With more Alabama residents staying and working at home over the past year, many turned to growing their own food and then figuring out what to do with what their gardens produced. Many, predictably, turned to home-canning fruit jams, jellies, preserves and marmalades.
“Oh, my goodness, everyone wanted to grow a garden and then everyone wanted to know how to can,” said Angela Treadaway, regional extension agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Her office was overwhelmed with calls. Hundreds of people registered for the system’s online virtual workshops on canning and food preservation.
Why is making your own jams and jellies better than store-bought? “Because you know what’s in it,” she said. “There are no preservatives, and the freshness of it … there’s really no comparison.”
“The biggest problem is getting jars,” Treadaway said, noting the surge in home canning in 2020 led to a shortage of jars and lids in stores and online. “I hope it’s been solved by now.”
Here are some of her most-asked questions on jelly and jam-making.
Q: If mold appears on the top of my jelly, is it OK to scoop it off and use it?
A: No, that’s not a good idea. If it’s on the top, it’s in the whole product. It’s best to toss.
Q: What about paraffin wax to seal my jars?
A: This is not recommended and does not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. Even though the lid may seal, it’s not a permanent seal.
Q: Do I need a water bath canner?
A: You can use a large stock pot as long as it’s tall enough to have an inch of water at the top. You can use a towel or a rack on the bottom to hold the jars.
For more help, including video tutorials, visit aces.edu/blog/category/food-safety/. The Extension System offers “Tuesday Table Talks” workshops on the first Tuesday of each month on its Facebook page at facebook.com/acesfoodsafety. You can reach Treadaway at 205-410-3696.
Sharon Tucker created her winning recipe for Bacon Jam when she was invited to a party and needed to make something for a charcuterie board (a wooden board or platter with an assortment of meats, cheeses and often nuts, fruits, pickles and other condiments). She decided to make Bacon Jam, so she went online for a recipe and found six.
Tucker selected ingredients from a half-dozen recipes — and added her own special ingredients, cocoa and balsamic vinegar — when developing her version of Bacon Jam. The result is a winner.
“I wrote down everything that was the same and that was different in each one,” Tucker says, and then she created her own version by picking and choosing the ingredients she liked. Plus some extra touches, like the cocoa. “One recipe called for coffee,” she says. “Well, I hate coffee, but cocoa complements coffee, so I used that instead.” She’s also a fan of balsamic vinegar, so that went in, too.
Tucker took her newly created Bacon Jam to the party “and everyone loved it.” She’s emphatic about the need to use three pans while cooking the bacon: “You need one for crispy, one for chewy and one for ‘just right.’” Tucker uses cast iron skillets for her perfectly cooked bacon and advises to keep an eye on it when it’s cooking to avoid burns.
• 1½ pounds bacon (high quality), cut into 1-inch pieces
• 2 tablespoons olive oil (as needed for moist onions)
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 tablespoon bacon drippings
• 1 tablespoon black pepper
• 2 large sweet onions, halved and sliced
• 1/3 cup American Honey Bourbon
• 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon cocoa
• ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if you’re heat sensitive)
• 1½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Cook bacon over medium heat in three batches: one tender, one crispy and one in between. Remove bacon and set aside. Use bacon drippings, olive oil and butter to sauté onion with black pepper until caramelized, stirring often. Don’t overcook onion. Spoon out excess oil. Add bourbon to caramelized onions to deglaze pan. Add brown sugar, cocoa, cayenne pepper and garlic, stirring well to coat onions. Add bacon pieces and cook until thick on a low simmer, about 10 minutes. Add balsamic vinegar. Stir until well blended and simmer a few more minutes. Serve warm. Pairs well with feta cheese.
Some of our favorite things are always made better by jams, jellies, marmalades and chutney — biscuits, fried veggies, cornbread, you name it. Heck, you can drizzle some pepper jelly over cream cheese and eat it on a cracker, and it will be one of the best things you will ever eat.
What if we took that sweet concept and made it savory? This Bacon Chutney recipe does that. Chutney is different from jam. Jam has only one means of preservative, and that is sugar. Chutneys are cooked and preserved with some savory ingredients along with the sweet. For example, jam is sugar-based with granulated sugar and/or pectin. Chutney’s base does include sugar, but also incorporates some type of vinegar. For this recipe, we use apple cider vinegar. We love this chutney on fried squash and zucchini. Truthfully, it’s also great on a cracker or just by the spoonful. Give it a whirl today and see what we mean. A little twist with a whole lot of flavor.
The Buttered Home’s Bacon Chutney has a significant savory component, courtesy of apple cider vinegar, along with sugar. It works well with vegetables as well as crackers.
• 1 pound of bacon, cut into small pieces
• 1½ cup chopped onion
• 3 tablespoons minced garlic
½ cup apple cider vinegar
• ½ cup brown sugar
• ¼ cup maple syrup
• ¾ cup brewed coffee
• ½ cup chopped red bell pepper
Cook bacon until well done. Drain using a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon grease in large skillet. Heat skillet and grease and add in onion, garlic and red bell pepper. Cook for 5 minutes on low/medium heat, stirring often to prevent garlic from burning.
Add apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, syrup and coffee carefully to onion mixture. Bring to a boil and scrape the pan to deglaze all those yummy bits of bacon. Continue to boil for 2 to 3 minutes.
Add bacon and lower heat to low for just a slight simmer. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30-45 minutes until it begins to thicken. You will know when it is ready as almost all of the liquid has evaporated and you are left with a thick syrup consistency.
Allow to cool and transfer to an airtight container. I love keeping mine in a jelly jar in the fridge. Allow to cool completely and store in refrigerator for 1-2 weeks, if it lasts that long.
Not-Too-Sweet Pear Jam
• 7-8 cups ground pears (about 12 pears)
• ¾ cup sugar
• 2 apples, reserve peelings
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
Peel and grind pears in food processor in two or three batches. Pour into saucepan, add sugar and boil 8-10 minutes. Make a bag of cheesecloth, add apple peelings, tie with kitchen string, add to pears and boil 3 more minutes. Remove peelings, which have provided natural pectin to help the jam jell. Add vanilla and stir well. Pour into sterilized jelly glasses. Fills nine 8-ounce jars.
Easy Fig Jam
2 small boxes Jell-O (choice of flavor)
3 cups ripe figs, mashed
3 cups sugar
Mix all together; stir while you bring to a boil in a heavy pot. Boil four minutes while stirring. Skim off top, if needed. Pour jam in sterilized jars and seal down. Makes 8 half-pint jars. Cook’s note: Strawberry Jell-O makes the figs taste like strawberries. I have used less sugar and boiled it a few minutes longer, but be careful; it will be too thick.