Posts Tagged food

Pickled blueberries: sweet but strange

blueberries2July/August is blueberry season in this part of the world, and this blog is full of reminders about the sheer speed of making blueberry jam, which has to be the easiest jam on the planet to get to set. You simmer the berries briefly with a little water, add sugar and lemon juice (or lime juice), boil the mix for a few short minutes and watch to be sure that the jam doesn’t set so firm that you can cut it with a knife.

So this year, as well as making two 5-jar batches of blueberry jam (one batch with lemon juice and one with limes), I tried my hand at a jar (and a bit) of pickled blueberries, halving the recipe from Food in Jars because I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. It was far easier than pie. Boil up a syrup of vinegar, sugar, water and ginger, add blueberries and boil some more, bottle, seal and waterbath. Nothing difficult about this one.

All I can say is half the recipe is enough. The Food in Jars picture shows pinkish blueberries suspended in a dark syrup, but I ended up with a rather liquid jam, as the berries popped into the sweet-sour syrup. I tasted my bit-of-a-jar with a nice sheep cheese, and yes, it looks quite pretty.

Blueberries1But I can’t taste the ginger at all, and the vinegar/sugar mix has drowned out the subtle flavour of the blueberries, a fruit that may not have enough oomph to handle pickling like this. I’m glad I tried it, but it’s not something I plan to make again.

blueberries3.jpgThe silver lining? There’s pickling syrup left over for when I get some nice ripe blue plums or golden peaches (fruits that do handle the pickling treatment well). Or I can mix that syrup with sparkling water for a refreshing summer drink called a shrub.

Silly me. I thought shrubs were the plants I had in the back yard, not the acidic syrup I put in a summer drink. Or even a blueberry bush/shrub.

 

 

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Not so plummy

A while back, as we completed the eco-friendly renovation of our two-candle home, I persuaded the spouse that we needed a couple of fruit trees in our pocket-handkerchief backyard. After mild debate, and total inability to find a greengage tree supplier anywhere in Ontario, we settled on a plumcot, which was billed as a high-yield, plum-apricot hybrid with a delicate taste and the ability to resist a Canadian winter, as well as two cherry-plum hybrids called chums.

But we’ve had that tree for about five years now, and I’m definitely not feeling the love. For the first couple of years we had no fruit at all, and then the squirrels climbed in and devoured the few green/yellow orbs that survived frost, rain and polar vortex. There was a lot more fruit this year, and I started to get my hopes up. But even before they ripened those damn squirrels knocked dozens off the tree, leaving sad, green fruit rotting on the ground. We picked the two baskets of what was left and let them ripen indoors, only to end up with an almost tasteless yellow-red clingstone plum. Not nice enough to eat, too few to freeze, so I decided on one small batch of jam, as the deciding factor on whether we keep the tree.

The verdict. Yes, my plumcots boil down quickly into a well-set, if curiously cloudy jam, with a pleasantly tart taste (from the lemon, perhaps?) and an interesting aroma that’s apricot as much as plum. But I don’t think it’s worth the effort of tending the tree, which isn’t a particularly good-looking specimen anyway. Time to cut our fruit tree losses and move on? But how do we get rid of the root, and what will we plant in its stead?


The good news. Our backyard raspberry patch had a few iffy years as well, especially after we dug the canes up so we could run the wiring for a fast charger for the spouse’s new electric car. But this year they are doing well, and I’m enjoying raspberries on cereal, with yogurt and fresh off the canes. Of course it’s not really a glut. You can never have too many raspberries.

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Four-way strawberries

strawberry_170630

Strawberries are tricky. Definitely one of the yummiest summer fruits around, and perhaps the nicest jam of all (except for all the others). But they are so low in pectin, the magic ingredient that makes jam set, that it’s always a gamble whether you’re going to end up with jam or syrup. Or a sweet, tasty liquid with strawberry lumps.

Last year canning buddy and I had a bold day of experimenting with various pectin options, which included the much-vaunted Pomona pectin (which is surprisingly hard to find in Canada) as well as using raspberries, gooseberries and home-made gooseberry pectin to ensure a set. I didn’t like the Pomona pectin jam at all. Low suger, it’s true, and a good, if firm set. But I didn’t like the taste. This year was a little less experimental, but mostly successful, with a fast and simple race through strawberry jam, four ways. The method and the fruit-jam-lemon ratio was the same for all of them, but there were tweaks to the pectin and the flavourings.

Fruit-jam ratio: Seven cups of chopped up fruit (our traditional ratio would call for 6, but we added an extra cup this year.); 4 not quite full cups sugar; juice of two lemons.

Basic method: Mix fruit, lemon juice and sugar and allow it to sit around for as much time as you have. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil for at least 10 minutes. It will foam madly at the start — use a big, big pot. But the foam dies down as the boil goes on. Add whatever you are using for pectin and boil for another 5 minutes or so until it seems to set. Add any extra flavourings and boil a little longer. Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath for 10 minutes.

