Urban Preservation Part 1 Transcript

Douglas County [sic, Dawson County] Community Cannery
Dawsonville, GA - 9:30 am

    For those of you who don't remember a world before MTV, the idea of home preserving may seem as alien an concept as churning butter, making your own clothes or making do with a 14 hundres Baud Modem. If, on the other hand, you grew up during World War II, you may well remember putting up your gardens in community canning centers just like this one. Now your memories of shucking corn and shelling peas and peeling potatoes may not exactly be romantic. But hey, you had food on the table during some pretty tough times.
    For the rest of us, canning is really a quaint curiosity. American? Absolutely. Wholesome? Sure. But is it necessary? I mean, come on. Our local mega market has got everything we need. Right? Well, I may not be as hard core as some canners, but I do have a serious lust for good fruit preserves. Now I'm not talking about that goopy, super-sweet, grotesquely over-priced, supermarket stuff. I'm talking home made. I'm talking about jewel-like jams and jellies, marmalades and compotes that have this heady aroma and a flavor that's got the power to somehow capture entire summers of your youth. It can even elevate a simple piece of toast to a culinary canvas of Proustian proportion.
    Old fashioned? Sure. Time consuming? A little. Easy and cheap to do at home? Absolutely. Good Eats? [takes a bite and smiles knowingly]


    Nothing in the fruit-spread repertoire can beat jam when it comes to flavor return on time and money invested. Besides toast, cake, yogurt, pancakes, it is equally at home in meat sauces and glazes. This stuff is culinary plastic. Now once you've made and tasted your own you won't believe you ever shelled out three bucks a bottle for something that easy.

by the spoon

    Now although most of us consider jam making to be two sides of the same culinary coin, they are in reality mutually exclusive operations. Now to the uninitiated, jam making can seem a little old fashioned, maybe a little bit threatening. But preserving, whewoof, to most folks that's down right nature-cheatin' voodoo. Or at the very least ...




GUEST: Dr. John T. Brooks, M.D., Epidemiologist

... a potentially dangerous game which you could lose to wide variety of nasty microbes. Luckily there is a way of dealing with Mother Nature's microscopic menu. Don't believe me? Well maybe you'll believe Dr. John Brooks from the Center for Disease Control.


JOHN BROOKS: Seal it. Sterilize it.
AB: Isolate and annihilate. Doc, time to face the wheel.

seal it
sterilize it

JB: Let's start with Enzymes.
AB: Enzymes.
JB: Most enzymes are destroyed at 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
AB: Gone at 170. What's next?


JB: Well then, between 170 and 212 degrees you get things like yeast ...
AB: Yeasts. Molds.
JB: ... bacteria ...
AB: Bacteria.
JB: ... both their spores and toxins ...
AB: Spores and their toxins. All this stuff by the time we're boiling, gone.
JB: That's right. And finally, things like staph.
AB: Nasty.
JB: Um, hm. Bacteria that also makes a toxin.
AB: Gone at 212.
JB: You bet.

170        212

(boiling at sea level that is)

AB: That leaves one pie on the big wheel.
JB: Botulism.
AB: Bad bug.
JB: Botulism is a very bad bug. Not only does it like the anaerobic environment of a can or a jar, but it can survive temperatures of 212 so that its spores can stay in the food and grow.


spores = durable microbe seeds

AB: So basically any low acid food like say meat, vegetables, anything that botulism would like can not be processed the way that we're processing today. Got to have a pressure canner.
JB: Exactly. Anything with a pH under 4.6 pressure canning only.

    Which is why we're sticking to fruits.

ripe tomatoes
pressure canner

AB: Now just out of curiosity, Doctor Brooks, what would our viewers win if they were to get botulism?
JB: Well, you get three to six weeks of being fully conscious but also fully paralyzed.

    Wide awake. Can't move a muscle. I don't think that's winning.

AB: Come on, Doc.

