2012 hillbilly jam. Brought to you by Gatorade.

You might be thinking I’m going to talk about a bluegrass event. Perhaps you are even thinking it could have a better name, like The Gatorade 2012 Pickin’ and Pluckin’ Classic.

Or you might wonder if this will be another tale about my banjoing, fiddling family and their pick-up music. But if you’re at least one or two dips hillbilly, you’re might already be thinking “Gatorade and jam? Why didn’t I think of that?”

Yes, I’m actually talking about jam again—the kind you eat on bread and butter, spread on a cracker or use to fill Linzer heart cookies. Usually, all goes well, but when it doesn’t and you grew up with at least half your family a hillbilly circus, you figure things out the old-fashioned way…

I make it several times each summer, and I know my berry concoctions taste good enough to sell, but I just make it for family and for gifts. I like to invent flavor combinations with whatever is seasonal, but I’ve also been known to freeze elderberry juice to mix with spring flavors. I’m sassy like that.

I have a tasty batch of some crazily-named jam like “StrApEl Plum” (last year’s special combination of strawberries, apples, elderberries and plum). The favorite of all time was one of my earliest mix ‘n match specials, “Gurple Raspberry.” That was before I wrote down roportions, so it has never been recreated {sigh}. I’ve mixed pomegranates, apples, plums, pears, and pretty much everything ending in “berry.” But this was a completely unplanned experimentation.

I’m sure you know what’s coming, but let me tell you how it happened. I brought my jam-making equipment from our home in Pennsylvania to our rental house here in Madison, Indiana. I also brought a large container of freshly picked raspberries, which I kept in a cooler with ice for the six-hour drive. I bought some jars and was ready to go.

Canning Lid Lifter

My fancy schmancy magnet for lifting lids from hot water baths

The first problem came when I realized I had forgotten my magnet for lifting flat-lids and screw-tops out of the simmering water. I could have bought one, but I would have had to buy the whole package of funnel, jar lifter and magnet, and besides. I already have one back home. Whoever would buy two? So we had to come up with a solution without spending any money. This is what makes the difference between hillbilly problem-solving and the rest of the world. You have to do it using leftovers, spare parts and other cheap or easy items.

Using the magnet from the refrigerator and spring-type clothespins, we taped together a version of my lid lifter that would hopefully last through a few hot water baths.

Okay, now I’m ready to make the jam. Kurt went outside to mow the lawn of our rental house to stay out of my way as he always does when I’m in the kitchen. He knows my penchant for colorful language and need for a full kitchen worth of space while I’m cooking. The plan was to make a nice cherry-red raspberry jam, heavy on the raspberry. I planned to call it “RaspCherry” (yeah, lame I know).

I have this jam-making process down, so I got my jars simmering and my sugar measured. I pitted my cherries and started heating them up. Raspberries are easier to crush, so I save myself time by beginning to heat the other ingredients. I open the large container and see that the majority have already fermented or furry—the ones I pick out that look okay taste fermented too. I don’t know how to make wine, and I already have the kettle cooking cherries, so I swear for a few minutes, then make the best of it.

I begin scrambling, because turning off the kettle is just not an option. This has become a challenge. Something will come of this.

To make a regular sugar batch of jam, depending on the fruit, it generally takes about 5 cups of fruit. I have 1¼ cups of cherries cooking in the kettle, and need 3¾ more. I raid the fridge for the berries I have in my morning shake. I manage to crush some strawberries, blueberries and blackberries, but I’m still more than a cup short.

Sitting on the top shelf of the fridge is the only thing left that might suffice—Kurt’s jug of fruit punch Gatorade. I knew he would probably want to chug it down when he came in from the sweltering lawn mowing, but I was desperate and only needed a little more than a cup.

I now had two things to worry about with this jam. First, would the jam taste okay with Gatorade substituted for berries? Second, you know jam is a product of smashed fruit, but jelly is made from fruit juices. I often mix juice into my jam, but you have to be careful of the quantity of juice, because quantity of sugar and pectin/type of pectin should vary with what you’re trying to make (if you’re doing it well, that is). I had no idea how this was going to turn out, and I was pretty nervous.

