Posts Tagged raspberries

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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Jam-boree!

Once a year, canning buddy and I have a marathon pick ‘n jam session, hitting the market at 7am, then the pick-your-own and then retreating to the house for as many batches of jam as we can be bothered to make. Raspberry and strawberry jams are givens, but there are so many options for things to add and subtract that the fun could go on all day.

We started with this, which included the last of my black cap raspberries from the community garden, and a small container of red currants, also from the garden. They yellow raspberries were a gift. We ate them, unwashed, between batches of jam.


jam3By 4pm, with the shortest possible breaks for coffee and lunch, we had 55 jars of jam, plus a container each of strawberries, raspberries and cherries to keep for eating fresh. It was quite the production line. At any one time we had one or two jams prepped and one on the boil. As soon as the on-the-boil one was ready, we moved one of the prepped jams to the stove and started on that. And rather than waterbathing each batch as we finished it, we did four big water baths of around a dozen jars apiece, coding the lids carefully so we knew which jam was which. It would be so sad to think you’re opening a jar of raspberry lime, and it turns out to be raspberry lemon instead.

jam1We mostly worked with a proportion of 7 cups of fruit, four cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons, which cut the sugar somewhat from our normal 6-4-2 ratio. It seemed to work, although the jams are mostly a little on the runny side. Not a problem my end, given that most of my jams end up in yogurt rather than on bread:

Strawberry raspberry jam (7 jars)
This has to be one of my always-favourite jams, melding two tastes of summer into one glorious mix. It’s so good that I tend to save it rather than open it, so there’s still a jar of 2013 strawberry-raspberry in the cold room.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Yummy. What else can I say?

Raspberry jam (7 jars)
The KISS principle jam. (Keep it simple, stupid). You can’t go wrong with raspberry jam.

Two-cherry jam (5-1/2 jars)
I think this one was half sour cherry, half sweet. We used kiwi instead of pectin. Using kiwi instead of pectin may change my jamming life.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I’m surprising myself with this one. After insisting repeatedly that I don’t like cherry jam, this one is wowing me. I ate it in midwinter, spooned over Greek yogurt or slathered on home-made bread. It was very, very good.

Red-black raspberry jam (6-1/2 jars)
Half red raspberries, half black-cap beauties, like the ones in the black-cap raspberry jam a week or so ago. My arms and legs are still scratched up from picking these. My partner in community garden crime says it’s like we’ve been wrestling with kittens.

Sour cherry jam (4-3/4 jars)
Kiwi for pectin again. Do you see a trend?

Raspberry lime jam (7 jars)
It looked as though we were going to run out of lemons. Besides, it tastes good.

Strawberry lemon verbena jam (5 jars)
This is that New York Times no-pectin strawberry jam again. I’ve done it with mint and with lavender, so it was time to give lemon verbena a try. That came from the community garden too.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I have to admit the strawberry mint is better.

Raspberry-mint-chocolate jam (7-3/4 jars)
The jury is still out on this one. We threw chocolate chips in at the end, and they didn’t melt in that well, so we have chocolate blobs as well as raspberry seeds. And I’m not 100 percent convinced about the idea of raspberries and mint. But it might grow on me.

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5). In all honesty, I can barely taste the mint, and the chocolate blobs are a little disconcerting. The spouse says they taste of soap. But it works nicely with plain yogurt or with home-made bread.

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Little black beauties

I’ve been having a lot of fun at the community garden, with kale and mint joining the precious handful of strawberries that I used for a strawberry rhubarb jam. I gleaned a few stalks of asparagus at the start of the season, and in exchange I exercised all sorts of back and shoulder muscles planting vegetables in heavy soil and puling up large, aggressive weeds. Thistles have amazingly deep roots, and they prickle through gardening gloves.

But now it’s berry season, and the sun-drenched garden has a sprawling patch of tiny black cap raspberries, a fruit that the internet tells me is a native plant that grows wild across much of North America (Quebec to North Dakota, and as far south as Arkansas and Georgia). I’m assuming our little patch is one of the many cultivated varieties of that wild plant.

blackcapThe fruits look like baby blackberries rather than raspberries, but they come off the stem just like a raspberry does and the taste is much more raspberry than blackberry — sweeter than a raspberry but more delicate as well. But the stems are covered with an extraordinary amount of vicious little thorns and I’ve got a mesh of scratches on my arms and my legs to show from two days of picking. But I’ve also got four jars of almost black jam, with another batch of fruit just waiting to be jammed up. No need for pectin with these babies — the jam set almost too firmly, if such a thing is possible. If I get nothing else from the community garden all year, I’ll be happy.

