Tag Archives | CANbassador

Low Sugar Spiced Peach Jam

finished peach jam

For the last four summers, I’ve been invited by the folks at the Washington State Fruit Commission and Sweet Preservation to participate in their Canbassador program. Essentially, sometime around mid-summer, they drop me an email and ask if I want to make something tasty with their fruit. When I say yes, the ship a box of delicious Washington-grown cherries, peaches, plums, or apricots.

peach box

Some years, they send me a mix of fruit. Other years, it’s just a single variety. Here’s what I’ve made for this partnership since kicking things off in 2010.

chopped peaches

This year, they sent me a giant box of sweet, juicy peaches. About half the fruit was at the apex of ripeness upon arrival. I triaged the box, sorting the peaches that had to be used immediately from the ones that could stand a couple of days in the fridge. When I was done, I had six pounds of peaches that required immediate action.

And so I peeled them, roughly chopped them, and divided them between a couple of large jars. I added some sugar to help hold them (1/2 a cup for the quart jar and 1 cup for the half gallon), gave both jars a good shake to distribute everything, and plunked them in the fridge for 2 1/2 days while I went down to Washington, D.C. to teach some classes.

peaches in the pan

When I got home from the trip, I poured the macerated peaches into a low, wide pan (in fact, the one I wrote about here). I added a tablespoon of calcium water (Pomona’s Pectin), 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, and the zest and juice from a lemon.

I brought it to a boil and cooked until the peaches where very soft and the syrup became to thicken. I whisked 1 tablespoon of Pomona’s Pectin into 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar and after about 35 minutes of cooking, stirred it into the jam. A few more minutes of simmering to help everything combined and then the jam was done.

cooked peach jam

Funneled into eight half pint jars and processed for 10 minutes, this jam is lighter on sugar than many, but doesn’t sacrifice anything in terms of flavor. It’s a nice one for holiday gifts and eating with fat slices of angel food cake.

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Honey-Sweetened Peach Vanilla Jam

one half pint of peach jam

A couple weeks back, I was on something of a peach tear (thanks to the folks at Sweet Preservation). I wrote about my Lazy Peach Preserves and my Honey-Sweetened Peach Chutney. I promised that I’d have one final peach jam for you and then I went and fell off the recipe map. However, I’m here to make good. Without further delay, my recipe for Honey-Sweetened Peach Vanilla Jam.

three half pints of peach jam

This is one of those preserves that has just a few ingredients and so depends on you getting the best-tasting players as you possibly can. Search out those super sweet end-of-season peaches. Find a light honey that won’t demand center stage. And please, please, use a real vanilla bean. I know they’re pricy at grocery stores and gourmet markets, but if you buy them online, they are quite affordable. Go in with a friend or two. The flavor just can’t compare.

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Honey-Sweetened Peach Chutney

peach chutney

Every summer and fall, I try to make at least two or three batches of chutney. It’s a handy thing to have to tuck into gift bags (it helps to break up the monotony of all the jams) and it makes for a very easy potluck contribution (one log of goat cheese + a jar of chutney + baguette rounds = happy diners). Last year, I did versions with black plums and apricots. So far this year, I’ve made cherry chutney and this batch of honey-sweetened peach chutney with some of the Canbassador fruit.

peach half

Chutney is not one of the condiments I ate during my formative years, but it has grown on me in my adulthood. These days, it’s one of my refrigerator staples and on days when the leftover pickings are slim, I pull out some cheese, make a piece of toast, and grab some chutney. Works every time. Right now, I’m eating the very end of the black plum from last summer, as well as the dregs of the persimmon chutney from this project.

peach quarters

Before you start making this chutney, you should know that when it comes to removing the skin from relatively small amounts of peaches (and tomatoes, too), I’ve changed my strategy. I am no longer a fan of the blanch and chill. Instead, I cut the peaches into quarters and pull out the pits and heap them in a heatproof bowl. While I work, I bring a kettle of water to a boil.

peeling peaches

Once all the peaches are sliced, I pour the boiling water over the fruit. Let it sit for a few minutes, until you see the skins starting to wrinkle. Drain the fruit, rinse with cold tap water, and peel. It works really well and feels easier and more streamlined.

eight cups chopped peaches

The only thing I can’t stress enough is the importance of using a the heatproof bowl. One very distracted evening, I used a glass bowl that I thought was Pyrex. It was not and it shattered from the hot water. I was able to salvage some of the fruit, but it made a mess and was generally unfortunate.

chutney on the stove

Cooking times can vary a great deal with chutney. I always plan a secondary kitchen project when I have a batch going, so that I can stay close to the pot and give it a good stir every few minutes. It has a tendency to stick on the bottom as the cooking time nears its end, so try stay focused in those last moments of simmering.

peach chutney with honey

The only other useful tip I have to share when it comes to chutney is that it’s best to open a sealed jar an hour or so before you plan on serving it. When you first open chutney, all you can taste is the vinegar. However, if you let it breathe a little, the vinegar dissipates a little and the flavors of the fruit and spices are more prominent.

How do you like to eat chutney?

