Making Preserves During the Pandemic
Small Batch Preserves
HANDMADE WITH LOVE . . . AND ELBOW GREASE
Welcome! Z Confiture Small Batch Preserves is my hobby effort inspired by a desire to create a silver lining out of the hurricane otherwise known as the year 2020.
I love to cook, but up until that year I never thought to venture into the culinary realm of preserves, jams, jellies, and marmalades. That changed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and a frustration over seeing too many fruits too often go bad before my wife, Joëlle, and I could eat them.
My first attempt at preserve making was apple, rhubarb, & cinnamon. The result tasted great, but was overcooked, making it more of a paste than a spread. I have to say that eating my “failure” never tasted so good.
From the get-go I decided I was going to make something other than the type of preserves that you get in stores. After all, why should I duplicate something you can buy in supermarkets?
I have to say that I’m having a ball. I hope you enjoy the fruits—pun intended—of my hobby in this culinary adventure of preserve making.
My preserves contain the following ingredients: fruit, sugar, pectin, fruit juice, spices, a touch of butter, and love.
Whenever possible and depending on the season I buy my fruit at the local farmers markets. This is where living in Brooklyn, New York, is such an advantage. When fruits are in season there is a wonderful bounty and I seize the opportunity with both hands! There are exceptions of course, like cranberries, mangoes, and anything off-season. That’s not to take anything away from what grocery stores have to offer, rather, that I try to support local farmers and orchard growers when I can.
I use either Turbinado or Demerara sugar. Both are produced from sugar cane and are darker than refined (white) sugar.
Turbinado has a more blond color and slightly smaller crystals and a milder flavor than Demerara. Though I’ve found that’s not always the case. In this ethnic grocery store near where my daughter lives, I found a company that sells Turbinado sugar that’s very similar to Demerara.
Demerara gets its name from its original shipping port in what is now Guyana. It has large crystals and a high molasses content which gives it its distinctive brown color and caramel flavor.
The fact that both sugars have larger crystals plays into the sweetness factor of my preserves. Because it has the smallest crystals, the volume content of a cup of white sugar is higher than that of a cup of either Turbinado or Demerara. This means that in my preserves you’ll taste more of the fruit because there is less sugar. Not only that, but the sugar flavor that you do taste has a greater complexity than that of white sugar. There’s also a color factor (apple and pear preserves will be darker), but I have to say I don’t care about that. As far as I’m concerned, it’s content, not color.
Pectin is the thickening agent. It’s found naturally in a variety of fruits (notably apples and citrus), but unless one is making marmalade it’s best (let’s be honest: “easiest”) to use commercial pectin. It comes in both powder and liquid form. I started out with the liquid. Then, when the store where I buy it ran out, I switched over to the powder form. I wondered how different it would be, and I have to say that I did see a difference. First, the powder product I use is a two-stage operation, which took a little getting used to. More importantly, it gels faster, like five minutes faster. That may not sound like much, but since average cooking time of the preserves is twenty minutes, five minutes is huge. I’m finding myself liking the powder form.
Right now this means lime juice. It’s full of pectin, but the reason for me using it is to give a hint of flavor to the preserves (and limes here in Brooklyn are cheaper than lemons).
Butter? Yeah, that one surprised me, too. But, when looking through the different preserves recipes, I saw in more than one that butter was an ingredient. During the early stage of cooking they recommended adding a dollop of butter should the mix begin to foam. Adding butter cuts back on the foaming. I’m not expert enough to know why, though I’m thinking it’s probably something to do with the way butterfat interacts with the fruit and cane sugars. Anyway, I tried it, it worked, so there you are. No foam.
Right now, it’s cinnamon, commercially ground (what—you think I’m going to grind my own? I’m not that obsessed!). And ginger, which is freshly grated by me because I can buy the root at the local Korean market and, oh, does it smell so good when grated and add such a wonderful oomph of flavor! There will be other spices added to the list at some point, but right now those are the two.
It’s what makes making the preserves worthwhile.
Here’s a list of the preserves I’ve made so far and some stories behind them.
The list grows.
APPLE, RHUBARB, & CINNAMON
The preserve recipe that started it all!
It began with rhubarb—which, would you believe, is classified as a vegetable? I love rhubarb and whenever it’s available at farmers market I buy as much as I can, dice it, freeze it, and in the past used it in cobblers.
In September 2020 when I got the wild hair to start making preserves, I trolled the Internet for recipes that included rhubarb. Earlier in the year we had replaced our old refrigerator-freezer with a smaller one, and I was running out of room in the freezer compartment so I needed to find a preserves recipe that would use my many bags of frozen rhubarb. I found one that included apples and cinnamon. I gave it a try and even though, as mentioned earlier, it was more paste than spread, I was encouraged. Consistency in subsequent versions worked out better.
