Posts Tagged mint

Four-way strawberries

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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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Spendidly special strawberries

Strawberries are a slightly quirky fruit — not the best jam for the beginner — because they don’t contain much pectin and have this distressing tendency to turn to syrup rather than to jam. But my last strawberry jam, a last-minute marriage of strawberries, rhubarb and mint, was amazingly delicious, with a rich, red glow, a beautiful, soft set and a delicate taste of mint. Could I repeat that magic? Can I get a strawberry jam to set without using bought pectin, which I try to avoid because I don’t like the texture it offers.

Cue a recipe from the New York Times last year, which suggests adding a pectin-rich kiwi fruit to the mix. We made two batches with mint and one with lavender, and wow are these yummy. Lovely soft set, deep red color, beautiful fresh taste. The first jam was a little sweet, so we doubled the lemon for the second batch as we jammed our way through a generous eight pounds of fruit. For the first batch, we put the sprigs of mint in at the start, and fished them out at the end, as per the recipe. For the second we chopped the mint up really fine and threw it in at the end. I think the taste is better that way. The boil was far less than the 35-40 minutes the NYT says it will be.

The only problem: Our three batches of jam, two using three pounds of fruit (and three cups of sugar) and one with two pounds of fruit and two cups of sugar, produced a can’t-divide-by-two 11 jars. “There will be blood on the streets,” I muttered, before canning buddy graciously allowed me to take the extra jar, given that I picked the fruit, and will give a couple of jars to the friend who took me out there, helped me pick and drove me home.

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Here’s our take on the recipe.

Strawberry mint (or lavender) jam)
3 pounds strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 cups sugar
1 kiwi fruit, peeled and diced
Juice of 1 (or 2) lemons
4 sprigs of mint (or lavender), stems removed and leaves chopped finely

Put the strawberries in a big pan with the sugar, lemon juice and kiwi fruit, and leave them to sit while you prepare the next batches of fruit. (The recipe says at least 2 hours, we didn’t have that sort of time, and it didn’t seem to matter.) Heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it sets. Stir often — this jam stays liquid (and very foamy) for a longish while, and the foam suddenly vanishes and it starts to set. Take it off the boil, stir in the chopped herbs, wait for 2-3 minutes to let the fruit settle a bit, and then bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath for 10 minutes.

The very detailed  recipe says boil the jam until it reaches 210F on a candy thermometer, but I’ve never managed to make the candy thermometer idea work. Instead, we test our jam for set by putting a small blob on a cold plate and seeing if you can draw your finger through and leave a gap. But you also get a good idea from how easy it is to stir. And even a syrupy jam works just fine with plain yogurt, which is my preferred way of using up my jams anyway.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Boring, I know, but it’s another drop-dead delicious jam.

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Strawberries start the season

My new gig this year is volunteering at the local community garden, which involves hard work, grubby feet and an unpredictable stash of organic produce. This week I scored a little container of small, sweet strawberries, a few stalks of slightly woody rhubarb and a couple of sprigs of mint. The plan was to stew the rhubarb and eat the strawberries, but at the last minute I veered off into jam, supplementing the precious community garden strawberrries with a few from the farmers’ market.

Getting ready to jam. The little pink squares are my home-made crab apple pectin.

But how was I going to get that jam to set, given that both strawberries and rhubarb are low in pectin, and I had neither commercial pectin (which I try not to use anyway) nor a kiwi fruit, which was my 2013 revelation after the New York Times printed a recipe that used a kiwi as pectin for a stunning strawberry jam?

Cue the last two cubes of my home-made crab apple pectin, which I froze in ice cube trays a long, long time ago — that’s the little pink squares mixed in with the fruit in the picture.

It worked. I have a deep red jam with a soft set and a delicate taste of mint.

Recipe, more for me than for anyone else, given that I suspect it’s rare to have ice cubes of home-made pectin in the freezer.

Strawberry rhubarb jam

3 cups strawberries, washed and chopped to chunks
2 cups chopped rhubarb
3 cups sugar
Juice of two lemons
2 cubes of home made pectin (or use a kiwi)
3 sprigs of mint, chopped very finely

Let the fruit, lemon juice and sugar macerate for an hour or so until the juices flow. Add the pectin (or kiwi) and head, gently until the sugar melts, and then at a rolling boil until it drizzles rather than pours off the spoon and you can run your finger through a blob on a cold saucer and leave a jamless streak. Stir in the mint, and leave for a few minutes so the fruit settles (I am told this prevents the fruit from floating to the top of the jar), and then bottle in sterilized jars.

This gave me 3-1/2 jars of jam, so I decided not to waterbath them. Instead, I turned the jars upside down for a few minutes after I put the rings on, and I listened happily as they sealed with a satisfying pop. I can always keep them in the fridge.

Can I open one of my three jars now, or do I have to use up the 2013 jam stash first?

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

I opened a jar. This jam is amazing. Absolutely, totally, utterly amazing.

 

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Now what did I do?

I wish I could remember what went into this latest batch of bread and butter pickles.

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I started, as always, with my yellowing copy of the NY Times food section from last July, which offers an easy, but oversweet recipe from a “make-em-don’t-buy-em” section on things to go with burgers. It’s one of those “tweak now” recipes that makes enough pickles to store in the fridge for a week or so. I love it.

There have been many experiments with this one, but I almost always add more vinegar than the recipe says, some sliced up garlic and a lot less sugar (probably only half the amount the recipe says). And I throw in herbs and spices according to mood or based on what’s in the pantry or the garden.

But the latest iteration is quite possibly the best I’ve ever made, with a chilli kick, the coolness of mint and a pink glow that came because I used the pickling brine I had left over from a couple of batches of pickled beets rather than mixing sugar, vinegar and spice anew. I know I added chilli, mint and mustard seeds, but can I ever make it work again?

My mother never followed recipes either. I guess I inherited the just-be-clueless gene.
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