Fruit Preserves: How to eat your Fruit & have it too!
Capture the summery magic of fruits in a bottle and spread a little sweetness the whole year through
Come spring and summer and one’s fancy turns to thoughts of luscious fruit in vibrant colours, bursting with tartly sweet juices that dribble down the chin with every bite. Oh, that those pleasures would last well beyond the seasons of fruitfulness! The art and science of preserving fruit so that summer can be captured in a bottle to savour throughout the year does just that.
Man has been preserving a season’s bounty from the earliest times. Storing food in airtight clay jars, salting, drying, pickling, and later on pasteurization and chemical preservation ensure that food does not spoil and can be enjoyed for longer than when harvested or plucked off a tree. While fruit can be preserved in different ways such as drying or canning, making fruit spreads is an especially rewarding experience and a simple one at that. No fancy equipment and hard to source ingredients — just the fruit itself, which will provide the natural setting agent or pectin, pantry goods such as sugar, honey and lemon or lime juice, which are the main preservatives used and some everyday kitchen utensils.
There are a number of easy to make fruit preserves which vary in consistency, texture and flavour. The amount of pectin or gelling agent the fruit generates while cooking will determine its consistency and whether it sets and is firm, runny or syrupy. Most fruits contain natural pectin in the skin, seeds and core, which is often sufficient for making homemade preserves with the addition of an adequate of amount of sugar and lemon juice, which helps the pectin to set. Sugar and lemon juice also act as preservatives, the latter providing a welcome tang to cut the overall sweetness of the product.
In other words the quality of your product will depend on the amount of pectin, sugar and lemon juice or acid it contains. The less ripe a fruit the more the pectin and vice versa, with over-ripe fruit containing the least pectin.
Fruits that are high in pectin are lemons, sour apples, quinces, damson plums, half-ripe grapes, half-ripe oranges, sour cherries, cranberries and pomegranates. Fruits that are low in pectin are strawberries, pineapples, guava, grapefruit, blueberries, apricots and peaches. To increase the levels of pectin and consistency, high pectin fruits like green apple or commercially available pectin powder may be added to the preserve.
Here are some fruit preserves that you may want to whip up yourself in your kitchen:
- Jam – the most common way of preserving fruit. Jams are usually sweetened thick, smooth fruit purées or pulp.
- Jelly – a clear or translucent fruit spread made by cooking the fruit pulp with sugar and straining it through muslin or cheesecloth without forcing the pulp through. The muslin is suspended over a container and the clear jelly is allowed to drip through slowly.
- Marmalade – a bittersweet spread made of citrus fruits, usually oranges, with slivers of citrus peel to give it texture and a more intense flavour.
- Conserve – a combination of more than one fruit, chopped or kept whole and nuts or raisins stewed in sugar.
- Preserve – chopped or whole fruit in a sugar syrup
- Chutney – a condiment or accompaniment made of grated or chopped fruit, sugar and spices.
- Fruit Curd – a smooth, rich fruit spread made of fruit, sugar, eggs and butter.
- Fruit Butter – a smooth fruit purée cooked with spices.
- Choose fruit that is unspoiled and without blemish. This is necessary as bruised, damaged or overripe fruit can ruin the taste and longevity of the product. Ripe fruit is best as it has its own natural sweetness.
- Prepare the fruit: remove stems of berries and hull strawberries; remove stems, stone and halve cherries; peel and remove pith, membranes and seeds of oranges and grapefruit; peel and cut other fruit to desired size.
- Reserve peels and seeds if necessary and tie in a muslin bag to increase pectin while cooking.
- Make sure all your equipment is clean and dry before use so there is no contamination, which can lead to spoilage.
- Sterilise the jars in which the preserve is to be stored. Do this by washing the jars and their lids well in soapy water, rinsing them out well and then drying them out in an oven on low heat till completely dry. As far as possible use twist-top or screw-top lid jars.
- Use granulated sugar and make sure it dissolves completely before it comes to the boil or the mixture may have a grainy texture.
- If using fruit with tough skins, let the fruit simmer before adding the sugar and then gradually bring to the boil again. For fruit with soft skins such as strawberries, cover them in the sugar before cooking as this helps to harden the skin and prevent them from disintegrating.
- Make small manageable quantities at a time as too much cooking till all the sugar dissolves can cause the fruit to overcook and turn into a mushy mess.
- As the preserve cooks, impurities will rise to the surface as scum. Do not skim the scum off until it has reached setting point or the desired consistency, and then carefully skim the scum off.
- To test if jam has reached setting point, place a metal plate in the freezer when you begin cooking the jam. At the time recommended, remove the plate from the freezer and pour a dollop of the mixture on the plate and return it to the freezer. Remove the pan from the heat to stop it cooking. Take the plate out of the freezer and push the dollop with your finger. If it crinkles the jam has reached setting point. If not, return to the heat and cook for a few minutes longer and test again.
- If jam refuses to set, add a little more lemon juice.
- If making butter from berries, strain and purée the pulp for a smoother consistency.
- Leave the preserve to settle for about 10 minutes before bottling to prevent the fruit from rising to the surface when poured into the jars. Fill the jars as near to the top as possible.
- If available, place a wax lid on top of the preserve to seal it while still hot. Seal with the metal lid. Wipe the outside of the jars with a warm damp cloth. Label the jars when cold.
- Store the jars in a cool, preferably dark place.
- As temperatures begin to soar and nature’s colourful bounty overflows, capture its summery magic in a bottle and spread a little sweetness the whole year through.