Preserving the Past with Preserves

When you here someone talking about Preserves, what is the first thing that comes to mind?  For many Preserves mean Strawberry. Others think of Peaches. Still others think of something else, depending on where you grow up and the type of fruit available in your area. When I hear preserves I think of Fig Preserves. My father’s mother made the absolute best Fig Preserves in the world. That sounds like a big boast, but you need to remember that this was the lady that started me on the road to where I am today sitting here typing for you to read. The very first thing I made was Fig Preserves. Now I am going to tell you how she made them, the same way Mary Lynn and I made them, please feel free to substitute any fruit any place it says fig. I know there are people who do not like figs. Strawberry, or Raspberries or any thing you like works almost the same way. Here is a photo of what old-fashioned Fig Preserves look like. If you are going to make Fig Preserves you have to look at the type of figs available. Some Figs are large, and some are small. If you pick the large ones you may have to cut them in half. The smaller types are best whole. In the photo we made this with whole figs. If you have to cut your figs, they will still look nice, but totally different from ours. They both are the same, the only difference is the fig. As a manner of fact some say that sliced makes a more attractive preserve.

Before you can make Preserves of any type you need to know what real Preserves are. They don’t resemble the things you get in most restaurants and fast food places.

According to Wikipedia: Fruit preserves are preparations of fruits, vegetables and sugar, often canned or sealed for long-term storage. The preparation of fruit preserves today often involves adding commercial or natural pectin as a gelling agent, although sugar or honey may be used, as well. Before World War II, fruit preserves recipes did not include pectin, and many artisan jams today are made without pectin. The ingredients used and how they are prepared determine the type of preserves; jams, jellies and marmalade are all examples of different styles of fruit preservation that vary based upon the ingredients used.

Many varieties of fruit preserves are made globally, including sweet fruit preserves, such as strawberry, as well as savoury preserves of culinary vegetables, such as tomatoes or squash. In British and Commonwealth English most fruit preserves are simply called jam, with the singular preserve being applied to high fruit content jam, often for marketing purposes. Additionally, the name of the type of fruit preserves will also vary depending on the regional variant of English being used.

Sounds like many different ways of describing something. When we make preserves we use the definition described by one of the oldest cook books. It states that Preserves are whole or large pieces of a fruit that has been cooked down with sugar til the juice has made a thick syrup. With our preserves you could tell the fruit just by looking at the jar.

The first thing you need to do is decide if you are going to have to cut your fruit. In the case of strawberries you will probably need to cut them. Next is wash the whole fruit and make sure you have no  bad spots or fungus. Next put the fruit in a bowl that you can put in your refrigerator. With the fruit in the bowl cover completely with sugar. Gently move the fruit so that all pieces are exposed to the sugar. If the fruit soaks the sugar, add more to cover the fruit. If you use some of the more juicy fruits you probably will only need to sugar one time. Now place a cover over the bowl and put in your refrigerator. The next day carefully drain the juice the has accumulated in the bowl and save it. Add more sugar to cover again and put bowl back in fridge. Several hours later check to see if all the sugar has dissolved. If it has drain and repeat the process. Keep doing this till the fruit has absorbed as much sugar possible. Now take all the juice that you have collected and put in a large enough pot to hold the fruit. Add a few slices of lemon. This will help make the fruit strong and not fall apart. Cook your juice til it reduces to half volume. Carefully add your fruit and cook gently till your fruit is soft without falling to pieces. Cook this juice till it starts to thicken, the fruit will look a little translucent. With a slotted spoon or wooden spoon carefully remove the fruit from the mix. With the fruit removed, cook the syrup til it reduces to a thick syrup. Now carefully put your fruit in clean canning jars that have been rinsed and sterilized. Do not fill to the top, save run for the syrup. Now using a ladle and a jar funnel (if you have one) fill the jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. At this point you have to make sure there are no air bubbles trapped. It is a very important step. Air bubbles take room that is needed for the juice. Do not use a metal object, use plastic or wood. Next take a wet paper towel and clean the jar tops. This is needed to insure a good seal between the domes and the jars.Now place the jar domes on the jars. Make sure your domes are clean. Then place the rings on the domes. Finger tighten the rings. Do not over tighten, this will make it difficult for air to escape. Too loose and water will leak in and ruin your work.  At this stage of cooking, if you have any juice left over, save it and in an upcoming blog I will tell you how to turn the left over juice into a delicious syrup.

Process your jars in a boiling water bath that has enough water to cover the jar tops at least 2 inches. This is important for a good seal. Boil the jars 15 minutes, start your time when the water comes back to a boil. Then remove from the water bath and place on a cooling rack or counter top. The right equipment makes boiling your jars easier than trying to rig something up. You will hear the jar domes pop as they cool. This is a great sound when you are canning. This means that your jars are sealed. After your jars have sat overnite check to see if any have not sealed. If you have some, don’t worry you did everything right. Some jars just won’t seal, so you have to remove the domes, clean the rim again and place new domes on and reprocess. After the jars cool, they are ready for your labels or whatever you want to put on the jars. I do suggest putting on  a label of some kind as you want to know what you are grabbing out of your pantry. If you have several types of preserves, some can look similar. Also labels are nice when you give your jars as gifts.

