Preserving the Bounty

Extend the season with simple jams, chutneys, and relishes―no special equipment is needed.
Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

In late summer, the season's most precious jewels―sparkling raspberries, juicy figs, fluorescent-hued peppers―are here today, and gone . . . well, with a little planning, not tomorrow, nor even the day after.

Our grandmothers knew the season was fleeting, and they'd stand over hot kettles, canning summer's best. But there's no need to get out the steamer, sterilize the jars, or heat up the house. Here are small-batch, one-pot recipes for refrigerator preserves, chutneys, and jams. You just fill the jars and chill them. The final results won't last as long as traditionally canned foods, but they taste so good, they wouldn't stick around that long anyway.

Preserve the Best
To prepare preserves, jam, or chutney, use the best fruit you can find. Whether you're at the supermarket, the local farmers' market, or out in the berry patch, there's one rule for picking the best produce: Smell it. If it lacks fragrance, it probably lacks taste.

Preserving Primer
These are the differences among the types of preserves featured here.

Chutney: a fruit-based condiment that includes a mélange of aromatics (such as onion and ginger) and vinegar, sometimes with fiery heat. It's best with roasted or grilled meats.

Jam: a whole-fruit preserve in which the fruit is cooked until it breaks down, but the pulp is not strained out. Thinned with water, it can be used as a glaze on chicken breasts or pork loin.

Relish: a vinegary condiment, often called pickle relish. Mix a little with fat-free mayonnaise for a spread on wraps and sandwiches, or spoon onto field peas.

Contain Yourself
Although refrigerator preserving is more straightforward than traditional canning, you must store jams, chutneys, and relishes in nonreactive, airtight containers. The best containers to use are glass canning jars, found in large supermarkets and some hardware stores. You can also forgo the glass jars and use stainless steel bowls or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Avoid reactive metals, such as aluminum, copper, and cast iron―when they come in contact with acidic ingredients, they often give the food an unpleasant metallic flavor. Store containers in the refrigerator for two weeks to two months, depending on the recipe.