Sustainable Eat’s August Urban Farm Handbook Challenge – Food Preservation Edition

August 15, 2012(updated on December 16, 2023)
The Urban Farm Handbook

Back in February, Annette from Sustainable Eats got in touch, asking me if I’d participate in her Urban Farm Handbook challenge in August. I said yes and now, a head-spinningly fast six months later, it’s my turn to issue a Food Preservation challenge.

So here’s what I’d like you UFH challenge folks (and anyone else who wants to play along) to try. Invent your own small batch jam recipe. I know it sounds counter-intuitive to ask people who are doing an urban farm challenge to think small during the height of canning season, but once you can piece together a small recipe, it will open up your brain and help you think creatively (though still safely) about your food preservation.

I realize that this sounds impossibly scary for some of you, particularly since we regularly hear from a number of sources that creating our own canning recipes is a big, fat no-no. However, here’s the thing. When you start with high acid fruits (and that’s the vast majority of them), and you add just a sweetener (sugar, honey or maple syrup all have the right chemical make-up to work well in this context) and you limit your flavor boosters to just a pinch of herb or spice, it’s really hard to create an unsafe product (though make sure to read through to the end of this post for the list of fruits that need more aggressive acidification).

lemon verbena

Start with a pound or so of fruit. Chop or mash it and measure how much you have. Add half as much sugar or maple syrup, or just a third of the volume of honey (it’s sweeter than the other two). Stir to combine and cook over fairly high heat in a stainless steel frying pan, stirring all the time. A low, wide pan will have the jam cooking down in ten minutes or less.

Add a splash of lemon juice if the sweetness needs balancing. A pinch of cinnamon is good if you want warmth. Star anise is tasty, as is a bit of vanilla bean, a few lemon verbena leaves or even a little freshly ground black pepper.

checking doneness

When you can draw a line through the cooking jam with your spatula and it holds it for a moment or two, it is done. Scrape the jam into small jars. They can be processed in a boiling water bath canner or just refrigerated.

Note: There are a few fruits that need to be acidified like tomatoes to ensure their safety. These are asian pears, white peaches and nectarines, figs, melons and tropical fruit. For every two cups of fruit pulp, add one tablespoon bottled lemon juice.

There are prizes for participating in the challenge. At the end of the month, Annette will publish a post in which everyone who participated can link up and then have a chance to win. Here’s what you could get:

Now, start canning!

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47 thoughts on "Sustainable Eat’s August Urban Farm Handbook Challenge – Food Preservation Edition"

  • That’s an interesting challenge. I have some crabapples left on the tree, after making my normal crabapple/plum jam. I will have to see if I can get creative!

  • I just made white peach jam. 1 kilo peaches, 500g sugar and a sachet of pectin. It didn’t set right away (I boiled for 3 mins, as per pectin instructions), but must have activated afterwards as it is now like a conserve.

    I just read the above and you said that white peaches need acidulating. Mine weren’t. Am I going to kill people with my jam? Or will I be fine?

      1. Can anyone tell me why though?

        I think the way you do stuff in the US and Canada is different; all the information I can find in the UK indicates that what I’ve made should be fine. And what would the point of acidulation be? To prvent the fruit spoiling? To stop botulism?

        I don’t get it.

        Also, the seal is fine.

        1. Canned food that is not processed in a pressure canner requires a certain minimum level of acidity to prevent botulism spores from growing. Botulism isn’t destroyed by the heat from regular canning.

          To prevent the growth of botulism you need a pH of 4.6 or lower. As I understand it, the average pH of white peaches is 4.5. That’s quite close to the danger line, and if your peaches are just slightly less acid than that (maybe they’ve been grown on a chalk soil or something) it could push things into the danger zone.

          You could probably get away with it, but it seems to me that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially if you are going to be feeding this jam to anyone who more vulnerable to botulinum toxin.

          Botulism only grows in low oxygen environments, so having a good seal is actually beneficial to their growth, if your pH is above 4.6.

  • What do you think of this?
    1 cup strawberries
    1 cup rhubarb
    1 cup sugar
    1 tsp orange powder (you linked to this somewhere in a blog post)
    1 vanilla bean scraped
    1/2 tsp cinnamon

    I call it rhubarb pie jam!

  • Excellent challenge! I just got a huge bunch of yellow peaches at the farmer’s market and some hot peppers from a co-worker. Looks like I’m going to make some hot peach jam!

    1. I made a strawberry-rhubarb-ginger freezer jam this year. Yummy! I believe there was a recipe once upon a time in an advertisement in a cooking magazine about a canned version and a quick Google search turns up a number of recipes.

      If I have time tomorrow, I’ll try out this challenge. It sounds like a ton of fun.

  • Great challenge!
    My backyard nectarine tree gave me green and unripe fruit. Unable to eat them, I made them into Moscato Vanilla Nectarine Preserve.