When you are making preserves you don’t always get the best results trying to keep the fruit in whole or large pieces. Whenever we make fig preserves about 1/4 of then become fig jam.  The big pieces or whole figs just fall apart, so just add pectin and make jam. Don’t feel bad when this happens, even canning pros’ have this happen. It still taste great, so just try again with fresh fruit.

Fig Jam

or

Strawberry Jam

Another thought when you are doing preserves is making more than one fruit in a batch. Combinations of fruit make some “killer” preserves. Combinations that we have made are: Strawberry/Fig, Blueberry/Blackberry, Blueberry/Peach, Peach/Mango. As you can see, the combinations are limitless. Try combining two of your favorites and see how they come out. Don’t worry how the contents of the jars look, you are going for taste.  We first made Blueberry/Blackberry from an accident we had. We put our fruit in the freezer in measured amounts in each bag. If it was 8 ounces or any other amount, we wrote that at the top of the bag. Doing this makes it easier to work with more than one fruit. By writing at the top you can still read the amount and contents easier. The accident we was when we took a bag of blueberries and a bag of blackberries out of the freezer. I placed them in a bowl and put it into our refrigerator to thaw. The next day they had thawed, but when I went to take out the bags, they had leaked due to a hole. So we had a large bowl of Blueberries and Blackberries mixed together.We never threw anything out that might work, so we tried the combination. We called it Black & Blue Preserves.

Black & Blue Preserves

It sold great and when it was all gone, we had many customers asking us to make it again. So a star was born by accident.

Combinations make labels important. Look at the Black & Blue, can you tell the difference looking at it. Is it Blueberry? Blackberry? or both?

Look at this jar. Is it Strawberry, or Strawberry/Fig?                     It is Strawberry/Fig. So you can see why it is hard based on just looks.

Figs that broke apart while cooking turned into a Blue Ribbon Fig Jam at the Georgia National Fair. In a later blog I will give you some awesome recipes for things made with preserves. They make a lot more than you might think.

So it is getting to be that time again, just as I was getting going. Oh Well! Can’t fight the blog wars with a blog too long. So I want you to try to make something with the ideas listed above. As you can see the possibilities are limitless. So get out there and find you some beautiful fruit that is saying “Yes make us into Preserves”.

A note on an earlier blog. I had a poll for you to pick what you like best. I guess only a few people like only certain things. Not many of you voted, but the winner was Preserves, with Jam & Butters in second place. I will have another coming up and I really wish you would vote. This tells me what you want to see.

Also please come to our web page and try something. We have a list of our most popular items for you to pick from. They are some of our most award-winning items. Many Blue Ribbons are on the list.

Don’t forget…. let me know what you would like to make or any ideas you have for the next blog. Just drop me a note at jellymanga@gmail.com

Don’t keep my blogs a secret, pass the word on to your friends, neighbors and family members. They just might make something and share with you. Please feel free to share my blog on Facebook or Twitter or even MySpace.com.

Don’t forget, if someone asks you can you can it? Say YES I can can it.

About Pete Austin & The Austin House

My wife, Mary Lynn and I had a very sucessful canning business for over 15 years, called The Austin House Jams & Jellies. We had to close it due to pure health. I will be writing a blog about some of the recipes, and how to use them. Also some of the interesting, funny, weird things that have happened in our traveling with the business. If you follow me, you will see that I look at things just a little different than others. If you look at the header at the top of the page, you see that I am looking at things. Making sure eveything looks as good as possible.
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3 Responses to Preserving the Past with Preserves

  1. john bowen says:

    I am a 50 year old male wanting to make fig jam out of a good harvest this year. Last year my wife tried and used too much lemon, horrible. I feel like I learned a lot from this article but can’t link to find your recipe for fig jam, disappointed. Would appreciate help, make side references links, just suggestion.

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    • Here is a copy of one of our Fig Jam recipes, it doesn’t use lemon juice. The reason for a little lemon in fig preserves is to make the skin of the fig stronger and not bust while you cook. When we make preserves we only use a slice of lemon. Hope this works for you.

      Fig Jam
      6 cups figs, crushed
      6 cups sugar
      1 box Pectin

      Combine pectin and figs in large pot; bring to a boil. Add sugar and simmer for 15 minutes or until jelly stage. Can in 8 or 16 ounce prepared canning jars. Process 15 minutes form 8 ounce and 20 minutes for 16 ounce jars. Make sure that at least 2 inches of water covers the top of the jars when boiling.

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    • I can only put what is available from World Press. They publish my blog for free, so I can’t demand anything. I love the things they give me, just always wish for a little more. Maybe someday they will have a side menu available. Thanks for the request and the suggestions. I love it when readers ask questions or have ideas.

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