Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle

Things I’ve learned so far…

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I've been a busy bee this year! Here are all the ways I preserved peaches this summer and didn't get around to telling you about.

I’ve been a busy bee this year! Here are all the ways I preserved peaches this summer and didn’t get around to telling you about.

I’ve been looking for a good time to write a “what I learned about making jam this year” article, and the rolling over of the calendar feels like as good a time as any.

I’m not really big on resolutions. After 30+ years of trying, I’ve only ever effectively kept 2 resolutions: to stop biting my nails at age 13, and to become vegetarian 11 years ago. While those were good goals, and I’ve kept them to this day, I don’t have a great track record overall.

So, I didn’t set resolutions this year. However, it’s always a great time to assess what I’ve learned and think about how to apply that moving forwards. I choose to think of it as growth, and then there are no resolutions to break. Heh.

Here are a few things I’ve learned (or in many cases, relearned) about jam this year:

1. When the recipe says bring to a rolling boil, be patient and wait until it’s actually totally boiling. You know that phrase about a watched pot? It was made for people like me.

See that? That's a rolling boil.

See that? That’s a rolling boil. This is the quince star anise jelly.

2. It will turn out different every time, even with the exact same recipe, so don’t expect uniformity. (Example: two batches of strawberry jam, made a month apart, taste really different. This was probably due to different types of strawberries or different level ripeness. But you know what? They are both amazing.)

3. Prepare everything in advance – have jars in boiling water or in the oven before you start. Count out lids. Even better, double check the day before, so you are sure you have enough pectin, jars, sugar, and fruit.

4. Try to not freak out when it doesn’t go right.

5. Friends are very helpful, and make standing over a hot stove in the summer way more fun.

Many hands make light the work, and make cooking a lot more fun.

Many hands make light the work, plus it’s more fun! This is at a class I took this fall… I plan on writing about that soon!

6. Have some 100% juice on hand (apple is a good neutral, but I’ve used pear, peach, and pomegranate), for fixing the jam if you add too much pectin.

7. Read the recipe completely before starting. You don’t want to find out mid-recipe that it’s supposed to sit for 3 hours when you don’t have 3 hours to spare. Ahem.

8. Head space matters!

9. Label everything right away.

These labels weren't made "right away," but I did label with masking tape on the lids pretty quickly. It can get hard to tell the jars of red stuff apart.

These labels weren’t made “right away,” but I did label with masking tape on the lids pretty quickly. It can get hard to tell the jars of red stuff apart.

10. You might get addicted, be aware. Have ideas of how to give away jam.

11. Jam doesn’t need fancy fruit. Farmers markets are great, and I get a lot of inspiration there, but I try to look for cheaper fruit at fruit stands or those produce resellers. Buy in season.

12. Try different recipes; you never know what you’ll like.

Pickled peach pie. This was more delicious than I expected, sweet and spicy and tangy, but not vinegar-y. I would definitely make it again.

Pickled peach pie, made with the peaches we pickled this summer. It was more delicious than I expected, sweet and spicy and tangy, but not overly vinegary. I would definitely make it again, although regular peach pie is still the king.

I think these can be boiled down to a few key ideas:

Be prepared – Be patient – Be unafraid

This advice fits for most areas in my life, frankly. So, moving forward in my jam and food preservation adventures, I hope to have internalized some of these lessons. Particularly the ones about being prepared… I tend to operate on whims, and get started before realizing I don’t have everything I need, or that the recipe is a 3-day process.

Anyway, enough about me. Are there any food “resolutions” you’ve made for this year, or lessons you learned recently?

One thought on “Things I’ve learned so far…

  1. I label all my jars as soon they are cool with a sharpie marker on the lid.
    Jam makes an excellent topping for pancakes & waffles. Sometimes I will thin it with a bit of liquid – juice, although a bit of water helps keep it from becoming overly sweet. Get creative with it!
    The mom & pop grocery store up the street knows me well – how many times I have run in, grabbed a pack or two of lids and run back out? So many times….

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