We’re fortunate that international trade allows us to shop for fresh fruit in our supermarkets year-round. Growers in the Southern Hemisphere or greenhouses anywhere can provide us with what our local climate can’t. In fact, some of this summer fruit arrives on ocean-going vessels docking at the Port of Wilmington.
When the seasons change, our farmers can return the favor. And so begins our warm-weather exodus to local orchards, farmers markets, vegetable stands, and honor-system tables at the end of rural driveways. We can also preserve some of that fresh fruit for jams, jellies, butters, marmalades and other forms of preserved fruit. Sure, it’s work. But it’s worth the effort.
For those of us who’d rather not go down that sweet and sticky path, Brandywine Valley farmers and orchardists are more than happy to oblige. “If I have any fruit left over, I take it to a small mom-and-pop operation up Route 100 that makes it into jams and butters,” says H.G. Haskell, owner of SIW Vegetables south of Chadds Ford.
“We make dozens of different kinds of butters and fruit preserves,” says Alan Hodge of West Chester’s Highland Orchards, where one wall of the market is lined with jars.
If you’ve never tried preserving fruit, the most common additional ingredients are sugar and pectin, though not all recipes use both. There are many different kinds of preserves, but let’s begin by looking at the basic ones:
There are a few basic methods for making these concoctions. All involve first putting the fruit, spices and liquids in jars to be superheated to kill any bacteria and process the fruit. One involves using a pressure cooker. A second utilizes an unpressurized boiling-water bath. A newer method uses an atmospheric steam similar to the water-bath method. All require a modest investment in canners, jars and lids, and there are plenty of books and online tutorials on canning to help you along. Simpler, if less elegant, means of preserving fruit without making jams, jellies and marmalades involve natural or oven drying or using a kit for dehydrated fruit. Another option is freezing.
Finally, a quick note on the amount of fruit needed. Five cups of diced rhubarb convert to about four pints of jam, 12 peaches equate to five or six pints of marmalade, and two quarts of blackberries yield approximately three pints of jelly. So a little goes a long way. You can get artistic with the labels on the finished jars, which make great gifts—ones that most likely won’t be regifted.