Preserve Your Food

By: Wendy Rhein

Something about late July sparks the urge to preserve. Preserve time with family and friends, the slower pace of our evenings without homework, even the warmth of a late day sun. But I can’t hold those things about summer, saving them for a mid winter’s day when I step barefooted into a pile of melting slush fallen off a boot or have to rummage through a book bag at midnight looking for tomorrow’s permission slip. I can’t preserve the ease and pace of summer but I can preserve the food.

You would think that all the fruit in the world was dying out, what with my urge to create jar upon jar of cherry, peach, nectarine, and plum goodness. We’re very lucky to live near some wonderful farmer’s markets and I take full advantage of them. A well stocked farmer’s market is my Disney. I lecture my boys each Sunday morning: if you behave, and promise not to ruin my market experience by running off with the whole plate of samples or whining about when we can leave, you can have ANYTHING you ask for. I have no qualms about bribing them with organic, fresh, local produce and baked goods. Beats a bag of Doritos any day.

This week’s bounty of multi-colored plums and sweet cherries became jam on Sunday afternoon. It started like this:

Hand pitting cherries is a sensual experience, but you may want to use gloves. The juice stains make you look like you’ve been changing oil on a Harley for a few years.

I lost count of how many pitted cherries made 2 cups. About this many:

I added 6 quartered and pitted plums. Some red, some purple, some yellow. All beautiful. And then a cup of sugar. No pectin, but a 1/4c water.

Over medium heat, let the fruit come to a soft boil and stir frequently to keep the fruit from sticking and the juices moving. After the fruit starts to break down, I add a teaspoon of allspice for an earthy, exotic tang that matches the gorgeous magenta color that is developing in the pot. Let the fruit cook down as it continues to have a soft, lava-esque, globby boil, maybe 20-25 minutes. Once it sticks to the spoon, you can turn it off and let it cool slightly. Pour the contents into prepared canning jars (this is a good canning primer if you need one) and boil them to seal.

And when it is all said and done, I have this:

Time consuming, I know, but what an incredible result. There is something fulfilling about making my own food in this day and age. At a very base and basic level, knowing that I’ve captured something fresh and whole for my family to enjoy in the cold months ahead. The time in the kitchen feeds my soul, and soul-feeding time as a single mom is something that is hard to come by and often harder to justify.   I allow myself this time because I know we all benefit in the end.

Up next, peach butter!

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