    Moscato Vanilla Nectarine Preserve (light)
    makes 6 half pint preserves
    4 cups of chopped unripe nectarines
    1 bottle of Moscato
    1 vanilla bean pod, halved
    1 packet of SureJell (no sugar needed)
    1/3 cup of organic sugar
    2 tbsp lemon juice
    1 tbsp lemon zest

    First mix the chopped nectarines, Moscato and sugar into the pan, scraped the vanilla bean pod, add the seed and the pod into the mixture, and bring to boil while stirring occasionally. Once the mixture boils, add the lemon zest and the lemon juice and boil for another 5 min. Lastly, add the Sure-Jell no sugar pectin, stirring constantly, boil for 1 minute.

    Pour into processed 1/2 pint jars, seal, and place in water bath for 10 min.
    Set on table and wait for the popping sound!

  • Used up left over fruit close to being tossed out…
    2 cups whole blackberries
    5 cups red seedless grapes
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 tsp real vanilla extract (ran out of beans)
    1 packet powdered pectin
    6 cups sugar

    Simmered grapes, cinnamon stick, and berries in lemon juice until able to mash the grapes (10 minutes). Added vanilla. Mixed the pectin into a small amount of the sugar to reduce clumping when added. Cut the heat on the fruit mixture to add the pectin and brought up to rolling boil that couldn’t be reduced with stirring. Cut the heat and added the remainder of the sugar. Heated back up to boiling for a good minute. Removed the cinnamon stick. Ladled into sterilized jars and boiling water bath heated for 10

    My daughter licked the jam pot clean! Great challenge for finding ways to use up what you have and prevent wasted food!

    1. i love your recipe! this challenge is bringing a lot of fun recipes out in the light. I am going to try yours next time i have grapes in my fridge =D

  • I’m admittedly a little confused as to how this challenge works–are we posting the recipes in the comments here, or are we supposed to post them somewhere on the Challenge site? I winged a blackberry-rosemary jam (not the most creative thing in the world, I know), but since I didn’t write down the measurements, I’m not sure I’d really be eligible anyway…

  • Please, please, can you share your source for info on using maple syrup in canning? I can’t find anything on using it in significant quantity and haven’t gotten a response from county extension or UGA. I’d love to use it for a lot of things but the high Ph stops me short of adding to something like applesauce (to balance out the lemon juice now called for).

  • I just picked up some cheap reject peaches from the local market to try skillet jam (I’ve never made jam before). 6 peaches, just over a 1/4 cup of honey and the juice of one lemon. Simple, but delicious! Thanks for the post – I’m now inspired!

  • Is it opened for people form Europe too? I’d love to take part. I just discovered my love for jams. Cooked 5 different recipes in the last two days:-)

  • Peach Butter!

    The kids and I picked peaches and froze most of them. We peeled and chopped the rest and put in the crockpot with honey and nutmeg. It had the right amount of sweet and spicy. The kids have been eating it by the spoonful.

  • In late spring I launched a major offensive on the blackberry brambles in our yard. Yet this morning, I noticed the sweet smell of berries drying on the vine. When I stopped to investigate between the shrubs, there they were, hanging from thorny branches, dark and glossy. I picked a few and popped them into my mouth. Such sweetness…
    I got the ladder out and filled a little bowl with ripe berries. Not enough yet to make a batch of jam. When I brought them into the house, two fat peaches sat on the counter. I sampled the contrasting fruits in a single bite: lovely!
    Never having tried my hand at creating a jam recipe, I jumped in. How could I lose? I already had my canning equipment out. Into the skillet went the peaches, followed by berries and sugar. A bit of lemon, some fresh-ground nutmeg and a pinch of cloves, and the dark purple preserves came out rich and flavorful, a happy blend of summer fruits.

    Peach-Brambleberry Jam
    Makes 3 half-pint jars
    2 ½ cups fresh peaches, peeled, pitted and finely chopped (2 large peaches)
    2 cups fresh ripe blackberries
    2 cups sugar
    1 packet liquid pectin
    Zest and juice of one-half lemon
    ½ t. freshly grated nutmeg
    ¼ t. cloves
    Sterilize jars and lids for processing. Mix fruits and sugar in large stainless steel skillet and allow to sit until fruits begin to release liquids. Place pan on medium heat, bring to a boil and add lemon juice, zest and spices. Cook at medium-high for 15 to 20 minutes, until somewhat thickened. Add pectin and cook at rollicking boil for five minutes, stirring frequently.
    Ladle jam into sterile half-pint jars, leaving 1/4” headspace. Wipe rims and threads of jar with moist, clean cloth and place lid atop, hand-screwing bands into place just until slightly snug. Transfer jars into boiling water; process for 10 minutes. Allow to cool, check for seal and store in a cool, dark place until opened.

  • So today I made my small batch jam.

    Cherry/Plum/Mint Jam

    6 cups of fruit – mostly cherries and 3.5 plums, cut, pitted and mashed in the pot
    2 cups of honey

    Follow Marisa’s directions above and before ladling into jars, put 4 sprigs of mint into the jam. Wait 5 minutes and then fish out the mint stems with a pair of tongs. Ladle into jars and process as usual.

  • I can’t tell you how much confidence this has given me. It caused me to go do further research. The knowledge that x, y, and z doesn’t need acid to be safely canned in a water bath opens up a whole new world to me I hadn’t thought to look for.

