Mint Syrup & Rhubarb Mojitos

This project started out as an attempt to preserve spring herbs.When I first started my garden, years ago, I was working with this bare hillside covered with brush and weeds.  I didn’t really have any experience with garden planning and made some strange choices, once of which was to plant a whole bunch of mint.  I liked the idea of mint growing around my garden without me having to do anything, and since it would spread I figured it would take over the space from all the weeds.

Yeah…

That was about the dumbest idea I’ve ever had.  Now we have mint everywhere.  Don’t plant mint in your garden.  Put it in a container, not the ground.  The roots are so invasive, and even when you think you’ve dug them all up, they come right back.  God forbid you run a rototiller through it — then all of the roots split into little pieces and sprout new plants, and instead of having a million little mint plants you have ten trillion of them.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to use this ridiculous amount of mint, to turn it into something that would actually make it worth the space in the garden.  Later in the summer, it shoots up pretty purple flower spikes and I put it in our bouquets for the farmers market.  I wanted to find a culinary use for it, though, so I figured I’d make a mint simple syrup since mojitos are a staple around here during the summer. Oh yeah, that beautiful shade of baby poo green? That’s why most people put green food coloring in their minty canned goods.

I’d never made anything like this before, so I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.  It’s good, but if you’re using it for mojitos I think it works better in addition to the fresh mint than it does as a substitution for the fresh stuff.  The flavor in the cooked syrup is definitely very minty but loses some of that fresh brightness that the leaves originally had.

So while that whole project was going on, I was also working on rhubarb things and finally made the Tigress’s recipe for Rhubeena, (rhubarb syrup), which is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages now.  It came out perfectly – it’s everything that the mint syrup isn’t, actually.  It tastes tart and bright and turns a stunning shade of hot pink. At this point, my mediocre herb-preservation project joined forces with the power of rhubarb to make some absolutely stellar cocktails.  You don’t necessarily have to use rhubeena to make these- any rhubarb product you have around will work.  I even made a couple using some rhubarb pulp leftover from a totally different project.  Rhubarb jam would work.  Technically… you don’t even need to use rhubarb as the fruit flavor.  You could substitute any fruit product that makes you happy:  blueberry jam, apricot butter, chopped fresh strawberries… whatever you want.  The rhubarb is amazing, though, and I highly recommend it. It seems like everyone always looks forward to summer for fun stuff like grilling and fizzy cocktails and eating outdoors.  Spring has always seemed like a some kind of preparatory period leading up to summer, but recently I’ve been thinking that, you know, the weather right now is totally beautiful, the garden has plenty of nice things going on, and – most importantly – late July and August on a farm tend to be so busy that there’s not much time to stop and enjoy everything.  I’m embracing spring as the time to celebrate.  The sun is back out.  Make a cocktail and clean the grill off, no reason to wait.

(I know, I know, it might still frost/snow/sleet etc., I’m starting the party early anyway).

Mint Simple Syrup

Thanks to Cindy from SB Canning for helping me make sure that this project would be safe to can (she’s pretty smart about that stuff).  Lots of recipes on the internet for mint syrup that goes in the fridge, but I wasn’t sure if it would be shelf stable.  This recipe should work for other culinary herbs as well.

cook time: oh…. 40 minutes including processing time?

makes: a little over 3 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. water
  • 3 c. sugar
  • 1 huge bunch of fresh mint, washed thoroughly: I don’t mean the little teeny bunches that they sell at the grocery store- I mean a big huge handful!

This recipe comes together pretty quickly, so you might as well start by bringing the boiling water canner up to a boil right off the bat.

In a nonreactive pot, combine the sugar and water.  Cook on high heat, stirring for a minute or two, to dissolve the sugar.  Add the mint into the pot and cook for 15 minutes on medium heat.  Remove from heat and strain through several layers of cheesecloth or a jelly bag.   Pour into clean half pint jars leaving 1/4″ headspace and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

 

Rhubarb Mojitos

cook time: 5 minutes

makes: 1 cocktail

Ingredients:

  • ice & seltzer water
  • 2 ounces rhubeena
  • 1 ounce mint simple syrup*
  • 6 or 7 fresh mint leaves
  • 3/4 of a lime
  • 1 ounce rum

Cut the lime into wedges.  In a pint glass, combine the rhubeena, mint syrup, and rum.  Squeeze the lime wedges into the glass to release the juice and then throw them right in there with everything.  Add the mint leaves.  Add some ice.  Top with seltzer water.  Mix well.

*In the past I haven’t bothered making mint syrup for mojitos, but I think it actually made a significant improvement in the cocktail to do it this way.  If you don’t want to can a big batch, you could just infuse a small batch of simple syrup with some mint leaves and put leftovers in the fridge.

Rhubarb Jam

I’ve been making marmalades for months now.  There have been oranges, lemons, tangerines, kumquats, grapefruit and pomelos scattered all over every surface in kitchen. Every time I finish with one case of citrus, I’ll swear to myself that I’m not doing any more marmalades because I’m so sick of finely slicing things… and then about two days will pass, I’ll forget my vow, and then decide it’s a good idea to do something idiotic like make 40 jars of kumquat marmalade.  (About 5 minutes after I start, I remember that I totally meant to not go down that road again, but since I don’t like wasting things I end up powering through several cases of kumquats and getting a bunch of calluses on my fingers from all the knife-work.)

