In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
These jams are delicious homemade gifts from the garden.
Make the Fruits of Your Labor into Jam
My mother and grandmother always made jam. I grew up in the South where freestone peaches and wild plums were abundant. One could only eat so much fresh peach ice cream and plum pie, so logically, the rest went into jelly or preserves. To this day, I'm instantly transported back home when I eat a hot biscuit slathered with my mother's tart plum jelly.
Make Jam Anytime
The great thing about jams is that they don't have to be made when the heat of summer is weighing on us. Sure, the fruit is ready then, but most fruits freeze exceptionally well. I pick strawberries or blackberries when the season provides them, and then toss them into the freezer to make jam later in the year. That is, when I have time and the kitchen is cool.
If there's time and inclination when the fruit is ready, I may go ahead and cook currants or grapes down to make juice for "jellying" later. For crystal clear jelly, it's simply a matter of putting the fruit in a large kettle with a little water and cooking it until the fruit is somewhat transparent. I then suspend the fruit in a jelly bag over another kettle. Without squeezing (this will make the juice cloudy), I let all the juice drain out and then freeze it in measured quantities.
Then, when the weather turns nasty in November, I keep my spirits high by making jelly or preserves. The aroma of softly simmering apples or plums is a real boost, not to mention the gratification of seeing the jewel-like jars finished on the cutting board, awaiting ribbons for gift-giving.
Clear, shiny jellies made only from juice are certainly worth boasting about, but jams and preserves truly bring back the taste of summer to me. Jams are made of pureed fruit, and preserves and conserves have chunks of fruit in them.
One of my favorite gift combinations is a crusty loaf of homemade English muffin bread tucked in a festive basket with several types of preserves and jams. I have friends who routinely bring back the jars in summer in hopes I will fill them the following holiday season.
There's truly an entire world of jam and jelly recipes out there, from the sweetest of the sweet to surprising hot pepper jellies, and preserves made from wild fruit few of us would consider eating. You can make jellies with or without commercial pectin, extract your own pectin from apples, or rely on mixing in some not-so-ripe fruits to add the mystical substance that makes your jelly gel.
Whatever you decide to try, I advise getting hold of a good, recent book for tips and recipes. Don't rely on old books for advice in processing. Most importantly, follow the USDA guidelines for finishing your work in a boiling water bath. My favorite books to use are Putting Food By, by Janet Green, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan (Plume Publishing, 1992; $15.95); and the USDA Home Canning Guide, which also is online at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/etext/000028.html.
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