Our ancestors got it right when they learned to preserve the wonderful abundance of summer and fall fruits for the long days of winter. Think toast or biscuits with your own home made jelly and jam, pies or cobblers for cold evening treats, or a bowl of crispy apples for afternoon snacks.
You don't have to spend time canning over a hot stove to have the best of summer and autumn produce on your table all winter. While your family might enjoy traditional jams and jellies, don't stop there. Dry some plums, freeze some peaches, store apples in the cellar (or basement or closet)!
Jellies, Jams and Butters
Making fruit into spreads is the way most people become acquainted with preserving fruit. It's a fairly simple and straight forward approach to keeping fruit and takes little extra equipment. Use fruit that's not in the best condition for butters, jellies and jams, and never use fruit that is old, moldy or dry for anything. You can cut away bruises and other damage.
Sweetened fruit can generally be canned in a water bath canner, or any pot large enough to cover your jars with water for a couple of inches. You will need to find recipes or instructions specific to the fruit you want to can. Don't assume that because one fruit takes a certain amount of time or is prepared a certain way that all fruits can be done that way. Jellies, jams and preserves are not canned as such, but heat sealed. Find and follow instructions for the specific fruit you have.
To freeze, use ripe but not overripe fruit and wash thoroughly. When you're preparing it to freeze, you will find that cut or peeled pieces darken in the air. Put them into a bath made of a tablespoon of vinegar to about a quart of water. You can also use small amounts of flat (or not) citrus based soft drinks, or unsweetened lemonade in the water to keep fruits from turning colors. You can buy a product to keep fruit from turning but why buy it if you don't have to?
If you're preparing several packages of the same fruit, cut, peel or slice enough into the bath for one package at a time. You can use the same bath over and over and even freeze it for later use, so don't drain it away, but lift the fruit from it with a slotted spoon or strainer. Cover the prepared fruit with sugar syrup made to your taste. If you don't use sweetener, cover with plain water, then get to the freezer quickly.
Whole fruits can be frozen without water. Put them on a tray or cookie sheet to freeze, then store in an airtight container.
Whether you use the sun, your oven or an electric dehydrator, wash fruit, peel if necessary, and pretreat in a bath as explained above to keep it from discoloring. Place fruit on racks, keeping individual pieces from touching, and dry at 120 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Different fruits will have different qualities when they are dry. Some types will be brittle, others will be leathery. If you are going to keep dehydrated fruit for several months, pasteurize it before storing by putting it in a 175 degree oven for 10 minutes. Don't overdo it or it will turn to charcoal!
Don't wait much longer or the abundance of summer fruit will be gone!