June Taylor has been making her small batch, letterpress-labeled preserves for 25 years now, long before it became a popular thing to do. She's learned a thing or two along the way, much of which she shared with us in her 5 Essentials for Relaxed and Joyful Preserve Making post last week.
Here are a few more words of wisdom from June, on why she thinks preserving has become more popular these days and why she uses the whole fruit in her preserves.
Why is preserving so popular now?
I think the wheel revolves. I think the cycle is coming around and I'm very delighted it is. We've been in some pretty dark times where industry has told us that we can't do this for ourselves, that they can do it better and cheaper, that it's not honorable work and it has no value. I think that people are questioning those assumptions now. Questioning the food that they grew up with, questioning the assumptions that we can't take care of ourselves.
I think it's partly due to our economic system, too, in that there's less jobs out there now. It's harder for young people so they have to create their world. Obviously, people rarely darn socks any more but still, we're exploring taking care of ourselves, taking care of our communities. There's a strong community emphasis in the new generation in terms of doing these things together. Everything: gardening, knitting, sewing, preserving. I'm just delighted.
Can you explain your approach to using the whole fruit?
I'm very rooted in the past. I'm very inspired by people who have naturally worked with what grows around them and had a respect for food, so they never threw anything away. I think in our modern culture there's a tremendous amount of waste. Someone once asked me in an interview what my first impression was coming here from Britain. It wasn't, "Oh my God the vegetables are fantastic, I love this and that." It was the portion size and the waste. It was the first thing that struck me.
I tell my students that people originally made fruit butters because they had windfalls. The fruit might not be picture perfect so you just cut out the little wormhole or soft spot. I utilize this model in my business. I buy windfall apples from my farmer at a reduced price for making apple butter. I completely trust him because I know his operation and I've been there a bunch of times. Having said that, I'm also a stickler for not using fruit that's way over the hill. Sometimes a farmer will say to me 'oh, but it's good for jam' and I say 'well, it's not.' You only get as good as you put in. There's a balance there.
It's a dark road of industrialization that we've gone down. We take the flesh and we throw the peel away, or we ignore the leaves on the tree. In The Still-Room, we make pectin from the seeds and membranes which are usually discarded. I have never in my entire career worked with commercial pectin. From the very beginning, I have never had a desire to do so. I don't enjoy the texture and there's no necessity for it. So when we make marmalade we take the seeds and membranes of our fruit and create the natural pectin from that. It reinforces this concept that the fruit will give you everything that you need. This is true of all good cooking — you don't stray far from the ingredients. You let your ingredients talk. You just enable them with a little technique.