of Sugar

30 cups of sugar = 120oz of sugar

= 7.5lbs of sugar

Each measurement must be calculated and estimated with a 10% margin for error on supplies. At the end of the day, the goal is to make as much as you can within your means. When setting up a workspace, it needs to be well thought out into an assembly line. Logic and process flow began to take shape, and of course, making a good Visio Infographic became part of my engineering repertoire. As friends arrived in my outdoor back patio kitchen, I focused on duties and roles. Who was going to prep berries? Sterilize Ball Jars? Pack the berries? Pressure cooker set-up? Everyone was a willing participant, and they came with already sterilized Ball Jars and new seals.

By the end of the day, we had processed 50 lbs of blueberries, made 60+ jars of jam, and a Blueberry Cobbler for dessert. We were coming off a high-stress work week into a jam-making event that energized us all.

Blueberry Jam

Wrapping it Up

Jam making is a community effort, one that is built on careful consideration, learning what is in season at your local farmstand, and knowing how to pre-order with the farmers market manager each year. Jam is intricate yet simple enough to process with an ambitious team. But, no matter the work effort, canning and preserving unite people with a spirit to create something with our hands.

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