Summer is coming to an end, and it seems that the fruit has been jumping into my kitchen. The stone fruits have been outstanding, and when Tougas Farm had a pick-your-own special last weekend, we came home with 40 pounds of dead-ripe fruit. That's a hella lot of peaches and nectarines.
So, I dragged my ancient canning equipment upstairs. It's been years since I've canned. I had to consult some books and websites to remember the process and see what guidelines are being recommended these days. I also wanted to use much, much less sugar than traditional recipes call for. Commercial pectin needs a ton of sugar, sometimes almost as much in weight as there is fruit in a recipe! Thank goodness there's now a No Sugar Needed pectin, which I've had a lot of success with. I've been using as little pectin as possible, and none in long-simmered jams when using fruit with a lot of natural pectin. As an example, I made a blueberry-lemon jam with 8 cups of berries and 11/2 cups of sugar, instead of the 6 called for in old recipes. The jam is pleasantly tart, more like fruit than sugar.
The farmstands and produce stores have all had bumper crops, and when a whole flat of figs was $5, blueberries on sale by the 2-quart box, and an enormous bag of 20 pounds of slightly dinged apples another $8, well. Things got a bit out of hand. Needless to say, everyone is getting preserves this December.
I'm terrified of poisoning someone with a beautiful jar of peaches, so I tend to be very conservative about acidity levels, sterilization, and a proper seal. I know plenty of people who can blithely throw some fruit into a jar, pour in hot syrup, clamp on a lid, give it a shake and pronounce it done, but I'm not one of them. (My mother-in-law doesn't even use proper canning lids--just recycled baby food bottles. *shudder* I throw out her jam. Shhh. Don't tell.)
On the other hand, it's not rocket science, people. If you haven't attempted canning before, just get yourself a copy of The Ball Blue Book or look at one of the Extension Service websites; or spend an afternoon in a canner's kitchen. My friend Kerry (where are you, Kerry? We lost track after you went to grad school) taught me more than 20 years ago.
So far I've made brandied peaches, peach-ginger conserve, fig-ginger-lemon jam, blueberry-peach jam, jalapeno jam, jalapeno-peach jam, blueberry-lemon jam, gingered peach halves, peach chutney, raspberry-blueberry-cassis jam, and raspberry-peach jam. I have cooked-down apples waiting to be sieved then slow-simmered into apple butter, and a bucket of sour damson plums on the counter waiting for ripening and inspiration. I tend to like the zany combinations, something to give a jolt of flavor on a toasted pita in the morning, or to top plain yogurt and fresh fruit, or to go on a cheese platter or in a glaze or sauce.
Now, how to flavor those sour Damson plums? And my box of tomatoes is coming Thursday.