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Oven Roasted Nectarine Butter

Sweet Preservation fruit

Back in the summer, the folks from Sweet Preservation invited me to be one of their Canbassadors (click here and here to see Canbassador posts from previous years). The box of fruit arrived in early September and I wasted no time digging in and transforming those Italian plum prunes, peaches and nectarines into some tasty preserves.

I wrote about the butter I made from the plums in the box, and meant to write about my other projects promptly, but the days since have flown by in one of those flying page-a-day montages so beloved by old movies and now it’s nearly November. Where did the last six weeks go?

nectarines

I do want to tell you about the technique I used to turn the nectarines into butter, because it’s such a good, versatile one. I included a version using peaches in my cookbook and it also works with all the rest of the stonefruits and even the pears that are currently in season (see, this post isn’t entirely out of date!).

You cut the fruit in half and trim away any pits, seeds and bruises. Then you lay the fruit out in a mostly single layer in a non-reactive pan (don’t do this on one of those rimmed aluminum half sheet pans, you run the risk of leaching a metallic flavor into your butter). Ceramic, enameled cast iron or glass is best for this recipe. Finally, you slide your pan of fruit into a low oven (around 250 degrees F) and slowly bake.

halved and quartered

When the fruit has released a lot of juice and is barely holding together, grab a fork and smash it into a rough pulp. Return the pan to the oven until the juices are mostly evaporated. Once your chunky puree seems quite thick, you can either stop, call it a rustic fruit butter, sweeten to taste (if necessary) and can it up.

If you like super smooth fruit butters, you can do one final thing. Puree the rough pulp into a very silky one by either scraping it into a blender or into a small saucepan and applying an immersion blender. I like to use a small saucepan, because after the fine puree, a bit more liquid can sometimes be released. If the butter is in a pan, I can pop it on the heat for a few minutes and quickly cook out the last of the water.

roasted until tender

Once it’s done, it should mound on a spoon. That’s your sign that all the water is cooked out and that you’ve got nothing but concentrated fruit. You can sweetened to taste with a little honey or sugar, but if you started with sweet, flavorful fruit, it may need nothing at all.

This is also the time to add spices. Any configuration of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove and allspice is nice. You could add a little vanilla bean paste. Or grate in a little orange zest for extra zippiness. Go crazy.

mashed with a fork

You may have noticed that I’ve not given you any precise cooking times. That’s because there’s a huge amount of variety in oven time. Make this on a Sunday afternoon. Or break the work up across a couple of days. I’ve often roasted the fruit one evening, turned the heat off and left the pan in the oven overnight and then returned to it the next day to finish things up. If you’re going to bring it back up to a boil, a night out at room temperature won’t do the fruit any harm.

This technique doesn’t yield a ton. Depending on how much fruit I squeeze into the pan, I’ll get just two or three half pints per batch. But after I’ve done that a handful of times over the summer and fall, that’s more than enough fruit butter for me.

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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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Pickled Sweet Cherries

pickled cherries

I grew up in a family with a fairly limited condiment scope. We ate ketchup on burgers, grainy mustard on hot dogs and sausage and dipped steamed broccoli florets into little puddles of mayonnaise. Pickles were cucumber dills, either eaten whole as a snack, or sliced and blotted before being stacked in a sandwich. Jam was strawberry or plum (made from the fruit off our backyard trees) and salad dressing was Good Seasonings, made from the spice packet in the branded cruet.

cherries packed in jars

This isn’t to say I grew up in a community of boring eaters. We were among the first people I knew to regularly stock teriyaki sauce and my mom liked to make the Good Seasonings dressing a little more interesting with the addition of balsamic vinegar or toasted sesame oil. Real maple syrup was the rule. In fact, my brief devotion to the fake stuff caused my father a great deal of anguish. There was always soy sauce in the fridge and we had a wicked pickled ginger phase after my parents’ early nineties trip to Hawaii.

bay and peppercorns in jar

In recent years, it’s been deeply gratifying to branch out beyond my childhood condiments (although I still firmly believe that ketchup on a hot dog is sacrilege) and explore a broader world of homemade flavor. However, until very recently there was an area I’d yet to broach.

Pickled fruit.

I toyed with a recipe for pickled Seckel pears last fall, but preserved them in a gingery syrup instead. I contemplated pickled blueberries, but opted to simply eat the last of my picking out of hand. I was uneasy about it, fearful I’d make something off-putting and end up wasting good food.

life is just a bowl of

However, when faced with nearly eight pounds of juicy, ripe cherries from the Washington State Fruit Commission (thanks Sweet Preservation), I knew the time was ripe to pickle. I consulted several recipes and concocted a brine that was sweet and tart. I added a few peppercorns for spice and a bay leaf for nuance to each jar, packed the cherries in and hoped for the best.

As you might have guessed, my expectations were far too low. These pickled cherries are amazing! They are sweet and puckery, and despite the water bath, managed to retain a bit of that snap and gentle crunch you get when you first bite into a really good cherry. I am smitten. If you are still able to get sweet cherries in your area I highly encourage you to make a batch.

Oh, and one more thing. If you live in the Philadelphia area, there’s going to be an opportunity for you to taste these, along with a couple other pickles I’ve made recently, so keep your eyes peeled. More on Monday!

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