Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Homemade Apricot Jam Tutorial

Canning for Beginners
A step by step tutorial, with pictures.

There is a lovely old apricot tree growing in our front yard. At first we weren't even sure if it would produce fruit. But, by early summer it was covered in apricots, and it seemed like they were all ripe on the exact same day! Suddenly I had hundreds of these things!

The kids had fun gathering the fruit, and shaking the tree to make the ripe ones fall. Then I took out the pits, cut them up and threw them all in the freezer. (You don't have to freeze yours if you plan to make jam right away).

I quickly decided that I was sick of not having any freezer space, and that I'd better actually do something with all those bags of apricots! So, I went to work researching, and decided to try canning for the first time. 

This is a step by step guide, from a beginner, for a beginner. I've tried to answer all the questions that I had going into the process. Plus, I've even included some of the mistakes I made (so that you don't make them too!).

Supplies Needed

-Large stockpot, with lid
-Large/ medium size saucepan
-Glass canning/ mason jars (small enough to be submerged in your stockpot with at least 1" of water over the tops)

-Large stirring spoon
-Clean towel/ rag

Supplies Recommended

-Basic canning set

*You could get away without a canning set in a pinch. But it would be tricky. At the very least I recommend you also have on hand a Canning funnel and a Jar Lifter (both will come in a canning kit if you decide to purchase one, so you won't need to get these separately).
-Heat proof surface, like a wooden tray
-Extra towels/ rags
-Spray cleaner (this can be a sticky job!)

I also ordered Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It was helpful to read through the methods and recipes. But, if you follow the directions given in this post, then you won't need it in order to make apricot jam. 


5 Cups chopped pitted fresh apricots
4 tbsp lemon juice
1 package (1.75 oz) powdered fruit pectin (usually in the baking/ canning aisle)
7 cups granulated sugar

Yes, that's right seven cups of sugar! If you don't want to use that much sugar, I recently got a good tip. Use the No Sugar Needed Pectin, and just add sugar to taste. This way you won't need to use as much.

*Don't Make My Mistake #1:

*Not using pectin. The book mentioned above opens with some basic jam recipes that don't use pectin. Since I didn't really know what it was, and certainly didn't have any on hand, I decided to try one of those first. Big mistake. The "jam" never gelled, and turned out more like lumpy syrup than actual jam. So, if you're a beginner, use pectin. It's a gelling agent, and will take out much of the guess work of getting jam to gel.

Let's get started!

Step 1
Prepare canner jars and lids Wash jars, lids and screw bands in hot soapy water (I just ran mine through the dishwasher). No need to dry. 

Step 2
Heat the jars. Place glass jars in largest pot, cover with water. Heat to simmering. The book says to keep jars hot until you're ready to use them. My guess is that this is so they don't crack when you addd the hot jam to them. I just left mine in the pot of water.

Step 3
Prepare the closures. Set screw bands aside. Submerge lids (flat round pieces) in a small pan of water. Heat to simmering. Keep hot until ready to use.

*If all this heating and washing seems like a lot, remember that it's crucial that canned foods/ supplies are kept sterile. They need to be heated for the appropriate amounts of time, and to the appropriate temperatures. Failure to do so can result in extreme sickness, botulism and/ or bad seals. 

Step 3
Combine ingredients. In a deep saucepan (the book recommends using stainless steel) combine chopped apricots, lemon juice. Whisk in pectin until dissolved. 

Step 4 
Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently (nearly continuously). Add in sugar. 

Step 5 
Return to a boil. Stir constantly. Boil hard, continuing to stir for at least 1 minute. 

*Don't Make My Mistake #2

*Forgetting that things expand when they get hot! Because I had so many apricots, I doubled the recipe on my first batch. Everything barely fit in my sauce pan. All was well and good... until the mixture started to boil. My pan was quickly too small to hold all the liquid. It overflowed and made a big sticky mess! So, remember to leave plenty of room for expansion, and don't overload your pot like I did (pictured bellow)!

Scrubbing this wasn't easy!

Step 6
Remove from heat, and skim off foam. 

Step 7
Preparing to fill jars. Using a jar lifter (or pair of tongs) remove jars from large pot. Dump water back into pot. You will use this pot and water again in Step 13. Place jars on a heat safe surface. I used a wooden tray. The book also suggests layering several dish towels on a counter. 

Step 8
Ladle jam into jars. Place a wide mouth funnel into jar. Carefully ladle hot jam into jar. Leave 1/4" "head space" between top of jam and rim of jar. Do not fill completely to the top.

