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May Can Jam: Orange Rhubarb Butter

rhubarb ends

Last summer, I made more batches of jam than I can count. I used more than fifty pounds of sugar and filled hundreds of jars (admittedly, I was doing this in part to have plenty to give away at my wedding). Even with all that giving away, I still had a whole lot of leftover jam to consume throughout the year.

chopped rhubarb

Now I like jam as much as the next girl (or maybe even more), but that’s a whole lot of jam, particularly when I’m the only eater of sweet spreads in our household. Couple that with the fact that I’m trying not to eat tons of sugar (not that you’d pick up on that fact from reading this site), it means I move through my jam quite slowly. What’s a dedicated preserver to do?

rhubarb butter, from above

Well, I can tell you what this canner’s going to do. She’s going to declare this the summer of fruit butters! Butters cook longer than jams do, meaning that they need less sugar for palatability and can achieve a spreadable texture through the evaporation of liquid. The reduction of sugar does mean that butters don’t last quite as long as jams (sugar is a preservative), but since they’ll have less sugar, I’ll feel better about eating them more regularly, making it possible for me to work my way through my stash at a speedier clip. I do believe everyone will win (and when I say everyone, I mean me).

rhubarb butter

For my first foray down this path, I offer this Orange Rhubarb Butter. It tangy, spreadable and so concentrated in flavor. It would be brilliant on scones or stirred into yogurt. I just have one word of warning for you. It cooks down significantly. I started with six cups of raw ingredients (rhubarb, orange juice and sugar) and ended up with a single pint of product. This is the one downside of making butter instead of jam. But it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make.

Recipe after the jump.

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April Can Jam: Rosemary Rhubarb Jam

rhubarb/sugar/rosemary

Despite having known about the April Can Jam challenge for more than a month (I helped pick the topic, after all), I still waited until the VERY last minute to make my jam. What can I say, I’m motivated by deadlines (although I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a bit of daylight with which to take my photos).

rhubarb stalks

Happily, all the time I invested in delaying the actual making paid off, because when I finally went to the kitchen, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Rhubarb. Rosemary. Sugar. A bit of lemon. Oh yes.

I’ve been smitten with the flavor of rosemary since I was in high school. We had several large bushes in our front yard and I would often grasp one of the fragrant fronds as I walked down the driveway on my way out of the house, to carry the scent with me. I’ve often wished that I had followed the lead of our neighbor, who would snip an armful to float in her bathwater.

squeezing lemon

I know that a lot of people struggled with this particular challenge, because it was at once very specific and yet totally open. However, I’ve loved seeing all the ways that people have applied herbs to their pickles and preserves. I do hope this will lead to further herbal experimentation (pure thoughts, kids) as we move into the heart of the canning season.

jarred jam

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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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