When my trees were small, they only had a few fruits - which the birds ate - so why worry? I just waited for them to produce more so I can at least get to taste the fruits. But when the fruit trees started to grow and fruit a lot, that started me thinking about my grandma's old preserve recipes.
Actually, that wasn't hard. In Romania, we make many preserves for the winter, because we prefer to eat healthy. That means that we prefer to make our own preserves, so we can be sure that what is inside the jar is real fruit and sugar, not chemicals. We like to eat bread with butter and jam, with a cup of milk - what can be more delicious? Also, we like to put sour cherry preserves on our crepes.
There was a time when people came over for an unexpected visit - or a short expected one, they were served with a teaspoonful of preserves and a glass of cold water. It was each housewife's pride to serve her own preserves! That's our tradition, more like a legacy, handed down from mother to daughter. When my mom and grandma were making preserves they used to buy large quantities of fruits, such as sour cherries, apricots and plums. My favorite of all was the apricot jam, in which my grandma added the fruits' kernels - that was delicious! All those jars were more than enough for our small family and from one year to another, there would still remain a few untouched jars.
In my family, the berries were considered too good to be cooked, especially the strawberries, which were the most accessible at the market. As we were living in the city of Bucharest, other berries were hard to find, except for those which a peasant girl sold on the street every summer. She would come with two buckets full of blackberries and she would shout as hard as she could 'Blackberries for preserves! Blackberries!' Of course, they weren't very cheap, but pretty expensive. Yet, my mom would buy me at least a cup, to eat them fresh.
I had the chance to eat some berry preserves in my aunt Iuliana's house. She was living in a small town in the mountains where blackberries, raspberries, wild strawberries and blueberries were easy to find in large quantities. I can still remember the taste of the small wild strawberries, crispy, yet tender. I remember my aunt always brought a few jars every time she came over. My grandma would always give her some of our preserves in return, with fruits which my aunt couldn't find in her area.
I've continued this tradition and have been making preserves every summer, for my family. There was a time when some of the fruits were hard to get, but plums have always been available. That's why plum jam was the only jam I made for years.
I still remember carrying those big bags full of juicy, sweet plums and thinking how lucky were those people who had fruits in their garden. That has always been my secret thought - or possibly wishful thinking? Fact is that, after many years of such wishful thinking, it all came true! I have my own fruits now, which produce more and more every year. I wanted to have all my favorite fruits in the garden so I planted strawberries, raspberries, cherries and apricots. The apricot was the one which fruited first and summer after summer, it produced more and more - until it finally died. But in its six years of life, my apricot tree gave me more apricots than I have ever had in my life, of which I made so much jam that I still had some jars, two years after the tree had died.
In the last few years, my cherries have started to fruit more, like normal cherries do. I didn't ask myself, what to do with so many fruits, because I already knew - it's my legacy! The sour cherry is full every summer and when the fruits are ripe, I pick up a few buckets of fruits - so many that I could sell them at the market. But I choose to preserve the fruits for my family, using my grandma's old cherry recipes.
I make a sour cherry liqueur called 'visinata' and lots of preserves in jars. But I also freeze part of the harvest for a later use. I just wash them, rip the stems off, then put the fruits in plastic bags and put the bags into the freezer. The frozen sour cherries don't get mushy after thawing, especially if they are thawed in cold water. The fruits appear as they were just picked up from the tree! I can use them for making a nice, simple compote which we all like in our family, especially the grandkids.
I also freeze some of the cherries, already pitted, for cakes. When I didn't have a freezer, I used to save pitted sour cherries in jars, with sugar and an aspirin on top. The fruits were releasing their juice, while sugar and aspirin dissolved in the sauce and both acted like preservatives for the cherries. The fruits were saved crisp, in that juice, up to a year, no matter the temperature.
I've always saved the cherry stems too, for making tea. I let them dry off on a sheet of paper, then keep them in a box. The cherry stem tea is sweet and has a beautiful red color, not to mention its great medicinal properties.
Freezing has become an easy method of preserving other fruits too. I usually like my berries fresh, but when they are almost finished in the garden I can get only a few small fruits a day, which I don't want to eat anymore - because I have other fruits to pick up.
I save those for a nice berry marshmallow fluff cream. At that time, I'm usually stuffed with strawberry or raspberry marshmallow fluff cream, that's why I prefer to freeze them in plastic bags, so I can make the fluff later in the year. I put about a cup in each bag, which is the perfect quantity for a marshmallow fluff I make, with two egg whites and a cup of sugar. The berries don't do well when frozen and get mushy after thawing, but this doesn't bother me because they get blended anyway when making the marshmallow fluff.
You'll have to excuse me now, but I have to leave. I need to check the raspberry bush and pick up the last berries, which I will probably use to make a marshmallow fluff right away. If any of you would like to visit, you're invited for a nice cup!