A week of rain and snow turned our backyard into a muddy mess today, but that didn't stop new canners from turning out in droves for the Canning Boot Camp! This was a pretty advanced set of beginners today. Except for one student, all had at least tried to can before, and some had spent quite a few hours at the elbows of moms, aunts, and grandmas as children.
A recurring question today was this: Why do some jams turn out dark, almost caramel tasting, but not in a good way?
The answer: overcooking. First time canners most commonly have this problem with Strawberry Jam. One student said she was boiling this jam, and got worried when the foaming bubbles grew high. So she turned the temperature quite low and continued cooking until a set was reached. But the resulting jam tasted horrible.
The solution: Always cook Strawberry Jam at a high temperature. Yes, it will boil high, but as long as it doesn't boil over the top¹, continue stirring frequently. Eventually most of the water in the berries will evaporate, and the foam will decrease, and the level of the jam will drop dramatically in the pot. If you try to cook this jam slowly, it will overcook and develop a nasty, thick, smoky, almost caramel flavor.
¹If your jams boil over the top of your pot, your pot is not deep enough. It's natural for fruit to boil very high as they release their liquid into steam. Always use the right size pot for the size of batch you're canning to avoid stove fires, burns on your skin, and big messes to clean!