The dead of winter isn’t exactly known for its bounty, but being cooped up indoors with snow flurries outside makes canning — with its pots of boiling water and multiple, time-intensive steps — seem like an ideal winter activity. There may be heads of cauliflower and kale around, but in general, low-acid vegetables are riskier to steam can than high-acid fruits.
Cranberries are probably the easiest fruit to jelly and preserve. Besides being high in microbe-inhibiting acid, they are also high is phenolic compounds, some of which are antimicrobial, and others antioxidant. The natural pectin in cranberries ensures the juice will gel, so there’s no messing around with store-bought thickeners and almost no failure rate. This pectin is so powerful that even a barely-heated puree will begin to thicken almost immediately, and given the right coaxing, natural cranberries can firm up into a jelly not unlike the notorious, sliceable, ridged cranberry-in-a-can.
Cranberries ripen and turn deep red in the fall and keep well for months for some of the same reasons they preserve well, so they are usually still in groceries well after the new year.
This recipe stews them with citrus (cranberries’ fellow cold weather fruit), brown sugar and winter-y spices. The jam can be used to glaze a roasting bird, but I use it more often as a cordial with sparkling water, mixed with a bit of vodka and ice cubes, or spooned over pound cake.
1 pound of whole cranberries
1 cup of brown sugar
½ cup of water
juice of 2 limes, peel of one (1 orange or ½ grapefruit can be used instead)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon vanilla
Put the cranberries, sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat.
As the cranberries heat up, peel a lime as you would an apple — the peelings should be 2–3 inches long and half an inch wide. Cut both limes in half and squeeze the juice into the pot. Throw in the lime peelings and add the spices.
Simmer the mixture until it is thickened slightly, but still loose, about 5–8 minutes. Depending on what you prefer, the skins and seeds can be left in as part of the jam, or strained out through a cheesecloth.
Ladle the jam into jars and process them immediately to preserve the fruit. If you’re planning to eat the jam right away, there’s no need to go through boiling and sealing, just refrigerate the jam and eat it.
PREPARE FOR A LONG WINTER
Here are a few other winter canning projects that make use of winter’s modest bounty:
This is meant to be an campfire pie filling, but I’m sure it’ll taste as good in a homemade pop-tart. Carrot cake jam, Well Preserved.
Recipe after recipe, in case you wound up with a million pounds of carrots. Can Jam February Round-Up: Carrots, Tigress in a Pickle.
And because not everything in a jar comes from trees: stock is always handy, and this looks delicious. Dark duck broth, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.
From the same cook, a walk-in-the-woods syrup. Spruce or fir tip syrup, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.
Make your own cranberry concoctions with supplies on our site.
Leading image: Wife of Jim Norris with canned goods in Pie Town, New Mexico, 1940. (Image by Lee Russel courtesy Library of Congress)