It’s Friday. If you were to drop by, I’d be embarrassed, and I’d ask you to keep your shoes on! My kitchen is a disgusting mess of sticky peach residue. Every bowl, every surface, every button on the microwave is affected (I use it as a timer). Thirty half pints of peach jam stand sealed in my island. What will amount to seven pints of peach chutney currently simmers on the stovetop. I spent my morning peeling, pitting, and chopping half of the bushel of peaches I bought from a farmers market the other day. Although I haven’t the energy to deal with the remaining half bushel today, it will be destined for jarring in light syrup in the coming day or so.
If you’re not accustomed to making your own food on this scale, you undoubtedly think I’m nuts. But in my defense, once you endeavor to make food from scratch and avoid the over-processed, chemical laden products that have been mass produced for our convenience, you can never go back! You’re probably thinking, Ok, I get that. But who needs thirty jars of jam? You’re right, I don’t– I actually need much more than that. Several weeks ago, I made about thirty half pints of jam from freshly picked blueberries. And several small batches of strawberry and raspberry jam line the shelves in my basement. I make jam with whatever fruit is fresh and in season.
We eat it on toast and on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but most of our jam usage goes into flavoring and sweetening fresh homemade yogurt, made from raw milk from local farmers. With homemade jam containing little sugar and made from fresh fruit, and fresh yogurt, I know that my food is natural and that it contains nothing unnecessary.
Making jam is easy, and it’s a wonderful first project for anyone wanting to dip their toes into the world of food preservation. Some fruit, jars, some basic kitchen equipment that you probably already have, some pectin (and the recipe on the box/ jar!), and some common sense hygiene is all you need. You could add sugar to that list, but it isn’t necessary if you’re using a low/no sugar pectin. These types of pectins will set without sugar, and also allow the user to sweeten with honey, or another type of sugar alternative.
If you’re like me, you’ll start with a few batches of jam, perhaps move on to tomatoes (which are also very easy), and then experiment with other recipes such as salsas and chutneys, which like jam, do not require the use of a pressure canner to seal food safely. All of these foods can be processed in a boiling water bath!
Go ahead, make your own jam! You won’t be disappointed! The results yielded will be immeasurably tasty, and the satisfying feeling of achievement priceless. Whether you cook from scratch, grow a garden, purchase locally from neighborhood farms or farmers markets, preserve food on a small scale as a hobby, or are the verge of a complete do-it-yourselfer like me, we are participating in a culture of real food. We share an understanding of the true value of knowing where our food comes from and that it doesn’t have to contain an infinite list of unpronounceable ingredients or come in fancy, individually wrapped packages.
I invite you to get involved in the food revolution. Know your farmers, keep your money local. At the same time, you’ll be playing a role in sustainable agriculture, and avoiding participation in an industrialized food system driven by corporate interests and a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.
In his 2013 article, “Beyond the Barcode: The Local Food Revolution,” well-known food author Michael Pollan (author of bestselling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma) describes the benefits of a local food economy citing reasons both political and sentimental for the values of a local farmers market. Not only is a local food economy safer and less prone to contamination, but we start to eliminate the vast amounts of fossil fuels that are used to grow large monocultures of cash crops and the fuel it takes to transport these food products thousands of miles. Beyond that, Pollan says, farmers markets are vibrant spaces where people come together to connect to their food.
We like what happens socially at the farmer’s market, which is quickly emerging as the new public square in this country. If you compare what happens in the aisles at the grocery store with the farmer’s market, think about what a world of difference that is. At the farmer’s market country meets city. Children are introduced to where their food comes from. They learn often for the first time that a carrot is not a glossy orange bullet that comes in a plastic bag, but is actually a root. How amazing!
I’ve grown my own garden for the past fifteen years, there was always a garden when I was growing up. I remember my first garden when my husband and I first moved to Buffalo, NY from the Netherlands. It was a narrow patch of ground between the driveway and our side of the duplex we were renting. I grew only peppers and tomatoes. Across the driveway, in another duplex a mother lived with her three young children. I remember the oldest loved peppers, and he loved them raw! I remember even more his mothers reaction to this characteristic: She thought it was beyond strange, and commented that she didn’t know where he got that from. Anyway, this boy was fascinated with my pepper plants once the green fruits started growing. He was mesmerized. This was the first time he had seen a pepper growing, and had no concept of their origin beyond the grocery store produce shelf.
More recently, only a couple of months ago, friends of mine were visiting and I was showing them my (now much larger) garden at my home in Morris, NY. I saw the same fascination, the awe as one of them saw, for the first time, vegetables still growing on their plants. It reminded me of my neighbor boy in Buffalo. At the time, I had long let my asparagus grow for the summer, and she was amazed to see the plants in their non-spear state. She was so intrigued by the idea of where asparagus comes from that I was forced to search on my hands and knees through the tall plants to find an asparagus spear to show her.
We now grow all kinds of vegetables besides peppers and tomatoes, including a variety of summer squash, green beans and shell beans, greens that include different lettuces and mesclun, spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, melons, sweet corn and dent corn, fennel, leeks, carrots, beets, eggplants, potatoes, and various other things depending on the year and/or the season. Recently, we experimented with growing hull-less oats and spring wheat (a post for another day!). In a few weeks we will plant winter wheat for the first time. Our gardens are thriving diversities of vegetables, flowers, blueberries, strawberries, fruit trees, and hops. I love to grow things and there isn’t anything I won’t try once! I hope to instill this love of growing in my children, as well as the wisdom of knowing where their food comes from.