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Welcome 2012 + Persimmon and Pear Chutney

persimmon

Happy New Year, friends! I hope your celebrations last night were full of delight. Scott and I rang in the new year with pizza, champagne and a few favorite people (including 20-month-old twins who entertained us by dancing to the Nutcracker Suite).

I didn’t intend to go entirely quiet over the last week, but I so wanted to relish my last couple days in Portland with my parents. When I landed in Philadelphia on Wednesday morning, it just felt right to continue the break. It’s been a lovely thing to take a little time away from this space, to think about how I want to approach it in 2012.

I plan to continue to post new recipes, including more pressure canner tutorials, small batch preserves and ways to get your jams, chutneys and sauces out of their jars and onto the table.

purloined persimmons

You’ll see more foods in jars made by other people. Though it’s always my goal to help inspire people to head for their own kitchens, there’s also a world of delicious foods in jars out there being made by truly talented folks. I want to occasionally showcase them.

There will also be posts about cookbooks, space for questions and answers and some regular video features. I’m also going to be out and about a bit over the spring and summer to help promote my cookbook, so I’ll be posting about any and all opportunities to come and spend a bit of time with me.

bruised pears and persimmons

Now, about that recipe. While I was out in Portland, my mom and I came across a persimmon tree. It was in someone’s yard, bursting with fruit and covered with birds. We stood there for a moment, pondering the ethics of the situation, when a car pulled into the house’s driveway. We asked about picking a few and the owner held out an open grocery bag and simply said, “take what you want.”

Not wanting to be greedy, we took just three of the perfect fuyu persimmons from his bag and said thanks. We brought them home and proceeded to let them sit around for nearly a week. On the morning of Christmas Eve, my mom commented that I either needed to make something with them or throw them out. And so, I made a small batch of chutney with our three foraged persimmons and two bruised pears that had been rolling around the fridge.

After cutting away the bad spots and chopping them finely, I combined the pears and persimmons with half of a finely chopped red onion, 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons grated ginger, 2 tablespoons raisins, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon allspice in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot.

Then it was just a matter of letting the mixture cook down for 30-45 minutes over medium-high heat. As you simmer the chutney, taste it and adjust the sugar, spices and salt. Should you like a bit of heat in your chutney, add a pinch of red chili flakes or smidgen of cayenne pepper. The chutney is finished when the persimmon skins are tender and it doesn’t look at all watery.

My batch filled three half-pint jars with just a bit leftover to eat immediately with cheese. It can be processed in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, or just kept in the fridge for regular eating. This time of year, when we rely more heavily on braises, stews and soups, it’s nice to have something within easy reach that can add a burst of bright flavor. I left all that I made back in Portland and am hoping to find a few inexpensive persimmons in Philly to make another batch.

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Urban Preserving: Small Batch Seckel Pear Jam with Brown Sugar and Cardamom

pears

I’m crazy for pears these days. I buy them without a plan for how I’m going to use them, just to be able to have them around to look at and munch on. Seckel pears are a particular weakness, followed closely by crunchy asian pears* and the bright, green Anjou. Though I’ve always been a fan of pears, I don’t remember a year where I’ve been quite so smitten by them.

cooking jam

I’ve had the above bowl on my dining room table since Sunday. It just looked so pretty and made things feel so very fall-like. Yesterday afternoon, I looked over and realized that the Seckel pears were dangerously soft. It was time to stop gazing and take a bit of action.

finished jam

I turned to one of my favorite, small batch cooking vessels – the 12-inch stainless steel skillet. You’ve seen me employ this pan before to good effect and I’ll confess right now that there have been many other undocumented batches of jam cooked in it as well. I love using a large, flat pan for these small batches because they make for such quick cooking times. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of adding a 6-quart saute pan for its jam-cooking surface area.

small batch canner

I cored and roughly chopped my pound and a half of Seckel pears, which gave me three scant cups of fruit. I heaped it into the skillet and added three quarters of a cup of brown sugar. I stirred them together until the juices started to run and then turned the heat on to high.

I let the jam simmer and sputter, stirring regularly, until the remaining juices were thick and sticky. Then I added half a teaspoon of cardamom and the juice of half a lemon. I continued to cook for just another minute or two, to give the spice and juice time to integrate.

Seckel pear jam with brown sugar and cardmom

When the jam was done, I scraped it into two prepared half pint jars and processed them in my favorite small batch canning pot (the 4th burner pot) for ten minutes. From chopped to cooling, this jam took just less than half an hour to make.

To my mind, this jam is the perfect thing for stirring into oatmeal. The gentle flavor of the pears with the spice of cardamom and the sweetness of brown sugar would combine so nicely with the creaminess of oats. It’d also be great spread on an oat scone or millet muffin.

