October 20, 2009
There are many ways of preserving food. You can can it or you can dehydrate it, but if you have a freezer, you have a world of possibilities. The freezer is not just for storing your meat and TV dinners anymore. Some of us remember our mothers or grandmothers working in the kitchen with boxes of clean jars and lids and rings putting up all of their summer produce. If you were lucky, with all the great smells of the kitchen, came lessons on how to can.
Well, I grew up in California and my mother never canned anything. She told me there was no need anymore because of the advancement of processed foods. Well, we now know that processed foods are not the miracles that some of our mothers thought. With the movement now towards a more natural and healthy diet, our ability to preserve naturally grown produce has brought back the need to preserve our own food.
As I said I never learned how to can. When I talked to girlfriends who grew up with mothers that did can, it seemed like a long and hard process. That is when I started researching how I could freeze my fresh produce. At that time, because I had such a large family, a friend gave us a freezer.
Well, I found out that their were many cookbooks out there with great charts on how to freeze produce and fruits. The basic procedure was wash, cut up and then blanch (plunge in boiling water and then into ice water) and then to package. If you were doing fruit, you added a product called "Fruit Fresh", which is powdered citric acid that would keep the fruit from darkening.
In talking to the many helpful farmers at my local farmers market, I learned a lot of tricks. Like freezing my ear corn with the shucks and all, just pop them in my freezer. When we wanted corn, I just de-frosted them and shucked and cleaned them and we had great corn on the cob well into the winter. I even got some great recipes for tomato based sauces like spaghetti and a tomato base that could be used for any thing from chili to tomato soup. All this and I could freeze it! I was in Seventh Heaven.
This was back in the 80's. A new friend moved into the neighborhood and she gave me some beautiful jars of jams and pickles. I was jealous because I did not know how to can. Well, she explained that I could make pickles and jams that I could freeze. We started that day and she taught me well and she gave me some of her mother's recipes. So here I hope to pass on some of my knowledge to help you to have some of the greatest jams and jellies and pickles you have ever eaten.
Freezer Jam And Jelly
Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, apricots, peaches, cherries and plums and apples. Summer offers fruit at its best, why not preserve some for later? Is the local grocery store having a great sale on raspberries or blueberries then it is the perfect time to make some of these wonderful tasting jams. Not only is it easy and safe, but it tastes remarkably like fresh fruit since the jam is never cooked. It retains all of it's fresh fruity flavor and color.
The ingredients for freezer jam are few, but it's important to follow the recipe exactly if you want reliable and safe results.
- Fruit: Use perfectly ripe fruit. Since you won't be cooking it, the flavor of the jam is going to be much like the flavor of the fruit, meaning if the fruit is over or underripe, you'll be able to taste it. Jam made with under-ripe fruit (besides being sour) may jell too much, while jam made with overripe fruit (besides having an off-flavor) may not jell enough. So only use the freshest best tasting fruit that you can and always let under ripe fruit ripen before using.
- Pectin: Traditional jam recipes call for cooking; this process thickens the jam. Since you don't cook freezer jam, most recipes call for additional pectin to thicken it, giving the mixture the consistency you expect from your preserves. Commercially produced pectin is derived from fruit, usually apples or citrus. Store-bought pectin comes in two forms: powder and liquid. These are not interchangeable, you should use whichever form your recipe calls for. Ball (the company that brought us canning jars) has a powdered pectin for freezer jams and jellies. Also the Kraft company has a pectin product called Sure Gel which is also a powder. Kraft also makes a liquid pectin called Certo. At most stores, these are sold on the same isle as Jello.
The most common freezer jam recipes call for powdered pectin. The basic ratios for each packet of powdered pectin are:
- 3 cups mashed fruit
- 5 cups sugar, and
- 1 cup water in which to dissolve and boil the pectin
This formula can vary a little depending on the brand of pectin, however, so the best thing to do is follow the manufacturer's instructions on the package.
Sugar: Sugar inhibits the growth of bacteria, keeping your jam fresh, fruity, and safe to eat. Jam recipes are formulated to call for a certain ratio of pectin to sugar, and they will not jell properly if you don't use the correct amount of sugar. If you'd like to make less-sweet jam, you'll need to buy a special kind of pectin that's formulated to work with less sugar and follow the proportions as given to you on the package.