Strawberry, kiwi, mint (5 jars)

This is based on a New York Times recipe, which uses one and a half finely chopped kiwis for the pectin that the strawberries lack (and adds that kiwi right at the start, as opposed to the later-on addition in the basic recipe). Finely chopped mint goes in at the end. It’s very good, although the little black specks of kiwi can be marginally disconcerting.

Strawberry lemon (5 jars)

Add the zest of three lemons before you start cooking the jam. It’s an interesting flavour, although I’m not sure yet whether I really like it. We used a cube of last year’s frozen gooseberry pectin toward the end of the boil and yes, it set. We could have used kiwi instead, or crabapple pectin. (Must make more of that this year.)

Strawberry balsamic pepper (5 jars)

Also with a cube of frozen gooseberry pectin for set (use a kiwi as an alternative). Add 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar and about 1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper about five minutes before the end. Very yummy, with a lovely pepper kick that reminds me of the hugely successful peach white pepper jam we’ve made several times.

Strawberry rhubarb (6 jars)

With gooseberry pectin again (or kiwi). It’s a lovely taste combination because you get the sweetness of the strawberry and the tartness of the rhubarb. We used 4 cups strawberries and three of rhubarb. I think.

 

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More red magic

 

My “where’s the jam” crisis is now officially over, thanks to a smallish batch of strawberry-rhubarb jam with the first of the glorious Ontario strawberries. It’s the first time I’ve made strawberry anything jam in what was still a Canadian May, and it quells the fear that I might run out of home made jam before this year’s canning season.

I can relax now.

Having said that, it was a slightly strange venture, with a jam that foamed madly at the start and settled down quickly to something that passed my set test after just five minutes of a rolling boil, separating nicely on a chilled plate and feeling very jam-like in the pan. Except that it didn’t, and it wasn’t. This turns out to be a runny jam that will work in yogurt or ice cream rather than on bread, probably because both strawberries and rhubarb are pretty low in pectin and I didn’t add any of the bought or home-made stuff. I don’t see that as a problem, because most of my jam ends up in yogurt anyway, and it’s definitely thicker than the gingery melon syrup I made a few years back. And it’s also a very, very tasty jam, sweet yet tart at the same time. But it is a little curious.

What I did:

Rhubarb-strawberry jam (makes 5 jars, almost)

350g rhubarb, washed, trimmed and chopped
600g strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 lemons, juiced
750g sugar

Mix all the ingredients and let the fruit/sugar mix sit for a couple of hours until the juices start to flow.

Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, and then at a full, rolling boil until it sets. It foamed like crazy at first, rising half way up the very large pan. But it settled down eventually, and there was only a little foam left to skim off at the end.


Test for a set by spooning a blob onto a chilled plate. If the blob stays apart when you run your finger through it, you have a set. It did, and I didn’t, even though I kept the boil going for another couple of minutes after the supposedly successful test. No clue why.

Skim off any remaining foam (which is amazingly good on bread), and bottle the jam in sterilized jars. Waterbath for 10 minutes, or just keep the jars of crimson magic in the fridge. The hot jars sealed quite nicely, even without waterbathing, and there’s a decent amount of sugar and lemon juice in this anyway.

(USDA recommends water baths, so I suppose I do too, theoretically at least.)

Enjoy.

 

 

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Changing my life 

If I’m honest, it was the one-pot-does-everything idea that attracted me to my new toy, the Instant Pot, because I liked the idea of getting rid of a bunch of single-task stuff and still being able to simmer oatmeal, slow-cook beets and fast-cook chickpeas for hummus.
But after just two weeks as a member of the IP cult, I realize that the yogurt it makes has the potential to change my life. This a smooth, creamy yogurt, which I make with full-fat, organic milk and strain just long enough for a medium firm consistency. (It works both for me and for the “I don’t like Greek yogurt” spouse.) I add it to my morning oatmeal, for a spoonful of tang, and then eat it by the bowlful with a generous dollop of jam. He mixes his with hemp seeds and maple syrup and takes it into work. The only problem is making it fast enough and often enough that we don’t run out.


The recipe, if you can call it such, is beyond simple. Heat milk in the pot until it gets to 180F (or a bit more), cool it back down to 115F (or a bit less) – experts suggest placing the inner pot in a sink of cold water and whisking the hot milk to cool it down. Add starter (basically a tablespoon of the previous batch), and then leave the pot of milk on the yogurt setting overnight to let the bacteria do their stuff. Come morning I strain the yogurt for an hour or so for a set that’s half way between regular yogurt and Greek yogurt. You need almost nothing: strainer, cheesecloth, thermometer and a container to store the yogurt when it’s done.


No muss, no fuss, true perfection.

