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Apple Ginger Jelly

This small batch of apple ginger jelly is delicious in a PB&J and would be even better served with fresh ricotta and crostini.

I bought these cute little lady apples back in January, thinking I would make a clever pickle or a preserve them in a cinnamon-spiked syrup. I tucked them into my produce drawer and the days went by.

As I started thinking about this month’s challenge, those apples leapt to mind and I knew that their destiny lay elsewhere. Along with a couple other apples, they were meant to become jelly. Apple ginger jelly, to be precise.

I love using apples to make jelly because while they make a respectable preserve all on their own, they have a neutral enough flavor that they can take on a wide array of other flavors as well. I combined my apples with fresh ginger, but you could go with a fresh herb or a trio of warm winter spices.

The process of making jelly from apples is easy enough. Cut them into halves or quarters. Cover them with water (start with about a cup more water than you need for your finished recipe). Add your flavor enhancers if you’re using something that appreciates a longer infusion. And simmer until the fruit is very soft.

Once the fruit is soft, it’s time to strain. I line old china cap and stand that I inherited from my great-aunt Flora with a nut milk bag (sturdier than a jelly bag), but you can also use a traditional jelly bag stand, or even a colander lined with cheesecloth that you perch on top of a tall bowl.

Best practice is to give your fruit at least 6-8 hours to drain so that you don’t introduce any pulp into the juice that could make your jelly cloudy. However, if you don’t really care about having a batch of a slightly opaque jelly, go ahead and squeeze. I got an additional half cup of juice from my fruit thanks to some vigorous squeezing.

Once you’ve got all the juice extracted from your apples, it’s time to make the jelly. Bring the juice to a boil. As it heats, whisk the sugar and pectin together. Once the juice boils, whisk in the the pectin-spiked sugar and stir. Add some fresh lemon juice for balance. And start checking for set.

Once you get some nice, thick sheeting on the back of your spoon or the jelly passes the plate test, it is done. Pour it into jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace (the thinner the product, the less headspace you need).

The finished flavor of this jelly is bright from the apples and just a little bit spicy from the ginger. I ate the last couple teaspoons that wouldn’t fit into the jars on peanut butter toast and felt very much like all was right with the world. I could also see it tasting very good spread thinly inside a grilled cheese sandwich.

For those of you who made jelly for this month’s challenge, how has it gone for you? Any favorites to share?

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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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Lemon Lime Marmalade

One more marmalade for the January challenge. This small-ish batch of lemon lime marmalade is made over the course of three days. That better allows you to fit your preserving into your busy life!

lemons and limes for lemon lime marmalade

We’re beginning to wrap up our month of marmalades in the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge and I figured the best way to celebrate was with more marmalade! Lemon lime marmalade, to be precise. This is a batch I made about a week ago, over the course of three days (because marmalades are flexible like that).

fruit in a colander for lemon lime marmalade

For this batch, I picked up two pounds of organic lemons and limes from my neighborhood Trader Joe’s. There was a lot of talk about sourcing fruit for this month, and part of my goal with this recipe is to show that you don’t have to go crazy or spend a ton of money to get good fruit for preserving. I don’t remember how much I paid for these lemons and limes, but it was well south of $5.

rinsing fruit for lemon lime marmalade

Because grocery store citrus is often waxed to help retain moisture and freshness, I always give it a rinse with boiling water if I plan on using the zest or rind. I put a colander in the sink, fill it up with the fruit, bring a kettle to a boil, and then give the fruit a scalding bath. This helps remove any surface wax and gives you a aromatic steam facial, to boot.

fruit ready to simmer for lemon lime marmalade

After rinsing the fruit, I arranged it in a pan that was wide enough to hold it in a single layer. Filled with twice as much filtered water as I needed for the recipe (to ensure that there would be enough after evaporation), it went on the stove and simmered for about 45 minutes, until the rinds could easily be pierced with a fork.

cooked citrus for lemon lime marmalade

Once the fruit was cooked through, I turned off the heat and let it sit until cool. That was the end of the day one prep. I covered the pan and let it hang out on the back of the stove until the next day.

halved citrus for lemon lime marmalade

On day two, I pulled the fruit out of the pot and set it on a cutting board with a carved groove to catch any juices. I measured out four cups of cooking water to use in the marmalade and set to work breaking down the citrus. I positioned a fine mesh sieve over a bowl. With a piece of citrus in my left hand and a paring knife in the right, I cut the fruit open over that sieve.

