Strawberries, raspberries, peaches and blue berries. These fabulous berries can be turned into mouthwatering jams and jellies. However, it wasn’t that long ago that women who made preserves were getting more than they bargained for. My grandmother was one of those women. She would carefully wash the berries, strain them if needed through cheese cloth, and then boil the sugar and fruit in a big cauldron. After the jam jars were bottled, she would remove them and place on the kitchen counter ready to be filled and sealed with wax when the jars had cooled.
My mother did the same thing. She took an old walking cane, laid it across two chairs, placed the berries in cheesecloth tied up over the cane, and left a bowl underneath to catch the juice. Something happened one day that my grandmother didn’t expect. She had stored the jam jars under her bed. Loud popping noises were coming from the bedroom. She raced upstairs to find, to her horror, jam oozing over the carpet and the hardwood floor. The jars had exploded! Why did this happen? Many women who prepared jam did not sterilize the jars effectively or cook the jam to a high enough temperature. Fruit can contain botulism spores. Spores are like tiny seeds which only break open and allow bacteria to grow when conditions are favorable. As botulism bacteria only grow without air, the sealed jam jars grew bacteria which in turn produced toxins. The bacteria had overgrown and the resulting pressure build-up caused the jars to explode. My grandmother lost her jam and had to start again! Nowadays, canning procedures have advanced to proper water baths, sterilized jars and seals which have contributed to jams and jellies being botulism free. That makes good food safety sense!