*The asian pears are for eating out of hand, they are lower in acid than other pears and so can’t be used in basic jam recipes. They have to be heavily acidified for canning.

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Urban Preserving: Red Pear Lavender Jam

red pears

I’ve been going a little bit crazy for pears lately. In my heart, fall has arrived, no matter what the heat and humidity seem to think. These particular red pears caught my attention while I was walking through Reading Terminal Market last Friday. I had dropping in for chard and eggs and ended up walking home laden with all that plus avocados, an enormous cabbage and two and a half pounds of these glowing pears.

red pear lavender jam

It’s funny. I’m not all that adventurous when it comes to pears. I tend to stick with Bartlett or Bosc. For a few weeks each fall, I’m hopelessly in love with Asian pears. I like to pickle the tiny Seckel pears. But really, that’s about it. Until I bought this bundle, I don’t know that I’d ever brought red pears into my kitchen. That’s all changing now. I now declare myself a red pear convert.

filling jars

Cored and chopped, I ended up with just over 5 cups of fruit. I didn’t peel the pears because that crimson skin was integral to their charm. Without it, how would you know that these pears were any different from my standard Bartletts?

finished red pear lavender jam

In the past, I’ve made pear jam with ginger, with cinnamon and with vanilla. A lavender infusion seemed like the next logical step (as least, it did in my head). I’m quite thrilled with how it turned out. The flavor of the lavender nudges up beautifully against the slight spiciness of the pears. I think they are perfect partners.

If you can’t find red pears, don’t think that you have to skip this recipe. Feel free to use any smooth skinned pear you’d like (except Asian pears. They’re low in acid and need special treatment). It’s a very nice way to welcome fall.

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Urban Preserving: Italian Plum Jam with Star Anise

chopped plums

The day before Hurricane Irene hit the east coast, a massive box of fruit arrived on my doorstep. It was from the Washington State Fruit Commission, the folks behind the most fabulous website Sweet Preservation. A few weeks earlier, they’d emailed to ask if I’d be one of their Canbassadors again this year (last year’s recipes can be found here and here).

macerating plums

Last year, I got apricots and cherries. This year, it was a fun blend of Italian plums, apricots, nectarines and peaches. So far, I’ve made a small batch of lavender-infused, honey-sweetened apricot butter (you’ll see that one over on Simple Bites soon), an oven-roasted peach butter (it’s a technique I detail in my cookbook, but I’ll give you a little preview before the peaches are out of season) and this tiny batch of plum jam with star anise. The nectarines are still in the fridge, waiting for inspiration to strike.

truffle tremor

I only had about a pound of these little plums, so by necessity, this was a small batch. Chopped, there just over 2 cups of fruit. Combined with a moderate amount of sugar and three star anise flowers, I let this macerate at room temperature until it was beautifully syrup-y. Tasting every 15 minutes or so, I left the star anise in while it sat, but pulled them out before cooking, to ensure that I didn’t cross the line from gently flavored to something akin to Nyquil.

truffle tremor with plum star anise jam

As it was cooking, I tasted. Most of the time, I taste jam just once or twice as it cooks down. This time, I tried it at least five or six times because I was so in love with the way the plums played with the flavor of the star anise. As I tasted, I started thinking about the cheese I had in the fridge.

Awhile back, the folks from Cypress Grove sent me a few of their startling good goat cheeses. The idea was for me to dream up a few perfectly paired jams to match up with them. And while I hadn’t started this batch of jam thinking to couple it with one of those cheeses, it’s just gorgeous with the Truffle Tremor. The slight, mystical funkiness of that cheese just sings with the plums and their trace of star anise.

I’ve eaten the combination for lunch at least three times already. I can’t promise that there won’t be a fourth.

Recipe after the jump…

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Urban Preserving: Honey-Sweetened Skillet Stonefruit Jam

finished skillet jam

When we were in Lancaster for vacation, I bought too much fruit. Every time we stopped by a roadside farmstand, I’d enter a fugue state in which I’d forget how much food we already had at our cabin and would buy more (it was all so cheap! and gorgeous! and fresh!).

2 1/2 cups chopped fruit

By the time we headed home last Sunday, I had a gallon-size ziptop bag full of peaches and plums that were rapidly ripening. The bumps they received in transit didn’t help preserve their quality and by the time they were back in the kitchen, they were in dire shape. At one point, my husband suggested just throwing them away.

