Sunday Slam: Bunnies and Berries

So far, the move to make Sundays the best day in the week has taken off swell.

By cramming everything awesome into one day, I not only always have something to look forward to but I also feel fine with spending the rest of my time working on arguably more necessary projects. You know, the one’s that pay the bills.

So what happened this Sunday? Oh man.

Well, first there was the brunch at our local cafe, which was a combination celebration of a day off and a birthday to come. On the way out, there was on 89 year old grandpa on the front steps that was bleeding really heavily from his head. While everyone else was frantically stumbling and mumbling about (“What happened? Is he alright? Oh my word!”) Allison got some napkins to apply pressure to the cut while I got one of the bus boys to call 911 and get some water. He had fallen and opened up an old scar on his forehead and was bleeding pretty quickly, but he was in good spirits about it. It was pretty remarkable for two reasons. One, it’s crazy to see how people lock up in emergency situations. Even the most basic first aid of applying pressure to a wound seems to escape people when their caught off guard. I don’t think it’s that people don’t care or are cruel, but that it’s just easier to freeze. Out of the three basic instincts, that’s the one that’s easiest to lock into when witnessing an injury. There’s not usually anything to fight, and there’s almost never a reason to “fly,” so one ends up just standing about giving off empathy.

Second, this guy was really cool. Out of everyone there, he was probably the most calm. The whole time, he was cracking jokes and making light of the situation. More than anything, he didn’t want anyone worried. As he wife came to see what happened, he told her “Oh, I missed a step and hit my head. Do you think we can get our breakfast to go?” It was pretty awesome to see someone able to put everyone at ease like that. As Allison wipe off the blood that had run down his face, she joked along. “Let me just get these bits off so you can look presentable when your daughter gets here.” Lesson, I guess, is that staying cool under pressure is awesome and it’s too bad that so many people don’t.

And that was just the start!

Next, there were the strawberries. Allison had just picked eight pounds of them at Lull Farm in Milford and we needed to make some jam. Needed to.

We decided to jam half of them, freeze one quarter, and eat another quarter over the next week. Here’s the most basic strawberry jam recipe we could find.

  • Four Pounds of Strawberries, hulled
  • Eight Cups of Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup of Lemon Juice

Wait, what?

I mean, I knew that preserves took a lot of sugar, especially low-pectin fruits like strawberries, but Eight Cups?

Just for perspective, here’s what that looks like.

That was a little shocking. At the time, we thought we’d just go along with it so that we learn the traditional way to make it before we try some other form later. In retrospect, the stuff is a little sweet for my liking. Next time, I think we’ll try using some pectin to get it to thicken up and set without giving it so much sweetness.

Here’s what we did.

First, we mashed them.

Some recipes called for them to be blended, but we both prefer some big fruit chunks in the preserves, so we went with the dance-party masher. Um, ask me about it later.

After dissolving the sugar in at a low boil (which actually didn’t take very long at all,) we cranked up the heat and let it boil on high for about thirty minutes or so. The color significantly darkened and the bubbles were more sluggish, which were signs that we were getting closer. The best signal, though, was the temperature. When it got to 220, that meant it was supposed to be done. Since water boils at 212, the higher temperature shows that the consistency is getting thicker. I guess the old-timers figures that 220 was pretty universal.

Even more old-timey, though, was the final test of spooning some out onto a cold plate and seeing how is acted. We felt like a couple of five year olds, poking these jellied strawberries with wooden spoons to see if they’d move. In hindsight, it probably should have boiled longer as the preserves ended up a bit saucy. But, hey, live and learn.

Next, they needed to be canned.

Now, I’m way into canning.

Maybe I’m just stubborn, but I can’t stand relying on a freezer to keep my food unspoiled. That said, I have also been drilled with fear speeches about botulism, so I’ve been testing the waters slowly. So far, my Dad ate some dilly beans that didn’t kill him and we’ve made jam. So far, so good.

The basic process, for those interested, involves three steps:

  1. Prepping the Jars
  2. Filling them with Good Stuff
  3. The “Water Bath”

Mason jars are actually three pieces, the jar, the lid, and the ring, and the first two need to be sterilized as they’ll actually form the sterile environment for the goods to go into. The nifty rack above helps with the water bath a bunch, but not at all for this size of jar. They all fell through to the bottom and I had to fish them out with giant, insulated chemist gloves. I’m so glad I have those things and you should get a pair.

After filling the sterilized jars (it’s handy to have a large-mouth funnel for that) you cap them. The lids get boiled for two reasons, first is for the whole “sterile environment=longer life” thing, the second is actually to soften the little rubber ring, which helps to make a tighter seal with the jar. The locking ring helps to establish this seal, but is actually not needed to keep the seal in place after the canning is complete.

Finally, there’s the bath.

This is where the magic happens. During this hot water bath, the contents of the jars, as well as the jars themselves, get heated up enough to kill off any remaining bacteria. Also, the heat forces all the air out of the jars as it’s replaced with steam. When the jars cool down, this makes for a vacuum inside the jar that makes for a strong seal as well as an almost oxygen-free environment. Good things for keeping out unwanted organisms.

This particular preserve with this particular size jar had to be boiled for ten minutes. Heavier things in larger jars take way longer, which is why people who can a lot tend to use pressure cookers. The higher temperature helps to cut the time in half.

An hour later, they were cool and so were we.

Like I said, we’re going to aim for a less-sweet version later on, but I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.

Oh, and there’s more.

Yea, we got some rabbits. Actually, though we’d been talking about it for a while, Allison went ahead and bought a trio of New Zealand Whites to celebrate my birthday. I’ll have to talk more about these later, so for now just look at how perfect they are.

So. There’s that.

Then we saw a cool frog.

And we topped it off with a fire side dinner of quiche and home fries with some home brewed maple porter.

Life, eh?

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