After this whole marmalade saga, I can say that as of right now, I’m officially down to one last single lemon. If you see me at a farmers market, please just say:

LISTEN.  DON’T DO IT. IT’S NOT WORTH IT. STAY AWAY FROM THE ORANGES.

(But just writing that, I start thinking – ah, but I don’t really have enough blood orange things in jars, and I never got to do anything with those rangpur limes that Shae keeps raving about , so I can basically guarantee that I’m going to continue down this destructive path of citrus addiction for atleast another month or two.)

I’m trying though! See? This rhubarb jam is completely different from all of the elaborate marmalades I’ve been working on.  It’s just plain rhubarb, no bells and whistles at all.  I wanted to make something that was bright and clean tasting and completely true to the flavor of the fruit. So the rhubarb ends up doing this sweet-tart thing that’s so, so tasty….  This is, without a doubt, in my top 5 favorite preserves.  I want to put it on everything.  I like it so much that I’m pretty sure I’m going to put in a twenty foot row of rhubarb in the garden so that I can really have enough to play with.  Rhubarb Jam

This recipe is my own, but very much inspired by the methods used in the Blue Chair Fruit cookbook and the vibrant colors of the jam over at INNA Jam, which I’ve never tasted before but I’ve stared at a lot on the internet.

Makes: a little more than 5 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 lbs. rhubarb
  • 4 c. sugar
  • lemon juice to taste, around 1/4 c.

Day 1:

Remove the leaves from the rhubarb stalks and discard.  Wash the stalks.  Slice the stalks into small pieces about 1/2″ wide.  In a nonreactive container (like a large tupperware or glass bowl), combine the chopped rhubarb and the sugar.  Cover.  Put the container in the fridge for a day or two to macerate.

Day 2:

Cook the jam: Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Put the rhubarb mixture into a wide, heavy-bottomed pot.  Cook on high heat, stirring occasionally.  Try to be gentle when you stir so you keep some chunks of rhubarb; the pieces are very tender and fall apart very easily.  I didn’t use a thermometer when I cooked this; I noticed that the jam visibly thickened more than it really looked like it had gelled.  The rhubarb will start wanting to stick to the bottom of the pot towards the very end of the cooking time, so make sure to keep stirring and keep a close eye on it towards the end of the cooking time.  It ends up being  a soft set jam, but the texture is wonderful, thick enough.  Add in the lemon juice towards the end of the cooking time, going about a tablespoon at a time.  I wanted this to be pretty tart, so I put in a lot, but you don’t have to use as much as I did.  It’s fine to turn off the jam, let it sit for a minute, taste it, and stir in a little more lemon juice if it needs a more brightness.

Ladle cooked jam into clean jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe the rims of the jars completely clean and screw on lids.  Process for 10 minutes, remembering to adjust for altitude if necessary.

NOTE: I like how simple this recipe is, but you could certainly use it as a starting point and add some other flavorings in.  Future batches might have things like candied ginger, orange zest, lavender, etc. mixed in, but I wanted something simple before I pulled out all the fancy stuff.

How To Use Up A Whole Bunch Of Jam At Once: Spiked Peach Bread Pudding

Every once in awhile, the kitchen kind of gets out of control with my projects: Eggs everywhere. A million jars of jam.  The counter cluttered with stale ends of experiments in bread-baking.It’s rainy and cold today, but I didn’t make this dessert because I wanted to have something sweet and warm;  I made it because I had to figure out something to do with all the crap lying around in the kitchen.The only sweetener in this bread pudding is jam, so you might need to adjust it for your taste a little bit.  I used a peach jam that was a standard high-sugar recipe for this, so if you want to use a low sugar or no sugar jam, you might want to add more (or add some honey).Spiked Peach Bread Pudding

Cook Time: 1 1/2 hrs.

Serves: a lot

Ingredients:

  • 8 c. bread, cubed, from assorted odds and ends of stale bread
  • 5 c. milk
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1/3 c. whiskey
  • 1 pint jar of peach jam plus more for serving
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. amaretto liqueur
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • garnish: powdered sugar, jam and mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10″ cast iron skillet.  Spread cubed bread evenly in the skillet.  In a pot on medium heat, combine the milk, sour cream, whiskey, jam, lemon juice, nutmeg, amaretto, and vanilla.  Bring to a low simmer for a few minutes and whisk everything together.  Once the sour cream and the jam have melted into the milk, turn off the heat and let the milk mixture cool for a few minutes.  Put the beaten eggs in a large mixing bowl.  This part is important: you can’t just combine the beaten eggs and the hot milk mixture together or the eggs will cook wrong and ruin the consistency of the custard.  Make sure that you follow these instructions here: Slowly pour the milk mixture into the mixing bowl with the eggs in a thin stream and whisk everything constantly while you pour. This is the custard for the pudding.

Pour the custard over the cubed bread and let it sit for 20 minutes to soak, then bake the bread pudding at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until the custard is cooked through.

