Sell Homemade Jams and Jellies at Your Local Market
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Careful planning goes into preparing the foods. Some raw ingredients are purchased. Don grows his own figs, and gleaning (picking fruit after harvest season with the owner’s permission) and picking wild fruits help cut costs. A word of caution: Through experience, Illinois-born Marsha learned to throw rocks into bushes to alert rattlesnakes to leave before she starts gleaning in the Texas hills, and she’s careful of wild boars when harvesting cactus fruit.
Jellies, jams, preserves and marmalades are at their peak of flavor just after being put into jars and sealed. The couple prepares batches of the desired sweet spread as close to sales time as possible. A freezer, separate from the family freezer, is used to store fruit and juice. To preserve brightness of color and freshness of taste, sugar is added just before the final cooking and canning. Don and Marsha frequently add commercial pineapple or lemon juice since these juices have a consistent amount of acidity and can enhance the flavors.
In recent years, customers with diabetes or weight problems have asked for tasty sweet spreads with alternative sweeteners. Agave sweetener is good for those who have trouble managing blood sugar. Organic Blue Agave is 25 percent sweeter than sugar, but has a glycemic index of only 13 compared with 68 to 85 for dextrose and corn syrup solids, and 100 for sucrose, the most common form of table sugar.
The type of pan used to boil the ingredients while making jams and jellies is also important. Certain jellies and jams, like blackberry and blueberry, need a narrow pan with high sides. Others such as peach and fig need a wide, shallow pan for best results. Don uses a 16-quart stainless steel, triple-layer (stainless steel, aluminum, stainless steel), clad jelly pan for best heat distribution. A pan that has hot spots will produce uneven heating and possibly scorch in spots. To keep up with the increasing demand for Hot Pepper Jelly and Raspberry Arbol Jelly, Don uses a 40-quart Groen tilting steam kettle.
The couple’s process includes pH adjustment and requires monitoring sugar content in solution to obtain maximum flavor and consistent set. They have learned (both by training and experience) how to adjust according to fruit consistency and ripeness. However, the basis for most of the knowledge for successful jelly, jam and pickle processing came from Don’s grandmothers, Cora Bales and Ola Mae Weeks.