Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen



Pickled Okra 0

Posted on June 19, 2017 by Sahar

 

Pickled Okra. Big and little.

Here in Central Texas, okra season is in full swing. Because the growing season here is so long, okra is essentially available from June through roughly October or until the first frost.

Pickled okra is a great Texas, and throughout the southern US, food tradition.  Every southern grandma seems to have a recipe.

People either love or hate okra. The main complaint about okra is the “slime” factor.  The slime is called “mucilage” (sounds gross, I know).  It is the result of protein and carbohydrates in the okra pods and leaves.  If you’ve ever had a thick gumbo, thank the mucilage.  When the pods are cut and cooked with liquid, the okra tends to become slimy.  The way to avoid this is to cook the okra whole; the best way to do this is over direct heat and pan roast (this is delicious, by the way).

There is a subtle yet distinct difference between pickling and fermentation.  Pickling is the process of preserving food in a highly acidic medium (usually vinegar).  Fermentation generally starts with salt as a starter and allows what is being fermented to create its own acidic liquid (lactic acid).  Fermentation is generally considered the healthier of the two processes because the lactic acid helps with the digestive process.

In short, pickling is controlled preservation while fermentation is controlled rot (but in a good way).

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A few notes on the recipe:

  1.  The type of okra I use in the recipe is called Emerald King.  It is more tender and less stringy than other types of okra.  While you can use any type of okra you prefer or have access to, I’ve used this because it’s what Carol Ann grows at Boggy Creek Farm.
  2. The reason pickling salt is used is to help draw moisture from the item being pickled.  It is a very fine grain pure salt that contains no iodine or anti-caking additives.  If needed, you can use kosher salt (but be sure it is pure). Because table salt contains additives, you shouldn’t use it in pickling or fermenting.
  3. Another way to help keep your pickles from becoming mushy over time (and they will as the initial heating as well as the acidic environment chemically cooking your pickles), you can use either fig or grape leaves.  These leaves contain natural alum that help to draw moisture from the pickles. You can also use up to 1/4 teaspoon of alum per quart of liquid if fresh leaves are not available.
  4. You can also use half & half white/apple cider vinegar or all white vinegar if you prefer.  Just be sure you use 5% acidity vinegar.  There is 9% white vinegar available (mainly in Texas and parts of the South), but it is used mainly for cleaning, not food.  Be sure to look at the label carefully.
  5. While I have included a pickling spice recipe, you can adjust this one to your taste or use whatever pickling spice blend you prefer.

 

The Ingredients

 

6 1-pint regular-mouth jars with lids and rims, washed

Pickling Spice:

1 tbsp. Red Pepper Flakes

1 tbsp. Mustard Seed

1 tbsp. Coriander Seed

1 tbsp. Black Peppercorns

2 tsp. Allspice

1 tsp. Fennel Seed

Clockwise from top left: red pepper flakes, lemon slices, black pepper corns, coriander seed, fennel seed, bay leaves, whole allspice, brown mustard seeds, garlic cloves

 

3 lbs. Okra, washed and caps trimmed

Emerald King Okra with tops trimmed

3 c. Apple Cider Vinegar

3 c. Water

3 tbsp. Pickling Salt

8-12 peeled whole garlic cloves, optional

Lemon Slices, optional

Fresh Grape or Fig Leaves

Fresh grape leaves

 

In a small bowl, mix the pickling spices together.  Set aside.

Place a jar rack inside a large canning pot and fill it with water.  Set the jars in the rack and make sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.  Turn down the heat to medium-low and let the water continue to simmer. Place the lids in a small saucepan of simmering water and let sit. (Don’t bring the water with the lids to a boil; it will melt the seal.)

Meanwhile, make the brine.  Combine the vinegar, water, and pickling salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat to low and allow the brine to stay hot while you fill the jars.

Carefully remove the jars from the canning pot, making sure to drain all the water out of them. (I like to put the jars on a baking sheet lined with a towel for easier transport across the kitchen.)

In a bottom of each jar, place 1-2 grape or fig leaves (depending on size), a lemon slice (if using), and 1 tablespoon of the pickling spice. Carefully pack the okra in the jars, alternating tips up or down so that the okra interlocks and you’re able to pack as much in as possible. If you’re using garlic cloves, be sure to pack those in as you can in amongst the okra.

Leaves, spice blend, and lemon in the jar.

A few top down.

A few top up. You want to get as many in the jar as you can. It will save on brine and help limit air bubbles.  Air, in this case, is the enemy. Plus, more goodness in the jar. I swear there are garlic cloves in there somewhere.

Slowly and carefully pour in the hot brine in each jar, leaving 1/2-inch head space.  Use a wooden or plastic chopstick or the end of your headspace tool to remove any air bubbles.  Once you have done that, measure the headspace again and add more brine if necessary.

Wipe the rims of the jars, place the lids on top, and screw on the rings so they’re hand-tight.  Carefully place the jars back into the canning pot, making sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil.  Process the jars for 10 minutes starting when the water comes to a boil.

After you have processed the jars, carefully remove them from the water and place on racks to cool.  If the jars seal (you will hear a “pop” as the lids seal), tighten the rings.  If the jar doesn’t seal, you can simply put the jar in the fridge and eat it within 2-3 weeks.

Either way, let the pickles sit for at least a week before eating.

Classic Southern Delicacy.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blueberry-Honey Jam 2

Posted on August 08, 2013 by Sahar

As we are now officially in the dog days of summer, it’s a good time to stay inside and bottle up some of the more pleasant summer memories of summer by making some more jam.

And there are few better memories than (seasonal) blueberries.  While, admittedly, they are not my favorite berry eaten out-of-hand, once blueberries have been cooked, they are a lovely thing.

Wild blueberries are grown as far as ideal conditions will let them; even as far north as human habitation (think northern Canada). Botanists and culinary historians believe that the indigenous peoples of America used wild blueberries for a number of foodstuffs: eating out of hand; drying them in the sun for preservation and use in pemmican (a form of dried meat), cakes, and puddings.  The dried berries were also ground for use in soups.

The blueberry that most of us know today were first commercially cultivated in the early 20th century.  They’re a variety called “highbush”, meaning that they are grown on bushes and small trees as opposed to in boggy soil of the lowbush blueberries.  Highbush berries are also larger than the lowbush varieties. Most  commercial cultivation of highbush blueberries comes from  British Columbia, Maryland, Western Oregon, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington.  Lowbush blueberries are a native fruit crop to Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Maine.

Blueberries are in the same genus as cranberries.  The Genus Vaccinium.  Blueberries are also related to lingonberries and huckleberries.  All of these fruits are grown in acidic soil and can have a wide variation in acidity both in pH and in taste.  One thing they all have in common is they are all very high in natural pectin.

(Some information from wikipedia.org and The Oxford Companion to Food, Davidson, 1999).

As I stated above, the indigenous peoples of America have used blueberries for millennia before settlers were introduced to them.  Now, thanks to importation and cultivation, blueberries are grown and eaten all over the world.  They are especially prized in France for use in pastries.

And, of course, for jam.  Yummy, yummy jam.

Now, on to the recipe.

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A few notes:

1.  You can use frozen blueberries in a pinch for this recipe.  I like to use blueberries in season – which, in Texas, would mean May – September – but, I have used frozen in the past and they work fine.

2.  Always buy extra blueberries.  This will make up for any that are bad, not ripe, or what you eat.

3.  If you would like to make this a totally sugar-free recipe, sugar-free honey is available at some grocery and health-food stores.  You can also use maple syrup if you’d rather go that route.  I don’t use artificial sweeteners, Stevia, or Splenda in my jams, so don’t ask about substitutions. Or, you could just omit the sweet component altogether. However, this will affect the set-up of the finished jam.

