Preserving Summer: Jams, Jellies, Chutneys and Relishes
By Meeta K Wolff on September 05, 2008
I am sure many of us are finding ourselves with a surplus amount of fresh produce. As home gardens, Framer's markets, and CSA boxes are currently overflowing with lovely looking fresh fruit and vegetables, my thoughts normally turn to preserving them for use later in the year.
My solution to all this surplus produce is preserving – making jams, jellies, chutneys and preserves is something we have gotten used to doing every year. Although it’s just the three of us, our consumption on these items is rather high.
We've been preserving for several years now and I thought it would be helpful to put up a detailed and comprehensive post with the several tips and tricks for preserving.
Jams, Jellies, Marmalades, Preserves and Conserves
This is the ideal way to preserve fruit. Sugar is the main ingredient that preserves the delicious summer fruits of choice. Exactly that is what a all of these start with: delicious, succulent and ripe fruit.
Jams are made by crushing or grinding, whole fruit. They usually have a thick consistency due to high pectin content.
Jellies are made using the juices of the fruit. It is much stiffer that a jam and if cut it will hold its shape.
Marmalade is a jelly with pieces of cut fruit in it. Often citrus fruit like oranges, lemon or lime are the basis of a marmalade.
Preserves is usually interchangeable with jam, but it often applies to cooked and gelled whole fruit, which includes a significant portion of the fruit.
Conserves are made using a mixture of fruit, not necessarily fresh, and also contains nuts and citrus fruits.
Chutneys & Relishes
Chutneys originated in India and comes from the East Indian word chatni, which means "strongly spiced," Chutneys are basically condiments which usually consists of a mix of chopped fruits, vinegar, spices and sugar cooked into a chunky spread.
Relishes are hardly cooked and use much less sugar. It is made by coarsely chopping fruit or vegetables, giving it a crunchier bite.
Although both chutneys and relishes are interchangeable, often chutneys are made using fruit and relishes using vegetables.
Sterilizing your Jars
Whether you are making a jam, relish, chutney or a marmalade one thing that needs the highest priority before you start is that everything you use, needs to be scrupulously cleaned. The pan, spoons and most importantly the jars should be scrubbed cleaned and wiped dry. Boil jars and lids to sterilize them to prevent bacteria from getting into the jam/chutney and spoiling it. You'll find detailed instructions on how to sterilize jars on my blog.
Jams, Jellies, Preserves and co. can be made with or without using pectin. Pectin is needed to allow the thickening or gelling of the jam. It is created from a compound, protopectin, during the ripening of fruit and during the cooking of under-ripe fruit. All fruits contain some pectin. Large amounts of pectin can be found in apples, gooseberries, plums and citrus peel. Fruit like rhubarb, blueberries, strawberries or cherries have very little pectin.
If using fruit with little pectin and you do not want to add commercial pectin, the jams, preserves and co. will thicken or gel only if it is combined with other pectin rich fruit or powdered or liquid pectin is incorporated in it.
Jams and co. made without added pectin will require longer cooking time and you might notice a slightly different taste from those with added pectin. They also yield a less finished product.
You will find that most recipes call for powdered or liquid pectin. Purchase pectin fresh every year as old pectin may result in poor gels. When preparing a jam, jelly & co. with powdered or liquid pectin, it is vital to carefully follow the directions accompanying the pectin product. Generally 50-125 ml of liquid or 2 teaspoons of dried pectin to each 450g of fruit is sufficient. The order of combining ingredients depends on the type of pectin used. For successful preparation of pectin-added jams and co., accuracy of timing is very important. Begin counting time when the mixture reaches a full rolling boil.
Sugar is another important ingredient in jams and co. You can use any type of white sugar however; I find finer types of sugar dissolve more quickly. I often use gelling sugar, which is specifically used for preserves and contains pectin, in my jams and co. It is very important to make sure that the sugar has dissolved in the simmered fruit before it is brought to the boil. If not the jam may become crystallised and sugary.The amount of sugar needed for gelling basically depends on the amount of pectin present. If you have used fruits with plenty of pectin, use 1½ times the amount of sugar to fruit. If there is just enough pectin, use equal amounts of sugar and fruit.
The easiest way to test the consistency of the jam or jelly is by placing a saucer into the freezer for a few minutes, then spoon about ½ teaspoon full of the jam onto the saucer. Place the saucer back into the freezer for approx. 30 seconds. If the sample is firm to the touch and has your required spreadable texture then it is done. It can now be removed from the heat.
Chutneys and relishes I love them - the best is that the variety seems endless. The combinations and alterations can be varied according to personal taste and the ingredients available. They can be sweet, sour, hot or mild.
One of the big advantages to both chutneys and relishes is that they improve with age. If properly stored they will remain in good condition for several months or years and you will be rewarded with spectacular bursts of new flavor.
Vinegar, spices and sugar are all the things that make chutney or relish nice. As vinegar is the most important ingredient, it is vital that a good quality is used. I love using white wine vinegar, but you can use apple cider or a champagne vinegar too. Although any kind of granulated sugar can be used, I prefer brown or Demerara sugar as it gives the final product a wonderful rich and dark color. However, you can also achieve the darker color by simply cooking the chutney a little longer. Spices really make the chutney or relish nice. Your imagination is required here. Use whole spices rather than powdered. If you just want the flavor of the spice in your chutney then slightly crack or bruise them and tie them in a spice bag. Then cook along with the rest of the ingredients. Finally remove and discard. However, I often prefer having the spices in my chutney and just throw the amounts loose in the pot.
Good chutney is relatively smooth in texture and it will have a rich mellow flavor. The best way to achieve this is to cook it long and slow. Ideally, it should be left to mature for at least three months.
Relish on the other hand is cooked for a lot less and the texture is crunch, with bits of coarsely chopped vegetables.
Whatever you preserve one thing is for sure nothing will satisfy you more than opening a jar of freshly preserved summer! I hope you will find this Preserving 101 helpful and refer to it whenever you require more information. You will find it conveniently in my sidebar category “The Know Hows of Food” under the section “How To…”.
Now if I have gotten you into the mood you'll find several great rcipes as part of this post on my blog.
Meeta has a passion for food and fresh organic ingredients. She enjoys sharing her ideas and researches with her fellow bloggers and readers. You will find several helpdful and useful tips in her "How To" section. Whether you want to make smooth Indian paneer, the perfect pancakes, a basic risotto, or exceptional éclairs, you'll find everything you need to know to help you make that dish to perfection.
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