Summer In a Jar

The taste of fruit is incomparable, but unfortunately, the season for fresh fruit is short. One way to take advantage of its abundance when it is available, and to enjoy the full flavor months later, is to make your own preserves. There are many ways to preserve fruit, each deriving its name from the way it is prepared.

Preserving will be more fun - and the results more predictable - if certain guidelines are followed. Always make small batches. Do not double the recipe if you have a lot of fruit; make two batches instead. Follow the directions carefully - this is not the time to be inventive. If the recipes seem very specific, there is good reason: if a recipe is improvised, the result simply won't be as good. Too often the experienced cook forgets what it is like to be a novice. I still remember my grandmother's nonchalant recipe for mincemeat. "Just put in a pound of everything." But what about the cinnamon, allspice and cloves?



The Four Ingredients
It is the fruit that gives each preserve its special flavor, and how you select and prepare it can make a big difference in the finished product. Canned or frozen fruit can be used, but fresh fruit will yield a more flavorful preserve. The fruit should be firm, just ripe and unblemished. Use fruit that is slightly underripe, rather than overripe, because the riper the fruit the less pectin - the natural gelling agent - it contains. Discard any bruised or damaged areas because they will give an unpleasant taste to the preserve. Wash the fruit under cold running water and cut it up according to the recipe directions. Use the fruit immediately because it will deteriorate rapidly, even if kept refrigerated.

Pectin is the substance that causes jam and jelly to gel. This is found in varying proportions in all fruit. Because the pectin content diminishes as the fruit becomes fully ripe, use a combination of ripe and underripe fruit in each recipe to be sure there is enough. Adding green apples, rich in pectin, to fruits that are low in the substance is a natural way of getting the right amount - and the way I prefer.

You can however, and sometimes the results are more predictable if you do, use commercial pectin. The addition of this pectin makes it possible to use fully ripened fruit (whose level of natural pectin is lower than that of slightly underripe fruit. The cooking period is shorter with commercial pectin added, so the yield is greater and the color brighter. But less sugar is needed in jam and jelly made without added pectin, so that fruit has a fresher, clearer flavor. Only the cook can decide which method she prefers.

Commercial pectin comes in both liquid and powdered form; when you add the sugar depends on which type you use. Powdered pectin is added before heating. The mixture is brought to a boil, then the sugar is added and the mixture is boiled again. Liquid pectin is added after the fruit and sugar have been boiled. Each type of pectin comes with recipes for its use.

Jam and jelly will not gel without acid, and this is present in all fruit, but like pectin, acid diminishes as the fruit ripens. Lemon juice can be added to help preserve fruits that are low in natural acid.

Sugar (granulated, cane or beet) is both a gelling and a preserving agent. It keeps the fruit firm and, of course, sweetens it. Cook fruit in the specified amount of water until tender before adding sugar, as adding it too soon will toughen the fruit.



The Necessary Equipment

The most important utensil for making preserves is a large (8 or 10 quart) heavy saucepan, preferably stainless steel. You will need a colander and large bowl for cleaning the fruit, a sharp paring knife and cutting board for preparing it and a potato masher for mashing it. A long-handled wooden spoon for stirring, a long-handled metal spoon for skimming, a candy thermometer and measuring cups and spoons complete the list of utensils. All mixing of ingredients is sufficient on a gas stove; if you have an electric stove, take the pan off the burner so the mixture will not continue to cook. For storing the final product, use half-pint mason or similar jars with vacuum lids, labeling them for easy identification.

 

How to Sterilize Jars

Wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Rinse them well in hot water. To sterilize, place the jars and the lids in a deep pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars with tongs. Fill them while they are still hot.


Sealing With Paraffin

If you do not have mason or similar jars with vacuum lids, you can use regular jars and seal them with paraffin, available at grocery stores. Melt the paraffin slowly in a double boiler (or in a small pot that is set inside a larger pot of water) When the jam or jelly is ready, pour it into the jars to within ½ inch of the top. Cover immediately with a 1/8 inch layer of hot paraffin. To seal properly, paraffin must touch all sides of the jar. Prick any air bubbles that appear on the surface, because they are likely to cause holes in the paraffin. Allow the jars to stand until the paraffin hardens and the jelly cools. One thin layer of paraffin properly applied is sufficient, but some cooks add another 1/8 inch thick layer as insurance, after the first layer has cooled.
Jam

Jam is a preserve prepared by boiling fruit with sugar until it is thick.  One meaning of the word jam is to bruise or crush by pressure, and this preserve is made with whole or cut fruit that is crushed slightly during cooking to start the juices flowing. The end product is sweet, thick and full of fruit.