4.  Don’t forget the lemon juice.  It adds the acidity needed to activate the pectin in the blueberries.

5.  Don’t use too dark a honey (i.e. cotton or buckwheat).  The flavor will overpower the blueberries.  You want them to compliment, not compete.

6.  The set of this jam will also depend on how long you cook it.  The longer you cook, the more solid the set.  However, it won’t set up as stiffly as a jam made with commercial pectin.

7.  For the complete hows and whys of canning, please see my post from August 10, 2012, “Classic Strawberry Jam” (http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?p=756).

 

The Ingredients.

The Ingredients.

Beautiful blueberries.

Beautiful blueberries.

 

6 pt. blueberries (12 c./approx. 4 1/2 – 5 lbs)

-or-

8 ea. 10-oz bags frozen blueberries, thawed, juices saved (5 lbs.)

1 c. honey (I like to use wildflower or clover honey)

2 tbsp. lemon juice

 

1.  Wash and pick through the blueberries.  Discard or compost any that are spoiled or underripe.  If you are using frozen berries, place them into a large colander set over a large bowl and allow to thaw.  Be sure to save any juices that accumulate in the bowl.

I ate these.

I ate these.

2.  Combine the berries, honey, and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan. (If using frozen thawed berries, add the juice as well.) Stir to combine.  If you want to crush the berries with a potato masher to release some of the juices from the berries, go ahead.  It’s not necessary, however.  The berries will break down as they cook.

Blueberries, honey, and lemon juice in the pot and ready to go.

Blueberries, honey, and lemon juice in the pot and ready to go.

3.  Cover the saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil.  Stir frequently.

4.  Once the mixture has come to a boil, uncover the saucepan, reduce the heat to medium-low and boil the mixture for about 1 hour or until the jam looks thick and glossy.  Again, stir frequently.

The berries beginning to cook and break down.

The berries beginning to cook and break down.

Boiling the berries.  If you like, you can put a thermometer in the jam.  220F is the temperature where jelling happens. However, be patient. This takes time.

Boiling the berries. If you like, you can put a thermometer in the jam. 220F is the temperature where jelling happens. However, be patient. This takes time.

Another way to test the thickness of the jam.  Place a small bit of the jam on a frozen plate (or, in my case, an ice mug), run your finger through it, and see if it runs. Once it gets to the thickness you like, it's done.

Another way to test the thickness of the jam. Place a small bit of the jam on a frozen plate (or, in my case, an ice mug), run your finger through it, and see if it runs. Once it gets to the thickness you like, it’s done.

The jam ready to be jarred.

The jam ready to be jarred.

5.  Once the jam is ready, ladle it into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Be sure to wipe off the rim of the jar, otherwise the jars may not seal properly. Place the lids on top and finger-tighten the rims. Process the jars for 10 minutes in boiling water. (Begin timing after the water comes to a boil.)

6. Take the jars out of the water and set them on racks to cool.  Once the jars have sealed (you’ll hear a “ping” noise, the lid will be concave, and, if you pick up the jar by its lid, it won’t come off), tighten the rims.  Let the jars sit until they are cool.

Nice.

Beautiful, delicious, blue-purple  blueberry jam.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Spiced Peach Butter 0

Posted on July 03, 2013 by Sahar

Another post in my informal series on bottling Summer, I’ve moved on to peaches.

There are few fruits that say “Summer is here!” more than peaches.  Their smell, fuzzy skin, and their taste are some of the things that make summer in Texas almost bearable.

Peaches originated in China where they were cultivated since the early days of Chinese culture where they were considered a favorite fruit of the emperors. They were mentioned in Chinese literature as early as 2000 BCE.  Peaches likely reached the Middle East, then the Mediterranean, by way of the Silk Road, a 2,500-mile trade route that stretched from East Asia to ancient Persia (present-day Iran). Peaches were introduced to Europe by Alexander the Great (an example of a rare good thing coming from conquest). Later, the Romans called peaches “Persian apples” (Prunus persica).

Some historians believe peaches came to North America in 1562 with French explorers who established settlements in the area of present-day Mobile, Ala. However, it’s certain peaches also arrived in 1565 with the Spanish colonists who settled in St. Augustine, Fla. These ancient peach cultivars, described as hardier and more productive than today’s peaches, quickly naturalized into groves so widespread that later colonists believed the peach was a native American fruit.

Spanish explorers are credited with bringing the peach to South America and then eventually to England and France where it became quite a popular, but rare, treat. During Queen Victoria’s reign, it is written that no meal was complete without a fresh peach presented in a fancy cotton napkin.

Finally in the early 17th century George Minifie, a horticulturist from England, brought the first peaches to the New World colonies, planting them at his estate in Virginia. It was the early Native American tribes who actually spread the peach tree across the country, taking seeds with them and planting them as they traveled.

But it wasn’t until the 19th century that commercial peach production began in Maryland, Delaware, Georgia and Virginia. Today, peaches are grown commercially in California, Washington state, South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Texas, and Missouri. As well as numerous backyards all over the country.

(information from homecooking.about.com and baderpeaches.com)

 

Now, on to the recipe.

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A few notes:

1.  You can use fresh or frozen peaches in this recipe.  I will admit I used frozen for this post.  Because of weather conditions not only here in central Texas, but through most peach-growing regions, fresh peaches haven’t been as good as they could be.  Also, with a smaller supply, they’ve become rather expensive.  Frozen peaches do well in a pinch and are easier on the wallet.

However, if you can and want to use fresh peaches, do so.

2. You can use either clingstone or freestone peaches.  Clingstone peaches tend to be juicier and sweeter while freestones are less juicy.  (There are many online resources to find out which peach varieties are which.)

3.  As for the spices, use as many or as few as you prefer.  Or none.

4.  This is a soft-set butter. Meaning, that it hasn’t set up as solidly (for lack of a better word) as jelly or jam.

5.  For a complete hows and whys of making sweet preserves, please see my August 10, 2012 post, Classic Strawberry Jam (http://tinyurl.com/l67ymj4).

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

5-1/2 lbs. fresh peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into wedges

-or-

5 lbs. frozen peaches, thawed, juices saved

1-1/2 c. peach nectar

3-1/2 c. sugar

Up to 4 tsp. sweet spices (cinnamon, ground or grated nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cloves, ground allspice)

 

Peaches. Lovely peaches.

Peaches. Lovely peaches.

Spices I used (clockwise from top): ground ginger, ground allspice, ground cinnamon, fresh grated nutmeg, ground cloves)

Spices I used (clockwise from top): ground ginger, ground allspice, ground cinnamon, fresh grated nutmeg, ground cloves)

 

1.  In a large saucepan, mix all the ingredients together.

The ingredients in the pot.

The ingredients in the pot.

Begin cooking over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves.

Sugar dissolved and we're ready to go.

Sugar dissolved and we’re ready to go.

2.  Cover the saucepan and bring the peach mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.  Uncover and boil for 30 minutes.

Beginning to boil the peaches.

Beginning to boil the peaches.

The peaches after boiling for 30 minutes. The darker color is due to the spices.

The peaches after boiling for 30 minutes. The darker color is due to the spices.

3.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool for about 10 – 20 minutes.

4.  Depending on how smooth you want the butter, you can either use a potato masher or a stick blender to crush or puree the peaches.

Pureeing the peaches with a stick blender.  Unlike my apple butter, I like a smooth peach butter.

