Tuesday, July 19, 2011

So, What's The Difference?

I recently had a Facebook fan ask the question, "So what's the difference in jams, preserves, marmalade's....and all the other names they have for jelly like substances?"
What a great question. And, up until a few years ago, I'd have answered, "beats me". Fortunately, I've passed many a sticky season since then. After washing, hulling, mashing, straining, pureeing, stirring, and ladling acre after acra of produce I feel confident in answering the often confusing, but always tasty conundrum of, "what's the difference".

Jams are what I like to refer to as the gateway drug of canning. They are great for beginners. The work is minimal and the results are extraordinary to the virginal canner as they cautiously and nervously begin their descent down that slippery slope of addiction. Once the almost finished product has reached its gel stage they can't believe that they did it! They really, really did it!
And, the high one gets at hearing the pinging of those jars sealing just can't be beat! They begin looking around the kitchen with eyes glossy to see what else they can have a go at. Pretty soon they're making excuses when Saturday brunch invites go out just to hit up the local farmer's market. I know. I've been there.
Mirriam Webster defines jam as "a food made by boiling fruit and sugar to a thick consistency". Obviously, being a word smith didn't allow for much time in the kitchen so the definition isn't entirely true. Aside from fruit and sugar, you'll need pectin. Pectin is naturally occurring in the cell walls of fruits and veggies. That's where lemon juice comes into play. For making jams all you really need is mashed fruit, fresh lemon juice or a bit of Granny Smith apple, and sugar. And, sometimes water. Basically, jam is thick, gooey, and has noticeable bits of fruit suspended in it.
Jellies are a little more work. My Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving refers to jelly as "a preserver's jewel". By cooking down the fruit of your choice, then transferring fruit and juices to a jelly bag and letting set over a bowl over night you get a beautiful, elegant spread of gelled juice. Homemade jellies are far superior to store bought jellies. If done properly they are not only eye catching, but full of flavor.
Once more consulting my good buddy Webster, I find he has marmalades listed as "a clear sweetened jelly in which pieces of fruit and fruit rind are suspended". That makes sense. I always use thin, half moon slices of lemons for my strawberry lemon marmalade and my orange marmalade. I even used lime rinds in my strawberry limeade marmalade.
Preserves are kind of the show offs of the jam world. They contain whole fruit or large pieces of fruit suspended in jellies. In my arsenal of canned goods, I'd be hard pressed to part with my preserves. There is nothing that makes an evening of entertaining look more elegant or time consuming than a dessert with glistening preserves draped across. And, nothing could be farther from the truth. A hastily bought cake can be dressed up in seconds with a jar of preserves with none the wiser. Trust me, preserves will never let you down.
So, what's the difference? Well, there are subtle differences in each, but also a kindred spirit amongst them all. There's fruit, sugar, and pectin. But, most of all there's a desire to create. There's a desire to see something from its most primitive stage step into something a bit more elegant, if you will. It's taking the raw and refining it, all by yourself.

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