One of the things I love the most about summer is the fresh fruits and vegetables sold at farmer’s markets.
I love cutting a fresh tomato, after it’s chilled in the refrigerator, into wedges and sprinkling a little salt on them. The tomatoes from the grocery store are just not the same.
I also love fresh potatoes, onions, green beans, squash, okra and fruits. There is just something about produce that is freshly picked and grown by local gardeners that makes me want to give up meat for a vegetarian lifestyle.
This love for fresh produce comes from my grandmother. She would make the most delicious meals from all the farm freshness. Some of my happiest memories are of cooking and eating with my grandmother and family members.
She put such pride into her cooking and could whip up a hearty meal at the drop of a hat. Perhaps the produce is more of a feeling of nostalgia than just the taste, but it will be something I cherish for the rest of my life and something I hope my children will also continue for generations to come.
Out of all of my favorite things about produce, making my own homemade jams and jellies may take the cake.
During the summer months, I try to stock up on fruits, such as peaches, dewberries and mustang grapes. I will spend hours cleaning and preparing the fruits to freeze or boiling them for the juice, and then storing until we run out of the available jelly stock.
This began a dinner tradition of having homemade biscuits to smear the fresh batch of jelly on, and the banter between my grandmother and me about how I like to mix fruits together to make something unique while she is more of a traditionalist.
I have taken my jelly to fairs and markets to sell for a little extra money when I was a stay-at-home mom, but now I mostly keep it for my family to use and for teacher gifts. I pair the jellies with a package of biscuit mix, and teachers love the simple yet unique gift.
If you want to make your own jelly, here are some tips I have learned along the way.
All fruits will freeze pretty well, except for mustang grapes. To make grape jelly, you must have mustang grapes. I am not sure why, but I remember my grandmother being tickled over me bringing home tons of grapes I bought at the store, wanting to make jelly from them.
“You just can’t use those,” she told me, but she didn’t know why you can’t. I trust her wisdom so I never tried.
With the wild mustang grapes, place them in a colander and rinse them well. Pick out the ones that are nasty and put the rest in a large pot with enough water to just cover them. Boil for about an hour and then strain the juice from the fruit. You can then use the fruit to make jelly, or store it in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to make it.
I think Sure-Jel is the best brand of pectin, but you want to cook the jelly a little longer than recommended on the instructions in the box, to ensure a good set to the jelly.
Preparing your jars will make sure you get a good seal on it. I do this by heating some on the stove in about an inch of water. I also put the lids, not the rings, in the water to heat up. After you put the jelly in the warmed jars (to keep the jars from breaking, top it with the hot lid and the ring. You will hear the “button” in the center of the jar suck in as it cools).
The jars of jelly should keep for at least a year, but they don’t last that long in my house. However, the memories you develop over gathering the family together over a jar of jelly and a homemade biscuit will last a lifetime.
Jennifer Watson is a Herald correspondent.