Nothing tastes better on a hot summer day than a bite of juicy, sun-ripened fruit. It’s one of the culinary pleasures of summer, although ever so fleeting.
One of the best ways to preserve the taste — and extend the season — is to transform fresh-picked fruits into a harvest of jellies, jams, marmalades and preserves.
The fragrant, fruity aromas and intense, concentrated flavors of fruits picked at the peak of their season are rewarding to experience later in the year. They will bring such pleasure and memories of summer when it’s chilly outdoors … it is tempting to eat them straight from the jar with a spoon!
Jamming with Jelly
Here’s some terminology to explain the types of sugar-preserved fruits mentioned in this article. The lingo includes:
Jelly is made by cooking fruit juice with sugar and should be translucent and firm enough to hold its shape when spooned out of the jar. Jelly must contain at least 55 percent fruit juice.
Jam is the condensed essence of fruit, made by cooking crushed or small-diced fruit with sugar. The thick, sweet spread is less firm than jelly. Jam may include savory ingredients, offering unique flavors like whiskey bacon or tomato jalapeño.
Conserves are jams made from a variety of fruits and can include ingredients like nuts, raisins, citrus fruits or coconut.
Preserves, made from small, whole fruits or uniform-size pieces of fruits, often need longer, slower cooking than jelly or jam. The soft fruit is in clear, slightly jelled syrup.
Confiture is the elegant, French “kissing cousin” of preserves. Looser than jam, it has attractively-cut pieces of fruit suspended in clear syrup.
Marmalade is a soft fruit jelly that contains pieces of citrus fruit rinds and pulp evenly suspended in the transparent jelly. The rinds may have a slight bitterness, like that of the famous oranges from Seville in Andalucía.
The primary ingredients for making jellies, jams and similar sugar-preserved fruit recipes are seasonal fruit, granulated sugar, pectin and an acid like lemon juice. Additional flavor ingredients to add in small amounts include spices, fresh or dried herbs, balsamic vinegar, rosewater, liqueurs, port, Madeira, dried flowers (such as rose or lavender), vanilla, gingerroot and Earl Grey tea.
Innovative chefs are making boozy jellies from beer. That’s right, beer jelly! It tops everything from all the beer predecessors, including biscuits — think beer bread — as well as sharp cheddar or grilled meats. Not every beer is a good choice, but stouts, porters and dark Bavarian beers are highly recommended. If you are adventurous and want to make a unique beer jelly, check out local craft breweries.
Purchase in-season, fresh-picked fruits from farmers’ markets, roadside markets and produce stands. You can find ripe, unblemished fruit in grocery stores, but it’s a good idea to check with the store’s produce manager to find out which are locally grown. The fruit should feel firm, but not overripe. If you find a piece that is slightly less than perfect, carefully trim off and discard any bruised parts. Don’t use commercially canned or frozen fruit and fruit juices. Read the section called Pectin to learn about high-pectin fruits.
Sugar plays an important role in making sugar-preserved fruits, and it must be combined with pectin and acid in the right proportions. Sugar assists with proper jelling, enhances flavors and preserves colors. Sugar increases shelf life and adds an attractive, glossy sheen.
Even though sugar is usually integral to making jellies and jams, using smaller amounts allows natural fruit flavors to predominate. Read on for information about low-sugar preserving. If you end up using too little sugar and your product doesn’t jell, refrigerate your delectable “syrup” and use it in sauces or beverages, or spoon it onto yogurt, ice cream and other desserts.
Pectin comes from a Greek word meaning “congealed.” It is an indigestible, water-soluble fiber in fruits and vegetables that binds plant cells together. It acts as a natural thickener in jellies and jams.
Commercial pectin is most commonly extracted from citrus fruits or tart apples, especially the skins. Citrus fruit peels from lemons, grapefruits and oranges contain the most pectin, but the pulp contains some, too. Apples are often added to commercial jams because they are high in pectin. As by-products of the juice industry, these sources are readily available for commercial production.
Pectin content varies widely among different fruits and vegetables. Some fruits contain enough pectin for natural jelling. But be aware that the pectin in soft, fully ripened fruit has been broken down by enzymes. If using ripe fruit, one-fourth of the batch should be under-ripe.
High-pectin fruits (not too ripe) include cranberries, sour blackberries, red currants, plums, Eastern Concord grapes, citrus fruits (mainly rind), Damson plums, quinces, crab apples, loganberries and gooseberries. Fruits that may need additional pectin or acid, or both, include ripe blackberries, boysenberries, elderberries, ripe apples, Eastern Concord grape juice, California grapes and sour cherries.
Fruits that always require additional pectin or acid, or both, include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, pineapples, passion fruit, apricots, pears, Italian plums and figs. To get a better jell with low-pectin fruits, include a portion of high-pectin fruit or add additional pectin. A few winning fruit combinations to try: strawberry-currant; elderberry-apple; orange-rhubarb; or Damson plum-raspberry.
