Sunday, June 12, 2011

It's gotta be jam cuz......

     Surprisingly, there is a lot of discussion or should I say questions about what preserve is what. Names can vary from country to country, region to region so here is my understanding and criteria for what makes what.

Top to bottom, marmalade, chutney, conserve

     Even the term canning is used in different ways so let's start there. It applies to the process of preserving fruits, vegetables and meats in either a boiling water or pressure canner. To some it applies only to the use of a pressure canner, preserving low acid food. To me canning is the first, putting up any kind of preserve.

     Preserves are anything that is .... well......  preserved. That is opposed to smoked, salted, fermented, dried or frozen, all other ways of preserving your food. Jams, jellies, chutney, butters, compotes and pickles are all examples of different types of preserves.

     Preserves are also a category on their own. They are fruit, whole or sliced, that are preserved in a syrup. For example, I have a delicious Spiced Peach with Honey preserve recipe. It is peach slices in a honey syrup. The peaches are blanched in the syrup and then packed hot and processed in the canner. Preserves typically look like the fruit you started out with, they aren't cooked down.

     Jam vs jelly, jelly is made from the strained juice, jam from the whole fruit. Jelly is opaque with particles in suspension in the case of pepper or herb jellies. Jam is not see through and contains the juice and pulp. Both are set, a spoonful will not run, settle or change shape unless heated. You make marmalade by adding a lot of citrus rind to either of the above. I have recipes for both preparations.

     Between preserves and jam or jelly there are several others, stewed fruit or compote, butters, chutney, salsas and conserves.

     Compotes are full fruit that are cooked and reduced. The amount of reduction depends on your taste. When spooned out normally they will separate a little, juice from pulp. Chutney and salsa fall into this group. Chutney normally is heavily spiced and has other dried fruit or nuts in it, salsa also usually spiced and the fruit is in larger pieces and not reduced a lot. There is no "set" in any of the above.

     Fruit butters, apple and tomato are my favourites, are full fruit cooked and reduced quite a lot. They can be as runny as tomato sauce or as stiff as paste, the choice is yours. Again, no "set".

     That brings us to conserves, full fruit, cooked just to the gel point and a very soft set. A conserve will not hold its shape if spooned on to a plate. This is my favourite type of "jam".

     That just leaves pickles. Pickles are any fruit or vegetable preserved in a vinegar brine. The brine has to be at least 5 percent acid for food safety and can be sweetened with sugar, pickled crab apples, spiced , dill anything or just plain. Usually there is salt in the brine if it isn't a sweet pickle.

     Here is a little tip for anyone who is just starting out. One of the biggest complaints for new and experienced alike is jam or jelly that doesn't set. Do I worry? Not a chance. As I mentioned earlier in the pectin post I'm not a huge fan of jam or jelly. There are a few I like and make but I much prefer the softer set of conserves or no set of butters and compotes. Don't tell. If your jam doesn't set, you weren't making jam, you were going for a conserve or a compote. Who's to know? I promise I won't tell. LOL

     Unfortunately for jelly, it is a little harder to convince people you were going for hot pepper coulis but why not, give it a try. Jelly can be reheated and tried again. I have done it and had it set beautifully the second time, so don't despair. Unless you scorch it, you can usually salvage it and at the very least, it's good on iced cream.

     Did I leave anything out? Drop me a line or comment and let me know how you distinguish your preserves. Take care.


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