Putting Up the Harvest with The Preservatory
With lots of fresh fruits and vegetables arriving in the garden, we're seeking ways to preserve seasonal produce and enjoy it all year long. For tips on making the most of our harvest, we turned to the expert: jam master Lee Murphy. Lee and her husband Patrick own The Preservatory and Vista D'oro Farms & Winery in British Columbia, where she makes delicious, in-season jams and preserves using locally grown fruit. In her new book, The Preservatory, she shares 55 recipes for freshly-made preserves, plus 45 recipes for using them in sweet and savory dishes alike. We recently caught up with Lee to talk all things preserves. She also shared her tips for canning in Weck, plus a favorite recipe for early fall: preserves made with Spicy Sweet Charred Onion and Figs.
terrain: What sparked your interest in making preserves?
Lee: I started making preserves out of necessity. When we moved to the farm in 1997, my husband began planting orchards. He went a little crazy, and we had to do something with all the fruit! We started putting it into jars, and that began to sell better than the fresh fruits themselves. What I like most about making preserves is the creative process. I love being able to play with the flavors, and create products that are super versatile to cook with.
terrain What fruits and vegetables do you like to work with in August?
Lee: Pear is my favorite fruit this time of year. It's one of my favorites to preserve as well, even though it's a little bit harder than many fruits because it doesn't have a lot of natural pectin. August is also a great time for plums. Yellow plums arrive first (I love to mix them with turmeric and chili), followed by Italian plums closer to September. On the vegetable side, there are lots of tomatoes! I love heirloom tomatoes with chili, or green tomatoes with garam masala.
terrain: Do you have any tips for cooks who are making preserves for the first time?
Lee: There are no failed jams! People are really concerned about their jam setting; that shouldn't be a problem if you start with a good recipe, but don't worry if it doesn't work. If your jam doesn't set, put it in the fridge and use it as a topping for ice cream and desserts. People also worry about safety, but canning is actually very safe as long as you sterilize!
terrain: We're big fans of Weck jars for all kinds of uses in the kitchen. Do you have any tips for canning in Weck?
Lee: Due to their glass lids, Weck jars are a little different to work with. I love all the different shapes, and their aesthetic is really appealing. We don't use them for our commercial preserves, but I often choose them when I make things at home. When you're processing preserves in Weck, watch the little orange tab on the rubber ring. When it drops down, the jar is sealed. If the tab doesn't drop, you can still enjoy your preserves -- just keep them in the fridge!
terrain: Can you tell us a bit about the Spicy Sweet Charred Onion & Figs recipe? What are some of your favorite pairings for these preserves?
Lee: Commercially, fig jam is our best-selling product. This is a more savory version of that jam with onion and sherry vinegar. It's great with grilled meats, and I love to stir it into all sorts of different braises. It's also wonderful paired with cheese, especially a blue cheese like Saint Agur.
Spicy Sweet Charred Onion & Figs
(Yields fourteen to sixteen 8 oz. jars)
5 lb sweet onions, sliced thin
2 3/4 lb (4 3/4 cups) demerara sugar or brown sugar
2 1/2 lb dried figs, chopped
2 cups sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp Szechuan peppercorns, crushed
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Lay out onion slices on parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle evenly with some of the sugar, reserving the remainder for the following step. Bake for 10 minutes, then broil for an additional 3 to 5 minutes to get a nice char.
3. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan (not copper!). Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium-low, stirring often at the beginning. When liquid begins to reduce, stir continuously to avoid scorching. Cook until thick and of jam-like consistency.
4. Let sit 5 minutes, then ladle into hot sterilized jars, wipe rims, place sterilized lids on jars and process* 15 to 20 minutes.
*Please see The Preservatory for detailed processing instructions, safety information, and an overview of preserving basics.
Photography by Janis Nicolay. Photos and recipe from The Preservatory by Lee Murphy, Appetite by Random House 2017.