Popular commercial brands like Ball RealFruit® Pectin and Sure-Jell® contain acids that ensure jelling and are to be used in recipes with a high quantity of sugar. Certo liquid pectin, made in Mexico, is made from lime peels. Many blue-ribbon cooks prefer liquid pectin because of excellent, consistent results. Certo’s recipe for blackberry jam requires two pouches of liquid pectin, 4 cups of fruit and 7 cups of sugar.
There are a few steadfast rules for using commercial pectin. Never interchange regular pectin for one that calls for less sugar, a sugar substitute or no sugar. Measure ingredients exactly and don’t double the recipe. Never interchange powdered pectin and liquid pectin — it will not work. Proprietary formulations for commercial pectin vary from company to company, so follow the guidelines provided by each manufacturer.
Low-sugar pectin products like Sure-Jell® Light Premium Fruit Pectin (for less-or-no-sugar-needed recipes) have become especially popular since more people are trying to reduce the sugar in their diets. Follow package directions carefully for best results. The recipes use less sugar, so freezing or refrigeration may be recommended for safe storage to prevent mold. Freezer jam is a great recipe to make if you’re a novice canner. Remember that some artificial sweeteners don’t substitute well for sugar in regular recipes.
Low-methoxyl pectin (Pomona’s Universal Pectin) is made of 100 percent citrus peels processed into fine powder. It calls for lower amounts of sugar, and jellies and jams will consistently jell. This pectin is activated by calcium powder instead of sugar. (If tap water has a lot of calcium, you’ll get a firmer jell.) It also reduces cooking times, keeping the flavors and natural properties of the fruits intact. One-half to 3/4 teaspoon of the pectin is used for each cup of mashed fruit. For jelly, use 3/4 to 1 teaspoon pectin per cup fruit juice. Purchase Pomona’s Universal Pectin® at Whole Foods Market, Earth Fare, Rosewood Market or Williams-Sonoma. You can use a small amount of mild honey or maple syrup with this pectin for additional flavor. But beware — too much can alter the flavor and structure of any jelly or jam.
Acids, like lemon juice or commercial vinegars with a minimum acidity of 5 percent, work hand-in-hand with pectin and sugar and help determine the consistency of jellies and jams. Fresh-squeezed, strained lemon juice enhances the fruity flavors. Clemson Cooperative Extension advises that the proper level of acid is critical to jell formation … too little acid and jells won’t set; too much, and they weep (lose liquid). The correct acid level also prevents enzymatic browning and is necessary for safely processing some fruits in a water bath. Include at least two to three tablespoons, or more, if the recipe calls for it.
Jams, jellies and preserves are acid foods that have a natural pH of around 3 to 4.6, but it should be no higher. If a recipe uses little or no lemon juice, you can purchase pH strips to test the pH.
Boiling Water-Bath Canning
There are many reputable resources available for home canning methods. The information below is a basic guideline for processing foods in a water-bath canner. All high-acid foods, like jellies, jams and preserves must be processed for pantry storage using this method, or with a pressure canner. Otherwise, you can refrigerate the product, or even freeze it, if specified by the recipe. (Low-acid foods must be processed with a pressure canner.)
1. Read the recipe, following any specific canning instruction. Assemble ingredients and equipment before you begin.
2. You can eliminate the step of sterilizing jars, if they are to be processed in a water-bath canner for at least 10 minutes, or if they are processed in a pressure canner.
To sterilize: wash jars, lids and screw-on bands in hot, soapy water; rinse well. Dry the bands; set aside on a clean kitchen towel. Put empty jars on the rack of a large canner or into an 8- to 10-quart pot. Add water 2 inches above jar tops. Cover; boil 10 minutes. Set the canner and jars aside up to 10 minutes. In a small saucepan, cover the lids with water; heat to 180 degrees. An instant-read thermometer is useful for testing the water temperature. Keep both pots covered to retain heat.
3. Prepare recipe as directed. Use tongs to place sterile jars upside down on a clean kitchen towel to drain, then invert. With a clean ladle, fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Cover with lids. Add screw-on bands and tighten firmly. Put jars on canner rack, adding water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to boil; cover and boil 5 to 10 minutes, as directed in the recipes. Remove jars with tongs to a towel-lined surface. You will hear the jar lids pop within a range of minutes to a few hours as vacuum seals form. Cool completely, letting the jars set for 12 hours. Remove screw-on bands and touch tops; they should be concave and maintain a tight seal. If a jar doesn’t seal, refrigerate at once. Add labels. If any of the jars eventually develop mold on the preserved fruit; discard appropriately. For no-cook jams, wash jars, lids and screw-on tops or suitable plastic containers with hot soapy water. Rinse and fill.
