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Blackberry Jam

blackberries in field

People in the Pacific Northwest take wild blackberries for granted. In fact, they’re something of a nuisance, lining highways and filling empty lots (my dad once had to rent a backhoe in order to clear the brambles from the lower half of our yard). In August, it’s easy to freely pick gallons of blackberries (you may sacrifice a bit of skin in the process – wild blackberries have very sharp thorns) at local parks, nature reserves and backyards. Just make sure to watch where you’re picking, last summer my parents got scolded after accidentally wandering onto someone’s property while picking berries at the very furthest most point of a dead end road.

blackberries in strainer

Out here in the Mid-Atlantic area of the country, blackberries are a little harder to come by. In fact, I’ve yet to find any wild fruit growing here in Philadelphia. However, I’m lucky to have a few good u-pick farms in the area. They’re not free, but they’re pretty cheap (two weekends ago, I paid $1.10 a pound) and when it comes to blackberries, the cultivated patches come with far fewer thorns than the wild ones.

mashing berries

Blackberry jam is one of my mom’s specialties, so this recipe is more hers than mine. She’s the one who taught me to mash the berries through a strainer to remove the seeds before turning them into jam (it’s a necessity with wild berries, as they tend to be seedier than cultivated berries. If you have more civilized berries, the deseeding process is optional). She’s also the one who showed me how wonderful a smear of blackberry jam can be on a slice of peanut butter toast mid-February.

blackberry pulp into pot

And, because I like to share my bounty, I do have a half pint of this luscious jam to give away. It’s a deep, deep purple color, is almost entirely seedless and is particularly amazing on pancakes (I had friends over for brunch the day after I made the batch and we couldn’t believe how perfect it was in place of maple syrup). Leave a comment by Monday, August 31st at 11:59 p.m. eastern time to enter.

So, on to the recipe we go.

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Blueberry Jam

measured blueberries

When it comes to canning, blueberries were my gateway fruit (although they didn’t usher me through the doorway into the realm of canning preoccupation until I reached adulthood). Growing up, I’d often pick them with my family, but I always left the jam-making and canning to my mom, participating only when it came time to squish the berries into jammable shape with my fingers (there’s something so deeply satisfying about crushing those juicy little blue orbs into pulpy bits).

However, one fateful July day during the summer of 2007, my friend Seth and I decided to go blueberry picking and everything changed. That summer, I was in grad school and he was unemployed, so we both had free time on our hands. It was the first time I had gone berry picking without parents, a sibling or babysitting charges that needed to be entertained. We spent at least two hours out in the blueberry field, filling up our buckets and eating until our fingers were stained blue and our stomachs were ready to burst with fruit.

smashed blueberries

Later that day, when I was home alone with my berries, I did the thing that was innate. I called my mom for canning advice, ran across the street to the hardware store for some jars and pectin and made my first solo batch of jam. Thinking back on it now, it’s hard to imagine a time when I had so little canning experience, when I hovered anxiously over my filled jars, praying for them to seal (admittedly, there are times when I still check and recheck freshly processed jars, only able to relax when they ring out a ping of sealed success).

Since then, I have made at least 100 batches of jams, marmalades, fruit butters, chutneys and pickles. However, blueberry jam will always feel familiar, foundational and necessary in a way that no other fruit can match. Summer doesn’t feel complete without at least one blueberry picking trip and a batch of homemade blueberry jam cooling on the kitchen counter.

blueberry jam in pot

We’re heading into the end of blueberry picking season here in the mid-Atlantic region, but there are still to be found if you look (as a side note, if you’re interested in the history of cultivated blueberries, check out this interesting little article). You can also get them at the grocery store for relatively cheap prices, if you don’t have any u-pick farms in your area.

And on to the recipe…

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Peach Jam

peaches in bowl of water

Every summer, I make a point to buy a volume approximating my weight in peaches. I slice and freeze a bunch, can halves in light syrup and make sauce (like apple only peachy), butter and jam. Glorious peach jam! Peaches have become one of those fruits that is nearly always available, but they are only transcendent during the months of July and August. Those mealy, impenetrable fruits that you pay a small fortune for during the winter can’t possibly compare.

After the jump, you’ll find my basic peach jam recipe. I like to flavor mine with cinnamon and nutmeg, but you could also go with vanilla, a bit of bourbon, ginger, lavender, rosemary or thyme. I apologize for the slightly weird picture of the peaches floating in water above, but somehow, I didn’t manage to take a single picture of the jam-making process. I made my jam on a Friday night, after an evening of cocktails and sushi, so I must have been a little addled.

In other news, it’s been almost a week since I’ve offered a giveaway, so I do believe it’s time for another. I have a lovely little half pint jar of this peach jam for one lucky reader. If you want a chance at it, leave a comment. You have until Tuesday, July 28th at 5 pm to enter. Good luck!

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Sour Cherry Jam Recipe

cherries in the sink

I had grand plans for sour cherries this year. I knew that the sweet cherry crop had been bad, so when Mood’s Farm Market opened their u-pick sour cherry picking, I went the second day of the season. My thinking was that if I got there early, I’d get enough cherries to keep my in jam and pie-filling for the year. However, when I walked into the farmstand and asked to pick sour cherries, the 15 year old behind the counter just shook her and said, “you’re not going to find much.”

