Preserving fruits is one of my favorite kitchen hobbies. When it comes to home-canning, so much of what you do is an *exact* science. Green beans HAVE to be processed for a certain amount of time at a specific pressure point. Corn too. Quick pickles HAVE to be brined with a certain percentage of salt or vinegar. Tomatoes also fall into that category. There is no guess work and no room for experimentation with veggies and low acid foods. Fruits, on the other hand, allow for much more creativity. Now that doesn’t mean you can play fast and loose with safety issues, like cleanliness, proper canning technique, etc, but beyond that, the possibilities are endless. Let’s talk about the different means of preserving fruit and the flexibility within those methods.
By far, the most common method for preserving fruit is simply canning it. It involves bringing fresh fruit to a boil in either a simple syrup or fruit juice (such as pineapple juice), pouring it into a Mason jar, capping it with a screw-on lid and processing it in a boiling water bath for a short period of time. The natural acid in the fruit combined with the preservative qualities of the sugar results in a pleasantly sweet, brilliantly colored fruit that is delicious straight from the jar, baked into a pie, or topping ice cream or cake. Berries, apples, peaches, pears, plums all taste amazing when preserved by this technique. Each fall, I put up a bushel of apples in a sweet, cinnamon-y syrup for wintertime breakfasts; warmed and topped with some cream and served alongside a fresh biscuit or as a topping for pancakes, waffles or French toast, canned apple slices can’t be beat. Here’s an example for you to follow.
Jellying or jamming is also a delicious means of preserving fruit to last through the year. Only slightly more difficult than straight canning, you simply bring fruit to a boil, adding precise quantities of sugar and either commercial pectin or bitter fruit as a thickener. Everyone loves the ubiquitous pb&j using Concord grape jelly, but the possibilities are nearly endless here! From spiced tomato jam to corncob jelly there’s almost no food you can’t jam or jelly. There ARE some exceptions to that rule and it’s important that you use tried and true recipes, but you can find reliable information as well as proven recipes at the National Center for Home Food Preservation. Think of their files as the Holy Grail of canning.
Candying is another favorite fruit preservation for us! The concept is simple and ages old: you soak fresh fruit pieces in heavy syrup until the fruit’s moisture is removed and replaced by sugar. You can pretty much candy *anything* though we particularly enjoy candied orange slices, pumpkin cubes and ginger pieces. And as a total bonus, the fruit flavors the heavy syrup, so after you’ve candied the fruit, you’re left with a delicious fruity-sweet syrup that you can use on pancakes, in drinks or any number of uses. Love those bonuses! Here’s a recipe from Martha Stewart for making candied citrus peels–for a real treat, dip them in dark chocolate!!
If you have a dehydrator, drying fruit is so incredibly simple! Most fruit requires nothing more than being sliced, dipped in salt water or lemon water (to preserve color) and dried for 1-2 days on a med-low setting. My great-granny in eastern Kentucky used old window screens covered in cheese cloth in an enclosed porch to dry apple slices and oh-my-word, were they ever delicious! I was always so excited to go see her—to see if I was finally taller than she was and to come home with a big old bag of dried apple slices! Here’s a link that provides ideas, recipes and guidelines for you. Dried fruit is one of the children’s favorite lunchbox treats and I feel good offering it to them because there’s so many vitamins packed into those little sweet packages!
But fruit preservation doesn’t stop there! Fresh seasonal fruit can be preserved in brandy or other spirits, fermented with honey, frozen, pickled, made into cider, wine or vinegar….the options are really endless with fruit and for the most part, your imagination is the only limit. Try your favorite combination of berries for a triple berry jam. Or mix your favorite stone fruits with brandy for a delicious cake topping. Puree and dehydrate apples for fruit leathers.
What is your favorite tried and true way to preserve summer’s bounty?