Serve topped with powdered sugar and a spoonful of jam.

Note: All the important numbers (350, 375, 400, 450) have rubbed off the dial on my oven, and it doesn’t cook evenly or at the correct temperature anyway, so my cooking time might be off.  When I smelled the faintest bit or burning only twenty minutes into cooking, I realized that I had the dial set on, oh, 460? No good.  I caught it in time, though. I majorly need to buy an oven thermometer.

Citrus Marmalade

I adore pomelos.

I think the scent of a ripe pomelo is absolutely intoxicating. Truthfully, they’re in the kind of the same category as glitter and sparkly things for me, meaning that if I walk past them at a market, I get distracted like a little kid, forget what I was doing, and wander over to the pomelo display, where I have to pick them up and smell them for a few minutes.

If you’re unfamiliar with pomelos, they’re these absolutely massive, pale yellow citrus fruits that taste like a very sweet grapefruit.  They have a really thick peel, which, according to wikipedia, “is sometimes used to make marmalade.”  Very good, wikipedia, you’re quite right.

I had two of them sitting in my kitchen for a few days, and I ended up in the middle of a marmalade frenzy on the morning of January 1st, throwing together all of the citrus fruit I had in my kitchen into one delightful batch. This recipe turned out delicious, with a nice set and and just the right ratio of citrus jelly to citrus peel.  (My boyfriend, who has about 15 years of professional cooking experience, tastes almost every single batch of marmalade I make, thinks for a moment, and almost always says “too much peel.”  Well, I think I finally got it right on this one.  The slices of peel are elegantly suspended in a liberal amount of the sweet citrus jelly).

I have to say, though, citrus fruits are lucky that they come into season in the middle of the winter, when no one is trying to plant tomatoes or pick green beans or can peaches, because, shoot, this recipe is elaborate, to say the least.  Maybe they knew we’d be sitting around wishing for a project since the weather’s too gray and cold for gardening.  a properly gelled marmalade on January 1st is most certainly a good omen

If you have some patience and your knife is sharp, I highly recommend this recipe.  I’ve used five different types of citrus fruit and used two different styles of preparing the rinds to result in what I think will be the best texture in the finished marmalade.  It may be time consuming to make, but spread on a toasted english muffin with butter, it’s all worth it.  

Citrus Marmalade

makes: about 9 1/2 half pint jars

cook time: it’s not fast…  this is a more advanced level recipe, which doesn’t mean beginners shouldn’t tackle it, it just means it will take a lot of time if you don’t already know your way around an orange

Ingredients:

  • 2 pomelos
  • 1 grapefruit
  • a handful of kumquats (it was going to be more but I ate them)
  • 2 navel oranges
  • 2 lemons (not meyer- just plain old normal lemons)
  • 8 cups of water, either filtered or spring
  • 8 cups of sugar

Instructions- stay with me, I know it’s long:

Day 1:  Prepare the fruit and combine it with the water

To prepare the pomelos:

Run either a sharp knife or a sharp vegetable peeler around the outside of the pomelos, removing the colored part of the rind and leaving behind the pith.  Stack the pieces of rind in a pile and slice them into the thinnest strips you can manage.  If the finished strips are on the long side, cut them in half or thirds (you want them to fit nicely into a spoon for the finished marmalade, not to be pomelo noodles).  Set the finished pomelo rind aside in a mixing bowl.  Now, cut off the layer of white pith to reveal the colored fruit.  Use your knife to remove individual segments from the fruit, leaving behind the bitter membranes.  Roughly chop the fruit segments into bite size pieces.  Set the prepared fruit pieces aside in the mixing bowl.  If you’d like to see pictures, see the older version of this recipe, where I’ve got step-by-step photos.*

To prepare the grapefruit:

Use the same method as described above, using only the outer part of the rind and the segments of fruit.  Combine the finished fruit segments and sliced strips of peel with the prepared pomelo in your mixing bowl.

To prepare the kumquats:

Slice off the tip where the stem was attached.  Next, slice the kumquat in half. Remove any little seeds.  Next, each half of the kumquat into very thin strips.  Combine the prepared kumquat with the prepared grapefruit and pomelo.

To prepare the lemons and oranges:

Slice off the blossom and stem end of the fruit.  Slice the fruit into quarters.  Slice off the pithy center of each quarter, where the membranes join together and the seeds are hiding.  Lay out the pieces of fruit so that the skin side is facing you and slice the oranges and lemons into the thinnest pieces you can manage.  Hitchhiking to Heaven has a post with some pictures of this process if you’d like some visual clarification.   Combine the prepared oranges and lemons with the other prepared fruit.

Next:

Combine the fruit and the water in a nonreactive container and let it sit for 24 hours.

Day 2 (the easy part):

Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Wash jars and lids in hot, soapy water.

Put the fruit mixture into a large, nonreactive pot.  Turn the heat on medium and bring to a simmer.  Simmer the fruit for 20 minutes to soften the rinds.  Pour in the sugar and stir to combine everything.  Turn the heat to high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the marmalade reads 220 on a candy thermometer or passes whatever gel test you like.**

Ladle the hot marmalade into hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Process for 10 minutes.