Once about half the fruit was cut open, I scraped all the flesh (membranes and seeds included, but not the pith) into the sieve. I set the rind aside for a moment. Then I used the sieve to work through the pulp in order to remove the seeds. Once I was certain that all the seeds were removed, I poured the pulp into the bowl below. This process was repeated until all the deseeded pulp was in the bowl.

chopped rind for lemon lime marmalade

Then I chopped the rinds into strips. I like to take a couple empty rind halves, cut them in halves or quarters, make a neat stack, and chop through them. This keeps the task from becoming too tedious (but there’s always a little tedium in making marmalade. It’s just part of the gig).

combining ingredients in the pot for lemon lime marmalade

Once all the rinds were chopped, I heaped them in a five quart pot and added the four cups of reserved cooking water, all the pulp and juices from the bowl beneath the sieve, and four cups of sugar (I know it seems like a lot, but I was working with the 1:1:1 ratio. Two pounds of fruit, two pounds water (four cups = 32 ounces = 2 pounds), and two pounds of sugar (like the water, four cups = 32 ounces = 2 pounds).

I put a cover on the pot and slid it to the back of the stove to wait until morning.

prepped fruit in a five quart pot for lemon lime marmalade

On the morning of day three of the lemon lime marmalade, I took a picture of the prepared fruit in nice light and then got to cooking. I placed the pot on the stove, set the burner to high, and brought it to a boil. Once it started to roll, it boiled steadily for 35 minutes before it started nearing the set point.

I stirred occasionally at the start of cooking and regularly towards the end. Around minute 40, it reached 220 degrees F and was able to maintain that temperature even after being stirred. I also used the saucer test and looked at how the droplets were setting up on the spatula before calling it done.

wrinkling lemon lime marmalade

This batch was so eager to set up that it started to do it in the pot while I was taking these pictures (and truly, when I take pictures of a finished preserve in the pot, it only adds a couple minutes to the workflow. This pot wasn’t off the stove long). But you can see that as I tilted the pot a little, the surface wrinkled in the same manner we look for when using the plate/saucer test to check for set. Set mission accomplished.

seven jars of lemon lime marmalade

This batch yielded six half pints and one quarter pint. It’s pleasingly bitter and bracing. I made a batch of lemon chicken the other night and used a few spoonfuls to lend flavor to the quick-cooking dish. Easy and delicious!

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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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Marmalade Troubleshooting

Looking to better understand why your marmalade turned out the way it did? Let’s walk through some marmalade troubleshooting!

You’ve made your first batch of marmalade for the Mastery Challenge and it didn’t turn out as well as you’d hoped. Perhaps it was a little runnier that you wanted it to be. Or maybe it set up so firmly that you can barely slip the knife in. Did your batch yield a whole lot less than you thought it should? Let’s talk through some of these issues.

Let’s start at the top of the list. Your marmalade is sloshy rather than spreadable. When did you make the marmalade? It can sometimes take 24-48 hours for a batch to finish setting up. If your marm is still just an hour or two out of the canner and you’re worried about the set, walk away. Stop thinking about it for a little while. Check it again tomorrow.

So. You let the jars rest for a couple days and the marmalade still totally saucy. Next question. Did you follow a recipe or ratio? Marmalade is by its nature a high sugar preserve. When you reduce the sugar or use a natural sweetener, achieving set can be harder, because there may not be enough sugar present in the preserve to elevate the temperature to the 220F set point.

Did you check for set while the marmalade was cooking? Any time a recipe gives you a cooking time, it is only a general range. During cooking, you also need to be checking for signs of set. You do this by using the frozen plate test, watching how the marmalade sheets off the spatula, paying attention to how much it has reduced, and taking the temperature as it cooks.

What kind of pot did you cook the marmalade in? Like most sweet preserves, marmalades like to be cooked in low, wide pans. High sided pans with narrow openings will trap evaporating water and make it harder for the fruit to reduce. For small batches, try your biggest frying pan rather than a saucepan.

Let’s visit the other side of the coin. Do you feel like your marmalade is too firm? If it’s more candy than spread, chances are good that you overcooked it. If you were using a thermometer to monitor the cooking temperature and you never managed to get to 220F, but it bounces like a rubber ball, the thermometer might be to blame. If you think this is your problem, read this post.

Are you disappointed with your yield? Marmalade is labor intensive, so I understand how frustrating it can be when you yield less that you’d hoped. Know first that it’s totally normal for the same recipe to shift its yield about a cup in either direction every time you make it.

To help prevent short yields in the future, make sure that you’re monitoring the set, so that you can take the pot off the heat as soon as it becomes clear that your marmalade is going to set up. The longer you cook, the more product is evaporating away. Overcooked preserves yield less, so if you are a chronic underyielder, longer cook times could be your issue.

Other things that lead to short yields are reduced sugar, overzealous trimming (if you discard a goodly amount of your fruit while preparing it for cooking, you’re whittling down your yield), shorting your measurements, and aggressive tasting.

Let me know if you’ve had other issues as you worked through this first #fijchallenge. I’d be happy to do another one of these troubleshooting posts if you’re having issues I didn’t hit on here.

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