Glossary of Terms
The Gel Stage: This is when your mixture has gone from a syrup to the thickness of a jam. You can determine this in various ways. The two I find most helpful are:
(1) Keep a saucer in the freezer. When you think you are at the gel stage, put a dollop of jam on it. Place back in the freezer for about a minute (until cooled to room temperature). If when you pull it out and push the jam with your finger, it wrinkles, it’s at the gel stage. If not, keep cooking until it does.
(2) Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature of your jam. Once it reaches 220 degrees, it’s at the gel stage.
*Don’t let these tests intimidate you. The worst thing that can happen if you stop too soon is runny jam (which is still delicious). The worst thing that can happen if you go too long is a scorched pan and burnt-sugar-tasting jam. Let your nose be your guide on that end. If you start to smell burnt sugar, stop immediately and proceed to canning.
Water-Bath Canning: This is a method of canning for low-risk foods like jams, jellies, pickles, and some tomatoes.
Clean jars, lids, and bands with hot soapy water.
Keep jars in hot (not boiling) water until ready to fill (to prevent breaking when filled with hot liquid). A hot dishwasher works too!
Follow recipe instructions for filling jars and leaving headspace at the top of the jar.
Wipe jar rims with a clean cloth to remove any food residue.
Put clean discs and bands on the jars, and tighten only until you first feel resistance to your fingers (do not go as tight as you can).
Process jars on a rack in a large pot with a lid, covered by 1-2 inches of water, boiling as long as the recipe requires.
Remove lid and allow jars to acclimate about 5 minutes, then remove from water bath and allow to cool completely.
Lids should be slightly concave at this point to indicate they are fully sealed. You should not be able to push the center down at all. If any of the jars did not seal properly, store in the refrigerator.
Once completely cool, remove bands and store in a cool, dry, dark place.
Water Bath Canning with Ball Jars: See their website here for more information.
Weck Jar Canning: See their website here for more information.