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Southern Preserves

Holly Moore

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Not that the issue of the South and butter has been explained I'm turning my attention to fruit preserves, Southern style. Unlike the preserves I've grown up on, a lumpy sweet slurry that easily spreads on toast.

Jack McDavid, at Jack's Firehouse in Philadelphia, first introduced me to what I assume is the Southern approach to preserves - a thin sweet syrup with large chunks of fruit. Since then I've seen such preserves throughout the South, most recently at Monell's in Nashville.

The chunks of fruit are indeed tasty. I spoon them out of the syrup and gently balance them on a biscuit half. Sometimes they don't full out en route to my mouth, staining my shirt. But the syrup pretty much goes to waste.

What am I not getting? What's the proper way to apply Southern style preserves? Why are they so, what we Yankees would call, watery?

Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."



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Holly, there is a reason that when my grand mother gave her home- made, fresh-from-the-back-yard, cloyingly sweet fig preserves to us w/ a "cat head" biscuit she gave them to us w/ a bowl and a spoon. ":^)

The syrup is for "soppin'". You balance a piece of fruit on the edge of the biscuit and take a luscious bite. Then you use the remainder of the biscuit to sop up the syrup still on the plate. If you work it right then you will need another biscuit to get the remaining syrup and you might as well have some more preserves b/c you still have some biscuit left over. And since you now have more syrup you have to have another biscuit ad infinitum.......

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--the best cat ever.

in loving memory of Mr. Squirt (1998-2004)--

the best cat ever.

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Preserves that do not contain Sure-Jell or other added fruit pectins must be cooked longer in order to evaporate the liquid. Since longer cooking also reduces the fresh fruit flavor and increases the sweetness, it is sometimes preferable to undercook and have a runny but better tasting product. Also, preserves that are made by the freezer method are always runnier but have the freshest flavors of any cooking method.

After living in the South from 1967 to 2001, I can't say that I noticed runny preserves as being ubiquitous to the South. Perhaps restaurants do this so the preserves go further? You can't pile it up!

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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As a lifelong North Carolinian, I can't say I've noticed a runny preserves phenom. Maybe it is cheap restaurants. I make preserves, and I have noticed that if I do a lower sugar recipe, the "set," as they call it, will be less firm. The tradeoff is a great fruit flavor. A little time in the fridge helps firm it up. Or pour it on ice cream!


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I never thought about the fact that my grandmother's and mother's homemade preserves are runny with big chunks of fruit, but they definitely are.

I have childhood memories of piling my grandmother's preserves on Wonderbread, folding the bread in half with the open side up, and eating it like a taco.

It worked.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've made Southern preserves for many years in my home kitchen, and the only type of fruit I ever have the too-syrupy phenomenon with is pears. I follow my own Mammaw's recipe for all jellies, jams and preserves, and it's a simple one---in her words, "Mix your fruit payound for payound with sugar." Strawberries, blackberries, dewberries, blueberries--all these weep their essence into the sugar in a very short time and peaches and other stone fruits require only a few hours "setting" to release their juices. Pears, however, are traditionally cut into little wedges, mixed with the sugar and a sliced lemon or two (add a can of crushed pineapple if you're fancy) and left in an enamel dishpan, overnight at room temperature, covered with a tea towel.

Lifting the towel the next morning reveals a great pile of vastly-shrunken pieces of pear afloat in a clear sea of syrup. Cooking converts the pears into rosy bits of heavenly, almost chewy essence-of-pear worthy of any gold-lettered confectioner's shop in Paris. As the pan bubbles away, the syrup thickens, but not to the point of gelling---that's not the desired result.

What you want on a big ole buttered Martha White biscuit is a spoonful of those deliciously peary pieces and a dripping, syrupy runoff which will require a spoon to scrape up the last Summery sweetness.

As for figs, there's a difference between fig preserves and preserved figs. The preserves require smushing and chopping the figs a bit, as well as cooking them down into an unctuous, golden-brown mass which will heap on a spoon or a waiting biscuit. Preserved figs, however, are whole figs which have been simmered delicately in a simple syrup for the amount of time it takes to render them gently quivering bubbles which are lifted by the stem (if you're lucky and it doesn't break loose and leave you with a sticky face or shirtfront) and placed in an eager, open mouth, to be tongueburst into a cascade of figgy sweetness. They are amber jewels of great worth, situated just SO in the mason jars, and given front-row prominence in the family's larder of hard-won, heat-seared, homecanned delicacies. Of course, for Preacher-visits, they are served stems-up in the prettiest cut-glass bowl, and everyone must make do with a spoon.

All berries, peaches, plums and pineapple preserves just cook right up into a slightly-thickened fruity concoction which WILL spread on a hot biscuit, but won't promise to stay there when the heat hits it. Thick syrup, the true taste of a fruit that stays close to the color God made it--those are the hallmarks of a good batch of Southern preserves. Just like my Mammaw's.

Edited by racheld (log)
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You can make it as simple as Pear Honey

4 medium sized pears, peeled and cored, cut in half.

3 cups sugar.

Place 1/3 of the sugar on the bottom of a pan that is large enough to hold 4 pear halves laying flat, cut side down.

Place the rest of the pears, cut side up, in and around the ones on the bottom.

Pour the remainder of the sugar over the top of the pears.

Cover the pan and place over low heat and cook for 1 hour.

Remove the pan lid and continue cooking over low heat for 1 1/2 hours.

Using a potato masher (the wire type) smush the pears and mix well with a wood spoon (or silicone spoon, just don't use metal).

Return to the low heat and cook for an additional 45 minutes.

Pour into a quart jar (or two pint jars and seal. Store in the fridge unless you want to process it in a hot water bath for 15 minutes. Then it can be stored at room temperature.

If there is some that won't fit into the quart jar, use it immediately or within a couple of days.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett


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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 6 months later...

Fresh preserves out of the pot on toast, mmmm.

We used to make several pieces of toast, buttered generously, then layout the fig or pear preserves in a grid. Cut the toast into tiny squares with precisely one fig per sqare, and eat 'em with a fork.

Too good!

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