As an emblem of seasonal, local, non-industrial eating, a jar of strawberry jam is very much on trend. But the amount of sugar required to turn fruit into preserves is at odds with how many conscientious cooks eat now.
"People experience 'recipe shock' over the amount of sugar in the recipes and want know how to do low-sugar, no-sugar recipes," says Andrea Weigl, author of the Pickles & Preserves volume of The University of North Carolina Press' Savor the South cookbook series.
Most of the recipes in the "Jams, Jellies and Preserves" chapter of Weigl's book call for at least four cups of sugar. The entirety of her strawberry preserve ingredient list, for example, is "2 ½ pounds whole strawberries; 4 cups sugar; ¼ cup lemon juice."
According to Weigl, food writer for the Raleigh News & Observer, sugar brightens colors; protects textures; enhances flavors; extends shelf lives and coaxes jam into setting (although Weigl's book offers another suggestion on that score, courtesy of decorated canner April McGreger: Since ripe strawberries are short on pectin, it helps to add unripe berries to the mix.) Still, it's possible to make jams and preserves with less sugar.
"Cooks can use honey, maple syrup, agave syrup and stevia with Pomona's pectin or low-methoxyl pectins," Weigl wrote in a recent article. "The key is finding trusted recipes that call for such ingredients."
For her story, Weigl conducted an informal taste test of strawberry jams. Her co-workers preferred the jam made with Splenda to the jam made with Pomona's Universal Pectin, a "Sugar-free, preservative-free, low-methoxyl" product.
But as Weigl points out, "Sugar binds itself with the water, making it less available to microbes that can cause spoilage or make someone sick. Splenda does not bind as well with water, increasing the risk of microbial activity."
With so many factors to consider, it's no surprise that Weigl's hit the lecture circuit. Locally, she's leading a class at Southern Season on June 21 at 1 p.m. Weigl describes the session as a "marathon canning session," featuring "peach and blueberry freezer jam, peach and tomato salsa, dilly beans, yellow squash pickles and sweet and sour refrigerator pickles."
Registration for Weigl's class is $40. To sign up, visit southernseason.com.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.