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The recipe, in case there’s anyone else out there with access to black cap raspberries. My recommendation: wear long pants, and a heavy duty, long-sleeved shirt. Not much you can do about the scratches on your hands.

Black cap raspberry jam

6 generous cups black cap raspberries
4 skimpy cups sugar (I think I will cut this a little next time)
Juice of two limes (the store was out of lemons)

Put all the ingredients in a big pan and heat gently until the sugar is melted, and then bring to a rolling boil until it sets — I let it boil for about 10 minutes, and that was perhaps a minute or two too long. Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath for 10 minutes.

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Perhaps too precious to give away. But perfect with plain yogurt, ice cream, bread, cake or thumbprint cookies.

Rating: 4? (out of 5)

I’m conflicted on how to rate this one. The taste is wonderful, although it’s a solid set and a sweetish jam, which might point to less sugar or more lemon next time around. But there are an awful lot of seeds.

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Raspberries and …

Whatever possessed me to pick my busiest weekend of the year — some 26 hours mostly in front of the computer over just two days — to launch into a mad, six-batch jamming session including a dash through the pick-your-own to pick up the super-fresh fruit? In reality, it was the only weekend that worked for me and for canning buddy, so we didn’t have that many options. But honestly, am I totally utterly mad?

We left the house at 730 for the picking fields, were back just before 10 and I interspersed real work with sticky, jammy goo while canning buddy kept things under control. By 2pm we were done, I moved back up to my air conditioned office and launched back into work mode for the rest of the day.

I’m too tired to be too intelligent about this post, but here is what we did, all (barring the last one) using varying quantities of fruit, sugar and lemons to a 3:2:1 ratio — three (or six, or nine) cups of fruit, two (or four or six) cups of sugar and one (or two, or three) lemon(s). You mix em up, heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then boil like crazy until it sets. Bottle, waterbath, cool, eat. Far easier than pie.

No pectin.

None of them need it, and I don’t like cooking with pectin anyway.

  1. Plain, simple, ordinary raspberry jam. It’s summer in a jar. It won’t last long
  2. Experimental raspberry jalapeno jam, with a chopped, deseeded jalapeno added to the mix at the last second. The inspiration came from the Santa Fe farmers’ market a few years back, plus last year’s super successful experiment with peach jalapeno jam.
    Rating: 4 (out of 5) There’s a nibble rather than a bite to this one. Either we get brave and throw in the seeds as well next time, or we add a second jalapeno. But even without the bite, it’s a very satisfactory raspberry jam
  3. Raspberry chocolate jam. We made two jars of this, inspired by a German-English blog that showed up in a WordPress search.  How can you go wrong if you throw a spoonful of top quality chocolate chips into the hot jam and then stir it around to help it melt a little. We made just two jars, which is probably just as well, because I can see the still-whole chips suspended in the jam and am starting to wonder what it’s going to taste like. (Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5). The unmelted chips are disconcerting, especially as a raspberry jam has pits anyway, and the chocolate that did melt (at the bottom of the jar) makes the jam a little sweeter than I would like. Try unsweetened cooking chocolate next time? )
  4. Raspberry strawberry jam. This was a knock-your-socks off recipe from last year. Not doing it again was not an option.
  5. Raspberry cherry jam. I have mentioned before that this one is not my favorite. Cherries should be eaten fresh. But the spouse and the canning buddy both like it, so we made it anyway.
  6. No pectin strawberry jam. The New York Times provided the recipe for this one, noting that a single kiwi adds all the pectin you need to turn a three-pound batch of strawberries to jam. It’s surprisingly dark, after a boil that was maybe half the 30-40 minutes the recipe suggests, and it’s a beautiful soft set with tempting chunks of strawberry. Three big sprigs of grown-in-the-garden mint gives it some serious attitude. I think I might have to spoon this one out straight from the jar. (Edit: The seals on one  jar didn’t take, so I was forced to open it immediately. It confirms the spoon-from-the-jar impressions. At least a 4-1/2 out of 5) 

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Come on, fess up. Which of those would you most (or least) want to try?

