Dirt Therapy: Using Summer Crops for Homemade Holiday Gifts

Nothing tastes better than homemade jams or preserves.  If you're lucky enough to have a fruit tree or vegetable garden this summer, now is the time to consider making jams from your abundant harvest.  If you don't have the space for a fruit and vegetable garden this is the time to purchase seasonal produce from your local farms or organic markets. Think of all the yummy delights you can have on hand all year from apricot preserves to tomato jam. Canning food is a time to connect with your food, garden, and bring the family together with a project that can turn out to become an annual tradition any time of the year. Jamming has become a tradition in our family since our children were little.  This is a great opportunity to teach a skill that will benefit your kids for years to come. Over the past years every June our family Apricot tree would explode at the same time of the month all within a few days.With all hands on deck it was time to get working, quickly as the ripening of fruit is ready to be picked.With the kids in tow, I’d bring out the necessary tools  to get our project started, ladders, buckets, gloves and loppers to prune those lovelies into the buckets. Next stop the kitchen equipment and canning items. Not always ready to help, once the kids saw all the equipment the fun really begun. All of us would take a turn in clipping and gathering which can take a few hours depending on fruit yields. From this task, the collections are brought into the house for inspection and washing.  While I was preparing the pots, jars and tools for canning, the kids had the chore of inspecting, washing and de-pitting.

Our kitchen counter transformed into a factory with jars & lids lined up, pots filled with fruit cooking on the stove, crazy canning tools and readily oven mitts so you wouldn't burn your hands from the hot water. We each took turns stirring the sweet apricot liquid getting it ready for the moment to pour into its final place.  Once sealed each jar got labeled and cooled in the refrigerator a few weeks, then stored in a dark cabinet. Our apricot tree yielded close to 1 bushel of apricots or 48 lbs making 32-48 pints of the best jam. Holiday gifts, shared with family and friends, became an instant success made as a labor of love from our summer crop

Here is what you'll need  to get you started to make your own Jams and preserves.  The good news most of the equipment you'll need for canning is already in your kitchen:

Dutch oven for cooking, chopsticks for getting air bubbles out of can, kitchen timer , food processor ,food thermometer, bowls for mixing and holding fruit, ladle, oven mitts, measuring cups, wooden spoons for stirring,sharp knives for cutting and peeling, tongs for lifting hot jars out of pot, slotted spoon for draining excess liquid,strainer for seeds.

Equipment you may need to purchase:

Canning jars, lids and rims.  They come in several sizes depending on what you are canning. For jams, half pints and 4 oz are best. Water bath canner with rack which fits half pint and quart jars or large pot will do for small batches. You must have a rack on the bottom so the jars don't crack.  A jar lifter, so you don't burn your hands getting the jars out and lastly a canning funnel for pouring.

A few helpful tips for beginners:

  1. Get all your tools and ingredients out before you get started.
  2. Allow enough time for it!  Canning is a fun activity but there is no doubt that it is time intensive. Save it for the weekends.
  3. Stick the the recipe, there is a whole science behind this, making sure enough acidity in the food to keep bacteria away.
  4. Can with your kids or a buddy! There’s a lot of work to do gathering, cleaning, skinning, chopping, cooking and canning it. It goes by fast when you have someone to keep company.
  5. If you can, learn from someone with more experience than you. Find out how this weekend.

Come to a Free Jam and Preserves at Reata Park & Event Center  in San Juan Capistrano.

Learn the basics and everything you need to know to make jams and preserves and get your Holiday gifts started!

Hosted by Goin Native Therapeutic Gardens and taught by the UCCE Master Preservers of Orange County. Saturday July 23 from 9:30-10:30am Reata Park. Please email marianne@goinnative.net to reserve your seat.

Simple Marianne Apricot Recipe

10 cups ripe apricots (about 2 1/2 pounds)

1/2 cup sugar

juice of 1 lemon

splash of water

No pectin, almost no sugar!

Wash, halve and pit the apricots. Place all ingredients in a saucepan over high heat (no lid). When it starts to bubble, turn the burner down to the lowest heat setting. Cook 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.

If you like a thicker jam, spoon off the watery liquid several times mid-way through cooking (save for another purpose).

Re-use some store-bought jam jars, place in the refrigerator for up to two weeks (if it lasts that long!).

Makes about 3 1/2 cups.