Pureeing the peaches with a stick blender. Unlike my apple butter, I like a smooth peach butter.

The pureed peaches. Lovely amber color.

The pureed peaches. Lovely amber color.

5.  Place the saucepan back over medium heat, cover, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  Uncover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook for about 1 hour or until the mixture is thick.  Again, stir frequently.

Boiling the peach butter. At 15 minutes.

Just starting to boil the peach butter.

After boiling for 30 minutes. The butter begins to thicken, becomes shinier and darker.

After boiling for 30 minutes. The butter begins to thicken.

The butter after 1 hour of cooking. It should be thick and shiny.

The butter after 1 hour of cooking. It should be thick, shiny, and a beautiful amber color.

One way to check for proper thickness is to run a spatula through the butter, lift the spatula up and watch how the butter flows off of it.  If it comes down in sheets, the butter is thickening properly.

One way to check for proper thickness is to run a spatula through the butter, lift the spatula up and watch how the butter flows off of it. If it comes down in sheets, the butter is thickening properly.

6.  Pour the butter into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Clean the jar rims, seal, and process for 5 minutes. (Begin timing after the water comes back to a boil.)

The finished peach butter. Yummy.

The finished peach butter. Yummy.

Makes 6 – 7 half-pint jars.

 

Enjoy!

 

Classic Raspberry Jam 0

Posted on June 25, 2013 by Sahar

Of course, with summer here, I’m in high jam-making mode.  There are few better ways to keep summer produce all year.

This time, it’s raspberry’s turn.

A few tips:

1.  Always pick ripe raspberries. They should be plump and deeply colored.  Any white spots indicate they were picked too soon.

2.  Inspect the packages.  They should be free of moisture, mold, and any stains. (Any of these will indicate spoilage.)

3.  Carefully pick through them and discard any that appear to have mold.

4.  Pick raspberries that are actually in season.  In Texas, the season is from peak season is June – September.  Buying raspberries off-season grown in South America doesn’t count.

5.  I like to keep the seeds in the jam.  It adds character. However, if you’d like to take the seeds out, press the raspberries through a strainer before adding to the saucepan.

For the complete hows & whys of canning, please read my blog post from August 10, 2012, Classic Strawberry Jam.

Now, to the recipe.

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The ingredients

The ingredients

Beautiful raspberries

Beautiful raspberries

9 c. raspberries (approximately 8 dry pints [6-oz packages])

6 tbsp. powdered pectin

2 tbsp. lemon juice

6 c. sugar

 

1.  Carefully clean and pick through the raspberries.

I ate these.

I ate these.

2.  In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the raspberries, pectin, and lemon juice.

Raspberries, pectin, and lemon juice in the saucepan.

Raspberries, pectin, and lemon juice in the saucepan.

Stir until the pectin is dissolved.

All mixed together. Some recipes will tell you to crush the raspberries. It's a completely unnecessary step.

All mixed together. Some recipes will tell you to crush the raspberries. It’s a completely unnecessary step.

3.  Heat the berry mixture over medium heat. The berries will break down as they cook.

Cooking down the berries.

Cooking down the berries.

While stirring frequently, bring the mixture to a rolling boil that can’t be stirred down.

4.  Add the sugar and stir until it’s dissolved.

Adding the sugar.

Adding the sugar.

Again, while stirring frequently, bring the jam to a rolling boil that can’t be stirred down.  Boil for one minute.

For a little additional insurance, the optimal gelling temperature for jam is 220F.

For a little additional insurance, the optimal gelling temperature for jam is 220F.

The rolling boil.

The rolling boil.

5.  Remove the saucepan from the heat.  With a spoon, carefully skim the foam from the top of the jam.

Skimming off the foam. Be careful not to get any of the hot jam on your hands.

Skimming off the foam. Be careful not to get any of the hot jam on your hands.

6.  Carefully ladle the jam into 4-oz or half-pint jars, leaving 1/4″ head space.

The ever-messy canning process.

The ever-messy canning process.

Cleaning the jar rims. Don't forget to do this. Otherwise, the lids may not seal.

Cleaning the jar rims. Don’t forget to do this. Otherwise, the lids may not seal.

Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes.

Delicious.

Delicious.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Blood Orange Marmalade 0

Posted on February 07, 2013 by Sahar

Winter is the perfect time to make marmalade.  The oranges that are considered the best for marmalade – Blood, Seville, Cara Cara – are most readily available December & January.  By February into early March, they disappear for the year.

They all have a bitterness and high pectin content (important for thickening) that is prized by marmalade afficionados.

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Here’s a nice quick history of marmalade by Elizabeth Field from the New York Times (I couldn’t find a date on the article)

Early Marmalade History

Marmalade began more than 2,000 years ago as a solid cooked quince and honey paste similar to today’s membrillo, the Spanish quince paste that is typically served with sheep-milk cheeses. Known as melomeli in ancient Greece and melimela in Latin, it was used both as a preserve and a reputed remedy for digestive complaints. The Portuguese took up the product, perhaps via the Arabs, substituting sugar for the honey, around the 10th century. They called it “marmelada,” which derives from the Portuguese marmelo, or quince.

The first shipments of marmelada, packed in wooden boxes, arrived in London in 1495. Fabulously expensive and imbued with purported medical and aphrodisiac powers, it was a popular gift among noble families.

Simultaneously, a northern European version of a cooked quince and sugar preserve called alternately chardequince, condoignac, cotignac or quiddony sprung up. Flavored with red wine, honey, cinnamon stick and powdered ginger, it was taken at the end of a medieval feast, along with pears, nuts, sugar-coated aniseed and other sweetmeats whose purpose, harkening back to the ancient Greeks, was to ease an upset stomach.

Versions of quince marmalade became a staple of “banquetting stuffe,” the elegant display of sweetmeats and confectionery served at the end of 16th- and 17th-century English feasts. Rolled and twisted into hearts and knots or flattened and then stamped with flowers and tarts, pale and rose-colored quince pastes were as decorative as they were therapeutic. Food historian Ivan Day offers period recipes and photos of these creations on his website.

Scotland’s Contributions

In the 18th century, the Scots pioneered the switchover from quince to orange marmalade. Many regions of the country were too cold for quince trees to flourish, and imported Seville (bitter) oranges had been available since the late 15th century. Cooks were now producing a thinner form of marmalade, stored in pots or glasses, achieved through a shorter cooking time. A succession of Scottish cookbook authors including Elizabeth Cleland, Hannah Robertson, Susanna Maciver, J.Caird and Margaret Dods, turned marmalade-making into an art form, introducing the term “chips” for shreds of orange rind, and refining techniques to produce marmalades that ranged from dark and chunky to transparent and golden.

More significant perhaps than the switch from quince to orange marmalade, was the new Scottish pattern of serving marmalade as a breakfast and tea-time food rather than an after-dinner digestive. This coincided with the evolution of the legendary British breakfast, which in its 19th-century heyday could consist of eggs in many guises, bacon, sausage, broiled mutton chops, stewed kidneys and smoked fish with crisp toast and an array of rich breakfast cakes. Orange marmalade, honey and jam were ubiquitous accompaniments.

While the “invention” of orange marmalade in 1797 is sometimes erroneously attributed to Janet Keiller, a Dundee grocer’s wife, she was among the first of a series of late 18th- and early 19th-century Scottish grocer’s wives who established commercial marmalade factories. Demand for store-bought marmalade had risen, perhaps facilitated by the growing number of women working outside the home.

