1. Freezer Jam
With the bounty of summer upon us, it is a great time to involve our kids in harvesting and preserving seasonal produce.
Freezer jam is one of the easiest ways to make good use of seasonal goodies, and to get your kids in the kitchen. Believe me – when they slather their toast with homemade jam next January, they will remember with pride that they made it!
The basics: I am an avid canner, and my pantry is stuffed with jams, marmalades, sauces and canned fruit. But traditional water bath canning -- which involves sealing the mason jar and boiling it in a pot of water -- can be intimidating and time-consuming. So I've started making more recipes that can be frozen instead.
Freezer jam maintains a microbe-free environment because the jam is placed in a freezer-safe container and frozen -- for up to a year. You can then defrost (in the fridge or microwave) and use it within three weeks of opening the jam. It's also safer for kids to help, for obvious safety reasons.
The containers: There are plenty of plastic freezer jam jars at the grocery store (usually next to the pectin – Ball is a common brand), and they work very well. You can also use surplus Tupperware-style containers, or freezer safe glass mason jars. Using mason jars is a little trickier because they are glass, so make sure to use smaller containers (half pint or smaller) with straight sides and leave a good bit of headspace at the top of the jar (1/2 to 1 inch). Another tip is to leave the lids off until the jam is frozen to make sure that the jar won’t crack from expansion.
Recipes: Specific recipes for your jam will depend on the berry and brand of pectin you are using. In order to get a good firm jam, follow the directions that come with your pectin carefully. This recipe is for strawberry freezer jam using Ball Instant Pectin – for other berries or kinds of pectin, follow the directions on the pectin box.
- 5 cups crushed strawberries
- 6 T. Ball Freezer Jam Pectin (I like Ball’s Instant Pectin, sold in packets or jars with the purple label)
- 2 cups sugar or Splenda
- Mix pectin and sugar in a large bowl. Hull and wash your berries, crush them and add them to the pectin mix.
- Stir for three minutes. If you have one, a stand mixer is a great tool for this step.
- Ladle into freezer-safe jars (plastic, or freezer-safe small mason jars).
Preserve it: Let jam stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate or freeze. The Ball recipe says that this jam stores in the refrigerator for three weeks and the freezer for up to one year.
When you are ready to eat the jam, defrost it in the fridge, and keep it in the fridge for up to three weeks. I always label my frozen food and jams with the name and the date I made it. A sharpie and masking tape work well.
Kid participation: Kids can help measure and mix the sugar and pectin. If you have a kitchen scale, show them how to use it and let them help weigh the berries and other ingredients for an extra math lesson.
- They can help wash and hull berries – a butter knife works well. They may like to help chop strawberries with a butter knife or safety knife. Crushing berries and stirring the jam is also a great way to involve the kids.
- Don’t forget to let them run the kitchen timer for the three minute stirring session!
More resources: Find more than 60 freezer jam recipes on Ball's website. For more information on water bath canning and preserving, I highly recommend the website foodinjars.com, freshpreserving.com, or the government websites foodsafety.gov or The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
>>Next: Fruit Butter
2. Fruit Butter
I was new to fruit butters when I tried them last year, but they are a very easy, versatile form of thick jam (no actual butter involved). This is more a method than a recipe – and it is very simple. The directions here are inspired by the Food in Jars website. Recipes for fruit butter found in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.
- Enough chopped fruit to fill your slow cooker. Peaches, nectarines, blueberries, apples, pears, Italian prunes, plums all work well, single fruit or mixed. You can peel or not, at your preference.
- Sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup, Splenda)
- Roughly chop your fruit (peel if you’d like; I usually don’t). Put it in the slow cooker and close the lid, cooking on high for a few hours.
- When the fruit is soft, crush with a potato masher or use a handheld immersion blender (also called a “stick” blender) to roughly puree.
