Photo: Barb Schaller
A good way to use up the abundance of apples or berries you have from your garden or from your purchases at the farmers market is to turn them into jams!
“Anything homemade has to be almost exclusively better than anything you can buy in a supermarket,” says Barb Schaller. She lives in Burnsville, Minnesota and cans throughout basically the entire growing season
“From about the middle of May, when the rhubarb comes, followed by the strawberries, followed by the raspberries, followed by the stone fruits. Then come the pickles and the tomatoes and the sweet corn. By that time, it’s time to deliver my goods to the Minnesota State Fair folks for their perusal and assessment.”
Award Winning Canned Goods
She’s been submitting her goods to the state fair since 1981, and as she told me, there’s nothing like success to encourage a person. She has won numerous blue ribbons, including seven blue ribbons for her legendary bread and butter pickles. Her prize winning cherry jam has been picked up by the M.A. Gedney Co. for mass production as part of their State Fair products.
Schaller’s obsession with canning and jam making began some 40 years ago with one plum tree. “That tree started producing plums rather prolifically. It wasn’t too long after that that I got the word from my husband, who was the grass cutter, that I’d best do something with those blanketty-blank plums, because they were causing a problem for him on the hill as they would rot and get slippery.”
Her neighbor suggested that those plums would make wonderful jelly, and from there, her nearly half-decade love affair with canning and pickling began.
Jams, Jellies and Preserves
We talked about the various types of fruit products. Schaller says that “preserves” is an umbrella category for all types of canned fruits.
But preserves are also something else quite specific, and that’s cut fruit suspended in a softer gel. I like to tell folks that preserves are more pourable than spreadable and jam is more spreadable than pourable. Jellies are made from the juice only of the fruit, and they are stiffer than jam. A good jelly, you can cut and it will hold its shape on the cleave. Jam is softer than jelly, but jam is comprised of crushed fruit suspended in this stiffer gel.
For beginning jammers, Schaller suggests investing in a few pieces of specialized equipment. “You need a heavy kettle, and really there are only two things you can’t fake with something else: a jar lifter and a canning funnel.” Schaller says that the jar lifter and canning funnel help to maintain the integrity of the seal.
Other than that, Schaller says that all you need is a good recipe. Get your ingredients, and make sure to pick up the one ingredient jam makers simply cannot do without: pectin. You can add additional pectin to your jams, or as Schaller says, you can try relying on the pectin found naturally in fruits to make your jam.
“The fruits that are high in pectin are the citrus fruits, and apples are high in pectin,” Schaller says. “Some fruits have enough natural pectin that they will gel without any additional.”
I was happy to see that on her list of award winning jams was a Spicy Tomato Jam. The recipe for that seems pretty simple. “It involves some all spice, cinnamon, and cloves – you know, sweet spices. Lemon rind and lemon juice… and it does use powdered pectin,” Schaller says.
Spiced Tomato Jam
Adapted by Barb Schaller from So Easy to Preserve, Fifth Edn.
Yield: 5 half pint jars
- 3 cups prepared tomatoes (prepare about 2¼ pounds tomatoes)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 4 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 box powdered pectin
To Prepare Tomatoes: Wash firm ripe tomatoes. Scald, peel, and chop tomatoes. Place chopped tomatoes in saucepan and heat slowly to simmering, stirring constantly to prevent sticking and burning. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Measure 3 cups of the cooked tomatoes into a large saucepan. Add lemon rind, allspice, cinnamon and cloves.
To Make Jam: Sterilize canning jars. Add lemon juice to the prepared tomatoes in the saucepan. Measure sugar and set aside. Stir powdered pectin into prepared tomatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. At once, stir in sugar. Stir and bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Then boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat. Skim off foam. Pour hot jam into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids. Process in a Boiling Water Canner for 5 minutes at altitudes to 1000 feet.
And Pickles Too!
Schaller is perhaps best known at the Minnesota State Fair for her bread and butter pickles – they have won seven blue ribbons over the years!
But, she admits that there’s nothing special about her pickles. “There’s nothing exotic in the brine: sugar and vinegar and turmeric, mustard seed. The pickles are sliced thin. The pickles are soaked with the onions and green peppers in a salt and ice soak for three hours.”
Schaller was quick to talk about her watermelon pickles. She uses an old farm journal recipe. “The syrup is made from four ingredients: sugar, vinegar, clove oil, and cinnamon oil. It’s a three-day process, and they’re really yummy!”
This jam master hesitates to add that she doesn’t actually eat much of her creations. What does she do with all the jam and pickles? “Well, I have lots of friends and a very large family!”
Read More: Barb Schaller’s Canning Blog: Yes, I Can!