I told her I’d just do my best, and she shrugged her shoulders at me and wrote out the picking permit. As soon as I pulled up to the orchard, I could see she hadn’t been joking. In just over 24 hours, the sour cherry orchard had been picked nearly clean. Grabbing my bucket and step ladder, I began to wander, hoping I’d find a few pockets of cherries left.

10 cups pitted cherries

I spent a bit over an hour out in the orchard, gazing at trees with an upturned head. I went up and down that step ladder at least 100 times, each time repositioning it to grab a bit more fruit. It was hard work, and yet it was also wonderful. All the stretching and bending, it felt like the most productive and delicious yoga I’d ever done.

I went home that night with scant four pounds of cherries, which rapidly became three pints of jam. However a lucky thing happened as I was making the jam. I happened to broadcast my disappointment with the slim haul on Twitter. Some friends saw it and invited me to pick some cherries from the trees in their community garden, which happened to be dripping with fruit. With Angie’s help, I found myself with ten more pounds. Jams and pie filling galore!

pits

It might sound like I went to an awful lot of trouble for some sour cherries, but if you’ve tasted jams or baked goods made with little gems, you’ll know that the effort was well worth it. The flavor is bright, tangy (not sour exactly, just perfectly piquant) and, when combined with a bit of sugar, quite heavenly. I’ve been eating the jam stirred into plan yogurt (you might have picked up on the fact that yogurt is one of my favorite vehicles for jam) and I have six pitted pounds in the freezer, waiting to become pie filling at some later date – I plan on using this recipe as my starting place.

sour cherry jam bubbling away

Now, time is beginning to run out on sour cherries, but you can still get them if you look carefully. Here in Philly, Beechwood Orchards still has them (at least they did today at the Rittenhouse Market) and from what I hear, more northernly climates are just getting them in. Sometimes you can even get them frozen, which, if you’ve got a sour cherry tooth like I do, isn’t such a bad way to go.

I do believe that it’s time to offer up another giveaway. This time, I only have a four ounce jar on offer (I’m telling you, this stuff is precious to me), but it should be enough to firmly plant the flavor in your taste brain and make you jones for more. Leave a comment by Friday, July 10 at 5 p.m. if you want a chance to win. One entry per person, winner will be selected via the random number generator.

And on to the recipe…

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Strawberry jam winner + a bonus recipe

CSA rhubarb and strawberries

We have a winner in the strawberry jam giveaway! I really do wish I could send jam to all of you, but with 55 entries, that would more than clean me out, jam-wise (I need to save a few jars to get me through the dark, frigid days of January and February). Hopefully though, the strawberry jam post has compelled some of you to make your own (you do need to act fast though, as strawberry season is short and here in Philly, it’s drawing to a close) and I firmly believe that it tastes better when you’ve made it with your own two hands. But enough with that, it’s time to announce that the lucky recipient of this truly delectable strawberry jam is comment #51, left by Rebekah Denn of Eat All About It.

In other news, as many of you know, I teach some canning classes here in Philly. Last weekend, I did a class in which we made a huge batch of strawberry-rhubarb jam. Someone asking the comments whether I’d be willing to share that recipe on the blog. Well, of course! It’s a good recipe and can be easily halved (it makes just over seven pints as written, which is a whole heck of a lot of jam) if you don’t have that much fruit. The recipe is after the jump.

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Strawberry Jam

rows of jars

Several weeks ago, I got up early on Saturday morning, collected my friend Shay(she’s my regular fruit-picking buddy) and drove half an hour out into the New Jersey countryside. We spent the rest of the morning in the field of Gaventa’s strawberry farm, crouching over the rows of plants, plucking handfuls of berries into our containers. I stopped picked only when the back of my neck had turned a bright pink (I somehow only got sunscreen on my front, it made for an entertaining burn) and the knees of my jeans were stained red from kneeling on errant berries between the rows.

foam-filled measuring cup

I brought home nearly 15 pounds of hard-earned berries (they were $1.35 a pound, I love how inexpensive things can be when you just invest a bit of your own labor). I washed and chopped nearly all of them (I kept about two quarts unchopped for plain old eating) within a couple of hours of getting them home.

I tossed approximately 10 overflowing cups of the processed berries with two cups of sugar and a broken-up vanilla bean and then tucked them into the fridge for a rest, so that they could get nice and vanilla-y. The rest I frozen in quart-sized yogurt containers, using the sugar syrup method recommended by Doris and Jilly (if you haven’t checked out that site yet, do it. There’s lots of good preserving info there).

filled jars

I actually left the strawberries in the fridge for nearly two days before I got around to making jam. When it came time to cook the berries down, I fished the vanilla pieces out (squeezing out the vanilla seeds so that the jam was beautifully flecked) and then poured the berries and all the juice they had produced into my 10 quart stainless steel pot (this stuff foams, so give yourself plenty of room). I added the rest of the sugar and then proceeded to cook the crap out of those berries (that’s the official term) in order to assure a good, jammy set.

saucer test

Of all the jams I’ve made so far this year, this one is my very favorite. There’s something special about strawberry jam and when it’s scented with vanilla and so rich in color, it’s just that much more amazing. Get yourself some strawberries and make this jam. Or, if you don’t feel like making your own batch, I do have one half pint jar to give away. Leave a comment by Friday afternoon for a chance to win.

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