Preserving Basics: It’s Not That Hard!

After the last post, I remembered that there are quite a lot of people who believe that putting up jelly and jam is hard.

Well, I’m here to dispel that myth: It’s not hard! In fact, some varieties can be pretty easy.

Honestly, the hardest part of making jelly and jam is picking the fruit (assuming you pick it yourself instead of buying it from a store or farmer’s market). Remember yesterday when I mentioned about blackberry picking equaling being bitten by chiggers and scratched by briars? That’s not a lie. And while some other fruits are kinder to pick (such as blueberries), there are some options that don’t require any picking – such as jelly made from bought apple cider or a flower or herbal infusion (mint jelly is an old-school favorite).

You don’t even need a lot of special equipment (no pressure cooker required). The absolute basics include:

  • Jars with lids and rims – When you buy jars, you get lids and rims with them, and can buy replacements if you reuse the jars the next year. Most jelly recipes call for the 8 oz. size, though you can use smaller jar and sometimes a pint-sized jar (though that takes longer to cool, which affects how the pectin sets up).
  • A large stockpot or water bath canner – The pot needs to be a couple inches deeper than the height of the jars you are using.
Canning pots

I used the stockpot on the left for years before buying the water bath canner with the rack insert on the right.

  • A large saucepan
  • Jar tongs (aka: the Grabber) – this is really the only specialized tool you need for jellying/canning. For safety’s sake, don’t try to remove hot jars fromJar grabber boiling water in a stockpot without one. I have an inexpensive one, but there are fancier ones out there.
  • Funnel – A large-mouth canning funnel works best.
  • Pectin – OK, this isn’t equipment, but it’s seriously important. There are dry and liquid options; this helps the jelly or jam thicken and set up.
  • Other ingredients for which the recipe calls.

You can find recipes online or in recipe books, but all basic fruit jams and jellies are covered in the instructions that come with the pectin. And it’s usually a simple process:

  1. Process fruit (if needed)
  2. Sterilize jars and lids
  3. Mix juice, pectin, sugar and other ingredients together as directed in the recipe, boiling as suggested.
  4. Ladle prepared jelly into jars. Wipe jar mouths clean and place lids and tighten rims.
  5. Place in water bath and boil as long as directed. Remove from water and watch ensure all lids pull down with a popping noise.

Easy peasy! So next time you see some fresh fruit or fresh-pressed cider available, give making preserves a try!

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• The Art of Preservation

For many people, summertime means weekends at the lake, barbecues, and lazy days by a pool. But for some of us, summer is the time when we practice our skills at putting up preserves, relish, pickles, and other treats from the garden or berry patch.

I grew up helping my Mom make blackberry jelly. The chigger bites, scratches, and purple fingers from picking blackberries were a small price to pay in exchange for having blackberry jelly all winter long. That’s really the magic of preserving the fruits of summer: in the middle of January, you can pop open a jar of farmer’s market salsa or blueberry-lemon verbena jam and the scent takes you back to summer and warm sunshine.

This Blueberry-Lemon Verbena compote makes a tasty topping for lemon sorbet.

This Blueberry-Lemon Verbena compote makes a tasty topping for lemon sorbet – a perfect summer treat!

After growing up, I never made jelly on my own. When I moved into a house with grape vines that grew over a walkway arbor, something had to be done with the grapes lest they simply get squished underfoot and attract mosquitos. Being a variety of grapes too tart to simply eat, I decided to relearn how to make jelly.

And that started the madness.

A few years go by, and I’m pretty good at making grape jelly, so I decide to try a few different varieties. I started out with the incredibly easy white zinfandel jelly – a hit in holiday gift baskets. Then I branched out to try jellies made with apple cider, adding autumn spices or fresh thyme and lemon to create some different flavors. Then came trying to make herbal jellies from infusions, such as herb jelly featuring lemon balm and lemon verbena.

One year, I made a rose-glazed lemon cake for Mother’s Day. I thought the flavor combination was wonderful. Not many Americans seem to realize that rose is a common dessert flavoring in some parts of the world, but I had been making rose petal tea for years. So combining my knowledge of the tea and using herbal infusions for jelly combined with the cake as flavor inspiration, I created my first original jelly recipe, which I call Sunshine & Roses. Surprisingly, more people like it than I had anticipated.

In the last two years, I’ve tried strawberry margarita jam, honey Chianti jelly, blueberry-lemon verbena compote and jam, lemon-tangerine jelly, spiced grape jelly, farmer’s market salsa, and spicy dill pickles. Not all of them made the cut – spiced grape didn’t win any fans and the pickles just weren’t anywhere near crisp enough – but it’s always fun to try something new.

Hoping all of you stretch your culinary horizons and try something new and summery before summer is all gone!