Blackberry and Apple Jam

2 ½ pounds fresh blackberries
3 pounds green apples
2 cups water
9 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup lemon juice
Peel, core and slice the apples. Put the apples and water in a saucepan, and cook until soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and mash the apples. Add the blackberries, mix thoroughly, then add the sugar and lemon juice and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Make sure the sugar is thoroughly dissolved before you turn the heat on, because any undissolved sugar will burn. Boil the mixture until the candy thermometer registers 220 degrees Fahrenheit. While this is cooking, sterilize the jars by boiling them. Turn off the heat and skim the froth off the top of the jam with a large metal spoon. Stir in the butter.
Fill the jars, using a funnel or small pitcher and cap them immediately. The recipe makes approximately 10 one-half pint jars of jam. (If you cannot get fresh blackberries, you can substitute two 20-ounce packages of frozen, unsweetened blackberries following the directions given above.)

This jam is excellent as a spread; in addition, old wives maintain that it has a medicinal use. To treat a bad cold, folk wisdom says, put 2 tablespoons of the jam into a pitcher, add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 cup boiling water and stir. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Strain and warm the mixture, then add 2 ounces of whiskey and drink hot. This if reputed to relieve sore throat and hoarseness. It goes without saying that this is a remedy for Adults Only!

Blueberry and Apple Jam

3 pints blueberries
2 pounds green apples
½ cup lemon juice
2 cups water
8 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter

Peel core and cut up the apples. Add the water and cook until soft; then mash. Put in the blueberries and cook until tender - 10 to 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the sugar and lemon juice, turn on heat, and boil until the candy thermometer registers 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off the heat and skim the froth. Stir in the butter, then fill and cap the jars. This makes approximately 9 one-half pints of jam.

Strawberry and Apple Jam

2 20-ounce packages of frozen, unsweetened strawberries
2 pounds green apples
½ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
7 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 or 3 drops red food coloring

Peel, core and cut up the apples. Cook in the water until soft, and then mash. Turn off the heat and add the strawberries, lemon juice and sugar. Stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, then turn the heat on and boil the mixture until the candy thermometer reads 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off the heat, skim the froth, add a few drops of red food coloring. Stir in the butter; fill and cap the jars. This will make approximately 8 half-pint jars of jam.

Red Plum Jam

3 pounds red plums
1 cup water
6 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter

Pit and cut up the plums. Cook covered in 1-cup water until the fruit is soft and the skins tender. Turn off the heat, mash the fruit with a potato masher, add sugar, stirring until it is completely dissolved. Cook over medium heat, stirring to prevent sticking. Boil the mixture until the candy thermometer registers 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Then turn off the heat, skim the froth with a metal spoon, and stir in the butter. Fill and cap the jars. This will make approximately 9 half-pint jars of jam. For a slightly different taste, substitute greengage or purple plums, following the directions for red plum jam.

Apricot Jam Amandine

1 pound dried apricots
6 cups water
1/3 cup lemon juice
8 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter
2 ounces slivered almonds

Cut up the apricots and soak them in water overnight. Cook gently, covered, until apricots are tender - about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, mash the apricots with a potato masher, and stir in the lemon juice and sugar. When the sugar is completely dissolved, turn on the heat and boil the mixture until the candy thermometer reads 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off the heat; skim the froth. Add the butter and almonds and stir to blend. Fill and cap jars. If you prefer plain apricot jam, the almonds can be omitted. This recipe makes approximately 9 half-pint jars of jam.

Peach Jam

6 pounds peaches
½ cup lemon juice
10 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup water

Dip the peaches in boiling water and rub off the down. Cut them into small pieces, first removing the pits. Put in a saucepan with the water and lemon juice, and cook until soft. Turn off the heat, mash and add sugar, stirring until it is dissolved. Boil until the candy thermometer reads 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off the heat and skim the froth. Stir in the butter. Fill and cap the jars. This makes approximately 10 half-pint jars of jam.

Nectarine Jam Amandine

Use the recipe for the peach jam, substituting 6 pounds of nectarines for the peaches and adding 2 ounces of slivered almonds.
                                                        
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