Preservation Society: Oklahoma Jammed with Jelly-Makers

Sherrel Jones shares information and recipes about Oklahoma jellies and jams.
BY SHERREL JONES sjones@opubco.com Modified: September 17, 2012 at 10:30 am •  Published: September 12, 2012

Not too long ago, the only way to enjoy fruit out of season was to preserve it as jelly or jam. Advances in farm technology make fruits and vegetables available year-round, but the art of jam and jelly making carries on here in Oklahoma.

Just when you think you've nailed down a favorite jelly or jam, another one comes along to tantalize your taste buds. That's how it is with some of the most delightful jellies and jams fellow Oklahomans are making. Strawberry lavender, blackberry sage, Scotch bonnet pepper jelly, prickly pear cactus jelly, to name just a few, and, of course, our native Oklahoma sand plum jelly and jam.

Like many of you, I grew up picking wild possum grapes, blackberries and sand plums for jellies and jams. These ripe native fruits were cause for a family gathering of these little gifts from Mother Nature. We waded into thickets, brambles and followed vines into trees after these prime little jelly and jam making fruits — of course with the exception of a few quarts of blackberries saved for a cobbler.

These “gathering” excursions provided plenty of adventure with resident snakes, wasps and a few other local critters not always taking kindly to our probing through their territory. These days, I find it a lot easier to shop farmer's markets, gift shops, specialty stores and groceries for some great selections of Oklahoma homemade jelly and jam.

Eddie Fenton, who lives in Crescent, picks plums on his farm and along the Cimarron River for his intense De Vine Oklahoma Sand Plum Jam. The plums grow prolifically on his farm. Eddie started out raising grapes to make jelly, but the grapes didn't work out so his wife suggested using the abundant sand plums.

Each year, Fenton gets from 2,500 to 4,000 pounds of plums from his farm and/or neighbors. Fenton is able to take the plums to Oklahoma State University's Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center to extract the juice and pulp. The resulting pulp is then frozen again until it is needed in production by a co-packer.

Farther north on the prairie, Tammy Crowder, of Lahoma, makes a sparkling clear sand plum jelly and several others in Enid's Retired Senior Volunteer Kitchen to sell at the our local Farmer's Market. Her 4-year-old daughter Emma's favorite is blackberry which goes into PB&J sandwiches. Tammy likes to use local Oklahoma fruits to make her jams and jellies. I asked her if she had any special secrets for making such clear beautiful jelly. She said, “I strain my jelly through eight layers of cheesecloth.”

Crowder also told me she uses almost 10 pounds of fruit to make 8 pints of jelly. That explains why the flavors of these Oklahoma fruits like peaches from Porter can produce such intensely flavored jelly and jam. If you've ever made jelly or jam from possum grapes, you understand this intensity factor. Those tiny little treasures make the most intense grape jelly you can imagine. I've always figured they got their name because you have to beat the possums to them.

The Prairie Gypsies in Oklahoma City have been exploring jelly and jam flavor combinations with great success. The infusion of herbs with certain fruits brings a special nuance to any biscuit or scone. BlackBerry sage, cherry rosemary and apple basil jellies, Red Hot Lover, Prairie Fire, pear pecan and strawberry lavender jams along with cherry fruit butter offer a wide range of carefully crafted flavors to choose from.

David and Debbie Custar, of Custar Farms near Okemah, make several varieties of jelly and jam for their Custar Farms Store Custar Farms Store 2½ miles west of Okemah on Highway 56. They have a commercial kitchen there and they grow their own blackberries, plums, porter peaches for jam. I found their apricot, jalapeno and strawberry jellies on the Farm to Fork Bus.

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Little Cheesy Pecan Bites

Yield: 24 to 36 cheesy bites depending on size.

½ cup butter (room temperature)

½ cup cream cheese (room temperature)

1 cup flour

½ cup finely chopped Oklahoma pecans

Allow butter and cheese to come to room temperature. Blend together. Add flour and pecans. Form into roll about 12 inches by 11/2 inch in diameter and chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice 1/4 to 3/8 inch thick and arrange slices on parchment covered baking sheet.

Bake on upper middle rack for 8 to 10 minutes until lightly golden brown. Let cool and serve with a tiny dollop of jelly or jam in the center.

Cook's note: Alternatively, the dough can be shaped into balls about 1 inch in diameter then pressed with thumb to indent them in the center like thumbprint cookies. This helps hold the jam or jelly in place for serving.

Sweet Jelly Mustard Sausages

This jelly-mustard bath for sausages is prime for tailgating or potlucks.

1½ cups grape jelly

1 cup mustard (Ballpark of course)

2 packages of Little Smokies or other fully cooked sausage links cut in 1-inch segments.

Heat jelly and mustard in medium-sized sauce pan stirring constantly over medium heat until thoroughly blended. Add cooked sausages heating until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and cover for 5 minutes to thoroughly heat sausages and infuse with the sauce.

Pour into heated serving dish and serve with toothpicks to “spear” the sausages.

Peach Blueberry Jam

Makes 3½ cups

2 pounds peaches (3 cups)

½ cup water

1 pound blueberries

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 cups sugar

Dip the peaches in boiling water for 30 seconds. Move to an ice water bath. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skins, pit and thinly slice.

