By Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD
I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love a peanut butter sandwich. Some of my earliest food memories involve making my own peanut butter and chocolate sprinkle sandwich after school. (Warm it for 10 seconds in the microwave – trust me on this.) These days, I’m still a big-time peanut butter sandwich lover and usually enjoy my PB with fresh sliced bananas, or even savory with some pickled vegetables, torn basil and a sprinkle of sriracha. But there’s really nothing more nostalgic and tastier to me than a peanut butter sandwich made with homemade jam or jelly.
I’ve been making homemade jams and jellies for about 15 years now. Born out of necessity – a very abundant supply of produce from my garden – I learned to prepare and can a bunch of sweet and acidic foods to preserve the harvest throughout the year. Whenever I post on social media about my jam making activities, I realize how uncommon it has become, but the truth is, it’s easy! You just need a few things to make your own jam or jelly and a good guidebook. Here’s a quick run-down of the basics:
Equipment: To make jam, you need a heavy bottomed pot (like a Dutch oven), wooden spoon, ladle, large pot for canning (the size depends on how many jars you want to can at once), glass canning jars, canning lids and bands, jar lifter, wooden skewer or knife to remove bubbles, and a funnel. To make jelly, you will also need a way to strain your fruit, such as a fine mesh strainer and cheese cloth or a jelly strainer. You can buy a starter kit for about $20 online that will include everything you need.
Instructions/Recipes: You also need a good canning cookbook. Most canners will agree that the go-to resource is the Ball Blue Book, which is available for purchase. A great free resource is the National Center for Home Food Preservation website, hosted by the University of Georgia. At this website, you can find free recipes and step-by-step instructions for preserving all sorts of food, including jams and jellies.
Edible Goodies: Depending on the number of jars you plan to make, you will need peeled, washed, and prepared fruit (fresh or frozen can be used), granulated sugar, lemon juice, and pectin. You can also get fancy with spices, herbs, and even liquors, but be sure to follow a recipe to keep your creation safe – especially when you’re learning.
Time: Making jam and jelly isn’t hard, but it does take time. I usually set aside at least 2 hours, but it can take closer to 4 hours depending on the size of the batch I’m making.
That’s it! Once you decide what you want to make and assemble your ingredients, you’re ready to make your first batch. Homemade jams and jellies can help you use up abundant fruit and vegetables this time of the year – and they give you incredible flexibility to create unusual flavors too. You can add herbs and spices, mix with spirits, and combine fruits to achieve your own inspired creations. This season, I’ve made blackberry brandy jam (with foraged and homegrown blackberries), Georgia peach jam with a touch of ginger, and foraged-muscadine butter. In the past, I’ve made lavender-infused blueberry jam, lime-kiwi jam, and even margarita jam (yes, with real tequila). This season I still have plans to make a small batches of jalapeño & serrano pepper jam, sweet cherry tomato preserves (they’re a fruit, after all), and vanilla strawberry jam.
Here are some of my favorite pairings for tasty, not-so-common jams and preserves that make for tasty meals or can up your appetizer game:
- Blackberry Brandy Jam with creamy peanut butter slathered on seeded bread (open faced) with a drizzle of chili-spiced honey
- Warm brie cheese topped with gingery Georgia peach jam (add grated fresh ginger, if using store-bought without it) and chopped salted peanuts served with whole grain crackers for dipping
- Mix peanut butter with spicy jalapeño pepper jam and a touch of warm water for super quick, delectable sauce for dipping vegetables or tossing with noodles
- Spread fig preserves on naan, top with blue cheese and heat for 5-10 minutes in a hot oven, then serve warm topped with chopped peanuts, chives, and cilantro or arugula
I know that not everyone has the time or ability to make their own jam or jelly (e.g. not everyone has space for all that equipment!), so here’s a list of four of my favorite super tasty off-the-shelf jams.
- Blackberry Patch – I adore the Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves they make.
- Unicoi Preserves – Try the Vineyard Spread for something really unique.
- Smucker’s Fruit Spread – So many options from low-sugar to honey to interesting blends like in the Mosaics line.
- Bonne Maman – My favorite flavor is the Cherry Preserves
- Mercier Orchards – The apple jelly is one of my favorites to mix directly with peanut butter for a sweet spread.