By Anna Thomas Bates | Photo By Anna Thomas Bates 0
Nothing makes you feel like a domestic god/goddess like canning your own jam—add a vintage apron and you just might be featured on the next cover of Martha Stewart Living.
The Upper Midwest is gorgeous, but when it comes to local fruit, the season is short and the options are well-defined. Making jam is one way to enjoy Wisconsin-grown fruit year-round.
Rhubarb opens the season (yes, I know it’s technically a vegetable*), followed by early summer strawberries, mid-summer blueberries and cherries, and late summer raspberries, blackberries and plums. Concord grapes, apples, pears and cranberries usher us into autumn, and alas, the end of local fruit.
The easiest and quickest option for fruit preservation is the freezer—most fruits freeze beautifully and can later be processed into smoothies, cakes and quick breads. Simply wash, spread in a single layer on a tray and place in freezer for a few hours to overnight. This works especially well for rhubarb, berries and cherries (pit cherries prior to freezing.) When fruit is frozen, pack into airtight containers.
But jam is sexier than frozen fruit. It’s sweet, versatile and just frivolous enough to make it fun. Use it to flavor plain yogurt, top ice cream, as a filling for cakes and cookies, or between the quintessential peanut butter sandwich.
Last summer I took my jamming seriously, so seriously that I recently put up my first three pints of 2012 (strawberry-vanilla), and I still have four pints left from last year. I didn’t have to buy a single jar of jam from the grocery store for an entire year—that feels good.
Canning can feel intimidating, but there are a lot of wonderful resources available: blogs, web sites, cookbooks and even workshops. Start small and simple, and before you know it, you too will be passing by the Smuckers.
The most economical way to make jam is to grow your own fruit, but if this isn’t possible, there are many vendors at farmers markets selling perfect berries and farms that allow you to harvest your own fruit.
Last year’s jams included rhubarb, strawberry-rhubarb, blueberry, cherry, and Concord grape. The grape was my favorite—nothing compares to homemade grape jam. But blueberry was a close second in flavor, and it was by far the easiest to make.
The most time-consuming aspect of jam-making is the fruit preparation. Washing, chopping, hulling or pitting is meditative, but I always end up with an achy lower back. Blueberries need none of that. A quick wash and once-over to remove the little stems, and then you throw them in a pot and squish the dickens out of them with your hands. This is a PERFECT job for kids. No cutting board or knife needed.
There are a multitude of amazing jam recipes in the canon—find one you like, follow canning procedures carefully and stock your shelves.
Read on for preserving resources and inspiration.
*Fun Fact: Rhubarb is technically a vegetable since it does not “bear fruit,” and Britain classifies rhubarb as a vegetable. However, in the United States it is classified as a fruit. Presumably, this is because rhubarb is most often used in cooking as if it were a fruit—such as in jams, chutneys and sweetened desserts—and therefore, cooks look for it in the “fruit” section of cookbooks and food databases.
Fruit Preserving resources and inspiration:
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff
Putting Food By, by Ruth Hertzberg, et. al.
The Preservation Kitchen, by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy
The River Cottage Preserves Handbook, by Pam Corbin and Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall
If you don’t want to make your own preserves but still want to eat local:
Check your nearest farmers market! Many offer local jams and jellies.