By the late 19th century, numerous British firms produced marmalades for every preference, ranging from Robertson’s fine-cut Golden and Silver Shred to Frank Cooper’s coarse-cut “Oxford” marmalade, to Chivers’ Olde English, which was marketed as “The Aristocrat of Marmalades.” Wilkin of Tiptree, an English fruit conserving company founded in 1885, was producing some 27 different marmalades by the turn of the 20th century, according to the preeminent marmalade scholar, C. Anne Wilson, who authored “The Book of Marmalade.”

An Enduring Tradition

After a post-World War II decline in consumption, marmalade is now undergoing a comeback in Britain. Many home cooks continue to make their own, often using generations-old recipes. Because Seville oranges are only available for a few weeks in January and February, marmalade-making is a seasonal ritual. The enticing aroma of bubbling brews of oranges and sugar on the stove and the glow of newly filled jars of marmalade signal the coming of brighter days during the short, dark winter days.

The annual World’s Original Marmalade Festival held each February at Dalemain Estate, in Penrith, Cumbria, England, is to marmalade lovers as California’s Gilroy Garlic Festival is to garlic aficionados. A paean to British marma-lade culture, hundreds of home cooks compete for titles in categories ranging from classic Seville Orange marmalade to the more eccentric Clergy Marmalade, for ministers, priests, rabbis or anyone associated with a religious group.

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The more traditional recipes have equal parts sugar and water along with the citrus; no pectin.  So, a recipe can have, for example, 8 cups sugar, 8 cups water, and anywhere from 2 – 5 pounds of fruit.  This makes a very sweet-bitter combination.

Now, admittedly, Orange Marmalade isn’t one of my favorite foods.  I generally find it too sweet. But this one recipe, that’s more on the tart/bitter side, is one I will eat. (In fact, marmalade is one of those foods one either loves with a passion reserved only for a significant other or hates like their worst enemy.)

Of course, you can adjust the sweetness as you prefer.

Now, on to the recipe.

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The finished marmalade in this recipe will not look the same as many marmalades.  Because I use juice and honey as sweeteners, the marmalade is much more opaque than if I made a marmalade with sugar.

Oranges typically used in marmalade are very seasonal and are only available 2 – 3 months a year in the winter.  However, you can use any type of orange and regular orange juice.  The flavor won’t be the same (probably sweeter), but will be delicious nonetheless.

If you need to know about the how’s and why’s of canning sweet preserves, please look at my August 10, 2012 post, “Classic Strawberry Jam”.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

5 lbs. Blood, Seville, or Cara Cara oranges

4 c. blood orange juice

Zest and juice of 2 lemons

1 tbsp. calcuim water (if using Pomona’s Pectin)

1 1/2 c. honey

3 1/2 tbsp. low sugar pectin (if using Pomona’s Pectin)

-or-

3 tbsp. low- to no-sugar powdered pectin

 

1.  Cut the ends of 2 pounds of oranges down to the pulp.

The end cut off the orange. It's a beautiful ruby color.

The end cut off the orange. It’s a beautiful ruby color. Hence the name.

Cut the oranges into quarters, cut out the center pith, and remove the seeds.

The trimmed orange quarters.

The trimmed orange quarters.

Slice each quarter very thinly and put into a large stock pot.

Ready for the pot.

Ready for the pot.

2.  Segment the remaining 3 pounds of oranges.  Do this by cutting away the peel and pith all the way down to the pulp.

Cutting the peel off the oranges.

Cutting the peel off the oranges.

Then, cut the segments out from between the segment membranes (you’ll see them; they look like white lines).

Sementing the organges.

Segmenting the oranges.

The organge segments.

The orange segments.

Add the segments to the stockpot.  (Be sure to squeeze and reserve whatever juice you can from the peels and segment membranes.  You’ll be surprised at how much juice you’ll get.  Discard or compost the unused peels, the membranes, and seeds.)

The center membrane with the segemtns cut out.  Be sure to squeeze it to extract as much juice as you can.

The center membrane with the segments cut out. Be sure to squeeze it to extract as much juice as you can.

(Alternately, you can peel, segment, and juice  all 5 pounds of oranges, take as many or as few of the peels as you like and slice them as thick or thin as you like. It’s up to you.)

3.  Add the reserved  juice, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 4 c. blood orange juice to the pot with the oranges.

Comparison of blood and regular orange juices.

Comparison of blood and regular orange juices.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Once the juice comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 45 – 60 minutes.  The pulp should be broken down and the peel very soft.

4.  After the oranges have cooked, if you are using Pomona’s pectin, stir in the calcium water. (Calcuim powder comes with the pectin). If you’re not using Pomona’s, skip this step.

5.  In a separate bowl, stir together the honey and pectin.  Add to the orange mixture.  Stir well to combine.

6.  Turn the heat back up to medium and bring the marmalade back to a boil.  Stir almost constantly to prevent scorching.  It should thicken within 5 – 10 minutes.

Cooking the marmalade. The thermometer is to check the temperature. Ideal jelling comes at 220F.

Cooking the marmalade. The thermometer is to check the temperature. Ideal jelling comes at 220F.

Test the set by pouring a small amount of the marmalade on a plate that has been chilled in the freezer.  It should set up quickly and when you run your finger through the marmalade, it should “wrinkle”.

Testing the set of the marmalade. (I used an ice mug that I keep in the freezer.)

Testing the set of the marmalade. (I used an ice mug that I keep in the freezer.)

The set marmalade.

The set marmalade.

(Also, if you have a thermometer, clip it to the edge of the stockpot and bring the marmalade up to 220F.  That is the ideal temperature for proper jelling.)

The finished marmalade.

The finished marmalade.

7.  Ladle the marmalade into hot, sterlized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  Process the jars in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes (begin timing after the water has come to a boil).  Let the jars cool on racks.  The marmalade will set up as it cools.

Cooling the jarred marmalade.

Cooling the jarred marmalade.

Makes approximately 5 half-pint jars.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apple Honey Jelly 0

Posted on January 22, 2013 by Sahar

It’s January. We all know what that means.

Resolutions.

Arguably, the most popular is lose weight.  As most all of us know, one of the best ways to lose weight is to consume less sugar.

Hence, I came up with a recipe for one of the most popular sugar-laden foods out there: jelly.  Many commercial jellies have sugar and/or corn syrup as one of the main ingredients. (I know you can get low- and no-sugar alternatives off the grocery shelf.  However, I personally find many of them below par in taste and texture.)  And, if you decide to make your own, a typical recipe will have  4 cups of sugar for roughly 4 – 5 cups of finished jelly.

I wanted to come up with an alternative that I would eat and enjoy. My recipe is sweetened with honey (equivalent to 2 1/4 cups sugar) and reduced apple cider.

Honey instead of sugar? Yes. For one, honey is a very natural sweetener (so is sugar, but it is generally heavily processed), you use less, and it tastes better. (You can also find sugar-free honey as well.)

I’m also using a more, well, older and ancient form of pectin. Fresh apple pectin.

Fresh apple pectin.

Fresh homemade apple pectin.

What exactly is pectin? By way of a  quick explanation, this comes from www.wisegeek.org:

“In cooking, pectin is used as a thickening agent, and could be considered one of the most natural types around. The first pectin available for purchase was derived from apples, which have a high amount. There are other fruits that naturally contain this gelling agent, including many plums and pears. The properties of pectin were discovered and identified by the French chemist and pharmacist, Henri Braconnot, and his discovery soon led to many manufacturers making deals with makers of apple juice to obtain the remains of pressed apples (pomace) that were then produced in a liquid form.

