Tag Archives | Mastery Challenge

Mastery Challenge: Sour Cherry Elderflower Jelly, Made Two Ways

Regular Food in Jars contributor Alex Jones drops by today to share her experience making jelly using both Pomona’s Pectin and homemade gooseberry pectin. Read on for her tale of experimentation!

Ah, jelly month. It’s time for me to reckon with pectin.

If I recall correctly, this Mastery Challenge is only my second time making jelly. The first was a few years ago when I worked as the buyer for an all-local foods store here in Philly, Fair Food Farmstand. We got some Japanese knotweed in early April, and I set to work making a tart, pale-pink jelly out of this invasive plant as a way to preserve it. But the set was unappealing and too firm for me, so I gave the still-sealed jars that were left to a friend excited about foraged foods.

For every time I’ve made jam or other preserves with pectin, I can count a time when set didn’t occur or occurred too well. So in recent years, I’ve avoided it, eschewing recipes using pectin for the whole-fruit preserves and confitures found in Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, one of a select number of preserving books I own. These fruit preserves manage to be thick and spoonable, and I love them — but it was time to tackle working with pectin.

When it came time to consider this month’s challenge, I had a freezer full of fruit to work with (and thanks to the time I spent organizing my chest freezer last month, I knew exactly how much and where it all was). There were three gallon bags of West Philly-grown sour cherries in there that needed to become something great — so I pulled out two of them to thaw in the fridge. I’d also use the dregs of a bottle of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, since those flavors go so well together.

And, since I like to do things the hard way sometimes, I searched online for homemade pectin alternatives to the packaged stuff that had vexed me in the past. Mrs. Wheelbarrow came through yet again, this time with a post about how to make and use pectin from green gooseberries — a bag of which, harvested from my community garden two summers before, also languished in my freezer.

Roughly a quart of gooseberries, simmered with water, strained through a jelly bag, and cooked down again until the pectin formed a mass that could be picked up with a fork when dropped into alcohol, yielded me two four-ounce jars, one to use now and one to stash away for later.

Along with an unopened box of Pomona’s Pectin that had been in my pantry for a couple years — according to the manufacturer, it will last indefinitely if stored cool and dry — I had what I needed to find out (a) if I could be trusted to make something tasty from the packaged stuff and (b) if my woo-woo homemade method could be used for jelly made with low-pectin fruit.

The results? Yes, surprisingly, and sort of!

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Facebook Live Jelly Demo this Thursday

Friends! Join me on Thursday, March 9 at 9 pm eastern/ 6 pm pacific for an hour-long Facebook livestream over on the Food in Jars Facebook page. I’ll show you how to make a batch of tart cherry jelly using store bought juice, we’ll talk about shrubs, AND I’ll answer all your questions about this month’s Mastery Challenge.

Also, as we move further into the canning season, I plan on doing more of these livestreams and hope to get on a regular schedule with them. I’m hoping that you guys will give me a little insight as to what you’d most like to see from these broadcasts. If you have a minute or two, please do fill out the questionnaire below. Thank you!

Updated!

If you missed the live broadcast, all is not lost! Thanks to the magic of Facebook, you can also watch the broadcast right here.

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Jellies and Shrubs for the March Mastery Challenge

We’re five days into March, and so it’s high time to start digging into this month’s challenge (I’ve been at a conference for the last couple days, which accounts for the delay). We’re going to be focusing in on both jelly and shrubs this time around.

The reason for the double topics is that jelly making has much in common with marmalade making. For those of you who wearied of achieving set during January’s challenge, you have another option. What’s more, shrubs are fun.

What is Jelly?

There are a lot of preserves that get called jelly, but for the purposes of this challenge, we’re defining it as a sweet or savory preserve that is made primarily with a flavorful liquid like fruit juice, vinegar, or wine (other spirits do sometimes come into play with jellies as well). Fruit jellies should be clear and without any bits or pieces of fruit or fruit pulp. Things like pepper jellies can include bits of pepper material. Jellies should be well-set enough to be spread on toast without dripping down your hand.

