You know there is no reason to be lazy when nature is busy gifting us edible treasures that deserve our labor, care, kitchen-wizardry and ought to be preserved for the year ahead. When Brian Talmadge of Black Lab Fruits and Vegetables out of Greenwich, NY emailed me with news that he had black raspberries waiting to be picked, it took me no hesitation to say that I wanted at least 20 pounds. That led him to say he would pick what he had and that I come the next morning. That was Wednesday and today it is Friday morning. Between then and now, we have preserved about 34 pounds of fruit and are now awaiting 30 pounds of sour cherries, and then raspberries, blueberries and blackberries and peaches, plums and apricots. Granite●Ware always comes to my rescue. America's favorite porcelain on steel cookware, it is an essential for those into canning and preserving. Better still, it is affordable and makes preserving easy on the pocket and so much better for the body than preservative-laden jars from a market. I could go on... and I shall.....The joys of summer!
Also emailing us with information about fruit waiting to be preserved was our wonderful neighbor Pat Shedlon, owner with her husband Albert of Sheldon Farms. Pat had strawberries that were packed with fragrance and flavor. Perfectly ripe and in need of attention. I asked for 40 pounds but ended up getting only 20. She had sold more containers of them than she had thought. But 20 was enough to can in one evening and still host and entertain guests visiting the area.
Of course all preserving/canning begins with picking only the ripest, freshest and most flavorful fruit. Why bother preserving that which does not need to be. Above you see the berries soaking in water before I begin trimming them and picking them for any that are past-ripe or otherwise not good enough.
There is something very cathartic about picking fruits, trimming them, removing spots from them that seem somewhat dubious. Sometimes we get too picky. But when preserving I feel it is ok to be picky. I am not much of a fussy cook at all. But quality always wins over quantity in our household. Of course it is also beautiful to be picking and trimming whilst watching the geese and ducks enjoy the pond.
Our kitchen windows give us a wonderful sense of place. Each window looks out to something special, something unique and something very country. We sometimes see that which we do not want to. Like weeds taking over plants we planted with great love and challenge and at much expense. It kills us to see this, but also gives us a true jolt of reality. Not everything is romantic in the country as in real life. Then there is the side window by the pastry table that shows us how beautiful our herbs are and inspire Charlie and I to think of new ways to cook with them and celebrate their life and character. Of course the windows by the sink always show us the life of our geese, ducks and roosters. They use the two ponds and the stream that runs across the length of the property as their source of water, but also their yoga-mat or love-nest. We can be voyeurs and watch them as they enjoy life. And I know seeing them makes me grateful for my own life. Of course the canning, the trimming and the cooking that all takes place in this kitchen always mirrors the seasons as best as possible. And I know the jams evoke quick flashback into memory lane and can warm up a cold winter morning with the power that lies in the taste of the jam/preserve but also as one goes back into time, into the very moment that we washed the fruit and canned it. Such is the power of mindful living. Once you become mindful life takes on new meaning.
Above you see the strawberries and the black raspberries mixed with the sugar. How much sugar to add is always something to be very thoughtful about and mindful about. It is something that makes a great deal of difference in taste and texture, and also in the ultimate health-factor of the jam. Of course homemade jams with less sugar and no thickeners or pectin, are never going to be jammy like store-bought jam. But that is what makes them wonderful and special. They are more like spoon fruit. In our household, it is that quality that we appreciate about them, celebrate and crave.
And then you begin cooking. We have three jam pots. Two from Mauviel and one from Falk Culinair. They are brilliant cookware. I so wish every home would have jam pots. It would give you a reason to be anxious to preserve and can. It would also give you cookware that is very versatile. We chill white wines and champagne in them when not cooking with them. We also store homemade breads in them. We store other stuff that needs to be contained in a big bowl in them. They are stunning to look at on the countertop. They scream chic and beautiful! I pack the pots full. In fact over the brim as you see in the photos. Once you begin cooking, as is happening already in the above photos, the fruits melts down and packs into the pans. Be gentle whilst stirring. That is the key. I also wear clothing I am not worries about seeing splashed with fruit colors. I am mostly a very neat cook. But accidents can happen. And I know there are friends of ours who have helped me from time to time, and they are clumsy and pay for it in stains. But what wonderful stains to have. And what bright lovely colors jams give your clothing. A great seasonal story to be shared later in the year. Think positive!