CHERRY, RHUBARB, & CINNAMON
Okay, time for me to ’fess up on a dirty little secret. I don’t like strawberries. Why? Basically, I grew up on the store-bought versions that had no taste. (I also don’t like chocolate, but that’s a whole ’nother story.) What I do like are cherries (and raspberries), and in fact I love cherries. So, in the runup to when all the fruit starts coming into season, I stock up on rhubarb. And it gets to the point where my wife cries in despair that we’re running out of room in the freezer. A valid point. My cherries come from the farmers’ market—as I mentioned, my preference is to get fruit there first. And, oh, the combination of sweet cherries, tart rhubarb, and an aftertaste of cinnamon . . .? Well, I think I hit a home run with this recipe. Seriously, I think this is my best ever.
APRICOT, RHUBARB, & CINNAMON
If ever there is a theme to my preserves making it’s what goes with rhubarb? Originally, I used rhubarb and the various fruits as they came into season in cobblers. The family loved them. This year I’ve stocked up on rhubarb so that it can last until I get to cranberry season, cranberries being my other go-to tart ingredient.
PLUM, RHUBARB, & CINNAMON
If I think my cherry, rhubarb, & cinnamon is my best, then the plum version is a very—and I mean very—close second. Oh, making this one was such a delight.
PEACH, RHUBARB, & CINNAMON
I’m playing around to see which combinations work best, not that there’s any real failure here. This recipe resulted in something milder than I expected. Still good.
DEANE’S BOSC PEAR & LIME
Why Bosc pear? Well, I like the flavor. More importantly, I lovehow easy Bosc pears are to peel! This is no small matter when you’re having to peel enough pears to make a four or five-jar batch (my usual batch cooking).
I liked the idea of adding lime juice because I thought the citrus kick would enhance the mild sweetness of the pear and the more complex sweetness of the Turbinado sugar (in this case I remembered which one I used—but don’t be surprised if I try it with Demerara). And, wow, the lime provides an after-taste kick that I find delightful.
Now, about “Deane.” She’s a wonderful woman who’s the wife of my longtime friend, editor, and former colleague, Howard Zimmerman (no relation). We used to work together as editors at a book packaging company, and I would joke about how ecumenical the company was, what with he being the Jewish Zimmerman and me being the Gentile Zimmerman. I gifted them some of my preserves over the 2020 holiday, one of them being the Bosc Pear & Lime. Deane wrote me a lovely email of praise of this preserve and put her money where her mouth was by placing an order for more! Her gracious act reminded me of an anecdote attributed to King Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales about the dessert Crepe Suzette. The prince was eating at a French restaurant and when it came time for dessert, the chef improvised a dessert crepe which the prince loved. When the chef was brought to him to tell the prince about it, the chef said it was new and suggested “Prince of Wales crepe” as its name. The prince graciously offered that instead it should be named after his dinner guest, Suzette. In the spirit of the Prince of Wales’ gesture, in honor of the wife of my dear friend, editor and former colleague, hereafter this flavor is named Deane’s Bosc Pear & Lime.
BOSC PEAR, CRANBERRY, & GINGERStarted this out as a seasonal thing. What I like is the combination of the pear and cranberry with the zing of freshly grated ginger.
APPLE, CRANBERRY, & GINGER
During Thanksgiving and Christmas I buy bags of cranberries and store them in the freezer. They’re my tart fall and winter alternative to rhubarb, which I buy, chop, bag, and freeze when it comes into season in the early spring. I have to say that this combination is another one that I love. The combination is marvelously complex, and the ginger adds a wonderful burst of flavor.
APPLE, MANGO, & GINGER
I was looking at the bowl of fruit, knowing that I had to use the handful of apples (Mutsu, McIntosh, and Sugar Crisp) before they went all mushy. The mangoes were ripe, and the ginger was calling. Okay, the ginger was just sitting there minding its own business. So, I pulled out the equipment and whipped up this combination. The ginger gives this preserves its kick.
BLUEBERRY & GINGER
This one was made with supermarket blueberries that were on sale. So, I added the ginger thinking it would give the preserves a zing. And, it did! There’s another ginger recipe in the list. As you can guess, I really love what ginger does.
CRABAPPLE & CINNAMON
Ah, crabapples! Just the word brings back one of the fondest memories of my childhood in North Dakota. Grandma Mabel, my paternal grandmother, had two trees, apple and crabapple, at her homestead farm in Wells county. It was the crabapple tree I loved most because its small, bright red apples were wonderfully hard and tart. And, being a kid climbing the tree, the best ones were always those picked from the highest branch and the furthest from the trunk.
