If it weren’t for the pig, Mardi Burden might not be making jam.
Burden, who this weekend will teach a class on making jams and jellies at her Cuisine Classique cooking school, was 5 when her mom roasted a whole pig.
“That was spectacular to me,” remembers Burden, now 57. “My mother was brushing its teeth and she made a wreath of bay leaves for a crown. I was like ‘oh my God.’ It was so exciting.”
And it launched a lifelong love of cooking. That love was fed by the pies her grandmother would make for the family’s restaurant, First and Last Chance Bar and Cafe near North Oracle and West Wetmore roads. Burden would watch her bake them and by the time Burden was 8, she was making her own pies.
In high school, she volunteered to teach cooking with the Boys and Girls Clubs.
Still, she didn’t think of it as a career. She decided to study to be an engineer.
But she never quit cooking. Marriage and motherhood interrupted her thoughts of being an engineer, but nothing interrupted the joy she found in the kitchen.
Ten years ago, with her children grown and gone, she decided it was time to do what she loved as a career and she and her husband, Bob, started Cuisine Classique. Their northwest-side home with a large demo kitchen serves as their base.
And about this time every year, when fruit is ripe and ready, she teaches her jams, jellies and preserves class.
“It’s such an old technique,” Burden says about canning. “It was all about preserving your garden so you have food to eat the rest of the year.”
Canning can be intimidating — but shouldn’t be, she says.
“It’s one of those things people are terrified of,” Burden says. “I like to break it down and make it simple.”
“The right equipment is important,” she says.
- Small mason jars (4 to 8 ounces) with lids and bands (called rings).
“The bands will help you keep the food safe,” she says.
The jars should be washed and sanitized. You can do this in the dishwasher and leave them there until ready to use. Otherwise, boil the jars in water for 10 minutes and leave in the warm water until ready to use. Rings and lids should be sanitized as well.
- A big pot for mixing and cooking.
- A canner — another pot big enough to process everything.
- A rack to put the jars on when you are done processing them.
- Large spoons and ladles, and a wide funnel.
- The fruit you’ll be using. “The fruit has the most pectin when it is perfectly ripe and freshly picked,” says Burden. “When you use frozen fruit, which you could, you change the properties and have to use a lot more pectin.”
- An acid, such as lemon juice.
- Sugar — “Sugar is an important ingredient. It’s the thing that thickens it and gives it texture. You are trying to achieve a fine balance. You prepare the fruit, weigh it, and match that with the sugar. White cane is best to use for canning — it has the least amount of irregularities; you can rely on it.”
Here’s the thing: Everything should be sanitized, measured, and ready to go before you start.
But once you start, you’ll be able to zip through the process.
And after one taste of that homemade jam, well, you’ll know it was worth it.