*This whole recipe is a new version of the very first recipe that I posted on this site, a pomelo marmalade with rosewater and cardamom. That recipe was tasty, but this one is better.  I ditched the exotic spices in this version, but if you wanted to, you could absolutely add them back in at the same time that you add the sugar.  Oh, and I left them out because I have literally no marmalade in the pantry right now, and I wanted something clean and bright to start with, not because I didn’t like how they turned out.  Cardamom and rosewater are super good with pomelos.

**My candy thermometer is officially not accurate, so I’m back to using the spoon test. (Picture here) It was really simple and the marmalade gelled just fine, which makes me wonder about getting a new thermometer.

Top 10 Posts from 2011

Wasting time on the internet reading Top 10 lists is such a delightful tradition right before Jan 1.  I want to enable anyone else who enjoys it as much as I do, by writing yet another top 10 list.  You know you love ’em.  Don’t go be productive, sit here on the computer, for just another few minutes.

1. How To Preserve 100+ lbs. of Tomatoes With Almost No Work

This is probably my favorite post too, detailing the massive amounts of tomato preservation that happens at the farm every summer.  Sometimes I come home from the farmers market with more tomatoes than I actually took, which is completely ridiculous.  At the end of the market, when vendors have unsold tomatoes, if I hear mutters of “ah, feed ’em to the chickens,” I try to get in on the action before the hens.  End of summer, heavily discounted tomatoes are where it’s at.

2. Stout Beer Jelly

This is such a weird jelly.  It’s good and all, but…  This post made it to the front page of reddit, which hurt my brain, since there are so many other preserves I’ve made that I would recommend more than this one.  It’s a novelty jelly.  It’s definitely really tasty in certain situations, like on grilled lamb, or with toasted pumpernickel bread with cream cheese.  This is what happens if you, um, partake on St. Patrick’s Day and are a huge canning nerd, and then you decide to start making jelly out of random stuff in the kitchen.

So here’s the deal: I’m working on a new version, with tart cherries, some dried spices and bay leaves.  Please, I beg you, wait for the updated recipe before you make this. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

3. Vanilla Peach Jam

This jam is killer, and this post has step-by-step instructions for beginners.  Vanilla bean and ripe, juicy peaches is a pretty perfect combination.

4. Chocolate Plum Jam

I spent days and days and days canning in the commercial kitchen I use (that’s the door, in the picture below) for the National Heirloom Expo this September. The chocolate plum jam was a creation for that event, which you can make at home if you didn’t get to go.  It’s another winner, absolutely delicious.

5. Concord Grape Jam

What’s not to love about grape jam? It’s heavenly…

6. Pineapple Weed Tea

So…  I was all excited about how popular this post was, sitting in my living room going “gosh it’s so great that people are so interested in foraging these days”… and then I realized, after reading the search terms a little more closely:

There’s a strain of marijuana named “pineapple” and when I wrote “pineapple weed tea” a lot of people thought that I meant I was making tea out of marijuana and got really excited about my blog.

Am I naive? Yes. Is this post about getting high off your tea? Sadly, no. Is it still delicious tea? Yes.

7. My Grandma Molly’s Recipe for Pickled Watermelon Rind

Pickled watermelon was all kinds of trendy this year, and I saw recipes popping up all over the place.  Well, this is the exact recipe that my grandma from North Carolina was making, decades ago.  It’s a tedious recipe, true, but keep a jar in the fridge during the summer, and you’ll be rewarded with the most deliciously sweet, cold, crunchy pickle you’ve ever had.  People sometimes ask me what this pickle is for, exactly, and let me just say: Fried Chicken.  A big southern dinner is never complete without a little glass dish of pickles out on the table.

8. Pear Cardamom Jam 

This is my personal favorite jam, the one that I put on my toast.  Pears have such a bold, juicy flavor- I can’t get enough.

9. Candied Buddha’s Hand

One of the most exotic fruits you’ll ever see, chopped up in little pieces, cooked in sugar and turned into sweet little bites, perfect for putting in bread, cookies and fruitcake.

10. Kimchi

‘cuz kimchi is totally a thing now, like cupcakes and making jam…

This is a small batch recipe that ferments in the fridge, adapted from The Hungry Tigress, who adapted it from Tart and Sweet, which is a fantastic cookbook that I just got for Christmas! Funny how it works like that… (Thanks, my sweet little sister, you rock).

And that’s the top 10…

Thanks for reading this year, and here’s to another epic year of jamming pickling fermenting baking roasting braising gardening and all that stuff that we all love! Happy New Year!

Pome Honey

I’ve written three different introductions to this recipe now, trying to think of a witty way of saying that this is an adaptation of a recipe from Paula Deen.  I can’t think of anything.  Really, I’m embarrassed to say that I like one of her recipes.  I want to be cool like Anthony Bourdain and just sit around smoking cigarettes,* eating pork and drinking cocktails, but that’s not happening today.  I should thank one of my old friends for turning me on to this preserve.  She’s an amazingly sweet southern girl that should have her own cooking show, and when she gave me a jar of pear honey as a gift a few years ago, it pretty much blew my mind.  It was one of the most delicious canned goods I’ve ever tried. I distinctly remember my friend looking me in the eyes and saying “Don’t tell anyone the recipe!” and I realize that what I’m doing right now is literally the exact opposite of that.  I’m kind of a big mouth when it comes to recipes.