Susan’s Raspberry-Strawberry Rose Jam
This exquisite mélange of raspberries (Rubus), strawberries (Fragaria) and rose (Rosa) comes from the Rosaceae (rose) family, but each is from a different genus. Pomegranate juice adds a bright, full-bodied flavor. This is the easiest jam to make, requiring no cooking, and only refrigeration or freezing. Don’t reduce the sugar amount or you may end up with a fancy syrup. Sugar also helps with jelling and preservation. You’ll appreciate the rich fruitfulness of this fragrant jam. Spread it on toast, biscuits and scones, or stir some into a medley of fresh berries to enhance their flavor. The Rose Water — an elegant steam distillate of rose petals — adds a lovely floral note.
3 cups fresh raspberries
2 cups fresh strawberries, halved
4 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup 100 percent pomegranate juice (like Pom)
1 (1.75-ounce) package powdered pectin like Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin®
1/2 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Rose Water, available locally at fine food stores and gourmet cookware stores
Wash six 1/2-pint freezer jars, lids and screw-on bands in hot, soapy water. Rinse well and drain on a clean kitchen towel. Prepare fruit. Measure sugar; set aside. Put all of the fruit into a large bowl. Use a potato masher to lightly mash, leaving the pieces chunky, but not pureed. Stir in sugar; macerate 10 minutes, stirring a few times. In a small saucepan, combine juice and pectin; stir well to dissolve. Bring to a full rolling boil and continue stirring 1 minute. Stir hot mixture into the fruit mixture. Stir 3 minutes until smooth and no longer grainy. Blend in Rose Water. Spoon into prepared jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Add lids and bands; secure tightly. Allow jars to sit 12 hours then refrigerate for three weeks or freeze up to six months. Thaw jam in the refrigerator overnight; stir before serving.
Variation: Stir small, fragrant red rose petals into the juice/pectin mixture just before adding to the fruit. Don’t use commercial roses or garden roses that have been sprayed with chemicals.
Cooking brings out the flavor of blueberries and lavender enhances it, too. If you have English lavender in your garden, it’s excellent for this culinary use. Pick the tiny flower buds just before they open to preserve the flavorful, essential oils. Dry for long storage. Don’t use dried lavender intended for potpourri or decorative uses; it may not be safe for consumption. Culinary lavender can be located in fine food stores and cookware shops.
8 cups fresh blueberries, stems removed
7 cups sugar
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon butter, to help reduce foaming
2 to 3 teaspoons dried culinary lavender, finely crushed
1 (3-ounce) pouch liquid fruit pectin like Certo
Refer to the tips from the section, Boiling Water-Bath Canning. Cut open the pectin pouch and stand it up inside a jar. In a large saucepan, combine blueberries, sugar and lemon juice. Use a potato masher to lightly crush blueberries, leaving texture. Add butter and lavender. Bring to a rolling boil; cook 1 minute, continuously stirring. Quickly mix in pectin and bring to a full rolling boil again for 1 minute, still stirring. Remove from heat; skim off any foam with a metal spoon. Spoon jam into four prepared jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Add lids and bands; secure tightly. Process jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes four half-pint jars.
Brandied Fig Preserves
If you have a fig tree in your yard, you may want to double the recipe. A variety of outstanding figs grow in South Carolina including Brown Turkey — introduced from Paris by Thomas Jefferson; and the popular yellow-hued Celeste. One-half cup of figs equals the same amount of calcium in a 1/2 cup of milk. Serve this as a delectable spread, or use as an ingredient in cakes, ice creams and quick breads.
2 pounds just-ripe figs, rinsed, stemmed, quartered (about 8 cups)
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 small lemons, halved lengthwise, sliced paper-thin, seeds removed
Pinch kosher salt
1 cinnamon stick
1 to 2 tablespoons fine brandy, if desired
Combine figs, sugar, lemon and salt in a preserving pan or large saucepan. Cover and macerate fruit overnight (about 8 hours). Place uncovered pan over low heat; add cinnamon stick. Cook 30 minutes or until syrup thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Figs will become somewhat translucent. Stir often to prevent burning; add a small amount of water if too thick. Remove cinnamon stick; stir in brandy. Pack fig and syrup mixture into four half-pint washed jars to within 1/2-inch of the tops. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Add lids and bands; secure tightly. For pantry storage, process figs in a water bath following the directions in the Boiling Water-Bath Canning Section. After cooling, store in a cool, dark place. Age a few days before serving. If water bath is omitted, store jam in the refrigerator. Recipe can be halved. Makes four half-pint jars.
Plum-Delicious Grape Jelly
This recipe is based on one from Clemson Cooperative Extension. Concord grapes give it an amazing flavor and deep purple-blue color. The jelly would be even more wonderful using juice from the Southern dark muscadine grape. The grape’s skin is thick requiring a little more work, but the irresistible, rich and complex flavor is completely worth the effort. A Foley food mill is a useful tool for separating seeds from the tough flesh and juice.