I finished cooking the jam and lifted all my jars onto the countertop, ready to fill. You don’t stop at this point in the process, because you need those jars still hot to take the hot jam. It’s an issue of being sterile and of not wanting just-boiled fluid in a cold glass. The timing has to be right. So when I heard Kurt knocking on the front door to be let in, I let loose a stream of expletives as I scurried across the kitchen to unlock the door.

I knew in the reasonable part of my brain that he probably was just really thirsty and wanted to come directly into the kitchen for some Gatorade, but we had a deal about my kitchen time, and the side door was already unlocked for him to come and go. Between the swearing and the stress and the necessity of uninterrupted time, I sometimes wonder if I should start drinking when I cook…

Homemade canning magnet

Back at the stove, I grabbed the new rigged-up lid lifter, clothespins dangling precariously, and dipped it into the hot water bath. It was just a little short for my big kettle, and my fingertips dunked into the simmering water each time I nabbed a lid. The clothespins wriggled unsteadily, and the magnet threatened to twist out of the end, but I managed to get four of my eight flat lids onto the jars before the knock came again.

Not wanting to interrupt the process, I focused on my lid-lifting, while slinging another long string of fluffers at the door, hollering that it was unlocked and Come in already, %@#$&%*!!!!     Silence.

Fuming and fingers burning, I was determined to get this batch of jam done. Mold spores. Mold spores is what keeps me in constant panic mode when making jam. When mom taught me how to make jam, she drilled this into my head, saying that if I wanted my jam to last, for years if need be, the key was sterile jars and lids, and immediate, immediate sealing of the jars. She made me paranoid that even seconds of exposure by that cooling jam to the air, and tiny invisible mold spores would get in your jam. I now, and always, have mold paranoia when it comes to making jam.

I didn’t yet know how it would turn out, but I jotted down the proportions anyway for my Hillbilly Jam. (In hindsight, I recommend adjusting to use less Gatorade and more berries.)

So there I am, filling a jar with the funnel, wiping the top with the hot cloth and burning my fingers to quickly yet carefully put the flat lids onto the tops of the jars. I get the last flat lid onto the last jar, and prepare to start lifting out the screw-tops (rings) to put on so I can flip all my jars upside down for five minutes. I will always use this method, because the still near-boiling jam will finish sterilizing the top of the jar and help seal the flat-lid. I don’t like the method of re-cooking the jam inside the jars, because to me it overcooks the jam and ruins the taste (imho). I’m just starting to lift the screw-tops on when the knocking comes again.

IT’S !*#*^%!! UNLOCKED! This time I holler it so loudly I hear it echo in the upstairs of this historic hardwood house. Grabbing a cloth to wipe my burning fingers, which I’ll now have to wash again before finishing, I can’t believe Kurt hasn’t yet gone around to the back door or just tried to open the front door. I practically fly to the door and whip it open.

There stands our sweet next-door neighbor with a small carton of eggs. She smiles uncertainly, explains quickly that she’s going away for a few days and doesn’t want the eggs to go bad since they’re fresh and local and holds them out to me. I take them and mumble something about making jam and does she like jam? And promising to give her some jam. She hurries off the porch.

Embarrassed, I return to my hot water bath, where the tape has dissolved just enough from the clothespins that they begin to fall apart, the magnet sinking to the bottom of the water. I finish retrieving the screw-tops with my jar holder and flip the jars.

Trying the jam the next morning I find that not only has it set, but the Gatorade gives it a sweetness that almost overwhelms the other flavors, tasty nonetheless. I take a jar of this new jam (as well as one of my best) to my neighbor, along with a note of apology.

Love and !*#*^%!!, Marla

P.S. For those of you new to my blogs, just choose “food” from my category list to see other similarly delicious blogs

11 Comments on “2012 hillbilly jam. Brought to you by Gatorade.

  1. Marla, just reading of your adventures brings a smile to my face – I’m only back to June 20th, but if my very sick and cuddling grandson stays asleep I may get them all read. You are an amazing writer ! Mona Juart( former small town of MC resident – current resident of your family road) ha ha

  2. Marla, my pottymouth sister… wish i liked jam more… have several jars from the past, just lack the sweettooth that plagued mom all herlife… maybe i should try thesecookies you speak of?

    How are the fingertips?

    • Haha. Yes, but potty mouth is part of what makes it hillbilly jam, no? Yeah, we all have our vices. Mine are sweets. Kurt likes salt like chips, etc. I am not a chips gal.

      Everyone should try these cookies I speak of…

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