Thursday, June 17, 2010

Tips for Preserving and Canning Summer Fruits

(StatePoint)  When faced with an abundance of local fruits and vegetables at the peak of their seasonal freshness, there's only one thing to do: preserve them!

Preserving allows you to keep eating your family's favorite fruits and flavors long after the season has passed. But preserves aren't just for your morning toast. You can use preserved fruits and vegetables in baking and cooking -- in everything from muffins and breads to glazes and chutneys for meat and poultry, and even for your own relish and barbecue sauces.

"Almost everyone has a memory about preserving. Maybe your family put up dill pickles every summer, using cucumbers harvested from the backyard garden. Or you remember picking plump berries in the hot afternoon sun, then helping your mother turn them, magically, into jams and jellies," says Rick Field, co-author with Rebecca Courchesne of the new book "Williams-Sonoma The Art of Preserving."

Nowadays, preserving no longer is a household necessity, but bottling up a season's bounty to carry you through the year still evokes a welcome nostalgia for the past. 

Here are some tips from Field and Courchesne for aspiring and experienced preservers:

* Go to the source: Unless you have fruit trees in your backyard, a farmer's market is usually the best place to select ripe, unwaxed fruit during peak season. Remember, preserves are only as good as the fruit you put in them!

* Avoid overripe fruit and overcooking: Pectin is the natural carbohydrate found in fruit skins and seeds that allows preserves to jell. However, fruit loses its pectin as it matures or when it's cooked too long. For preserves with a balance of sweetness and consistency, gently cook slightly under-ripe and just-ripe fruit.

* Essential ingredients: A balance of acid and sugar in fruit spreads ensures not only a good set but a pleasing flavor. Lemon juice and refined white sugar are most commonly used, but you also can use organic sugar or evaporated cane juice. Don't use honey, maple syrup, or artificial sweeteners, which are too strong.

* Flavorings: Fresh, flavorful herbs and spices -- from rosemary to rosehips -- can add layers of nuanced depth to your fruit spreads.

* The right equipment: Home-canning kits, found in most supermarkets or kitchen-supply stores, should be paired with a wide, shallow nonreactive pan when cooking preserves. The wider surface area ensures excess liquid will evaporate quickly.

* Storage: Exposure to sunlight or too much heat can cause fruit spreads to lose color, flavor, and texture. Store jars for no more than a year in a cool, dark place.

For more preserving tips and more than 130 recipes for cooking and baking with preserved produce, read "The Art of Preserving."

Preserving can make for fun family time in the kitchen this season and year-round enjoyment at the kitchen table. So start bottling up those favorite flavors!

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