Canning it: How to make the sweetness last
In the most basic terms, a sweet preserve is jam, jelly and marmalade or fruit butter. Whatever the end result, the process is as straightforward as combining fruit and sweetener (most likely sugar), heating to reduce the water content and thus enhancing texture and body.
It’s easy to can sweet preserves at home using the boiling water method, so you can enjoy the flavors of spring year-round. The secret (we’ve said it before, we’ll say it again) is to use top-quality products and follow a good recipe that takes the time to explain each step. The can in question should be a glass jar with a two-piece lid. Ball brand jars are available at most major grocery stores.
So what is in season right now that you can make into a delicious spread? There are strawberries and rhubarb, winter citrus is still available and there are gorgeous loquats growing all over L.A. The beauty of it is that you can go with anything from a simple combination of blueberries and sugar to strawberries gently stewed with rose geranium and finished with a touch of Luxardo maraschino liqueur. The flavor combinations are endless.
As with any canning recipe, the actual preservation comes from several variables. You need to start with a high-acid food. Think sour. There needs to be sugar, preferably 1/2 cup to every pound of fruit, and you must finish with the all important boiling water bath. To truly seal a jar and make it shelf-stable, canned food should be completely immersed in boiling water and then cooked for a specified amount of time, depending on the item and size of the jar. Those times can be found on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.
It’s a simple act, with a great reward.
And remember, if it doesn’t seem to have come out just as you want it, don’t worry! Label it syrup, pour it over your pancakes and enjoy.
-- Rachael Narins
Photo: Master food preserver Kevin West demonstrates how to can strawberry preserves. Credit: Rachael Narins