Step 9
Remove bubbles. If you have a canning set, run bubble remover thingy around inside the jar 2 or 3 times to release any trapped bubbles. If you don't have a remover thingy, then a rubber spatula or rubber bowl scraper will work just as well.

Step 10
Wipe rim. Using a clean cloth, or even a paper towel, wipe rim and threads of each jar. It is important that there isn't any jam along these edges. Any residue could interfere with the sealing process later. 

Step 11
Put lids on jars. using the magnetic lid lifter (if you have one), or a pair of tongs, remove jar lids from small pan. Center and place lids on jars. 

Step 12
Screw on bands. Screw on the bands until you feel resistance. Then tighten a little more. The book says they should be "finger tip" tight. It is important (for the sealing process) that the bands not be over tightened. 

Step 13
Heat process jam jars. Using jar lifter or tongs, submerge jars fully into large pot of water. You will probably need to remove some of the water since the full jars will displace the water you had in the pot from Step 2. Be sure there there is at least 1" of water covering the jars. They MUST be completely submerged. 
Cover with a lid and bring water to a full boil over high heat. Once the water reaches a rapid boil, begin timing. The jars need to be processed at this stage for 10 minutes. It is important that they remain in the boiling water for 10 full minutes in order to get a safe seal. 

Step 14
Cool jars. Turn off heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Lift jars out of hot water without tilting, and return to heat safe surface. At this point I actually heard most of the jars seal. The inside of each lid made a small "pop" noise as the jar cooled and sealed.

Step 15
Hands off/ seal check. Allow to sit out undisturbed for 24 hours. 
Then check to be sure that each jar has properly sealed. The lid should be concave in the middle, and show no signs of movement if the rim is unscrewed. Jars that have not sealed properly must be refrigerated or reprocessed immediately. (I didn't have this problem at all). 
Once cooled decorate and label as desired! 

I tied regular garden twine around my jars, and added labels to the lid. There are specific labels made for canning jars on the market, if you want to use those. I've seen them for sale on Amazon. I just used some general scrapbooking labels that I had on hand.  


This, my dear readers is going to be a rare subject on my blog. I don't really enjoy cooking. So, there won't be a lot to do with cooking, or recipes here. But, this project (almost literally) fell into my lap! 

Thank you for stopping by!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Craigslist Retro Range Redo

Continuing my series about the flip of our first home, today we're moving onto the kitchen!

The house came with a doozy of a stove. There was no hope for this range. It was a filthy throwback to the 80's, and it needed to go! Goodwill was more than happy to come and take it off our hands (*bonus, it was a tax write off!).

The house itself was built in 1928, and while I wasn't about to cook on a stove from that era, we did want to stick with a retro theme. Plus, we were on a budget. So, we searched Craigslist and flea markets for a better stove. In only a few short weeks my husband found this "beauty"!

It's pictured above without some of the parts because I had already taken some them off for cleaning. But it was complete, and had no missing pieces. It worked too, although not well.

If you're looking for something similar, try searching craigslist and ebay for phrases like: "retro range" or "vintage range". You can also swap out the word "range" for "oven" and "stove". Another way to search is under the names of manufactures of these type of stoves. Look for brands like "Wedgewood" (popular on the west cost) "O’Keefe & Merritt" and "Occidental" (popular on the east coast).

The first order of business was to scrub this thing! 
It was an Occidental brand gas stove, likely manufactured in the 1940's, and I don't think it had been cleaned since then! 

I armed myself with these tools:

-Vacuum cleaner
-Dust brush
-Scrub brush
-Massive amounts of 409 cleaner
-Dental tools (for detail work, I got mine from a hygienist friend, but you could try ebay)
-Steel wool
-an iPod and Stuff You Should Know podcasts (for sanity)

I started with the vacuum and dust brush, to get as much of the loose dirt as I could before I got anything wet. Then I went in with the 409 and scrub brush. I took off an pieces that I could get off and scrubbed them in the sink. The worst part was the grease traps.

I don't know what that gelatinous grossness was in there, but it took a lot of hot water and cleaner to get it out! I also scrubbed off a lot of rust using the steel wool.

A couple more photos, just because it was so shockingly gross!

The last steps were to get into all of the nooks, crannies and edges using the dental tools, and to shine the chrome with the steel wool

Dry steel wool will polish old chrome. It helps remove rust and buff out scratches. If you really want to be meticulous (and have the budget for it) you can also have the pieces re-chromed in a foundry. But, that wasn't in our budget.

Soon, it was gleaming!

Luckily this particular model had a fold down top, so I was able to hide some of the less than shiny chrome by simply closing the top. When not in use this also offered additional counter space in the small kitchen. 

