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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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Canning in Vintage Jars

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When I first started becoming truly enthralled with canning, I began to look beyond the standard Mason/Ball/Kerr jars available. I discovered the Weck jars that are typically used in Europe, but was put off a bit by the price tag and the fact that they are often hard to actually get (I did break down and order a half dozen from Lehman’s, but with shipping, they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 a jar. That is far too much for the volume of canning I typically do).

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However, when I took a close look at the way in which the Weck jars seal, I realized that they are practically identical to the vintage bailing wire canning jars that were popular in this country through most of the 20th century. The glass lids on the Weck jars seal via a rubber gasket. Through the hot water process, everything is held in place by a couple of metal clips. The glass lids on the vintage jars seal via a rubber gasket.

During canning, the lid is held in place by the metal wire that locks up over the lid. The thing that makes the vintage jars even better than the Weck jars is that you have an easy way to keep the jar closed after you’ve opened it, via the bailing wire. When you use the Weck jars, you have to keep replacing the metal clips (or get a set of their plastic lids).

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So once I figured out that the jars I already had (and had gotten for free when helping a friend of a friend clean out her mother’s basement) would do the exact same job as the spendy ones, I got down to work. I ordered a set of rubber gaskets from Lehman’s for just over three bucks (they’re the only ones who still seem to carry them) and made a canning plan.

I did a mixed berry jam, because I’ve been endeavoring to clean out my freezer, in preparation for the coming onslaught of produce and still had some frozen fruit from last summer. I supplemented my frozen strawberries and raspberries with some fresh (but cheap and decidedly not local) strawberries (I made up for it the following week by hand-picking 13 pounds of local strawberries and making the best jam I’ve ever tasted. That recipe is coming later this week).

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When canning with these jars, most of the steps are the same as with the screw-top jars. You clean your jars, lids and seals well, prepare your jam and fill the jars. Once the jars are filled, you wipe the tops clean and the apply the rubber seals and top with the glass lids (of course, making sure that your vintage jars and lids are without chips, cracks or other damage).

Like when you can with conventional mason jars, you need to leave some space for the air to escape. To do this, you don’t lock the wire down all the way. You close it so that it’s closed, but pointing up, not down (if this doesn’t make sense, just get an old bailing wire jar and start opening and closing it. You’ll soon notice the two closure positions).

Process jars as usual. When time has elapsed, remove the jars from the water, being careful not to tip them (these jars are mostly glass, which means that if you get the jam on the top of the lid, you’ll see it, and if you’re a bit of a perfectionist, the residue that will stick to the lid will vex you). At this point, grab a tea towel and lock the wires into the tightest position with the wire pointed downwards. This presses the rubber gasket more firmly into contact with the rim of the jar and ensures a good seal.

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These jars are in the fully locked, post-process position.

The next day, when the jars are all cool, unlock the bailing wire. The lid should not move in the slightest. Test your seal by picking the jar up by the glass lid (don’t go crazy, just lift an inch or two above the countertop). It should hold fast. If it doesn’t, your seal is no good. If it holds, leave the wire unlocked and store as you would any other sealed jar.

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Honey Lemon Marmalade

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Having immersed myself in the world of marmalade over the last month, it’s definitely something I’m adding to my preserving repertoire. However, I am really grateful to be moving on canning/pickling projects that require less knife-work, as I don’t think my right hand could handle any further citrus chopping. This batch of Honey Lemon Marmalade required 14 lemons, which took nearly an hour to break down (and I seriously recommend that you make sure you don’t have any paper cuts prior to embarking upon this recipe). However, the work was worth it because this is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.

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Back in January, I was obsessed with drinking infusions of honey, lemon juice and ginger. It was great way to fend off the winter chills and felt fairly virtuous to boot. While this marmalade doesn’t have any ginger in it, it evokes those infusions, and makes me want to stir spoonfuls into hot tea (I haven’t done it yet, but I may not be able to resist the urge).

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This is the first time I’ve used honey as a sweetener in a canning project, and I think it worked pretty well. It wasn’t the sole sweetener, I also used some evaporated cane sugar (not because I was trying to be healthier, I was simply of out regular sugar). I wanted the flavor of the buckwheat honey (darker and slightly richer than regular wildflower honey), but because it’s such a deep taste, I was afraid that it would overwhelm the delicacy of the lemon.

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The other thing I did differently with this batch of marmalade is that I used a full dose of pectin. In past batches, I used a single 3 ounce pack of pectin. This time around I used a full 6 ounces, which really firmed things up. I also lengthened the cooking time, in the hopes of drawing out more of the natural pectin.

As always, I have a half pint of this marmalade that could potentially have your name on it. Leave a comment if you want in on the giveaway, I’ll pick a winner by Saturday at 5 pm. Thanks to all who entered, the contest in closed.

