In a jam: Turn summer fruit into flavorful preserves

Posted July 10, 2012, at 3:15 p.m.

NORMAN PARK, Ga. — Lauri Jo Bennett is stirring fresh fruit into a bubbling pot of vinegar, sugar, chopped bell peppers and jalapenos. She is making pepper jelly — with a twist.

A native of this South Georgia town, Bennett is a former schoolteacher who turned her love of canning into a thriving business that specializes in pepper jelly, the sweet-tart concoction that Southerners have eaten with crackers and cream cheese for years. Bennett’s trick is to mix summer fruit — blueberries, strawberries, peaches, blackberries and so on — into her thick, spreadable, jamlike jelly.

In a matter of minutes, the vivacious entrepreneur behind Lauri Jo’s Southern Style Canning packs a vivid strawberry pepper jelly into jars and sets out to show a visitor the landmarks of her canning odyssey. She stops by the Colquitt County High School canning plant in Moultrie, Ga., where she used to spend summers “puttin’ up” tomatoes and green beans, then proceeds to a nearby field where she and her family grow a good bit of the produce — yellow squash, green tomatoes, cucumbers — they pack into jars to sell.

“It’s an art. It’s something I grew up with. But most people today don’t do it because it’s a lot of work,” Bennett says in a drawl as thick as her jam. “It’s hot. It’s nasty.”

So true.

Yet with a bit of practice, you can turn small batches of fresh produce into delicious homemade jams and jellies that recall grandma’s kitchen. Store-bought pectin includes recipes for nearly fail-safe batches of jams and jellies. Pectin is found naturally in apples, citrus and other fruits, so you also can create wonderful preserves by cooking fruit with Granny Smith apples.

Last summer, I concentrated on refrigerator preserves and pickles — making just enough to eat and enjoy quickly. This year, I’ve discovered you-pick berry farms and the magic of homemade blackberry jelly, strawberry preserves, peach jam and pepper jellies.

Don’t think you need to go out and buy a lot of expensive canning equipment, either. Instead of a preserving pan, I use my oval, enamel-coated, cast-iron French oven. Instead of a massive, space-hogging canning pot with a jar rack, I use a stockpot and a metal trivet or a silicone hot pad to cushion the boiling jars from the hot vessel. I recently purchased a cheap-o jar lifter; a wide-mouth plastic funnel and a little device for popping air bubbles, which I found as a set in the grocery store canning department. (However, you can improvise a jar lifter by wrapping rubber bands around a pair of kitchen tongs. Works just fine.)

My guide for these low-tech canning adventures is Athens author Liana Krissoff’s excellent “Canning for a New Generation” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95). Krissoff replaces store-bought pectin with a process that minimizes sugar and cooking time, thus preserving the bright natural flavor of the fruit.

Indeed, it’s hard to resist her tart, rustic Blackberry Jam With Lemon Zest or her Peach Jam With Lemon Thyme and Almonds. Both of these preserves taste good on biscuits, toast and English muffins, and both would make a wonderful addition to a cheese plate.

Meanwhile, Bennett is not about to give out the exact recipe for the prize-winning pepper jelly that’s a foundation of her business. Instead, she provides me with an easy recipe of the sort that she might cook in her own kitchen. Made with strawberries or blueberries, it’s incredibly addictive stuff. Everybody who tries it wants the recipe. So here you go.

Lauri Jo Bennett’s Blueberry Pepper Jelly

Hands on: 30 minutes; Total time: 35 minutes

Makes: 8 to 9 half-pints

Easy and delicious, this jelly is also good made with strawberries. If you aren’t up for doing it at home, you may order Bennett’s signature version from her website, laurijossouthernstylecanning.com. Bennett will teach cooking classes at her Norman Park store (4428 Highway 319 N.) every first Saturday, July through September. (229) 769-3391.

2 cups finely chopped bell peppers (about 4 large peppers)

2 to 3 fresh jalapeños, seeded and chopped

7 cups granulated sugar

1 ½ cups white vinegar

9 ounces Certo (liquid pectin)

1 cup fresh blueberries (may substitute other fresh fruit such as chopped strawberries or peaches or blackberries)

Sterilize half-pint jars and lids, and set aside.

Place bell peppers, jalapeños, sugar and vinegar in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil, about 5 minutes. Add Certo and bring to a full boil again, stirring constantly; cook for 1 minute. Add blueberries, and mash with a spoon to break up and extract juices. Return to a boil and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand 1 or 2 minutes and skim off foam.

Ladle mixture into waiting jars. Put a flat lid and ring on each jar, tighten until snug, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. (The jars must be covered by at least 1 inch of water.) Remove from pot and allow to cool. Allow jars to sit untouched for 12 hours. (After 1 hour, check to see if the jars have sealed. If the center of the lid can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed. Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator.) Label and store, preferably in a cool, dark place.

