Jam tomorrow: a sweet treat for the winter
At a Russian dacha, everyone has their traditional role. Men rise early to fix things, hammering, sawing and painting while drawing the ire of their still sleeping neighbours. Women tend their gardens, prepare food and keep the place at a reasonable level of tidiness. And older folks, when not sitting and remembering how much better it was "back then", can often be seen taking a slow walk around the territory, basket in hand, picking any fruit that can be canned and preserved for the winter.
Food preservation in general - and the making of fruit preserves (varenye) in particular - is a national obsession, crossing all demographics. In the poorer regions, this is a matter of cost efficiency. But even at high-end dachas, close to supermarkets, the forests are full of berry pickers. Nobody knows when people started doing this, and nobody really cares - varenye has always been there, and always will be.
As for why, the reasons are not hard to guess. In a country that has seen more than its share of hunger, it always pays to think ahead, especially while the weather is warm and food is plentiful. Berries are usually used for varenye, but it can be made from just about anything, from plums and apples to more exotic ingredients such as watermelon rinds and even rose petals. It contains pieces of the fruit it was made from, and is preserved using sugar. Like many Russian foods, it is reputed to have medicinal properties - children with fever get a generous dollop of raspberry varenye in their tea from their grandmothers, who believe it helps them sweat the fever out. And just about everyone, young and old alike, enjoys a cup of steaming hot tea with varenye on a cold winter day. Indeed, the temperature that the fruits are boiled at and the storage conditions are of ultimate importance for successful varenye.
o2kg freshly picked raspberries (shop-bought is fine, too)
oSeveral jars, sterilised in boiling water (sterilise the lids as well)
In a bowl, make several layers of raspberries and sugar, and let the mixture sit until the berries begin to produce juice. This can take anywhere from 4-8 hours, depending on how warm the room is (the higher the temperature, the faster the berries will give out juice). Put the mixture over a low flame and heat until the sugar dissolves, then raise the heat and bring to a boil for 1-2 minutes.
Leave to cool, then transfer into jars. Make sure to wait until the varenye stops steaming. It's also important that the jars are completely dry, as moisture will cause mould to grow.
Close the jars and place them into a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes.
When the jars cool, store in a dark, dry place until winter.
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