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Charoses Inspired Jam for Passover

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A couple of weeks ago, I got the most inspired idea from a reader. Knowing that Passover is around the corner, she wondered whether it would be possible to make a jam based on charoses (also spelled charoset), one of the traditional components in the Seder meal. It’s a dish traditionally made from chopped apples, nuts, honey, cinnamon and wine, and it on the table to represent the mortar that Jews used when laying brick, during their days of slavery in Egypt.

eight cups chopped apple

Though my mother is Jewish, we didn’t observe many of the holidays when I was growing up. In fact, the bulk of my experience with the ceremony of the Seder came from gatherings in our Unitarian Universalist church parish room and my repeated readings of the All-Of-A-Kind Family books.

1 1/2 cups grape juice

However, since moving to Philadelphia in 2002, I’ve attending at least one family Seder every year, and have come to really appreciate the yearly ritual, and the ways in which it celebrates the struggle for freedom.

toasted and chopped almonds

As far as food and Jewish holidays go, Passover is somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of delicious. You’re instructed to surrender leavened items for the eight-day period. But even in with the restrictions, one can find moments of culinary joy. Personally, I find a lightly buttered and salted piece of matzo to be pure bliss. Add a scoop of charoses and a dollop of horseradish (another traditional Seder plate player) and I’m a happy girl.

juicing a lemon

In thinking this particular batch of jam out, I knew it wouldn’t be an exact replica of what is essentially an uncooked apple-walnut salad. But I did want to create something that would be somehow similar and familiar. Apples were a given, as was honey and cinnamon. I used grape juice in place of the wine and added a bit of lemon juice to balance things out. And I chose to use almonds in place of the more traditional walnuts, thinking that they would retain their crunch better.

a cup of honey

Initially, I was uncertain about the addition of the nuts in the jam, as I wasn’t sure how they would effect the pH level of the jam and thus its safety. However, after doing some research, I eventually came across this recipe for Apricot-Orange Conserve that used similar proportions to what I was planning. If the National Center for Home Food Preservation could comfortably include some nuts in a batch of jam, I knew I could too.

stirring in almonds

I am really pleased with my initial attempt at this recipe. It’s thick, spreadable and not too sweet. Some might call it more of a chutney than a jam, because of the texture that the chopped nuts lend. However, since it doesn’t include a savory component, I’m going to keep calling it a jam (unless someone has a better name for it). Making this had also had me thinking about other ways that Seder elements could be transformed into preserves (Apple Horseradish Jelly, perhaps?).

finished jam

I’m thinking that this jam might make for a nice gift if you’re having friends over for a Passover Seder and want to send them home with something delicious and thematic. Passover starts on Monday, March 29th this year, so you’ve got just under a week to whip up a batch!

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Orange Jelly Recipe

orange jelly

Until recently, I had never made jelly. I thought it was below me, designed for children and eaten only until chunkier preserves were palatable. However, having made this recipe three times now (once to test it, once for a class and a third time just for fun), I feel a bit ashamed that I’ve been so snobbish towards jelly.

I’ve eaten the results of this recipe on toast, in a sandwich with peanut butter, and thinned down as a glaze for chicken and it has been consistently delicious. It recalls a classic orange marmalade, only without all those bits of peel. It’s perfect for the person who likes the bright, familiar flavor of orange, but doesn’t do so well with the bite of marmalade. What’s more, it’s refreshingly easy, as you begin with a half gallon of freshly squeezed orange juice. Sure, you could juice your own, and if you live in those warmer climates where oranges abound, I recommend it. But up here in the chilly east, I cheat and I don’t feel a moment of guilt about it.

Another thing that has me enamored of this jelly is that it is blank slate for a number of flavors. Unadulterated, it is good (and yes, perfect for kids who don’t like assertive flavors). But it’s amazing with a dash of cinnamon or spiked with a few tablespoons of ginger juice. Want a mimosa flavored jelly? Replace some of the juice with some champagne (or white wine, if you don’t want to open a bottle of bubbly just for jelly making). Steep some chai spices in your orange juice for an earthy bite.

I do believe that this is just the beginning of my jelly days. Look for more (maybe a rhubarb jelly?) in the coming days.

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Mourning the End of a Jar

empty jam jar

One of the most powerful taste memories I have from my childhood years in Southern California is of freshly picked plums. My family’s home in Eagle Rock wasn’t particularly big on the inside, but sat on the flattest part of a extensive, terraced yard. We had three purple plum trees in the side and back yards, and every other year, they produced bumper crops of the most juicy, tender-fleshed plums I’ve ever eaten.

Several of the fruit-producing branches hung low enough for my seven year old self to pick the plums without parental aid and so during their season, I would entertain myself underneath the plum trees. I would pretend that I was Laura Ingalls, helping “Ma” by picking wild fruit into my little bent wood basket. My own mom would sometimes make runny jam with the plums I brought her, or just tuck one into our lunches.