Ragsdale Ace Hardware: Marietta, GA - 10:20 am

GUEST: "W", Tool Tyrant
            "Key Master"

    Technically, the only equipment you need for jam making is a sauce pan and a big spoon. But, if you are going to preserve your jam you're going to need some extra gear and the local hardware store is the place to get it.

AB: W. Aren't you a little out of your jurisdiction?
 W: At least I know how to use most of this stuff.
AB: Ah, true.
 W: Besides, you called me.
AB: I did. We're going to be canning and I was hoping that you would help us gear up.
 W: [sigh] All right, but let's hurry. Key Master over there is giving me the creeps. There are tools for every stage of the canning process but only a few are essential. What are you putting up?
AB: With you. [laughs]  Jam.
 W: All right. Then you'll need jars.
AB: Jars.
 W: Eight ounce Mason Jars with two piece lids.
AB: Aw, come on, W. Those old things haven't changed design since John Mason first had them patented back in 1857. Couldn't I use some of those cool European ...

W: The reason why it hasn't changed, Mr. Know- It-All, is because it works. The lid has a sealing compound on it and the ring holds it in place until a vacuum can be formed thus sealing the jar.

sealing compound

sealing ring

AB: Right. Well can I at least reuse the pieces?
 W: The jar and the rings, yes. The lid, no. The sealing compound is a one-time thing.
AB: All right. But what else do I have to have?
 W: Jar Lifter for handling hot, sterile jars ...
AB: Yeah.
 W: ... and a wide mouth funnel. They're both musts.
AB: Got it. Hey, it's fun. I kind of like that.
 W: [notices Key Master is watching them] Oh, no. [exits as AB looks behind him]
AB: What? Oh, hey. Your little buddy is back ... W?

The Kitchen

    Now the first step to jam making is to give everything a good wash. Jars, lids, tools, the works. Now you could use your dishwasher for the job but beware the dry cycle. It's too hot in there for the sealing compound on these lids. I think the old-fashioned way is just as easy.

dryer too hot!

    Now cleanliness may be next to godliness but only sterilization can prevent your jams from turning into Chia Pets. So, the whole menagerie except for the lids goes into a big pot for sterilization. Now to prevent the jars from rattling around on the bottom of the pot, I like to use this old metal basket. But a cake rack on the bottom will work, too. If you spring for a canning kettle, aww, those are sweet. Fifteen or twenty bucks. Actually comes with a jar rack. Pretty nice.

    Now I've got enough hot tap water in here to cover the jars, the rings, the funnel and everything by about an inch. So, I'm going to put this on high heat and bring it to a boil and I'm going to keep it there for a solid ten minutes. Okay, time for the fruit. [looks at the kettle]  Oh, don't worry about that. The crew will watch it.

cover by at least 1" water

Crabapple Kroger: Alpharetta, GA - 1 pm

    Jams get their spreadability from a water soluble carbohydrate called 'pectin' whose job is to basically hold plant cells together.

Pectin is one of the "cements" that holds plant fibers together.

    Now when a fruit is heated in jam making the cell walls break down and pectins are released. Now acid and sugar can tag team to put them back together again. And when they do you've got a gel.

heat + acid + sugar = gel

    Now, all fruits contain pectin. Apples, blackberries, cranberries, grapefruit contain high enough concentrations of both pectin and acid to create a gel with nothing but sugar added.


    Now blueberries, cherries, sweet oranges have the pectin but need help on the acid.

sweet oranges

    Apricots, pineapples have the acid but not the pectin.


    Mangos, bananas, peaches, raspberry need help on both sides of the equation.

rasberries [sic]

    Now considering that rain and ripening and all of that can affect pectin content who can say which fruit will get stiff and which won't. This is why I take insurance. Jam purists look away.
    Both and liquid and powdered pectins are available at most markets especially during late summer when people can the most. Use these and you'll never suffer a jam or jelly failure.


    Now although the difference between wet and a dry are subtle, my general rule is to stick with powdered pectins for jam and liquids for jelly.

powder pectin for jams
liquid pectin for jelly

    Now pectin-added jams require more sugar than those made au naturel, but they also don't take so long to cook. So they usually have a fresher, fruit taste. Now speaking of fruit, I am going with frozen blueberries. Frozen fruits are fine for jam. But since they are picked at the peak of ripeness they usually contain a little less pectin. But do we care? Nah. We're protected.

