Peaches, blackberries and even local apples are starting to dictate food preservers’ plans.
The biannual peach-canning spree with my mother-in-law is slated for Friday. But that hasn’t kept her from filling the freezer with other local fruits, including blackberries I picked, to put up at her leisure.
Indeed, strawberries, given the low- and no-sugar treatment in this week’s food section, are still going strong at the patch off Hanley Road and a newer one near Vilas Road. And rhubarb, often considered a springtime fruit (but actually a vegetable) is looking robust in my garden after a good feeding and mulching. With the wide availability of mangos in grocery stores, I could produce my own batch of Rhubarb-Mango Chutney that accompanied this week’s canning story.
And now that apples are on at Ashland’s Valley View Orchards and others locally, they could play off the strawberries in this jam recipe from cookbook author and food blogger Cathy Barrow for The Washington Post. The pectin in the apple helps to set jam, of course. But it’s still important to use about three-quarters perfectly ripe berries and the rest underripe; the latter have more natural pectin, further contributing to a proper set.
This recipe requires a candy thermometer and 4 sanitized half-pint jars with new lids and rings. A preserving pan is recommended but probably only worth the investment for those who do a lot of canning.
Just Right Strawberry Preserves
3 pounds (about 2 quarts) strawberries, hulled
3 cups granulated sugar (organic or raw may be substituted, but use weight, not volume; 26.4 ounces)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Granny Smith apple
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice; use a potato masher or broad, nonflexible spoon to mash fruit into sugar just enough so that some larger pieces of berry remain.
Use large-holed side of a box grater to grate the (unpeeled) apple directly into bowl, turning it once core is exposed. Stir to incorporate thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.
Pour mixture into a colander set over a heavy-bottomed, 5-quart preserving pan or pot. Stir, encouraging collected syrup to fall into pan or pot. Remove colander, seating it inside bowl to capture any remaining syrup; add that to pan or pot as needed. Leave solids in colander while you cook syrup.
Clip a candy thermometer onto preserving pan or pot; cook over high heat to bring syrup to 220 F, the soft-ball stage in candymaking. Syrup will foam and rise up, so stir it from time to time. Add berry mixture to syrup, stirring as preserves return to a rolling boil. Preserves will foam and rise up as water boils away and the set is achieved. Once foam is nearly gone, jam will be done. Turn off heat and test the set (see NOTES, below).
Once set has been achieved, add the butter, if desired. Stir well and thoroughly without scraping sides or bottom of pan or pot until last bits of foam have disappeared.
Ladle preserves into sanitized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Run a chopstick or flat plastic knife along inside of jars to dislodge any air bubbles. Clean rim of each jar, place warmed lids and finger tighten rings (not too tightly). Process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and use a jar lifter to transfer jars to a clean, folded dish towel to cool for several hours.
Label and date sealed jars. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Refrigerate after opening. Makes 3 1/2 to 4 half-pint jars.
NOTES: There are three ways to test the set. The sheeting test entails stirring preserves, then lifting the spoon to watch jam sheet off the spoon, flowing slowly and collecting along the bottom of the spoon before languidly dripping back into the pot. It should look like jam, not like syrup. The sheeting test takes a practiced eye.
The cold plate test is a surefire method of testing the set. Before beginning to cook jam, tuck 3 small plates and three spoons into the freezer. Once preserves seem to be set, use a cold spoon to place a tablespoon or so of jam on the plate. It should set instantly. Press against blob of jam. Does it resist just a bit? Wrinkle a little? It’s done.
The third method is the lazy cook’s cold-plate test. Remove preserves from heat and cool for 3 to 5 minutes. Press against surface of the jam. Does it resist just a bit? Wrinkle a little, as though a very small pebble has hit the surface of a pond? The jam is ready.
For jam that is not yet set, return preserves to the stove; cook for 2 to 5 minutes at a strong, hard, foamy boil that rises up no matter how much you stir; then test again. Stop and start cooking process as many times as necessary until you are satisfied with the set. Jam will set further as it sits, so err on the side of a loose set versus a very firm set.