I observed that Italian villagers are still doing many things the old-fashioned way. One of areas where that is most pronounced is in the area growing, handling, cooking & preserving food. i.e. They do things the wholesome, organic and ‘slow food’-way.
An organic fruit tree on my friend’s land
While North Americans may discuss the quality of different freezer bags in the supermarket isles, there are no freezer bags to be found anywhere here. Instead, everyone is busy canning. Right around now, must supermarkets have good part of an isle filled with empty jars, for canning.
So, let me kick this week off with a canning class. Italians can vegetables as well as fruit. But to keep things simple, let’s just make jam today.
Making Jam for Winter
It takes 50% sugar to pretty much any kind of fruit to make jam which you can store outside the fridge for 2-3 years or so. Overall, it’s best to use only very ripe fruit, which is naturally sweetest.
Particularly if you have a fruit tree, (or, if you like me have a neighbor with a organic fig tree who brings you a tray-full at a time) you must really start collecting glass jars starting December so you will have a counter full of them in summer. Otherwise you must buy new glass jars in the supermarkets.
Soak your jars in boiling hot water to sterilize them, less than half an hour before filling them with your fresh, also boiling hot, jam. Fill the jars all the way to the top, so as to leave just a small air pocket. Put the lids on the jars right away. By the time the marmalade will have cooled off, the jars will be vacuum sealed and ready for winter storage in a cool dry place.
These very sour organic cherries from another neighbor made a delicious jam, but it needed some sugar. The peaches from the market needed just one spoon of sugar to soften them, because they were sweet on their own.
Personally, I prefer to make another type of fruit jam, which does not have a long shelf-life, i.e. one that is 99% cooked fruit, with a mere sprinkle of sugar added to get the fruit to soften while cooking and add a touch of sweetness to the jam as needed. I poor & seal my sugar-free marmalade in the same boiling hot glass jars, as I do for winter jam. However, I store my summer jam in the fridge, where will last for months… Well, actually, it is so delicious, that it usually lasts only a few weeks.
As this is essentially a thick fruit sauce, it is great to use in cooking as well. E.g. Apricot-gelled chicken breasts. Add half a jar of jam, some sugar, vinegar, olive oil, rosemary, pepper and salt, and maybe some sugar and cinnamon to taste. and you create yourself an instant feast! If have time to you marinade the chicken in the apricots sauce, the flavor will best, however, even if you just sauté’ the chicken and add the other ingredients, it will come out just great. Taste before serving and add what is needed. Add a few twigs of fresh herbs, and/or a few fresh apricot slices for decoration.
I wish I had a picture of this dish, perhaps I should cook it this night and show you how great it looks. (Italy is all about spontaneity, so this sure is the thing to do.)
How did I get to talk about this dish? Oh, yeah, the delightful adventures one can have when canning!
Canning in the Country, Canning in Town
Canning fruit and vegetables is not just for country folks. It is fun and profitable even if you live in an apartment building 15 stories high. What you have to do is hop over at the end of the market, and buy that box of overripe fruit for a song, and experiment with canning.
Prep yourself by getting the cans organized ahead of time. I can’t but you can simply buy a box of these jars online and get them delivered to your doorstep.
Yes, you can just make 1 jar of jam at the time. I do at times. You will need about 4-5 peaches for an average glass jar of jam (or about double of what you think will fit in that jar by just looking at the fruit. As you want to create only full jars, it’s best to use a couple of smaller jars and to make them really full. Store the leftover jam in the fridge and eat it tomorrow with some yoghurt.
Tip for those living in tight compartments: just know a huge amount of fruit reduces quite compactly into a jar of jam, so don’t be shy buying that entire box of fruit. As well, homemade jam make perfect, personalized hostess gifts, so don’t be daunted by the number of canned produce you’ll end up with either. They will be dealt with in no time. Guaranteed!
Have fun and enjoy summer.