Homemade jams and jellies were a way of life for Twenties households. Every house that housed a cook contained a shelf or cabinet of these jewel-like delicacies that brought color to the table during the winter and early spring. Bettina’s house is no different. In Lesson 17 of When Sue Began to Cook, Sue makes Apricot Conserve.
The recipe goes into great detail about how to seal jams and jellies with paraffin wax. This was done up to the early 1970s, but is no longer considered safe. Here’s a link from the University of Minnesota Extension Service that explains why: Canning Jams and Conserves. So don’t do that. Instead, use a hot water bath for canning, which is safe. Consult a copy of the Ball Blue Book on canning if you want detailed directions on canning jams and conserves.
Notes from Sue’s Apricot Conserve diary
When I am grown up, I intend to have my jam shelves full all the time, and everything marked with the neatest labels!
At our house we always make jam in March, because that is the time our supply begins to get low. And Mother says she couldn’t possibly keep house without jam on hand.
Ruth Ann wanted to send her jam to her mother, but we persuaded her not to do it this time. “But Grandmother has lots and lots of it on hand,” Ruth Ann objected.
“We’ll put away two of your jars to use when you and Sue have that luncheon for the girls next fall — the meal that you’re going to prepare all by yourselves to show your friends what you’ve learned this year,” Mother said. “But I’d like it if you’d use all the rest for yourself — for your school lunches.” (Ruth Ann always carries her lunch to school and she has told us she never feels like eating very much.) “And I’ll tell you how to make the best little jam sandwiches you ever ate!”
“How?” asked Ruth Ann, not so very much interested. I believe she’d really rather give her jars to Mrs. Rambler than to use them up herself.
“Just add a few chopped nuts to the conserve you are using, and then make your sandwiches,” Mother said. “All children like them, and they’re good party sandwiches, too. That’s a little trick I learned long ago. Besides, Ruth Ann, if you will really teach yourself to eat, and get fat and rosy, that will be the best gift you could possibly have for your mother when she comes home.”
“But I know what I’m going to do with my jars. At least four of them,” I said, suddenly thinking of something nice. “I’m going to tie them up in the cunningest way, with tissue paper and ribbon, and put them in a pretty fruit basket. For the table, you know. And I’ll send them to Cousin Kathleen for a wedding present.”
- 6-8 1/2 pint jelly jars The original recipe does not specify how many. At least six.
- 6-8 Sets lids and rings for jelly jars
- 1 wide mouth canning funnel
- 1 Pair canning tongs For retrieving hot jars from water
- 1 lb dried apricots
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups shredded pineapple We bought it already shredded, but you can cut the sliced pineapple very fine and use it.
- 1 cup pineapple juice
- Sugar I'll explain that later.
- Friday night after school Mother had us wash the apricots by holding them in a colander under the cold water faucet till they were clean. Then we covered them with three cups of clean cold water and left them all night. (We put them in a good-sized enameled saucepan.)
- This morning we put our apricots (water and all) over a slow fire and cooked them for twenty five minutes, stirring them almost all the time so they wouldn't scorch. When they were cooked long enough, we pressed them through the coarse-meshed colander with the potato masher until all the pulp was pressed through.
- Then we put the pulp back in the white-enameled saucepan and added the pineapple and juice and cooked it very slowly for about fifteen minutes more. Then we took the mixture away from the fire and measured it very carefully with a measuring cup. We had to know the exact amount so we could add half as much sugar as there was apricot mixture.
- We added the sugar and put it all back in the saucepan again, and cooked it slowly some more until it was very thick. We stirred it every little while with a wooden spoon. (A wooden spoon is good because it doesn't get hot.) Mother said it was done when the spoon left a track for a second in the bottom of the pan when we stirred. You see, the conserve was so thick it couldn't get back into place quickly.
- We took the conserve off the fire right way and poured it into some hot sterilized jelly glasses. We let the glasses of conserve get cool and then we poured melted parafeen [paraffin wax] over the tops to seal them. Mother showed us how. This keeps the conserve from spoiling till we want to use it.
- To sterilize the glasses (that means to get them perfectly clean) we put them on a clean dish cloth in the bottom of the [metal] dishpan and covered them with cold water. (Of course the glasses had been washed clean anyway.) We set the dishpan over the fire and let the water come to a boil. Not a fast boil, just a bubble once in a while. Mother had us leave the glasses in the water til we were ready to use them. We put them on [the fire] when we began to cook the conserve.[Note: I have a metal dishpan at my house and I would not do this. Instead, use a stock pot. A water bath canner would work too, provided you don't have an electric ceramic cooktop. For these small jars, though, a 6.5 – 8 quart stock pot should be fine. The dishcloth or towel in the bottom of the pot is so the jars don't clink against one another while they're on a soft boil. I never use one.]
- When we were ready to fill the glasses we took them out and set them, right side up, in a flat-bottomed pan on another cloth with two inches of boiling water standing in the pan. We put a wide-mouthed funnel in each glass when we filled it, and then we could pour the conserve in without spilling it. We filled each glass about two-thirds full.
- Mother keeps her parafeen in a little tin bucket and uses it over and over again. When she wants some parafeen, she sets the bucket over the fire til the parafeen melts and then pours it out on top of the jam or jelly to cover it. Of course you know that parafeen hardens right away. When Mother opens a glass of jelly she always saves the little cake of parafeen and drops it back in her little tin.[Note: It is no longer recommended to seal jars of jelly or jam with paraffin, let alone use it more than once. See Notes section below. I am including this information because I am releasing the book chapters verbatim.]
- After the jars of conserve were cold, and sealed up with the parafeen, Mother let us stick little lablels on them, Conserve Delicious, printed as neatly as we could. Mother always marks everything like that and then she knows just what kind of jam she is opening.When I am grown up, I intend to have my jam shelves full all the time, and everything marked with the neatest labels!