    My husband is getting ready to make and can a hot sauce. The recipe calls for habaneros, mangoes, and peaches. He asked me today if he could just substitute peaches for the mangoes. I was able to confidently tell him that so long as the peaches weren’t white peaches, it wouldn’t lower the acidity level of his product.

  • For my Divine Raspberry Jam:

    8 cups raspberries, crushed
    2 1/2 cups sugar
    1/4 cup champagne

    Heat your crushed raspberries and add the sugar, still over a low boil. Add in the champagne and stir two minutes. Ladle into sterilized jars and water bath for 10 minutes.

    Uses: top cheesecakes, swirl in brownie mixture before baking, drizzle over white pudding, mix into yogurt, add to your ice cream either when making homemade ice cream or as a topping. Cheers!

  • Here’s my recipe for Rogue Peach Jam, based on the outline you gave:

    4 peaches, peeled and chopped and lightly mashed (about 2 1/2/ cups)
    1 1/4 cups brown sugar
    1/2 tsp cinnamon
    2 pinches chili powder
    1 pinch cayenne pepper
    1/4 tsp orange extract or orange water

    Mix the peaches and brown sugar in a wide-bottomed pan (I used a frying pan) and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is bubbling. Add cinnamon, chili powder and cayenne. Cook for 2-3 more minutes and taste to adjust seasonings. Add orange extract and cook for one more minute. Total cooking time is about ten minutes for a soft set jam.

    Place jam in clean jars and either refrigerate or process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

  • In the post you mention the need to acidify low acid fruits like asian pears. I recently acquired several pounds of asian pears and I want to make a butter or jam with them. You said to add 1 tbs of bottled lemon juice for every two cups of fruit pulp. But when do I add this? When the fruit is finshing cooking down? To each jar before canning? Any help is greatly appreciated. So far the only info I’ve found on canning asian pears has been on canning slices in syrup.

  • Raspberries, rhubarb, honey and lemon verbena. Trying to recreate a recipe my mom forgot to write down and we are almost out of the batch she made. Thanks for the easy ratio/rule of thumb. Gave me the confidence to go for it!

  • I used this as an excuse to try Tomato Jam for the first time – amazing! I made a “Caprese” Jam, a riff on the caprese salad. I added balsamic vinegar, basil, and fresh ground black pepper. Recipe is on my blog.

    1. Just made your Tomato jam and can’t wait to share it with friends. It tastes amazing, but I had to cook it a lot longer than recipe called for. Could have been the type of tomatoes and also size of pot.

  • Thanks for the inspiration to take the plunge and draft a recipe. I just blogged my creation – Fresh Prune Jam with Bay and Balsamic.

  • Here’s what I did:

    2 1/2 cups of local late strawberries
    1 1/4 cup of sugar
    2 tablespoons of lemon basil from my garden
    1 tablespoon of lemon verbena from my garden

  • Here’s a recipe I’m trying for rhubarb. Does it have enough vinegar to can safely?

    This flavorful chutney will cause your taste buds to tap dance. It is sweet and tart and, if you add the chile, piquant. It is a tasty accompaniment to bland dishes, curry and rice. It also can be used as a condiment with bruschetta or bread with slices of cheese or meat, or spread with goat or cream cheese with a spoonful of chutney as garnish.

    2 medium apples, preferably 1 red-skinned and 1 green-skinned, cut into eighths lengthwise and cored, sliced crosswise about 3/8-inch thick (about 2 cups, diced fine)
    1 large onion, (1 1/2 to 2 cups, coarsely chopped)
    3/4 cup dried figs, quartered lengthwise if small, otherwise coarsely chopped, or raisins
    Scant 1/2 cup candied ginger, minced
    Piece of onion studded with 10 to 12 whole cloves
    1 chile pepper, chopped fine, optional
    3/4 cup brown sugar
    1/2 cup organic apple cider vinegar
    1/4 cup good-quality balsamic vinegar
    2 cups rhubarb pieces, cut lengthwise into 1 1/2-inch strips
    6 cloves garlic, cut into slivers
    1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    In heavy-bottomed skillet, combine apples, onion, figs, candied ginger, clove-studded onion and chile pepper, if desired. Sprinkle with brown sugar and pour in both vinegars. Place over medium-high heat, stir, and bring to simmer. Cover pan, reduce to medium heat and cook for about 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Add rhubarb and garlic, cover and cook for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Taste – it should be sweet and sour and full of flavor – and adjust if necessary; I found it didn’t need salt, but you might like some. The fruit and vegetables should be soft but not overcooked; cook a few more minutes if necessary. Add vanilla, stir, cover and remove from heat.

    1. Judy, when a recipe contains so many ingredients, I can’t tell from just looking at the list as to whether it is safe for canning or not. With jams, there are so few ingredients that I can eyeball the safety fairly accurately, but not with a recipe with this many components.

  • I made a batch of guava jelly from guava off of a friend’s tree. I made it in the crock pot and it felt wildly exciting (if you can’t get a wild jelly out of a move to the Carribbean, what’s the point?). I made about 5 pints, and I eyeballed the sugar, but I’m refrigerating it.