We moved the gas line to a less awkward section of the kitchen and installed the "new" stove. I found a local tradesmen who specializes in old stoves and ranges and had him come give everything a tune up. Soon we were ready to cook!


Old range removal: Free
Craiglsist Range: $200
Cleaning supplies: $25
Range tune up: $80 (for a house call)

Total Cost: $305

For less than the cost of a new low end range, we were able to have a shiny antique model that fit in with the feel and theme of the home. It pays to shop used and put in a little elbow grease!

Eventually, we remodeled the whole kitchen (stay tuned for a future post!) and this old range fit right it!

 Thanks for visiting!
Helpful links

Monday, July 21, 2014

Retro Budget Bathroom Remodel


This post is a bit of a throwback, to the first house we owned.

I'll be doing a series of posts on this house, because we were able to make such big changes on a small budget.

The first room we'll start with is the bathroom. Warning, the "before" photos are a bit shocking, and you'll see why... the house had seem some ROUGH days.

Budget Bathroom Remodel

The previous owners had rented the small two bedroom home to a group of students. It had essentially been party central for about 3 years. But, under the filth and the stains, we saw charm and possibility. We were excited to get to work. The first room we tackled was the bathroom. Here are a few more "before" photos.

Can you find where they kept their bar of soap?

First, let me answer some questions about the above photos...

1.  Yes, that is the same tub that we used for our remodel. We were on a budget after all, and new fixtures weren't in it. Yes, I'm the one who scrubbed it! Some TSP (see Amazon link below for information on this MIRACLE cleaner!) and a good strong brush did the trick!

2.  Yes, the previous tenants did take showers in there. I met one of them, and he explained that they just never cleaned. 

3.  No, they weren't cooking meth in there. It really was just grime and mildew. 

INSIDE the shower

Now that I have your attention with some before and after photos, lets move on...

One interesting feature original to the house was the light switch in the shower (see above photo). We splurged on this, hiring a licensed electrician to relocate it to the other side of the room (and out of the direct spray of water).

The plaster walls and floor were pretty rotten, so we pulled out the old cast iron tub and went ahead with demolition. Taking a sledgehammer to a wall can be so much fun!

Where the tub "was"

My view to below!

The tub removal aftermath

We rebuilt the walls and floors, and relocated the shower plumbing to the inside of the wall. For the floor we went with hexagon porcelain tiles, laid out on strips for easy instillation. We used mostly white tiles, but added a decorative perimeter of black tile around the edge of the floor. It was easy to do.

We just bought and additional couple of square feet of black tile, pulled them off the netting and replaced them back onto the white tiled netting.

Setting floor tiles is relatively easy. But individual wall tiles can be trickier.

White subway tile
Add caption

We were very blessed to have the help of a friend, who is a professional. But you can rent a tile cutter and do it yourself too. For the walls and shower, in order to keep with the retro theme (and to keep cost down) we went with inexpensive subway tiles. The beveled edges on this particular tile gave it a decorative flair.

Off-the-shelf black tile gave boarders and edges a pop of contrast.

Bathroom Before and After

bathroom before and after

The above comparison is a testament to using what you already have. That's the same medicine cabinet, linen cabinet, sink and even the SAME toilet.

In case you can't quite tell how gross the toilet was, here's a better "before" picture. (Yes, I cleaned that too!)

Lovely, wasn't it?

Bathroom Remodel, Details 

The black ceramic toothbrush and toilet paper holders were a gift, they were both vintage. But the back ceramic switch-plate covers were both purchased from Rejuvenation Hardware. (Not really budget friendly, but if you like retro or period pieces, they are the BEST source for reproductions). 

black and white bathroom
With the painted orange

The new faucet was off the rack. It wasn't top quality, and therefore lower priced. I also found it on sale at Home Depot. The pull out mirror was about $5 at Ikea, and the medicine cabinet hinges were off-the-rack hardware store purchases, that just happened to match the originals! I found the light fixture on clearance at Restoration Hardware, and was able to get it for a very reasonable price. It pays to keep an eye on sales, and not be too picky!

For a while the walls were painted a bold orange. I enjoyed the bright color, and the way it played against the black and white tile. An inexpensive white shower curtain faded into the background because of the boldness in the rest of the room.

After a while, I decided to tone it down a bit, and changed the wall color to a soft grey.

The glass cabinet pulls were original. But, you can find reproductions in this style at many hardware stores, or through Rejuvenation Hardware.
Overall it was a fun project, and we were able to make some drastic changes with only a few thousand dollars and less than 2 weeks.

Thanks for stopping by!

retro bathroom

For more posts about this little beach bungalow, and the cheap changes we made there, please see these posts:

Linking up to these fun parties: 

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