How Local Preserves Can Brighten Up Your Winter

The jams, jellies, marmalades, preserves, fruit butters and conserves from local farms bring the flavors of summer’s fruits to bleak mid-winter tables. “From August to October, with no let up, I’m in the kitchen cooking,” said Sam Wiseman of Sunflower Savannah in Beaufort. “My husband’s learned when we are rolling down the road and I yell, ‘Stop!’ I’m going to jump out and pick something,” she said. Like the wild plums she gathers for Sam’s Plum Wild preserves. Or gooseberries, paw-paws and sometimes crabapples.

Wiseman makes sure to pick fruit at peak ripeness, when the sugar content is highest. She and her husband grow much of the fruit she processes. Each year she gets a birthday truckload of watermelons and a boatload of Campbell peaches from her dad, a watermelon farmer. The luscious results fill her stand at the winter markets. You’ll find clear pink jelly from the flesh, a raspberry-watermelon preserve, and a marmalade using both the flesh and the rind. A chunky conserve plays the sweetness of the melon against the tartness of lemon and lime peels. It’s not only good, it’s gorgeous.

Sweet supposedly can’t be beat, but the savory cherry-serrano jelly Wiseman dreamed up is spectacular. Bits of tart pie cherries and hot peppers suspended in clearest amber is just hot enough. I liked how the flavor delivered a satisfying one-two, sweet first, then a kick at the back of my throat. “My husband likes to use it for sweet and sour sauce. I like to baste it on chicken or pork, and it’s good for appetizers – cream cheese or goat cheese on a cracker, topped with a little jelly.”

Hotter yet is Salume Beddu’s mostarda, a northern Italian specialty Mark Sanfilippo made first for his family. “I use figs, apricots, cherries, raisins, cranberries and currants, plus local seasonal fruits like apples and peaches,” he said. “The fruits are cooked in white wine with mustard seed, mustard powder and red chile flakes, so it has a very hearty flavor.” Sanfilippo tops crostini with goat cheese, then a dollop of mostarda for a crowd-pleasing appetizer. I tried it with pork tenderloin, like a chutney – delicious. The mostarda also added great flavor when stirred into a creamy rice pilaf at the end of the cooking time.

Sweets like Black and Blue, a combination of blackberries and blueberries, and Triple Crown, made with strawberries, cherries and raspberries, are top-sellers at Centennial Farms in Augusta. Full-flavored apple and peach butters sell well, too. Owner Ellen Knoernschild uses Red Haven peaches to produce a mahogany-colored butter laced with ginger, cinnamon and allspice. “[Red Havens] simply have the best flavor and color – you don’t want a pale peach butter,” she said. Another peach concoction, peach jalapeño preserves, makes a dandy ham glaze, according to Knoernschild. “It’s good on pork, too,” she added. Try it on toast, with a side of Mexican hot chocolate, for a different hot breakfast. The hot jellies make an interesting vinaigrette over fruited lettuce salads, too. Use them in place of the sugar.

Basil jelly from ShowMe Fresh Farm in Cape Girardeau glows softly green behind quilted glass, but there’s nothing lightweight about its flavor. “I use it as a baste for meat,” said owner Octavia Scharenborg. I used it to make basil ice cream, and served it with a fruit compote of thawed frozen peaches, raspberries and sliced kiwi. The combination worked well. Try her beet jelly on toast, or cooked up with a bit of brown mustard for a dipping sauce for chicken.

I could go on and on – I came home from the Community Farmers’ Market at St. John Episcopal Church with 10 different jellies, preserves and conserves. I could have doubled the number. I forgot to buy fig-walnut preserves from Ivan Stoilov simply because I was on sensory overload. I won’t forget next market.

If you can’t make it to the markets, visit Local Harvest Grocery for Centennial Farms and Sunflower Savannah products, as well as other delights such as Dennis’ jalapeño jellies and Bekemeier’s blackberry butter.