Hobby – Preserving

If you’re like me, you get an inordinate amount of joy and satisfaction from having a well-stocked pantry and freezer, probably due to some lingering effects of having grandparents who survived a World War and passed their scarcity mindset down. The feeling of pride is even greater when some of that food is something that I’ve not only grown but also prepped, whether it’s pickles or jam, soup stock or bread. The hardest part, honestly, is that I’m so satisfied with seeing those jars and bags full of delicious-looking homemade treats that I don’t want to eat them, even though that’s exactly why I made them in the first place! Ah, the oddities of the human condition.

A few years ago, my friend introduced me to a fantastic website called Food in Jars, which has become my Bible for any and all preserving. Every time I find myself with fresh fruits or vegetables and want to do something with them, the first thing I do is check out the enormous array of recipes that Marisa has put together. I sometimes tweak the recipes, substituting different spice combinations or using honey or maple syrup in place of sugar, but her instructions and Canning 101 explanations are the guideposts I use to keep me on the path to safe and delicious preserved food. Botulism is for vocal cords and migraines, not jellies and chutneys.

As a kid, when I was first getting into gardening, I’d make the occasional batch of jam or pickled green beans with my mom and loved using our dehydrator to make dried apricots and homemade fruit leather. As much as I enjoyed the process and eating the (literal) fruits of our labor, I never tried it on my own and was content to be the Igor to my mom’s Dr. Frankenstein. After the college years and my early 20s, where I rarely bought more than single servings of fruits and vegetables, I had forgotten what little I had learned about preserving. As a stereotypical millennial interested in making my own artisanal food products, I needed to start from scratch. Enter Food in Jars!

A batch of Italian plum and physalis jam bubbling away

As my access to homegrown food increased through friends becoming homeowners and offering me the bounty from their gardens and fruit trees, I found myself experimenting with multiple recipes for blueberries, plums, tomatoes green and red, lavender, and green beans, among other fruits and vegetables. I’m not a great stickler for rules, but I tried to follow as close as possible Marisa’s Canning 101 and recipe guidelines to avoid canning potential paralysis alongside any tasty treats. However, beyond the rules for the canning process itself, I took baby steps into experimenting with different flavor combinations and found that, at least as far as sweet preserves go, it’s hard to go wrong. The beautiful jewel tones of different fruit jams and syrups filled my shelves and made my heart burst with pride every time I looked at my pantry shelves.

Nowadays, any jams or pickles I make need to fit into a kitchen about the size of an airline bathroom, with a correspondingly dollhouse-sized refrigerator. Of course, I took advantage of my brother and sister-in-law’s giant kitchen when visiting them in 2021, cooking up a batch of mulberry jam with my nieces and in the process managed to fully convert my sister-in-law into a fellow jam enthusiast (apologies to my brother!). However, my jam-making at home is mostly limited to harvesting the sour cherries from the tree in our apartment building’s garden and making them into a couple pints of jam. Eventually, when I have the produce and counter space again, I dream of shelves piled high with enough tasty preserved products that we can eat home-canned food all year long, but for now I content myself with dreams and the occasional stop at a farmer’s stand to buy a jar of rosehip jelly or mirabelle plum jam. One day…

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