One of my very favorite childhood memories is of making jam. When I was a little girl, my mother and grandmother would take me to pick strawberries in the feilds of Styer Orchards and then we would make huge batches of strawberry jam. That vivid memory of perfect summer days, the sweet smell of cooking berries, and 3 generations together in the kitchen is really what motivated me to learn to make jams on my own. There is something really wonderful and special about connecting to the past and traditions in the form of food.
The process of canning may seem a little intimadating, but it has come a long way since my gradmother's kitchen and it just takes a little practice to master.
The best online resource for any begining jam maker is definitely pickyourown.org...they offer a comprensive step by step guide (with photo of each step) for most basic recipes. They also sell supplies.
Speaking of supplies, in order to start canning, you will need a few basic items. I suggest you start with the essensials at first and then you can add more specialized items to your arsenal from there...
The first thing you need is a canning pot (or "canner") - you can find them online or at most major stores (I've seen them at Fred Meyer & Walmart) for about $25, but I see them constantly at thrift stores and estate sales for a couple of dollars - so it is probably worth keeping an eye out. The canning pots should come with with a wire rack that fits into the bottom to keep your jars from banging together and keep direct heat off the bottom of the jar.
You also need to select the size and style of jars you want to use. When it comes to jam, I prefer half-pint and 4oz jars. The jam will last for 1 year in the cabinet, but once your jam is opened it has a more limited life in the fridge, so I just think the smaller jars are more practical. I also like that I can make more jars to share with friends. Larger full pint and quart jars are perfect for sauces and veggie canning. You can reuse your jars and the rings year after year as long as you are careful to inspect them for chips or fractures before using. The top lid piece of the jars is the only part that will need to be replaced with each use (it has a rubber gum that assists in the sealing process).
Other tools you need to get started: a nice big pot to make your jam, ladle, and tongs or a jar lifter. Jar lifter tool is really a wonderful thing to own if you are doing any kind of canning. You can use tongs to get the jars out, but the jar lifter will save you a lot of aggrivation and will be well worth the 5 bucks.
Once you get all the basics down, you are ready to start making jam!
This summer, I am working on some non-traditional jams. I will be posting a new recipe each day this week! Welcome to Jam Week!