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Mastery Challenge: Sour Cherry Elderflower Jelly, Made Two Ways

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops by today to share her experience making jelly using both Pomona’s Pectin and homemade gooseberry pectin. Read on for her tale of experimentation!

Ah, jelly month. It’s time for me to reckon with pectin.

If I recall correctly, this Mastery Challenge is only my second time making jelly. The first was a few years ago when I worked as the buyer for an all-local foods store here in Philly, Fair Food Farmstand. We got some Japanese knotweed in early April, and I set to work making a tart, pale-pink jelly out of this invasive plant as a way to preserve it. But the set was unappealing and too firm for me, so I gave the still-sealed jars that were left to a friend excited about foraged foods.

For every time I’ve made jam or other preserves with pectin, I can count a time when set didn’t occur or occurred too well. So in recent years, I’ve avoided it, eschewing recipes using pectin for the whole-fruit preserves and confitures found in Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, one of a select number of preserving books I own. These fruit preserves manage to be thick and spoonable, and I love them — but it was time to tackle working with pectin.

When it came time to consider this month’s challenge, I had a freezer full of fruit to work with (and thanks to the time I spent organizing my chest freezer last month, I knew exactly how much and where it all was). There were three gallon bags of West Philly-grown sour cherries in there that needed to become something great — so I pulled out two of them to thaw in the fridge. I’d also use the dregs of a bottle of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, since those flavors go so well together.

And, since I like to do things the hard way sometimes, I searched online for homemade pectin alternatives to the packaged stuff that had vexed me in the past. Mrs. Wheelbarrow came through yet again, this time with a post about how to make and use pectin from green gooseberries — a bag of which, harvested from my community garden two summers before, also languished in my freezer.

Roughly a quart of gooseberries, simmered with water, strained through a jelly bag, and cooked down again until the pectin formed a mass that could be picked up with a fork when dropped into alcohol, yielded me two four-ounce jars, one to use now and one to stash away for later.

Along with an unopened box of Pomona’s Pectin that had been in my pantry for a couple years — according to the manufacturer, it will last indefinitely if stored cool and dry — I had what I needed to find out (a) if I could be trusted to make something tasty from the packaged stuff and (b) if my woo-woo homemade method could be used for jelly made with low-pectin fruit.

The results? Yes, surprisingly, and sort of!

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How to Make Tart Red Cherry Jelly

Itching to make cherry jelly but don’t want to wait months? Try making a small batch of low sugar Tart Red Cherry Jelly using a bottle of juice from the store!

Last Thursday night, I did an hour-long live broadcast on Facebook Live. A bunch of you tuned in, I showed you how to make Tart Red Cherry Jelly using store bought juice, we talked about the various ways to make shrubs, and I answered a whole bunch of questions.

During the broadcast, I promised to post the recipe I used to make the jelly. It’s taken me a little longer than anticipated, but here it is. I demonstrated how to do it using a bottle of tart cherry juice from Trader Joe’s, but you can use any bottle of 100% fruit juice that you’d like. In the past, I’ve done this with Concord grape juice and blueberry juice, both to good effect.

This recipe also works with honey. If you go in that direction, reduce the amount by approximately one-third. Oh, and before you put the jelly into jars, taste it. Some batches of juice are sweeter than others, and so occasionally a bit of fresh lemon juice is needed to help balance the flavors.

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Jellies and Shrubs for the March Mastery Challenge

We’re five days into March, and so it’s high time to start digging into this month’s challenge (I’ve been at a conference for the last couple days, which accounts for the delay). We’re going to be focusing in on both jelly and shrubs this time around.

The reason for the double topics is that jelly making has much in common with marmalade making. For those of you who wearied of achieving set during January’s challenge, you have another option. What’s more, shrubs are fun.

What is Jelly?

