Demystifying canning for urban cooks

Laena McCarthy's "Jam On."

It happens about this time every year. Confronted with a bounty of fresh fruit, we think, “This is the year I make my own jam.” But we never do. Whether it’s fear of contamination or lack of kitchen space, something always stops us short of, ahem, sealing the deal.

To help quell our fears, we turned to Brooklyn-based jammer Laena McCarthy, founder of Anarchy in a Jar (www.anarchyinajar.com) and author of the new book “Jam On: The Craft of Canning Fruit.”
“I teach a lot of classes, and almost everybody who attends are totally smart, fully capable cooks. But they’re terrified that they’re going to kill someone if they make jam,” she tells us.

“Essentially,” she continues, “you cannot kill someone. The pH in fruit is low enough that things like botulism can’t grow in that environment.”

McCarthy had the advantage of watching her mother make jam from local produce and garden herbs in upstate New York. Her personal technique, she says, is a blend of traditional American and European styles that reduces cooking time as well as the amount of added sugar, “slowly but surely letting the fruit do the work.” The result is a fresher-tasting jam that lends itself to both sweet and savory applications, including meat glazes and even cocktails — her grapefruit and smoked salt jam is excellent stirred into a little gin and soda water.

“Jam On” guides first-time canners through the process of preserving, from choosing raw fruits to creating complex, whiskey-spiked jellies, jams, butters and chutneys.

Ready to jam? McCarthy recommends starting out with her book’s “3’s Company Triple Berry Jam” recipe.

“It’s pretty foolproof,” she says. “The berries only cook for a short amount of time, so the whole process is very quick. … It’s pretty hard to screw up.”


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