Posts Tagged crabapples

So very good

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Strawberry jam is always a little tricky, not the jam for a novice canner at all. Unless the fruit is seriously unripe, and hence only marginally tasty, strawberries are seriously short on pectin, which means it’s easy to make strawberry syrup, but distressingly difficult to make a strawberry jam that sets. My mother’s method was to boil stuff until the jam is almost brown, or giving up in despair and rushing out to get commercial pectin.

But I’m not a fan of commercial pectin — it adds a taste and a texture I don’t like — so I’m always looking for alternatives. For the last couple of years, I had a lot of success with the surprise addition of a kiwi fruit to a batch of jam (the little black seeds are marginally disconcerting, but you don’t taste the kiwi at all). But this year I discovered a few cubes of homemade crabapple pectin languishing in the bottom of the freezer.
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If I threw one of those into the mix toward the end of the boil, would my jam set? And what about the taste?

After three quick batches of strawberry jam, two of them with mint, I report astonishing success. This jam is deep rich red, with satisfying chunks of fruit. It mounds pleasantly on the spoon, rather than drizzling down the sides, and it tastes of summer. All I need to do is boil up more crabapple pectin later this summer, and I’m good to go.

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Strawberry jam

6 generous cups strawberries
4 slightly skimpy cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
1-2 tbsp finely chopped mint (optional)
1 cube of crabapple pectin

Wash and hull the strawberries, and cut them into halves or quarters. Add sugar and lemon juice and allow to sit while you prepare the next batches of fruit. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, and then bring to a rolling boil for five minutes. Add the pectin and boil for another five minutes or so. Test for set, bottle in clean jars, waterbath for 10 minutes.

Try not to eat it all at once.

Rating: 4.999 (out of 5)

I admit I didn’t skim off all the foam, so there are little white flecks in some of the jars, which means it wouldn’t win any competitions at the Ex. But what’s a fleck or two between frends. This jam is knock your socks off awesome.

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Don’t throw them away

I bought the last of the tiny Concord grapes this weekend, and then realized they are crowded with large, inedible seeds. Not my favourite, and the spouse said he wasn’t going to eat them either. That left two options: toss them; or make grape jelly. I hate wasting food, so I started simmering the fruit before I realized I had no jars in the pantry, and before I started looking up recipes, most of which say you should prep the fruit before you boil it by popping the fruit from the skins and making the jelly in two stages. No matter. I made redcurrant jelly with redcurrants on the stem. I can do the same for grapes.

The recipes also called for pectin, which I don’t like. I threw in a couple of my pectin cubes from the freezer, added the juice of a lemon and winged it.


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Concorde grape jelly

Wash grapes, add a little water and simmer until they are soft and some of the seeds and skins start floating to the surface. Strain overnight in a jelly bag, then squeeze out the juice. Measure the juice (I had just under five cups) and add the same volume of sugar, plus the juice of one lemon. I added two of my pectin cubes as well — they are less bitter than the pectin in the stores, but don’t provide that gelatinous set either. Boil until it seems to set — it was probably six or eight minutes. Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath.

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Thoughts:

  • It’s a deep, deep purple, and must be one of the most beautiful jellies I’ve ever made
  • Two crabapple pectin cubes seem to be enough for my basket of Concord grapes to bubble their way to a loose set after about six minutes of rolling boil
  • Those recipes mean business when they order you not to use more than 5 cups of grape juice at a time. This bubbled to at least twice the volume during the rolling boil. Any more and it would have bubbled out of the pan
  • The 1:1 ratio of juice to sugar seems awful sweet to me, but then bought grape jelly is sweet as well
  • I have no idea how we’re ever going to get through the 500ml jar, but the smaller jars (three @250ml and one @125ml) are more promising
  • Unless the spouse falls in love with grape jelly, and unless I can find a way to cut the sweetness significantly, I may not make this again

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5)

On reflection, this is actually rather good, although I will probably never be a huge fan of grape jelly. Jelly needs a fruit with more attitude than grapes, methinks, which is why it works with crab apples, or red currants. But if I was choosing between this or Welch’s bland and anaemic grape jelly on my PBJ sandwich, I’ll take this any day. And the spouse loves is.

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Free food

I’m not a great fan of  paying $5 at the market for a very small basket of ripe, red crabapples, and when the spouse noted that the trees by his office were groaning with bright red fruit I put out a plea for some after-work gleaning. Next evening, there were two big baskets of the little red beauties, just waiting to be turned to something nice to eat. And crabapples are so laden with pectin that they make a beautiful red jelly with hardly any work.

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The method goes something like this. Wash your crabapples and chop off any rotten bits, and maybe halve the bigger apples. Then almost cover them with water and let them simmer away for 20 minutes or so until they are meltingly soft, but not quite melted away. The riper the crabapples, the redder the mush, and these babies were very ripe indeed.