The bonus: the leftover whey is perfect for bread and for that amazing Ottolenghi chocolate babka. I even added some to a pasta casserole instead of milk.

My life will never be the same again.

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The cult of Instant Pot

It’s a cult, I tell you, these Instant Pots. One pot to rule them all, and in the darkness bind them in the Land of Mordor, where the shadows lie. Sorry. Wrong genre. I got a little carried away.*

But how else do you explain the appeal of the latest foodie gizmo, a single gadget that functions as a slow cooker, rice cooker, pressure cooker, vegetable steamer, sauté pan and yogurt maker? It boils eggs, makes cheesecake and would probably tie my shoelaces if I asked it nicely. I mused for a few days whether I wanted one, and the spouse upped and bought it, even though I assured him he had already bought me a very generous birthday present. Today it arrived. And the adventure began.

I admit the warnings, both on the pot, and in the Facebook Instant Pot Community (414,174 members as of today), are pretty daunting, and I read horror stories of people storing their gadget on the stove, and then switching a burner on (cue melted pot), or pouring liquid into the pot’s housing rather than into the pot itself (the electronics don’t seem to like that much). It has more buttons than a microwave, and a lot of very irritating beeps, marking the on-off moments, the up-to-pressure moments and the what-if-I-change-my-mind moments. So in a day of get-to-know you experiments, I boiled water, hard-boiled (hard-steamed?) four eggs, almost followed the Instant Pot recipe book for a distressingly tasteless dal and cooked a cup of brown rice. I’m not hooked yet, but I’m definitely curious. This adventure could be fun.

I’ll skim over the pressure-cooked water, which is the recommended way to test that the pot is working as advertised, and the eggs, which admittedly did peel very nicely after pressure steaming according to the internet’s consensus 5:5:5 rule. Put eggs on trivet, slosh half a cup of water into the pot, then cook for five minutes at pressure, wait five minutes on keep-warm mode to let the pressure come down a bit and then cool for five minutes in cold water. The lentil dish (lentils, onions, garlic, red pepper, spices, apple cider, water and home-canned tomatoes) was very quick and very easy, but it definitely needed a lot more oomph, as well as a very generous dose of salt. This was a recipe with no salt and no fat, both of which add taste, and I consider the recipe a fail. I should have trusted my instincts and used the saute function to fry my onions/garlic/pepper mix before adding the other ingredients. And I should have added more (and different) spices.

Then I followed the instruction manual’s recipe for “perfect brown rice” which called for a ratio of 2.5 cups of water to 1 cup of rice. Hmm. My rice tasted good, but it had not absorbed all its cooking water after the recommended 22 minutes at pressure and then 14 on keep-hot mode. Was my rice to old, or was the recipe (which was also lacking salt) wonky? I’ll never know, but I will try again, and I certainly liked the cooking speed.

Conclusions: Ignore the confusing buttons and do everything manually, and add salt to everything to taste. The eggs are very, very easy, and yes, the peel well. I have not figured out a final answer to the tasteless dal – the sealed lid of the pressure cooker means you can’t just taste your dish as it cooks. But I’ll get there. It definitely wasn’t bad.

Any favourite things out there that I should be doing when I play with the new toy?

*Apologies to Tolkien fans.

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Oranges, meet salt

The challenge over at Food in Jars is all about salt preserving this month, and the discussion centres on whether there’s enough stuff to keep the 1000-plus canners going all month. Marisa has a number of suggestions, including salted egg yolks (???) and an intriguing sounding vegetable stock base. But the thing that everyone keeps coming back to is preserved lemons, which I’ve made several times and always enjoy.

But for me this challenge is all about learning and experimenting, so I’m going for salt preserved oranges, because … why not? It was quick, although it will take a few weeks before I open the jar and decide about the taste.

I started by cutting two organic navel oranges into segments, dipping them in kosher salt and cramming them into a 1-pint Mason jar. Add orange juice to cover, seal and store in the fridge for a month or more to let the flavours develop. If I remember, I’ll turn the jar over a few times to mix the salt and fruit, but I’ll probably forget. I seem to have lost my little plastic lid for Mason jars, so I put a layer of plastic film between jar and lid, in the hope that will stop things rusting too fast — a salt/acid combination can pretty much destroy a ring/lid combination.

Worst case scenario.

Preserved oranges turn out to be sort of indifferent, and I don’t make them again.

Best case scenario.

They are new and wonderful, and I make them week after week after week after week, putting them in soups, stews, hummus and anything else that can do with a citrus tang.

Bonus scenario.

I zested the orange I was juicing to cover the fruit, and mixed that with the remaining kosher salt in a no-waste effort to make some citrus salt. No clue what I’ll use that for either, but again, it’s an experiment. If it doesn’t work I’m out a couple of ounces of salt.

Now comes the waiting.

 

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