Sarah B. Hood, author of We Sure Can! How Jams and Pickles Are Reviving the Lure and Lore of Local Food which is published by Arsenal Pulp Press, was kind enough to answer some questions we had on making preserves. She was also sweet enough to give me a ton of advice as I was in the process of making her Classic Apple Jelly (which you voted for!). You can see the photo bellow. It ended up being pink!
Did you grow up making preserves in your family’s kitchen or is this a new passion?
Except for some neighbours who made their own horseradish, I don’t remember being exposed to anyone who preserved food when I was a child. I thought they were intriguing but peculiar (they did it in the backyard, wearing gas masks). Since no one else had taught me, about 15 years ago I decided it was time to teach myself the traditional household crafts, just because I think it’s something people should know how to do. So I taught myself about making jam; I also made some quilts, figured out how to knit something other than the endless scarf, and began to hone my kitchen gardening skills. I’m still working on bread baking.
Do you have any advice for those attempting to do jam making for the first time?
The standard advice is to do it with someone else who already knows how, and, while I agree, that’s not what I did myself. I got a well recommended book and read through the part about food safety three or four times, until I was sure I understood the basic concepts. But the other key thing would be to give yourself lots of time. You shouldn’t have anything else big planned the first day you ever try it, and you shouldn’t wait until bedtime to get started, if you can possibly help it.
Are the steps to canning jam the same as canning savoury foods like relishes?
Yes, as long as the mixture that ends up in the jar is a high-acid recipe meant for water-bath canning (as opposed to pressure canning). There are two aspects to canning: making the recipe, which you might call “cooking”, and putting it up for future use: “canning”.
I know it is hard to choose but what is your favourite jam to slather over toast in the morning?
Raspberry, no contest, always and forever.
I am planning on making the Classic Apple Jelly recipe, do you have any advice? Also, is there a way to make the jelly ahead of time and then preserve it later?
Use tart, underripe apples if you can get them; they have the most pectin. You can extract the juice from the apples, then leave it in the fridge with no sugar added for up to about three days. In fact, that’s recommended, because then you can use a turkey baster or pour carefully to get the last of the sediment out of the juice. If you leave it too long, it will start to ferment. If it seems fizzy when you taste it, find somebody who can tell you how to make alcoholic cider, but don’t try to make jelly.
Would you mind sharing a kitchen disaster with us just for fun?
So many to choose from; I’ve probably made every mistake there is! So I’ll tell one that has a message. When I was testing recipes for my book, I was working all day at the computer, then making as many as three batches of preserves after dinner, so I got pretty worn out. One night I was working at the stove when a good friend dropped in unexpectedly. She and my husband were chatting boisterously in the kitchen, and I let myself get distracted: while the canner was boiling away vigorously and jetting out steam, I reached past it without thinking, and gave myself an instant searing burn about four inches long on one arm. I was really lucky; it hurt like crazy and took several weeks to heal, but I don’t have a permanent scar. Now I know that if I can’t remove a distraction, I should just stop cooking.
Question from reader Midge:
“I make something called Tomato Butter. SOOOOOOO Yummy. Slightly sweet, with a kick of heat from cayenne pepper. We serve it with almost everything, eggs, pork, pasta, rice etc. This year when I made it I obviously overcooked it and it is quite thick and sticky. I will eat it no matter what state it is in.
My question is, how do I know when to stop boiling a jam/chutney like this? My recipe from my mother tells me to simmer it 3 – 5 hours! Never reached the 5 hour mark yet! Would really like to make it to the correct consistency (like strawberry jam — not soupy, but not sticky/gluey either) in every batch.”
That tomato butter sounds great! There’s a rule of thumb for chutney: when you stroke the spoon through it, it should leave a clear line through the mixture; the two sides shouldn’t join up again.
Thank you Sarah for answering our questions! The interview was super helpful and fascinating. Glad I am not the only one with a ton of kitchen disasters to share although getting hurt is never a good thing. I agree, when you do this type of cooking, do nothing else and banish distracting influences. As my dad always says, safety first!