Combine peach slices with water in a nonreactive 5-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Peaches will become thick with bubbles. The pot will make a hissing sound as you pull the spoon across the bottom, but the peach pulp will not stick.

Stir in the blueberries, cover the pan and return the mixture to a boil. Uncover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add lemon juice, then sugar ½ cup at a time, waiting for the liquid to return to a boil before adding more. Simmer for 5 minutes or until thickened. A thermometer reading at this point should be 210 degrees.

Fill hot, sterilized jars to within 1/4-inch of lips. Wipe the rims clean, attach new lids and screw caps on tightly. Invert jars briefly for a quick vacuum seal or process jars in a boiling water bath, submerged by 1 inch for 10 minutes.

Source: “Gourmet Preserves” by Madelaine Bullwinkel

(Surrey Books, $14.95).

Grape Jelly

Makes 7 half-pint jars

4 cups juice from about 3 pounds of Concord grapes

7 cups sugar

1 pouch liquid pectin

Select top quality fruit, wash and stem. Slightly crush fruit and measure. Add 1/4 to ½ cup water for each quart prepared fruit in a large saucepan. Cover and simmer fruit until soft.

Strain mixture through a damp jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth to extract juice. Let juice stand in a cool place for 12-24 hours to prevent formation of tartrate crystals in the grape jelly. Then strain again through a damp jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth to remove crystals that have formed.

Put grape juice in a large saucepot. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in liquid pectin. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Source: “Ball Blue Book of Preserving” 2003.

Refrigerator Preserves

Makes almost 1 pint

Use strawberries, blackberries, raspberries or blueberries, or a combination of two or more of the fruits, for this recipe. The amount of sugar actually needed will depend on how sweet the berries are, so add or decrease sugar as needed. Blackberries are quite tart and will need the most sugar. If desired, commercial pectin can be added to the recipe; just follow the package directions.

1 quart berries

1-1½ cups sugar

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Wash and hull the berries. If using strawberries, quarter them. In a small enamel pot, alternate layers of berries and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring from time to time, and then turn heat down. Add lemon juice and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring often.

With a slotted spoon, remove the fruit to a pint-size jar with lid. Continue to simmer juice until it is reduced by half and syrupy. Pour over berries. Allow to cool. Cover and keep refrigerated.

Source: “Lee Bailey's Berries” (Clarkson Potter, 1994).

Bing cherry Jam

Makes 6 half-pint jars

4 cups pitted, chopped Bing cherries

1 package powdered pectin

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cloves

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup almond liqueur

4½ cups sugar

Combine all ingredients, except sugar, in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil. Boil 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch of head space. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Source: “Ball Blue Book of Preserving” 2003 edition.

Sweet Yellow Tomato Preserves

Makes 7 half-pint jars

5 pounds small yellow tomatoes, such as yellow cherry or Sungold (check local farmers markets and supermarkets for availability)

1 lemon, thinly sliced with peel

4 cups sugar

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (5 percent acidity)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Rinse the tomatoes, then prick each one 4 or 5 times with a needle. Place the tomatoes in a bowl, add the lemon slices and pour the sugar over them. Cover and let stand for 4 hours.

Transfer the tomato mixture to a 10-quart pot and add the vinegar and salt. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat for 1 hour. Gently stir 4 or 5 times but be careful not to burst the tomatoes.

Carefully drain the tomatoes, reserving the liquid. Pour the liquid into a saucepan and boil until it is reduced by half, about 30 minutes.

Pack the tomatoes and lemon slices into 7 hot sterilized half-pint Mason jars. Ladle the hot liquid over them, leaving 1/4-inch headroom. Wipe the rims and seal the jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Source: “Recipes From Home” by David Page and Barbara Shinn (Artisan, 2001).

Quick Strawberry Preserves

Makes 3½ cups

2 pounds fresh strawberries

½ cup water

3 tablespoons Sure-Jell powdered pectin

1½ tablespoons lemon juice

3 cups sugar

Rinse, drain and hull the berries. Leave small fruit whole and halve or quarter large berries so pieces are of uniform size. Place berries and water in a deep, nonreactive 8-quart pan. Cover pan and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Strain juices for 10 minutes and measure them. Reserve the fruit pieces. If there is more or less than 2 cups of juice, either add water or reduce juices to that amount. Stir in the pectin until dissolved and then the lemon juice.

Combine the strawberry juices and reserved berries in a clean saucepan and return to a boil. Begin adding sugar, ½ cup at a time, allowing the mixture to return to a boil each time before adding more. Continue cooking until the liquid nears the jell point, 216-218 degrees. This will take 5-10 minutes. Preserves will be quite thick and sheet heavily from a metal spoon.

Off heat, pour the preserves into a 1-quart mixing bowl and allow it to sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to redistribute the berries in the mixture.

Fill hot, sterilized jars to within 1/4-inch of the rims. Wipe the rims clean, attach new lids and screw the caps on tightly. Invert the jars briefly for a quick vacuum seal or process in a boiling water bath, submerged by 1 inch, for 10 minutes.

Source: “Gourmet Preserves” by Madelaine Bullwinkel

(Surrey Books).

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