Do preserves conjure up memories of your grandmother’s pantry lined with jars of strawberry jam? Maybe, on a frigid morning in the middle of winter, it’s the taste that instantly transports you back to those long, warm days of summer. Preserves, like wine, are time capsules. They hold within the jar memories of each vintage — personal events, recipe changes and days of scorching heat and rainstorms.
What are preserves, anyway? It seems that no one can agree on what kind of product the term actually identifies. Does it denote whole fruits that are suspended in jelly? Does it just describe fruit that’s mashed without added water or sugar? What about pickles and chutneys? Funny enough, it’s the Canadian Department of Justice that defines what preserves are. Imagine a bunch of black-robed judges sitting around a table sampling as they argue the finer points of jam, jelly and marmalade. In any case, said judges define preserves as any fruit or vegetable that’s processed with water and sugar. Fine. Then what makes jam different from jelly, fruit butter and marmalade? Well, that distinction is found in the form the fruit takes when it’s packed into the jar.
• Jam contains whole or chopped fruit boiled in water and some kind of sweetener.
• Jelly is made from just fruit juice cooked in water and sweetener.
• Marmalade is a concoction of peel, pulp and fruit juice boiled in water and sweetener.
• Fruit butter boasts puréed fruit simmered with water and sweetener.
Not to belabour the point, but did I mention the addition of sweetener? If this all seems a little too saccharine for you, there’s a simple solution: cut it out. In a good year, the heat of the sun will encourage fruits and vegetables to produce just the right amount of sweetness.
It doesn’t take much to indulge in a little preserving magic — jars, lids, a pot and, oh right, lots of fruit and, yes, even veggies. Despite its popularity, rhubarb is not the only vegetable fit for preserve-making. Right now, my fridge is chilling a jar of very delectable carrot and orange butter. Combining fruit with beets or zucchini makes for a yummy and unique spread, too. Add a grate or two of dark chocolate for depth and mystery. The more varied the combination of produce, the more interesting the flavour.
Farmers’ Markets are overflowing with fresh produce at this time of year. But, if you don’t have that option, or you can’t find strawberries in September, the freezer section of any grocery store is always chock full of fruit and vegetables picked at their prime.
I love runny preserves. I love how they pour easily from the spoon, spread smoothly over the bread, then drip down the sides when I take a bite. But, if your personal preference leans toward preserves so thick you can cut them with a knife, then make pectin your friend. Although most peoples’ experiences with this gelling wonder come in the form of a box filled with powder, it does occur naturally in some fruits and vegetables, like apples, oranges and quince. Hence why those fruits are often mixed with other fruits low in pectin, like strawberries and grapes. Add it according to the manufacturer’s instructions, though you don’t actually need it to make thick preserves. Letting the mixture simmer and reduce will give you similar results.
Probably the single most terrifying part of preserve making is the canning process. Just forget, for a moment, everything you’ve heard about botulism or explosions of fruit and glass. As long as the jars are sterilized in boiling water for 10 minutes, all will be well. If you’re bent on storing preserves in the pantry like your grandmother did, then the filled jars will have to undergo a secondary boiling and cooling until all you hear is the ping from each lid as it seals. If, like me, you prefer a shortcut to gourmet paradise, then all you need do is look to your freezer. Once the preserves have cooled, pop them into the icebox for up to six months.
There are a thousand and one ways to use preserves. You can do the classic and spread them on hot, toasted crumpets dripping with butter, or try out different PB&J combinations. How about a sundae topped with a dollop of the fruit concoction? Use a spoonful or two as a filling for doughnuts or muffins. Blend savoury and sweet. Make preserves the primary ingredient in a glaze for beef or salmon. The sky’s the limit. Have fun with it, and good eating!
crostata di marmelada
Thanks to my grandmother, I had the pleasure of enjoying this Italian jam tart on many occasions when I was growing up. She would usually start by making her own jam, but you certainly don’t have to do that. Just make sure that your preserves are of the best quality. The white wine is the secret ingredient that sets this tart apart.
sweet pie pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp chilled white wine (or more as needed)
1 jar of your favourite jam (12 oz)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1. In a medium bowl, mix flour and butter with a pastry blender or a food processor until crumbly.