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Quality counts

A while back, as I fretted that late frosts could have killed off all the Ontario apricots this year, I made some apricot raspberry jam from a clamshell pack of California apricots. It was early in the jam-making season, and at the time I thought it was pretty good.

Well I opened a jar this week, and admit to deep disappointment. It’s not that it’s bad, but apricot jam is usually one of my favorites, and this one doesn’t cut it. The set and the texture are good, and it’s pleasantly chunky, which is always a good thing. But the taste just isn’t quite there. It’s not as wishy washy as the apricots that it came from in the first place, but if I closed my eyes I am not even sure I would be able to guess what fruit it is, and I can’t taste the raspberry taste at all. The color has morphed from the red and orange that it started as to a dark, rusty orange. No, there’s nothing absolutely wrong with it, but it’s just not that good.

Rating: 2-1/2 (out of 5). Texture good, set good. Taste lacks the wow factor that apricots ought to have.

Luckily there were only 3 jars of it to start with, and I suspect I might even have given one away.

Lesson: good quality fruit makes good quality jam. It’s as simple as that.

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Drop dead delicious

Mini update.

That raspberry strawberry jam is drop dead delicious, with the glorious summery taste of raspberry coupled with slightly chewy chunks of strawberry. And because half the fruit is strawberry, it’s less pitty than the (also delicious) raspberry jam. Texture is perfect, both spreadable and usable in yogurt or on vanilla ice cream. No pectin, no add-ons, just fruit and sugar. Yummmmm.

Rating 5 (out of 5)
Absolutely nothing to detract from this.

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Silly season

Raspberry jam is one of my recommendations for the starter canner, because it’s so easy and so amazingly, deliciously good. Raspberry jam sets in the twinkle of an eye, looks beautiful and tastes like summer, whether you lick out the preserving kettle after the boil-up venture, or whether you serve it on fresh-baked bread in the middle of winter. But we might have gone a little bit crazy after a raspberry picking venture this weekend.

The original plan was  cherry jam, mostly for canning buddy, and raspberry jam, mostly for me, and perhaps one or two more if we felt really enthusiastic. But after picking 10 pounds of raspberries in something under an hour, as well as smaller quantities of strawberries and peas, we moved into overdrive, with an intense production line of six different sorts of jam that filled the whole house with the smell of summer.

Cherry jam
I admit this isn’t my favorite jam, and I ended up with cherry syrup last year after trying to wing it without a recipe.  But canning buddy likes it, and the spouse is a fan as well, so there was no choice. We followed the Bernadin recipe, we used pectin (which I usually resist) and we got five jars. Pit cherries, add pectin, add sugar and boil for just over a minute until it sets. I may have got the order wrong on that one. I will make it another version when the sour cherries roll in later this month and will post a proper recipe then.

Raspberry jam
This was the main point of the fruit picking exercise, and we liked the idea so much we did it twice, once with the basic “best every raspberry jam” recipe  from “Jellies, Jams and Chutneys” (one pound sugar, one pound raspberries) and once with my tried and tested 4-3-2 ratio (four cups fruit, three cups sugar, juice of two lemons). I admit I think raspberry jam needs lemons to give it a kick, but will wait for a more formal taste test to determine if this is true.

Raspberry cherry jam

Madelaine Bullwinkle’s Gourmet Preserves was our inspiration for this one, although we only had one type of raspberry (she suggests black raspberries and red raspberries) and we had sweet cherries rather than sour. We used two pounds of raspberries, one of cherries, 2 tbsp of lemon juice and a mere 2-1/2 cups of sugar. It set fast, and is deliciously tart.

Raspberry strawberry jam
We made this one up, on the 4-3-2 principle. Two cups raspberries, two cups strawberries, three cups sugar, juice of two lemons. Heat gently until sugar dissolves, then boil like crazy until it sets. It takes a little longer to set than raspberry jam does, but has a lovely taste.

Raspberry redcurrant jam
4-3-2 raspberry jam recipe, with a generous handful of redcurrants thrown in at the end for fun.

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