There are several ways to go about getting your jelly to set up.

High Pectin Fruits – Some fruits are so naturally high in pectin that you don’t need to add commercial pectin to achieve set (a good example is the red currant jelly I wrote about last summer). Those jellies just need enough sugar to help elevate the temperature to reach the set point (to read more about why sugar aids in set, read this). Occasionally, people will also extract pectin from these high pectin fruits to use in combination with lower pectin fruits.

Commercial Pectin – Other fruits don’t have a ton of natural pectin and require additional pectin in order to set up. These days, my go-to pectins are the Classic Ball Flex Pectin (for higher sugar batches) and Pomona’s Pectin (for lower sugar and alternative sweeteners).

Reduction – Some fruit juices have the ability to set up into jelly with no more than a nice, long boil. Chief among these juices are apple cider. When I first made this apple cider syrup, I accidentally cooked it to 220F and it set up into a nice, spreadable preserve.

The world of jellies really broad, but the thing that unifies them is the fact that they have a solidly spreadable set. If you didn’t read this post on using the plate test to check for set back in January, I recommend you give it a look now.

Here are some jelly recipes to help get you started. Of course, this is just a starting place. There’s a world of jelly recipes out there in books and online for you to choose from.

What is a Shrub?

I’ve been smitten with shrubs since I made my first one back in 2011. Shrubs are a combination of fruit, sugar and vinegar. Left to sit for a few days (or even longer), they develop a deep, sweet-tart flavor that is a wonderful addition to a glass of sparkling water, a batch of salad dressing, a fancy homemade cocktail, a marinade for meat or vegetables, or to a pan sauce.

There is better writer on the topic of shrubs than Michael Dietsch. He started in on the topic back in 2011 with this post on Serious Eats and has subsequently written a whole book about them. Emily Han‘s book, Wild Drinks and Cocktails, is also contains a lot of tasty shrubs.

I’ve got four shrub recipes here on the blog and there are far more out there online. However, if you remember the essential ratio of one part sugar, one part vinegar, and a generous handful of fruit of some kind, you’ll be good.

As always, I’ll be sharing more recipes, tips and tricks around the topic of jellies and shrubs on the blog all month long. The deadline to submit your project to be counted in the final tally is Wednesday, March 29 (I’ll put the form up soon).

I’m also doing a Facebook Live session on the topic on Thursday, March 9 at 9 pm Eastern/6 pm Pacific. Make sure to tune in!

 

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How to Submit Your Salt Preserve for the February #fijchallenge

We’re wrapping up the second week of making for the February Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. So many people have already shared their finished projects with me on Facebook and Instagram and it’s been so fun to see all of your salt preserving projects.

At the bottom of this page, you’ll find the form I’m using to collect this month’s projects (and if you don’t see it at the bottom of the page, you can also find it here). This month, there are four required fields. I’m asking you tell me is your name, the name of your project, the city where you live (just so we can see the kind of geographic distribution), mark a check-box telling me what category your preserve (or preserves, if you made more than one) fell into.

Those are the only details I need to count you among the participants, but like last month, more fields do exist on the form. There’s a space to share a link to your project. That link can go to a blog post, a specific picture on Instagram, a Tweet, a post on Tumblr, or to a picture on Flickr or Google Photos. Just remember that you need to set your privacy settings so that wherever your post is, it is publicly available.

With more than 1,600 people signed up for this challenge, I cannot do a comprehensive round-up. However, just like last month, I will do my very best to link out to as many people as I can, though.

Please remember that the deadline to submit your salt preserve in order to be counted in the monthly total is Monday, February 27 (because let’s face it, I’m not going to be working on the round-up until the 28th anyway).

Oh, and if you’ve been sitting on the fence about participating, I’ve expanded the March topic a little. We’re going to be making both jellies and shrubs. Join us!

