Tangerine Jam with Vanilla Bean

It’s a strange time of year.  In November and December I was so tired from the summer that I was happy to sleep in and do not a whole lot for awhile.  Many hours were spent soaking in the bathtub and reading through seed catalogues.  tangerinesBy now, though, garden plans have been laid out, the first round of earliest spring seeds have been ordered and shipped to us and I’m starting to wake up in the morning with manic summer gardening thoughts in the front of my brain.

Before I forget, though, these tangerines! Citrus season in California is very much upon us.  A friend of mine in Ukiah gave me a huge bag of tangerines off of her tree.  They were juicy, sweet and delicious, and while we ate a lot of them fresh I also ended up making a couple different projects with them.

CANNED TANGERINE SEGMENTS IN LIGHT SYRUP

I held back from adding a bunch of flavorings to the syrup.  My goal was to make a fancy version of the canned mandarin oranges that they sell at the grocery store.  They’re basically the same thing, but with local fruit and a light syrup made with organic sugar.  tangerines in syrupI used this recipe here, which worked out just fine. Maybe I’ll tinker with it next time, but I kind of like that these are pretty plain.   They’re lovely straight out of the jar, tossed with salads, in a sauté with chicken, almonds and parsley, and a whole load of other recipes.

TANGERINE & VANILLA BEAN JAM

tangerine and vanilla bean jamI realized a few years ago that any jam that’s heavy on the vanilla makes for the best, most delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I think it’s something that ends up kind of being reminiscent of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff? But without the marshmallow? Maybe I’m crazy…  This jam is a good alternative to marmalade if you’re not a fan of the bitter flavor marmalade can have. It tastes like a creamsicle because of the classic orange-vanilla combination. If you want to use it for savory applications, just leave out the vanilla bean. I thought about making another batch with ginger instead of vanilla, which I think would be great on chicken or as a salad dressing base, but…. we ate the rest of the tangerines. Oops.

Cook Time: 45 min.

Makes: 6 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 14 tangerines and 1 lemon, peeled and blended in a food processor, or about 5 c. of fruit puree.
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 box of sure-gel low sugar pectin
  • 2 c. sugar

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

Put the fruit puree into a large, heavy bottomed pot.  Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the fruit puree.  Simmer the fruit-vanilla mixture for 5 minutes on low heat.  In a small bowl, combine the pectin with 1/2 c. sugar.  Once the fruit has simmered, add the pectin-sugar mixture and turn the heat to high.  Once it comes to a boil, add the remaining 1 1/2 c. sugar.  Bring to a full rolling boil and cook for 1-2 minutes, or until you can see the jam sheeting of a spoon.

Ladle hot jam into hot, clean jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe rims clean and attach lids and rings.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude if necessary.

Note: I only use 1/2 box of pectin because I find that when I use a full box, the set is way too firm for my taste.  If you prefer a firmer set, feel free to add the rest of the pectin.

DRIED TANGERINE PEEL

As you’re doing these projects, don’t throw away the peels. Save them and dehydrate them to make tangerine peel powder, which you can use as a spice with kinds of different applications.  I mixed some with garlic powder, sea salt, black pepper, dried thyme and rosemary to make a savory rub for chicken or pork. You can also use it for sweet things — I find that any time you’re using desserty kinds of spices like cinnamon or nutmeg, a little pinch of the tangerine peel powder just makes it taste even better.  peelsYou can either dry the peels in a dehydrator or the oven; I don’t have a dehydrator so I used the lowest setting on my oven.  They took a couple hours to dry out, and then I ground them in my blender.  The powder felt like it still had a little moisture in it, so I spread it onto a cookie sheet and dried it a little longer to make sure it wouldn’t mold in the pantry. tangerine peel powderThe scent of the peels dehydrating is wonderful and will make your house smell delicious, like you’re baking a tangerine cake.

Happy canning!

Strawberry-Peach-Lemon Jam

I just got back from a week in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.  My parents, one of my brothers and I all stayed at my grandma’s house and cooked a lot of pretty amazing food, so I have a several recipes I’ll be sharing this week as I get the time to write them up.

grandma
my grandma Molly in high school, in 1936. she’s the first one on the left, front row.

