Sweet Taste Of Homemade Preserves

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My grandma made the best preserves I’ve ever tasted — maybe because she made them from the chokecherry, a bitter berry found only in the most northern parts of the U.S. Grandma lived in Minnesota and I haven’t found that berry anywhere else.

Just like Grandma’s, the perfect preserve combines taste and texture.

Mitzi Paul, from Pine, has judged the canned food entered into the Northern Gila County Fair for years.

“I’ve judged the fair since it was in Pine,” said Paul.

Marcia Olsen, the canning organizer for the fair, helped Paul judge the preserves on Thursday, Sept. 8. Olsen reported that at this year’s fair, more than half of the entries in the canning category came from newcomers.

Could be because of the resurgence in local produce and farmers markets, or it could be because people want to know what goes into the food they eat, said Paul and Olsen.

Pickles, even pickled zucchini and garlic, salsas, tomatoes and spaghetti sauce were entered in the non-sweet category.

Blackberry, wild black raspberry, strawberry, peach, apple and pear butter, mint and apricot jellies covered the sweet category, along with apple filling for pies.

The first things Paul looks for is headspace between the jar and the lid.

“There needs to be at least a quarter of an inch at the top of the preserve,” said Paul.

Next she looks at the consistency.

“See, if you strained these blackberries, they’d make an excellent syrup. These wild black raspberries have a firmer texture,” said Paul.

The firmer texture comes from using enough pectin to set up the fruit explained Paul.

Paul likes to leave a positive note for each entrant and gives out mostly blues or reds for the effort put into the canning process, but her favorite this year was a jalapeño jam made by Carol Flower of Payson.

Flower won “Best of Show” and “Judges Choice.”

Paul gave me a taste: Heavenly. But then, if Grandma had made jalapeño jam, it would have been as good.

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