Around this time of year, when many of the fruits are just coming into season, I start thinking of preserving. I have always canned. My children grew up with jars and jars of canned vegetables, pickles, all kinds of jams and jellies, soups and just about anything that could be canned. It just gave me the satisfaction that I was providing good, quality food for my family. I knew what went into each and every jar. Canning is not very complicated. Anyone can do it. It is very cost-effective and you can have food stored for a rainy day.
One of my favorite types of canning is making jams, jellies, marmalade and fruit butters. The other day Tommy and I were in a store where I saw shelves of little jars of various jams and fruit butters. Those little jars were anything from $7 to $14 per jar. I remember thinking to myself that I was in the wrong business. I can’t understand why anyone would pay such a crazy amount, when they could make it themselves for a fraction of the cost. Making jams and jellies was something my kids and I did together and had so much fun doing it. They were always very proud of what they had made. Making those jars of preserves was very time-consuming then. Recently I shared a few of my jam recipes and talked about my new appliance, the Ball Jam and Jelly maker. I love that thing. If it had not been for Tommy, I would have never even considered owning one. Bless him. It has cut my jam making time down considerably.
So back to business, for those of you who have never preserved anything, I thought I would do a little primer on preserving. I will do it in small segments and then give you lots of recipes. I urge you to play with different flavors. That is half the fun. You end up with a jam or jelly that no one else has. So first, a little information.
Jam – This is what you end up with when you cook crushed or chopped fruit with sugar until the mixture jells.
Jelly – This is a jelled mixture of sugar and juice. Jelly should be fairly clear and should hold it’s shape when shaken out of the container onto a plate. You can have softer jellies, but I kind of fall back to the jelly standards that I had to follow when submitting jelly for contests.
Marmalade – This is like a jelly, because it is pretty clear, but has pieces of fruit and peel suspended in the jelly. Marmalade is often made entirely of citrus fruit, but you can have other types of marmalades.
Preserves – Preserves are usually whole fruits in soft jelly or syrup. These can be served on breads, but usually are served over cakes or ice cream.
Butters – This is pureed fruit cooked slowly with sugar and juice. These are usually cooked with added spices and cooked until they are thick and dark. Butters usually do not have as much sugar in them as jams or jellies.
Canning preserves – Canning is a way of preserving food by sealing it in hot airtight containers or heating the containers after they are filled. You don’t need to can your jams and jellies if you are only making a few jars and plan on keeping these in the refrigerator. If you plan to keep them on the shelf, it is best that you process the jars in a water bath. This is an easy process.
Always sterilize your jars before filling them. This is easy, just place them in boiling water while you are making your jam or jelly and pull them out when ready to fill. You will also have to put your canning lids in boiling water until you are ready to close the jars. It is best to use half pint of quarter pint jars for your preserves. I still have my huge canner that I bought when I was in college. Now that I am using the jam maker and make smaller batches, I bought one of those small heat-resistant racks that can fit into my stock pot. Works great.
Once your jam or jelly is ready, using tongs, lift the jar out of the water, draining off all the water you can. Fill the jar to about 1/4 inch from the top. Wipe off the edge of the jar, place the lid on and screw the band until it is almost tight. Place first jar in rack and then move on to the next jar. Fill it, wipe edge, place lid on top, screw on band and then put into rack. Once all the jars are full, lower the rack into the stock pot (or canner if making large batches) of hot water. Make sure the water covers the top of the jars. Bring water back to a boil and boil for 10 min. Then turn off heat and cover stock pot. Let sit for an additional 5 minutes. Lift rack out of water, using a jar lifter, place jars on rack and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, wipe off jars and label. On label you should include what is in the jar and date. Store in a cool, dry place.