To Savor Summer Year-Round , 0 Comments

 

With the invigorating cool of a nightly breeze heralding the arrival of the autumnal equinox (mark your calendars, it's September 23rd!), it is now what we in my family call 'canning time.' The work of summer is now bearing fruits, quite literally, and nature's bounty is such that it is impossible to eat all the harvest before it goes to rot. So, we must preserve it to enjoy in the cold winter months ahead (and also, to avoid wasting such precious, nutrient-dense food). My mother's easy recipe for homemade fruit preserves not only allows you to choose your fruits of choice (my favorites being stone fruits, such as peaches and plums), but also keeps everything luxuriously simple: the only other ingredient in her preserves is sugar (no pectin, no flavorings, and absolutely nothing artificial!). All you'll need is a large pot (we prefer cast iron, for various reasons), your fruits, sugar, and a long wooden spoon... oh, and about 7 hours to spare.

The trick to making preserves (or jam/jelly/marmalade) is in the constant stirring. Well, perhaps not completely constant. I set myself an alarm that goes off every 10 minutes when I'm cooking aforementioned sweet stuff, and that method has always made my end product delicious and homogenous. To start, assemble your fruit and give it a good vinegar rinse (if you don't already know this little trick, check back later in the week for our article!). Once it has dried, remove any large stones or pits (if you've chosen fruit that doesn't contain these, you can skip a step) and give them a rough chop. There's no need to remove any skins, as the cooking process will break these down. Pile them into you pot, give them a quick mash with a wooden spoon (to manually release some juices), put on the cover and turn the heat on high. After about 10 minutes, you should have a little boil going. Remove the lid, set the temperature to simmer, stir and press the fruit again, then start your timer. Your preserves will now need to cook for at least 6 hours, uncovered. And don't forget the periodic stirring!

When your fruit has broken down enough that it seems that there's more liquid than will ever be cooked off (approximately half an hour after removing the lid), feel free to slowly start adding sugar, tasting as you go. It is important not to overdo it. For a medium pot full of fruit at the start, I typically only use about 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour in a bit, stir until you're sure it has dissolved, and then take a taste. Remember, the mixture will become sweeter as it cooks (and if you use overripe, but not moldy, fruit, it will be even more so). You can always add some extra sugar in the last half hour if you think it really needs it, but the less you need to add, the better! After your preserves have cooked for at least 6 hours, check the consistency (it should be thick but not goopy, and if you have large chunks, you can always puree the whole thing in the food processor after it has cooled off a bit... or just eat the globs piping hot, as I do!). Because there are no added preservatives or jelling agents, this needs to be stored in glass containers in the refrigerator. Tightly-sealed Mason jars will easily last you a year in the fridge, but you can also freeze it to use in pies or as a topping for holiday meat dishes. Happy canning!

- Maria Vasylivna