This morning I reluctantly finished a jar of jam I made back in August. I’ve so enjoyed this particular batch, because it tasted so much like our LA plums. The tart flavor of the skin wasn’t obscured by the sugar and the clean, gentle flavor of the plum’s interior was perfectly present as well. Each bite was balanced, fresh and so, so summery.

I wish I had more of this batch, but the rest was given out as favors at our wedding. The only reason this jar stayed with me was that it didn’t seal (darn Quattro Stagioni jars) and so ended up in my fridge instead in the gift stash. I don’t regret that though. I’m actually delighted that so many of our friends and family ended up with jam from such a good batch.

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It seems that we’re finally heading into the waning days of winter. For those of you who spent some time canning last summer, what have been your favorite things to eat from your home canned stash? For me it has been this jam and all the tomatoes I did in those frantic spare moments before the wedding. Leave a comment, I’d love to hear about your winners!

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Special Delivery Food in Jars

pickles and jam from Cathy

Look! A gift of pickles and marmalade, straight from New York. So often I’m the one handing out jars of food, but today the tables were turned and I was handed a couple jars of lovely, handmade goodies (delicious McClure’s Pickles and jam from Anarchy in a Jar).

This gift of canned goods occurred over lunch at Reading Terminal Market’s Dutch Eating Place with Cathy Erway, of the blog Not Eating Out in New York. I’ve been reading her site for years now, so when she tweeted a couple of days ago that she was going to be in Philly and was interested in meeting up with a food blogger or two, I got in touch. Meeting fellow food bloggers is always a such pleasure, because so often there’s a shared language and ease of connection in the encounter (even when shouting over the din of Reading Terminal at the height of the lunch hour). This was certainly no exception.

Cathy was in town promoting her beautiful new book The Art of Eating In, a memoir drawn from her experiences cooking for herself (as well as friends) and avoiding restaurants. After our lunch, she was heading to WHYY to record an interview with A Chef’s Table (Philadelphians, I don’t know if she’ll be on this Saturday or next, so keep your ears peeled).

In other news, I’ll have a jam-filled hamantaschen recipe for you tomorrow, as well as a recipe for orange jelly coming sometime over the weekend.

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Three-Citrus Marmalade Recipe

4 1/2 pounds of fruit

One of the very first recipes I posted to this blog was one for Orange-Ginger Marmalade. I’m having a bit of a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that I’ve nearly cooked my way through an entire year of canning since then and that it’s time for marmalade, once again.

I’ve learned a great deal about preserves since then, and I think that this approach to marmalade is easier and more sensible that the one I originally took. This one used the outer layer of citrus zest, but discards the inner pith, making for easier chopping and a more tender product. I’m completely delighted with the way that this batch turned out, and last night, when I served it at a party along side a long of goat cheese, I felt so proud that it was something I had made in my own little kitchen.

de-zested citrus

To begin, weigh your fruit. Conventional fruit is fairly uniform in size these days, but there can still be a great deal of variety in weight, depending on storing conditions and length of time off the tree. I used 2 pink grapefruit, 3 lemons and four navel oranges and had approximately 4 and 1/2 pounds of fruit. Feel free to add or subtract a lemon or orange to achieve the right weight. Scrub your citrus well, so that you can feel good about including all that lovely, fragrant zest in your preserve.

serrated peeler

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from your citrus. I tried every peeler I own (at least five) and found that the serrated peeler you see above did the best job. Please take care when using one of these tools though, as those little teeth are incredibly sharp. At one point, I slipped and ended up with a series of punctures in the tip of my pinky finger. Not pleasant when working with acidic citrus.

chopping zest

Once your citrus has been stripped, chop the zest into fine ribbons. I found that the best way to do this was to stack four or five strips of zest and then mince them (mind your fingers!) into bits about 1/4 of an inch wide. I found that my 4 1/2 pounds of fruit yielded approximately 2 1/2 cups of zest bits.

zest in motion

Fill a medium-sized pot with 6 cups of cold water, add your zest ribbons and bring to a boil. Simmer the zest for half an hour, until it’s tender and uniform in color. While it boils…

chop, chop

Use a sharp paring knife to break your naked fruit down. Take a grapefruit and cut the north and south poles off (to give yourself stable bases). Then, working top to bottom, cut the white pith off the fruit (you want to expose the interior surface of the fruit). When all the white pith is removed, use the knife to separate the fruit from the membrane of the fruit (this technique is called supreming and there’s a helpful tutorial over on Coconut & Lime, if my written instructions aren’t doing it for you). Collect the naked segments in a large measuring cup and reserve the membranes and seeds.

bundle of seeds, pith and membranes

When all the fruit has been broken down, gather up the reserved seeds and membranes in a piece of cheesecloth. Bundle it up well and tie off the top, so that none of the seeds can escape. One does this because the seeds, membrane and pith contain a great deal of pectin. You will boil this bundle with the fruit while you make the marmalade, so that you extract the maximum amount of pectin from your fruit.

