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Preserving the Summer Harvest: Fruit Jams

At some point in my mid-twenties, I began to hone my grandmotherly skill set. I momentarily took up knitting, briefly considered macramé and baked pattypan squash pie from a generations-old recipe. Maybe you’ve never cared about crocheting granny squares, but I’m betting that you’ve at least wondered, “Why is strawberry jam so delicious?” or “What on Earth do I do with all these peaches, about to go bad on the counter?”

Good news — making jam in your kitchen is easier than you think. Canning and preserving fresh fruits is a fantastic way to make the seasonal surplus last. And it’s really not all that difficult. In fact, in a tiny windowless kitchen, I singlehandedly processed and preserved about twenty pounds of fresh figs in one (very ambitious) day. It’s something I include on my resume.

Since that first foray into preserving, I’ve learned a thing or two. Most importantly, small batches (using a mere pound of fruit) are a wonderful thing.

Quick preserves, like the recipes listed below, are an easy way to put up the harvest. Even better, they eliminate the fear of processing the jars in a hot water bath. Put away the notion that you need a cadre of ingredients and tools. Even a novice cook can step foot into the kitchen and preserve the bounty.

Easy Strawberry Jam: With just two necessary ingredients, you can’t go wrong! Savor the summer’s most wonderful berry (that’s my humble opinion, anyway) and impress your friends with this jam. Just don’t tell them how easy it was to make.

Cherry Skillet Jam: Chances are, if cherries are in season, you’ll have everything you need on-hand to make this wonderful recipe that calls for very little added sugar.

Quick Berry or Peach Preserves: Mix and match berries, or make peach preserves with this easy recipe.

Should you decide to try peaches, here’s my favorite trick for peeling and pitting them, along with some step-by-step photos.

Careful Canning Processing canned goods to make them shelf-stable involves much more work than the quick method, but it means your bounty will be shelf-stable for up to a year, depending on the recipe. There are a number of wonderful books and blogs out there to guide you through home canning.

A few of my favorite resources are:

Photo by Aubrey Stopa

With these great resources at hand, and after a few lessons with a seasoned preserving pro, I learned to process my own homemade peach preserves. You can see step-by-step photos at Sustainable Diet. If you are interested in learning how to can, I highly recommend taking a class in your city or learning with someone who’s been doing it for years. (In my case, I learned from my mom — who had been taught by her mom, and so on.) You can’t be too careful when it comes to home preserving!

Do you have any canning or preserving tips to share?

Peach jam photo by Aubrey L. Stopa Photography.

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mary says …

Quick Berry or Peach Preserves...not there. Link = error 404

Ardala Evans says …

Thank you for this post, but the Sustainable Diet link doesn't work.

Megan says …

@Ardala Thanks for the heads up! The link has been fixed.

makettle says …

I felt an instantaneous kinship with you on your exploration into our grandmothers homemaking skills which I tried soon after I got married way back when. My husband encouraged me, his mom was a pro, and bought me all the tools and supplies I needed to jump in, which I enthusiastically did. It was a steep learning curve for me, my mom wasn't a homey role model. Well I tried and felt pride in those home-produced bottles of beautiful fruits. Our family grew, there was little time for it, but my yearning for it stayed with me. Then just a week or two ago I walked into Whole Foods and This mountain of fresh blueberries was staring me in the face at $1.99 a pint!! an unreal price for such high quality berries. I went hogwild and bought many pints. I knew when I got home I could't waste these gorgeous berries. So right then on the spur of the moment I decided to put up bottled blueberry syrup which we love, but costs more than gold. I had long since given away all my canning equipment, but I was able to improvise with what I had on hand and came up with quarts of the most delicious blueberry syrup we've had. Wow!! I'm hooked. I'll buy some equipment and was glad to find help and encouragement here and it spurs me on to keep trying, the feeling after is sooo good. I want to try much more and love to see what others have accomplished.

Annemarie @ Real Food, Real Deals says …

I love raspberry jam sweetened with honey and peaches instead of refined sugar: http://realfoodrealdeals.com/2012/07/01/raspberry-jam-without-pectin/.

Gladys Hutson says …

I too make jam with honey. We are Beekeepers and I was given a jam recipe by a fellow beekeeper. If the honey is local, it has medicinal properties. The honey cannot be heated over 140 degrees or it will kill the beneficial properties of the honey. When I make my jam, I cook the fruit down to the consistency that I want. I add the honey last, right before putting it in the jars.

Dena says …

I have discovered a lot of recipes for variations on jams. Just made a Chipoltle Strawberry jam and it is wonderful. The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook has lots of wonderful recipes with jams infused with mint, lemon basil, etc.

karelina says …

Do you have canning jars?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KARELINA - Our products will differ between stores. Check with your local store to find out if they have this in stock.