In this class we canned delicious combinations of fruit and we made fruit candies (jellies). I vaguely remember my mother and some of the other women in the neighborhood doing canning, so that part wasn’t completely novel. The jelly candies were new to me, though. It’s a little late in the season for canning; that’s something you do in the summer, when the fruit is in season and perfectly ripe. You can make jelly candies any time, though, with frozen fruit.
Jam, jelly, and preserves originated in the Middle East, where fruits and cane sugar were abundant and were used extensively. The Romans also made fruit spreads, but they made theirs with honey instead of sugar.
Citrus fruits preserved in sugar syrup were imported to England in the 15th century. These were the forerunners of marmalade. The word marmalade probably comes from the Portuguese marmelo, “quince” (quince has the most pectin of any fruit). In another (probably false) etymology, the physician to Mary, Queen of Scots, is supposed to have invented marmalade as a seasickness prophylactic. In the court of Louis XIV, marmalades and jellies were delicacies served in silver dishes. In New England, in contrast, jam was a way of preserving fruit for the winter. Early European settlers preserved fruit with honey, molasses, or maple syrup and used apple pectin as a thickener.
By 1897, Jerome Smucker was making apple butter commercially in Orrville, Ohio. It was so popular, he began making other jams and preserves, too. By World War I, commercially made jam was extremely popular in the United States. Paul Welch received a patent for grape jam in 1917, and the jam was so popular with troops at the front that the U.S. army purchased his entire output and shipped it to Europe.
Fruit preserves, properly produced, keep for several months in a cool, dark place without refrigeration, so they’re a good way to have fruit throughout the winter. Preserves rely on the right balance of ingredients and the right amount of sugar; the proportions of sugar, juice, and pectin have to be right or the result is runny. Pectin is a water-soluble carbohydrate that occurs naturally in many fruits. Unripened fruits have a much higher concentration of pectin than ripe fruits have; riper fruit has more sugar and less pectin. Apples, quinces, and lemons are very high in pectin; soft fruits like cherries, strawberries, and kiwis contain very little pectin. Pectin is available as a powder that you can add to low-pectin fruits to make preserves.
To make preserves, you cook the fruit until it is very tender. This stage is essential to release the pectin; the action of pectin is aided by adding lemon juice because the acidity helps set the preserves. Once the fruit is cooked, you can add sugar. As a rule, fruits with a good source of pectin require an equal amount of sugar. Stir the fruit until the sugar is dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil, and stop stirring (if you keep stirring, the sugar will crystallize). Continue boiling until you reach the right consistency, which should not take more than 15 minutes.
Canning is easy to do but requires some care. The containers must be clean, sterilized, and warm. This is easily accomplished by leaving the jars in boiling water; you can fish out what you need as you need it. The lids come in two parts; the outer rings can be boiled, but you have to be careful with the flat lids with the rubber seal. Boiling them can damage the rubber, so you check the temperature and make sure they only heat to 180℉. In most cases, you can spoon the fruit into the jars as soon as the desired consistency is reached. You fill the jar to the correct height, put the lid on the jar, and turn the jar upside down.As the jam cools, the contents contract and the jar will seal. Then you just have to label each jar and store the jam in a cool, dark place.
Many pastries are finished with a fruit glaze, which is also a kind of fruit preserve. You can make a glaze at home with strained jam, possibly thinned with water; apricot preserves are traditional. Apricot glaze was also on our list of things to make in this class if we had enough time.
Most of the work involved cutting up fruit, weighing out our ingredients, and following the recipes. Jay, the assistant, got the jars going in boiling water for us.
We started by making the jellies. The mixture is pureed fruit with pectin and sugar.
The cooked mixture goes into two kinds of molds. One is a tray with little shapes.
When the jelly is ready, you spoon it into a confectionary funnel, which lets you drip the right amount into each compartment.
The other is a frame that holds the jelly as it cools. When it’s set, you cut the sheet into squares of candy.
Then you toss the candy with granulated white sugar and put each one in a little paper cup. Somehow I neglected to get photos; I’ll see if anyone else in the class has one. You can see what they look like here.
The jams and spreads were pretty quick and easy. You just have to be fussy about hitting your temperature.
Then you fill the jars and wait for them to seal as the jam cools.
We worked pretty efficiently, so there was time enough to do a batch of apricot glaze. Obviously that contains apricots, but it also contains apples; apples have a lot of pectin, and apricots don’t. I got to do this one on my own. You cut up the fruit and cook it.
Eventually the fruit gets soft and the sugar and juice make a syrup.
At that point, you transfer the fruit to the food processor and puree it, then pour in the syrup and give it another whirl.
Then you cook that some more.
The cooked puree gets strained.
Then it goes into a tub with a label. This is a lifetime supply for the home baker, but it’s a few weeks’ supply in the professional kitchen.
This wasn’t a real challenge, but I’m pretty happy with it anyway. It turned out well, and I feel competent.
Meanwhile, here we were making all this jam and had nothing to put it on. So Chef Louise, who sits in on Wednesdays, and Jay scrounged some brioche dough from the walk-in and made us some doughnuts.