Today was my first jam-making day this Spring--I missed the violets, redbuds and other things earlier on, but now the mulberries and strawberries are coming in and it's time to make jam. Actually, the mulberries came in and then a huge flock of Cedar Waxwings, of all things, arrived and they pretty much cleaned the tree today.
This is the first time I have seen Cedar Waxwings on our land so I am not unhappy about the berries, and we picked a lot of them yesterday so I had enough to make jam.
As I was working in the kitchen I thought about tools. Kitchen tools, and how having the right ones can simplify cooking and make it enjoyable instead of a chore. Now you know I love my Tappan Deluxe stove, and its simplicity is one of the reasons. It just works. I love having drawers in the stove for implements and potholders and towels. I love the light on the back. I love the way the gas adjusts so quickly and easily so I have just the right amount of heat. I love the burner covers that give me extra work space and the wide space between the burners for the same reason. Did I mention I love my 1950 stove?
It was the other tools that got me thinking today, though.
Like the spoon holder that is just like one my mother had. With a ladle, a stirring spoon and a jelly skimmer all at work, it's good to have a place to put them without stickying up the entire stove.
And the jelly strainer-how easy it is to skim the foamies off the top of jam with this thing! Simple, but nothing else can do the job as well.
Then there is the little electronic timer that was in an auction box, I think. Nothing to look at but it works great and I can time the boil and the skim time so easily.
The canning funnel is another tool that is so simple yet irreplaceable. Ladling hot jam into jars without one would be a total mess.
And the cooking pot. To make jams and jellies you really need a good, heavy, preferably stainless steel or enamel pan. It needs to be big enough too. I bought mine on eBay last year when I was getting rid of all Teflon in my kitchen. This is a great pan, stainless with a heavy copper bottom and so easy to clean up at the end.
None of these are really high tech; all were used, most were at least 30 years old when I got them and certainly didn't cost much. But when it's time to can, these tools make the job a downright pleasure. Of course, they were made in a time when almost everyone put up their own food and the kitchen tools were made to fit that need.
Do you have some kitchen tool that you consider indispensable? Something passed down or bought used that is your standby tool when you're cooking?
Here's my jam recipe:
1 1/2 cups cut up strawberries
2 cups mulberries
1/2 cup cooked, mashed rhubarb
Mash the berries and rhubarb together.
1 box pectin
Cook to a full boil, stirring pretty constantly (the berries can stick and burn if you're not careful)
5 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Stir in well; continue to cook until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil, stirring regularly. When it boils, set timer for 1 minute and stir constantly. After one minute, remove the jam from the heat. Stir and skim to remove foam and impurities for 5 minutes. Ladle into hot sterilized jars. Wipe rims, put lids and rings on and tighten. Process following standard procedures.
For jam and jelly-making recipes, check out these books: