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Can one can "compote" or other tart, low-sugar "fruit preserves"?

Chemistry canning question: While it seems you can can nearly anything, as long as it's at the right ph and processed correctly, fruit seems to play by different rules. I see on the USDA site you can can whole or cut up fruit, using very little sugar, but every preserve/compote recipe I read says to refrigerate, unless you make proper jam (mostly with the one-to-one sugar:fruit ratio or added pectin). Why is this? I have nothing against jam--I love jam--but I tend to make a slightly runnier, tarter compote at home for use in/on desserts (I don't particularly care if it gels), ice cream, cheese, etc. If it's at the right ph, why can't I can it? Any insight out there?

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  1. Yes, you can can some compotes. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving has three tested recipes for compotes. It's likely your library has a copy but if it doesn't and you're interested in canning more stuff down the line, it's worth investing in.

    http://www.amazon.com/Ball-Complete-B...

    1. Not very safely. Their are lots of recipes for preserving fruits but the sugar or honey is stll quite high. My grandmother canned EVERYTHING and was very sugar conscious but her fruit was always ver sweet.

      2 Replies
      1. re: JudiAU

        Actually you can preserve whole and sliced fruits in nothing more than water although the addition of a very little bit of some sort of sweetener will enhance the flavor.

        Peaches, for example: "Prepare and boil a very light, light, or medium syrup or pack peaches in water, apple juice, or white grape juice" http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_02/p...

        1. re: morwen

          Ditto what Morwen and mollyomormon said!!!

      2. You should definitely check out Linda Zeidrich's book if you haven't already. It's all low-sugar, pectin-free jams, jellies and preserves:
        http://www.amazon.com/Jams-Jellies-Ot...

        4 Replies
        1. re: mollyomormon

          Thank you so much, everyone. I ultimately went "Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry", which had a very good explanation of sugar's role in preserving. In short: ph is what enables botulism to thrive, sugar acts as a preservative once the jar is open--enabling the jam to have a longer shelf life once open (although that's not really an issue, since we'll be refrigerating the jam once it's open). This explains why you can pretty much can anything--as long as you know the ph (the tricky part, although as I was making marmalade, ph wasn't an issue) and sanitize properly (USDA has pretty extensive instructions).
          http://www.amazon.com/Canning-New-Gen...

          1. re: Duckwise

            @Duckwise - if you were making marmalade, you should know that sugar plays an important role with helping your marmalade set up. If you omitted the sugar, it wouldn't thicken properly.

            in general the pH of fruit is less than 4.6 (anything higher is unsafe to can in a boiling water bath) , so you can can whole fruit without any added sugar. But it won't taste good. In that case, sometimes people use juices or honey instead to sweeten. But you definitely need something sweet or it won't taste good.

            Here's a list of pH of food from the FDA http://www.foodscience.caes.uga.edu/e...

            You will note that tomatoes have a higher pH than fruit, which is counter to what we think of tomatoes. We think of tomatoes as "acidic" or "tangy" and we assume that they would have a lower pH than fruit, which we consider to be "sweet", So that is why we always must add acid while canning tomatoes. Hope this helps....

            1. re: momskitchen

              I wasn't terribly concerned about it setting--I actually prefer a runnier "jam"--but it set rather well regardless (I used plenty of sugar (not to mention cognac)--just not the 1 to 1 ratio most recipes suggest). I was just pleased that the sugar wasn't going to affect preservation (when, as I said, ,the jar was sealed)

              Thanks for the handy pH guide!

              1. re: Duckwise

                @Duckwise Yum...sounds delicious....be sure to let us know how it all turns out.

        2. I skip canning and put compote in ziploc bags in the freezer.

          Another alternative is to roast sliced fruit in the oven at a low temperature. It caramelizes and intensifies the fruit flavor, and then you have dried fruit you can add to desserts. (Or just eat--my strawberries and apricots don't last long.)