Fresh fruit raised in the early days on the farm had a very short shelf life before it had to be consumed. In order to use the harvest of pears figs or peaches, the homemaker learned to can the fruit in jars in a sugar solution, can juices of the fruit or make jam, jelly or preserves. Some fruits could be dried also such as apples.
Now we make jam using a prepared pectin product we find in the grocery store that makes the fruit mixture thicken. Jam is made from whole mashed fruit. Jelly is made from fruit that has been cooked and strained into clear juice. Jelly is often made with apples, grapes, pears, quince or peppers.
We see the more pulp-like fruit and berries including peaches, raspberries and strawberries made into jam. Jam contains the pulp and small seed in the fruit as in the strawberry.
Fruit butters are made by slowly cooking fruit down with some sugar and often cider until thickened and spicing it then canning it in jars along canning guidelines. Apple, peach and pumpkin butters are some common ones. It has a consistency like softened butter.
Fruit honey recipes are made by saving all sound pieces and peelings from fruit used for preserve, pickles, etc. The ingredients are cooked until soft then strained through cheesecloth and pressed to remove the juice. The juice is then returned to cook, the temperature is monitored and when boiling vigorously, sugar is added at the rate of 1/2 as much sugar as juice and cooked to the consistency of honey. The syrupy stuff is really good on a biscuit.
Marmalades are often made with citrus fruits, grapes or peaches. Citrus and rind are added to non-citrus fruits. They taste a little less sweet due to the bitterness of the rind finely suspended in the mixture. The procedure is similar to jelly making.
In the early days the homemaker made “preserves.” She carefully cooked the fresh fruit, which had been seeded and peeled with sugar until very thick. The ratio of fruit to sugar was pound for pound. This needed to be done over moderate heat on the range in a thick-bottomed pot and had to be attended constantly as it would easily stick and scorch. The preserves were then placed in canning jars and sterilely sealed with lids and bands. Peach, pear and fig preserves are common in our area.
Watermelon rind preserves is an old family favorite made of the white part of the melon between the red meat and rind of the melon. Cut up in small chunks and preserved, it is quite tasty and was a necessary ingredient in my grandmother’s fruitcake, along with fig preserves, each year before candied fruit was available in our area. For all the labor in this product, it is very time consuming for the amount of preserves obtained.
Preserved fruit products including jams, jellies and preserves are exceedingly sweet and should be consumed in moderation if at all. A variety of recipes are now available using alternative sweeteners and pectin products that are sugar-free found in our grocery stores for the diabetic or weight watcher.
There is still nothing better than toast or a biscuit with “real” homemade jam, jelly or preserves to remind you of the old days back at your grandmother’s house.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org