1/2 cup honey

Not wanting to waste the fruit that I’d spent my vacation cooing over, I decided to make a quick batch of skillet jam. Simmered in a large, stainless pan, this jam cooks up in less than ten minutes, making it the perfect way to preserve overripe fruit quickly and without a ton of fuss. Because I never know when to quit, I always do these things in the moments before bedtime. A fresh jar of jam come morning is never a bad thing.

lemon verbena

After cutting away the bruises and moldy spots from my peaches and plums, I had 2 1/2 cups of chopped fruit. Combined with 1/2 cup honey and six lemon verbena leaves, I cooked it all together over high heat, stirring regularly until the juices thickened. The lemon verbena leaves added a nice citrus-y flavor. They don’t do anything to increase the amount of acid in the jam though, so if the jam is struggling to set up, squeeze half a lemon’s worth of juice into the pan as well.

checking doneness

You know a skillet jam is done when you can pull the spatula through it and jam doesn’t immediately rush in to fill the empty space. Another way to tell the cooking is finished is that it develops and holds those tiny little bubbles around the edges in the photo below. When you stir it, the jam should burble and simmer feverishly. Jam always tells you when it’s done if you look and listen closely.

tell-tale bubbles

Because it only uses honey as a sweetener, this jam tastes more of fruit than sugar which is a good thing in my book. The only downside of jamming with honey is that it doesn’t have the same preservative powers as sugar, so it won’t last for eons in the fridge. It could be safely canned for longer storage, but just I did it, it’s got about two weeks before it will start to develop mold. However, at the rate I’m eating it, spoilage won’t be an issue.

Making a skillet jam like this isn’t just limited to peaches and plums. You can do this same sort of technique with berries, pears, nectarines, apricots and more. One could also portion this jam out into two containers and pop half in the freezer, should you be the type who struggles to finish a jar.

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Urban Preserving: Apricot Rosemary Jam

apricot rosemary jam

I ate my first memorable apricot in 1986. I was seven years old and my sister was in her final year of nursery school. The normal order of things in those days was that my mom would pick Raina up at school first and then together, they’d come to get me. For whatever reason, that day the pick-up order was reserved. I delighted in that mostly because it meant I could ride in the front seat without a battle.

2 pounds apricots

When we walked into the main area of Wee Kirk (is it strange that 25 years later, I still remember the name of my younger sister’s pre-school?), sitting on a high table was a giant basket of apricots with a sign that simply said, “Help yourself.” A parent had brought it in, an attempt to cope with the amount of fruit that a tree in Southern California can produce.

I took one, slurped it down and then quickly pocketed two more, loving the way the sweet and tart played together. My mom stopped me before I could well and truly ruin my dinner, but she was too late to keep me from falling under the spell of the apricot.

2 pounds apricots - halved

Though I’ve happily put away more than a few apricots in the intervening years, my appreciation for apricots was well and truly rekindled during my Slashfood days. That when I was the lucky recipient of a jar of Blenheim apricot jam from We Love Jam. This was about six months before my own jam making practice exploded, and so that jar seemed magical and hugely precious. I turned some aspect of every meal into a vehicle for that jam.

3 1/2 cups chopped apricots

Last year, thanks to a friend with good fruit connections, I got a good deal on apricots and made jam and butter galore. However, I gave away a bunch and ate the rest and it was all long gone well before January. This season I was determined not to spend even a moment without access to an apricot preserve of some stripe. So I bought 25 pounds of apricots from Beechwood Orchards a few weeks back. They were seconds. They were heavy. They were a dollar a pound. I couldn’t resist.

apricot rosemary jam - mixed

I realize that confessing the volume of this purchase flies in the face of an urban preserving post. But before you freak out, I want to make it clear that you don’t have to be like me. My canning exists at one end of the spectrum. Here’s how you can make a batch of apricot jam on the on the other end. The small batch kind. All you need is two pounds of apricots. Whether you pluck them from a larger haul or you restrain yourself to buying just the handful necessary is up to you.

apricot rosemary jam - cooking

The way it works is fairly simple. Take two pounds of apricots and pull them in half with your fingers. Pluck out the pits and put them aside. Heap the halved apricots into a measuring cup with at least four cups capacity. Once they’re all there, use a fork or a small potato masher and break them down. The pieces don’t have to be uniform in size, you just want a pulpy, vividly orange mess.

Combine them with two cups of sugar and three tablespoons of finely chopped rosemary (should you not be a fan of rosemary, feel free to leave it out for a more traditional flavor profile). Pour into a pot and cook until it spits and spatters and runs thickly off the side of a spoon. Add the juice of a lemon. Fill the jars and process. No pectin or extensive cook times required (apricots are already so thick and jammy before you even add sugar that they cook up speedy fast).

apricot rosemary jam

The final flavor is sweet, tart and just a touch herbal. It’s good slathered on chicken before baking or dabbed atop a healthy blog of goat cheese. My inspiration for the addition of rosemary comes from the lovely site Putting By. I really enjoy the use of blog as personal record of food preservation. I aspire to that level of documentation, but rarely achieve it.

Should you need a more detailed set of instructions, an organized recipe is after the jump.

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