Small Batch Black Velvet Apricot Jam Recipe

black velvet apricots

Slowly but surely, the stonefruit is beginning to appear. Nothing truly local yet, it’s getting ever closer. My little local greengrocer had South Carolina peaches last week, and the week before that, they had a small box of black velvet apricots from California. I call that considerable geographic progress!

black velvet apricots macerating with honey

I skipped the peaches (I’m holding out for the good stuff from the farmers I know), but succumbed to a single pound of the black velvet apricots. Have you ever tried these tender little guys? They’re a fifty-fifty cross between a purple plum and an apricot and so have a tender, sweet interior and a wine-colored, downy outside.

cooking a small batch of black velvet apricot jam

Because I absolutely cannot resist, I made a tiny batch jam with my eight little black velvets. I pitted them, chopped them, and combined them with four ounces of honey. Like I’ve mentioned in the past, I like to measure my honey by weight so that I don’t lose a single drop to the measuring cup.

finished jam black velvet apricot jam

I used a ratio of four parts fruit to one part honey for this jam because I wanted to end up with a product that allowed the fruit flavor to shine. Because it was such a small batch, I knew that I’d be able to get it to set with a minimal amount of sweetener and so could get away with the relatively tiny amount of honey (this ratio will not work if you increase the batch size).

black velvet apricot jam in the jar

Simmered up in my trusty 12-inch stainless steel skillet, this jam took just eight minutes to fully cook (though cooking times will always vary). Because there was so much surface area in the pan and so little depth, the water from the fruit was able to cook out efficiently and cook to a high enough temperature to achieve set. This is the secret of these tiny, low sugar, no additional pectin small batches.

black velvet apricot jam on toast

Made from just fruit and honey, my yield was a scant cup of jam. While I often can my small batches so that they’re shelf stable, I couldn’t muster the will to heat up even the tiniest canner in my arsenal for a single half pint of jam. So instead, it went into the fridge and I’ve been dolloping it on any vehicle that will hold still. I love how tart it is and am planning to make a similar batch when the true apricots come into season later in the month.

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Giveaway: Mrs. Wages Pickle Mix Basket

Mrs. Wages Pickle Mixes

For the last three years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Mrs. Wages (more about the real Mrs. Wages here), writing recipes and little ditties about seasonal canning for their newsletter. They’re a company based down south that is devoted to creating spice mixes, pectins, vinegars, and other useful canning products. I’ve used a number of their mixes in the past and have always been quite happy with the results.

This summer, I’m teaming up with Mrs. Wages for two separate giveaways (keep your eyes peeled for second basket of goodies in early August). For this first one, we’re featuring the many different pickling mixes and products that Mrs. Wages makes, along with a home canning guide, all tucked into a cute little basket. If you’re interest in entering, here’s what to do…

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share your favorite thing about the start of canning season. Do you look forward to strawberry jam? Homemade pickles? The canning parties you throw with friends?
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm on Friday, June 7, 2013. Winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog soon after.
  3. Giveaway open to US residents only (so sorry, further-flung friends).
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.
Disclosure: Mrs. Wages compensates me for the writing I do for their newsletter. They have provided the basket of goodies you see above at no cost to me. However, no additional money changed hands in order to make this post and giveway happen and, as always, my thoughts, opinions and commentary are unadulterated and are all my own.
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Links: BPA-free Lids, Lilac Honey, and a Dry Herb Jar Winner

eggs/tomatoes/toast

The last four days have been an absolute whirlwind. The highlights including a fig dinner* on Thursday night that was the best meal I’ve had in months (I may need to get out more), the chance to see many lovely friends and acquaintances at Eat, Write, Retreat, and a trip to a lovely old estate on the Delaware River to witness the marriage of a friend.

Ball Dry Herb Jars

herb jar winner Many thanks to everyone who took the time to enter this week’s Dry Herb Jar giveaway, sponsored by Ball! The lucky winner is commenter #114, which is Elizabeth G. She said, “I keep my spices in the container they come in. My spices would look so cute in these!”

Elizabeth, I hope your spices look just as cute as you were hoping! Congratulations!

*In the interest of full disclosure, I was a guest at the fig dinner, which was hosted by California Figs.

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A Visit to Driscoll’s Berries

Driscoll's berries

Last month, I went on a really great (if far too brief) trip to California. I’ve been intending to write about it since returning home, but there’s been a cavalcade of events (a book deadline, a visit from my sister’s family, the departure of my intern, a week-long vacation, the return of canning classes, and 34th birthday celebration).

You see, my sojourn in Northern CA was a gathering of bloggers, hosted by Driscoll’s. We were invited to learn more about how Driscoll’s develops, grows, packages, and sells their strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries.

raspberry plants

Going into the trip, I knew very little about the ins and outs of berry growing beyond the fact that I liked to visit my local farms during the season and pick their fruit. Thanks to Driscoll’s and this trip (which was essentially a one-day crash course on the ins and outs of berry farming), I have a far deeper understanding of breeding, developing, growing, marketing, and shipping processes required to bring that clamshell of berries to my local market.

greenhouse

When you buy a box of berries at the grocery store, know that your fruit was at least five to seven years in the making. You see, Driscoll’s works with number of farmers to grow the berries. All those growers start with seedlings that Driscoll’s breeds, propagates and raises, to ensure that the berries they sell meet their very high standards of texture and flavor.

