She Who Must Be Obeyed came home from work on Friday with a huge bag full of gooseberries. Not just any gooseberries, but gooseberries from her boss’s gooseberry bushes. Gooseberries that could not be politely refused, as one does with a co-worker’s zucchini or eggplant or basil.
They also came with an injunction from the boss’s wife: See what you can do with these. I had no intention of undertaking a major baking project on the hottest weekend of the summer so far, so I fell back on a tried-and-true preparation: jam. I consulted the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preservation for the particulars of gooseberry jam prep and got to work.
I started by cleaning and trimming the berries. Correction: I started by telling She Who Must Be Obeyed to clean and trim the berries, since she was responsible for their arrival in the kitchen. An hour later she asked for my help. Gooseberries have a stem on the top and a “tail” at the bottom, both of which must be removed. The stem pops right off, but the tail has to be trimmed off with a paring knife.
Two hours later, I had my ingredients ready: three cups of gooseberries, three cups of sugar, and a half cup of water.
I added the water and half of the berries to a pan and brought it to a boil over medium heat. I mashed some of the berries with a potato masher.
I added the sugar and stirred to combine.
I let the mixture boil over medium heat for 15 minutes. While the berries cooked, I set up my jars, which had been sitting in boiling water in my canning kettle.
When the jam was ready — described by the self-referential “thick and jammy” — I tested it by dropping a spoonful of the syrup on a plate that had been chilled in the freezer. The jam set immediately without running, which meant it was ready.
Using a wide-mouthed canning funnel, I ladled jam into each of the jars.
I covered each jar with a lid, then sealed the lids with the bands, turning until the bands were finger-tight.
I placed the covered jars into the kettle and let them boil for fifteen minutes. The heat forces air out of the jars, which them produces a vacuum seal as the jars cool.
I removed the jars and let them cool, listening for the “pop” each lid makes as the vacuum is formed.
And that’s all there is to making jam. There are particulars that vary depending on the acidity and natural pectin levels of the fruit being preserved, but the basic technique is the same.
When I asked the pie lady at the farmer’s market if she had ever made gooseberry jam, she said “I’d only make it from the pink berries, which are far less common than the green ones. It’s a very pretty jam.”
Judge for yourself:
I’m sending a jar back to the boss’s wife. It is a lovely shade of transparent pink, and tasted pretty good, so it was worth the effort.
But if you see a friend or office mate heading toward you with a big bag of round, striped berries — run!