First up: this strawberry-peach-lemon jam.  It turned out really nice, with a gorgeous color, a good set and texture and lovely complex flavor.  (But… It’s also a bit of an abomination, since I used a bunch of sketchy fruit from a tiny local grocery store right down the road from us: conventionally grown, underripe, out of season peaches, some mediocre strawberries and a lemon to try and add some flavor.)  I’ve deemed it totally acceptable to break the usual rules about local fruit in our situation, when you’re staying at a house with several family members who all know how to make and can preserves, somehow there’s no jam in the house and all the local fruit is out of season.  The decisive moment was when I found an open jar of smucker’s strawberry jam in the fridge.  I don’t know who in my family bought that, but SHAME! strawberry-peach-lemon jamRecently, I’ve been trying to make really simple preserves, with just one kind of fruit, sugar and sometimes lemon juice.  I’m kind of obsessed with finding the best-of-the-best-most-delicious-you’ve-ever-tasted apricots/blackberries/whatever and doing the bare minimum that I need to do to get them into jars. Whoever grew the fruit is really doing most of the complicated work.  As far as my part goes, tracking down the perfect fruit is actually way more complicated than getting it into jars.

With boring grocery store fruit, though, I figured there’s no harm in playing around with some new flavor combinations to try and make the jam a little bit more vibrant.  And it worked! It’s kind of ridiculous that homemade jam is still so much better than the grocery store counterpart even when you’re not using very high quality fruit.  I’m really curious to see how this recipe turns out if I made it during the summer with some really sweet, ripe strawberries and peaches from our own peach trees.IMG_5388STRAWBERRY-PEACH-LEMON JAM

Makes: 4 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart of strawberries, stems removed and sliced in half
  • 3 peaches, blanched, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 large lemon, sliced for marmalade*
  • 1 tbs. vanilla
  • 3 c. sugar

Day 1: Prepare the fruit and macerate

Combine the sliced strawberries, peeled diced peaches, sliced lemons and sugar in a nonreactive container. Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

Day 2: Cook off the jam

Bring boiling water canner to a boil, prepare jars and lids.

Transfer the fruit to a heavy bottomed, nonreactive pot and cook on high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  After about 10 minutes, when the fruit is cooked through but the jam isn’t gelled yet, remove the pot from the stove and use a potato masher to mash the fruit to a consistency that you like.  (At this point it will really start to look like jam).  Put the pot back onto the stove and continue cooking until the jam reaches the gel point.  Ladle into hot half pint jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Attach lids and rings and process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary.

Note: Strawberry jam can be challenging to get to set properly, but since this has a bunch of lemon slices in it, it should set pretty easily. It did for me, atleast.

Another Note: When you make marmalade, the sliced citrus fruit is often parcooked in some water before the sugar is added to make sure that the rinds are cooked all the way through and don’t end up chewy at the end.  Since this recipe skips that step, it is very important to slice the lemon extra super thin, otherwise I’m pretty sure it won’t cook thoroughly with the strawberries and peaches.

*To slice lemons for marmalade: read this instructions from Hitchhiking to Heaven. I’m too lazy to write them out.

And, don’t forget that if you don’t have your boiling water canner with you, all you really need is a pot with some jar rings laid in the bottom and you’re good to go. canning rack

Carrot Cake Jam

We’ve been harvesting a lot of carrots this week…carrots and basilAnd even though I really can go through all of them fresh without any problems (carrot soup with coconut and ginger), I made a few jars of things to stash away for later, the most important of which is this carrot cake jam.carrot cake jam It’s kind of a ridiculous recipe; I made it last year on a whim just because I had a ton of carrots and kind of didn’t think much about it at the time, but it’s one of my little brother’s favorite flavors that I make.  He’s crazy about it, so I made more this year.

