Q: Several months after canning strawberry jam, I looked at the jars and the top layer of the jam was brown and smelled and tasted bad. Any idea what I may have done? It was so disappointing!
I do this every year and the brown stuff has never happened before. I did not waterbath them (never have). I did the upside-down method due to the acid in the berries.
— Question asked by special
Marisa: I am so sorry to hear that your jam spoiled; that's so disappointing! While turning jars upside down can produce a seal (because the heat of the product coming in contact with the lid causes the sealing compound to soften and then seal as the jars cool), the seal tends to be weaker than one produced by a short boiling water process (you should never be able to remove the lid from a home canned jar with your bare fingers. If you can, your seal is too weak).
You have to be very precise when using this method of canning — the jars and jam both have to be as hot as you can get them (and the jars must be perfectly sterile) otherwise you run the risk of a failed seal. Additionally, the inversion method of sealing doesn't always force out all the oxygen in the headspace. Mold spores live in the air and so if oxygen remains in the headspace of the jar, chances are that the mold will then grow in your jars.
In order to give yourself increased peace of mind, I'd recommend that you consider a brief boiling water bath for your next batch of jam. That's the only way to be certain that you've killed any mold or bacteria remaining in the jars and that you get the optimum seal.
Marisa McClellan, our guest expert this week, is answering your questions on canning and preserving. Marisa writes Food In Jars, a blog devoted to canning, preserving, and other food in jars. She also teaches canning workshops.
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