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.

Chocolate Jam Thumbprint Cookies

I made cookies!

I’m a horrible baker. I can’t follow a recipe for the life of me, and I don’t own a timer. Simple instructions like “bake for 7-9 minutes” are virtually impossible for me to complete.  I never preheat the oven long enough, and I always decide to change an ingredient part way through and end up ruining the recipe.  I don’t know why.  I like making soups, stews, roasts and braises where the instructions are more along the lines of “put in as many carrots as you want, and if there are other vegetables that make you have warm fuzzy feelings, put those in too.”

Shockingly enough, I figured it out this time.  This is an adaptation of one of my favorite cookies that my mom makes every year.  It’s the same chocolate butter cookie dough, but her version tops each cookie with a half of one of those bright red candied cherries.  They’re delicious, and I love those cherries, Red #5 be damned.  I have about four hundred half-used jars of jam in my fridge, though, so I thought it might be nice to turn them into jam thumbprint cookies.

I’m giving myself an extra pat on the back for making these even though my kitchen aid mixer is fried right now.  I felt like a pilgrim actually creaming together butter and sugar using good old-fashioned elbow grease.  It was horrible, and I hope I can fix the mixer soon and go back to flipping a switch. The chocolate butter dough is so rich and delicious, and far superior to all of the usual thumbprint cookies floating around out there, if I do say so myself.  When I decided to post this recipe, I called up my mom and asked her where she originally found it.  She dug out the original clipping from the closet, and I’m proud to say that it was from a Land O’Lakes ad in a Sunset Magazine.  This recipe here looks pretty much the same, but has slightly different measurements. Chocolate Jam Thumbprint Cookies

Makes: 20-36 1″ balls, depending how good you are at measuring

Cook Time: 25 min.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 sticks of softened butter
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c. raspberry jam or orange marmalade (I wanted to use marmalade but I also wanted to use up the raspberry jam. I think that marmalade would be even better).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Cream together butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (doing it by hand blows, don’t do it unless you have to).  Add in the egg yolk and keep mixing on medium speed.  Slowly add in the flour and cocoa powder.  Mix until everything is combined and the dough comes together.  Form into one inch balls and arrange on a greased cookie sheet.  Use your thumb to make a small indentation on each of the cookies.  Bake for 4 minutes. Remove the  tray of cookies from the oven and put a small dollop of jam or marmalade in each of the indentations (not too much or it will melt all over the place and burn). Cook for about 4 more minutes.  Be careful not to overcook them; they should be slightly moist and fudgy in the middle, not crunchy and dry like some of mine.

My cookies also look like a kindergartener made them.  My mom’s always look all perfect and smooth, and mine are lopsided and cracked.  I’m confident that these flaws are because of my lack of skill at baking, and not because there’s any problems with the recipe.

Happy Holidays!

P.S. Making eggs for breakfast when there’s perfectly good cookies sitting right out on the counter would just be . . . wasteful.

Taste Of Mendocino

Hey Folks, I’ll make this short because it’s a blatant plug for an event that I’m doing.

Come to the Taste of Mendocino.  It’s on Monday at the Fort Mason Building in San Francisco from 5:00-8:00 pm. Tickets are $35 and available here and at the door.

In addition to saying hi and trying lots of jam, there are vineyards bringing wine down to this event that you literally cannot buy in stores.  To drive around and do wine tasting at all of these small tasting rooms would take days and days, and probably end up in a drunk driving arrest.

Oh, and I’m also bringing a few jars sweet peas, some veggies and our fresh eggs. Come early, I’m sure they’ll sell out fast.

Fusilli With Artichokes and Chevre

I’ve been up to my elbows in jam, getting ready for the Taste Of Mendocino event in San Francisco on Monday.   You should come! hell, even if you live in Kansas, it’s not too late! There are going to be so many amazing vineyards there doing wine tasting that the booze alone should make it worthwhile. Plus there will be meat, cheese, eggs, jams, and so much more.