Per tablespoon (based on 8 half-pint yield): 54 calories (no calories from fat), trace protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, 4 milligrams sodium.

Blackberry Jam With Lemon Zest

Hands on: 1 hour, 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes Makes: About 5 half-pints

If you can find wild blackberries, the flavor is “other-dimensional,” says Athens cookbook author Liana Krissoff. We had great luck with the sun-ripened berries we picked at Southern Belle Farm in McDonough.

1 pound Granny Smith apples (about 3 small apples)

3 pounds blackberries (about 8 cups), rinsed

2 cups granulated sugar

3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice

Grated zest of 2 small lemons

Sterilize jars by boiling for 10 minutes in a large canning pot; leave them in the pot to stay hot. Put a small plate in the freezer. Put the flat lids in a heat-proof bowl.

Quarter and core the apples, reserving the cores and seeds. Tie apple trimmings in cheesecloth (or a jelly bag, if you have one).

Put blackberries and sugar in a wide, 6- to 8-quart preserving pan or other wide shallow pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, and cook until the juices just cover the blackberries, about 5 minutes. Pour into a colander set over a large bowl. Stir berries gently to drain off juice. Return juice to pan, along with the apples and the trimmings. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is reduced and thick and measures about 220 degrees on a candy thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes.

Return berries and any accumulated juice to pan. Add lemon juice and zest, and bring to simmer, about 3 minutes. Simmer, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes, until a small dab of jam spooned onto the chilled plate and returned to the freezer for a minute wrinkles when you nudge it. Remove from the heat. Discard apples and trimmings, and stir gently to distribute fruit in the liquid.

Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove sterilized jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded towel. Drain water off the jar lids.

Ladle hot jam into the jars, leaving ¼ inch head space at the top. Wipe the rims of jars with a wet paper towel, if necessary. Put a flat lid and ring on each jar, and tighten until snug. Return the jars to the canning pot, making sure water covers jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from pot and let jars sit untouched for 12 hours. (After 1 hour, check to see if jars have sealed. If the center of the lid can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed. Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator.) Label and store, preferably in a cool, dark place.

Adapted from “Canning for a New Generation” by Liana Krissoff (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95)

Per tablespoon: 34 calories (percent of calories from fat, 2), trace protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, trace fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, trace sodium.

Peach Jam With Lemon Thyme and Almonds

Hands on: 1 hour, 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes Makes: About 4 to 5 half-pints

Toasted almonds add a delightful crunch to this jam. (Just be careful not to over-toast them.) Look for containers of lemon thyme at your neighborhood home and garden center. If you can’t find it, regular thyme will do. While this tastes great on a biscuit, “it would not be out of place on a cheese plate or alongside a dollop ofcrème fraîche and a delicate shortbread cookie,” Liana Krissoff writes in her book “Canning for a New Generation.”

½ cup slivered almonds

12 ounces Granny Smith apples (about 2 large)

4 pounds peaches, peeled, pitted and diced

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

3 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons fresh lemon thyme leaves (may substitute about 1 teaspoon regular thyme)

Sterilize jars by boiling for 10 minutes in a large canning pot; leave them in the pot to stay hot. Put a small plate in the freezer. Put the flat lids in a heat-proof bowl.

Toast almonds in a small skillet over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until fragrant and light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Quarter and core the apples, reserving the cores and seeds. Tie apple trimmings in cheesecloth (or a jelly bag, if you have one).

Put the peaches and sugar in a wide, 6- to 8-quart preserving pan or other wide shallow pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, and continue to cook until the juices just cover the peaches, about 5 minutes. Pour into a colander set over a large bowl. Stir peaches gently to drain off juice. Return juice to pan, along with the apples and the trimmings. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until syrup is thick and reduced, about 15 minutes.

Return peaches and any accumulated juices to pan. Add lemon juice, almonds and lemon thyme. Bring back to simmer and cook, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes, until peaches are very tender and a small dab of jam spooned onto the chilled plate and returned to the freezer for a minute becomes somewhat firm. (It will not gel.) Remove from heat. Discard apples and trimmings, and stir gently to distribute fruit in the liquid.

Ladle hot jam into the jars, leaving ¼ inch head space at the top. Wipe jar rims with wet paper towel, if necessary. Put a flat lid and ring on each jar, and tighten until snug. Return the jars to the canning pot, making sure water covers jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Remove from pot and let sit untouched for 12 hours. (After 1 hour, check to see if the jars have sealed. If the center of the lid can be pushed down, it hasn’t sealed. Store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator.) Label and store, preferably in a cool, dark place.

Adapted from “Canning for a New Generation” by Liana Krissoff (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95)

Per tablespoon (based on 4 half-pint yield): 42 calories (percent of calories from fat, 14), trace protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 1 gram fat (no saturated), no cholesterol, trace sodium.

© 2012 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Distributed by MCT Information Services

 

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business

Similar Articles

More in Living