raspberry canes

It takes five years of growing before a seedling is ready to be shipping to the grower (one plant is raised into 100, those 100 are grown into 5,000, those 5,000 become 200,000 and so on. For five years). Before that, there were many seasons of growing, tasting, and testing before a variety was selected to be propagated. It definitely not a matter of picking up some seeds and planting a field.

rows

We spent much of our time on the trip talking about strawberries, as those were the berries that were currently in season in Watsonville while we were there (this was in early April). We visited the test fields where Driscoll’s develops their new varieties and got to pick and taste berries directly from the ground (it was amazing).

cluster of berries

One thing that surprised me to learn while we were in the fields was that each strawberry cultivar has a relatively short lifespan. That’s because they’re constantly tweaking the plants in order to make them just a bit more delicious (all this work is basic breeding science. They don’t engage in any genetic engineering).

tee-shirt motto

One thing I heard over and over again during the time I spent with the Driscoll’s folks was the importance of delight (in fact, Driscoll’s mission statement starts with, “Our Mission is to continually delight our Berry Consumers…”).

At first, I was a little taken aback, because I’d never before been exposed to a company that is so clear about putting pleasure and flavor ahead of profits. But truly, Driscoll’s does (they made it very clear that if berries are subpar, they are not sold).

berry tour boots

One thing I found particularly interesting was the fact that strawberries are only touched once before we bring them home to our kitchens. They are packed into the clamshells in the fields by the pickers, so the handling is incredibly minimal. The growers are all independent, but do work closely with Driscoll’s, to ensure that standards are being met in regards to cleanliness, ripeness, and general berry quality.

berry tracking code

Here’s another thing I learned while on this trip. You can actually track exactly where your berries are coming from. All clamshells are labeled with code stickers and if you go to mydriscolls.com, you can punch in that code, see a picture of the farmer who grew your berries and learn where the farm is located. I’ve been doing it with every box of berries I bought since returning from this trip.

Driscoll's berries

I’ve long been someone who believes that the most important thing to do is to support your local farmers (and depending on where you live, there’s a good chance that the Driscoll’s berries in your market are local). And during the summer months, I buy mountains of fruit from the farmers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

However, being in the recipe writing business means that I often need berries in January. Having been on this trip, I feel so much better about buying off-season berries from Driscoll’s, because I know they’re working hard to produce the best, most flavorful and safest berries around.

Many thanks to Driscoll’s for inviting me to learn more about their berries and for giving me the opportunity to meet a collection of other fabulous bloggers and writers.

Disclosure: This trip to California was paid for by Driscoll’s. However, my opinions are entirely my own.
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Canning Demo at Art in the Age

16/365

All month long, some of my jars of preserves have been on display at the Art in the Age store in Old City as part of their The Return of Spring exhibition. The show is coming down soon, but on Tuesday, while my books and jars are still there, I’m going to be stopping by the shop to do an evening canning demo.

If you’re in the area, I’d love for you to swing by (festivities start at 6 pm). I’ll be making a small batch of strawberry vanilla jam, talking about preserving, answering questions, and signing cookbooks. Art in the Age can be found at 116 N. 3rd Street, Philadelphia.

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Giveaway: Ball Dry Herb Jars

locating the spice rack

The week Scott and I got married (nearly four years ago now!), my dad cut a giant hole in my kitchen wall and inserted floor-to-ceiling spice rack into a few inches of unused space. This had long been the wedding present plan, though looking back on it covering the apartment with drywall dust a few days before the big day wasn’t one of my better laid plans.

Still, I’ll never regret the mess, because I LOVE this spice shelf. Not only did it give me a bounty of additional storage space, the shelves are perfectly spaced to hold the canning jars that house my herbs and spices. Truly, it was one of the best presents I’ve ever received.

my spice storage

For the longest time, I thought I was the only one using slightly past their prime mason jars for this purpose, but in recent years, I’ve discovered that I’m very far from alone. And this spring, Ball finally recognized the fact that many of us use their jars in this way and released a product designed expressly for spice storage.

Ball Dry Herb Jars

Meet the Dry Herbs Jars. They are four ounce jars fitted with sturdy, locking shaker lids. I’m liking these herb jars for several reasons. I appreciate how large the holes are in the shaker lid (they’re akin to the ones you find on Parmesan cheese canisters) because they allow chunky things like kosher salt and red chili flakes through.

Herb Jar

I appreciate the slight rim on the edge of the lid, which means they stack with a sense of security. And finally (though this has nothing directly to do with their utility as a spice jar), I love the look of the smooth-sided four ounce jar. Would that they’d kick those quilted quarter-pints to the curb and sell these by the dozen!

shaker top

Thanks to our friends at Ball, I have a box of these Dry Herbs Jars to give away (each box contains four shaker topped jars).

  1. Leave a comment on this post and share how you store your herbs and spices.
  2. Comments will close at 11:59 pm on Sunday, June 2, 2013. Winner will be chosen at random and will be posted to the blog soon after.
  3. Giveaway open to US residents only (so sorry, further-flung friends).
  4. One comment per person, please. Entries must be left via the comment form on the blog at the bottom of this post.

In addition to the giveaway, I’ve created a Pinterest board for photos of herb and spice storage. If you’d like to pin to the board, mention that in your comment and I’ll invite you to participate. It’s simply for fun, no additional entries to the giveaway will occur if you participate.

Disclosure: Ball has provided two sets of these Dry Herb Jars, one for photography purposes and one for giveaway, at no cost to me. However, I am unswayed by this gift and my opinions remain my own.