- Containers: Before you begin making the jam, have all your jam jars ready and waiting. Use either sturdy plastic containers with tight-fitting lids or the new containers for the freezer made by Glad. They are inexpensive and can be used more than once. Small jars with tight fitting lids can also be recycled from other things that you have bought like peanut butter or mayonnaise. It's best to choose containers that are no bigger than pint-size; the jam will not set up as well in larger containers. Wash them as you would any other dishes; Just run them through your dishwasher on the top rack so they will not melt. There's no need to boil them like with traditional jam-making.
The process itself is simple. Wash well and stem the fruit (and peel it, if applicable). Place it in a wide-bottomed bowl, preferably plastic, glass or ceramic, as metal can give your jam a off taste. Crush with a potato masher to a smooth consistency, leaving some chunks of fruit if you like. You can also put the fruit in your food processor or a blender. A blender or food processor is also great for making apple sauce or apple butter. Stir in the sugar and let the mixture sit for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, mix together the pectin and water in a small saucepan until the powder is dissolved. Bring it to a boil over high heat, and let it boil for a full minute. Pour it into the fruit and stir for a couple of minutes. Pour the jam into your containers, leaving a half-inch of "headspace" at the top. Cover the containers and let them sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
The jam should have thickened significantly overnight, but it can take up to two weeks for it to completely finish its jelling process. If it's too thick, stirring it will soften it up. If it's still too runny after two weeks, you can pour it into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. It will get thicker as it cools, and you can re-bottle as you did before.
Designer Jams and Jellies: You can mix your fruits. If you like strawberries and raspberries mixed together, try and make some delecious strawberry/raspberry jam.
Storing Your Jam
Freezer jam is meant to be stored in the freezer. In fact, it will keep beautifully in the freezer for up to a year. Store your jams and jellies and pickles in the freezer at 0 degrees or lower. You can also keep freezer jam in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Once you open a container of jam, you should use it within three weeks as well. Just remember never to keep freezer jam at room temperature, or it will spoil. If you notice a white mold-like formation in your freezer jam or jellies when you take them from the freezer to serve, don't be alarmed. It occasionally forms during storage, it is harmless and will melt away when your jam or jelly reaches room temperature.
Homemade Freezer Jelly
You can use any frozen fruit juice concentrate or canned or bottled juice. The only difference between jams and jelly are that jams usually use whole fruits and jelly uses the juice of the fruit. If you have an orchard near you that makes their own juices from their fruits, you can get some of the more exotic juices like boysenberry, cherry, and blueberry there.
Basic Ratios for Jelly
- 3 cups Juice
- 5 cups sugar
- 1 cup water in which to dissolve and boil the pectin
- 3 cups bottled or refrigerated apple juice
- 1 package of pectin
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 5 cups sugar
Makes 6 cups
Then there are freezer Pickles which are quick and easy to make. Try any one of these recipes and you won't be buying pickles anymore. These also make great gifts.
Aunt Susie's Freezer Dill Pickles
- 1 lb. cucumbers, sliced 1/8 inch thick
- 3/4 lb. yellow onions, sliced 1/8 inch thick
- 4 Tbsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp. dried dill weed
Mix cucumbers, onions, salt and water in a 2 quart non-metal bowl. Let stand 2 hours. Drain after stand time but do not rinse. Return vegetables to bowl and add sugar, cider vinegar and dill weed Stir occasionally until sugar completely dissolves and liquid covers vegetables. Pack wide mouth jars or plastic freezer containers leaving 1 inch head space. Seal tightly and freeze. Defrost in refrigerator or at room temperature.
Aunt Susie's Freezer Sweet Pickles
- 2 quarts cucumbers, thinly sliced
- 2 onions, sliced
- 2 Tbsp. salt
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 3/4 cup sugar
Mix Cucumbers and Onions together and sprinkle with salt; mix well and let stand 2-3 hours. Rinse and drain well. Mix Vinegar and Sugar until sugar is dissolved. Put cucumbers and onions in freezer containers or freezer bags; pour vinegar and sugar mixture over cukes and onions. Freeze 3 weeks before eating, the longer you let them sit the sweeter the pickles. Thaw in refrigerator or in cold water.Aunt Susie's Freezer Hot and Sweet Pickles
- 3 1/2 cups thinly sliced pickling cucumbers
- 1 medium onion, sliced and separated into rings
- 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 Tbsp. salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
- 2 Tbsp. water
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Cook sugar, vinegar, and water in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour mixture over cucumber mixture. Cover and chill 48 hours. Spoon evenly into half-pint or pint canning jars or freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch of room at the top; seal, label, and freeze pickles 8 hours or up to 6 months. Thaw in refrigerator before serving; use thawed pickles within 1 week. Hot-and-Sweet Freezer Pickles serves/makes 3 pints
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