Disclosure: A copy of the book has been furnished for review, and another for the giveaway, by the publisher, Running Press.
Marisa McClellan, doyenne of all things food that go in jars, is back with the third in her series of books. This time, she's turned her eye to a particular niche in the preserving space, using natural sweeteners in the place of the more common granulated sugar. Marisa took some time out of her very busy schedule while on book tour to answer a few questions for us.
PD: What inspired you to focus on using natural sweeteners in preserves?
MM: I started this journey of natural sweeteners like most people do, with honey. I started using it to sweeten various preserves first simply as a way of lending extra flavor to things like strawberry jam and quick pickles. When I would share those honey sweetened preserves on my blog, the response was always resounding and positive. People were looking for preserves that were sweetened naturally. Spurred on by such an encouraging response, I started developing more recipes that were sweetened naturally and eventually, that process of exploration turned into this book.
PD: What things does the home preserver need to take into consideration when using natural sweeteners in lieu of granulated sugar?
MM: There are a few things that people need to keep in mind when using these less refined natural sweeteners. The first is that while they bring good flavor, they do not have the same preservative effect that granulated sugar does. While the preserves in my book will keep for a goodly amount of time while on the shelf, once opened, they are apt to go a bit moldy after two or three weeks in the fridge. Because of that, I always recommend that people can them in small jars so that if they do succumb to mold, you won't lose more than a spoonful or two. Another thing to remember on the topic of preservation is that these naturally sweetened preserves often lose their color a bit faster than their granulated sugar counterparts. To help prevent color loss, make sure to keep them in a dark spot, out of reach from sunlight. Finally, remember that these preserves are rarely going to be as sweet as traditionally sweetened recipes. I find that they are satisfyingly sweet, but if you're used to eating jam made with a good deal of granulated sugar, these preserves may require a slight palate adjustment.
PD: Can these sweeteners be used interchangeably? Are there other natural sweeteners that can be substituted?
MM: For the most part, I recommend that people make the recipes as written and not get into swapping the various sweeteners. I've taken considerable care to ensure that the recipes work and are safe. When you get into the business of altering them, I can't guarantee success and safety. The one exception is when it comes to the recipes sweetened with honey and agave. I cross tested the honey recipes with agave and vice versa, and they all work beautifully without any other changes beyond a sweetener swap. The reason I did that was to ensure that the book would work for those who avoid honey or agave.
PD: What do you take into consideration when selecting a sweetener with any given preserve?
MM: Whenever I build a recipe, I am looking to create harmony. Because all of these natural sweeteners bring flavor along with their sweetness, it is necessary to include their unique taste profiles into the development process. A good example of this is the Strawberry Cocoa Jam. That preserve is sweetened with coconut sugar, which has a very earthy, molasses-like flavor. Combined with strawberries and nothing else, the finished preserve tasted muddy. I brought the cocoa powder into the recipe to help bridge the fruitiness of the berries and the earthiness of the sweetener. The result is a spread that sings.
PD: Do you have any new favorites from this book that have made it into your regular rotation?
MM: So many of the recipes from this book are now regular players in my pantry. In addition to the Strawberry Cocoa Jam mentioned above, I try to always keep a few jars of the maple sweetened Tomato Ketchup, the Minty Pickle Spears (honey!), and the Blueberry Jam (fruit juice concentrate!) around my kitchen. Oh, and I can't wait until sour cherries come back into season so that I can make more of the maple sugar sweetened Sour Cherry Jam.
I've got a copy to give away. You want it, don't you? Of course you do. So how do you enter to win? We've got options -- lots of options. You can do any or all of the following things:
You've only got until midnight PDT on Wednesday, May 4, to enter to win, so get tweeting, pinning, commenting, and visiting!