Oregonians spend an awful lot of time waiting for summer. Even when it’s technically here, at least as indicated by that “X” on June’s calendar, we know it can be a faux start.
So even while we’re enjoying the early fruits of summer, there’s an undercurrent of grouching going on. Such harvests only whet our appetites for the golden days yet to come, hazy-lazy days punctuated by fluorescent-pink flipflops and frosty-fruity beverages. That’s what we’re after. The smell of cantaloupe in the morning. Bowls and bowls of marionberries swimming in cream. Elegant sauces made from tangy red currents and old fashioned pies from peaches and blueberries. Oh, yeah!
So we whine, we grumble and we pout. “When’s summer gonna come?” And then, in a fit of overcompensation, Mother Nature responds. “All right already! You want fruit? Here’s fruit!” And out they tumble from nearby fields: apricots, cherries and bazillions of berries. All at once in a flurry of promising feasts.
And, of course, we whine, we grumble, and we pout: “It’s too much! There’s not enough time to enjoy it! I can’t possibly use it all!”
At which point Mother Nature, instead of simply whopping us upside the head, calmly sends in the canners. Folks who are wise enough to realize that while the full blush of freshness has its appointed hour, the essence of the harvest can be captured in lovely little jars. For later, in the dead of winter. When a slathering of homemade raspberry preserves on toast will put the sunny back into your 5-year-old’s disposition.
If you want to make jam this year but can’t keep up with the various seasons for our favorite Oregon fruits, consider freezing the fruit mixture when the fruit is in season, then make the jam at your leisure weeks or even months down the road.
Still need to be convinced? Consider this: A few years ago I prepped three batches of apricot jam. I had washed, quartered and pitted 12 pounds of apricots, divided them among three large bowls, added the 6 cups of sugar and 1/3 cup of lemon juice to each bowl, and set them aside so the juices could develop for an hour or two.
Then I had to leave town unexpectedly.
Before heading out, I spread a layer of plastic wrap down on the surface of each batch, then added extra layers of plastic wrap and foil around each preparation and put them in our chest freezer. I was pretty sure I’d be able to get back to the process in a couple of weeks.
Well, I didn’t thaw the mixtures until the following May. Ten months later! With fingers crossed, I proceeded to make the jam, and it turned out fabulous! Even the color was vivid and beautiful. Over the years, I’ve experimented with other fruits — strawberries, marionberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and peaches. All come through just fine.
This is the wonderful jam I’ve adapted from Helen Witty’s Cookbook, “Fancy Pantry.”
Beyond Peerless Red Raspberry Preserves
Makes 3 to 4 half-pints
4 heaping cups red raspberries
3-1/4 cups granulated sugar (1 pound, 6 ounces)
1/3 cup strained fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter
Sort fresh berries, discarding any that are soft, moldy or otherwise suspect. Rinse them and drain them well. Stir the berries, sugar and lemon juice together in a bowl, using a rubber spatula; let the mixture stand, stirring gently once or twice, until the sugar has dissolved, about 2 hours. (Many times, I let it sit all day in the refrigerator or overnight). Do not reduce the amount of sugar called for in this recipe because it aids in the gelling.
Wash 4 half-pint canning jars. (Note: you need to use canning jars if you’re planning to prepare the jam for storage at room temperature, because you’ll be processing the jam in a boiling water canner; if you plan to store your jam in the refrigerator, any jars or plastic containers will work just fine). Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.
Scrape the mixture into a large skillet or saute pan. Add the butter. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly with a straight-ended wooden or nylon spatula, and boil it rapidly for 7 minutes. (Note: if you have a candy thermometer and want to be absolutely sure that you’re going to obtain a gel, cook the jam until the thermometer registers 220 degrees.) Remove from heat.
The butter helps reduce foam, but if some foam remains after you’ve removed the skillet from the burner and let the jam settle for about 10 seconds, just skim it off.
For storage in the refrigerator, ladle hot preserves into clean jars or plastic food-grade containers. Attach lids and let cool. Store in the refrigerator (jam keeps for ages — 24 months and beyond, really).
For long-term storage at room temperature, ladle the hot preserves into 1 hot canning jar at a time, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes (at 1,000-3,000 feet, process for 15 minutes; 3,000-6,000 feet, for 20 minutes; above 6,000 feet, for 25 minutes).
Elizabeth’s Cherries in Brandy
Makes about 2 quarts
Several weeks ago, I wrote about a friend named Elizabeth, who worked in Yosemite National Park at the same time as I did. On one quiet Friday night in our dorm kitchen, I watched her put up a batch of brandied cherries. Here’s her recipe:
3 pounds dark or light sweet cherries
About 1 quart granulated sugar
About 1 quart of brandy (more as needed)
Stem and pit the cherries. Divide the cherries between two clean quart jars, alternating layers of cherries and sugar (use about 2 cups of sugar per jar to begin with; you can always add more later), filling each jar to three-quarters full. Add enough brandy to cover the cherries and sugar generously (figure on 1 quart of brandy for every two quarts of cherries). Attach the lids and set the jars in a cool, preferably dark spot. Shake the jars every few days or at least once a week; the sugar will gradually dissolve as the cherry juices join the brandy in the syrup. Once the sugar has thoroughly dissolved, sample the syrup to see if more sugar is needed. If you add more sugar, continue to shake the jars occasionally until it has all dissolved.
Leave the cherries in the brandy for a minimum of 3 months; 5 or 6 months is not too long. Serve 2 or 3 cherries in a small glass with a little of the brandy or use as a sauce for ice cream.
Note: Although this recipe calls for pitted cherries, an alternate method of preparation is to leave them whole. Be sure and prick each cherry in three or four places with a sterile needle before proceeding with the recipe so the brandy can penetrate more effectively. Plus — and this is very important — you must make a note on the jar label that the cherries are NOT pitted.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks.