Saturday, June 20, 2009

Really Bad Day in the Kitchen

I have had my own kitchen for over 30 years now. I have cooked, baked, roasted, stir-fried, sauteed, canned & preserved all sorts of things. I am an experienced cook. I have had my share of kitchen mishaps and disasters over the years. That comes with the territory. Mistakes help you gain experience.

I have burned things, under-cooked things, had things stick to the pan. I've even had things catch on fire! Once, a very long time ago, the kitchen faucet even "exploded" all over me drenching me completely. Those last two were both during dinner parties that I was hosting!

None of those "disasters" can compare to the stupid, stupid mistake I made in my kitchen today. None of those previous mishaps made anywhere near the mess or calamity that I managed to pull off today.

I am so frickin' pissed right now! I am so mad that I feel like crying (for the past hour) but can't even relax enough to allow the tears to flow.

What the hell happened, you might ask? OK, I will tell you.

Remember that beautiful flat of organic strawberries that I wrote about in my last post? Well, I made that nice Shiny Red Pie and ate most of it myself, and then decided to save out enough strawberries to make a batch of strawberry jam. I love strawberry jam and so does my family, so I put aside about 5 or 6 pint baskets worth and waited until today when I finally had time to devote to the cooking and canning process. Fresh berries don't keep very long and I really didn't want to freeze them, so I had to make time in my day to make the jam and get it canned properly. I also wanted to enjoy the creative process.

Ok, so I carefully wash and hull 6 pints of strawberries. I realize I don't have enough sugar for the recipe, so off to the local market I go to buy a 5lb bag. Paid way too much for it, but hey, it's convenient to buy it here so close to home. Back home, I locate my half pint canning jars and a bunch of brand new lids and rims. I wash the whole case of them, even though I will only need 8 or 9 jars for the recipe.

Great, now I have everything I need. Finally. All organized and ready to go. Strawberries, washed and hulled. Check. Sugar, measured out and ready to pour into the cook pot. Check. Jars, lids, rims all washed and sterilized, ready and waiting in the preheated canner full of hot water.
Again, check.

I mash the strawberries with the sugar in the cook pot. I heat them gently until the sugar dissolves. I turn up the heat like the recipe says and insert the jelly thermometer to watch for the proper gel temperature. Up here at 3000 ft altitude, that would be 214 degrees F.

Now all I need to do is wait and stir, wait and stir, until the gel point temp is reached. I've made jam before. I've made lots of jam and many kinds of jam before. Strawberry, blackberry, peach, plum, apricot...even apple jelly. I've made jam. I know how to do it. Really don't even need to look at the recipe anymore, but I do so out of insecurity and...anal-ness.

It's taking awhile to boil and get any reading on the thermometer that is anywhere near 200 degrees. So I remember that I always seem to have the flame too low when I make jam not wanting to scorch the bottom or ruin the batch. So I turn up the flame, and I put the lid on the pot.

Fine. I stand there for a minute or so and then decide to leave the kitchen and go outside for a minute. Just a minute. One, maybe two minutes tops.

Huge mistake! Gigantic, stupid, huge mistake!! Don't ever do this. Don't ever, EVER do this.

I really was only gone for about two minutes. When I re-entered my kitchen the jam pot was fully boiling over and streaming red, gooey, sticky jam all down the pot, all over the stove and all down inside and under my stove top!

It was a big f*cking mess!! I have never, ever made that big of a mess in my kitchen before. There was partially cooked jam everywhere. I moved the cook pot of jam, now only half full. (Crap!) off of the stove. I also moved the very heavy and very hot canner full of sterilized jars and boiling water off of the stove. Removed the burners and then mopped up the thick sticky red mess from the top of the stove with a sponge and a wet dish towel. I was dripping sticky syrup all over the place. Then when I had removed enough of the jam from the stove top to allow me to lift the top and check to see if the pilot light was still lit (it was) I could then see where the rest of my pot of half cooked jam landed. It filled the depressions under the burners with about a half inch of red goo. I sopped that up with the sponge and rag, but it was no easy job. I had to climb halfway inside my stovetop to reach the mess and clean it without burning myself on the pilot flame or without making further mess. It was a crappy job, and I was so angry at myself for allowing it to happen in the first place.

