Posts Tagged preserving

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

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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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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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Rhubarb jam today


I nearly ran out of jam last month, an almost unprecedented disaster that forced canning buddy to come to the rescue with a top-up from her stash. But it’s another few weeks before the arrival of Ontario strawberries that traditionally launches my jamming season*, and that’s too long to wait. Rhubarb? We have not done that one for a while.

I based my rhubarb ginger jam on a recipe from Madelaine Bullwinkel’s “Gourmet Preserves” although I dismissed her idea of two slices of ginger in favour of a twonie sized blob of fresh ginger, sliced and julienned. And I failed to read the recipe properly, so added the sugar early rather than giving the fruit a preliminary cook before boiling it up.

The result? A pretty coral coloured jam with just a hint of ginger. The rhubarb has melted to a thick purée, with just a few tiny strips of ginger to add some texture and a little bite. Is this a rhubarb butter rather than a jam? Does it matter?

Rhubarb ginger jam (butter?)

1.5kg rhubarb, sliced into 1cm pieces
3-3/4 cups sugar (cut next time?)
1/2 cup water
juice and zest of one lemon
chunk of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
100g crystallized ginger, roughly chopped

Mix all the ingredients except for the crystallized ginger and allow the fruit to macerate for an hour. Or longer.


Heat gently until the rhubarb starts breaking up, and then at a rolling boil until it thickens. We tried a set test, but it’s hard to judge set with a purée, so we just concluded that things would be all right when it looked thick. Add the chopped, crystallized ginger and boil for a few more seconds..

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath 10 minutes, or just store the jars in the fridge.

I blame the cult of Instant Pot for the deficit, because I’ve been spooning the jam by the jarful into that creamy, tangy yogurt that proved so life changing when I started Instant Potting it a couple of months ago.

The Instant Pot makes pretty awesome, super quick steel cut oatmeal too. I might blog about that one day.

*Strawberries arrived early this year. Strawberry-rhubarb jam followed just one day after this one, thanks to an unexpected farmers market find.

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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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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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