Review: Jams & Jellies Taste Education Class

I learned a lesson with my money tonight. Devin thinks I should ask for it back. I’m too timid, and I’m just writing it off as a charitable donation (though, I don’t really have the money to go around making charitable donations). I also don’t like making donations to misinformation.

Every month Slow Food Maui has some sort of class teaching people about local foods and/or food preparation. This month’s class struck me as something I wanted to know more about, and it was at a time that I could actually get downtown for it. Usually, I’m at home studying. So, I figured I’d be willing to pay twenty dollars to go learn about jamming for an hour and a half.

I already knew a bit about making preserves as I’d made blackberry preserves during the last two harvest seasons. I’d also made lilikoi jelly. On occasion I participate in the #canningchat on Twitter (hence the hashtag). So, I definitely wasn’t a beginner going into this class. Still, I figured I could pick up a few more tips and tricks. Little did I know that I’d have to end up teaching a very important part of the procedure once the teacher had finished.

The instructor was Barbara Mooradian of SoMoor Maui Tropical Jams, Jellies & Moor. You may have seen her products at Whole Foods Market, Mana Foods, Down to Earth, Kula Marketplace, and many other well known shops on the island. Just in case you aren’t sure, here’s what their labels look like:

;

So, there we were in the skills kitchen at the culinary school (the one I went to by the way), and the instructor is showing us how to make the preserves. (That part was all well and good.) She even sterilized the jars properly. But, I knew something was different from my method when she transferred the hot preserves to a plastic (unsterilized) pitcher and then proceeded to fill the glass jars from that. (I always use a sterilized ladle and funnel to go from the pot to the jars.) Then, she did the unthinkable. She put the lids on the jars and told the class that she didn’t need to put them in a water bath. I questioned her about this. She said that the jars were hot enough that she didn’t need to do it. She said that the heat would seal the jars on its own. (WHOA! WHAT?!)

I knew from my time spent researching jamming, and from just about every food preservation website that this was incorrect. I’d even seen a discussion on this very topic the week before on #canningchat. (The USDA calls for using a water bath to process jams and jellies, every time. According to the discussion on #canningchat, only Master Canners should attempt to skip a water bath. They closely monitor the temperature and pH levels of their products, and still they usually process their jars.She is not a Master Canner, she said so herself.) While the instructor monitored her temperature, she didn’t monitor the pH and therefore she really shouldn’t have skipped the water bath. This is especially true since she was teaching beginning home cooks. She didn’t go into bacteria. She didn’t even touch botulism. She didn’t cover any of the crucial parts of home food preservation. She basically should have just taught them how to make freezer jam.

After the class broke up a bit I asked her if she processes the jams and jellies she sells. For the most part, she doesn’t. There were only a few products that she water baths consistently: chocolate sauces, chutneys, and lilikoi butter. She said that she can’t get them hot enough, or can’t get them into the jars fast enough. So, she does process those. When the time to taste the products came around I skipped anything that wasn’t on her list of processed products. I can tell you, I won’t be buying her products.

One of the lovely ladies who organized the event bought me some chocolate sauce, but I hadn’t asked for it and I hadn’t originally intended to buy anything. Still, giving a gift is a lovely gesture and I am grateful to her for it.

During all of this I tweeted with someone who organizes #canningchat and she was appalled. I can only imagine the shock on her face. Another twitter friend, who lives here on Maui, was also surprised to hear this. She didn’t believe me at first. She must have though I misunderstood. Trust me, there was no misunderstanding. I even addressed it with the instructor again at the end of the class. She just didn’t seem to take it that seriously. She said that the health department has no problem with what she’s doing, so it’s not a problem. Well, the health department isn’t perfect, and the home cooks she taught certainly won’t be either.

I fear for people who are going home to make their first batch of preserves based on such misinformation.

For more information on making jams and jellies safely, check out the USDA pamphlet found here.

Pretty much any university extension center is going to tell you to process (water bath) your jams and jellies, and to pressure can your low-acid foods. Here is an example from Virginia Tech.

Also, check out Canning Across America. They have a twitter account at @canvolution, and organize the #canningchat.

According to the Ball Food Preservation website:

“There are only two methods for heat processing home canned foods that are considered safe: the boiling-water method for high-acid foods and steam-pressure method for low-acid foods. These methods are outlined on this site. See Canning Basics.

There is no substitute for adequate heat treatment for the correct length of time. Although some people may continue to use outdated methods, these practices are not safe and should not be used for any reason. If you have a recipe or instructions using a method not listed here, that information should be replaced with up-to-date recipes and guidelines.”

