Jam on This: Four Tips to Save Money, Time and the Environment with Homemade Preserves

There may be some ironic, redeeming inspiration over the fact that the economy is in the can: the revival of home canning. As headlines lament the downward spiral of retail, the canning industry reports an inspiring increase in sales.

A key reason roots back to probably the same reason why our grandmothers routinely canned: it simply made economic sense. By making fruit preserves as home, you could get a better-tasting, higher quality product much cheaper. Today we can add environmental sense to that equation: home canning enables us to eat more local, organically-raised produce year-round, eliminating the need for fossil fuel based transportation costs.

Despite this rationale manifesto for home canning, getting started can prove to be a discouraging hurdle as the process โ€“ from fruit processing to hot-water baths โ€“ can seem overtly time-consuming. Not so, according to Linda Amendt, the cape-crusader of home canning. Winner of over 900 awards in state fair culinary competitions and author of two cookbooks, Amendt is on a mission to help people rediscover for themselves the satisfaction and savings of home canning.

โ€œMaking a batch of jam is no more complicated than whipping up a batch of cookies,โ€ explains Amendt. โ€œAnd I promise, nothing off the store shelf will ever compare to what you make in your own kitchen.โ€

Here are some of her tips to get off to a successful start in homemade preserves, the easiest route for novice canners. While the official growing season is โ€“ alas โ€“ behind most of us, stockpile these tips till next year and in the meantime use fresh apple cider, which is still available, for a great beginning project (recipe after the jump).

1. Start with One Fruit
First time making jam? Start with a simple one-fruit recipe, such as strawberry or peach.

2. Use High Quality Fruit
โ€œFocus on using fruit that has good flavor and texture,โ€ advises Amendt. โ€œDonโ€™t use bruised or damaged fruit as that may already have bacteria on it.โ€

3. Try Tested, Modern Recipes
Donโ€™t automatically reach for Grandmaโ€™s recipe book for a jam recipe. Modern recipes have been tested for canning safety and are often much simpler.

4. Add Pectin
Pectin, either powdered or liquid, enables the jam to readily jell and reduces cooking time. โ€œLong cookโ€ recipes that donโ€™t use pectin require a lengthy boiling time, often loosing the fresh fruit flavor.

Apple Cider Jelly Recipe
From 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades & Other Soft Spreads by Linda J. Amendt (2008; Robert Rose Inc.):

“Apple cider creates a jelly with intense apple flavor,” adds Amendt. “This jelly is a multiple blue ribbon and special award winner at many fairs. In addition to spreading on toast and biscuits, use warmed Apple Cider Jelly as a glaze for apple tarts.”

Makes about seven 8-ounce (250 mL) jars

3-3/4 cup (925 mL) unsweetened apple cider
6-1/2 cups (1.625 L) granulated sugar
2 pouches (each 3 oz/85 mL) liquid pectin

1. Prepare canning jars and lids and bring water in water bath canner to a boil.
2. If the cider contains sediment or pulp, strain it before measuring. To strain cider, place a sieve over a pan or bowl and line it with a piece of damp folded fine-knit cheesecloth. Pour cider into the lined sieve, being careful not to disturb any sediment in the bottom of the container.
3. In an 8-quart (8 L) stainless steel stockpot, combine cider and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar is completely dissolved.
4. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.
5. Remove pot from heat and quickly skim off any foam.
6. Immediately ladle hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) headspace. Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp paper towel. Center hot lids on jars and screw on bands until fingertip-tight.
7. Place jars in canner, making sure they are covered by at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. Process 4-ounce (125 mL) jars and 8-ounce (250 mL) jars for 10 minutes; process 1-pint (500 mL) jars for 15 minutes.
8. Remove jars from canner and place on a wire rack or cloth towel. Let cool for 24 hours, then check seals. Wash and dry jars and store in a cool, dry, dark location.

Unsweetened apple juice may be substituted for the apple cider; however, the jelly will have a milder flavor.

Photo credit: 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades & Other Soft Spreads (Robert Rose Inc.).

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