I heard about macerating (essentially marinating fruit in sugar) from Meryl Natchez of Dactyls & Drakes. It was several years ago... we met for lunch and Meryl gave me a giant box of strawberries for jam. As we munched our salads, I lamented that so many recipes in books and online required huge amounts of sugar. Sometimes, it seemed all I was tasting was the sugar!
"You could macerate the fruit for a day, and that way you could use less sugar," Meryl suggested.
Hmm. The advice was tempting, but not precise enough for my literal brain. What did "less sugar" mean? How would I know how much sugar to use? And when Meryl said "macerate the fruit for a day," did she mean a full 24 hours?
Tinkering in the kitchen
Flash forward to Summer 2015. I have discovered the magic of maceration and there's no going back. It started when I received a gift of about 20 pounds of Blenheim apricots. I like to experiment when I have such an excess of fruit. I made a traditional batch, and then I decided to macerate a few quarts of chopped 'cots.
It was easy: I just cut up the apricots and poured the same amount of sugar the recipe called for onto the fruit. I added the lemon juice, too. Then I mixed it all up and put it in the refrigerator until the next day.
Perhaps I was imagining things, but it seemed the fruit turned jammy and set up faster after a day of stewing in sugar and lemon juice. The flavor was bright and sweet and the color was vibrant. But I hadn't used less sugar. So, I tried again. The second time, I used a low sugar recipe and macerated the fruit for one day. I wasn't crazy about the second batch. It was ok, but I wasn't in love. I thought it needed a touch more sugar.
Three's a charm
I tried a third time. This time, I added a bit more sugar to the recipe and macerated the fruit for two days. Bingo! I'd found the right sugar-to-fruit ratio to please my palette, and it was substantially less than I had been using for the last several years. In my view, using less sugar and macerating the fruit makes the flavor stand out more. The sugar does it's job of breaking down the fruit and the reduced amount of sugar lets that flavor shine through. And, I am convinced that macerating helps the fruit set up better and faster. Keep in mind, I have only macerated stone fruits so far. I'll try other fruit and let you know!
The more you can, the more you can can.
I started The Hot Ping a few years ago and took a break for a bit, but people have said they liked it, dare I say missed it, so I am re-posting a few of my previous Pings. And I hope to keep posting about home canning... it truly is a never-ending adventure.