Now, I’m never one to stick to an ingredient list, and I had some quince that were sitting around looking all pretty, so instead of pear honey, I made pome honey.  It’s a delightfully rosy mixture of bosc pears and quince that tastes sweet and juicy out of the jar.  The term “honey” is a reference to the bright flavor and has nothing to do with the ingredients list.  (The original, pear-only recipe tastes a bit more like honey than my version).

I have to fess up, though.  There’s also a secret ingredient:Canned Crushed Pineapple.  Classy, I know.  The thing is, this recipe is so delicious that I always break my rules about local, seasonal fruit and make a big batch once a year.  The canned pineapple actually kind of hides in the background and is hard to recognize behind the pears. I could definitely make this preserve a little bit less questionable and just use fresh pineapple instead of canned, but they don’t have fresh local pineapples where I live, so my rules are already broken (…although, if you live somewhere where there are fresh local pineapples, I would definitely pick those over the canned stuff.)Pome Honey

Cooking Time: about 1 1/2 hrs.

Makes: 12-16 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 8 c. peeled, cored, chopped pears
  • 8 c. grated fresh quince (I leave the skins on, but make sure not to use the core or the stem)
  • 1 20 oz. can crushed pineapple in pineapple juice (make sure to check that it is not canned in high fructose corn syrup. That’s slumming it a little bit too much.)
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 10 c. sugar

Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Wash jars and lids in hot soapy water.  Sterilize jars and lids using whatever method you prefer (I put my jars on a cookie sheet in the oven, 20 minutes at 200 degrees.)

Combine all of the ingredients in a large, nonreactive pot. Cook on medium heat until everything has thickened, stirring occasionally to prevent the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  At this point, you can either purée the fruit or leave it chunky.  I like to give it a quick spin through the blender so that there are no recognizable chunks of pineapple (shh! it’s a secret!)

Pour the hot pomes honey into hot jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe the rims clean.  Screw on lids and rings and process in the boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

The finished product is perfect mixed with yogurt, on croissants, over ice cream, and especially over this chevre cheesecake.

Oh, and if you wanted to really go nuts, I’m pretty sure that if you added about 1/2 c. of cherry jam in with all the fruit while it cooks that it would taste exactly like canned fruit cocktail, but without all the high fructose corn syrup, red #5, soggy grapes, etc.  I haven’t tried it yet, but I might experiment with it on the next batch.

*not that smoking cigarettes is cool.

Valencia Orange Marmalade with Apples and Cranberries

After the saga of the ruptured ligament in my ankle a few weeks ago, things are starting to get a little bit more back to normal.  I’ve been hobbling around, planting some kale, picking some flowers, and starting to clear some beds to make room for winter vegetables.  It’s been equal amounts of elation to be walking around and frustration that it’s still so slow.  I’m incredibly grateful to be back at it, though, and I realize that the injury I have is relatively minor compared to some of the health problems or accidents that some people have to deal with.

The gardens plugged along just fine without me for a few weeks, and are in that delicate transitional stage that November often brings.   Some of the flowers and greens are doing really well now that the temperatures have cooled down.  We haven’t had a hard frost yet, so the summer vegetables are still just holding on, their production slowed down to a crawl.  Slowly but surely, I’m clearing away all of the faded summer plants and getting my winter babies into the ground: purple brussels sprouts, several varieties of kale and chard, alcosa cabbages, asian greens, all kinds of garlic and onions, and much more.  I finally, finally got to make a batch of jam.  I went almost two weeks without canning anything at all, which is longer than I’ve gone in years.  This marmalade turned out so delicious, with the perfect blend of tart and sweet. I used a two day process; many marmalade-makers may have seem something similar to this before.  Normally you’d slice the oranges and combine them with water, letting them sit for 24 hours.  The natural pectin in the citrus fruit seeps out into the water and helps ensure a good gel without any added commercial pectin.  This time, instead of using plain water, I used some tart apple juice that I’d prepared for jelly and had stashed away earlier.  The pectin in the apple juice wasn’t absolutely necessary to get a good set, but it certainly helped, and the flavor of fresh apples combined with sweet valencia oranges and fresh cranberries was a fantastic combination. The sweetness of the apples completely rounded out the tartness of the citrus and cranberries to make a wonderfully mellow marmalade.  It will be delicious with our roast turkey on Thanksgiving, but we’ve already gone through two jars just doing the toast thing.

Valencia Orange Marmalade with Apples and Cranberries

Cook Time: well, it’s a two day process. It’s got several steps but it’s not actually all that difficult.

Makes: I think it made 7 half-pint jars, but we’ve already gone through a couple of them and I forgot to count before I wrote this post.

