Jam On with Preserves, Jam and Conserves Recipes
Bill Million of Champaign loves to make jam. In his day job, the University of Illinois Extension specialist helps Illinois’ nearly 400,000 students enrolled in 4-H, a youth organization that develops leadership and life skills. But when he’s not helping 4-H’ers with projects, you’ll likely find him in front of the stove, putting up summer’s bounty.
A purist when it comes to canning and preserving fruits, Million uses no pectin in his jams and jellies. And when he finishes, he shows as much pride as any 4-H’er winning a blue ribbon.
Canning requires more work than freezing or dehydrating, but it shows its worth by preserving the taste, texture and color of the summer’s fruits and vegetables.
Canning and preserving prevents spoilage and extends the time during which the food remains safe and appealing to eat. Canned goods – if processed and stored correctly – stay safe and palatable much longer than frozen and dried foods.
And despite the extra work canning requires, it has become fashionable – a great gift to take to a friend or add to the Christmas stocking.
Elizabeth Andress, a food and nutrition professor and Extension food safety specialist with USDA, has seen an increased interest in canning the past few years. She credits that to more people wanting to know where their food comes from, gardening to save money and desiring to produce food themselves.
“I think you could say it’s a return to their roots,” says Andress, who also serves as director of the National Center for Home Food Preservation. “It seems to have skipped a generation. I suspect the renewed interest might be a result of all the food shows on TV.”
She offers a few tips to those who can foods. “Be careful,” she says. “Realize there is a science behind this.”
To start, follow instructions carefully – canning isn’t a place to improvise, Andress says. Before starting pressure canning, be familiar with boiling water canning. For those who do use a pressure canner, make sure it has been tested and is accurate.
Andress’ mother used to can tomatoes, green tomato relish and peaches.
“She did it every year,” she says, “but we weren’t really a part of it when it came to canning – we helped chop the vegetables for the relish.”
When Andress was a county agent in Pennsylvania, she felt she needed to learn the art of canning and took a weeklong, mini course in the craft. That confirmed her interest, and she began canning pickles, relish, jams and jellies. It led to her current position.
“I test a lot of recipes at work,” she says. “It’s become a lot of fun.”