Waggons West Etsy Shop

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Small Batch Preserves

A long time ago, I inherited my grandmother's canning kettles. They are huge. You can barely lift them when they are full of gardeny goodness. I used to can. A lot. Each Summer and early Fall I would make tomato juice, spaghetti sauce, salsa, pickles, canned fruit and jams and fruit butter. Each one was a production. Get the fruit. Peel the fruit. Cut the fruit up. Cook it down slowly. Watch so it doesn't burn. Measure the hot fruit sauce. Calculate the pectin and sugar. Cook it down until it sheets just right. Which, by the way usually wasn't until 10 pm at the very earliest no matter how early you started. THEN it all had to be put in sterile jars. More hot boiling water. More mess on the counter. Timing. Lifting. Waiting for each lid to pop.

It was wonderful to have all those lovely jars in the pantry. It was even better to have all those tiny jars of jams and preserves to give to the staff at the holidays. But... it was hard work.

Now I just make small batch preserves when the mood strikes. Given that the Iron Craft Challenge this week is for creative endeavors a la State Fair, the time seemed right for a quick batch of plum butter.

You can google recipes or pour through your big blue book of canning to get precise measurements and temperatures, but it really isn't all that important for this scale. You are making a small amount to keep in the fridge for a week or two, if it lasts that long.

Start with some fruit. A couple pounds are sufficient. I often make up a batch of strawberry jam when I have a couple cups of strawberries left over. Today I started with about 3 lbs of plums. These were black plums.

Wash them. Remove the pit. Chop them so that you don't end up with giant pieces of skin in the end product.

Put them in a sauce pan with a splash of water and cook them over low heat until they are soft and mostly lose their shape. I was a tiny bit impatient with this batch and stopped cooking a little soon, but not much. This batch will just have a few larger chunks of fruit.

Add sugar. The rule books tell you to add sugar equal to the amount of fruit you have. I find that usually leaves me with a nice cooked sugar flavor and not a lot of fruit. I really just add it to taste, although I probably almost always put in at least a cup. This is in a 2 quart pan. There are probably about 3 cups of fruit. I added about 1 1/4 cups of sugar. Then taste. Be careful tasting. It is HOT. These plums were not as tart as I am used to so I added about 2 tablespoons lemon juice to brighten it up.

Now you just cook it a little longer until it sheets off of a cool metal spoon. Or until it coats the metal spoon. Or until you can dip in the metal spoon and draw a line through the jam that coats the spoon. It will thicken more as it cools. One good test if you really must have some rules is to put a drop on a small plate and put the plate in the freezer for a few minutes. Take it out once it is cool but before it is frozen. Stand the plate on its edge. If the jam runs off the plate you need to cook it more. If it does a slow drip or stays put you are done.

Let the jam cool. Put it in a pretty glass bowl. Cover it and keep it in the fridge. No boiling water. No sterile jars. No 6 bottles that didn't seal. No fuss and you have fresh jam whenever the mood strikes.

This batch is most likely destined to become plum sauce, since I have a lovely batch of pulled pork that we slow cooked along side the jam.

(Sorry the pictures and not all that this time. Taking them on the stove with the available light just wasn't working.)

Update: Want to see more State Fair quality crafting? Check out the Flickr group here. You can play to by checking out Iron craft at Just Crafty enough here.


  1. WoW! Makes me miss living in a cool climate...or at least air conditioning. Where I am we have neither, so it's store bought for me, but you've made my mouth water.

  2. The joy of small batch preserving is you can start with a small batch of fruit and it doesn't take all day or add a ton of heat to the kitchen. So you can have fresh jam even when it is too hot to cook.