I finally got it cleaned up enough to turn my attention back to my jam pot to see if I could salvage my beloved strawberry jam and all of the work that had gone into it. I wiped down the outside of the pot and put it back on the flame. Put the canner back on the fire too. I salvaged only about 1/2 of the recipe. That is actually what am I pissed off about the most. The mess was bad and unfortunate, but messes happen sometimes. I am really upset that I wasted half of my jam recipe. Those wonderful berries don't come along everyday.

So I finished cooking what was left of my jam as if nothing bad had happened. I turned up the flame to get it to the correct gelling temperature and then I filled the jars and processed them in my water bath canner for 10 minutes. (10 minutes because I live at 3000 ft, sea level would only require 5 minutes)

I lost over half of my beautiful deep red strawberry jam to that overflow spill and to my stupid lack of attention. I am still really pissed.

Oddly, in the middle of me cleaning up the sticky mess, I was composing this blog post in my head. I couldn't wait to tell you all about it. You people keep me sane. Thanks.

Here's a photo of my stupid 4 jars of organic homemade strawberry jam.

Organic Strawberry Jam

© Copyright 2009 Mountain Harvest Basket


CaliforniaGrammy said...

Oh Jen, all I can say is that I'm so sorry for your loss of half of your jam. However, reading this blog out loud made us laugh at you going on and on about what a stupid mistake you made and how especially pissed off you were at loosing half your jam . . . you are a great as well as a hysterical story teller.

And by the way, the jars of Organic Strawberry Jam are absolutely stunning! I know you and yours will enjoy them twice as much as you normally would.

Thanks for the chuckles, I hope you've cooled off to enjoy the evening.

The Old Gray Egg said...

After all of these years of making jam, this is your first mistake? NOT! The first time's a lesson. The second time is a mistake. Now you've paid your dues and you will savor those remaining jars even more.

Hardware Bob said...

Sorry about your terrible experience, never turn your back on a stove, they can be very vicious.

I can imagine how angry you would be after all that work, checking, and double checking the recipe. The 4 survivors do look great though.

Anonymous said...

To celebrate the first day of summer, the summer solstice, the separation of seasons, the shortest day of the year .
Have a nice summer , Jen
Kisses from Greece , Roula:))

Knit Witch said...

OH NO!!!!!! I don't blame you - I would be pissed too!!!! Ugh. What you made sure does look beautiful though! You don't use any pectin in your recipe? I always cut the sugar in the recipes because then the jam is just too sweet for me so I use that "no sugar needed" pectin.

Farmer Jen said...

Hi CA Grammy,
Thank you for your support, your praise and your laughter. I just tell my stories as they come to mind. Life happens. I talk about it. The stories write themselves. Ha! Yeah, I eventually cooled off. The jam is good. Just not enough of it.

Yes, actually, after all these years this was my first real jam making mistake. Once before I cooked some raspberry jam a bit too long and it came out too stiff, and once I tried to make tomato jam without added pectin, so I actually made sweet tomato sauce instead. Nothing as bad as this strawberry explosion though. Yes, a lesson. Never put the lid on a pot of boiling jam. I got it now.

Hi Bob,
Yes, a bad and vicious stove. Never trust one. Lots of work and time for 4 small jars of tasty jam. I won't make that mistake again though.

Hi Roula,
Happy Summer Solstice to you too! It's always so nice to hear from you. You are like a ray of summer sunshine!

Hi Brittany,
Thanks for your support and praise. Yes, the jam turned out well even with the explosion in the kitchen. I don't use added pectin in my jam. I like the simple purity of just fruit and sugar. I too, enjoy the fruit taste and really like it a bit on the tart side. So I usually put more fruit in than the recipe calls for, so I can taste the fruit rather than just sweetness from the sugar. Also, sometimes I add a bit of fresh lemon juice to give it a bit more tartness. Lemon brings out the fruit flavor and cuts the sugar sweetness a bit. Also helps preserve the fruit's color.