I also like Pick Your Own. She states, “Some people don’t even boil the jars; they just ladle it hot into hot jars, put the lids and rings on and invert them. No authority I know recommends this, and putting the jars in the boiling water bath REALLY helps to reduce spoilage! To me, it makes little sense to put all the working into making the jam and then not to process the jars to be sure they don’t spoil!”

I completely agree. I wish I weren’t so timid.

7 thoughts on “Review: Jams & Jellies Taste Education Class”

  1. I’m glad to read this post. Yes, it’s gonna piss some people off, but it’s important that those teaching classes we educated in at least the safety issues involved. I’d be very upset if I got sick after doing the whole process on my own with this misinformation.

  2. If anyone whining about this post being negative press had fallen ill from these food products that could easily cause food poisining, would you have kept it to yourself? It’s a health hazard, it deserves to be known. The post didn’t say “The product tasted awful and I didnt like the woman, so don’t buy it!”. It was fact based, that what was being done wasn’t safe. If you wish to continue supporting someone who doesn’t practice using food safely simply because it’s a local business, that’s your call, but it isn’t you place to harass someone who saw something dangerous and used her own blog to warn others. If a local business completely ripped you off, would you keep it to yourself to avoid negative press for them? The post isnt making stuff up to portray SoMoor in a bad light, it’s stating what actually happened. Food poisoning can land you in the hospital, or worse for those with a weak immune system. This post could do the company a favor, if from it they have to start actually being safe with their food.

  3. Ohmigoodness, that is just scary! I don’t understand how the Health Department can be okay with her selling food products that could potentially make people sick! Thanks so much for bringing this to people’s attention… ultimately, people should be able to choose for themselves if they wish to take a chance on this product.

  4. I find it very interesting that the responses to this are all reacting to the fact that this article could be considered “negative press” for local organizations. Did anybody notice that the article was about food poisoning? Not only is the person in question using practices that could poison me, but they are trying to teach other people stuff that could poison me. If that ethical line is blurry, they clearly put themselves on the wrong side of it by charging money to teach people things that could poison me.

    Nobody likes reading negative press (especially about groups that they are involved with). I’m sure writing it isn’t much fun either, but it’s any journalist’s responsibility to broadcast it to the world when they see something that crosses that line. If organizations want nothing but positive press, that’s called advertising, and it costs money. If they want to avoid negative press, the simple way to do it is to behave properly. Shooting the messenger is inappropriate and comes off as childish. Shifting the focus of the conversation from something that everyone agrees with like “I need to know about things that endanger me” to something else that everyone agrees with like “it’s not nice to talk bad about people”, is clever but also a bit transparent.

    The reason we should all support local businesses is that they generally behave better than huge multinational corporations. When they are not behaving themselves, they either need to correct that behavior, or our support should be withdrawn. They deserve no special treatment simply on the basis of being “Local”. The nice thing is that smaller organizations can change their practices based on one blog post like this, whereas huge companies never do. If that business instead chooses to get all of their friends to attack the writer, the outcome won’t be positive for them.

    As for the larger topic of posting negative information online – I certainly wouldn’t want to live in a world where all information was positive. If I go online to research something, I want both sides of the story so that I can make my own decision. I know some people would love to live in an astroturf dystopia, but count me out of that universe.

  5. Amanda, I’m really shocked and concerned that you created this post. I think it would have been better for you to privately contact the organization (that we know and love) to express your concerns rather than to negatively broadcast to the world. Please take me out…

  6. Amanda,

    I’m quite offended by your Blog.

    As a business professional; I take concern that your focus seems to be clearly set on defaming a small business and growing food movement, rather than helping grow the overwhelming positive aspects that Slow Food Maui and SoMoor Jams have brought to this island.

    It’s clear that you have experience in the practice of canning Jams. Have you ever considered offering your own classes and advice on this? It seems intuitively obvious that this would be the postive way of approaching this subject, rather than taking the insular method of trying to compare and contrast yourself to someone else: seems beyond arrogant to say the least from this perspective.

    If your intent is becoming the next supermarket tabloid my props to you; as the world is unfortunately filled with negative, depressed, low self-esteem individual who thrive on such fodder. If your intent was to highlight the opportunities afforded to you by this great community – I fear you’ll be seeing the door to those opportunities close rapidly, as the positive individuals within this community will clearly continue to find less and less value in what you have to offer.

    http://www.succeedsocially.com/negative

    My two cents. Reality is you’re welcome to do as you please, I simply will be removing any professional entities that I’m involved with from your feed; and will encourage others to do the same.

    Best Regards,

    Darren McDaniel

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