Preserving Summer Bounty

Summer offers a plentiful bounty of wonderful fruits.  And since we all know that winter is just around the corner, we must make this bounty last longer.  The best way to do that is by preserving it.  Preserves…..  such a big category.  One can preserve almost all kinds of foods.  There are several methods to keep food over long periods of time.  Prior to the invention of refrigeration, this was the only way to extend the life of food.  Our forefathers salted, brined, pickled, canned and smoked food in order to keep it longer periods of time.  All of these methods are a lot of fun to do and keep us connected to our past.

I remember as a little girl watching my Grandmother and my Mother make jams and jellies.  I sat in amazement that they could turn fruit into such wonderful spreads.  This summer my niece, who also has these memories of her Grandmother (my mother), asked me if I would show her how to do it.  I was very touched and delighted to spend the day with her.  We had so much fun!

I searched my cooking magazines and cook books and came up with a menu that would show her the variety of foods that could be preserved using a water bath method that can be done easily.

 

There are jams, jellies and preserves.  Jellies have only the juice of the fruit and no pulp.  It is made by straining the cooked fruit in a cheese cloth to only collect the liquid.  Don’t squeeze the cheese cloth or the juice will become cloudy.  The difference between jams and preserves is the size of the fruit.  Jams have more crushed fruit.  The crushing also helps develop the natural pectin in the fruit.  Preserves are either large pieces or the whole fruit.

The important thing in jams is the ratio of fruit to sugar.  The sugar is what is going to make the jam come together.  My mother’s recipe is equal parts of berries and sugar with the juice of 2 lemons.  You can make jam without sugar, but you need to use pectin to make it gel. Macerate (combine and leave standing at room temperature) the sliced strawberries with the sugar for at least an hour.  Bring to a boil in a large pot.  Let the mixture simmer until it reaches the soft ball stage (235 degrees F).  You can also check by placing a drop of the jam in a glass of cold water and it should stay together in a soft ball.  Another trick is to place a plate in the freezer when you start and place a large drop of the jam on the frozen plate and it should hold together if it is at the right stage.

Sterilizing the jars is very important. If any bacteria is introduced to the jars, it will spoil the food and can be very dangerous.  The Mason jars can be sterilized by boiling the jars and the lids.  They must also be processed and sealed.  The jars can be sealed with wax or using the tops from the mason jars and a water bath that will create a vacuum seal.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great source of information.  Their website is   http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_home.html

For the peaches, we tried a variation on a recipe that came out in one of my magazines.  It is a peach preserve that is infused with  tea.   It sounded a little strange at first, but it was so good.  We peeled the peaches by blanching them in hot water first.  The ratio was 5 lbs of fruit to 4 cups of sugar.  I think that a little bit of ginger and lemon juice would have been a great addition to it.

We were so pleased to see how productive the day had been once we got everything into the water bath.

And then, the Bounty of Summer:

Stay tuned for the pickles we made…..for another post.

 

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