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Lemon Lime Marmalade

One more marmalade for the January challenge. This small-ish batch of lemon lime marmalade is made over the course of three days. That better allows you to fit your preserving into your busy life!

lemons and limes for lemon lime marmalade

We’re beginning to wrap up our month of marmalades in the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge and I figured the best way to celebrate was with more marmalade! Lemon lime marmalade, to be precise. This is a batch I made about a week ago, over the course of three days (because marmalades are flexible like that).

fruit in a colander for lemon lime marmalade

For this batch, I picked up two pounds of organic lemons and limes from my neighborhood Trader Joe’s. There was a lot of talk about sourcing fruit for this month, and part of my goal with this recipe is to show that you don’t have to go crazy or spend a ton of money to get good fruit for preserving. I don’t remember how much I paid for these lemons and limes, but it was well south of $5.

rinsing fruit for lemon lime marmalade

Because grocery store citrus is often waxed to help retain moisture and freshness, I always give it a rinse with boiling water if I plan on using the zest or rind. I put a colander in the sink, fill it up with the fruit, bring a kettle to a boil, and then give the fruit a scalding bath. This helps remove any surface wax and gives you a aromatic steam facial, to boot.

fruit ready to simmer for lemon lime marmalade

After rinsing the fruit, I arranged it in a pan that was wide enough to hold it in a single layer. Filled with twice as much filtered water as I needed for the recipe (to ensure that there would be enough after evaporation), it went on the stove and simmered for about 45 minutes, until the rinds could easily be pierced with a fork.

cooked citrus for lemon lime marmalade

Once the fruit was cooked through, I turned off the heat and let it sit until cool. That was the end of the day one prep. I covered the pan and let it hang out on the back of the stove until the next day.

halved citrus for lemon lime marmalade

On day two, I pulled the fruit out of the pot and set it on a cutting board with a carved groove to catch any juices. I measured out four cups of cooking water to use in the marmalade and set to work breaking down the citrus. I positioned a fine mesh sieve over a bowl. With a piece of citrus in my left hand and a paring knife in the right, I cut the fruit open over that sieve.

Once about half the fruit was cut open, I scraped all the flesh (membranes and seeds included, but not the pith) into the sieve. I set the rind aside for a moment. Then I used the sieve to work through the pulp in order to remove the seeds. Once I was certain that all the seeds were removed, I poured the pulp into the bowl below. This process was repeated until all the deseeded pulp was in the bowl.

chopped rind for lemon lime marmalade

Then I chopped the rinds into strips. I like to take a couple empty rind halves, cut them in halves or quarters, make a neat stack, and chop through them. This keeps the task from becoming too tedious (but there’s always a little tedium in making marmalade. It’s just part of the gig).

combining ingredients in the pot for lemon lime marmalade

Once all the rinds were chopped, I heaped them in a five quart pot and added the four cups of reserved cooking water, all the pulp and juices from the bowl beneath the sieve, and four cups of sugar (I know it seems like a lot, but I was working with the 1:1:1 ratio. Two pounds of fruit, two pounds water (four cups = 32 ounces = 2 pounds), and two pounds of sugar (like the water, four cups = 32 ounces = 2 pounds).

I put a cover on the pot and slid it to the back of the stove to wait until morning.

prepped fruit in a five quart pot for lemon lime marmalade

On the morning of day three of the lemon lime marmalade, I took a picture of the prepared fruit in nice light and then got to cooking. I placed the pot on the stove, set the burner to high, and brought it to a boil. Once it started to roll, it boiled steadily for 35 minutes before it started nearing the set point.