It does not take much to begin cooking jam. Cleaning, trimming and adding sugar. I wish it could be more difficult, for then we would have excuses to not preserve on a regular basis. But sadly, preserving the beautiful, richly ripe and flavorful fruits of nature is nothing too tedious. Nature has already done all the work. It has added the magic that will give you magical results in your preserves into the fruit. All nature asks of us is respect and the most important mantra in life - "less is more". As you can see I fill my canning pots with water and get them to boil even as I am cooking the jams. Often I have two or even three jam pots going at one time and two or sometimes three canners ready for cannning. Whatever the stove can allow me to fit, and whatever I need to do to can at the peak of season. Often farmers or farm-stand owners call saying they have something very ripe, and almost on the edge of being too ripe. That is all the calling I need to bring that fruit home and to begin canning. No matter how late into the night I need to stay up. I remember September 11, 2001 as much for the horrific events of that day, that changed the way we live in America, as also for that year I made the best ever peach and apricot jams. I was up until 5:15 AM that morning finishing up my canning of peach and apricot preserves. Barely asleep for a short few hours, I woke up to the noise of the plane crashing. I lived in the village then. I will never forget September 11 and I can never forget those delicious fruits and the jams they gave us. The jams also became some of the goodies that made it from our home to the local firehouse. Of course my the partner made bread in his bread machine and we bought some peanut butter. And you know what happens with that combination. It is wonderful how jam can sweeten your life in so many wonderful ways.
Once I have the jam cooking I prepare the aromatics and other ingredients I may want to add into it. In my strawberry jam I always add some lemon juice and some rind. I found some organic lemons in the market and bought them for this purpose. See, we cheat as well. Not local, but what is life without lemons? To live life fully, one must appreciate lemons. To enjoy happy moments we have to appreciate the not so happy ones. The key to adding rind into berry jams is to keep it thin and thin and just enough to add flavor but not too much either. Less is more should always be in your mind when cooking great food. Never think of that saying uttered by a famous Southern TV personality that said "if less is more, more is better". That is suicide when wanting to cook great food. Food is about balance and refined sensibilities and knowing when to stop. Otherwise there is little difference between your garbage bag and the food in your pot. Refrain is better than gusto in the kitchen. Since you have a good 90 minutes to cook a jam made with half the sugar than is traditionally used, you can take at least a good 30-45 minutes to prepare and measure what goes into the jam for added flavor. I always add a little, little bit of salt and sometimes even some spice powders. Remember there is a fine line between spicing up a jam gracefully and keeping it as a jam or making it into a chutney. They are too very different animals. And if you are wanting to make an Indian-inspired Chutney, think again. Chutneys as we have come to recognize them as in the US, are nothing any Indian would consider Indian. They are some approximation of some misguided effort in the art of chutney making. Indian chutneys are hardly about sugar and sweet. And when they are sweet, they are all about a subtle balance between sweet, salty sour, bitter and hot (spicy).
When you have your first jam cooking away in the jam pot and you have added all the spice and citrus it needs, it is time to start preparing another batch. Yesterday, Charlie and I came back early in the morning with black raspberries from our favorite berry farmer, Brian Talmadge. We were home by 10 AM. And then he went out looking for sour cherries but none were available just yet. And so he came home with 7 more pounds of black raspberries. Immediately I trimmed them, washed them and sorted through them. And within a half hour, I was cooking away the second batch of time. This works perfectly. You have a half hour to get your water boiling in the canners. And you have time to place the jars into the canner and can them. And by then you are ready to add flavor elements into the new jam pot and carry on with your canning process.
I reduce the jam for at least 90 minutes and sometimes 120 minutes. It depends on how much fruit I have in the pot. Usually I never can less than 7-8 pounds of fruit, since they yield around 7-8 pints of jam. To me this is the least amount of jam I want to see for my effort. If I am cooking 20 pounds at one time I end up cooking the jam a good 2 hours, sometimes even an extra 15 minutes longer. It is this extra cooking time that ensures your jams are honest, pure and magical. With no additives. Well worth it in my book. Hope you agree.
I always have a plate or two lying in the freezer when I am canning. These get dollops of the jam as I am cooking them so I can make sure they set and taste good. Let the jam sit on the plate and inside the freezer for 5 minutes. This will give you a good judgment about the jam
Summer has a way of charming people around North Country. Everything comes alive and all food tastes wonderful. That is also true for the berries. We had wild black raspberries growing at the farm. But we could never have made jam with them. They are neither enough in numbers nor the best taste. Make the effort to jam/preserve and you will soon be hosting wonderful parties with great local fare. This is the season to make jams and to preserve flavors and also these moments in time. I hope you can all make the effort to find time in your busy lives to preserve and can.