Preserving is addictive. I started canning with a rhubarb jam that I had been thinking of and before I knew it I was ordering pound after pound of rhubarb from Bailey’s. When strawberry season hit, I knew I was in trouble. I made so much jam last summer that I sold a lot of it at a Christmas craft and jewelry get together that my mom held at the end of November. I remember being in the kitchen sweating over my stove berating myself about why I have bought so much fruit and then ordering more the next day.
I was on a very steep learning curve last year. I can be a bit fearless in the kitchen so I did take some chances with reducing the amount of sugar in the jam that I made but I did do a lot of reading and saw that if you are using high acid fruit then it is fine to reduce the sugar in jam. The main caveat is to use enough sugar so that the jam sets.
I learned a lot last year and there are now quite a few things that I did or made last year that I will not be repeating. I decided to write a post that discussed some of my mistakes and some of the things that worked the way they were supposed to but I was just not happy with. There are many jams and preserves that I made last year that will be repeated this year with the odd tweak. There are also many preserves that I made last year that I will not be bothering with this year.
Won’t be doing again
Pie Filling with Clear Gel: I had read about people canning pie filling so I thought that I would give it a try. I sourced some Clear Gel at a bulk food store near me and got to it. I thought that peach and blueberry would make a nice mix, so I made a batch, following some instructions that I found online. The first problem that I ran into was that the filling expanded in the water bath canning process and pretty much overflowed the jar.
That pissed me off so I decided I needed to try again. The second time it worked but still expanded more than I wanted. It was then that I fully understood that the mixture of the juice from the fruit and the Clear Gel was creating this thick glue-like mixture. The processing with the water bath was extracting more juice from the fruit which would then mix with the Clear Gel and create more nasty glue. This mixture resembled nothing that I would make a pie with. When I make a pie it is basically loads of fruit held together with a little bit of a thickening agent. Others may get different results but what I got was mushy fruit that was barely indistinguishable from the thick fruity glue that the juice from the fruit and Clear Gel made.
What I learned from this was that if you want to made a pie you are much better off making a simple fruit preserve and thickening it with corn starch when you go to make a pie. The best option is to freeze the berries or stone fruits and bake the pie with the frozen fruit. I mix frozen berries with sugar and corn starch and add it to the prepared pie crust. I will do a post some time soon with how I make a pie. I must confess that I am not an expert but the pies that I make get rave reviews.
Pomona’s: There really wasn’t anything wrong with Pomona’s Pectin but I probably just won’t bother. I don’t have nearly as much time on my hands this year since I work full time. This means that my experimenting will be much more limited. The texture of the jam when using Pomona’s reminded me of gelatin, so I didn’t love that.
Peaches: Since peeling peaches is a supreme pain in the ass, I won’t bother making very much peach jam since I much prefer preserved peaches.
Agave Syrup/Nectar: Last summer I was all about the agave nectar but I have been doing some reading lately and there is some controversy about how healthy agave actually is. I am not a nutritionist so I will not be rendering an opinion on the debate. What I will do is stick with what I feel comfortable with – using sugar and honey in my preserves. As much as I can I will use organic granulated sugar but I will not be fanatical about it. I will be fanatical about using local honey and I encourage you to do the same.
Preserves to make more of
- peaches in honey and vanilla bean syrup
- preserved cherries (hopefully the season is better this year)
- lots of rhubarb jam
- peach juice (as used in Honey Vanilla Peach Margarita)
Preserves to try
- rhubarb syrup
- honey peach & vanilla bean juice (as used in my new favourite cocktail)
- conserves (all sorts)
- barbeque sauce
- plum preserves
- preserved apricots
I am sure that I will think of more preserves to try this summer and my husband will just shake his head and walk away when I am still up at 11:30 filling jars and putting them in the canning pot. There will probably be other times when I have to call him up to help me peel peaches (Simon – you have been warned).
Part of my learning experience last year had to do with finding sources for all the fruit that I wanted to preserve. I did not want to get any fruit to preserve from the grocery store because I wouldn’t really be sure where it came from or how fresh it was. I am lucky to live in Waterloo Region where there are wonderful sources for local produce.
Here is a list of some of the sources of local produce in Waterloo Region that I have discovered so far. It is by no means exhaustive but it is a good start.
Herrle’s Country Farm Market: My favourite spot for strawberries. I was at that store about once a week for strawberries and a myriad of other locally sourced fruit and vegetables.
Martin’s Family Fruit Farm: This is where I found black raspberries. Naturally, this is where I get my apples as well. I often go there to get veggies as well since it is close to my house.
Bailey’s Local Foods: This is a great source for all local fruit and vegetables. I did get some strawberries from here last summer as well as blueberries. I would bulk buy rhubarb and I plan on doing the same this year. This is also one of my best sources for local honey.
The Petters: This was my source for orchard fruit. They drive down to Niagara and pick up the ordered fruit from Palatine Fruit & Roses. I ordered a great variety of peaches and plums. I plan on ordering cherries and apricots this year in addition to peaches and plums.
I will continue my love affair with putting honey and vanilla bean in my preserves this summer. Some things that you are unlikely to find on this blog is a collection of pickles recipes. I am a recovering picky eater and in general, I don’t like pickles. My mom asked me to make salsa last year, but I don’t like jarred salsa and I won’t make something that I am unwilling to taste. I have a fierce aversion to any chunky tomato sauce. I buy San Marzano but I put them in the food processor to eliminate the chunks before adding them to whatever I am making.
I can’t believe I got to the end of this post without giving a huge Thank You to the people over at Punk Domestics. Finding that site was a major source of inspiration and the community that they have built there is very welcoming. I follow quite a few people on Twitter that I discovered through that site and they were very helpful when I threw questions to the wind when I was running into canning troubles. I am also very grateful that Sean accepted many of my recipes to include on Punk Domestics. If you are interested in reading what home preservers are doing, experts and amateurs, then a visit to Punk Domestics is a must.