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Then you pour your crabapple mush into a jelly bag and let it drip into a bowl for a good few hours (or even overnight). The recipes warn you not to squeeze the last drops of juice out of the jelly bag because you’ll get a cloudy jelly, but I admit I always ignore that one. I’m not aiming to win any prizes with my jelly, and I squeeze things as hard as I dare without busting the jelly bag. I hate to think of all that wonderful juice ending up in the compost along with the pulp.

Measure out the juice, and add anywhere between half and 3/4 the amount of sugar — I had four cups of juice, so that meant two and a bit cups of sugar, and it made almost four jars of jelly. Heat your jelly slowly until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil untl it sets. I didn’t time my boil, but I’m sure it was less than 10 minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Ever so easy, and oh, so pretty.

crab3I still had some fruit left over, so I switched to a quick batch of ice-cube pectin, which I made a few years back and then used to help force a set with low-pectin fruit like cherries and strawberries. Last time my little cubes were pretty pink and today they are ruby red, but I’m sure they’ll work the same way. There’s enough natural sugar in the mix that they don’t freeze rock hard, so I’m going to saran wrap my little cubes and store them in a Ziploc. I’ve not used commercial pectin for a long, long time, and see no reason to start using it now.

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There’s something very special about free food.

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Almost black

Canning buddy and I braved the hot kitchen in the Toronto heatwave for a quick jamming burst this week, with a jam from a mix of sweet and sour cherries because that’s what I picked up on a trip to the Niagara cherry country. I stoned them the night before, and left them in the fridge overnight with sugar according to the simple 3:2:1 formula that I’ve used for almost all my jams this year. That means 3/6/9 (generous) cups of fruit, 2/4/6 (skimpy) cups of sugar and the juice of 1/2/3 lemon(s), depending on how much fruit you have.

Cherries are low in pectin, and all the recipes suggest adding a pack or a pouch of powdered or liquid pectin to encourage the jam to set.  I try to avoid commercial pectin — it gives me too firm a set — so am always seeking other options. Last year we tried adding apples to a cherry vanilla jam, which was sort of meh, but we had amazing success with adding a kiwi fruit to a strawberry jam earlier this year. (I opened one jar straight away because the seal didn’t take, for some reason, and it’s very, very yummy. A 4-1/2 out of five at least.)

But this year I had some home made pectin to play around with, after an experiment last summer boiling down a couple of pounds of crabapples into a pretty, pink syrup that I froze to pretty pink cubes. We threw two pectin cubes our cherry syrup after 5 minutes of a rolling boil, and Eureka! Five more minutes of boiling and we had an almost black jam with a fairly firm set. It’s a very good cherry jam.

I will add one reality check, and after years of trying to like cherry-flavored stuff, I am forced to admit that cherry jam will never be my favorite. I don’t like the chewy texture, and I don’t like the taste of cooked cherries all that much.

Am I alone in not really liking cherry jam?

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Blueberries with fennel

It’s a little alarming when you have an idea for a jam and Google offers no recipe suggestions at all. Does it mean nobody has ever thought of this one? Or does it mean that somebody did think of it, and it was so evil that they refuse to write about it?

But ever since my surprise success with a plum fennel jam I’ve wanted to use more of those pretty fennel flowers in jam. We had more blueberries after another stint at the pick-your-own farm, so I decided to try a small batch, just to see. Apart from anything else, it gave me a chance to see if my little cubes of home-made crabapple pectin would encourage things to set. It’s a sour pectin, so it might take some of the sweetness off the blueberry jam as well.

Blueberry fennel jam
4 cups blueberries
3 cups sugar
juice of 2 lemons
3 tbsp of crabapple pectin (I think the jam would have set just fine without it)
a handful of fennel flowers, chopped almost to powder

Mix all the ingredients except the fennel together and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Boil like crazy until it sets. Add the fennel. Bottle in sterilized jars.

It made three jars, and a little bit of leftovers to give me an early taste.

I’m keeping this one in the fridge because I actually forgot to add the fennel, so threw it into my rapidly-cooling jam just before I bottled it. I don’t know if this will encourage something nasty to grow, but I didn’t have time to waterbath, and I don’t want to take the risk.

Early rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5)
It’s a nice set and a deep purple color, but I can barely taste the aniseed of the fennel.

And after the glories of jams from apricots, raspberries and strawberries earlier in the year, I think blueberries, like cherries, are best eaten fresh.

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Pretty, pretty pectin

Pectin, as I understand the science of jams and canning, is the magic ingredient that makes the difference between a hard set and no set at all in jams and jellies. But food control freak that I am, I’ve never been a fan of adding commercial pectin to jam because I like to know exactly what I’m using and I don’t like the gluey, overset texture that commercial pectin seems to give. I don’t mind a syrupy jam anyway– I spoon it into plain, Greek yogurt or pour it over ice cream — and I’d rather throw a grated apple or a handful of redcurrants into a jam from a pectin-poor fruit and encourage things to set this way.

