Summer In A Mason Jar: 3 Simple Recipes and Tips for Getting Started with Preserves
Photos by Jaymi Heimbuch
Two Jams and a Pickle
I decided this month that it is high time I learn to make preserves, and just in time since the fruits of summer are starting to dwindle in the farmers' markets. Last Sunday I grabbed my camera and spent the entire day in the kitchen of a good friend who knows how to jar properly. Here are the scrumptious results, including three recipes, that will inspire you to pick up your tongs and a nice big pot, and put the last of summer in a mason jar.
What To Jar Before The Season Ends
At the end of summer and beginning of fall there is a lot to choose from in the farmers' markets. Indeed, it was the overflowing fruit stalls that made me want to start jamming. At this time of year in my neck of the woods, stone fruits are still in abundance from peaches and nectarines to plums and apricots. It is probably a little too late for cherries, but you might still be able to find some depending on where you're located.
A wide variety of vegetables are in the markets, which means few limitations on what you can pickle or turn into relish.
As Maria said when we were planning our to-jar list, "Let what's at the market on Saturday dictate the recipe list for Sunday."
If you're curious about possibilities before heading to the farmers' market, you can check out websites that provide lists of local seasonal foods, such as this one for California. Just because it's on the list doesn't mean it'll be at the market, however. And don't forget, jarring is all about preserving the best of the harvest when it is available.
I definitely don't recommend just going to the supermarket for a certain (out-of-season or shipped-in) fruit simply because you want that fruit -- you'll most likely end up with sub-par preserves no matter how good your jarring skills.
A Little Advice Before Getting Started
Jarring is a whole lot of fun, but one of the primary concerns is doing it correctly to avoid any spoilage, and worse, getting sick from eating something that has spoiled. Yes, it's possible to get very sick from poorly jarred foods. You want to study up before you get started.
The trip to the market set me off on wanting to become a pro at preserving the harvest, but I had to admit that I was scared about the potentially sickening consequences of doing it wrong. Maria told me, "Your first time, you will freak yourself out and think you're going to poison all your friends. You'll probably throw out everything you've made. But trust me: If you read what you're supposed to do, and follow the rules of jarring, you're not going to poison anyone. Really."
Even so, I still wanted to see it done the right way before I trusted myself to jar foods on my own. Luckily, Maria was more than willing to invite me into her kitchen and spend seven hours making marmalade, jam, and pickled veggies.
However, you might not have such an experienced friend waiting to take you under their wing. So, here's another piece of advice from Maria: "I think one of the best things someone can do, especially if they spend a lot of time online, is get back to basics with books on preserves. Pick one good book and really read it. Or go here and digest the basics completely so you KNOW what you're doing. Then you don't have to worry about it."
She explains, "You can find a million sites that will tell you in panicky terms that you have to do something their way or you'll get sick, and they all vary a little in their process which can be very disconcerting. And some of the best looking books don't have good step-by-step guides in them."
Canning or Jarring, What's The Difference?
Before we get started we might also want to discuss the lingo. While canning is the process of putting food in cans, and jarring is the process of putting food in jars, really the word "canning" is used with jars too. Most people still use the term "canning" when referring to putting food up in sealed glass jars, though the word "jarring" has experienced a resurgence over the last four or five years. For the sake of simplicity and accuracy, I'm using the term jarring.
Two Must-Try Summer Jam RecipesHere are two recipes that show the extremes of summer fruits -- one is made with oranges which, in California, is a nearly year-round fruit and you can make this practically any time you want if you live where oranges grow. The other, however, is a preserve you'll have to capitalize on during just a few short weeks -- sour cherries. This coveted fruit is gone almost as quickly as it arrives at the markets around here. With marmalade as a mainstay and sour cherries as a decadent treat, you'll start to see the range of what is possible if you pay attention to summer fruits before they disappear until next year.
