Posts Tagged preserves

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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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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Doing a little different

A long while ago, canning buddy and I made a slightly caramelized marmalade with some brown sugar for colour, and whisky thrown in at the last second, supposedly for taste. But we never tried it again, for reasons I can no longer remember.

Cue this week’s experiment, an after-work celebration of the fact that the Seville oranges have finally, finally, finally made it to Toronto. Two batches, one with mostly brown sugar, one only with white, and both are pretty damn awesome. I know this because a jar of each marmalade failed to seal properly after their moment in the water bath, forcing me to open and taste both jars before storing the leftovers in the fridge. These are almost the first no-seal jars. Did I take them out of the water bath too early? Fill them too full? Not finger tighten the rings hard enough before the water bath? Who knows. It just means more marmalade to eat right now.

I’m not going to go through the recipe in detail here, because it’s basically the same as the five (!) batches of marmalade I’ve already made this month (Meyer lemon, Cara-Meyer, a mini grown-in-Ontario batch of what was probably calamondin, a mixed orange-lemon marmalade in Florida and a delicate Meyer-blood orange mix that I didn’t blog about).

The method uses equal weights of fruit, sugar and water, with a pre-boil, a slicing of the peels and then a rolling boil until it sets. It’s a method from Marisa at Food in Jars and it usually works. One of the latest batch was regular Seville orange marmalade — with a kilo of white sugar and the same weight in Seville oranges (and one lemon). For the second I used the same amount of fruit, but 650g of brown sugar and 350 of white. It very, very dark — almost a chocolate rather than an orange with a taste that’s almost burnt.

And this time, the set was just about perfect, as opposed to the slightly too runny Cara-Meyer marmalade and the rather well set Meyer lemon mix that started this year’s marmalade season.

I like.

Next up: a Daily Telegraph recipe for marmalade with the addition of black treacle (Britain’s bittersweet and gooey answer to North American molasses), and a blog on using up marmalade. There’s a lot to use.

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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.


gra2

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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Plenty of plums

I missed a month of canning and jamming on the bike trip of a lifetime last month, so there are some jams that just won’t happen this year. I don’t think it matters — the storage shelves are creaking with jam already — but I do want to step up the pickles, add to the chutney collection and save those wonderful late summer/autumn fruits that are starting to arrive, a couple of weeks later than in a normal year.

Last week we canned peaches in three slightly different ways, but I’m saving the blog-about-it until I get around to opening a jar (why eat canned peaches when there are fresh ones in the market?). This week it was those nice, blue Zwetschken plums. I’ve written before about the mysterious alchemy that turns blue plums into red jam, but today’s batch seemed to produce a jam that’s even redder than usual. We picked a plum preserve recipe from Madelaine Bullwinkel’s Gourmet Preserves but eliminated a few steps, added ginger and cut the already small amount of sugar. It set super fast, and I think it’s going to be very nice, but it made five jars, so no samples now.

plum6

Plum ginger jam (adapted from Gourmet Preserves)

3 lbs blue plums, pitted and quartered
1 cup water (maybe use 1-1/2 cups next time)
2 cups sugar
juice of one lemon
1-2 cup crystallized ginger, coarsely chopped

Simmer the chopped plums with the water for 20 minutes, and then drain the liquid from the mushy plums in a colander — let the mush sit around for a good 30 minutes so that it drains well. Add the sugar to the liquid with half the lemon juice and heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it’s about to set. The recipe says 5-10 minutes for this stage, but ours was well set within 4 minutes. Then, off the heat, add the plum quarters and the ginger and let it sit around for another 15 minutes or so. Bring the mix back to the boil and boil until it’s set. Again, this took minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath 10 minutes.

plum1

Second venture was a plum apple chutney, from the adventurous Art of Preserving, by the beautifully named Jan Berry. I got this book for $9 in a second hand shop a while back, and I see that Amazon has it on offer at $138. Maybe I should sell.

Plum raisin chutney (mostly from Art of Preserving)

4 lbs blue plums, pitted and chopped
2 lbs apples (we used Macintosh)
1 lb onions
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
1-1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tbsp mustard seeds
Black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a big, heavy pan and simmer until it thickens (something over an hour). Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath.

plum2

Why is everything made from plums quite so beautiful?

plum5

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OMG!

There was a moment in our quickfire Sunday afternoon canjam when canning buddy and I scraped every last streak of rhubarb-strawberry jam from the very bottom of the preserving kettle and let out a collective “oooooh.” This jam is lick-the-spoon, scrape-the-saucepan and lick-your-finger good. And it’s beautiful to boot.

The inspiration came from Food in Jars, although we scaled the recipe up hugely, increased the ratio of rhubarb to strawberry, added a little sugar and threw in the juice of a couple of lemons.  It’s spoon-on-yogurt runny and a rich red, with a bite of rhubarb and that glorious taste you only get from local strawberries that have not spent the last three weeks in a refrigerated truck. And in fact it’s so good that we did it all over again the following week.

We made two jams that first week, that one, plus five jars of a rhubarb-lavender venture that Tigress in a Jam posted about a few years back and that I’ve made both with lavender and with rosemary. This time I used used lavender from the garden, which made it almost feel home grown.

Talking garden, we have a large number of still green raspberries that should be enjoying the rain we’ve been getting more than we are. I’m hoping there might be enough to jam, although I worry that the critters might get to them before we do. I guess the summer was warmer the last time I used home-grown raspberries. It was July 5, and we had been eating raspberries for weeks.

But the latest jam making came just in time, I admit. Before adding the latest jars, there were just four jars in the cold room, which was starting to make me feel a little nervous.

Lovely to know that the canning season is starting over again.

Strawberry rhubarb jam
4 lbs strawberries
5 lbs rhubarb
6 (and a bit) cups sugar
juice of two lemons

Chop the fruit, add the sugar and lemon juice, stir the mix and then let it sit around for a couple of hours to let the juices flow. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a rolling boil until it sets. It took about 10 minutes, and it spattered madly. Wear a red shirt, and shoes rather than sandals.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath.

Easy.

Rating: 3-1/2 4 (out of 5) This one tasted wonderful as we made it, but the taste seemed to dull over the summer. A jar opened in August was sharp rather than fruity, Too sharp for yogurt, a dribble too runny to boot. Strange.

Edit: Raising the rating to 4 (out of 5) on this one on the realization that it’s actually all about the pairing. This jam is a notch too tart for yogurt, but it’s absolutely perfect atop vanilla ice cream. Sadly this means I will be eating more vanilla ice cream.

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