There is not whole lot that I knew about jam, jelly or preserve making, I now know. I knew about sugar, fruit, pectin and some basic canning technique. And, like most, I often erroneously used the terminology associated with jam making. So there are some clumps of fruit in there? Well, that must be jam. Some zest of an orange, well that must be a preserve. And a conserve, marmalade and the like? Well, whenever they looked good on the menu, so should they appear. Beverly Ellen Schoonmaker Alfeld's The Jamlady Cookbook has set me straight. This book had to be no small undertaking. The details that Alfeld has subjected me are without parallel. Jamlady, as she matter-of-factly refers to herself throughout the book is the authoritarian voice on the making of said jams.
Jamlady is not a cookbook author for the sake of amassing a collection of fruity recipes. Rather, she is on a mission to spread the word on, well, spreads. Alfeld is schooled in some of the FDA's food processing regimen, so no worries for the technical aspect of canning. Given the climate of food safety awareness, it is important to heed her guidance. Jamlady walks you through the process rather than dictate a litany of procedures splendidly refreshing is her approach to lessening the fear factor all the while working with you to create marvelous products. The compendium-like first chapter, "Processing Methods and Troubleshooting," is a necessary read. Alfeld guides like a well-seasoned teacher she coaches, models the process and reflects back on the "whys" and "hows." And the lexicon of defining exactly what is in the jar makes her mission clear rather than calling on my "well, it looks like jam" method for describing a fruit and sugar amalgam. But, alas, the truth is in the jelly.
I relish (no pun) the array of dynamic spreads, from marmalades to jellies to butters. Each masterfully detailed recipe among the 200+ pages in the collection is ripe with intricate detail. "Vermont Marries Georgia Jam" provides the specifics on applying ascorbic acid, the canning technique as well as the sweetener, in this case, aspartame for the sugar conscience. My favorite from the collection is the "Sweet Potato Butter." Jamlady is careful to caution me about pH volatility in canning this particular product. It really did not last long enough to worry about the shelf stability, however. She garnishes this particular entry with an aside on eugenol's antiseptic property within the cloves in the recipe. Like I said, this collection is quite the compendium. And eugenol is not the only additive that we can learn about from Jamlady. Just in case you needed a reference to Spirits and Liquers, there is one handily located nestled between Orange Marmalade and Asian & European Pears, thank you very much. In case you needed help with science, most of the recipes move you from cook to part-time chemist by examining the interaction between acids and pectin, the origins of the fruits as well as dropping in a history lesson or two on our multicultural landscape.
Ms. Alfeld has not done an acceptable job at sharing her passion for all that is jam-able instead, she has done a stellar job of sharing her excitement for creating jellies, preserves and marmalades by flavoring her lessons with the zest of a real teacher! Her forthright teaching style is a refreshing tangent to celebrity chefs hustling their the latest fad and speaking down to the cookbook reader. The Jamlady addresses the jelly-free canvas with the know-how of a devoted artist and all the flavors of nature as her pallet.