Ingredients:

  • 5 large organic valencia oranges, sliced for marmalade (see how I did lemons in this other post with pictures)
  • 6 c. cooked apple juice from tart apples, such as granny smiths or crabapples (see below for preparation instructions)
  • 3 1/2 c. fresh cranberries, rinsed
  • 6 c. sugar

To prepare the apple juice:*

Quarter 8 or 9 apples.  Remove the stems, any bruised spots or worm holes, and any attached leaves. (Leave the skin on and the cores in).  Place the apples in a medium sized, nonreactive pot and cover with water.  Cook for two hours.  Pour the apple and water mixture into a jelly bag or through cheesecloth to strain the juice.  I drained mine for four hours, but you can leave it draining for 12 or even 24 hours. Don’t press on the bag or the cheesecloth while it drains or the juice will be cloudy.  The juice will last for several weeks in the fridge (and several months in the freezer).

To Make The Marmalade, Day 1:

Slice the oranges for marmalade.  Make sure to sharpen a good knife and slice the peels as thinly as possible.  (If you don’t slice them very thinly, they won’t cook all the way through, and they’ll be gross chunks of bitter orange rinds).  Combine the prepared oranges with the prepared apple juice in a nonreactive container and leave it to sit overnight.

Day 2:

Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Wash jars and lids in hot, soapy water.  Place your lids in a bowl and cover with boiling water from the canner.

Put the orange/apple juice mixture into a large, nonreactive pot.  Add the fresh cranberries and the sugar and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the marmalade reaches about 220 degrees on a candy thermometer (or whichever your favorite gel test is- there are several.  I found this pdf using the power of google that has a very good explanation of different gel tests in case you’re unsure about it).

Ladle the hot marmalade into the clean jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe rims clean and screw on lids.  Process for 10 minutes in the boiling water canner. 

Seckel Pears Canned In Red Wine Syrup

I can’t even deal with how much I love pears.  Peaches are wonderful, yes, but biting into a juicy, ripe pear is something else altogether, such an unexpectedly complex sweetness.  I love how earthy and rustic they are, and I always want to put them with things like cardamom, goat cheese and red wine.

This recipe calls for seckel pears, a variety much smaller that the typical barlett or d’anjou, so they make the perfect little spoonful of something sweet.  Really, all it entails is canning some pears, but I’ve switched out some of the water for zinfandel and added a few spices.  They’ll be the perfect thing to have stashed away for the holidays in case I want to need something ridiculously fancy to impress guests.

(It’s horrible but true, depending on who you’re talking to… “You brought store bought pumpkin pie? That’s so… nice…. I brought seckel pears poached in zinfandel with nutmeg and orange zest.” It’s even better if you can say “I grew them myself” or “They’re organic” but you have to be careful that someone doesn’t just end up punching you in the face for sounding too much like Gwyneth Paltrow.  (an example from her blog: “As a home cook, one of the best things I’ve ever done was to build a wood burning oven in the back yard.”  Great, thanks for the tip, Gwyneth).  For the rest of us that aren’t rolling around in piles of money, this project is equally fancy and only costs about $15.

Seckel Pears Canned In Spiced Red Wine 

Cook Time: about 2 hours

Makes: 3 quart jars

Ingredients:

  • 10 lbs. seckel pears
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 4 c. spring water (or filtered tap water)
  • 1 c. zinfandel
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. orange zest
  • 1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
  • 2 1/2 c. sugar

Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Sterilize jars and lids. 

In a large, nonreactive pot, combing water, wine, sugar, nutmeg, bay leaf, and orange zest and bring to a boil. Simmer for five minutes, then remove the bay leaf and turn the heat to very low.

Peel, half and core the pears. Gently toss in a bowl with 1/4 c. lemon juice to prevent browning.  Transfer the prepared pears to the pot with the red wine syrup and gently simmer them for five minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to lift the pears out of the syrup and then pack the hot pears into hot jars. Ladle the red wine syrup to cover the pears, leaving 1/2″ head space.   Remove air bubbles from the pears by gently running a plastic spatula around the edge of the jar.  Adjust the head-space if necessary.Wipe the rims clean and screw on the jar lids.  

Process quart jars for 25 minutes if your altitude is 0-1,000 ft., 30 minutes from 1,000-3,000 ft., 35 minutes from 3,000 to 6,000 ft., and 40 minutes above 6,000 ft. (What about on top of Mt. Everest? Doesn’t it seem like it should be way longer? The answer: I have no idea).

I’m not fan of really rich, filling desserts. If you want something a little lighter and more elegant, try plating some pears with whipped cream or creme fraiche, fresh thyme, and black pepper, maybe a drizzle of honey. You could flesh this out into a really nice cheese course by adding some manchego and a few pieces of dark chocolate.  

How To Preserve A Whole Season Of Hot Peppers With Virtually No Work

It’s starting to really feel like fall here in the hills of Mendocino.  Over the course of two weeks we’ve transitioned from hot, dry, sunny September days to chilly October mornings where the fog hangs thick over the vineyards in the valley.Even though we’re transitioning into winter it still feels oddly like spring… after months of staring at dead grass and start thistle, it’s like a breath of fresh air to look at the ground and see actual green stuff coming up:

Around now, I try to be vigilant in keeping the all of the vegetables in the garden completely picked. It could theoretically frost at any time, and these days the farm is way too big to wait until a frost warning to start picking everything. (Also, if there’s a frost warning, it’s probably chilly as hell and I’d rather pick peppers on a sunny afternoon than in the dark, bundled up in winter clothes with mittens and a head lamp.)