I stirred occasionally at the start of cooking and regularly towards the end. Around minute 40, it reached 220 degrees F and was able to maintain that temperature even after being stirred. I also used the saucer test and looked at how the droplets were setting up on the spatula before calling it done.

wrinkling lemon lime marmalade

This batch was so eager to set up that it started to do it in the pot while I was taking these pictures (and truly, when I take pictures of a finished preserve in the pot, it only adds a couple minutes to the workflow. This pot wasn’t off the stove long). But you can see that as I tilted the pot a little, the surface wrinkled in the same manner we look for when using the plate/saucer test to check for set. Set mission accomplished.

seven jars of lemon lime marmalade

This batch yielded six half pints and one quarter pint. It’s pleasingly bitter and bracing. I made a batch of lemon chicken the other night and used a few spoonfuls to lend flavor to the quick-cooking dish. Easy and delicious!

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Mastery Challenge: Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade

Hey folks! Let’s welcome Alex Jones to the blog. She’s a friend and fellow Philadelphian who is coming on board as a regular contributor to Food in Jars (you’ll see her posts a couple times a month). She’ll be participating in the Mastery Challenge and will be sharing preserving tips and recipes from her West Philly kitchen. She’s kicking things off with a batch of Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade! ~Marisa

four small open jars of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade

Hello fellow canners! I’m Alex Jones, your new FIJ contributor. I write about and work with local foods, farmers, and makers in the Philadelphia area. Over the past several years, I’ve learned to preserve thanks in large part to Marisa’s blog, books, and classes, so it’s especially exciting to lend my voice to the blog.

For January’s Mastery Challenge, I knew I’d be incorporating some of my Lemon Ladies Meyer lemons, which have become a permanent line item on my Christmas wish list. After slicing and drying half my stash, turning some into thick, sliceable fruit cheese, and squeezing a few over seared day boat scallops, I had half a dozen lemons left to make into marmalade.

To fill out the recipe and add a rosy glow to the finished product, I grabbed an organic grapefruit that had been hanging out on my counter. In total, I had a little over two pounds of fruit, just enough to halve Marisa’s Three-Citrus Marmalade recipe and transform it into a batch of Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade.

I grabbed my peeler and my paring knife and got to work. The methodical process of zesting, trimming, supreme-ing, and chopping my lemons and grapefruit, as the canning pot warmed my kitchen and episodes of Scandal hummed in the background, was the perfect way to spend a cold January morning.

Ingredients in the pot for a batch of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade

I followed Marisa’s recipe as closely as possible — something I admit I don’t always do when in the throes of bulk fruit season — and for the most part, my results corresponded closely with her version. The main difference was around what for me is the most challenging aspect of making fruit preserves like this: achieving set.

I shy away from jam recipes that include store-bought pectin, as I often end up with an unappetizing, too-firm preserve, rather than the desired substantial-yet-stirrable set. But this marmalade recipe makes use of discarded bits of citrus — the seeds and membranes from the sections — as a gentle thickener.

Bubbles on the surface of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade as it cooks down

My Meyer lemon-grapefruit marmalade, cooked over medium-high gas heat in a 4-quart enameled cast iron Dutch oven, took 45 minutes to get to 220 degrees, at which point I began testing the set. It took another 17 minutes and 5 degrees before the marmalade passed the plate test. Constant stirring and testing every 5 minutes helped me avoid scorching the marmalade, another potential pitfall.

Four open jars of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade from the top

Before canning, I took care to remove the pot from the heat and stir for a full minute to keep the zest from floating at the top of the jar, a tip I somehow missed till now. It’s already paying off to revisit these techniques with intention!

After the processed jars had some time to cool off, I couldn’t resist popping open a quarter pint jar to check set and flavor. The texture was lovely — standing up on my knife but easy to spread — with tender bits of zest throughout. It tasted bright, sweet and sunny, with a hint of bitterness from the grapefruit to balance.

Finished jars of meyer lemon grapefruit marmalade

I might have to reconsider my usual policy of making fruit preserves for gifts only and allocate a jar or three of this Meyer Lemon Grapefruit Marmalade for my own use. That definitely makes the first month of the Mastery Challenge a success.

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