Pectin is a complex carbohydrate, which is found both in the cell walls of plants, and between the cell walls, helping to regulate the flow of water in between cells and keeping them rigid. You’ll note some plants begin to lose part of this complex carbohydrate as they age. Apples left out too long get soft and mushy as pectin diminishes. When apples are just ripe, they have a firm and crisp texture, mainly due to the presence of pectin.”

I did a lot of research before writing this recipe and almost all of the recipes I read used fresh apple pectin in their apple jelly.  So, that’s what I decided to use.

Now. To the recipe.

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Notes: a) I use apple cider in this recipe.  It has a better flavor than juice, plus, it still has the pectin.  Pectin has been centrifuged out of apple juice.  I generally use Martinelli’s Cider because it’s always available.  However, if you can get fresh cider, all the better. In other words, don’t substitute apple juice for cider.

b) Green apples will have more pectin than red.  Granny Smiths have the highest concentration of pectin (at least that I’ve found).  Make sure the apples you use aren’t too ripe or bruised.  The riper the apple, the lower the pectin.  You want them to be firm.

c) Admittedly, this recipe takes some time to make.  You are making pectin and reducing 3 liters of apple cider.  So, be prepared to take a couple of days making this recipe from start to finish. It won’t be continual work, but there will be a lot of waiting.

d) If you need to know the hows & whys of making sweet preserves, jelly, etc., please look at my August 10, 2012 post, “Classic Strawberry Jam”

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

10 lb. Granny Smith apples (make sure they are firm and have no bruising)

6 c. apple cider or water

-or-

a total of 6 cups combined cider or water

3 liters apple cider, reduced down to 2 cups

6 tbsp. lemon juice

1 1/2 c. honey

 

1.  Reduce the cider: In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the cider over low heat.  It will slowly reduce over several hours.  Be patient.  Stir occasionally, especially if you’re using fresh cider because the solids will settle at the bottom.  (I don’t like to let the cider come to a boil. I find it makes the cider taste cooked and there’s a risk of “burning” it.)

You want the cider to reduce down to 2 cups.  It will be much thicker and darker in color.

Cider in the saucepan before reduction.

Cider in the saucepan before reduction.

2 cups reduced cider. Much darker and thicker.

2 cups reduced cider. Much darker and thicker.

Reduced cider. A view from the top.

Reduced cider. A view from the top.

 

At this point, the cider will keep in the refrigerator for 3 – 4 days.  Just leave it in the measuring cup and cover it with plastic.

2.  Meanwhile, make the pectin: Quarter the apples and remove the stems and blossom ends (discard or put in the compost).  Then put the quarters, peels, seeds, cores, and all into a large stockpot.  Pour in the cider or water (or both).  Place the stockpot over medium heat, cover, and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat to medium-low.  Stir frequently to make sure the apples don’t stick to the bottom.

Cook the apples until they resemble soft applesauce; about 45 – 60 minutes.

Cooking the apples to make pectin.

Cooking the apples to make pectin.

3.  Have a large colander or strainer set in a large bowl or hung over a large stockpot lined with dampened cheesecloth.  Carefully ladle and pour the cooked apples into the strainer or colander.  Let the liquid drain for at least 2 – 3 hours, and up to 24.

Making pectin: Straining the cooked apples

Making pectin: Straining the cooked apples

Many apple pectin recipes warn not to weigh the apples down because some solids may get into the liquid and make a cloudy jelly.  Me? I don’t really care.  I’ll let the apples drain for several hours and then weigh them down just to be sure I extract as much of the pectin as possible.  But, it’s up to you.

You should end up with at least 6 cups of pectin. This is what you’ll need for the recipe.  If you have any extra, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or, you can process it like preserves (leaving a 1/4″ head space; hot water process for 10 minutes).  It will keep for 1 year if you process it.

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There is a way to test your newly made pectin.

Take 2 tablespoon rubbing alcohol and 2 tablespoons cooled pectin and mix them together.  (Hot pectin won’t work for this test.) The alcohol should jell.

Testing the pectin. Note the gelled alcohol on the fork.

Testing the pectin. Note the gelled alcohol on the fork.

Be sure to immediately discard the mixture. It’s poisonous.

If it doesn’t jell, you may need to cook your pectin down a bit to strengthen the pectin.

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4.  In a large stockpot (I like to use my pasta pot), combine the pectin, reduced cider, honey, and lemon juice.  Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pot or have one handy.  Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat.  Lower the heat to medium-low and slowly cook the jelly until the mixture reaches 220F. (220F is the optimum temperature for gelling.)

Cooking the jelly.

Cooking the jelly.

Another way to test the set-up of the jelly is to pour a small amount onto a plate that has been in the freezer.  Place the plate back into the freezer for a few minutes.  When you take it out, run your finger through the jelly. It should be firm and wrinkle as you run your finger through it.

5.  Once the jelly is done, remove the stockpot from the heat.  With a large spoon, skim off as much foam as you can.

Skimming off the foam

Skimming off the foam

6.  Ladle the jelly into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ head space.  Process for 10 minutes (begin timing after the water comes to a boil).

Once you take the jars out of the canner, let them sit for at least 12 hours. The jelly needs time to fully set.

Jelly!

Jelly! The dark amber color is due to the reduced cider. I think it’s lovely.

Once the jelly has sealed, label & date it.  It will keep for 1 year.  If it doesn’t seal, place the jar in the refrigerator and eat the jelly within 3 weeks.

Makes approximately 4 – 5 half pints.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Cherry Jam (with frozen cherries) 3

Posted on December 17, 2012 by Sahar

Yes. Yes. I know. It’s past cherry season.

By the way, in case you didn’t know when peak season is, it’s summer.

However, if I don’t have any cherry jam left from the summer, or, in this case, I wanted to send some to a few select people for the holidays, I will use frozen cherries. Because, well, they’re available. And, why not?

There are certain frozen fruits that will work just as well as fresh when making jams, preserves, and butters.  Peaches, mangos, cherries, and raspberries are a few that spring to mind.

Of course, fresh, ripe, in-season fruits are always best.

But, I wanted to show in this recipe that frozen fruit is an excellent substitute and you can make wonderful jam any time of year.

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Now, to the recipe.

Note:  If you need a full tutorial on the how’s and why’s of making sweet preserves (jam, jelly, etc.), please read my August 10, 2012, post “Classic Strawberry Jam”.

The ingredients

Clockwise from top: Pectin, Lemon Juice, Lemon Zest.

 

 

3 lbs. ripe sweet dark cherries, pitted

-or-

3 lbs. frozen sweet dark cherries, thawed, juices reserved

1 ea. 1.75 oz. package “classic” powdered pectin (6 tbsp.) – do not use gel pectin

1 tsp. lemon zest

1/4 c. lemon juice

5 c. sugar

 

1.  If you’re using fresh cherries, stem, pit and, if you like, roughly chop them.  If you’re using frozen cherries, pour them into a large colander and set it in a large bowl.  Allow the cherries to thaw and let the juices drip into the bowl.  Reserve the juices.

2.  In a large saucepan, combine the cherries, the reserved juice (if any), pectin, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

Cherries, cherry juice, lemon juice, lemon zest, and pectin ready to be mixed and cooked.

Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.

Cooking the cherries. The mixture will begin to thicken as it heats up.

3.  Add the sugar, stirring constantly until it’s dissolved.

Mixing in the sugar.

4.  Turn the heat down to medium low and bring the mixture to a rolling boil.  Again, be sure to stir frequently.

Cooking the jam after the sugar is dissolved.

