Fall Jammin’

A while back, a friend of mine asked if I had any posts on making preserves or canning jam.  Well, this post is for her, thanks for asking, Lori.

Quince from my own trees
Quince from my own trees

I don’t normally post this kind of thing on this blog, but it is good to have as a reference and is one of a few tutorials I wanted to get started posting anyway.  Besides, we are still painting the garage and not showing much of anything right now in that line of work.  I’m just hoping we get a whole first coat on before the weather changes.

I learned how to make strawberry jam last year and how to can it properly.  I got so into the process that I made apple jelly, orange marmalade, lime marmalade and quince jam before the year was out.  This season, I thought I’d try to make some new flavors. I started with strawberry to get in the groove, so those are the pics and the process I’ll post here.

For me, the process was all about knowing how not to poison myself and others so I learned from someone showing me first hand, which was GREAT.  That is also how I’m learning to knit and how I learned to make really awesome cinnamon rolls.  Learning from a seasoned woman is the best way, I think.

All my tools, raring to go
All my tools, raring to go

Start with the all the tools you’ll need.  This is huge.  Get a lot of jars, in some different sizes.  Get a few boxes of pectin, low sugar and regular Sure -Jell is my preferred choice.  Get a canning pot, with a canning rack.  Bill bought one for me last year for Christmas –one of the best presents ever.  Get a magnet to pick up lids out of the boiling water and a set of tongs made for picking up the jars.  Have a wire rack for cooling jams and some kitchen towels on hand.  Get a jam funnel and a ladle.  There ya go.

The hardest part is preparing the fruit, I think.  For things like peaches or cherries, you have to remove stems or pits or peel.  It can be daunting, so start with strawberries, so easy.  Clean them, remove stems and mash them up.  If I have fresh berries to use in June, I prepare them and then freeze the prepared fruit so that I can make the jam when the weather cools.

Following the recipe either on the Sure Jell website, I’m ready to go.

Seven cups of sugar
Seven cups of sugar

I’ve started cleaning all the jars I’m going to use, lids, rims and jars and turned them over.  I’ve started the water boiling in the canning pot.  It takes forever to heat up, so good to start early.  Thaw out the fruit.  Prepare the sugar (put 7 cups in a bowl).  Mix 1/4 cup of that sugar with the powdered pectin.

Place the lids in another small pot on a back burner to boil and sterilize.  Place the jars in the boiling water in the canning pot to sterilize.  Then put the fruit in another pot to start cooking.  Turn the fruit on high and mix in the pectin/sugar.  Stir constantly until this mixture is at a rolling boil.  Add the rest of the sugar and continue to stir.  Just stir forever.

Once this mix is rolling in a boil, time it to boil for one more minute.  Then, turn off the burner, take the jam off the stove and skim the froth off the top.  Some fruits make a lot and it is just sorta weird to have in your jam.

Canning pot boiling jars, and me stirring jam.
Canning pot boiling jars, and me stirring jam.

Then, quickly pull a jar out of the canning pot, fill it with warm jam up to 1/4″ from the top by using the ladle and funnel, wipe the rim, place on a lid and the tighten on the rim.  Do this with all the rest of the jam into jars.  If you have a little jam left, put it in a mug on the counter to see how it gels and you’ll have a fresh taste for when you’re done.  This is the stressful part, doing this quickly and not burning yourself.  But it is possible.

At this point, you can turn the jars over on the wire rack to let them cool.  This is safe with strawberry jam.  But, I take the next step and boil the sealed fruit for 5 more minutes in the canning pot.  This is a preventative step to avoid spoilage.  Remove the jars once they are done, don’t over process and let them cool upright.  Don’t shake them, just let’em gel.

Finished strawberry jam
Finished strawberry jam

My favorite site to follow for both recipes and process is here.  She is wordy, but so helpful and usually right on in all her recipes.  PickYourown.org

So far this year, I’ve made strawberry, apple jelly and cherry.  I’m still planning to do peach, marmalade and maybe grape.