I’m yearning for the post-frost relaxation that’s just around the corner. I’m way too busy for really complicated preserving projects, so I had to deal with these peppers in the fastest, most efficient way possible. Here’s everything I’ve learned in my years of preserving about how to get it done.

THE FREEZER IS YOUR FRIEND

Hot peppers freeze really, really well. In general, I try to stick to one method of preservation, meaning that I don’t like canning out of the freezer. In my experience, canned goods taste the best when you get the produce from the field to the jar in as little time as possible.  Hot peppers are my exception, though. The advantage of freezing hot peppers (other than the time) is how much easier they are to work with when they’re frozen.

  • To freeze the peppers, either vacuum seal them or put them in thick ziploc bags designed for the freezer. Label and date and throw ’em in the freezer.
  • When you want to use them, don’t thaw them first. They’re much easier to seed and mince while they’re still rock hard, and since they’re so small they often thaw right on the cutting board when you’re working with them.  To seed the peppers, cut the stem end off first, then slice the pepper in half lengthwise, and then run a (gloved) finger down each half to brush the seeds out.
  • All hot pepper varieties freeze well, whether they’re thick or thin-skinned.
  • Note: Frozen peppers will lose a lot of their crunch, so the only project you won’t really be able to do later is make pickled peppers.

RISTRAS

Thin-skinned red chilis dry very well, and look wonderful strung into ristras.  I love having all my projects hanging in the kitchen: garlic braids, bouquets of bay laurel and flowering marjoram, a few different varieties of dried pepper ristras, and maybe some edible flowers for tea like pineapple weed or calendula.

If you’re growing your own peppers, the seed catalogue often specifies if the varieties are good for drying. If not, look for varieties like cayenne or thai. Steer clear of jalapenos and other green chilis, or any of the mild Italian frying peppers- their flesh is too thick and will mold before it dries. Shopping at a farmers market, keep your eyes peeled for piles of red chilis.  This time of the year, you can usually get ridiculous deals for huge amounts of peppers.

For this project, you’ll need a relatively sturdy sewing needle and some fishing line.  Please note: This is not the traditional style of braided ristra from New Mexico, but rather the infinitely simpler and faster Busy Preserver Method.Thread your needle with fishing line. Measure out an arm-length or so of line. Push the needle through the top of a chili. Gently move the chili to the other end of the line, leaving a few extra inches. Tie the fishing line in a loop around the top of the chili so it stays in place. Now just thread the rest of the chilis onto the fishing line until you get a length that you like.  Tie a loop around the top chili to hold it in place.It’s important to hang the ristras somewhere quite warm and dry at first. If it’s sunny they can even go right out in the full sun. Once they’re fully dried they should last a year, or more. I put the dried peppers in all kinds of soups, stews, salsas and sauces. If you want to rehydrate them, place the chilis in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for 20 minutes, and they’ll be soft and ready to cook with.

ITALIAN PICKLED PEPPERS

Remember the thick-skinned peppers that don’t dry well? and all of those mild Italian frying peppers? This is a super fast pickle that you can make it you don’t want to freeze them.  This is my dad’s recipe, and it reminds me of sitting at the kitchen table with him while dinner cooked, drinking red wine, eating cheese and crackers and these pickles.  They look lovely on a big antipasti plate with salami, prosciutto, marinated artichoke hearts, and cheeses.

You’ll need: a few pint jars

Ingredients:

  • Any peppers you have that you don’t want to freeze or dry: a combination of colors, shapes, and heat levels is nice for this. (Jimmy Nardello works particularly well in this pickle)
  • 2-3 peeled garlic cloves per jar
  • 3-4 green olives with pimento per jar (just snag a few from an open jar in the fridge. No crazy stuff like green olives stuffed with blue cheese! Just plain old martini olives)
  •  whole black peppercorns, 2-3 per jar
  •  Vinegar to cover all this, either apple cider or white vinegar, or a mixture of the two

Bring boiling water canner to a boil. Wash lids and jars in hot, soapy water.

Put some vinegar in a non-reactive pot and bring it to a boil. ((Yes, you have to estimate how much you’ll need to cover the peppers.) Wash your peppers.  Once the jars are sterilized, pack the whole peppers into hot jars with the olives, garlic and peppercorns. Cover the peppers with the boiling vinegar, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Use a chopstick to poke around and remove the air bubbles. Adjust the headspace. Wipe rims clean and put on the lids. Process 10 minutes.

A DIRTY, DIRTY TIME-SAVING SECRET: I make these almost every year and have never – not ever- processed them the way the USDA tells you too to make sure they’re safe. I just sterilize my jars in the oven, put the peppers in the jars, cover the peppers with boiling vinegar, put the lids on, and call it done.  The lids seal if you put them on while the vinegar is still piping hot. Technically this should be a refrigerator pickle and not a shelf-stable canned good, but we’ve been making it for years in my family and never had any problems…  Crazy. The USDA would say I’m going to die, but the pickles are crunchy and delicious every year.

