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Urban Preserving: Blueberry Ginger Jam

two pints blueberries

Already this summer, I’ve worked my way through nearly two flats of blueberries. I got my first flat from Beechwood Orchards and the second has been picked up piecemeal from various farmers’ markets and produce shops. I made a batch of slow cooker blueberry butter with some of the Beechwood blues and ate the rest. That second flat has gone into smoothies, baked goods and this small batch of blueberry ginger jam.

draining

In the past, I’ve stuck with the combination of blueberry, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s how my mom makes jam and so it tastes like my childhood. However, I had a chunky knob of ginger in my fruit basket and a few hunks of candied ginger knocking around a jar, so I decided to go a different way.

just less than 3 cups mashed berries

I went with the two different styles of ginger because 1). I had them both kicking around and 2). I’ve found that when you use two different methods for infusing flavor, you get a deeper and stronger presence. I also like the surprise of having little bits of candied ginger spread throughout the jam.

plus one and quarter cups sugar

As you can see from the picture above, what I did was use the same measuring cup to portion out all the ingredients. When I make small batches of jam, I like to minimize the number of dishes I use so that the experience is as streamlined and easy as possible. After smashing the blueberries, I had just under three cups and so I measured a little less than one and half cups of sugar right on top of the berries.

adding ginger

After the sugar and blueberries were stirred together, I tossed in about three inches of chopped ginger into the mix. Now here’s where I say that you should deviate from my method and consider putting the ginger into a tea ball or tying it into a length of cheesecloth. I ended up fishing each little slice of ginger out of the jam as it cooked, which was fiddly business.

finished blueberry ginger jam

The finished jam is gently ginger-y with a nice, deep color and flavor. I’ve been eating it on toasted English muffins and I think it would be really good with a bit of cottage cheese.

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Urban Preserving: Refrigerator Dill Pickles

1 1/2 pounds of kirby cucumbers in a quart basket

I firmly believe in the power of pickles. A few slices of pickled beets can elevate a basic salad into something worthy of the word dinner. Lay a couple of dilly beans alongside your hot dog and and suddenly it could pass for something far more gourmet. Couple cheddar with some pickled garlic scapes (chutney is also good here) and your party guests will praise your cheeseboard abilities to the heavens.

small batch prep

Here in the US, pickles are inextricably linked to cucumbers and so that’s where I’m starting. However, there’s no rule that cucumbers are the only thing that can be pickled. This basic technique can be applied to green beans, okra, asparagus*, cauliflower, carrot*s and all manner of summer squash. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll expand your pickle horizons this summer. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

onions, garlic and dill in jar

Many of my local farmers sell their kirby cucumbers by volume and so a single quart was my starting point for this recipe (I did weight them and had almost exactly 1 1/2 pounds of perfect, pickling cukes). I started by washing the cucumbers well, cutting off both ends (the blossom end has an enzyme that can contribute to limp pickles) and slicing them into wedges.

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Once my cucumbers were sliced, I combined 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar with 3/4 filtered water and a two teaspoons sea salt. While that came to a boil, I prepped two clean pint jars. Each jar received one teaspoon dill seed, two peeled garlic cloves and one tablespoon chopped spring onion. Finally, I packed the cucumber spears into the jars. The quart of cucumbers fit perfectly into the two jars (makes sense since two pint jars equals a quart).

packed jars

When the brine reached a boil, I slowly poured it into the jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace. Because these are refrigerator pickles (this means that they aren’t shelf stable and must be kept in the fridge) this is the point where the work is done. Once the brine is in the jars, you pop the lids on and tuck them into the fridge. Give them at least a day or two to cure and then nosh away.

finished pickles

*These vegetables need a quick bath in some boiling water before they’re able to be pickled. Spend the time and dirty the pot in order to blanch them for 30-60 seconds. The extra step will pay off in flavor.

