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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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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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