Summer In A Mason Jar: 3 Simple Recipes and Tips for Getting Started with Preserves

Sour Cherry Jam

Photos by Jaymi Heimbuch

Our sour cherry jam is based off of David Lebowitz's No Recipe Cherry Jam. Maria found this recipe and I love it for three reasons. First, you never know how many cherries you'll be able to get at any one farmers' market, and with this recipe you can figure out the right amount of ingredients for whatever amount of fruit you were able to score. Second, I am a fan of dash-splash-smidgeum style measuring, and this recipe doesn't make you get all freaked out over precise measurements. And finally, there are only three ingredients, which means this is a recipe you can easily memorize and keep filed in your head. My favorite.

For six cups of jam, we used:
5 pounds of sour cherries, pitted.
2 lemons
4.5 cups of sugar (approximately... you'll find out how much you want while cooking)

First, chop up about 3/4 of the cherries (in a food processor if you like things tidy). If you don't like chunky-ish jam, you can chop up all the cherries.

Add the cherries to a large pot. Add the juice and zest from your two lemons.

Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the cherries are soft.

As with the marmalade, transfer the cherries to a bowl and measure out how much you have as you return the mix to the cooking pot. We ended up with roughly six cups. Then, add 3/4 cups sugar for every cup of fruit.

Cook the cherries over medium-high heat, stirring every so often to make sure none of it sticks to the bottom of the pot. Use a candy thermometer to watch as the temperature rises, and watch to see how the jam is thickening. Use the plate trick that we used for the marmalade -- drop a dollop on a chilled plate and put it in the freezer for a minute. If it wrinkles up when you nudge it, it's done. You want to be sure not to over-cook your jam.

Ladle the jam into jars as we did with the marmalade. Again, leave room at the top, at the very least 1/4 inch, as this is important for making sure these jars seal correctly without bursting on you.

Take care to wipe the lip of the jar before you add the lid, and process in a bath of boiling water for ten minutes.

And there you have it! Sour Cherry goodness that will last in the cupboard for months. Now, on to another marvel of preserving the harvest -- pickling.

Easy Pickled Vegetables

Photos by Jaymi Heimbuch

I like the pickled vegetables that come as an appetizer at a Mediterranean restaurant in our neighborhood, and asked Maria about making a couple jars. We used cauliflower, red bell peppers, haricot verts, carrots, two types of zucchini, and mushrooms from the market.

Filled large jars with the mixed veggies of your choice, topping them off with some chunks of fresh horseradish root and dried chili peppers if you like a little spice. Next, start the brine.

3 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
4 cups water
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
4 cups water

After slowly bringing the brine to a boil, pour it over the veggies until they are completely submerged and close the lids.

Tip the jars upside down to help get the pepper corns, chilies and horseradish to mix with the veggies.

Once the jars reach room temperature, you can place them in the refrigerator for storing. How long you wait before you dive in is up to your personal choice. You can wait a day or two, or a week or two, depending on how much flavor you want in your veggies. They'll keep for months as long as they're stored in the refrigerator.

5 Cardinal Rules of Making Preserves

If you've done your studying, and you feel ready to capture the last of summer in a jar, I recommend checking out Preserving the Harvest where we have gads of recipes for all different seasons, including Apple-Onion Chutney, Peach Pear Relish, and Tomato Jam.

However, there are some cardinal rules to follow about jarring. Okay, so they might not be cardinal rules since I just made these up, but they seem like great rules to live by after my experience jarring up food on a Sunday. While some you can dismiss if you want, I do recommend taking Rules #1 and #2 to heart.

1. You Can't Make Good Preserves With Bad Food
Making preserves is all about saving the best for later. You want to start with the season's most delicious offerings, and go from there. It's not worth the time and effort of preserving fruits and veggies that are just meh to start with -- you'll only be disappointed when you pop open the jar in a few months.

2. Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness
And if cleanliness doesn't make you God-like, it'll at least keep you out of the hospital. Jarring is easy, but it is time-consuming and detailed when it comes to sterilizing your jars and lids. Don't skimp on the steps that focus on proper cleaning, sterilizing and sealing. It might be the least glamorous part of the process, but it is the most important.

3. Zen Is Better Than Now
Making preserves takes a lot of preparation. Tasks like pitting cherries can be, well, the pits. It can be easy to get all huffy and just want it to be ready now! Taking a Zen approach to it will help make even the tedious parts enjoyable. Be mindful of the fruits you're working with -- while you're preparing them, think about what they look like, how they smell, how they feel in your hand, what they'll taste like in six months time in the middle of winter. Rather than hating the preparation of the foods, you'll make it one of the most enjoyable, meditative parts of the process.

4. Get Creative with Recipes, But Not With Processing
The possibilities for deliciousness in a jar are only limited by your imagination -- just think of all the sweet and savory combinations you can make from fruits and veggies combined with just the right spices! Let your imagination whirr when it comes to recipes, but keep both feet on the ground when it comes to processing your foods. That goes for knowing what ingredients are necessary to make the chemistry turn out right (so your jam isn't more like a runny sauce) as well as for rules of processing (the right amount of boiling water for the right amount of time to clean or seal your jars). There's room for flights of fancy in some areas of preserving the harvest, but not every area.

5. Preserving Is For Parties!
If there's one thing I took away from a full day of jarring, it's that preserves are for parties! With all the prep work that goes into preserves, you might as well get a big batch of something made up at once. But if you're doing up a big batch of, say, great peach jam, you might want four or five jars of something, but not a dozen. Meanwhile, you might want some of your friend's six-berry jams. It's the perfect opportunity to get friends together to swap jars of stuff so that you have a variety of the season's best in your cupboards. Also, there's a bit of waiting around with preserving. If you only have room for 6 jars in a pot for processing, then you're going to have to wait around awhile as each set of jars gets their turn in the hot water. That leaves time to gab with friends, talk food, swap recipes and so on.

With all this in mind.... grab a jar and get going!

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More Recipes for Preserving the Harvest
Preserving the Harvest: Chinese Plum Sauce
Preserving the Harvest: Marinated Artichokes
Preserving the Harvest: Green and Red Pepper Relish
29 Delicious Ways to Preserve the Harvest

Tags: Cooking | Food Safety | Fruits & Vegetables

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