When I was growing up in Alabama, summer meant working in the garden, shelling peas and beans, canning, making jams and jellies and fresh fruit cobblers. My grandmother, “Granny”, made absolutely the best peach and blackberry cobblers – and to this day I haven’t had a cobbler as good as hers.
Preserving the gardens bounty fed the family all year long. Granny’s method was water-bath canning. She had a pantry off the back porch and all the shelves would be full by the end of summer with everything from chow-chow to sauerkraut.
Mother chose the freezer method and was the jelly and preserve maker of the family.
Granny and Grandaddy also had a root cellar under the front part of their house where all the root vegetables, like onions, potatoes and beets were stored. My brother, cousin and I always liked playing in the root cellar, especially in the summer, because it was always cool.
One of the beauties of the south is that we have two to three growing seasons and a cuisine that is as wide and deep as the south itself. That is one good reason why vegetables have long been the stars of the southern plate.
I continue to carry on this family tradition of preserving the produce from my daddy’s garden and making homemade jams and jellies.
Daddy is 89 and continues to raise enough vegetables to feed us through the fall and winter months. He grows Kentucky Wonder snap beans, silver crowder peas, green butterbeans, corn, okra, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes. He also has plum, apple, persimmon and pecan trees, blueberry bushes and muscadine vines. He keeps me busy with his bountiful harvest. And I love him for that – even though it is a lot of work.
I absolutely love and I mean love making jelly and jam!
Daddy’s plum trees have produced like crazy this year. The first picking, he brought me 10 gallons and I had to make jelly. The funny thing is that after I made the jelly, I gave him a jar and asked if he wanted more – his reply, “I have to try it first and if it’s as good as your mother used to make, I will get some more”. Needless to say, he was back for another jar before the week was out.
Plums ripen from late May to early summer. Using the fresh fruit gives a more concentrated and flavorful jelly. Jelly is basically the same as jam except the cooked fruit has been strained to give a clear spread. I use the basic recipe for making jelly that comes in the Sure-Jell premium fruit pectin package.
Stone fruits are at their peak in June and July and we have some wonderful peach orchards around here. I am constantly going to the peach stands to pick up peaches and other goodies they may have. Quiet often they have homemade peach ice cream for sale. Yummy!! Most often I enjoy a peach immediately, eating it in the car on the way home. I usually end up with juice dripping off my chin, running down my arm and on my clothes as I sink my teeth into its sweet flesh.
Juice, pectin, lemon juice and sugar combine to create a classic peach jam. The fruit is usually chopped very fine or mashed. When making jam, always make sure the sugar is dissolved before bringing the mixture to a boil. If not, the result will be grainy.
Whether you are making jelly or jam, use the exact amount of sugar called for because sugar affects how pectin works. It bonds to the sugar for its thickening power.
Delectable spreads made from jellied or preserved fruits, herbs and peppers are irresistible additions to breakfast, tea, appetizers and entrees. Jams and jellies can be spread on toast, English muffins or the southern favorite, biscuits with no added butter necessary. The burst of flavor added with a dollop of a sweet or spicy seasonable spread can make your meal more delicious and memorable.
Store in the pantry, give to a friend! A gift jar of homemade jelly or jam is always appreciated.
Remember to refrigerate the jelly or jam once the jars are opened.
In the next blog, we will talk about those famous, delectable southern biscuits.
Happy jamming and jelling!!