Once it’s come to a rolling boil, boil the jam for 1 minute.

Boiling cherry jam.

5.  Remove the saucepan from the heat.  If there is any foam on top, take a spoon and skim off as much as possible. (Be careful. The jam is very hot at this point.)

The finished jam.

6.  Pour the jam into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.

Ladling the jam into the jars.

Measuring the headspace in the jar.

Clean the jar rims, seal, and process for 5 minutes. (Begin timing after the water has come back to a boil.)

Cleaning the jar rims with a damp towel. If you don’t do this, the jars won’t seal properly.

7.  Once the jars have processed for 5 minutes, turn off the heat under the canner (or very large stockpot), carefully take the jars out of the boiling water, and place them on racks to cool.  The jars will seal as they cool. (You’ll hear a “ping” or a “pop” noise as the jars begin to seal. This could take up to 24 hours.)

If the jars seal, the jam will keep approximately one year (recommended).  If not, refrigerate the jars and eat the jam within 2 – 3 weeks.

Yummy, yummy cherry jam.

 

Makes approximately 8 half-pints/16 4-oz jars

 

Maple Apple Butter 0

Posted on December 05, 2012 by Sahar

I can’t really say what my favorite food season might be. They each have their own delights.

But, I will say Autumn ranks in the top 4.  Especially when the apples really begin to show up.

Malus Domestica.  The fruit that brought down Adam & Eve.  Ubiquitous in myth and symbolism since, well, forever.

Likely the earliest fruit tree to be cultivated.

I enjoy an apple on its own, with some really good cheese, or in a pie.  But, I have to honestly say, my new favorite way is in apple butter.

Enjoying apple butter is a new thing for me.  In the past the ones I’ve eaten have all been your basic commercial brands.  I always found them either too sweet or too bland.  So, when I finally began to make it myself, I realized that, yes, apple butter could be good. Delicious, even.

If I do say so myself.

However, I have to say I can’t take full credit for this recipe.  It’s an adaptation of a recipe from a wonderful book, Tart & Sweet. (Kelly Geary & Jessie Knadler. Rosedale Books, 2010).  The big differences between my recipe and theirs is that: a) I use maple syrup as opposed to maple sugar.  Maple sugar can be difficult to find and very expensive (generally $15 for a 6-oz jar).  Maple syrup, while not cheap, is an excellent alternative that is easily found in just about any grocery store; b) I use brown sugar. I prefer the flavor over white sugar; c) I use a larger mixture of sweet spices; and, d) I don’t puree the apples.

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Now, to the recipe.

A note:  If you want/need a more thorough explanation of the how’s and why’s of making sweet preserves, please go to my August 10, 2012 post “Classic Strawberry Jam”.

The Ingredients

My sweet and spice (clockwise from top): Brown sugar. ground ginger, ground cloves, ground allspice, grated nutmeg. Center: kosher salt, star anise

I prefer to use whole nutmeg instead of ground. The flavor is so much better. And, as with all spices, it lasts much longer in its seed/whole form.

The whole nutmeg seed.

My nutmeg grater. A very small Microplane. It’s the best one I’ve ever owned.

The inside of the nutmeg seed. It looks strange. But smells lovely.

 

4 lbs. mixed apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4’s

1 cup maple syrup (Be sure it’s pure maple syrup. Not the fake stuff.)

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

2 whole star anise (optional)

3 tsp. total mixed sweet spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger)

Juice of 1 lemon (about 1 tbsp.)

 

I used 3 varieties of apples in this recipe.  My base apple is always Granny Smith.  I love its sweet-tart taste and firm texture.  It’s generally considered one of the best cooking apples.  My other 2 apples are Honeycrisp and McIntosh (use any varieties you like).  I like the taste of both and it adds a depth of flavor to the final product.  However, if you want to use all one variety, it’s up to you.

Of course, I begin the prep by peeling and coring the apples.  I use a vegetable peeler for the apples.  I know some who use a paring knife to peel apples, but I’ve never mastered that technique.  I also use a melon baller for coring.  I find the tube-style corers don’t actually core the apple, rip them up, and are rather useless in general.

Peeling the apples.

Be sure you have a sharp peeler or paring knife. You want to take off the peel, not rip up the apple.  Also, a dull peeler or knife will slip and you could get a rather nasty cut. Not fun.

Peeled.

Coring the apple. Note the use of the melon baller.

Ta Da!

Cutting out the stem and blossom ends.

Cleaned and ready to go. Now, just do that another dozen or so times.

If you are using star anise, you want to wrap it in a bit of cheesecloth before you put it in with the apples.  I learned this the hard way.  The star anise can break up during cooking and stirring.  And, if you don’t get out all the pieces, someone will get a rather unpleasant surprise.

Whole star anise.

The wrapped star anise.

1.  Place the apples, syrup. sugar, salt, star anise (if using), spices, and lemon juice in a large heavy-bottomed stockpot.

All the ingredients ready to cook.

Cover the stock pot and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.  Stir occasionally.

2.  Lower the heat to medium-low, partially uncover the stockpot, and cook until the apples are soft.  Stir frequently.  The apples will begin to soften within 15 – 20 minutes. (I like to leave the stockpot partially covered so I don’t lose the moisture too quickly and risk burning the ingredients.)

Partially uncovered stockpot.

After 15 minutes. The apples are beginning to soften.

After 30 minutes. The apples are beginning to break down.

After 45 minutes. The apples are now soft enough to mash or puree.

2.  After 45 minutes, remove the stockpot from the heat.  With either a potato masher or an immersion blender (depending on what texture you prefer), carefully mash or puree the apples. (Be careful of the little packet of star anise.  Just pull it out when you get ready to process the apples and put it back in when you’re done.)

I prefer a little texture in my apple butter, so I use a potato masher on the apples.

After mashing the apples.

 

3.  Place the uncovered stockpot back on the heat.  Turn the heat down to low.  Cook for another 15 – 30 minutes, depending how thick a consistency you want. Stir frequently.

The finished apple butter. Close-up view.

Pull out the packet of star anise and discard it.

4.  Carefully ladle the apple butter into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace in the jar. (See my August 10, 2012 post “Classic Strawberry Jam” on how to process jars for canning.)

Ladling the apple butter into jars.

Filling the jar to the correct level.

Checking the headspace in the jar. It’s extremely important that this is correct.

Check for and remove as many air bubbles as possible.

Removing the air bubbles.

Wipe the rims clean with a damp towel. (This helps the jars to seal properly.)

Wiping the jar rims with a damp paper towel.

Place the lids on top and then the ring. Screw on the rings to finger-tight. (Be sure not to over-tighten. The air needs to escape during processing.)

Put the jars back into the hot water.  Process for 15 minutes. (Start timing when the water comes back to a boil.)

Processing the apple butter.

After the apple buter has been processed, carefully remove the jars from the canner and set on racks to cool. (I use a towel lined baking sheet to transport the jars. It’s safer and easier.)

Let the jars sit and cool.  As the jars cool, the lids should seal.  You’ll hear a “ping” sound as they begin to seal.  This can take up to 24 hours.  After the jars are sealed, you can tighten the rims.  If you have a jar that doesn’t seal, refrigerate and eat the apple butter within 3 weeks.

Be sure to label and date the jars.  The apple butter keeps for a year, unopened (recommended).  Once it’s opened, eat within 3 weeks.

Yields 4 – 6 half pints.