- Then, prop the lid of the slow cooker open a bit with a wooden spoon handle, drop the heat to low and let it cook 6-8 hours. Taste it periodically to check the texture, and add spices if you want (cinnamon is good!).
- Once the butter is thick enough for your liking, taste it and add a little sweetener if you want, in the amount you want.
Preserve it: Ladle the fruit butter into freezer-safe containers and freeze. Butters don’t have as much sugar, so they generally keep for about six months in the freezer.
Kid participation: Kids can help chop soft fruit and pull pits out of stone fruit and can help taste and judge how much sweetener to add.
- They can also be “time trackers” with a timer to keep an eye on the progress in the slow cooker.
- Older kids can help stir and ladle the finished jam into jars. You might also point out the volume of fruit at the beginning and at the end and talk about evaporation and how it concentrates the taste of the fruit.
Most people think of basil and pine nuts when they think of pesto. But pesto is very flexible, and can be adjusted according to what is in season and in your pantry.
Use up your extra spinach, or pack your pesto with kale and dandelion greens, among the most nutrient-packed veggies.
- One bunch of greens, well washed. This can be basil, spinach, baby kale, chard, young dandelion leaves (I get mine from my CSA box)
- One handful of nuts. Pine nuts are the traditional choice, but they are expensive and can be hard to find in some stores. I prefer almonds or walnuts.
- One-quarter cup olive oil
- One-half cup shredded Parmesan
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garlic to taste (usually 1-3 cloves)
Directions: Wash your greens well and drain them (the method for cleaning kale listed above is a good one).
- While the greens are draining, add the nuts, salt and garlic to your food processor and chop into very small pieces.
- Add the greens in three batches and chop to combine. Once the greens are in very small pieces, slowly add the olive oil in a stream until the sauce comes together.
- Add salt to taste and the Parmesan and pulse to combine. Eat immediately, or freeze for later!
Preserve it: Freeze it into dinner-sized portions -- it keeps for three days in the refrigerator and up to a year in the the freezer. I usually freeze it in freezer zip-top bags, or small mason jars. Defrost and add to noodles and rotisserie chicken for a quick and healthy meal -- and with the tastiness of the cheese, nuts and olive oil, kids don't realize they're eating tons of greens!
Kid participation: Kids can help wash and dry the greens, add the ingredients to the processor and push the buttons to pulse.
More resources: Read more about freezing pesto at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
>>Next: Refrigerator Pickles
4. Refrigerator Pickles
Refrigerator pickles are quick and easy, super-tasty, and keep for up to 2 months in the refrigerator.
Kid participation: Kids can help with washing, peeling and (if they are old enough) slicing the veggies, packing the veggies in the jars (counting garlic cloves is good practice) and measuring spices for the brine.
- Encourage them to smell each of the spices and the vinegar, as some of the spices may be a new experience. Adults should (obviously) handle boiling the brine and pouring the hot brine into the jars!
More resources: For more information and pickle recipes, see the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.
>>Next: Smoothie Pouches to Go
5. Smoothie Pouches to Go
If you are a smoothie fan with an excess of berries, freeze them in baggies with your favorite smoothie ingredients. The next time a smoothie craving hits your family, it will just take minutes to put it together.
- Wash and stem berries, and portion into freezer bags (for however many servings you want per bag) along with other smoothie ingredients, including bananas, yogurt, coconut milk, mangoes, pineapple, orange segments, spinach, kale, etc.
- When you are ready for your smoothie, dump the frozen smoothie into the blender, top with your liquid of choice (water, milk, etc.) and blend.
Kid participation: Kids can help wash and prepare the fruit, counting and portioning it into bags and sealing them.
- A kitchen scale is a useful tool for the portioning, and a great way to teach about measuring, weighing and tare.
- Involving children in the selection of the smoothie ingredients also gives them some investment in the final product (and hopefully more reason to finish the glass!).
About the author: Michelle Farris is mom to two (play-dough eating) preschoolers. She lives with her family in North Seattle and is a practicing attorney.