Monday, June 23, 2014

Put 'Em Up! Preserving Answer Book

Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing Sherri Brooks Vinton's Put 'Em Up! Fruit. After a day of blueberry picking with my nephews, I also whipped together the most perfect blueberry jam from that same cookbook. I'm sold on Vinton's talents when it comes to preserving and canning and was pleased to find a copy of her newest book Put 'Em Up! Preserving Answer Book in the mail recently for me to review.

The book isn't exactly a cookbook (it only includes 17 recipes), but what it lacks in recipes it makes up for with useful tips for all manners of food preservation, from freezing to canning to drying and more. The book is very useful for any novice in the field, because it really does address all concerns when it comes to food preservation. Would it be as useful to an advanced canner? I'm not sure since I myself am not advanced in this department.

I like knowing that I can reference this book as needed the next time I have questions. The book even includes a handy chart on page 147 for various ingredients and how long they can be safely frozen. I'm shocked to learn that I can freeze certain items longer than I expected.

As someone who has intentions to learn more about canning, experimenting with more recipes throughout the year, especially when I'm faced with a surplus of fresh ingredients, I think this is a great guide to add to my bookshelf. I won't be turning to it nearly as much as some of my other cooking references, but it won't stray very far, especially in the summer when fresh fruits are abundant!

Today I will be sharing a couple excerpts from the book addressing some common concerns. The first is regarding replacement sweeteners. I actually had someone recently leave a comment on one of my fruit preserve recipes asking about substituting honey. I know cutting back on sugar is often a concern, so I definitely wanted to include this particular question from the book.

The second excerpt I've included is regarding a problem I've personally had in the past, where my fruit essentially floated to the top of the jar and wasn't evenly distributed once I processed the jars. There are TONS of great tips throughout the book for anyone interested in preserving foods and it's definitely worth checking out if you plan on canning, freezing, drying, fermenting, making infusions, and more.

Q: Can I use other sweeteners besides white sugar?

A: Yes and no. Some home preservation processes, such as making classic jams and jellies, require sugar to get a good set. Without sugar, you won't get the proper jelled consistency.

Sugar also acts to preserve texture and color, so canned items made without it or with reduced amounts may dull in color or become too soft to be considered successful. This applies to sweet spreads and pickles as well.

That being said, eaters who prefer to limit their sugar intake often find the trade-off worthwhile and are willing to step away from what many would consider "perfect jam" if it means they can enjoy more of it. For such eaters, quick jams that use commercial pectin are the answer. Low-methoxyl (LM) pectin, which relies on calcium to gel rather than sugar, can be used in low-or even no-sugar spreads. You can also use alternative sweeteners such as stevia, agave syrup, and honey with this kind of pectin.

Artificial sweetneners, such as aspartame and sucralose, often take on a bitter flavor when cooked and are not recommended.

Q: How can I keep my jam from separating into fruit on the top and clear jelly on the bottom?

A: You are experiencing the dreaded "fruit float." It occurs when the air present in the cell walls of the produce hasn't cooked out because the food has been lightly cooked or not cooked at all. This trapped air causes the fruit to bob to the top of the canning jars during processing. Fruit float often settles over time in whole fruits but is very noticeable in jams, where the gelled texture prevents the fruit from redistributing over time. Here are a few ways to avoid it in your spreads:

- Cutting or mashing fruit or cooking it for an extended period of time is a good way to minimize fruit float. The mechanical process physically breaks the cell walls of the fruit, releasing the air that is trapped in them.

- Avoid overripe fruit, which tends to float more than just-right fruit.

- It is also most beneficial to cool your jam, just slightly, before ladling it into your jars; this gives the jam a chance to thicken to a point that will better suspend the fruit. Giving your jam a good stir for 5 minutes after you take it off the heat ought to do it.

- If you still have fruit float, you can flip your jars temporarily to give the fruit a chance to redistribute before the preserves set into their gelled texture. Wait until the seals have begun to form but the jam is still warm in the jars--1 1/2 to 2 hours after you remove them from the boiling water--and then invert them until cooled. Return the jars to their upright position for long term storage.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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