Fruit at it’s peak is a beautiful thing but it is so fleeting. Jams, jellies and preserves are a wonderful way to capture it at it’s peak for year-round enjoyment. I have made freezer jam many times but I figured it was time to try actual canning. I must say that I think I am hooked! There is something very satisfying about pulling these little jars out of their boiling water bath and hearing that “pop” when the lids seal and you know you’ve done it right! Besides being an excellent way to preserve summer (or fall) fruit at it’s peak and it also a great way to make hostess or small holiday gifts. A nice jar of jam with a cute homemade tag will surely bring a smile to some faces around the holidays.
These are preserves which basically means a mostly gelled syrup that can’t hold it shape on it’s own and contains large chunks of fruit. A jam is also a gelled syrup but does not contain chunks of fruit, rather mashed fruit and may have a smoother, firmer consistency. A jelly contains no mashed or chunky fruit- it is made using fruit juice and has an even smoother, firmer consistency.
These preserves are a mash-up of a few fruits, as the name suggests. Plum is the main fruit followed closely by cherries (I used tart Montgomery cherries and a few Rainier cherries that I had on hand in the freezer). These preserves are on the tart side due to the cherries I used so if you want a sweeter end-product, use sweet Bing cherries instead. There is also a green apple in this although you won’t really taste it; it is there more for the pectin that is naturally found in apples (especially green one). These preserves contain only the pectin found in the fruits and fruit juice in the recipe: you will not need one of those little packets from the store. Fresh squeezed lemon and orange juice are added to this recipe to a) bring more pectin to the party and b) to add another flavor dimension. It is worth noting that these preserves will not set up as thick as a commercially produced jelly or jam but don’t let that deter you! They will be plenty set for spreading on toast, etc. and in fact, with this consistency, will spread more easily. After opening and refrigerating they will firm up even a little more than they would be at room temperature.
I guess it’s time for a mini lesson in canning. I am no expert but I will touch on the main things that I took away from this experience. I will say that the first time you try canning it will most likely take you longer that expected because there are so many new steps and variables that you most likely have never contemplated. I found myself running back to the computer to look random things up from time to time when I had a question, or referring to one of the recipes that I based this one off of (“Cherry-Plum Preserves” in Sarabeth’s Bakery being the main inspiration).
You will need the right equipment. Canning jars from “Ball” are a good choice because it is easy to buy replacement lids for them in the future (lids can only be used once because the wax ring will deteriorate). Choose the size you want to store or give in. I like half pint or 8 ounce jars for jams. A wide-mouth funnel, thongs, secure-grip jar lifter and jar tightener are all helpful. These can be purchased online or in many hobby and grocery stores. You will also need a large pot to boil your jars in (for sterilization and for preserving at the end). I actually used my large 12 quart pasta pot with the insert which was useful for lifting the cans in and out of the water. It was large enough for 7 8-ounce jars which just so happens to be how many I needed for this recipe! You will also need a large non-reactive dutch oven or pan to cook your preserves in. Non-reactive means one that will not react with the acid in the fruit (which could give your preserves a bitter taste). Stainless steel and enamel-coated cookware are good choices. Untreated aluminum is NOT. I used an enamel-coated dutch oven.
Sterilization is key to canning. You will be cooking up your preserves with the goal of “capturing the essence” of the fruit in a jar that can be stored at room temperature long term. You would spoil all of your efforts if bacteria were to start festering inside of one of your jars. Sterilization of your jars and utensils can be accomplished in one of three ways relatively easily:
- In a pan of boiling water. You can use the pan I described above in the equipment section (the pasta pot). You will need to wash your jars and lids and submerge your jars into the water and bring to a boil. Bring the water to a boil after placing the jars in it so that you minimize the risk of the jars cracking due to an extreme temperature difference. Place the cleaned lids in a smaller pan of simmering water. I found that it was helpful to keep a kettle or additional pot of water boiling so that I could add water to the main pot if I needed to (because water evaporated, etc). You will want to boil your jars (low boil) at least 20 minutes and keep them at a low boil until you are ready to fill them.
- In the oven. After washing and drying your jars, place them on a baking sheet in a 225 degree F for at least 20 minutes. Leave them in there until you are ready to fill them. Hot filling goes into hot jars. The lids (the flat ones with the wax rings on the bottom) will need to be kept in a small pan of simmering water on the stove until ready for use. The hot water softens the wax to aid in sealing later on.
- In the dishwasher. If you time it right, you can remove hot steamy jars from the dishwasher and fill them with your hot preserves. Just make sure there is no residue from your detergent left on the inside. As in the above methods, keep your lids in a pot of simmering water on the stove: these should not go into the dishwasher.
Throughout this process be careful not to accidentally touch or handle your jars with bare hands as they will be extremely hot! You should also keep your thongs or anything utensils which will come in contact with the insides of the jars sterilized (be careful not to place plastic utensils in the oven if using this method). The rings for the jars do not need to be sterilized with the jars as they will not actually be in contact with the preserves at any point. Still clean with hot soapy water initially however.
