For a little more historical perspective on canning, I decided to turn to some older Junior League cookbooks in addition to the Junior League of Tuscaloosa’s Winning Seasons (1979). From my collection, I plucked one of my favorites, The Junior League of Memphis Cookbook (1952), and a more recent acquisition, the Junior League of Mobile’s Recipe Jubilee (1964), which included recipes for strawberry and peach preserves. As I had recently come into possession of several pounds of strawberries and peaches, it seemed like the thing to do.
The thing I found right off about these recipes from the 50s and 60s is that they really take it on faith that you already know the basic principles of canning. Since, until a few days ago, I really didn’t, I’ll include them here.
- Wash your jars in warm, soapy water.
- Bring a giant canning pot of water to a boil. This will take forever, or to be more precise, about 45 minutes. Then, sterilize your jars by boiling for at least 10 minutes.
- Heat your lids and metal rings in hot, but not boiling water, and have ready.
- After loading your jars with fruit or vegetables (but especially fruit preserves), run the end of a wooden spoon through the food to break up any air bubbles, then wipe the rim of the jar with a damp, clean cloth.
- Center the lids on the mouths of the jars, and screw on the metal rings, just until you get a little bit of resistance. Do not screw rings on tight.
- Process in boiling water for 5-10 minutes with pot lid on.
- If processing worked, lids will be depressed and taut. If it didn’t, they’ll pop when you press you finger to the center.
This first recipe comes from the Junior League of Memphis, 1952. While making it, I wished so much that I had strawberries from Tennessee or Pennsylvania or anyplace but here. The last time I went home, my grandfather asked me, “So, did they ever tell you how they get so much water in those California strawberries?”
And it’s true. The upside to California strawberries is that they are pretty, and they smell good, and you can get them all year-round. The downside is that they taste worse than strawberries grown just about anywhere else except perhaps for a landfill or a prison cell. They are big and watery and fibrous, not plump, sweet, and juicy, and I actively resent them. Still, I made do.
4 cups strawberries
1 1/2 T. lemon juice
3 cups sugar
Boil berries and lemon juice 3 minutes. Add sugar, boil hard 6 minutes. Pour into shallow bowls (china or porcelain). Let stand 24 hours, turning thoroughly several times to allow air to get into preserves. Spoon into sterile jars. Cover with paraffin. Yield: 2 glasses.
This is a rich dark preserve.
– Mrs. W.E. Lamb
Another thing this recipe takes on faith is that you know to skim the foam that forms on the top of your boiling strawberries off before pouring it into china or porcelain shallow bowls (eh, I used a Pyrex). I did not do this, and as a result, you can see a little bit of white foam in my strawberry preserves. It’s not harmful, but it can affect the taste a bit and it’s not aesthetically pleasing. So, do that.
I was a little concerned about leaving the cooked mixture out to sit for 24 hours before canning, sterilized jars or not, but I consulted a few other recipes, and found that it’s not an uncommon instruction, so no worries.
The next recipe, from the Junior League of Mobile, 1964, I selected purely for the writing of the recipe. Its description is lovely, if entirely unhelpful.
Old Fashioned Peach Marmalade
Peel peaches, cook in just enough water to prevent burning. Mash cooked peaches thoroughly. Add one cup of sugar for each cup of peaches plus one extra cup of sugar. Boil until mixture threads from a spoon like a goose web. Stir constantly to prevent sticking. Quick cooking gives the prettiest colored finished product. Pour in hot sterile fruit jars and seal.
— Mrs. Mac Greer
You might ask, “Mary, what is a goose web?” And I cannot answer that question, at least not in any way that would be remotely applicable to the making of jam.
However, as far as I can tell, this description refers to a process more commonly known as sheeting, where you get a spoonful of the boiling fruit and sugar mixture and let it drizzle into the pot. You know the jam is done if the drops fuse together before they fall back into the pot. I’ve also read in some places that if you put a dab of the preserves in the fridge or freezer and they gel quickly, it’s done. And in others, that 220 degrees with a candy thermometer is the magic spot.
But I’ll go with the goose webs. And for more specifically-minded types, that took about 15 minutes.
I skimmed the foam off of this batch, and as you can see, it’s much better-looking than the strawberry preserves. Both batches, however, came out a little bit runnier than I’m accustomed to having my jam. I attribute this to the fact that neither recipe called for pectin to be added, and because strawberries and peaches don’t have much naturally occuring pectin to begin with. But I am okay with that.
Next up: two kinds of pickles, one awesome, one awful.