Don't reserve your preserves just for charcuterie: Andrew Coppolino

Preserving season means jams, jellies, relishes and pickles. Now is the time when the best produce is available for making preserves. Food columnist Andrew Coppolino checked in with some local cooks and culinary instructors to learn more.

Jams, jellies, relishes and pickles can be enjoyed at home, but local restaurants use them too

Both tomatoes and onions, when preserved by pickling, can make jams and "marmalades" that can be used as ingredients in main course dishes. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

About a year ago, Murray Zehr of 1909 Culinary Academy was looking for canning jars to preserve some of the harvest from his one-acre kitchen garden near Ayr, Ontario. To his surprise, he couldn't find any in stock.

"During this pandemic, essentially what we saw was that preserving became so popular that we actually had a shortage of Mason-style jars globally. Millions and millions of people were growing and preserving their own foods," Zehr said.

As a chef and culinary instructor, the phenomenon prompted Zehr to write a book called, "What Else Can I Do With These Preserves?"

"People have all these items sitting in their pantry, and they don't know what to do with them," he said.

Historically, canning and preserving — two of humankind's oldest kitchen pursuits — focused on saving the bounty of harvested food for times when shortages were anticipated, such as winter or siege.

Today, for the most part, we have a year-round supply of virtually all foods (and very few sieges), and preserving food is not a life-and-death issue.

However, the periodically empty shelves early in the pandemic have proven to be the exception to the rule.

Zehr and other culinary instructors and cooks point to preserving, pickling and canning as a way to add interest to family meals and capture the flavours of a previous harvest and season.

We think of a dinner as an appetizer and a main course, of which there is a centre-of-the-plate protein and an assortment of vegetables.

But just as delicious are those side dish elements that come in the shape of jams, jellies, pickles and relishes. At this time of late summer and early fall harvest, some of the best produce for these condiments is ready for preserving.

Making jams, jellies, relishes and pickles — and enjoying them at local restaurants too — is a pleasure for many home cooks.

This is bacon jam. These kinds of jams can be used as condiments on sandwiches or as ingredients. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

If you're tight on time, try freezer jams

Jams and jellies are popular, to be sure. They each have different qualities when prepared properly, according to Donna-Marie Pye of Relish Cooking Studio.

"Jelly is made from the juice of the fruit, and the jam is made from the body of the fruit. They all encompass fruit, sugar and heat, but jelly extracts the juice from the crushed fruit. It tends to have a firmer structure," Pye said.

While making jams and jellies is an intense process, you can look to simpler freezer jams.

"These are jams that have not been cooked," Pye said.

"They have a higher sugar content, and you mix the acid, like a lemon juice, the fruit and sugar and freeze it. It's great if you're limited for time."

Fruit and fruit jellies, as well as pepper jellies, can be used for making savoury sauces such as a gastrique — a syrupy reduction of caramelized sugar, vinegar and wine.

Zehr suggests using preserved cherries in a cherry-Cognac sauce for peppered beef tenderloin, or opening  your canned peaches and making a salsa for a chicken satay.

Jams can add flavour to your main dish

Such combinations are inspiring and can boost the flavour and appeal of seemingly plain dishes. Both tomatoes and onions, when preserved by pickling, can make jams and "marmalades" that can be used as ingredients in main course dishes and not simply relegated to the charcuterie board.

I recently used a tablespoon or two of preserved caramelized onions to rejuvenate some leftover roast beef, which I cooked together in some stock in a frying pan. The ingredients melded into a creamy reduction for a grilled cheese sandwich.

Other preserving terms include chow-chow, originally a Chinese sauce, various butters (such as plum butter), a thing called a Cockaigne, conserves, pickles, long brines and sour pickling.

There is also winter tomato relish, or what's known as "ketchup rouge," according the late Anita Stewart in her book "Anita Stewart's Canada."

It's a bona fide Canadian dish that in winter takes the summer's tomatoes, which have been frozen, and blends them together with onions, red peppers, celery and half-a-dozen spices like allspice and coriander.

Chutneys can be sweet, sour and spicy — sometimes all at once. They can also be used as ingredients to add more flavour to your main dish. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

Restaurants use them too

On the occasional restaurant menu, too, you might find the rare but delicious condiment piccalilli. Perhaps an Indian diminutive of the word "pickle," it's a small dice of pickled vegetables in a mustard and vinegar sauce.

On the Fat Sparrow Group shelves, based in St. Jacobs, the piccalilli makes use of the garden's bounty. Vegetables like zucchini and green tomatoes are blended with fenugreek, coriander, cumin and turmeric, as well as sugar, salt and vinegar.

The combination of those spices and the likely Indian origin got me thinking about chutneys, that favourite world cuisine which is a source of many preserved vegetables, pickles and relishes.

In fact, that thick condiment that tops your stinky blue cheese on a charcuterie board could very well be an Indian-inspired chutney.

"Chutney is a Hindi word. Translated into English, it's like a relish. It can be made with spices like green coriander and mint plus tomatoes and onions. There are a lot of varieties of chutneys in our cuisine," said Ritesh Bhargava of Waterloo's Masala Bay Fine Indian Cuisine.

"It really gives you a kick."

Chutneys can be sweet, sour and spicy — sometimes all at once. Cucumber raita is another condiment-style dish that Bhargava can point to.

"There's also mixed pickles and green-chile pickle and mango pickle," Bhargava said.

Regardless of the cuisine, looking through the garden, or the farmers' market stalls, at this bountiful time of the year can provide inspiration.

Drop some red pepper jelly preserve into the mayonnaise for your grilled Monte Cristo, or add some pickled green beans to salade Nicoise, suggests Zehr.

"What we can do with preserves is not necessarily just open up the jar and use a spoon," he said.

"There's copious amounts of recipes out there to make entrees with them based on the bounty that you've preserved yourself."