Before you dismiss homemade jelly and jam-making due to lack of spare time or the ease of picking up a ready-made jar in the supermarket, please keep reading. I believe I can convince you to partake of this centuries-old tradition and live to tell about it.
First, believe me when I say the enhanced flavor of fruit jelly made from three ingredients: the freshest berries, sugar and pectin (versus a long list of unpronounceable additives and preservatives) is undeniably better than anything you’ll purchase in the supermarket. There’s nothing like opening a steaming hot biscuit and adding a large spoonful of fresh, preservative-free jelly. The same goes for toast, the perfect foil for a layer of jewel-colored layer of jam or jelly.
Full disclosure: Making my own jams and jellies is something I vowed as a child I’d never do. This promise to myself was made while watching my grandmother and mother labor over pots of bubbling liquid before pouring it into steaming jars in the middle of a hot Mississippi summer.
Fast forward to today and I truly enjoy preserving the best of summer’s bounty and presenting gifts of pickles, tomato sauce and jelly from my kitchen. Thanks to the freezer, it’s something you can do all year long after making the required juice and freezing it.
Last spring, I drove to Foxworth in Marion County when a complete stranger advertised “free mayhaws” online to anyone who wanted to pick them. Sadly, most of the berries had fallen onto the ground and been picked over by birds by the time I arrived. But it’s a clear illustration of the lengths to which I’ll go to find fresh berries. I’m still on the lookout, so if you know where mayhaws can be purchased (or picked for free) this spring, please drop me an email.
Learning berries can be frozen whole allowed me to make a batch of muscadine jelly from thawed berries last week. A friend gifted them to me last fall but I couldn’t find time to devote to jelly-making. Instead, I popped them into the freezer. A few months later, I honestly couldn’t detect a difference in the taste of the frozen berries and those straight from the vine.
Besides the benefits of making a product whose ingredients you can control, there’s something undeniably Southern about keeping alive a culinary art from the past. And, there’s the joy of looking into your pantry and seeing the bounty of summer preserved for the winter.
As mentioned, jewel-toned jars of jelly were the fruits of last weekend’s labor. This weekend, it’s time to move on to pound cake. It’s another Southern classic that often intimidates novice bakers who quell at the thought of correctly mixing, stirring and baking a heavy batter that’s known to be temperamental.
I’ll admit to experiencing doubts I’d ever be able to create a foolproof pound cake that didn’t fall flat or taste strange due to any number of things that can go wrong during the mixing process, ranging from stale baking powder to lumpy butter. But my courage increased after a cooking instructor stated, “It’s only flour, milk and butter — the simplest of ingredients. If it fails, throw it away and start another one.”
So, I’ll leave you with two pieces of advice: scout out fresh berries in coming months as they become available and try your hand at jelly-making. Email me if you’d like my recipes. And secondly, try my Five-Flavors Pound Cake, an old-school recipe given to me by a hospital chef that always draws rave reviews. If it fails, “throw it away and start another one.”
FIVE-FLAVORS POUND CAKE
2 sticks butter
3 cups sugar
1 cup milk
5 eggs, beaten
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
1 teaspoon each of vanilla, lemon, rum, coconut and butter flavoring
■ Cream butter, shortening and sugar in mixer. Add eggs one at a time. In a small bowl, combine flour and baking powder. To mixer, add dry ingredients and milk alternately. Bake in a greased and floured tube pan for 1-1/2 hours at 300 degrees.
■ To make glaze: combine flavorings, sugar and water in heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is melted. Pour over hot cake while it’s still in the pan. Let set until cake is cool.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at [email protected]