When we think of homemade preserves and spreads, we often picture the sweet fruits of summer, like berries and cherries. But they can be so much more, especially in fall. Late-ripening tomatoes and peppers and fall-harvested onions, apples, and plums are just a few of my favorite ingredients in jams, jellies, and other spreads.
You might be thinking, “Do you really put vegetables in jam?” Yes, I do! These savory spreads are thick with flavor but not as sweet as spring and summer spreads. Because many of the vegetables are low in acid, they need to be treated differently from fruit preserves. Some have a fair amount of sugar, some are heavy on vinegar or another acidic ingredient, and many use a combination of both to create a sweet and savory blend that’s safe to process in a boiling water bath.
Preserves and spreads come in many styles, from almost liquid to smooth to chunky, and carry a range of names. Before sharing some of my favorite recipes with you this month, I’ll cover some of the variations in name and style.
Jam is probably the most well-known type of spread. Everything stays in it: juice, flesh, and sometimes even seeds and skin. You usually cut, chop, or puree the produce; add sugar and perhaps pectin; and then cook until the mixture “sets,” forming a gel that holds it together. I like soft-set jams, which are easy to spread. Hard-set jams that you could stand a spoon in usually have a lot more sugar, used extra pectin, and/or cooked at ultrahigh temps. The variations include conserves, which often have a mix of fresh and dried fruits and nuts.
Juice equals jelly—juice and sugar, that is. When well made, jelly is beautifully colored and often clear, although some versions are opaque. Some jellies are made with enough sugar, pectin, and sometimes acid that you can cut them with a knife; again, I prefer softer versions that spread easily but are not as soft as syrup.
I learned about marmalade as a kid before I ever ate it, thanks to Paddington Bear. It’s a variation on jelly, traditionally made from citrus with solids, fruit, and/or peel suspended in it. Today, you’ll find a range of preserves and recipes labeled “marmalade”: some use the same techniques to suspend the solids, some combine citrus with other ingredients, and some just carry the slight bitterness typical of citrus-heavy spreads.
When it comes to savory spreads, you have to reach past jams and jellies to chutneys. Andrew Wheeler makes the case at Serious Eats, calling chutney “something like relish, something like jam” and emphasizing that the Western versions are just a slender slice of the chutneys served in India. I love them because for safe canning, you cut the sugar with vinegar and cook until they are thick, concentrating the tart and sweet flavors.
Relishes toe the line between sweet preserves and tangy pickles. Most people make relish so that they can use up less-than-perfect produce. But it has plenty of other virtues that make it more than just chopped pickles, and it can be made with fruits and vegetables. Relish is the chunkiest spread in my grouping, but it is still spreadable. It also has the most bite, putting it on the opposite end of the sweetness scale from jelly.
Twice as Tasty
This month, I’ll share some of my favorite recipes in each of my spread categories, using fall vegetables and fruits. Next week, I’ll focus on what to do with those tomatoes and zucchini that are coming by the boxload out of the garden. I’ll also share some of the prettiest preserves you’ve ever seen based on peppers and plums. Later in the month, I’ll give you two ways to jar up red onions, one sweet and one tart. Happy fall!
Want to play with more variations? Twice as Tasty teaches these techniques in workshops held in your own kitchen, among friends—and with my personal help. Click here to learn more.