Before and After. . . Renovations so far

Dining room, before we began
Dining room, complete with lemon trees

Here are a few images to give you an idea of how far we’ve come in 2 and a half years.  We still have a ways to go, but our house has become “ours”.  I’ll move through the images based on the order in which we completed the work.

We moved in during July of 2009, but since we were only renting (waiting on our loan to go through), we didn’t want to start any major work.  We spent the summer cleaning out the house, pruning back vines and readying for our paint crew.

When the outdoor work was underway, we began by cleaning up the kitchen and sealing the pantry.  We pulled carpet out of the laundry room, which I still haven’t show you.

And then we started the big work.  Since the dining room looked as though it would be one of the easier rooms, we started there.

Library with window still boarded
Library finished

Next we worked on the library, though we still have yet to put in shelves.

Bathroom before demolition
Completed bath

Then we started upstairs with the full bath and alongside we painted the kitchen.  It took us a LOOONG time to do the bath because we had to remove crappy wallpaper, which was adhered with caulk and a soldering gun.  Just kidding, but it was put on eerily strong.

Kitchen, fall 2009
Kitchen, freshly painted

We stayed upstairs to work on the master bedroom and redid the ceiling in the dining room, not even a year later.  Then we began the nursery and finished up with the living room, where we are still putting final details in place.

Pantry in progress
Pantry, painted

We’ve yet to redo anymore floors except for the master bedroom, though we did consider having someone else come in and do them for us.  We are still debating what to do there.  Such a big job for us.

We still have yet to put up the chandelier in the living room and attach the mantle, though Bill has completed it.

Master Bedroom, with windows covered
Master Bedroom completed, except for ceiling fan and stencil
Nursery first used as our bedroom
Nursery with mural begun

Once those pieces are in place, he will begin our bookshelves!  I cannot wait to get all my books in place.  I feel as though we still haven’t moved in because my books are waiting patiently in boxes all over the house.  I’m not a hoarder by any stretch, nor a collector of anything in particular, but I do love books.  And, thankfully, Bill loves building and working with wood, so this will be a great project for us both.

While Bill is working on the shelves, I have yet to finish painting and stenciling several areas in the house.  I am also going to draft up plans for our garden.  I’d like to get some flowerbeds in place this spring, for once.

Living room, first week moved in
Living Room complete!

the Pantry

Have you ever just done some serious decorating while your husband was at work, as in . . . painted a whole room orange?  Well, that is what I was up to a few weeks ago.  Okay, it wasn’t really a whole room, rather a whole space, like a closet size, and it wasn’t a bright orange. . but rather a deep rust.

Since it is going to be a while before we actually get to redo the kitchen and pantry with new cabinets and touch up the plaster (we painted it last summer), I decided to finish the painting job and complete the pantry.  I just did a quickie with one coat of paint and touch-ups, not even bothering with the ceiling.  However, it looks a ton better and matches the kitchen.

The early days of pantry life

To complete the project, I sanded and scraped the counter between the kitchen and dining room under the window and repainted it to match the woodwork.  To be precise, this is a butler’s pantry, and the “counter” is under the sliding door that divides the two. See the picture at right.  Originally it had a hideous linoleum cover on it which we pulled off last year.  I was living with a grungy top for the longest time, but could deal just because it was where I had my plants.  However, sanding and repainting it completes the room.

The pantry was the first thing we worked on when we moved in.  When we decided to buy the house, we actually rented it for a few months while we were waiting for the mortgage to go through, and we didn’t touch major repairs.

Ready for serving guests

Instead, we pruned the overgrown garden and painted the inside of the pantry to prepare for our goods.  We felt that painting the inside of cabinets would be a renters preference anyway, so we moved ahead.  The woodwork was initially that 70s avocado green and the plaster was raw.  I bought a neutral white and painted all of it, leaving the shelves bare wood so that Bill could coat them with a polyurethane.  And now with the painted walls, which are a deep saffron color rather than “orange” really, it looks rather homey and Tuscan.

The Kitchen

This weekend we worked mainly on the kitchen, and getting ready for the winter.  Bill spent some time refinishing our solid cherry storm doors.  (Another treat discovered as he sanded away.)