draining the zest bits

At this point, the zest should be done boiling. Drain the cooked zest, reserving the boiling water. This liquid has been infused with a great deal of citrus flavor and so some of it will be used in the marmalade.

boil, boil

Finally, it’s time to make marmalade! In a large, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot (a stainless steel or enameled dutch oven is your best bet there), combine the zest ribbons, the citrus segments (approximately 4+ cups), 4 cups of the zest cooking liquid, 6 cups of sugar and the cheesecloth bundle.

the magic temperature

Bring the pot to a boil. It’s a good idea to use a big pot for this, so that you have plenty of room for the marmalade to bubble. Pair that large pot with a instant read thermometer with a temperature alarm, and you don’t have to watch it the entire time. Set the thermometer to 220 degrees (that’s the point at which the marmalade will achieve set), place the thermometer probe in the pot (balancing it so that you keep the cord away from the burner) and feel okay turning your back to do some dishes (return to it every 4-5 minutes to stir). This will need to boil for 30-40 minutes, in order to reach and sustain 220 degrees.

While it cooks, you can also prepare your canning pot, jars (for this recipe, they need to be sterilized, as this one is only processed for five minutes. I find that the easiest way to do this is to put them in the canning pot when you’re first filling it and bring them up to a boil along with the water), lids (simmer in a small saucepan over medium-low heat to soften the sealing medium) and rings.

finished marmalade, waiting to be poured into jars

Once the marmalade has reached 220 degrees and has stayed there for at least a minute, check the potential set by putting a small dab of the hot marmalade into the middle of a cold plate. Let it sit for a moment and then nudge it with your finger. If the surface wrinkles and seems firm, it is ready. If it is still quite runny, boil it for several additional minutes.

Once the text yields a good result, turn the heat off and remove the pot from the burner. Gently stir the marmalade for about a minute off the heat. I’ve learned over the years that this helps the zest distribute itself evenly throughout your preserve (I hate it when the solids clump towards the top of the jar, and this helps prevent that from happening).

filling jars

Fill your jars (this recipe makes approximately 3 1/2 pints), leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. When they’re all filled, wipe the rims to remove any sticky residue, apply the lids and screw on the rims. Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot (don’t forget to put a rack in the pot). Process in a boiling water canner for five minutes (starting the time when the pot returns to a boil). When the five minutes are up, remove the jars from the pot and let them rest on a towel-lined counter top until the jars are completely cool.

three-citrus marmalade

Here’s my serving suggestion: Spread spoonfuls on freshly baked scones, drink black tea with milk and sugar, and pretend you’re in Gosford Park.

And, because I’m so proud of this lovely, fragrant, gently-bitter marmalade, I have a jar to give away. I’ve set that little four-ounce jar you see up there on the right aside for one of you lovely readers. Leave a comment by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 to enter.

A recipe, in a more conventional format, can be found after the jump.

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Honey Lemon Apple Jam Recipe

honey lemon apple jam

For months now, I’ve been working on finding a way to make a jam from apples that is satisfying and, well, jammy. The problem with apples is if you try and cook them raw with sugar, which is the way you approach the fruit in most jam recipes, the apples don’t break down. They stay hard and firm, releasing little of their sugars and leaving you with a final product that is closer to marmalade than jam.

chopped apples

In some recipes, such as my Cranberry-Apple Jam, this isn’t such a bad thing. The cranberries and sugar do the jammy work, and the apples add nice texture and mouthfeel. But up until down, I’ve found that making a good jam with apples as the primary fruit just hasn’t been all that great (I did get close with my Apple-Ginger Jam, but it still wasn’t quite right). That is, until now.

This time, I cooked the apples down into a sauce with two cups of lemon juice before adding the sugar. And this did the trick. I got close to the texture I wanted from the fruit before I added the sugar (ensuring I’d get what I wanted once the sugar and honey was added), and I was able to infuse the tart flavor of the lemons fully into the jam to boot (this is a great way to get a whole variety flavors into jam, I’m already envisioning lavender, more ginger or chai spices).

honey lemon apple jam

You may be wondering why I’m so excited to find a good apple jam technique. Well, apples are cheap, abundant and store really well. I overbought at the fall farmers’ markets and so had an entire crisper drawer full that needed to be used (and I have plenty of applesauce and butter already stashed away). And, I just like apples. I think they’re endlessly adaptable and knew there was a way to make them do jam nicely.

hand written recipe

Before, I jump to the recipe, I want to talk pectin. I do include one envelope (half of the contents of a box) of liquid pectin in this recipe. However, many apples are naturally high in pectin. If you’re working with green or under-ripe apples, you might not need to add any pectin. But if you’re using old apples that have been in your fridge for a couple of months, adding a little pectin is good insurance that your jam will have a good set.

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