The original recipe is one of these charming, vaguely retro recipes from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  It’s got a great color and a surprisingly delicious flavor that does taste vaguely reminiscent of carrot cake.  With six cups of sugar, canned pineapple and powdered pectin all on the ingredient list, though, it was due for a bit of updating. I tried two different ways, one with low-sugar pectin and the other with no pectin in at all (for a looser, less jello-y set on the finished jam).  After tasting them both, I actually really prefer the one with low sugar pectin.   The set is much firmer than I’d ordinarily like, but the longer cook time on the no-pectin version made the whole thing basically just taste like pineapple. (Which is okay, but if that were the plan, I’d rather just make a jam from pineapple without a bunch of other junk in it.)

I almost never buy fruit from the grocery store, but you have to compromise your morals every once in awhile.  Please note the plastic tag attached to the pineapple, a telltale sign of incredibly high quality produce. *ahem* pineapple

If you have a bounty of carrots, you should absolutely give this one a try…. It’s great on a toasted bagel with cream cheese, as an ice cream topping, and as a super unique filling for pb&js.

CARROT CAKE JAM:

Cook Time: an hour or so, if you including washing and grating carrots

Makes: 5 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. grated carrots
  • 1 3/4 c. diced fresh pears
  • 2 c. diced fresh pineapple
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 c. water
  • 1/2 c. sugar + 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 box of sure-gel low sugar pectin
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves

Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.

Combine the carrots, pears, pineapple, lemon juice, water and spices in a large, nonreactive pot and bring to a simmer.  Cook for 30 min. on low to soften everything up. In a separate bowl, stir together 1/2 c. sugar and the box of low-sugar pectin. Stir the pectin mixture into the carrot mixture and bring to a full boil.  Quickly stir in the 2 1/2 c. sugar and bring back to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute, stirring to prevent the carrots from sticking, then remove from heat.  Remove the cinnamon stick and discard.  Ladle hot jam into hot, clean jars using 1/4″ headspace.  Process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary.

White Nectarine Preserves

A  friend of mine gifted me a box of white nectarines from his farm.  They’re sweet, ripe and juicy, and once we ate as many as we could, we turned the rest into this simple, lovely preserve.  white nectarines

I’ve been playing around with a couple different variations on this recipe.  I think my favorite is spiced with vanilla bean, but I also really enjoy a version with warm pie spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, some ground ginger.  nectarine jamWHITE NECTARINE PRESERVES

(Makes: I forgot to write down how many half pint jars. 7? I think it was 7.)

Cook Time: an hour, plus overnight to macerate the fruit.

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 lbs. white nectarines, pits removed and sliced into quarters
  • 2 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 1/2 oz. lemon juice
  • optional: 1 vanilla bean

In a large, nonreactive pot, combine the sliced nectarines, sugar,  and lemon juice.  If you want to add the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds into the fruit mixture and then nestle the pod in with the sliced fruit as well. Cover with saran wrap (right up against the fruit to prevent browning) and refrigerate for around 24 hours.

Bring boiling water canner to a boil and prepare jars and lids.  Cook the jam, stirring to prevent burning, until it gels (click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about) or reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer.  About half way through the cooking time, I mashed the fruit up with a potato masher to make it more of a jammy consistency.  You don’t have to; you could leave the fruit in bigger pieces to make it more like a preserve.  Alternatively, run half of the cooked jam through a food mill to remove the skins and really make it like a jam instead of a preserve (thicker, with fewer big chunks of fruit). It’s up to your own personal preference.

Ladle hot jam into hot, clean jars leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Process for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude as necessary.

P.S. You could make this recipe with yellow nectarines too, but you might not need as much lemon juice since they’re more acidic than white nectarines. Taste them and see.

Plum Jam with Rose Geranium

There have been some really beautiful plums at the farmers markets recently:

Plums are one of my favorite fruits for jamming.  They’re very forgiving if you’re trying to make jam without boxed pectin; while strawberry jam might be a real challenge to get to set properly, plums come out right almost all the time.

The purple plums are prune plums, from Green Uprising Farm. They’re incredibly sweet, with a darker, more elegant flavor than a lot of other plum varieties. I love them.  I meant to make more jam but I ate almost all of them fresh.  The yellowish pink plums in the picture are completely different; as the farmer said, they’re like mother nature’s version of sweet-tarts, not as ideal for fresh eating but epic for jam making. (That tart flavor in some fresh fruit is what makes for complex, well-rounded jam.). 
I fancied up this batch with some rose geranium and green cardamom pods, even though it would be a great jam without the add-ins.  The rose geranium plays up the floral notes in the more sour plums and the cardamom is a nice spice to put with the prune-plums.