Anyway, yesterday I got home from the kitchen, essentially covered head to toe in sugary goop.  I wanted real food that was totally devoid of anything sweet.  This lovely little dish is easy to throw together if your feet hurt and you’re really hungry, and tangy lemon, olives, artichokes and white wine will make you forget all about any intense sugar experiences that you may have had recently.

Fusilli With Artichokes And Chevre

As with most of my recipes, the point is not to hunt down specific ingredients but to make use of items in the pantry and the garden. Any olives or capers would be great in this recipe. Feel free to toss in some chicken or shrimp if you have some that needs using.  Roasted red peppers would work well too, but it’s not quite far enough into the summer for us to have peppers lying around.

Serves: 4 entree portions

Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. fresh fusilli pasta
  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 or 2 small spring onions, sliced very thinly (about the size of a shallot or a pearl onion)
  • 1 lb. frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • 2 tbs. spring onion tops, sliced thinly
  • 1 large asian mustard leaf, sliced into 1/2″ strips*
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh dill, minced
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • 1 c. white wine
  • 1 quart of chunky tomato sauce**
  • 10 kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1/2 c. herbed chevre, crumbled (or whatever your favorite type of chevre is will be fine)
  • 1/4. c. shaved parmesan cheese
  • sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.

2. While the water comes to a boil, cook the sauce in a large saute pan: Heat the butter on medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and artichoke hearts and saute for 4-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add lemon juice, white wine, dill, onion tops, and asian mustard greens and saute for 2-3 more minutes. Pour in tomato sauce and olives and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sauce has reached your desired consistency. If it is too thick, add a splash of white wine. If it’s too thin, cook for another 4-5 minutes.

3. Cook fusilli according to package directions. Drain, and return to the pot. Pour the artichoke mixture over the noodles and gently stir everything together. Top with crumbled chevre, parmesan and a few sliced onion tops. (Optional: If you’re feeling motivated, put the pasta in a small casserole dish and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes to melt the cheese).

*Click here to see the greens that I’m referring to; I know this is a slightly obscure ingredient. Use any quick-cooking greens that you have around, like spinach or young kale leaves.

**We have lots of canned tomato sauce from last summer. If you don’t have it in your pantry, you can substitute any type of chunky tomato sauce that catches your eye in the grocery store.

Red D’Anjou Pear Cardamom Jam

This is one of my absolute favorite jam flavors.  Top five, for sure.  If you want to think about something other than citrus for a minute, make this! It absolutely explodes with the flavor of ripe, sweet, juicy pears.

Pear-Cardamom Jam

makes about 5 1/2 half-pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 4 c. ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced  (It only works when you find good pears- make sure the pears taste how you want the jam to taste; if they are grainy, too tart, or not ripe yet, don’t buy them.  I used Red D’Anjou pears from a local farm, which were in season here.  I’ve used Comice Pears in the past and they were also delicious).
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 4 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin Calcium Water, included inside the pectin box (see package for instructions)
  • 3 tsp. Pomona’s Pectin Powder (I used commercial pectin to shorten the cooking time and retain the intense pear flavor).

1. Bring boiling water canner to a boil.  Wash jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Put lids in a small bowl and cover with some boiling water from the canner. Put jars in the oven on low so they are hot when you put hot jam into them later.  In a small bowl, whisk the 4 tsp. of pectin powder with 1/2 c. sugar and set aside.

2. In a large, non-reactive pot, combine pears, lemon juice, cardamom, calcium water, and 1 1/2. cups of sugar.  On medium-high heat, bring to a full rolling boil.  Pour in the pectin/sugar mixture, and bring back to a full rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally.

3. Ladle hot jam into hot jars.  Wipe the jar rims clean, and screw on the lids. Process half-pint jars for 10 minutes to get a good seal.

Recipe Ideas:

This is a strong candidate for The Jar That Actually Goes On Toast In The Morning…. but if you don’t want to go that route, don’t forget how delicious pears are with almonds- there are all kinds of tart and cookie possibilities here! This is also one of the jams that I serve on a chevre-ginger cheesecake that I make really often- I would highly suggest the idea of any type of cheesecake with this jam on top.