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Lightly Pickled Sweet Cherries

Lightly pickled sweet cherries in jars

Sour cherries are one of my very favorite things to preserve. Sadly, thanks to a late freeze back in April, it is proving to be a very bad year for stonefruit in the Philadelphia region. Sour cherries are proving to be very hard to come by.

two and a half pounds of sweet cherries in a colander

Instead of bemoaning the 2016 sour cherry situation (though I must confess, I was able to get some from my friends’ community garden, so I’m not totally without them this year), I decided to take some of the sweet cherries from the Northwest Cherries shipment, and do what I could to give them a flavor profile similar to that of a sour cherry.

quartered cherries in the sink

I measured out two and a half pounds of the sweet cherries and using my trusty paring knife, cut them in quarters and wiggled out the pits (I don’t like using cherry pitters, because I resent how much cherry flesh you lose with every pit. Quartering them is fiddly work, but so much more of the fruit ends up in the pot).

lightly pickled sweet cherries in a stainless pot

Once the cherries were prepped, I combined them with sugar, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice and let them sit until all the sugar was dissolved. Then I set the pot on the stove, brought it to a boil, and cooked the fruit until the cherries were tender (but not falling apart) and the liquid had thickened slightly.

Lightly pickled sweet cherries in jars close-up

Towards the end of cooking, I took a tiny taste of the syrup in the pot and was so happy with the results. Bright, sweet, and just tart enough that you feel a pleasant shiver in the back of your throat. This is one for sparkling water, pairing with cheese, or eating with a pork chop.

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CSA Cooking: Smoky, Spicy, Skillet Tomato Jam

half pint tomato jam

Skillet jams really are the best way I know to deal with a couple pounds of rapidly ripening fruit. Today’s batch was a slimmed down, extra spicy and smoky version of my classic tomato jam.

I had just two pounds of mismatched tomatoes from last week’s Philly Foodworks share and with a vacation looming, I’ve been trying to make useful things out of everything that could possibly go bad around here.

2 pounds macerated tomatoes

I chopped up the tomatoes, combined them with 1 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, and let them macerate over night (I do so love breaking up the work of even the smallest batches of preserves into easily manageable pieces).

skillet tomato jam

Then today, I poured the juicy sugared tomatoes into my trusty 12 inch skillet and added 4 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice, 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, 2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes, 1 generous teaspoon of smoked paprika, another teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne.

tomato jam in a measuring cup

The tomatoes cooked down over hight heat for just around 20 minutes, until it was glossy, thick, and didn’t look at all watery. Into a trio of half pint jars and processed for 15 minutes, this little batch took less than an hour total of active time.

three half pints tomato jam

Like all tomato jams, this one is good with cheese and crackers, slathered on a burger, eaten with sweet potato fries, or dolloped alongside scrambled eggs.

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Small Batch Strawberry Balsamic Jam

strawberry balsamic jam

Tonight’s live online class was terrific. A small group of diehard canners showed up and interacted with me as I made a small batch of strawberry balsamic jam in my tiny kitchen.

The recipe I made is a slightly lower sugar riff on this strawberry vanilla version. The balsamic and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper give it depth and just a little edge that goes really well with cheese or as a glaze for meat.

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Urban Preserving: Pear Vanilla Drizzle

pears in a bowl

There a short list of canning recipes that I think of as my greatest hits. They are the preserves I come back to again and again, and are also the ones about which I’ve gotten the most feedback from readers and friends. This tomato jam is one. The roasted corn salsa in Food in Jars is another. And this time of year, I always make a batch of apple cranberry jam to share for Thanksgiving.

chopping pears

Another recipe that tops the greatest hits list? Pear vanilla jam. It’s a recipe I first made in early 2011 and I’ve since done it so many times that I can produce it entirely from memory. It’s a jam that works equally well on peanut butter toast or as part of a fancy pants cheese plate (try it with Delice de Bourgogne) and is always makes for a welcome hostess gift.

pan of cooked pear jam

Recently, I’ve been taking a slightly different approach to this jam. I start with just two pounds of pears, cut the proportion of sugar down a hair, and then, when it’s all done cooking, I scrape it into a heat-proof measuring cup and puree the heck out of it with an immersion blender.

pureeing jam

What the pureeing does is that it transforms it into a sweet, sticky glaze that retains a bit of the pear’s wonderful graininess. I call it a drizzle, though if the jar has been in the fridge, it can harden slightly past the drizzle point. I’ve taken to spreading micro-thin layers on toasted and buttered whole grain pancakes (I try to keep a stash in the freezer) and really like an afternoon snack that includes rice crackers, goat cheese, and little dabs of this sweet pear goo.

pear vanilla jam drizzle

It’s not a flashy preserve, but it’s one of my favorites. Maybe it will become one yours too!