Jelly is clear, Jam is not.
Conserves have nuts,
Preserves have chunks
and Marmalades always
have peel.

Jam Session

The Kitchen

    Ten minutes is up. So, I'm going to slap the lid on this and turn off the heat. Now right now, this water is so hot that if we were to sterilize the jar lids, the sealing compound could melt and it would keep us from getting a good seal on the jar. So, I'm going to let this water cool down for five or 10 minutes and then toss these in and leave them with the rest of gear until we are ready to jar things up.

wait 5 minutes then add lids

     So, now we move to the jam making side of the line. What we're going to start with is a nice, big, non-reactive sauce pan or pot.

Non-reactive materials include stainless steel, glass and anodized aluminum.

    First thing that goes in, two bags of frozen blueberries. These are 12 ounce bags. Now you'll notice that this is a completely unmarked, unbranded, generic brand of pectin. But that's okay.

24 oz frozen blueberries
1 bag pectin

All dry pectin comes in 1 3/4 oz packets. (In America that is.)

    You want to kind of just sprinkle it over like this. Just kind of shake it back and forth almost like putting sugar on your morning cereal.

sprinkling prevents clumping

    Now, what else should go in here? Spices. I like to start with a little bit of cinnamon and this is really high quality cinnamon. I get it mail order so I know it's fresh. I'm just going to go with a quarter teaspoon.

1/4 tsp cinnamon

Most cinnamon available in America is ground from bark of the Cassia tree.

    I'm going to go with a little bit of star anise. Now, if you haven't seen star anise it's a pod, a seed pod like this, that's ground up entirely. And you can just grind it up either in a mortar and pestle or you can use your electric spice grinder like a coffee mill. But get it as fine as you can because it is a little fibrous. And you don't need much, a quarter teaspoon. This stuff is very, very strong. It's kind of got a licorice flavor.

1/4 tsp star anise, ground

    We need some nutmeg. And I hate the nutmeg in grocery stores, the ground stuff. It loses its flavor so fast that if you don't use it in a month it's gone. So, I buy whole nuts. These things will keep their flavor for years. Literally. Just a little grater and give, maybe, 20 grinds.

20 grinds nutmeg

Nutmeg was so valued in the 1300's that European merchants
wiped out entire island populations to garner control.

    What else do we need?  Well, pectin will not gel without acid. And if you remember, blueberries are on the low=acid side of the fruit chain. So, we're going to add both lemon juice and some cider vinegar. We've got two tablespoons of the lemon juice, that's one fluid ounce, and four tablespoons of the vinegar, that's two fluid ounces right on top.

2 Tbls lemon juice
4 Tbls cider vinegar

    Now, we're going to bring this to a boil but we're going to do it very, very slowly because what we don't want to have happen is for all that frozen fruit to get burned on the bottom before it's had time to seep out. So, low heat at first. And as you start to look at the bottom, once you see some juice start to kind of accumulate on the bottom take your masher to it.
    Five minutes has gone by and we have boilage. The fruit is completely mashed and the pectin is charged up and ready for action. Now take a look. You don't have to get this completely smashed fine.

    So, it's time for the third component: sugar. Three cups of sugar.

3 cups sugar

    And it's here for three very distinct reasons. First, without sugar, jam wouldn't be spreadable. Two, without sugar, pectin won't set. And three, since it's hygroscopic, sugar takes up water making it unavailable for potential bacterial invaders.

allows spreadability
helps pectin to set
occupies H20

    Now, as soon as the sugar is back in bring up the heat to just about medium high. Stir constantly until this hits a rolling boil. Now since we're going to lose some water through evaporation, we want to also add a half a cup of water. Then go ahead and bring this to a boil over medium-high heat.

