Preserves, to be perfect, must be made with the greatest care. Economy of time and trouble is a waste of fruit and sugar. The best are made by putting only a small amount of fruit at a time in the syrup, after the latter has been carefully prepared and clarified, and the fruit neatly pared. Peel peaches, pears, quinces and apples, and throw into cold water as you peel them to prevent their turning dark. It is difficult to watch a large quantity so as to insure its being done to a turn.
The old rule is "a pound of sugar to pound of fruit;"but since the introduction of cans, three-quarters of a pound of sugar to a pound of fruit is sufficient, and even less is sometimes used, the necessity for an excess of sugar having passed away, as preserves may be less sweet, with no risk of fermentation, if sealed. Either tin or glass cans may be used, care being taken to make the sealing perfect.
Quinces, pears, citrons, watermelon-rinds, and many of the smaller fruits, such as cherries, currants, etc., harden when put, at first, into a syrup made of their weight of sugar. To prevent this they should be cooked till tender in water, or in a weak syrup made from a portion only of the sugar, adding the remainder afterward. In preserving fruits, such as apples, peaches, tomatoes, plums and strawberries, and other fruits, which are likely to become too soft in cooking, it is a good plan to pour the hot syrup over the fruit, or to strew over it a part or all the sugar, and allow it to stand a few hours; by either method the juice is extracted, and the fruit hardened. Another approved method of hardening fruit is to skim it out of syrup after cooking a few minutes, and lay it in the hot sun two or three hours, and then pour over it the boiling syrup. Long protracted boiling destroys the pleasant natural flavor of the fruit, and darkens it.
Preserves should boil gently to avoid the danger of burning, and in order that the sugar may thoroughly penetrate the fruit. A good syrup is made in the proportion of half pint water to a pound of sugar. Use loaf or granulated sugar. Put the sugar and water over the fire in a porcelain kettle, and, just before it boils, stir in the white of an egg beaten lightly with two table-spoons water; and, as it begins to boil, remove the scum with great care; boil until no more scum arises, and then add fruit. Or the white of the egg may be mixed thoroughly with the dry sugur in the kettle, and the boiling water poured over, when all impurities will immediately rise to the surface with the egg, then boil slowly, or rather simmer, until the preserves are clear. Take out each piece with a skimmer and lay on a flat dish to cool, or else put in the jars at once. Stew the syrup, skimming off the scum which rises, until it "ropes" from the spoon. If the preserves are already in the jar pour the syrup over them and seal; if on dishes, return them to the syrup and boil up once before putting up. This is merely a matter of choice, and we have never found any difference in the results of the two methods. Preserves may be made from canned fruit (and some prefer to do this rather than make in the hot season), using less sugar than the rule. When preserving canned peaches or apples, it is an improvement to add a few sliced oranges or lemons. When berries or small fruits are done, take up with a little strainer, and place in cans; if a cup is used, it is impossible to free them from the syrup.
Marmalades, or the different butters, will be smoother and better flavored, and will require less boiling, if the fruit (peaches, quinces, oranges and apples make the best) is well cooked and mashed before adding either sugar or cider. It is important to stir constantly with an apple-butter stirrer.
In making either preserves or marmalades, follow the directions as regards kettle, sugar, and putting up, already given for jellies and jams, covering at once, but not putting away till cold. When preserves are candied, set jar in kettle of cold water, and let boil for an hour; or put them in a crock kept for that purpose, set in oven and boil a few minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning. When specks of mold appear, take them off carefully, and scald preserves as above directed.
Dried fruits are much better and require less boiling, if clean soft water is poured over them and allowed to stand over night. In the morning boil until tender in the water, sweetening five minutes before removing from the stove.
To dry corn or fruits nicely, spread in shallow boxes or box covers, and cover with mosquito netting to prevent flies reaching them. When dry, put up in jars and cover closely, or in paper sacks. Dried peaches are better when halved and the cavities sprinkled with sugar in drying. The fruit must be good, however, as poor fruit can not be redeemed by any process. Another excellent way is to dry them in the oven, and, when about half done, place in a crock a layer of peaches alternately with a layer of sugar. Cherries and currants are excellent dried as follows: Put in jars first a layer of fruit, then a layer of sugar, in the proportion of half a pound sugar to pound of fruit, let stand over night, place them to boil, skimming off all scum, let boil ten or fifteen minutes, skim out and spread on dishes to dry in the sun, or by the fire, turning frequently until dry; then place on pans in oven, stirring with the hand often until the heat is too great to bear. They may then be packed in jars with sugar, or put away in paper sacks, or stone crocks with a cloth tied close over the top, and are an excellent substitute for raisins in puddings or mince-pies.
The secret of keeping dried fruit is to exclude the light, and to keep in a dry and cool place. Paper sacks, or a barrel or box lined with paper, are secure against moths. Reheating fruit makes it dark in color, and impairs its flavor. Always fill a fruit-can, and keep for present use, to avoid opening the large jars often.