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Urban Preserving: Small Batch Strawberry Vanilla Jam

one quart

As many of you know, I live in a fairly compact apartment (remember these pictures of my kitchen?). My husband and I have something in the neighborhood of 1,050 square feet that we call our own. In the last three years, my canning habit has expanded and between empty jars, full jars and equipment, occupies a goodly amount of our available storage space. Over the last 12 months, it was necessary as I was creating and testing recipes for my cookbook project.

chopped

This summer, I’ve decided that it’s time to scale back just a bit. And though I love having enough to give away to friends and family, I just don’t need to make vast batches of strawberry jam that yield five or six pints. For my own use, just a few half pint jars will most certainly do. And so I’m going to try something new here on the blog. Every week or two, I’ll be posted a recipe under the header “Urban Preserving.” These recipes will be small batch preserves, all scaled to use just a pint, a quart or pound of produce. The yields will be petite, perfect for those of you who have small households or are short on space, time or cash.

after macerating

Before I left town for the Memorial Day holiday, I turned a quart of strawberries into three half pints of strawberry vanilla jam. I bought the berries on a Sunday, chopped them up when I returned home from the farmers’ market and tossed them with a cup of sugar and two split vanilla beans. Poured into a jar, the berries took a three-day rest in the refrigerator. I didn’t actually intend to let them macerate for that long, but as so often happens, life was busy and I just could not find the time to make jam until Wednesday night.

small batch canning

One of the true joys of small batch canning is that there’s no need to pull out a giant pot to serve as your water bath. A small one does the job just fine. I have two such pots that work well as a tiny canning pot. The first is the asparagus pot that I wrote about here. The second is the tall, spouted pot you see above.

Called a 4th burner pot, this is truly one of the best and most versatile pieces of cookware I own. I love it for making pickles, because you can heat the brine in it and then pour it directly into the jars. It makes the perfect gravy pot during the holidays. It can double as a tea kettle. And because it’s got that rack, it makes a terrific small batch canning pot. See how perfectly those three half-pint Elite jars fit into it?

cooking

So, to catch up, I poured the jar of chopped, macerated strawberries into a 5 1/2 quart pot. I added an additional cup of sugar (bringing the total to 2 cups) and removed the vanilla bean pods. I turned up the heat and inserted a thermometer to track the temperature. I cooked the jam to 220 degrees and also eyeballed the back of the spoon, rivulet test. A lemon’s worth of juice and zest went it towards the end of cooking.

a full half pint

There’s another reason that making small batch jam is so satisfying. Because there’s less volume in the pot, it cooks down more quickly. That means it’s easier to get it to 220 degrees and often means that you can skip the pectin in recipes that might otherwise need it (I know that there are some of you who eschew the pectin entirely, but I’ve always found it necessary when making strawberry jam). Shorter cooking time also means a fresher tasting jam and such glowing color!

fresh out of the canner

The jam was poured into the hot half pint jars (it fit exactly, but I scraped every droplet out of the pot to ensure evenly filled jars), lids were applied and the jars were stacked into the rack. Lowered into the pot, they spent 10 minutes simmering in the handy 4th burner pot.

lidded up

Within 45 minutes of when I turned on the heat under my jam pot, the jars were out of the canner and pinging on the counter top. I took one jar up to Northampton last weekend to share with our hosts. The other two jars are tucked away for next winter.

A non-narrative, traditionally organized recipe is after the jump. Continue Reading →

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Small Batch: Mixed Stone Fruit Jam

mixed stone fruit jam

About a week ago, I had three peaches going mushy, a handful of soft apricots and a flat of sugar plums all competing for my attention. Knowing that I couldn’t ignore all that overly ripe fruit a day longer, I peeled and chopped the peaches and diced the apricots. The plums were promised to another project, so I couldn’t pilfer too freely. I liberated just enough to bring the volume in my measure to up to three cup mark.

This all happened just before I went to bed, so I combined the fruit with a scant two cups of sugar and poured the whole mess right up to the rim of a wide-mouth quart jar. Into the fridge it went.

The next evening, after the dinner dishes were done, I poured the prepared fruit into my small batch cooking pot and prepped three half pint jars, hoping that I’d lose that final half pint during the cooking process. I added no additional pectin, choosing instead to cook the jam up to 220 degrees and hope for the best. I added the juice and zest of one lemon towards the end of the cooking. The fruit itself was so sweet, tart and flavorful that it didn’t need an additional things in terms of spices (although a bit of vanilla or cinnamon would be lovely).

It hit 220 degrees easily and as I filled the jars, I was happy to discover that I had exactly enough for the three half-pints (I promise, this exactitude rarely happens to me). I processed them in my handy asparagus pot for ten minutes and had pinging lids very soon after that.

Less than an hour of time invested (over the course of two nights) yielded three half pints of truly tasty jam, as well as the satisfaction of rescuing good food from a certain, moldy fate.

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