3 1/2 pounds ripe plums, washed
3 pounds ripe Concord grapes
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon butter, to help reduce foaming
8 1/2 cups sugar
1 (1.75-ounce) package powdered pectin like Sure-Jell® Premium Fruit Pectin
Pit the plums; do not peel. Thoroughly crush plums with the grapes, one layer at a time, in a saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the juice through a jelly bag or double layers of cheesecloth. You will need 6 1/2 cups of juice. Measure sugar and set aside. Combine juice with the butter and pectin in a large saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugar; return to a full rolling boil for 1 additional minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and quickly skim off any foam. Fill the hot, sterile jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Cover with lids and screw-on bands. Process the jelly for 5 minutes, referring to tips in the section, Boiling Water-Bath Canning. Makes about 10 half-pint jars.
Golden Tomato Conserve
There is an easy way to determine if a conserve, jelly or jam is cooked enough. Put a couple of saucers in the freezer then drop a small spoonful of jam on a cold plate. If it is runny after cooling on the plate for about 1 minute, continue cooking. If the conserve sets up to a desirable consistency, it is ready. To add extra texture to the conserve, use a vegetable peeler to remove the lemon rind in thin strips about 1 1/2-inches long. Stack the strips; slice into thin shreds, then add to the conserve.
2 pounds yellow and orange cherry tomatoes, halved (reserve the juice)
1/2 cup golden raisins
Grated zest and juice of 2 medium lemons
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh gingerroot, grated
Pinch of ground cloves
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and white or black pepper, to taste
In a heavy large saucepan, combine all of the ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until mixture boils. Reduce to low heat; simmer about 30 minutes, stirring often, or until thick and syrupy. Spoon into three prepared half-pint jars to within 1/2-inch of the tops. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Cover with lids and screw-on bands. Conserve can be processed referring to the tips in the section, Boiling Water-Bath Canning. Or refrigerate instead. Double the recipe if desired. Makes three half-pint jars.
Orchard Peach Preserves
Fresh from the orchard, South Carolina peaches make the most flavorful preserves and jams. These are made without pectin and will need additional cooking time to set up. Watch carefully as they cook to prevent burning.
3 pounds just-ripe peaches (10 to 12), peeled, pitted, cut-up
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups sugar
Pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
Put peach pieces and lemon juice in a large pot. Use a potato masher to break them up into pulp, but leave some texture. Mix in sugar and bring to a boil. Cook the pulp, stirring often, about 30 minutes or until the temperature slowly reaches 210 to 220 degrees F. (jams, jellies and preserves burn at 220 degrees.) To determine if the preserves have cooked long enough, refer to the header note in the recipe, Golden Tomato Conserve. When done, spoon preserves into four or five prepared half-pint jars to within 1/2-inch of the tops. Wipe jar rims with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Cover with lids and screw-on bands. Preserves can be processed referring to the tips in the section, Boiling Water-Bath Canning. Makes four or five half-pint jars.
• Wash all fruit thoroughly before use.
• For jelly, cook fruit peels and cores in the juice to add additional pectin.
• One pound of fruit should yield at least 1 cup of clear juice.
• If using the thin outer rind of citrus fruits, remove all the bitter white pith underneath.
• Make jelly and jams in small, controlled batches; long cooking needed for larger batches darkens and toughens jellies, and causes flavor loss. Use 6 to 8 cups of juice for jelly.
• Add natural pectin (and flavor) by putting the rind of two lemons, or apple cores and peels, into a cheesecloth pouch; simmer in a pot of jelly or jam. Pectin releases into the mixture. Press lemons with the back of a large spoon then remove.
• Don’t use cast iron or aluminum; choose non-reactive pans.
• Pectin sets at approximately 220 degrees, so monitor constantly; a basic candy thermometer is invaluable.
• Kerr® and Ball brand Canning Jars (or Mason jars) with two-piece lids are reliable for canning. Jars and bands can be reused; purchase new lids for each batch. Popular German Weck canning jars have tapered shapes and rust-free glass lids.
• Canning jars, made from tempered glass, can be used for freezing, but leave room at the top for liquid to expand.
• Other equipment: jar funnel, jar lifter, water bath canner with lid and rack, ladle, digital (or analog) scale, cheesecloth, skimmer and potato masher for fruit.
• Nice to own: dissolving jar labels, jelly bag, bubble remover (from inside jars).
• Preserves and marmalades may require overnight maceration of fruit and sugar for slow softening and to release natural juices.
• Carefully inspect a canned product before opening. It should be tightly sealed, maintain its appearance and smell pleasant. Discard appropriately if there is any doubt.
Food Styling by Susan Fuller Slack, CCP