1/2 cup water

    After stirring your way through one minute of hard boiling, you're done. This is jam. That's it. You're finished. You can pour this into jars, let it cool, refrigerate it for up to two maybe three weeks. But, if you want to have that wonderful feeling of marching down to the cellar and returning with that beautiful old bottle of 99, you're going to have to cross over to the preserving side of the line.

keep unprocessed jam refrigerated for 2 - 3 weeks

    Here's how it goes. We're going to extract our tools first. I've got paper towels laid out on a cutting board here. The reason I want a cutting board is, well, putting hot jars on top of any counter or especially if it's made out of metal or rock like granite or marble can cause thermal shock and crack the jars which would not be a good thing.

paper towels

    Try to drain out as much water as you can out of each one. Okay, now grab your funnel with your finger in the ring. Don't reach on the inside or you'll ruin that sterile environment. And just set it right inside the jar. It's a perfect fit.

fill to bottom lip of funnel

    Now we're going to basically spoon in just enough jam to come to the bottom lip of the funnel. That's going to guarantee about a third of an inch from the top of the jam to the top of the jar. And that's called head room. And it's very important space because that air is going to get pushed out during the processing and then when the jar cools that's going to create a vacuum. If there's fruit all the way up to the top, there won't be any air, no vacuum, no seal, jam goes bad. It's not pretty.

1/3 inch

    Now whatever I've got left over I don't have quite enough for another jar, so I'm probably going to let this cool down and I'll put it in the jar, but I'm just going to park it in refrigerator and use it first.
    Now we need to wipe down the rims of the jars so just use a damp paper towel, clean paper towel, and just go right around the outside. And really take a little time just to make sure there aren't any chips and there's not any jam stuck on the edges.

Don't try to process chipped or cracked jars.

    There. So the next step is to retrieve the lids. And for that I use this nice little hardware store magnet and place them right down on top of the lid. Don't push, just set for now. This helps to keep this whole situation incredibly sterile.

Sanitized: harmful microbes minimized.
Sterilized: not a microbe in sight.

    The trick about these bands is that you don't want to screw them down hard. They're not there to squeeze that lid on to the glass. They're there to just hold it in place until the vacuum can be formed. And then just twist them, just barely tight, just kind of finger tight. You're not going to be able to hold on to the jars very long anyway, believe me, because they are so hot. But that's actually a good thing.

    Now, each jar goes into the processor. Now of course I'm not actually using a kettle. They make kettles exactly for this purpose and if you do a lot of canning you can get one. I just line them up in there. It's important that they've got enough room so the water can circulate all around them. So, I just get them in there and then I rearrange them once I've got them in place.

give H20 room to circulate

    The heat is on high. We're going to process these for five minutes. Okay? But that's five minutes starting from the time that they boil. So, we're going to wait on this. And don't be fooled if you start to see bubbles start to come out from around the jars. That's not boiling. What that is is the air inside the jars starting to push out. So don't be fooled.

process jars 5 minute from boil

Processing times will vary depending on the ingredients and jar sizes.
Always stick to your recipe.

"Physicist on the Roof"

The Roof Top

GUESTS: Daniel Stillman, Physicist
             Mountain Climber

    [AB climbs to the top of a roof] Ask most cooks and they'll tell you that ... whew ... that boiling point is all about heat, that it's one of the true bench marks that you can count on in the kitchen. But if you talk to a physicist you get this.

DANIEL STILLMAN: Well, heat's a factor but only as it relates to pressure. See, as we heat a liquid we excite its molecules and they try to escape as a vapor but they are prevented, by and large, by the force of the air column pushing down on it. Until we heat it up enough that the pressure of the vapor exceeds the atmospheric pressure and that's when we have a boiling liquid. So, up here we'll have this water boiling at a slightly lower temperature than down there ... wow, we're high up ... um, because up here there's less sky pushing down on it.
AB: Less sky.
DS: Right.

boil = pressure of vapor > pressure of air

AB: So, is this something you can predict or is it like rolling chicken bones?
DS: No, it's not like rolling chicken bones. This is science.
AB: Science.
DS: We can count on a one degree Fahrenheit decrease in boiling point for every 500 feet we go up.
AB: Okay, so that means that in Denver water boils at about 204?
DS: Right.
AB: Cool.
DS: And on Mount Everest it's 156 degrees Fahrenheit.
AB: 156? Wow, it must be tough to get a hard boiled egg on Everest.
MOUNTAIN CLIMBER: Yeah, but at that temperature you can reach right in and grab it.
AB: Reach right in and grab it? Oh, like Daryl Hannah did in Blade Runner.
DS: She was a replicant. It didn't count!
AB: [incredulous] You got beat up a lot in school, didn't you?