Yummy, yummy, yummy.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Strawberry Jam 1

Posted on August 10, 2012 by Sahar

I enjoy making sweet preserves.  Of course, this catch-all word also includes jams, butters, conserves, and jellies.  Most of the time, I try to use fresh, seasonal, and, if possible, organic fruits.  Because, why not?  That’s when the fruits I choose are at their best.  However, I have used frozen fruit as well (mostly cherries and peaches) and most seem to work just fine.  Especially when I have a craving for peach butter in the middle of winter and don’t already have some on hand from the summer season.

Overall, I just have fun when I make preserves.  It’s a lot of work; but, when done right, the end result is worth it.

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The exact origin of preserved fruit remains debated by food historians. However,  jams, jellies and preserves have a rich history and long have been appreciated and loved by generations of happy eaters.

The making of jam and jelly likely began centuries ago in the Middle East, where cane sugar grew naturally. It’s likely that returning Crusaders first introduced jam and jelly to Europe; by the late Middle Ages, jams, jellies and fruit conserves were popular. Especially among the upper class and royalty. (Another example of something good coming from something bad.)

In fact, the word “jelly” comes from the French word “gelée” which means to congeal.

The world’s first known book of recipes, Of Culinary Matters, written by Roman gastronome Marcus Apicius in the 1st Century, includes recipes for fruit preserves.

Marmalade is believed to have been created in 1561 by the physician to Mary, Queen of Scots, when he mixed orange and crushed sugar to keep her seasickness at bay. It has been suggested that the word marmalade derives from the words “Marie est malade” (Mary is sick), but it is far more likely that its origin is from the Portuguese word marmelo for quince.

Marmalades were a kingly delicacy and many a royal sweet tooth demanded an array of fruit flavors rich with sugar. Chroniclers describe at length the magnificent & table groaning feasts of Louis XIV, which always ended with marmalades and jellies served in silver dishes. Each delicacy served at Versailles was made with fruit from the king’s own gardens and greenhouses.

In the United States, early New England settlers preserved fruits with honey, molasses or maple sugar. Pectin extracted from apple parings was used to thicken jellies.

In 1897, Jerome M. Smucker first pressed cider at a mill in Orrville, Ohio. Later, he prepared apple butter too, which he offered in crocks that each bore a hand-signed seal — his personal guarantee of quality.  And, thus, a well-known brand name was born.

A grape jam patent was first issued to Paul Welch in 1917 for the puréeing of grapes. He called the product “Grapelade.” The entire production was purchased by the U.S. Army and shipped to France for consumption by the troops during World War I. When the troops returned to the States after the war, they demanded more of this “Grapelade,” and it was produced in quantity. And many generation of happy children have enjoyed Welch’s Grape Jelly.

The Food and Drug Administration established Standards of Identity for what constitutes jam, jelly, preserves and fruit butters in 1940.

(information from www.jelly.org/lore.html)

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What is the difference between different types of preserves you ask? Good Question.

Jelly is a clear product generally made by cooking fruit juice with sugar and pectin as a jelling agent and citrus juice (lemon or lime) as an acid to help give it an even firm, even texture.  As a rule, jelly contains no fruit pieces.

Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit cooked with sugar and, sometimes, pectin, and citrus juice (lemon or lime).

Preserves are fruit cooked with sugar to the point where large pieces of fruit are basically suspended in a sugar base.

Marmalade is a soft, usually citrus-based, jelly that includes both the flesh and peel of the fruit in the base. The peel helps give the marmalade its sour/bitter flavor.

Conserve has more than one fruit and also usually includes nuts or raisins or currants.  It is cooked down until very thick and can be used as a spread or like a chutney.

Chutney originated on the Indian Subcontinent. It is generally not served as a spread, like a conserve, its closest Western cousin, but as a condiment. It can range from mild to hot on the spice scale.  It usually consists of chopped fruit, vinegar, spices, and sugar.

Fruit Butter is a fruit puree combines with citrus juice, sugar, and spices.  It is slowly cooked down to a smooth, thick consistency.  It contains no actual butter, however.

Curd is a dairy based spread made with butter, eggs, sugar, and is usually flavored with either citrus, especially lemon, or berries.

Fruit Spread is a relative new comer to the preserve family.  It’s is generally a lower calorie spread made with fruit juice concentrate and/or low-calorie sweeteners as all or partial replacement for sugar.

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One of the most important ingredients in making fruit preserves, is pectin.  Pectin is a complex, non-nutritive polysaccharide extracted from apples or citrus fruit. It helps form a gel when combined with the correct amount of acid and sugar.

Essentially, pectin helps forms with water in an acid enviornment.  The added sugar helps the pectin’s ability to gel and effects the texture and consistency of preserves as they set.

Some fruit, such as apples and plums, have enough natural pectin to generally not need any extra pectin added.  Other fruits, such as strawberries and pears, always need added pectin.

You can also make your own pectin from apples.  There are numerous recipes available in books or on the internet.

Classic Pectin. Both powdered and liquid. This is most commonly used type of pectin.

Liquid and powdered pectins are not interchangeable.  Liquid pectin is always added after boiling and not reheated back to a boil but immediately ladled into the sterilized jars. Powdered pectin must be added then boiled for a period of time to activate the gel process.

Instant pectin. It’s used for uncooked freezer or refrigerator jams and jellies.

 

Low/No sugar pectins. These use calcium powder to start the gelling process. You can use up to 40% less sugar, low calorie sweetener, or honey in place of regular granulated sugar.

Pectin can fail to gel your preserves if it is too old, or under/over-cooked.  Also, if an ingredient, like sugar, is added at the wrong time, it can interfere with the pectin and the jam won’t set up.

On the left, improperly made strawberry jam. I put in the sugar too soon and cooked the jam too long. The pectin failed and the jam never set. One the right, a masterpiece.

There are a few tools that are very helpful when you’re canning.  A wide-mouth funnel, a magnet (for picking up lids out of hot water), a bubble remover/headspace tool, and jar tongs.

The starter kit with all the utensils. It’s fairly inexpensive.

Magnet, funnel, headspace tool, and jar tongs.

If you don’t have these items, you can do some substituting.  Just be sure that whatever you use is non-metallic or a non-reactive metal (i.e. stainless steel) so it doesn’t react with the acid in the preserves. (As a matter of fact, I find a pair of standard tongs with rubber bands wrapped around the ends work better for picking up the 4-oz jars instead of the jar tongs.)

 

Jars. Gotta have them.  There are 4 standard sizes of jars available to the home canner: 4-oz, 8-oz (1/2 pint), 16-oz (pint), and 32-oz (quart).  The pint and quart sizes are more often used for pickle, vegetable, and whole fruit preserves.  4-oz and 1/2 pint jars are used mostly for jams, jellies, etc.

4-oz and 1/2 pint jars. These are the most common sizes used for jam & jelly making.

When you buy jars, they generally come in a box of 12.  They will contain jars, rims, and lids.

The components of the canning jar. Jar, lid, rim.

When you open the box, inspect the jars carefully.  Make sure there are no cracks in the jars.  If you find any, throw the jar away.  Keep the lid and rim, though, if they’re not damaged.

Jars and rims are reusable if you want to make preserves again.  The lids are not.  The seals on the lids are one-time-use only.  If you want to just use the jar for storage, then you can re-use the lid.  But it can’t be used again for sealing the jar after processing.

There are also 2 sizes of “mouth” on a canning jar: regular and wide.  I generally use regular mouth jars for sweet preserves.

Boxes of regular and wide mouth jar lids. When buying extra lids, be sure you buy the correct size for the type of jar you’re using.

Size comparison.

 

It’s always good to have an extra box or two of lids on hand.  As I stated above, lids can’t be reused unless you’re going to be using them merely for storage.  Otherwise, the lid must be discarded.

