In the past, foods were preserved out of necessity, to sustain people through the winter months. But now? We preserve mostly because jams, jellies and pickles taste good — and it’s fun! That means you can make just a small amount of jam, jelly or pickles without committing to the daunting task of canning a whole bumper crop of tomatoes (and sacrificing valuable shelf space in the pantry). And the new book Preserving by the Pint, by Marisa McClellan of the popular blog Food in Jars, will show you how to do it.
Here, we ask Marisa all about preserving for beginners, along with her best tips, ingredients and flavors. She also shares a favorite summer recipe from the new book — only three ingredients required.
I grew up in Portland, OR, where we always had blackberry bushes and apple trees. Throughout my childhood, I got to help my mom make jam and applesauce a few times a summer. It was always something I loved to do. Then, when I was in my mid-twenties, I went blueberry picking with a friend and returned with 13 pounds of berries. Making jam seemed to just be the right thing to do, and so I called home for a quick long-distance refresher and went to work. And I loved it.
What do you look for in fruit you’re preserving?
I am looking for good flavor most of all. Fruit doesn’t have to be absolutely perfect to be right for canning, but if it doesn’t taste good, there’s really not much you can do to improve it.
Where do you source it? Any shopping tips?
I get everything I preserve from local farmers and growers. Several times a summer, I get myself out to a u-pick farm, but most of the time, I work with the vendors at my local farmers’ market.
Any tips for prepping fruits before preserving?
When it comes to berries, they should be washed and either sliced (strawberries) or crushed (all the rest) before being mixed with sugar. Peaches should be peeled, but all the rest of the stone fruits (apricots, plums, nectarines and cherries) just need to be pitted and sliced. Apples should be peeled, chopped and simmered into a sauce before being sweetened and cooked into jam. Pears don’t need to be peeled at all.
What are your favorite kinds of fruit preserves to make — jams, jellies, etc?
Apricot jam is a favorite, as is jam made with Italian plums. On the tangy side, pickled green or wax beans are an annual must-make.
What are some unexpected recipes or combinations you’ve discovered? Seasonings, spices, unusual fruits, etc.?
I love pairing apricots with either lavender or a savory herb like rosemary. Sour cherries preserved with a splash of bourbon are also divine.
I love the small batches in my new book because they make preserving accessible for those of us without lots of time and space. Instead of being tethered to a project for multiple hours, the tiny batches mean that you can be in and out of a recipe in an hour or less. Tiny preserving projects also help reduce kitchen waste, because instead of letting that bundle of radishes wilt into oblivion, you can slice them quickly and drop them into a pickling brine.
What advice do you have for beginners who might be intimidated by preserving?
Start small. Follow a recipe from a tested source. Remember that you can’t kill anyone with high acid preserves like jams or pickles. And have fun!
What are your favorite uses for finished preserves (aside from toast)?
Any time I’m invited to a potluck, I always bring a log of goat cheese, a sliced baguette, and a jar of jam. It’s easy and good. I’m also fond of baking chicken legs with a glaze made from peach jam mixed with a little mustard and grated garlic.
Italian Plum Jam with Star Anise
I first made this jam years back, late in the summer season. The fruit was rapidly softening and very sweet and couldn’t wait another day to be used. I chopped the fruit into bits, added a bit less than half as much sugar as usual and popped in a few pieces of star anise on a whim. The finished jam was ridiculously good. The next day, I dashed out in the hopes of finding more Italian plums, but they had been the very last ones. I appreciated that small batch all the more for its scarcity and managed to make it last until those plums returned again.
1 pound/460 g Italian plums, pitted and chopped
3/4 cup/150 g granulated sugar
3 star anise
Combine the plums, sugar, and star anise in a small bowl. Let sit for at least an hour, to give the anise flavor a chance to infuse into the fruit.
Prepare a boiling water bath and 2 half-pint/250 ml jars. Place 2 lids in a small saucepan of water and bring to a gentle simmer.
To cook, scrape the fruit into a large skillet and place over medium-high heat. Stirring regularly, bring the fruit to a boil and cook until it bubbles and looks quite thick, 10 to 12 minutes. It’s done when you pull a spatula through the jam and it doesn’t immediately rush in to fill the space you’ve cleared.
Remove the jam from the heat and funnel into the prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch/12 mm of headspace. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 2 (half-pint/250 ml) jars.
Reprinted with permission from Preserving by the Pint, by Marisa McClellan.