There are a lot of preserves that get called jelly, but for the purposes of this challenge, we’re defining it as a sweet or savory preserve that is made primarily with a flavorful liquid like fruit juice, vinegar, or wine (other spirits do sometimes come into play with jellies as well). Fruit jellies should be clear and without any bits or pieces of fruit or fruit pulp. Things like pepper jellies can include bits of pepper material. Jellies should be well-set enough to be spread on toast without dripping down your hand.

There are several ways to go about getting your jelly to set up.

High Pectin Fruits – Some fruits are so naturally high in pectin that you don’t need to add commercial pectin to achieve set (a good example is the red currant jelly I wrote about last summer). Those jellies just need enough sugar to help elevate the temperature to reach the set point (to read more about why sugar aids in set, read this). Occasionally, people will also extract pectin from these high pectin fruits to use in combination with lower pectin fruits.

Commercial Pectin – Other fruits don’t have a ton of natural pectin and require additional pectin in order to set up. These days, my go-to pectins are the Classic Ball Flex Pectin (for higher sugar batches) and Pomona’s Pectin (for lower sugar and alternative sweeteners).

Reduction – Some fruit juices have the ability to set up into jelly with no more than a nice, long boil. Chief among these juices are apple cider. When I first made this apple cider syrup, I accidentally cooked it to 220F and it set up into a nice, spreadable preserve.

The world of jellies really broad, but the thing that unifies them is the fact that they have a solidly spreadable set. If you didn’t read this post on using the plate test to check for set back in January, I recommend you give it a look now.

Here are some jelly recipes to help get you started. Of course, this is just a starting place. There’s a world of jelly recipes out there in books and online for you to choose from.

What is a Shrub?

I’ve been smitten with shrubs since I made my first one back in 2011. Shrubs are a combination of fruit, sugar and vinegar. Left to sit for a few days (or even longer), they develop a deep, sweet-tart flavor that is a wonderful addition to a glass of sparkling water, a batch of salad dressing, a fancy homemade cocktail, a marinade for meat or vegetables, or to a pan sauce.

There is better writer on the topic of shrubs than Michael Dietsch. He started in on the topic back in 2011 with this post on Serious Eats and has subsequently written a whole book about them. Emily Han‘s book, Wild Drinks and Cocktails, is also contains a lot of tasty shrubs.

I’ve got four shrub recipes here on the blog and there are far more out there online. However, if you remember the essential ratio of one part sugar, one part vinegar, and a generous handful of fruit of some kind, you’ll be good.

As always, I’ll be sharing more recipes, tips and tricks around the topic of jellies and shrubs on the blog all month long. The deadline to submit your project to be counted in the final tally is Wednesday, March 29 (I’ll put the form up soon).

I’m also doing a Facebook Live session on the topic on Thursday, March 9 at 9 pm Eastern/6 pm Pacific. Make sure to tune in!

 

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Mastery Challenge: Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade

Hey folks! Let’s welcome Alex Jones to the blog. She’s a friend and fellow Philadelphian who is coming on board as a regular contributor to Food in Jars (you’ll see her posts a couple times a month). She’ll be participating in the Mastery Challenge and will be sharing preserving tips and recipes from her West Philly kitchen. She’s kicking things off with a batch of Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade! ~Marisa

four small open jars of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade

Hello fellow canners! I’m Alex Jones, your new FIJ contributor. I write about and work with local foods, farmers, and makers in the Philadelphia area. Over the past several years, I’ve learned to preserve thanks in large part to Marisa’s blog, books, and classes, so it’s especially exciting to lend my voice to the blog.

For January’s Mastery Challenge, I knew I’d be incorporating some of my Lemon Ladies Meyer lemons, which have become a permanent line item on my Christmas wish list. After slicing and drying half my stash, turning some into thick, sliceable fruit cheese, and squeezing a few over seared day boat scallops, I had half a dozen lemons left to make into marmalade.

To fill out the recipe and add a rosy glow to the finished product, I grabbed an organic grapefruit that had been hanging out on my counter. In total, I had a little over two pounds of fruit, just enough to halve Marisa’s Three-Citrus Marmalade recipe and transform it into a batch of Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade.