Before starting the canning process, the jars, lids, and rims must be washed in hot, soapy water, rinsed thoroughly, and drained.  This can be done in the dishwasher if you like, but I find it easier to just wash by hand.  Plus, it’s faster.

Clean jars, lids, and rims.

 

Have a large canning pot, or as I happen to have, a large stock pot, with a jar rack in the bottom.

My well-used jar rack.

 

Fill the pot with water  (filtered, if you can) and then place the jars in the rack.  Ideally, the jars don’t touch.

Jars ready for sterilizing.

 

Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil and boil the jars.  Make sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars.

Most books I’ve seen recommend boiling the jars for anywhere between 1 – 5 minutes.  Me? Once the water is boiling, I just let it boil and leave the jars in.  I’ll add water as I need to.

Place the lids in a small saucepan and cover them with water.  Again, I generally go at least 1″ above the lids.  I bring the water to just the boiling point, turn the heat down, and let the lids sit in barely simmering water.  This sterilizes the lids without melting the seals.  (If the seal melts before it’s placed on the jar, it’s no good.)

Lids in simmering water.

You don’t need to sterilize the rims.  If everything is done properly, they’ll never touch the food.  But, if it makes you feel better, you can sterilize them if you like.

 

And, finally, a few notes on jam making (and preserves in general):

The USDA doesn’t recommend modifying canning recipes (and NEVER make multiple batches at once; i.e. doubling), since improvising could affect the acidity of your canned goods and create an environment for bacteria to thrive.  But as any cook knows, half of the fun of making a recipe more than once is the tweaking!  There are a few changes that you can make to the recipes, safely, however.

SUGAR:  Feel free to add more or less.  It’s only added for flavor and to help stabilize the shape, set, and color or whatever it is you’re canning.  It’s not added as a preservative.  Keep in mind, though, that insufficient amounts of sugar in jams and fruit spreads will result in runny, dribbly spread, which can sometimes – but not always – be remedied by increasing the cooking time or by adding more pectin.

LEMON or LIME JUICE:  Unless otherwise noted in a recipe, always stick to bottled citrus juices, since fresh can vary in acidity.

HERBS and SPICES: Feel free to play with the amounts of herbs and spices called for in a recipe – it won’t adversely affect the recipe’s pH.

HONEY:  Honey can be substituted for sugar, though keep in mind that it’s not a cup-for-cup conversion, since honey is more dense than granulated sugar.

A few changes to never make:

NEVER decrease the amount of acid, whether vinegar, lime juice, or lemon juice

NEVER substitute vinegar for bottled lemon or lime juice in a recipe, since vinegar is slightly less acidic than the citruses.

(Source: Tart and Sweet, Rodale Books, 2010)

 

Now, on to the recipe.

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The ingredients

 

4 lbs. strawberries (Always buy extra to take into account bad berries, trimmed out bruises, and from removing the tops)

1/4 c. lemon juice (use bottled; see above)

1 pkg. (6 tbsp.) powdered pectin

6 1/4 c. sugar

 

 

1.  Wash, trim, and cut the strawberries in half or quarters, depending on the size.

4 pounds of cleaned, trimmed, and cut strawberries.

 

Place 1/4 of the strawberries in a large saucepan.  With a potato masher, crush the strawberries.  Continue with the rest of the strawberries, 1/4 at a time. (The strawberries don’t need to be smooth.  A rough crush will do.)

Crushing the strawberries

2.  Add the lemon juice and pectin to the strawberries.

Adding the pectin and lemon juice

Place the saucepan over medium heat and, stirring frequently, bring the berries to a boil.

Boiling strawberries.

 

3.  Add the sugar and stir constantly until it is dissolved.

Adding the sugar.

4.  Stir frequently until the strawberries come to a boil again.  When the come to a hard boil, stir constantly and boil for 1 minute.

Just after all the sugar is dissolved.

Boiling strawberry jam.

 

5.  Remove the saucepan from the heat.  Skim off as much of the foam as possible.

Skimming off the foam. Take care not to get any of the hot jam on your skin. It hurts.

 

6.  Now, it’s time to use your tools.  Take the small saucepan with the lids off the stove and set it close to where you’ll be filling the jars.  Take the canning pot from the heat and carefully, using the jar tongs, remove the jars from the boiling water.  (If you’re using regular tongs with rubber bands, make sure you pick the jars up on the outside. Do not have anything touching the inside of the jar.)  Take care when you pour out the water so that you don’t burn yourself. I like to have a rimmed baking pan lined with a towel to put the jars on as I take them out of the pot.  It makes them easier to carry to where I’m filling the jars and to take them back to the pot for processing.  Leave the jars right side up.

Take a jar and place the funnel on top.  With a ladle (stainless steel is fine. It won’t react with the acid), carefully fill the jar, leaving 1/4″ headspace at the top.

Using the headspace tool to measure 1/4″. Very important that the headspace is correct.

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A word on headspace:

During processing (either in a water bath, as this recipe calls for, or a pressure cooker for low acid foods and meats), the heat causes the contents of the jar to expand. Air escapes around the two piece lid.  If there isn’t enough headspace, the food could seep under the lid as it expands. This will interfere with sealing.

After processing, the contents of the jars contract as they cool and the lid is pulled down tight and the jars seals themselves. If you have too much headspace, the processing time specified in the recipe may not be long enough to drive out the air. This can also interfere with proper sealing.

Any canning recipe should specify the headspace, but, generally, use 1 inch for low acid foods (such as vegetables), 1/2 inch for whole fruits, and 1/4 inch for jams, jellies, and most other sweet preserves.

**********

Use the other end of the headspace tool, if needed, to remove any air bubbles.

Now, to help make sure the lid will seal properly, take a damp paper towel, and wipe off the rim of the jar.  Any food on the rim will interfere with the seal.

Cleaning the rim of the jar.

Take the magnet and pick one of the jar lids out of the hot water, shake off the excess water, and carefully place it on top of the jar.

Taking a lid from the water.

Now, take a rim and screw it to finger-tight on the jar.  Don’t make the rim too tight, or air may not escape during processing.  You can tighten the rim once the jar has sealed.

Jar ready for processing.

Continue with the rest of the jars.

Once all the jars are filled, put them back into the canning pot.  Be sure the water level is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars.

Jars all ready for processing.

Cover the pot and bring the water back to a boil.  Once the water is boiling, boil the jars for 10 minutes.  You are now processing the jam.

Once the jam has been processed, take the canning pot off the heat and carefully remove the jars.  Place the jars on racks and let cool.

Strawberry Jam. Fresh from the canner.

The jars can take up to 24 hours to seal.  However, it usually doesn’t take that long.  You’ll know the jars are sealed when the lid becomes concave.  You’ll also hear something like a “ping” when the jar begins to seal.

Once the jar is sealed, you can tighten the rim.

Ideally, let the jars sit for about 24 hours before moving them.  But, as long as you let them sit until they are cool, you should be fine.

If the jar doesn’t seal, put it in the fridge and eat the jam within 2 – 3 weeks.  You can also remove the contents from the jar, wash it and the rim, discard the lid, re-sterilize everything, fill the jar again and process.  It’s up to you.

Be sure to label and date the jars.

Jar labels

You can keep sealed, unopened jam for up to 1 year (recommended).  Once it’s opened, you should eat it within about 3 weeks.

If you find any mold, throw the contents away.  Immediately.  Just a little safety tip.

However, if all was done properly, you should have no issues.

 

Enjoy!

 

 



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