Blood Orange Marmalade
Photos by Jaymi Heimbuch
We based our recipe off of a Seville orange marmalade recipe, with a few obvious changes.
What I like about this recipe is that you don't need store-bought pectin -- you use the pectin found naturally in the pulp and seeds of the fruits you use by wrapping them in a cheesecloth and simmer. It is one more way to keep down the number of ingredients used, and keep it as all-natural as possible.
For about 6 cups of finished marmalade, we used:
7 blood oranges
4 cups water
4.5 cups sugar (roughly... you'll find out the exact amount as you're cooking)
The prep work is the longest part of this recipe. Slice the oranges in half and juice them. Then scrape out the pulp and set it aside. The pulp and seeds of the oranges, and the seeds of the lemons, will go into the cheesecloth.
Next, scrape out as much of the white pith as you can and discard. The more you have left on the peel, the more bitter the flavor will be.
Finally, julienne the peels and set aside. You'll want about two cups of juice, and four cups of peel total.
Juice the lemons and add the juice to the orange juice. Add the seeds and as much of the inner membranes as you can scrape out to the orange pulp pile.
Now, place all the pulp and seeds onto a cheesecloth (we used hemp) and tie it with a string.
Now we're ready to cook! Add the juice, sliced peels, water and bag-o-pulp in a large pot.
Bring it to a boil and cook for about 30 minutes, uncovered, or until the peels are cooked. Remove the cheesecloth bag and set it aside to cool. While you're waiting for that to cool, it's time to measure your fruit and add the sugar.
Pour the fruit into a bowl and measure it as you add it back to the pot. For every cup of fruit, add 7/8 cup sugar. If you like it a little more tart, try starting with just a little less (not too much less because the sugar helps the jam thicken). Stir in the sugar and taste -- if you want it a little sweeter, add a bit more sugar, though remember that the marmalade will sweeten up as you simmer it during the next step.
Now that the cheesecloth bag has cooled, squeeze it like a stress ball to get all the extra pectin out. You're trying to get every last drop of moisture -- and therefore pectin -- out of the bag, and hopefully will have a couple tablespoons of pectin to add to the fruit.
Now, we're ready to cook...again! Bring the mix to a rapid boil on medium high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes. Use a candy thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature. The mixture will start to thicken as it reaches 220 degrees, and this is when you'll want to start checking it often to see if it is ready.
You'll know it's ready if you place a drop of liquid from the pan onto a chilled plate and it starts to "wrinkle" -- if it spreads out quickly, it's not ready; if it holds its shape and wrinkles up when you push at the edges of the dollop with your finger, then it's ready.
Now, we jar.
Use jars and lids that have been sterilized by simmering them in water for at least 10 minutes. Ladle the marmalade into the jars (it's easier if you use a funnel like the one above to ensure nothing gets on the lip of the jar to prevent a seal).
Leave room at the top -- at least 1/2 inch or more -- for processing. This is called "headspace" and without enough of it, there won't be adequate air to contract as the jar cools which can prevent a proper seal. You don't want a jar to bust open and have to spend half your day cleaning up marmalade that you spend hours preparing. Or worse, you don't want the jar to seal improperly and spoil your once-yummy jam.
Add the lids, and tighten just so that the lids get a good grip on the jar, but don't twist them too hard. It's more about keeping the lid in place while the jars seal than closing them like you're angry at them.
Now, add the jars to gently boiling water so that they're covered by about an inch of water -- you can use a canning rack if you'd like, or put a steamer rack in the bottom of the pot so that the jars are not touching the bottom and wrap them in towels to keep them from clanging together.
Boil them for about ten minutes. When you take the jars out, push on the top of the lid -- if there's no give, the jars are sealed (think of the test button at the top of jars in the grocery store... you know, "if this button pops then the jar is not sealed").
And you're done! Put them in the cupboard to enjoy later... if you can resist, that is. I couldn't. Mmmmmmmmmmmarmalade.....