I grabbed my peeler and my paring knife and got to work. The methodical process of zesting, trimming, supreme-ing, and chopping my lemons and grapefruit, as the canning pot warmed my kitchen and episodes of Scandal hummed in the background, was the perfect way to spend a cold January morning.

Ingredients in the pot for a batch of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade

I followed Marisa’s recipe as closely as possible — something I admit I don’t always do when in the throes of bulk fruit season — and for the most part, my results corresponded closely with her version. The main difference was around what for me is the most challenging aspect of making fruit preserves like this: achieving set.

I shy away from jam recipes that include store-bought pectin, as I often end up with an unappetizing, too-firm preserve, rather than the desired substantial-yet-stirrable set. But this marmalade recipe makes use of discarded bits of citrus — the seeds and membranes from the sections — as a gentle thickener.

Bubbles on the surface of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade as it cooks down

My Meyer lemon-grapefruit marmalade, cooked over medium-high gas heat in a 4-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven, took 45 minutes to get to 220 degrees, at which point I began testing the set. It took another 17 minutes and 5 degrees before the marmalade passed the plate test. Constant stirring and testing every 5 minutes helped me avoid scorching the marmalade, another potential pitfall.

Four open jars of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade from the top

Before canning, I took care to remove the pot from the heat and stir for a full minute to keep the zest from floating at the top of the jar, a tip I somehow missed till now. It’s already paying off to revisit these techniques with intention!

After the processed jars had some time to cool off, I couldn’t resist popping open a quarter pint jar to check set and flavor. The texture was lovely — standing up on my knife but easy to spread — with tender bits of zest throughout. It tasted bright, sweet and sunny, with a hint of bitterness from the grapefruit to balance.

Finished jars of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade

I might have to reconsider my usual policy of making fruit preserves for gifts only and allocate a jar or three of this Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade for my own use. That definitely makes the first month of the Mastery Challenge a success.

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Links: Pickles, Trifles, and Winners

Oh friends, I can’t tell you how much fun I’m already having with the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. I’m floored by how many people are participating and it’s been so fun to see all the marmalades you’ve been making!

I’m a bit later than usual with these links and winners. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them nonetheless.

It was so much fun to read about your canning goals last week in the giveaway of the smooth-sided and mini jars from Ball Canning. Here are the winners.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Holiday Berry Jam for Gift Giving

This holiday berry jam combines frozen strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries with fresh cranberries. The result is a bright, flavorful jam that works beautifully for holiday gift bags and baskets.

Four jars of holiday berry jam.

No matter how much jam making I do during the summer season, I almost always find myself a little short on the desirable jams come gift giving time. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have mountains of preserves. But many of them were experimental batches that just don’t work for neighbors and Scott’s coworkers.

Fruit for holiday berry jam.

This year, instead of relying only on pears and apples to make up the shortfall, I headed for the freezer section at the grocery store. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to make giftable jam exclusively with frozen fruit, because I find it almost always ends up with a softer set and a slightly dull flavor.

Ingredients for holiday berry jam in a pot.

But last week, the solution came to me in a flash. Cranberries. Combine frozen berries with a small portion of cranberries and you get perfect jam every time. The cranberries provide both ample pectin and welcome acidity to ensure that the jam sets and tastes terrific. Holiday berry jam is born!

Finished holiday berry jam in the pot.

I made this jam with 24 ounces of raspberries, 12 ounces of strawberries, 12 ounces of blueberries, and 8 ounces of cranberries. You can easily change up the frozen fruit, but maintain the basic ratio of three pounds frozen berries to 8 ounces of cranberries.

Holiday berry jam in an open jar.

The yield on this sucker was just a little bit more than 6 cups. I canned it in four 12 ounce jelly jars because those were the easiest jars to put my hands on. You could also do six half pints or even a dozen 4 ounce jelly jars. Make it work for you.

Oh, and one last thing. If you have an Aldi near you, know that it’s an excellent spot to pick up your frozen fruit. Their prices are awesome and they often have organic options.

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