In process of removing the borders and plaster work

We aren’t planning on getting new counters or appliances for a while, but I was tired of the sad decor and dusty cabinetry in our kitchen.  I wanted it to be a place that I really wanted to work in, and we accomplished just that.

The counters are a mish mash of cobbled together plywood and tiled tops in some spots, laminate in others.  The appliances are black and in fairly decent shape, although it did take me the better part of an early move-in weekend to clean them.

The paint job was an awful pale yellow with a sad apple border placed on top of an older border.  Poorly matching to say the least.  So, I began by taking down the old borders and Bill touched up the plaster work in both the kitchen and pantry.

Before . . .

The pantry, by the way, is a full floor to ceiling butler’s pantry, with window and a swinging door into the dining room.  One of the first things we did last fall was paint the interiors of those cabinets to clean them up.  It’s a luxury to have such a huge pantry, and its beautiful to boot.

Unfortunately, I still need to finish painting it, but I just had to share this post on the completed kitchen.

After a few days of wallpaper removal and plaster work, we primed and then I painted a few coats. I have chosen a palette for the whole house, so every room goes with the next one, and in looking into one room from another, there is a synchronicity.  Since the dining room is a soft green, I thought the pantry and kitchen would look good in a deep rusty orange, really the color of a football.  I’m quite pleased with the outcome, as the kitchen is very warm and Tuscan feeling.  My plum dishes fit nicely in both rooms.

and after

After the painting, I spent hours cleaning the woodwork so that I wouldn’t have to repaint at this time.  Every once in a while there is still a lingering “pet odor” from the multitudes of dogs that lived here long before us.  But, every cleaning makes it better.

Then, Bill put in a new ceiling fan light to replace the potpourri light that was there.  Can’t describe it well, so I thought I would attach a photo. We polished the light above the sink, thinking it might actually be 80 years old. As a last touch, Bill sanded and resurfaced the large cutting board block that is our penisula counter.

With new carpet, too. 🙂

It is warm and homey, ready for bread baking and winter stews and long conversations with good friends.

Working on the kitchen, library and bedroom

Well, there isn’t a lot to show this week in pictures because the progress shots aren’t nearly as exciting as the finished pics with the “before” alongside.  But, I can promise you there is a lot happening.

This week, I started working on the kitchen.  No, the bedroom isn’t complete, but I needed a project of my own while Bill plasters his heart out.  He has done such a beautiful job in the Master bedroom that I’m still shocked it looks almost normal.  AND, we’ll be able to move in this fall.  I’ve picked out colors, stencils and I’m ready to put on the finishing touches.  While he works on that ceiling, I started peeling wallpaper in the kitchen.

Mid-project kitchen shot. . . looking towards the backyard and laundry room

To peel wallpaper in a normal setting, one would find a corner and just pull.  If it is put on correctly, it will come down smoothly without marring the walls.  “Put on correctly” meaning that the walls were primed beforehand.  In our case, most of this paper was put directly onto sheetrock or plaster, meaning that it takes hours to pull down 4 square feet.  The reason people put up wallpaper on un-primed surfaces is that its cheaper and it sticks really well.  I’ve spent four afternoons, so far, peeling down the border in the kitchen.  Spraying with a mix of water and fabric softener loosens the glue and then I can scrape with a razor blade.

Once I’m done, I’ll prime and paint.  We aren’t changing out appliances or counters in the kitchen yet, though it could really use it.  Down the road we’ll either custom build or get something more suitable.  Right now, there is just a mish mash of cobbled together counters and parts.  Except for the spacious butler’s pantry.  🙂  Yum!  I’ll shed light on that space down the road.

And, I mentioned the library in the subject for a reason. . . There are several other ongoing projects that we have yet to mention.  Bill is setting up his wood-shop in the basement, which is in process because of ongoing projects and major clean-out needed down there.  We have also finished the library, which was originally the front parlor, except for the bookshelves and stencil work we’re going to to.  It will definitely be my favorite room in the house once it is complete.  And, last November, we put in a pellet stove, which was a small overhaul in itself.  All of those we have yet to share here with photos, mainly because we want those pieces to be complete before you see them.  There is much to come!