So the next part of prepping to make your preserves is getting your fruit ready. You will want to pick very ripe fruit at it’s peak. Don’t pick fruit that is on the verge of spoiling however, save that for quick breads, lol. You really want the best of the best for this. The cherries I used in my preserves were picked in early July, pitted and frozen. I ran them briefly under cool water in a colander, cut them in half and added them right in with the fresh chopped, pitted plums and peeled, cored and chopped apple. You will want to remove the skins from peaches and apples as those would be unpleasant and would not dissolve in your preserves. The skin of plums is so thin that there was no need to peel them. Be sure to remove pits and cores from any fruit and to cut it all to approximately uniform size. You will also want to squeeze any fresh juice that you will need before beginning. It is a great help to have your mise en place 100%, especially your first time.
Have a heavy, clean kitchen towel ready on your counter. You will use this to place your hot jars on. It is better to place them on this towel than directly onto a cool surface such as a counter top which could cause them to crack.
Below is my set-up. It seems like a lot of pots on the stove but it made work very easy having everything going in one contained area and cleanup was a breeze because only one of the pots was really getting dirty! I have a TINY kitchen so if I can make this work, so can you!
Once you have your fruit prepared and your equipment sterilizing away, cook the fruit and sugar as directed in your recipe. Take care to stir often to prevent scorching and use a large spoon to skim any foam from the top as you are cooking. Add in any spices near the end of cooking. You can check your preserves for doneness using the “wrinkle test”. To perform this test, place a couple small saucers in the freezer at the beginning of your canning prep to get them nice and cold. When you suspect that your product is done you can test it for “set” by placing a small dollop of it on a chilled plate. Stick it back in the freezer for a couple of minutes. Remove it and rub your index finger over the surface of the fruit. If it is ready, the surface will have a film on top and wrinkle as you press it. If this does not occur, continue cooking and check again in a few minutes.
When you are ready to start the preserving process, carefully remove your jars from the boiling water using your tongs (sterilized tongs since you will most likely have part of them inside the jars). Briefly invert the jars as you remove them to drain out the water and place them on the heavy kitchen towel. Spoon the hot fruit into the jars using a sterilized ladle and/or a wide-mouthed funnel. Leave 1/4-inch gap from the top and wipe up any spills on the edge of the jar with a hot, wet towel. Using the tongs, place the hot, wet lids on the jars and attach the rings. Only tighten the rings until you feel just feel resistance. You will tighten them further after they cool.
Place the jars back into the pot of boiling water. If you sterilized using the oven you will still need the pot of boiling water at this point to process the jars so allow time for this water to come to a boil before getting to this step. Use the secure-grip jar lifter for this so you do not burn yourself! Add more boiling water if necessary so that the jars are covered by about an inch of water. Return the pot to a light boil and let it go for about 10 minutes. If you are making preserves with low acid such as apples and pears, boil for 20 minutes instead.
Remove the jars with your lifter to the heavy kitchen towel and let cool completely (undisturbed) for at least 12 hours. The lids should appear concave in the centers and should not make a clicking sound when pressed. If this is not the case you can either boil them again or store them in the refrigerator and use within about a month. After the jars have cooled, tighten the rings fully and store until ready to give away or use. Once opened these need to be kept in the refrigerator.
Not so bad right? Or does it seem overwhelming? Don’t let it be- they are all very simple steps and once you’ve done it it will seem very obvious to you that certain things need to be done to get to your end result! Give the following recipe a try! (I suggest adding a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg to this for jars intended as holiday gifts! It really takes these preserves to a whole new level!)
(recipe adapted from “Cherry-Plum Preserves” in Sarabeth’s Bakery)
Plum Cherry Preserves
makes enough for 7 8-ounce (half pint) jars
- 4 pounds of ripe fruit total (approximate measurements of each): 8 plums, 1 green apple and the remainder of the 4 lbs in sweet and/or tart cherries (about 2 cups)
- ½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice (~2 oranges worth)
- 3 cups granulated sugar (add an extra ¼ cup if your fruit isn’t very sweet)
- ½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (3 ½-4 lemons worth)
- ½ tsp. cinnamon + ¼ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg (optional: for spiced preserves)
- Prepare your fruit: pit and chop plums into ½-inch cubes; peel, core and chop apple into ½-inch cubes; pit and cut cherries in half (rinse under cool water if using from frozen)
- Combine your prepared fruit with the orange juice in a large non-reactive pan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently to avoid scorching
- Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring frequently, until the fruit is tender (about 15 minutes)
- Stir in the sugar and lemon juice and return to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until the fruit has mostly disintegrated, leaving some larger chunks in a thick puree (about 20 minutes)
- Perform the “wrinkle test” to check for set. Continue cooking and check again if it fails the first time
- When the fruit if ready add the spices (if using) and mix thoroughly to combine
- Follow instructions in “Canning Preserves, Jams and Jellies Basics” to jar and preserve your fruit (these preserves will need to be boiled about 10 minutes in the final “processing” step).
This is excellent served on toast, swirled into greek yogurt or served over cream cheese as a spread or dip at a get-together or brunch. You could make thumbprint cookies with this around the holidays or give these jars as gifts, as I said previously. That is, if you can part with it…
You’d better believe that I will be canning again in the near future! As I said before, I fear I am “hooked”! It really doesn’t seem so scary once you’ve gone through the process and have the equipment. I was fortunate enough to not have to buy my equipment either: it was given to Troy by his mother and then to me by him when he realized it wasn’t going to use it, lol. Lucky me! 🙂