1F decrease for every 500 feet increase

Denver = 204

Mt. Everest = 156

The Kitchen

    So, where you are really does decide how long you process. Within a thousand feet of sea level five minutes is fine. Between one and three thousand feet add five minutes. Between three and six, add another five. From six to eight thousand feet you get another five minutes and the occasional nose bleed. So, those of you in Denver, you're looking at a fifteen minute process while here at sea level our five is up.

1000 ft of sea level = 5 minutes
1000 - 3000 feet  = 10 minutes
3000 - 6000 feet  = 15 minutes
6000 - 8000 feet  = 20 minutes

    Now carefully remove the jars either to a cutting board or a towel spread on the counter. Again, metal or tile surfaces could cause thermal shock. And believe me when I say there is no mess like broken glass and blueberry napalm. Now as soon as the jars start to cool you're going to hear popping sounds. Unless you live in a really rough neighborhood, it's not gun fire. What it is is the little bit of air that remains in the head room is contracting as it cools and that pulls the lid down creating a vacuum. That seals the jar hermetically.
    Now I usually leave these to cool for at least eight hours before checking the seal, labeling and storing. Now to check the seals, you want to push down on all the lids. If they don't pop up and down, you are good to go. If you encounter a no sealer it will go up and down and pop like one of those little clicky toys you had as a kid. If that happens, just park it in the refrigerator and eat it within the next couple of weeks. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just not preserved. Resealing is not an option.

    Now, unless you plan on moving them around a lot or giving the jars as gifts it's best to store them with the rings off. They're prone to rusting and they can actually mask a jar gone bad. Follow me. 

store with rings off

The Cellar

    Most experts don't recommend keeping home preserves more than a year but I admit I occasionally go beyond that limit but with only high acid foods like my jams, fruit preserves and jellies.

high acid foods
can store 1 year
fruit preserves

    Ah, the last of the 98 mint. Magnificent spring that year. Notice the label information. Recipe name, where it came from, date it was canned.

back yard

    Now, I've never actually witnessed a jar go bad. But as all sci-fi fans know, suspended animation can go awry. So, check out a jar before opening. If yeast or certain bacteria have weaseled their way in, they'll give off gas, which, if you've left the ring off, will pop the lid. If that happens, discard.
    Survey the surface for fuzzy mold. If you see any, discard.
    If the food has mysteriously heaved up filling the head room, discard.
    Now, open and smell. Smell funny or off? Discard.
    Are there suddenly bubbles everywhere? Discard.
    Doesn't look quite right? Discard.

Discard if:
lid has come off
mold on surface
food touches lid
smells funny
bubble on surface
doesn't look right

Lawyers make us say this stuff. Properly made jams almost never go bad.

Good to the Last Blop

The Kitchen

    We hope we've piqued your interest in an appetite for a little home made Jam Session. Just remember, as in good jazz improvisation must be avoided until one has the chops for the job. Stick with reliable recipes, don't double them up and never substitute ingredients. Ever. To find out more check out the national food safety database at www.foodsafety.org*. It's loaded with reliable recipes and information on canning and preserving. And hey, it's from the government so it's got to be good. Right?


    Remember, when the queen told Alice the rule is, "Jam to-morrow and jam yesterday - but never jam to-day," she didn't know what good eats she was missing. See you next time.

*This link no longer works. Try this site: http://www.foodsafety.gov.
From Lewis Carroll's Trough the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, (1871)

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010