I really love the flavor of the geranium.  It might be a hair on the strong side, but I feel like it will be a surprising treat for a rainy November day.  It’s interesting to see how those flavors mellow out over time, too – sometimes what tastes a touch strong 5 minutes after cooking will end up being just right in a few months.

Plum Jam with Rose Geranium

Like I mentioned above, you can easily omit the rose geranium and cardamom if you want to make a really nice, simple plum jam.  The texture comes out smooth and lovely on this recipe, so it will be stellar either way.

makes: 6 1/2  half pint jars

cook time: well….. 24 hours, but it’s mostly macerating time in the fridge

Ingredients:

  • 6 c. prune plum halves*
  • 2 c. sour plum slices**
  • 5 c. sugar
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 1 sprig of rose geranium (5 or 6 small leaves)

In a nonreactive container (a glass bowl, your jam pot, etc.) combine all of the ingredients.  Gently stir everything to mix the plums and sugar together thoroughly.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 24 hours.

The next day: Prepare boiling water canner, jars and lids.  Transfer the macerated plums to your jam pot and cook on high heat for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the fruit is cooked and looking close to the consistency of a finished jam.  Remove from the heat.  Put half of the cooked jam through a food mill or sieve to remove the skins.  (Discard the skins and put the plum puree back into the pot with the rest of the jam.)

Put the pot back on the stove and turn the heat to medium high.  Cook until the jam gels, about another 20 minutes, (if I’m remembering correctly). I use the sheet test when I’m making jams like this, which you can see a graphic of here if you don’t know what I’m talking about.   Ladle hot jam into hot clean jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Process for ten minutes, adjusting for altitude as needed.

 

*I decided midway through this that I might want to write it down and share the recipe, so I don’t have the weight for the original amount of plums!  When I say “6 c. prune plum halves,” I mean that they’ve already been prepared by having the stems and pits removed.  Just slice them in half, that’s all.

**Use any variety of plum that has a tart flavor here. Again, this is 2 c. of prepared plum slices with the pits already removed, not 2 c. of whole plums.  Just to be super clear.

Jam Vinaigrette from the Redwood Valley Farmers Market Chef Demo

I’m pretty excited about this.

So, a couple weeks ago at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market, my friend Amanda from Fairall’s Farm Fresh Eggs & Produce did a chef demo using some of the wonderful items available at the farmers market that morning.  She set up a delicious taco bar with chipotle sausage hash, a zesty salmon taco filling, and a big veggie and egg scramble, which you can find the recipes for here. She also made a huge farmers market salad with a jam vinaigrette that was so damn good I knew I had to write about it here and try to convince everyone on the internet to make too.

I’d never actually bothered making salad dressing with jam before, and it was so tasty that I went home and promptly made huge batch.  I guess  that when I thought about jam for salads, it sounded like it would be too sweet and overpowering.  I still think if you were having a really delicate salad of baby lettuces and sliced radishes, it would be a questionable idea at best.  Amanda’s salad was killer, though, and it’s because she didn’t just use lettuce, but also incorporated sliced cabbage, raw kale and chard leaves, summer squash and salad turnips.   These big, hearty vegetables stood up so well to the flavor of the jam.

Floodgate Farms grew the salad mix used as a base for everything, which in itself was outstanding.  It has more fresh produce than I’ve ever seen in any salad mix, ever, with fresh mint leaves, onion blossoms, sprigs of dill, nasturtium blossoms, purslane leaves, and more.  I’m not always much of a salad girl- I usually would rather have a big bowl of vegetable stew, like a ratatouille or the braised kale and white beans, but this salad mix is so beautiful and full of flavors that…. well, it makes me want to go buy more from them, even though I have a huge garden with plenty of my own vegetables.