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Blood Orange Marmalade

Dear friends. I’ve learned a lot about the process of making marmalade since the days when I posted this recipe. I don’t recommend that you follow the instructions I wrote below. I’m leaving the post up because I hate leaving holes in the site, but I ask if you’re looking for marmalade guidance, you visit this post instead. It can be made with blood oranges in place of the variety of citrus, should you be wondering. 

blood oranges

This marmalade wasn’t part of the plan I had neatly laid out in my head. I figured that after the Vanilla-Rhubarb Jam, I would make a batch of Honey-Lemon Marmalade and then head to the savory, pickling side of things for a while. But then I found myself at Reading Terminal Market last Saturday with my friend Shay and Iovine’s was selling blood oranges 5/$1. At that price, it seemed like I would be a fool not to buy a few. Or fifteen.

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Have you ever bought fifteen pieces of the same fruit all at once, when they’re being sold by the count (as opposed to by the pound or the half-bushel)? It was certainly a first for me. I think previously, I’d never gone over ten. It was something of a physical challenge too, because Iovine’s has narrow aisles and is always crowded (more so on Saturdays), making it tricky to balance your basket, keep your bag from knocking people over and still managing to keep track of how many oranges you’ve tucked into the bag. I must have recounted three or four times before I was sure that I had the proper number.

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I spent a couple of days with the blood oranges on my kitchen counter, arranged in a old yelloware bowl. Each time I walked into the kitchen, I’d pick one up and give it a sniff, recalling the first time I encountered blood oranges. It was about six years ago, the only time I took a boy home to Portland for the holidays (Scott, the one I’m marrying, still hasn’t been to Portland or met my parents. I guess that’s what the wedding will be for). Matt, an old family friend, was bartending at Paley’s Place, a delicious restaurant in NW Portland, so one night, the boy and I headed out to have a drink while he was working and catch up for a bit.

That night, Matt too busy to talk much, mostly because he’d put several drinks on the menu that featured freshly squeezed blood orange juice. He made us some fancy, boozy coffees, with flaming cinnamon and we watched as he juiced the oranges and mixed drinks.

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Tuesday night, as beautiful at the blood oranges were, it was time to make marmalade. I approached it much the way I did the first batch, taking care to sharpen the knife I was using before beginning the process of chopping the oranges. It’s a tedious task, but even more if you’re sawing away with a dull blade. 12 oranges later, I had ten cups of chopped fruit, my left hand was dyed a vivid purple and my kitchen was dappled with red drops of juice.

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I cooked the oranges with 4 cups of sugar, one cup of liquid (I used half blood orange juice and half water, but plain orange juice or all water would be fine as well) and some lemon juice. I thought about adding something else to punch up the flavor, but after a taste, I determined that it was perfectly delicious as it. I used one packet of liquid pectin to firm things up a bit. However, the juice is fairly thin, so if you prefer a more jelled consistency, I’d recommend two packets.

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I think that this may be one of the best things I’ve made. The batch I made was a bit over four pints and so I had a small stash for myself in the fridge. I ate it on toast last night for dessert and the way the sweet and tart flavors work together is a joyful thing for the mouth.

I’ll be giving away a full pint of this marmalade to one lucky commenter. Since I didn’t get this post up until late on Thursday night, you have until Saturday at 5 pm to leave a comment for a chance to be the winner.

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Vanilla-Rhubarb Jam

Rhubarb stalks

During the years I was in middle school, my family lived in a house just off Canyon Drive, in SW Portland. It was an isolating neighborhood, without sidewalks and with very few kids of similar age. One of the few things the house had going for it was the fact that it had an enormous yard (more than a quarter of an acre) that had been carefully tended during the sixties and seventies by a botanist.

Chopped rhubarb

The back yard was dotted with interesting trees (many of them fruit-bearing) and shrubs, featured a row multi-colored lilac trees (forever endearing me to those springtime flowers) and had a hidden rhubarb patch right up against the neighbor’s fence. Each spring, the refrigerator would fill up with vibrant, pink stalks, as my dad felt it was his duty to harvest all edible items from the yard. My mom would try to keep up with the bounty, but the sheer volume would overwhelm her and bags of the rhubarb would get passed out to neighbors and co-workers.

10~ cups chopped rhubarb

Now I mourn for all the rhubarb that we didn’t use and dream about a life that includes a prolific rhubarb patch, as it is one of my favorite spring treats. I love the fresh, apple-y scent it has when you cut into it, and I adore the electricity of its color. After a winter of dark greens and root vegetables, seeing that vivid pink on the cutting board feels like salvation.

Into the pot

Unfortunately, rhubarb doesn’t actually appear to be in season in the Philadelphia-area quite yet, so I broke down and made this jam with stalks from Washington State (I give my local produce store credit for having the origin so clearly marked). The first batch I made didn’t set particularly well after 24 hours, so I made another round, only to have that one become nearly solid (I used a full package of Sure-Jell powdered pectin that time and remembered why I don’t like it). I found that with refrigeration, the first batch finally firmed up a bit and achieved a really nice, if slightly loose texture. That’s the recipe I’ve included here. If you like your jam a bit firmer, use two packets of liquid pectin instead of one and skip the Sure-Jell.

Cooking rhubarb

And, of course, I’ll be giving away a half-pint of this jam to one lucky person. If you want a chance to be the winner, leave a comment (and if you feel so moved, share any rhubarb memories you might have). I’ll pick a winner on Friday, March 27th at 12 noon and post/Twitter the lucky individual sometime shortly after that. The recipe is after the jump.

Filling jars

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