Q: I just made a batch of loquat jelly with fruit from my trees. I boiled the fruit, got the juice and made the jelly. It looks great and tasted great, too. But now someone has told me that the loquat seeds are poisonous. Do I have to throw out all my jelly because I boiled the seeds?
A: Hang on to your jelly! And enjoy it. It is true that some compounds in loquat seeds, under the right conditions, could produce cyanide. But those would include chewing on the raw seeds, and because they're pretty hard, that would take some real determination.
There are enzymes in the seeds that react with these compounds and basically cut them apart, releasing cyanide when the seeds are cut and exposed to air. The cutting or chewing is also necessary to open up the cells and allow the enzymes to touch the compounds. When you boiled the seeds in the fruit to make the juice, the heat destroyed the enzymes. Plus you threw them away without cutting or chopping them, so there's nothing toxic left in the juice.
The "Guide to the Poisonous and Irritant Plants of Florida" by Kent Perkins and Willard Payne says that while these compounds are present, "No cases are known," meaning there are no reports of anyone having gotten sick from them. A lot of people, myself included, suck the fruit off the seeds when we pick and eat them. Just spit the seeds out, and you'll be fine.
Q: I'm trying to make strawberry jam with the last of the season's fruit, and have two problems. One is that this batch of fruit in particular seems to be super seedy. The mashed fruit is almost gritty, there are so many seeds. Is there any way I can get rid of them and still make jam instead of jelly? Also, I seem to have an awful lot of foam on top of the jam when I put it in the jars. My friends disagree on whether I should put butter in it to stop the foam. What's best?
A: The only thing you can do to get rid of the seeds is to strain part of the fruit. You'll need a fine strainer, a Foley mill, Squeezo or other type of food mill with a mesh screen fine enough to catch strawberry seeds. Mash the fruit for your recipe and put about half of it through the strainer. Add the pulp back to the rest of the mashed fruit and proceed with the recipe. You'll have just half the seeds.
As for the foam, don't use butter or margarine. When we judge jams and jellies for Heritage Village at the Strawberry Festival, we can always tell as soon as we open the jar if there's butter in it. It smells old and strong. And butter makes it more likely that the lids won't seal on the jars.
Another thing to avoid is using your food processor to chop the fruit. That beats too much air into the fruit, and air is what makes foam. Mash the fruit with a meat tenderizer, a rolling pin, a can, but don't chop it with a food processor.
One more don't: Don't overcook the jam. Once the pectin starts to set, it's much harder to get the foam out. As soon as the one-minute boil is over, take the pot off the heat. Let it sit for just a few seconds, then use a large spoon to skim off the foam. You can usually scrape a lot of foam over to one side of the pan where it'll be easier to skim off. The foam will taste just like the jam, but you're right to try to get rid of it. If sealed in the jar, it will make the jam darken a lot faster.