2. Add egg, sugar and wine; mix until dough is moistened. Remove dough from the bowl and flatten with your hand until it’s about an inch thick. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to one hour.
3. Butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Preheat oven to 375°F.
4. Slice off 1/3 of the pastry dough to use for the lattice decoration; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll out remaining dough to a 12-inch circle, about 1/4-inch thick. Place dough in a buttered tart pan.
5. Trim edges of dough until flush with the tart pan. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork.
6. Spread jam over pastry.
7. Roll out reserved dough to about 1/8-inch thick. Slice into 3/-inch strips. Lay strips across the top of the tart in a lattice pattern. Brush the lattice top with beaten egg. Bake about 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden.
Makes about 6 cups
Confit is just the past tense of the French verb, confire (to preserve). It refers to the way meat (think duck confit), fruit or vegetables are cooked in their own juices. Try to find Meyer lemons to use in this recipe. They’re not nearly as acidic as other lemons, and the pulp is a beautiful deep yellow colour. I get about a half dozen a year from my miniature lemon tree.
6 medium-sized lemons
6 cups water
2-3 cups sugar (or more to taste)
1. Cut lemons into thin slices, discarding the ends and seeds. You should end up with about 3 cups of lemon slices.
2. Place the slices into a bowl; pour water over them. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
3. Pour the lemon mixture into a pot. Set over high heat; cover, and let the mixture boil for about 10 minutes. Remove the cover; let cool and refrigerate overnight.
4. Measure the lemon mixture; add sugar to taste. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Lower heat slightly, and continue to cook for about 45 minutes, or until confit is as thick as you’d like it to be. Pour hot confit into sterilized jars and seal.
strawberry margarita preserve
Makes about 6 cups
This little pick-me-up was adapted from the Bernardin Home Canning Company collection of recipes. Sometimes even strawberries need a hit of spirit. Use this preserve as a spread, or pour it into margarita glasses and serve with a spoon.
6 cups whole strawberries
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
4 cups sugar (or more to taste)
1/2 cup Tequila
1/2 cup Triple Sec
1. Sterilize 6 jars and lids.
2. Rinse strawberries and combine them, in a pot, with lemon juice and sugar. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until mixture reaches desired consistency.
3. Remove from heat and stir in Tequila and Triple Sec. Return to heat and boil 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat; skim foam. Once mixture has completely cooled, seal and store in freezer.
red wine and apple jelly
Makes about 3 cups
It’s tempting, but don’t use your really special bottles of wine to make this jelly. And don’t swing too much in the opposite direction, either. It’s best to use wine that you enjoy drinking. Use this jelly as an accompaniment to any grilled meat, fish and vegetable dish. Looking for something unique? Dip strawberries into it for a bit of zest. This jelly will end up with a much thinner consistency than typical jellies because the recipe doesn’t call for commercial pectin. However, if you prefer thick jelly, stir 1 package of fruit pectin into the mixture.
1 bottle dry red wine
2 cups chopped tart apples
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 cups sugar (or to taste)
1. Sterilize 3 jars.
2. Pour wine, apples and lemon juice into a pot. Bring mixture to a boil. Add sugar, and stir until dissolved. Boil for 1 minute. Pour into jars and seal.
roasted garlic jelly
Makes about 4 cups
Unexpected and delicious. This recipe, adapted from Bernardin, proves anything is possible. Spread this sweet garlicky jelly over grilled bread or stir it into salad dressings.
3 medium heads garlic
1 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
3 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups sugar (or to taste)
2 pouches liquid pectin
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut the top off of each garlic head; brush with 1 tsp oil and 1 tsp vinegar.
2. Wrap in aluminum foil and roast for about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool slightly. Squeeze garlic heads to remove the cloves.
Sterilize 4 jars.
3. Combine roasted garlic cloves, wine, water, balsamic vinegar and crushed peppercorns in a pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool, covered, 15 minutes.
4. Pour garlic mixture into a dampened cheese cloth-lined sieve suspended over a deep container. Let drip to collect juice.
5. Measure the juice into a pot. Stir in lemon juice and all the sugar. Over high heat, bring mixture to a boil.
6. Add liquid pectin, and let boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, pour into jars, and let cool completely. Store in the freezer for up to 6 months.