So this weekend began the summer-long process of home canning and storing summer fruits and vegetables. I always get a little nostalgic this time of year, thinking back to my grandmother and her love of grape jelly. She made jelly the old fashioned way, with a ½ inch this piece of paraffin poured over the sticky sweet purple goodness. Grandma didn’t crush whole grapes or anything so messy, she simply went to the store and bought a bottle of grape juice, and then got to work. An hour later, voila! Grape jelly! When I would ask her why she didn’t just buy grape jelly, she told me her mother always made jelly, so she never thought to purchase the commercially prepared kind, unless she had to, or didn't feel up to making her own. She, like many of her generation, simply grew what they needed. Grandma didn’t have grape vines, so she made due with grape juice from the store.
Way back when…well, probably not so way back, folks froze vegetables and canned fruits out of necessity, not as a hobby. Tomatoes were squeezed for juice to make soups and stews for cold winter evenings by the fire, corn was cut off the cobs and frozen and green beans were snapped and put into quart size jars for canning. Potatoes, onions and any other “root” vegetable were dug and stored in…you guessed it—the root cellar. Supermarkets were nonexistent and when you went into town, you bought dry goods, such as flour and sugar. Everything else was home grown and preserved. Nowadays, the majority of people buy what they need, rather than grow it themselves. There's a major movement right now about home gardens, but that's for another blog post.
I’m not so into vegetable home canning and freezing, that’s the husband’s passion, and I’ll help when needed. What I’m into is the fruit preserving. I’ve recently discovered freezer jam —a freakishly easy way to have jam all year round. It’s going to become an obsession, mark my words! Freezer jam is not a new idea, but I’d never tried it before last night. One little pouch of freezer jam, a cup and a half of sugar (oh yes…that much sugar!) and four cups of crushed fruit, and you can have at least 5 and a half pints of sticky, sugary, fruity goodness! It’s really too simple and I can see myself making a batch every night from any fruit in season from now and until the first frost. Strawberry and wild blackberry were done last night, and this morning they are ready for consumption. Too. Easy.
This evening, I try my hand at marmalade. Now, before you say “eww!” think back to whether or not you’ve had anything other than orange marmalade. No? Me neither. Tonight I’m making strawberry-lemon marmalade, and possibly sweet cherry marmalade. Sounds better, right? The possibilities are endless and you are only limited to what fruit you like. Berries of all types are in season right now, including the amazing black raspberry. *sigh* This is perhaps my favorite berry, right up there with the strawberry. I can eat handful after handful without anything to sweeten this delicious fruit. I plan to make oodles of goodies with black raspberries.
Later on this year, or maybe even as early as this week, it will be time to make butters: the ever popular apple butter, sweet pumpkin butter, and my family’s favorite and most requested—spiced peach butter. The time involved is long, but the end result is most definitely worth the trouble. And trust me; you can put these butters on anything…really.
So, think about trying to preserve! It’s not hard and you don’t need much equipment to start off. Ball, the major manufacturer of canning products, even has a Discovery kit, created with the newbie home canner in mind. This kit, which I saw for around $10.00, gives you the experience of canning with little money invested. You can then make the decision to go further if you wish. Or, if you just want to make freezer jams, all you need are jars and packets of the mix. There is no water bath, or pressure canning needed. They even make plastic freezer jars, specifically for this purpose. I guess what I’m getting at is, before you scoff and decide to simply purchase the accompaniment to your toast from the supermarket, why not make some of your own? You might find, as I have, you have a new hobby that everyone around you will appreciate!