Jam Vinaigrette

Cook Time: lightning fast

Ingredients:

  • jam:  I really like the flavor of dark berry or plum jams with the kale and cabbage, especially if they happen to be tart or low-sugar jams, but really, anything you want to use up will be good.
  • oil: I used hazelnut oil when I made it at home,  but anything you have will work.
  • vinegar: apple cider, champagne, sherry– again, whatever ya got.

In a half pint jar, combine two parts jam with two parts oil and one part vinegar. Shake it up. Pour over your salad. Eat.

Amanda’s Farmers Market Salad

In a big bowl, combine as many good salad things as you can find:

  • Salad Mix: different kinds of lettuce, diced onion blossoms, sprigs of fresh dill fronds and dill flowers, edible flowers, roughly chopped mint leaves, cilantro, parsley…. and any other things you can think of.Dark Leafy Greens: like shredded green cabbage, roughly chopped kale leaves and roughly chopped swiss chard leaves.  The more the merrier.  The key to growing really nice greens is to keep them well picked, so go out to the garden and pick any random leaves you can find.
  • Chopped Vegetables: summer squash, salad turnips, and cucumbers, etc.

Dress with jam vinaigrette, top with crumbled chevre or feta to make it even better, and serve.  My little brother ate a huge plate of it and said: “this salad is awesome, and I hate salad.”  So, it’s that kind of recipe, where you get to eat a really good meal, but then you get the added bonus of laughing when your family members who claim to hate kale end up eating a whole bunch of it — and liking it.

Amanda, thanks so much for sharing your wonderful cooking with everyone.  It was delicious!

Jam Round-Up

I’m not even going to lie. I should be doing other work right now.  Have I ever told you how much I enjoy blogging as rationale for sitting around on the couch? It’s kind of like how you can get sucked into facebook and waste tons of time rotting your brain, but with this, if anyone mentions your lack of physical activity, you can be like…

oh….

but I’m busy writing right now.

I say, the perfect thing for a lazy Sunday afternoon is looking at a bunch of pretty jam jars and bookmarking a couple recipes to make… you know, sometime later… when standing up and walking around seems more realistic. 

The June Cook it! 2012 Resolution was to Make Jam.  I love how without any planning whatsoever, we kind of ended up with an exploration of the eternal challenge of making strawberry jam.  Yes, those innocent looking, sweet little berries are so low in pectin– they don’t really make life very easy, do they? I actually hate making strawberry jam.  I end up burning the strawberries/my favorite jam pots/the burners on my stove and then end really aggravated.  I only caved and made it this year because it’s my boyfriend’s absolute favorite, and if I didn’t hook up my honey with some jam, that would just be crazy.

Strawberry Freezer Jam, from My Pantry Shelf:  solution #1- don’t bother cooking it at all.  This post discusses the advantages of freezer jams, which don’t ever go near the stove.  That bright red jar of strawberry jam sure looks delicious, get me a spoon, please!

Strawberry Jam with Natural Fruit Pectin, from Three Clever Sisters: solution #2- another novel approach- as a first step, make a quick applesauce.  The apples add some natural pectin, helping the jam to thicken nicely, and have a neutral flavor that will hide behind the strawberries.

Strawberry Lemon Marmalade and Marmalade Muffins  from Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja: solution #3- pair them with another fruit and bypass plain strawberry jam altogether.  I’ve definitely noticed that jams and marmalades that pair citrus fruit with some other sweet fruit are almost always mind-blowingly delicious. (I was just working on apricot/blood orange this week…. it’s luscious…)  Plus, the color on those jars, it’s just gorgeous, like gemstones.

Summer Peach Jam with bonus recipes for Peach Syrup and Bourbon Peach Skin Butter from Homemade Trade: Aimee gives us the lowdown on peaches in this post, with clever ways to turn the skins into even more treats in jars.  The jam looks beautiful, but then the peach syrup, and the bourbon peach butter…. my goodness! (I could use some of that peach syrup right now, plus some ice cubes, selzter and vodka. Oh yah.)

 

Thanks again for sharing your projects- they’re stunning, like always.

And a reminder:

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To be included in the upcoming Canned Fruit in Syrup Round-Up, e-mail me a link to your post by August 15.  My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com.

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June Cook it! 2012 Resolution

It’s time.