When we traveled with Betsy up to the family vacation farm in Vermont (see the Upton Farm preserves entries), we’d make stops at two farmers markets along the way to get food. In the stop in the fall of 2020, one of the markets had on sale crabapples. Need I say more? And, if ever there were a harmonious taste marriage, it’s cinnamon with apple.
MANGO & LIME
Going into winter, I wanted to make something that evoked the sunny, warmer climes of the Caribbean. Actually the mangoes were on sale, and I thought, “What the hell, why not?” Ergo, this.
WINESAP APPLE & GINGER
With earlier batches, I didn’t identify the apples I used, even though with the exception of the above Apple, Mango, and Ginger recipe, I only used one type, either Mutsu, McIntosh, or Sugar Crisp. But with the Winesap apple, I decided I had to. Of all the types of apples (with the exception of the crabapple) Winesaps are my favorite. They have great texture and are tart. I liked the idea of marrying their flavor with that of ginger and Turbinado sugar. The result was an opening of the door to flavor heaven. And, that success led me to my next one that I think is even better. And that is . . .
WINESAP APPLE, CRANBERRY, & CINNAMON
This was originally planned to be a Winesap Apple, Cranberry, and Ginger preserve, but when I put my Maslin pan on the stove, I realized I had forgotten to grate the ginger, so I grabbed the container of ground cinnamon, and did the one-tablespoon substitute. Oh, and what a wonderful result it was! The tartness of the Winesaps and the cranberry proved complimentary and the cinnamon added a delightful depth. The result was another flavorful explosion in the mouth. It was fun to watch Joëlle wrack her brain as she sorted out the variety of flavors. Amazing, just four ingredients (Turbinado sugar being the fourth) produced such a wealth of flavorful delight. Damn, this is fun!
LEFTOVER APPLE, CRANBERRY, & CINNAMON PIE FILLING
This was the result of me having some leftover pie filling. (And in case you’re wondering, and even if you’re not, I make my own crusts. Secret ingredients are duck fat and vodka. I have very happy crusts. Seriously, the vodka works on the gluten and the duck fat takes the place of lard to help make a wonderfully flavorful and flaky texture.)
Where was I? Oh, yeah, this batch. Because there was too much to discard but not enough for another pie, I stored the leftover filling in the refrigerator. When I started putting together the ingredients for another batch of apple, cranberry, cinnamon preserves (and both the filling and preserves used Winesap apples), I remembered the pie filling leftovers and decided to throw them in.
The proportions for this batch are different: about 2/3 apple to 1/3 cranberry (otherwise it’s 50/50). Grandmama, Joëlle’s maternal grandmother, a French peasant woman who raised Joëlle’s mother and uncle in a country village in France during the German occupation in World War II (an experience that made her very frugal when it came to food and cooking) would be proud.
KEITT MANGO & CRANBERRY
Why Keitt mangoes and not the otherwise unspecified mango used in my Mango & Lime and Apple, Mango, & Ginger preserves? Because they were on sale! They also taste good, but truth to tell, they were on sale and the other mango (the Alice cultivar as I subsequently discovered) was not. So, into the shopping bag they went. Also, instead of Turbinado, for this batch I used Demerara sugar. Why? Again, it was on sale.
What I enjoyed is how the sweetness of the mango complimented the tang of the cranberry, creating a wonderfully mild and richly flavorful preserves.
MIXED FRUIT MASH-UP & CINNAMON
This was inspired by a freezer compartment crisis. There were bags of frozen fruit, in this case blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries that were taking up room that we needed for other food. Also, (with the exception of the cranberries) they had been in the freezer for a while and needed to be cooked or thrown out. Since not throwing out fruit is the whole reason why I started making preserves, guess what? I’m seeing this as being a catch-all category.
UPTON FARM APPLE & RASPBERRY
These are part of limited edition set of preserves with a special story.
Betsy, a teacher colleague of Joëlle’s, and her sister siblings are the owners of a vacation home in Vermont that was originally a sheep farm. The farmhouse is more than 200 years old and the property is in a beautifully scenic area. Betsy graciously invited us up there a number of times and we enjoyed cross-country skiing and other outdoor activities. Germane to Z Confiture she invited us in the early fall of 2020 at a time when the farm’s raspberry bushes and apple trees were full of ripe fruit. I was a kid in a candy store! I gathered as much fruit as I could to take back with me. When we got back to Brooklyn, I pulled out my Maslin pan (it’s designed for making preserves—expensive, but worth it), and went to work. Loved the result.
UPTON FARM APPLE & GINGER
I had some apples leftover after canning the apple/raspberry preserves, so I decided to make a batch with freshly grated ginger. Mmmmm!
Since then I've branched out and made pickled beets (very yummy!) and sauerkraut (a work in progress). Two years in and going strong.