Tag Archives | urban preserving

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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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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