The Cook it! 2012 June Resolution is:

MAKE JAM

I’ve been absolutely slammed with work for the last few weeks. Yesterday, in the middle of all this, I found some ollalieberries, fresh from the farm.  Sweet and tart, dark and juicy, they’re the berries I’ve been waiting for all winter long.  What started out as a stressful day with too many things that needed to be done instantly turned into a happy afternoon of jam making.  (Yes, when I see ollalieberries, I buy all of them and drop everything I was doing to make a pie or some jam. I’m a fruit nerd, what can I say).

Whether you’re a complete beginner or you already have years of canning experience, there’s really nothing quite like the joy of making a really simple batch of jam with some really excellent fruit — fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun.

When I waste time on the internet, it seems like everyone has been canning forever now and it’s no big revelation. If I happen to buy jars or pectin at the grocery store, though, without fail someone will stop me and ask about it.  Sweet little old ladies have stopped me in the aisle to say that it’s nice seeing me buying all these jars, that no one knows how to make jam or can food anymore.  (I thank them for the nice words but assure them that it’s become all the rage again.) Then, of course, the people in the checkout line, who will glance at my cart and say:

what are you doing with all those jars?

making jam, i say.

… oh, i’ve always wanted to learn how to do that….

To the cashier who bought a canner and cookbook but it’s been sitting on the shelf for a year now: don’t wait any longer, it’s time! To the lady in line whose grandma used to make pickled watermelon rind, just like my grandma did: dig out that recipe and get yourself a watermelon! To the guy at the farmers market who said he wished he had a women around who knew how to make jam: man, you don’t need to be a girl to can, just grab some of those strawberries, a couple jars and get to it!

Consider this your personal invitation to join the party…

In honor of the june resolution, summer, and all the people who are making jam even though it has nothing to do with the Cook it! 2012 project we’ve been working on, I thought I’d share a couple of the things that I’ve learned along the way.

TIPS FOR TOTAL BEGINNERS:

This isn’t meant to be all-encompassing, more just some information that might help when used hand-in-hand with a good recipe.

  • There are lots of posts out there on the internet that can explain the basics.  Food In Jars has a whole section of Canning 101 posts that explains some important stuff.  My recipe for peach jam with vanilla bean jam has step-by-step instructions to show the whole process from beginning to end if you want to take a look there.
  • When you’re just starting, make sure to find a recipe from a trusted source.  The best canning cookbook I own is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  The pectin box also counts as a trusted source.  The internet, especially if it’s just some really random looking website, does not necessarily count as a trusted source (I know, you’re reading this on the internet, right?)
  • There are, essentially, two different styles of jam making.  One uses commercial pectin (Ball, Clearjel, Pomona’s, etc.) to make the jam set.  This method is usually a pretty quick cooking time, and you just follow instructions included in the pectin box.  The other style uses the natural pectin in the fruit, which means that you combine the fruit, sugar and sometimes lemon juice, then cook it for awhile til it gels.  Usually you use a candy thermometer for this, since you really just have to cook it til 220 degrees).
  • Use a really big, thick-bottomed pot.  When jam boils over, it leaves awful burnt black crusty sugar all over your stove, which is virtually impossible to get off.
  • If you’re using commercial pectin: when they say “full rolling boil” they really mean “full rolling boil.”  The jam will boil up furiously and you’ll really know it when you see it.  A low simmer is not a boil.  If you only bring it to a low simmer for a minute, it won’t set right at all.
  • When they say “clean the rims of the jars,” they mean perfectly spotless, immaculate.  Not “basically clean” or “pretty much clean.”  I like to use a paper towel to do this.  If you leave any little bits of anything on those jar rims, the lids won’t seal later on.
  • A boiling water canner is really just a huge pot filled with water that has a rack on the bottom to set the jars on so they don’t clank around and break.  They’re cheap, often under $20.
  • Don’t touch the lids of the jars when they come out of the canner.  The need to sit and cool, which pulls down on the lid and makes it seal.  If you touch the lid, jostle the jar around, poke it and say “wow! I made jam!” you can potentially mess up the seal and ruin the batch.
  • In plain english, (hopefully to convince someone that hasn’t made jam before that it isn’t scary):  Canning jam is just cooking fruit with sugar and then putting it in clean jars.  You screw the lids on and basically just put it in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes* to sterilize the jar and make the whole thing shelf stable.  Once the lids seal after they’re out of the canner, they’re good for a year.
  • Know your farmer.  Fruit for awesome canned goods comes from right from the farms/farmers markets, not the grocery store. I don’t care how cheap the peaches are at the WalMart superstore, it’s not worth it.  Sure, any old mediocre peach with a bunch of sugar is going to taste kind of good, but it’s not going to be the life-changing kind of experience that fundamentally changes the way you eat food and feed your family.