But our latest blueberry picking venture took place at a farm with crabapple trees lining the driveway, and the thought of making my own pectin seemed a little too good to miss. It took about a minute to pick half a punnet of crabapples, and another 30 to simmer the roughly chopped fruit (peels, stems, seeds and all) down to a  glorious pink mush with a cup or so of water. Then I strained it through cheesecloth for an hour or so, squeezed the gunk out as hard as I could without tearing the cheesecloth, and measured the gooey liquid into ice cube trays so I could freeze it and use as needed.

I don’t know if the pectin works, but the little iced-pectin jello cubes are really rather pretty.

Blueberry-something jam is on the agenda for this week, perhaps with a cube or two of home-made pectin to try to encourage a set.

Watch this space for details.

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This is not a chutney

Instead, let me present today’s result of a semi professional cooking class that I started this fall, a crab quiche with a crumbly all-butter pastry, and I’m damn well going to eat it with a chutney. Besides it gives me an excuse to update an almost dormant blog with some ratings from a summer of canning and jamming, with a few stars and a couple of so-whats. There already were wonderful successes like tomato basil jam, and the peach peppercorn concoction I took to Santa Fe for sharing there. But what about everything else we made?

Here some comments (in alphabetical order, to avoid any semblance of favoritism for the jars that I really liked.)

Apricot lemon chutney: 4 (out of 5)
This was a bit less chunky than last year, perhaps because the apricots were riper and fruitier. It is a glorious yellow orange, with soft lemon rinds adding a welcome tang and enough heft to pair even with the strongest cheese. I’m rather fond of it with with a creamy goat cheese for a lunchtime sandwich, preferably with avocado or arugula too. But it still needs a bit more zip.

Apple onion relish: 2 (out of 5)
It may be too early to judge this one — we only made it a couple of weeks ago — but it strikes me as not quite rewarding the 2-day process. You slice onions wafer thin and salt them, soak them overnight, rinse, squeeze, rinse, repeat, then add the other ingredients, including two sorts of apples at two stages of the cooking process. It’s nice enough, with a five-spice tang. But so many other things are so much better.

Apricot redcurrant jam: 4 (out of 5)
Also a good set and a lovely apricot tang. It loses a point because the redcurrants in our made-up recipe really only add color and not taste.

Crabapple jelly: 2-1/2 (out of 5)
I made two small batches of this one, and while I’ve only tasted one, I also admit to being a little disappointed. There’s something very satisfying about a jam (or jelly) where most of the ingredients were free, gleaned from a crabapple tree by the side of the road. But it’s a little too sweet and a little too solid. Maybe wild crabapples need to be treated differently from the ones you buy in the store.

Crushed tomatoes
I’m not rating these, because they just taste of very nice crushed tomatoes. But I admit I love the idea that I made them, and I know exactly what went into them. I’ve used two jars in two somewhat different soups, and both were good. Depending on how many soups I make, they may even last out the winter. Something to make again, perhaps in larger quantity.

Pickled fruit 2 (out of 5)
I think I threw a few too many things in this one, with allspice berries, dried orange peel, peppercorns, cinnamon and I can’t remember what else. It works in my breakfast cereal when there’s no stewed fruit to add, but it’s not really special enough to make again. It used a mixture of peaches and plums, canned in vinegar-spice-sugar syrup and it’s a bit of a disappointment. But there’s only one jar left, so it can’t be all bad.

Plum ginger jam: 4 (out of 5)
Careful here. I admit I’m critiquing a jam that canning buddy made. Nice taste, nice color, nice set with seriously big chunks of pleasantly crunchy preserved ginger. But ginger fan that I am, I’m somehow not 100 percent sure about those chunks. I’m voting for grated raw ginger next time.

Raspberry redcurrant jam: 3-1/2 (out of 5)
This was a 2009 jam that somehow managed not to get eaten last year. I think we used redcurrant juice with the raspberries, and they added a welcome tartness. But while the taste is knock your socks off awesome, it actually lost points for being too dense. It’s a bit ironic really, after all those complaints about jams running off the plate. But I like a jam that I can spread, not one that I can cut with a knife.

Strawberry gooseberry jam: 4-1/2 (out of 5)
Saving the best for last, and this one reminds me of summer, with the sharpness of the gooseberries combining well with the strawberry sweetness, and probably giving several extra notches of set as well. It’s a nice rich red with a lot of satisfying fruity lumps, but I can’t quite give it the jackpot, perhaps because jammed strawberries have a slightly overdense texture. But I’ll make this one again. It’s too good not to.

Any requests for next year?

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