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Urban Preserving: Concord Grape Jam

concord grapes

Two or three times a year, I pack up a big box of jam and mail it off to my sister and her family in Austin, TX. While Raina knows the fundamentals of jam making (and I know she has at least two cookbooks that could show her how), my mom and I easily (and happily) meet the bulk of her fruit spread needs.

grapes in a pan

In the last shipment, one of the jars I sent was a squat little half pint of concord grape jam. I’d made it as a test batch sometime last fall and hadn’t thought much about it beyond assuming that my nephew might dig it. When Raina reported back on the winners, the thing she raved about most was the grape jam. They ate through it in record time and were all a little sad to hear that there wasn’t even a drop more.

simmered grapes

So when concord grapes came into season this fall, I made a point to pick some up to make another batch of jam for Raina and her crew. I started with 2 pounds of concord grapes. I gave them a quick rinse, and popped them in a saucepan with 1/4 cup of water. I set the pan on the stove and brought it to a simmer. I let it go for a few minutes, just until the grapes popped.

Once the grapes where soft, I poured them into a food mill that I’d fitted with the finest screen and milled them through. This is the step that makes this preserve more of a jam than a jelly. It’s not going to have a ton of texture from the skin, but some gets through and gives the finished product a little more body.

grapes in a food mill

Once I couldn’t mill any more, I measured out the pulp. In my case, I had a little more than 3 1/2 cups, but your results will vary. I poured the pulp into a low, wide pan and added 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar (roughly half the volume of pulp) and the juice of half a lemon. Then I cooked it until it was thick (times vary, use your judgment).

Once the jam was done, I funneled it into two half pint jars (there was a little leftover for the fridge) and processed them in a boiling water bath canner for ten minutes. They sealed perfectly and will be in my checked luggage when I head for Austin later this month to meet my new nephew (!!!). He was born at 7:59 this morning and everyone is well.

 

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Urban Preserving: Pickled Fairy Tale Eggplant

finished pickled fairytale eggplant

Two years ago, when I was still writing a weekly pickling column for Serious Eats, I made a little batch of pickled eggplant to feature in that space. The recipe was just slightly adapted from one in Linda Ziedrich’s book The Joy of Pickling. I did not have particularly high hopes for that particular pickle, but I had eggplant to use and an approaching deadline, so I made it.

fairytale eggplants

In the end, I was astonished by how delicious the pickled eggplant was, especially when removed from the jar, drizzled with olive oil and eaten on toast. I’ve made it several times and have even included a version of the recipe in my upcoming cookbook (of course, Linda is prominently credited as the inspiration).

slivered eggplants

In the past, the eggplant I used for pickling came from a standard bulbous eggplant (nothing fancy, it was just what I happened to have around). However, I’ve long thought that those beautiful, lavender-streaked fairy tale eggplants were an ideal candidate for pickling.

Last summer, I bought them twice with intention of suspending them in vinegar, but each time used them up in summer braises instead. So, when I saw a few baskets of pretty eggplant at the farmers market last Saturday, I forked over $6 for a quart so that I could finally execute my pickle plan.

blanch in boiling vinegar

This pickle does have a few steps, but isn’t actually particularly complicated. You start by trimming away the stem end off a quart of fairy tale eggplant and slicing each fingerling into four or six wedges (use your judgement; more strips for larger eggplants, fewer for smaller ones). Place them in a bowl and toss them with two tablespoons kosher salt and the juice of one lemon (the salt draws out the liquid in the eggplant and the lemon prevents them strips from browning).

in the vinegar

Once the eggplant slivers have sat for an hour or two, you dump them into a colander and give them a quick rinse. Then, using your hands, gently press out as much liquid as you can without entirely smashing the eggplant. While you are rinsing and draining, pour three cups of red wine vinegar into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Put all the eggplant into the boiling vinegar. Once the vinegar returns to a boil, let the eggplant cook for just 2 minutes.

pickled fairytale eggplant

When the cooking time is up, remove the eggplant from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and place it into a bowl (keep the vinegar hot). Add 1/4 cup torn basil leaves, 1 minced garlic clove (I like to use a garlic press for applications like this one), and 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper and stir to combine.

Funnel the dressed eggplant into two prepared pint jars (half pints are fine as well). Top with the blanching vinegar, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Using a chopstick, remove air bubbles and add more vinegar if the headspace levels have dropped.

two pints pickled fairytale eggplant

Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp paper towel (this removes any particulate matter that could interfere with a good seal). Apply heated lids and rings. Lower the jars into a small boiling water bath canner and process for 10 minutes (starting your timer when the pot returns to a boil).

When the time is up, carefully remove jars from the canning pot and place them on a folded kitchen towel to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the rings, check seals and (if seals are good), wash jars to remove any remnants of spilled brine.

These pickles need a little curing time for optimum deliciousness. Give them at least a week (if not more).

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