TIPS FOR EXPERIENCED JAMMERS

  • If you can find a wholesale source for bulk bags of organic sugar, you’ll save a lot of time and money.  A lot of the time, local natural foods stores can add on an extra 50 lb. bag of sugar onto their order for you and you’ll get a better price.  Then you’ll be ready to go when the fruit shows up.
  • Lemon juice always ends up being an issue if you’re trying to stay local.  I try to freeze lots of local lemon juice during the winter, but I almost always run out.  Costco has ridiculously cheap organic lemon juice, and Santa Cruz Organics makes semi-cheap bottled organic lemon juice that you can usually find with the other juices in the store.
  • Remember, if you run into a screaming good deal on super ripe, beautiful fruit, but you don’t have time to make jam, you can always prepare the fruit and then leave it to macerate, tossed with sugar in the fridge.  You can also prepare the fruit and then freeze it to make jam later .
  • Don’t forget to stay in touch with farmer friends (you do have farmer friends, right?)  Tell them at the beginning of the summer that you want to make a lot of peach jam, write down your name and phone number for them, and have them call you when the peaches are in.  Farmers like it when there’s a person that wants to buy a lot of fruit, because they want to make money and you want to buy their products.  Tell them to call you when they’re totally swimming in peaches (or plums, or whatever…), when they have so many that they don’t know what to do and they’re going to start rotting.  That’s your cue to stop in, buy them all for cheap, and stock your pantry for the year.

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If you want to be included in the jam round-up post, send me a link to the url or your post (or, if you don’t have a blog, e-mail me a picture of what you made)by June 15, 2012.  My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com.

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P.S. I didn’t include the ollalieberry jam recipe because I didn’t really use one.  I glanced at the Blue Chair Fruit cookbook to check it first.  Their cookbook is right next to my Ball Cookbook, and I recommend buying it as well.  It’s a more advanced cookbook and doesn’t use commercial pectin, which is nice, and the jams tend to be much lower sugar than the Ball Book.  Plus the Blue Chair Fruit cookbook has super pretty pictures which will make you feel all warm and fuzzy about the whole jam and fruit thing.

What To Do When Your Jam Turns Out Disgusting

I was lying in bed the other night, and thought to myself:

I’m going to make rose petal jam. I patted myself on the back for thinking of such a great idea and went to sleep.

I’d never made rose petal jam before even though I’ve seen recipes floating around the internet every once in awhile.  The roses in the garden are beautiful right now, and it seemed like a good enough idea.  I started the recipe and figured I’d thrown in some rainier cherries and some sliced lemon. Everything looked so pretty macerating in the fridge.

I thought about how nice the pictures would look for a rose petal jam.  I thought about how much I like flowers, and cherries.  Everything was going great. and then….I tasted some.

 

Oh my god, vomit.  It’s the most disgusting jam I’ve made in months.  Horrible. And it made me think…  how can I rationalize writing a post that still includes all these roses?

so here it is…

What To Do When You’re Cooking A Batch Of Jam And Realize That It’s Completely Screwed Up

If you get addicted to jamming, you’ll go through an awkward puberty phase where you’re breaking free from all the recipes in the pectin packet and starting to do your own thing.  Things don’t always go well.  These are a couple of the bad things that you might run into along the journey, with my hints for minimizing the damage.

It tastes bitter:

  • Try adding honey or brown sugar.  A cup of honey in a pot of jam can soften up the bitter edge of many citrus fruits.  Brown sugar (or other dark sugars) can help too.

