A canning primer…

…from someone who’s never canned.

I’m very excited for our canning class on Sunday, May 23.  The ladies from Two Girls and a Hammer have a wealth of knowledge to share.  I think we’ll be making some jam.  On that note… I’ve been meaning to satisfy my own curiosity–and perhaps yours!–by finding out the technical differences between fruit butters, jams, and jellies.  Of course, I know that jellies are smooth, jam has fruit, and butters are opaque and creamy.  I learned while I was growing up that a jam has fruit pieces, where a jelly is made from the strained fruit juice.  I’m going to figure these out with some handy internet research.

I have a book, The Science of Good Food, which is a fabulous resource for someone who likes to know the “whys” behind their food (me).  It’s led me to combing through federal definitions and standards for jams and jellies as part of this quest.  Wowzer.  Allow me to fill in that the space between that last sentence and the wowzer was moments spent reading the federal definitions from “Title 21” of the tomes of federal definitions.  You gotta check this out!! For all of the complexity and specificity in the definitions, I still don’t have a clue!!  So we’ll go back to The Science of Good Food.

Disappointingly, SoGF notes that according to government, up to 25% of the product can be corn syrup.  Fortunately, not a concern with our products! (Sure enough, a visit to the fridge and an inspection of products purchased prior to this conversion to co-op living proved that to be true.)

Jam is a “thick gel” that might have bits of fruit.  Jams usually come from fruit with a lot of juice and are gelled with a pectin.  Preserves are more along the line of a preserved fruit with lots of sugar–chunkier and thick (conserves can include nuts and a bigger variety of fruit).  Fruit butter is one part fruit and one part sugar, and then cooked down, or might even fruit without the sugar, and again cooked down (the same process yields fruit leathers, where the fruit is spread and then dried).  Jelly is exactly what I learned as a child–made from juice with extra  gelatin to make it more solid (get it, jelly, gelatin).

I love our preserved fruit options at Off the Vine.  Of the butters, so far I’ve tried peach, pumpkin, and sweet potato.  In the colder months, I crave those warm spices of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg, so the pumpkin and sweet potato butters did the trick.  I have to confess, though, that the sweet potato is my FAVORITE.  I prefer it to the pumpkin and it’s flavor is perfect!  There were many nights (and will be many more nights) when a bedtime snack was a piece of 11-grain toast with sweet potato butter.  I’ve got an order of red currant jelly coming in this week and I will let you know how it is!

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