Posts Tagged gooseberries

Playing with pectin

This is the week when canning buddy and I hit the pick-your-own farm and come back in a car that smells like summer. Then we race to turn the soft fruit (usually strawberries and raspberries, sometimes currants and cherries as well) into countless jars of jam in the hope that it will remind us of summer right through a Canadian winter.

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But I’ve written about the summer can-o-rama before, and there’s a limit to how many times you I can brag about how many jars of jam we made (44 this year). I want to opine instead on the pectin problem, given that strawberries don’t have enough of it for a jam to set, and strawberry jam is up there on the list of must-have jars.

I am not a fan of how regular commercial pectin gives my jam a gelatinous feel, so I’m always in the market for a workaround. The addition of a kiwi fruit, recommended by the New York Times a few years back, produces a nice, soft strawberry jam, although you have to be careful to remove all the kiwi’s woody core, and the black seeds are mildly disconcerting, a gentle reminder that it’s not all strawberry. Other recipes suggest adding an apple (I tried that with a cherry jam one year and it ended up like cherry jam with apple sauce), and last month I hit the jackpot by adding home-made crabapple pectin to a strawberry jam, which produced a genuinely “wow” jam, which might be one of the best I’ve ever made.

But I’m out of crabapple pectin. In the course of a mad canning afternoon, we tried out four alternatives, all of which seem to work around the strawberry-set problem. I’ll add the ratings when I get round to opening the jars.

1. Strawberry jam with Pomona pectin.

I’ve read a lot about Pomona pectin on the interwebz, and fans say it offers the set without the sour, so you don’t need as much sugar and you don’t cook your jam as long. It’s a U.S. product, so I was sort of surprised to see it at the local health food store. Expensive, yes, but worth a go.

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Because it was the first time, we followed the recipe pretty slavishly for this one, mixing one of the two packets in the box to produce a calcium water, and then stirring the recommended volume of the pectin packet into the sugar before adding sugar/pectin to hot strawberries and boiling for another 1-2 minutes. It all seemed pretty vague — between 3/4 of a cup and two cups of sugar to four cups of mashed up strawberries — and Pomona said firmly that strawberries didn’t need the addition of lemon juice. But it was definitely worth a try.

It’s early days, but while the set was firm (too firm, perhaps?) I do admit the first taste was not as truly yummy as I thought it ought to be. Maybe strawberry jam needs the bitterness of lemon to bring out the strawberries? Or maybe 2-1/2 cups of sugar to 8 cups of fruit just wasn’t quite enough? We have eight jars. It’s still strawberry jam.

2. Strawberry-raspberry jam

Second workaround was one we’ve used many times before, mixing strawberries with pectin-rich raspberries (and lemons) for glorious burst of flavour. The first taste is raspberry, but then the strawberry creeps through, and it’s always a lovely set. We make this jam each year. No reason to stop now.

3. Strawberry-gooseberry jam

Recipe number 3 swapped out raspberries for gooseberries, which have even more pectin than raspberries do. And while the strawberry-raspberry jam used 3 cups each of strawberries and raspberries, the strawberry-gooseberry one was a ratio of 5:1, with a little extra sugar to cut the gooseberry bite. Nice set. Taste rating to come.

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4. Strawberry jam with gooseberry pectin

Then things got a little more experimental, and if the crabapple pectin worked so well, what about making a gooseberry pectin, which meant boiling the berries up with a little water, and then straining the juice out in a jelly bag. In an ideal world I’d have left the goop to drip overnight, but we wanted now. So we added two tablespoons of gooseberry pectin to 6 generous cups of strawberries, and jammed them up with 4 scant cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons. The taste is good. The gooseberry elixir adds a bitterness which I rather like, and you don’t have to top or tail the gooseberries, a sticky, frustrating and time-consuming task.

Plus there are 10 little ice cube trays of gooseberry pectin waiting for the next jam.

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We got five jars of that jam, but one jar had an accident in the waterbath. It’s only the second time that’s ever happened. Too many jars in the canner? A flaw in the jar?

Who knows. It was almost the end of the session, so we abandoned the idea of waterbathing the last 7 jars of pure raspberry jam and retired to the Ribfest up the street.

Despite that broken jar, it was a seriously successful day.

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Irritating little beasties

Gooseberries, as I have mused before, are an awful lot of work, especially when all you have is the tiny ones I stripped from the gooseberry bushes at the community garden this week. It doesn’t take long to pick them, and the thorns on the bushes are pretty easy to avoid (bitter memories of scratched arms/legs/hands from the black cap raspberries). But topping and tailing the little beasts is irritating and finicky, whether you use your fingernails or try with scissors, which is what one internet recipe suggested. But gooseberries do have a very distinctive taste, and if you boil them long enough they turn into a chewy, rust-red jam, so I wasn’t going to pass up on the chance. But there really were not many fruit left on the bushes. What was I going to do with a mere 375 grams of small red gooseberries?

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Luckily I had some leftover strawberries in the fridge, so I cleaned the gooseberries, chopped the strawberries (which weighed in at 275 grams), and mixed the fruit with the juice of a lemon and 450 grams of sugar for a quick-boil small-batch jam.

The result: three jars of pretty pink jam, which will probably flow nicely into yogurt — it’s a little on the runny side. But then I boiled it for less than 5 minutes, which even for high-pectin gooseberries maybe wasn’t quite enough.

But there’s something very magical about small-batch jams. A little taste of summer.

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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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Recipes that grow

There’s a definite rhubarb theme to the latest jamming misadventures, but with strawberries now crowding the market stalls it was time to try to recreate one of the successes of 2009, a tart squidgy strawberry rhubarb jam that won rave reviews last year. Except that, as always, I had no clue which recipe I used. That made it a little difficult.

Let’s just say that it definitely tastes different than it did last year, and the fruit is more separate, perhaps because it had a whole day macerating in sugar before it turned into jam. But I think it’s going to be rather nice. The recipe came from a British book that I’ve had mixed success with (it made a goosberry chutney that took forever to boil down and ended up tasting of vinegar), but it sounded worth trying. I cut the sugar a little, added an extra lemon and was ready to roll.

I admit I got a little suspicious when it needed all the rhubarb I had bought, and then some, but I guess I wasn’t thinking fast enough to halve the recipe. I added all the pectin I had left in the house, it seemed to set, in a rather runny sort of way.

But there are 10 jars of the concoction.

Anyone want a jar of somewhat runny strawberry, rhubarb, vanilla jam?

Moving on, without further delay, to a gooseberry strawberry jam. I only put 6 jars in the canner to sterilize, so it damn well has to be enough.

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Forget the gooseberry bush

It’s sad to admit that something doesn’t work, but I think this past summer was the first and the last canning season that I’m going to bother with gooseberries. First there was a gooseberry chutney that was all vinegary tartness and no taste, and now I opened up a jar of gooseberry jam that’s got a pleasant enough taste — a nice sweetness with a hint of tart — but too many seeds and a lot of scarily tough skins. Add to that the pain in the neck preparation of topping and tailing a gazillion tiny fruit, and I’m ready to say goodbye to gooseberries for good.

It’s a shame really. They were remarkably easy to pick, and perhaps that was part of the problem. In no time at all we had a couple of containers, which was far more than we had expected, and it made for a lot of jam and a lot of that indifferent chutney. But they were tiny, maybe a centimeter long, and that meant a lot of work getting them ready to cook.

Ratings:

Gooseberry chutney: 1 (out of 5) my lowest ranking to date, because all I could really taste was the vinegar
Gooseberry jam: 2 (out of 5). Nice enough taste, seriously good set, but just not worth the effort.

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