If you’ve got a garden of your own, there can be some times when your summer fruit and vegetable harvest comes in at a seemingly exponential rate. Or maybe you’re like me and whenever you head to the farmers’ market, your impulses kick in and you feel compelled to buy all the produce. Either way, instead of forcing yourself to eat bushels of berries, stone fruits, and melons before they turn, it’s a good idea to set aside some of your haul for making preserves—you’ll thank yourself for it months later in the dead of winter when the taste of ripe produce is nearly a distant memory.
Preserves wouldn’t be preserves without three key components: pectin, sugar, and acid. Pectin, a fiber found in all plants, is what helps give jams and jellies their nice, thick consistency. Too little of it, and you’ll wind up with syrup on your hands. Too much, and you might get a hard, jiggly blob that refuses to do much of anything. Even once you’ve managed to strike the right balance in between, pectin still doesn’t work its magic easily. This is why sugar and acid are necessary to complete the equation. Not only do they make it easier for pectin molecules to bond, they’re also key in preventing spoilage. Fruits and veggies already have all three of these players in them naturally, but to varying degrees, so the extent to which you’ll need to add in more of each to your preserves depends on the material you’re working with.
If you intend on keeping your preserves for the long term, it’s also important to take the full steps to clean and heat each container. To start, you’ll need jars that have been thoroughly washed with soap and hot water. They’ll also need to spend some time in a bath of simmering water, once before you start filling them up and once after they’re filled and sealed—this helps kill off any harmful bacteria that might be hanging around. Following these steps is a must because, well, let’s just say better safe than sorry.
Canning can easily become an obsession because doing it well is something of an art, revolving around that quest to find the perfect balance between sweetness, acidity, and consistency. It’s also an opportunity to get creative with flavor combinations and more. To help you get started, here are nine preserves recipes that highlight summer’s bounty in especially imaginative ways.
1. Fragrant Blueberry Jam
Blueberries are low in pectin, but that can be fixed with a little help from the addition of apple peel, which has it in spades. Not only does it help the jam reach the right consistency, the peels add an extra layer of fruity aroma and fragrance. Get our Fragrant Blueberry Jam recipe.
2. Spicy Peach Jam
Peaches may be all fuzzy and sweet (literally and figuratively), but that doesn’t mean they can’t get a little fiery, too. This jam packs in a kick by using pequin chilis, which deliver a direct, prickly heat. Get the recipe here.
3. Blackberry Sage and Lime Freezer Jam
If you lack the equipment to can with boiling water (or are just feeling a bit lazy), a freezer jam will be right up your alley. This particular recipe enhances blackberries’ tart flavor with the herbal aromatics of sage. Get the recipe here.
4. Hot, Sweet Plum Chutney
This chutney likes to have it both ways: it’s sweet enough to enjoy like a jam, yet it also packs enough of a tangy, spice-accented punch to pair well with meats and other savory items. Get the recipe here.
5. Cherry Preserves with Honey and Rosemary
The sweetener in your recipe doesn’t have to come from just sugar. Feel free to experiment with ingredients like honey. Here, it adds a fragrant bouquet to cherry jam, along with some help from piney rosemary. Get the recipe here.
6. Watermelon Jelly
Watermelon is every bit as cooling and juicy in the jar as it is by the slice. Use it to jazz up salad or plop it on scones or pound cake. Get the recipe here.
7. Raspberry Apricot Jam
When put together, raspberries and apricots have a nice balance between mouth-puckering tartness and mellow sweetness. But what really rounds out that duo here is the addition of elderflower liqueur, which provides a floral touch and balancing sweetness. Get the recipe here.
8. Jalapeno Jelly
A spicy jam is the perfect way to use up an overflowing crop of hot peppers. A little bit grassy and a little bit sweet (and with plenty of fire, too), it goes nicely on sandwiches and more. Get the recipe here.
9. Tomato Jam
This jam uses tomatoes’ savoriness to create some intense contrasts. Not only is it matched against the molasses-y edge of brown sugar, it also gains an extra dimension from cumin, black pepper, and cinnamon. Get our Tomato Jam recipe.
Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.