P.S. There is a distinct lack of picture for this recipe! I haven’t made them yet this year but I will update the post with a picture when I do.

LATER… HOT PEPPER JELLY

 I use almost all those frozen peppers for hot pepper jelly.  If you haven’t had it before, you must. It’s sweet, spicy, tangy and delicious. Try it with cream cheese and crackers.  I like making breakfast quesadillas with scrambled eggs, hot pepper jelly, cheddar cheese and cilantro. You can put it in a pot of chili and on warm cornbread with butter. You can turn it into a dipping sauce by melting it down and adding some chopped fresh herbs.  You can brush it onto steak for fajitas. You can stir-fry green beans and tofu with it. Pretty much anywhere you’d use hot sauce, you can use hot pepper jelly instead.  It’s that amazing.

There’s not really any need for me to write out the recipe, it’s in the pectin box. I’ve tried almost all of them: Ball (both high and low sugar), liquid Certo, Pomona’s. They’re all delicious.  If you want a nice low-sugar pepper jelly, I would recommend Pomona’s, a natural pectin available at most health-food stores.  The fun part is that you can really play around with the variety of peppers used in the recipe. All of the pectin boxes call for a certain amount of sweet bell peppers and a certain amount of hot peppers, but I adjust it for how I want the finished product to taste. The important part is that the recipe in the box will call for a certain amount of prepared peppers (e.g. 4 1/2 c.) and you need to match this amount with whichever types of peppers you decide to use. Don’t decrease or increase it, keep the ratio of peppers/liquid/sugar the same as what the original recipe calls for.

The possibilities are endless using the different pepper varieties and heat levels available. Make it fresh, if you want, but pulling the frozen peppers out in December to make jelly for holiday gifts makes for a really great afternoon project.

Happy preserving!

Chocolate Plum Jam

It is 108 degrees outside right now.

You know that feeling when you get into a hot car that’s been sitting in the sun? I feel like that, except there is no engine to start, no windows to roll down, and no air conditioning to turn on. I am just finding my zen place instead.  Existing inside of the hot car.

My brain feels funny.

The upside of all of this is that instead of doing any kind of work at all, I’m going to sit here on the computer and write a blog post instead, with what is potentially the most important jam recipe in the history of food preservation and the written word: Dark Chocolate Plum Jam.

But first, The Disclaimer: Chocolate is tricky in jam. Putting in too much will make the resulting sweet confection completely delicious but also completely not safe for water bath canning. I don’t know what amount is officially “too much” I’m not a food scientist, or any kind of scientist for that matter.  (This recipe has had several variations…*)

When it’s 108 outside, if you happen to be in a commercial kitchen, I recommend the following gel test: When you think the jam is ready, remove the pot from the heat.  Put a teaspoon full of jam on a plate. Go to the walk-in freezer. Stand in there holding the plate for two full minutes. You will feel amazing, and if you run your finger across the jam it wrinkles, you will know that it’s set.

Santa Rosa Plum Jam with Dark Chocolate

Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Makes: I can’t remember. About 4 1/2 pint jars I think. It’s hot out though, and I wasn’t really planning to post this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 6 c. santa rosa plums, diced (or any plums, really)
  • 5 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. organic cocoa powder, sifted (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 2 tbs. lemon juice

Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Make sure jars and lids are cleaned and sterilized (I do this for everything, even if it’s a jam that has a long enough processing time that you don’t really have to sterilize your jars… it makes me feel safe, like a warm fuzzy blanket). 

In a small bowl, combine cocoa powder and 1/2 c. sugar. Set aside. In a large, nonreactive pot, combine the plums, the remaining sugar and the lemon juice. Bring to a full rolling boil. Stir in the cocoa powder/sugar mixture. Cook until jam reaches 220 or so on a candy thermometer, or whatever your preferred gel test is if you’re not using a thermometer. (Technically, my jam only hit around 216 and still was completely set once it cooled). 

Pour hot jam into hot jars leaving 1/4″ head space. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

I’ll have to add some pictures of the finished jam some other day as they seem to have escaped my camera.  Or you’ll have to just make it yourself and find out.

and just one more small thing . . .

While you’re at it, you can also slice plums and dip them in melted chocolate, set them on a cookie sheet on top of some wax paper, stick them in the fridge to harden, ending up with Chocolate-Covered Santa Rosa Plums, which are about a million times more delicious than chocolate covered strawberries. While they’re still warm you can also roll them in chopped hazelnuts if you like that kind of thing. Just so you know, while we’re on the subject of chocolatey plum ideas.

Oh, I just realized why plums are making me so happy today:

This is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in 

the icebox

and which 

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

– William Carlos Williams

(My brain has been associating plums with cold since I first read that poem in 11th grade).

* The first version of this recipe used low-sugar pectin and 100% cacao dark chocolate, but I’ve edited it to make a more consistent final product. Cocoa powder makes it easier not to burn the chocolate, and getting rid of the commercial pectin results in that lovely jammy texture that we all love.