It’s way too sweet:

  • Try adding some lemon juice. The tart flavor may help balance the sweetness.
  • If the jam is only partially cooked, stop cooking it and add more fresh fruit (but no more sugar!).
  • Can it as is…. there are some good applications for overly sweet jam, like using it in smoothies or mixed into yogurt, where you won’t notice the sweetness as much.

You realize, midway through, that the fruit on the bottom of the pot has burned:

  • Stop stirring immediately.  Remove the pot from the heat and, without stirring, pour the jam into a different container.  If you stir everything, the burnt fruit will definitely be in the whole batch and make it taste scorched.   If you separate the ruined part from the jam that was still potentially fine, you might be able to rescue it.  When the jam has cooled down a little bit, taste it and see if the flavors are worth putting into jars or whether it belongs in the compost.

The combination of flavors doesn’t work and it just tastes really gross:

  • Throw it away.  I used to try and save the jars with grand plans about somehow turning them into something edible, but ….  As you know, most jam has a lot of sugar in it.  If I’m going to bother eating sugar, I’d much rather it were from a perfect jar of wild blackberry jam, not that gross jar that’s been sitting in the pantry for a year already.  Yes, if you have a jar of jam with muddled flavors that didn’t turn out how it was supposed to, you can turn it into a really delicious glaze for stir-fried chicken by adding some soy sauce, chopped scallions and cilantro.  You could do all kinds of stuff with it, really. I never end up bothering with those ideas, though, because it usually involves turning what was a really light, healthy dinner into a sugary plate of junk food.   For me, it’s usually better to dump it in the compost and move on.

A last word of advice: 

I’ve found that if I mess up a batch of jam, the best thing to do is stop canning for the day.  If I’m frustrated, I tend to just mess things up even more.  It’s usually best just to go do something else instead and come back to the fruit when I’m feeling inspired and excited again.   I Try to learn from the experience so that I don’t do it again (rose petals are bitter, and so is the citrus pectin I made awhile back = disaster).

To make failures easier to handle, I try to never buy expensive fruit.  If you stick to local fruit when it’s in peak season, the prices should be low and if you mess up a batch or two it really won’t matter very much.  Try to remember that this is supposed to be something fun, and don’t get too worried about messing up a batch.

Do it! Projects for 2012

I was just writing out some kitchen resolutions for 2012: things I want to learn how to do, things I want to get better at doing, and things that I really enjoy and want to make sure that I keep doing. I realized I have a perfect year of cooking laid out, with one big project for every month, things like…. learning how to make fresh pasta (I’ve only done it a handful of times in the past) and learning how to make cheese (never done it!).  It’s a year of from-scratch-do-it-yourself-local-fresh-inspired-homestead-kitchen skills.

In 2010, I loved reading the Hungry Tigress’ Can Jam, and learning how to make bacon with the Charcutepalooza last year was absolutely spectacular.  I want to continue challenging myself to tackle new projects and skills, keep my cooking inspired, and my kitchen and pantry filled with amazing treats.

Instead of focusing on one specific technique for a year, I’m planning a year of twelve different skills, mainly centered around making foods from scratch that I may not currently be doing, or that I want to do more of, especially thinking about those last few ingredients that I still buy at a store, even though we supply most of our own vegetables, canned goods and fresh eggs.  I’ll be posting the results here, with recipes and photos like usual, but some tutorials for people who may have little or no experience with that particular area of cooking.

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If you’re interested in turning this into more of a group project, e-mail me by January 15, 2012 at thejamgirl@gmail.com and I’ll get something organized.

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I’m not interested in spending a lot of money on fancy equipment and ingredients or doing work that doesn’t make me all warm and fuzzy inside.  It should be fun.  These ideas are also about consciously budgeting time to do things I enjoy, so that in October, I don’t look in the pantry and wistfully think about how I wish I’d made some time to pick blackberries for jam.

P.S. Grow it Cook it Can it turns one year old today, and it’s so much fun looking back at the cooking projects from this year.  Thanks you for reading and I’m excited for another year of flowers, jam, tomatoes, prosciutto, pickles, chickens and all that other stuff that’s so much fun.