Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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The road to Sweet Cherry Jam – Ladies Preservation Society

Cherry jam - the second batch.

Cherry jam – the second batch.

The Ladies Preservation Society met last week to make cherry jam. We had a lot of fun and definitely made something… but I’m not sure I can call it jam. The recipe had a few problems. Perhaps you can tell that I don’t take these things lightly – I had to figure out how to fix it. To my recollection, my mom never had issues making jam (except once, when we ate plum syrup on our French toast for years after the plum jam didn’t set. But that was the most wonderful syrup!).

This cherry jam set up way too firm, like nearly solid (particularly after being refrigerated). I had to microwave it to make it spreadable. It tastes good, but it’s really sweet (despite using a low-sugar recipe) and the cherry flavor is lost. I’m not going to bother posting the recipe, but I will post pictures!

Beautiful cherries from the farmer's market.

Beautiful cherries from the farmer’s market.

So what went wrong? Well, I was talking to the guy who sells jam at the farmer’s market (dang, wish I’d thought of that!) and he said the key is to use almond extract to give the flavor punch. Almonds and cherries are closely related, both members of the genus Prunus (along with plums, peaches, and apricots, i.e., what we generally refer to as the “stone fruits”). Adding the almond extract is almost like adding cherry extract, you end up tasting a lot of cherry (but not in a fakey way).

My new pride and joy - the mega pitter (not it's real name). It can pit 4 cherries at once with minimal mess.

My new pride and joy – the mega pitter (not it’s real name). It can pit 4 cherries at once with minimal mess.

To resolve the pectin imbalance, I basically just chopped the fruit more thoroughly. For the first recipe, we chopped the cherries into 6ths because I wanted really chunky jam. But 4 cups didn’t contain as much fruit as if the fruit were chopped smaller. For the second batch, I used the food processor (which had the added benefit of taking far less time). I ended up getting more actual fruit in the 4 cups, and the jam is a more normal texture.

This tool's four strikers pop the cherry pits into the tray below for easy cleanup. It's easy enough for a child to use.

This tool’s four strikers pop the cherry pits into the tray below for easy cleanup. It’s easy enough for a child to use.

Here’s the recipe I used for the improved version (adapted for low sugar from the Sure-Jell recipe for tart cherry jam):

4 cups prepared sweet cherries (stemmed, pitted, and chopped fine) – about 3 lbs
¼ cup lemon juice
1 box (1.75 oz) sure-jell no sugar pectin
2 cups sugar
¼ tsp almond extract

Prepare jars and lids (keep lids in not-quite boiling water, make sure jars are clean and kept warm). Now, I often ignore “prepare the items ahead of time” instructions, but jam really is a time-sensitive project. You’ll be happy you have everything ready before you start, particularly if you’re working alone.

Pitted cherry

Pitted cherry – the seed is pushed out by force. They sort of look like pitted olives – and “x” on one side, a hole on the other.

Stem and pit cherries. (I’ve already written of my love for my new cherry pitter, and I’ll do it again. Seriously, if you’re thinking of doing much with cherries, get one of these (link). Plus, I made cherry crisp last weekend and my friend’s 5 and 7 year olds loved helping pit the cherries.) Place fruit in a food processor and process on pulse until the cherries are in tiny pieces, but not pureed. Measure out 4 cups.

The first time we cut the cherries too large - if you'd like to have big chunks reduce the amount of pectin.

The first time we cut the cherries too large – if you’d like to have big chunks you’ll need to reduce the amount of pectin.

Stir cherries, lemon juice, pectin, and ¼ cup sugar in a large pot. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil on high or medium-high heat. Add sugar, and return to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, continue cooking for 1 minute, still stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the almond extract. At this point I usually let the jam sit 3-5 minutes. This is to let the jam set a tiny bit, so any fruit chunks stay evenly distributed and don’t float to the top once in the jars. It also gives you time to skim the foam.

Testing the jam to see if it has set - in this case it was too firm.

Testing the jam to see if it has set – in this case it was too firm.

It’s also a good time to test whether the jam has set. Using a spoon that has been kept cold in ice-water, scoop a little out and wait for it to cool to room temperature. In my first batch of cherry jam, I should have recognized that it was too firm. Although to be honest, I’m not sure what I could have done to fix it. If the jam isn’t firm enough, you can return the jam to the stove and add more pectin. It can be a little trial and error, I feel like every time I make jam, even with the same recipe, it’s slightly different. I’m sure in a couple years I’ll have stronger instincts. Do any of you have tricks for what to do if the jam sets too firm?

This batch was quite delicious. D said, “tell them about how much I like it.” So there you have it. Good luck!


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Peas: Where are they now?

Peas that will be ready in a day or two...

Peas on the vine that will be ready in a day or two…

My peas have been producing really well. I have about a dozen plants, all growing around a pyramidal trellis. The few that didn’t look quite right at the start of the year have grown just fine. Phew! It’s possible they’d produce better if they hadn’t had a rough start, but I’m certainly not disappointed with the results.

Peas patiently awaiting their fate... chomp!

Peas patiently awaiting their fate… chomp!

I love snacking peas right off the plant every day. Isn’t it kind of amazing how fast they ripen? I feel like I grab all the ripe ones, and the next day there are 10 more. I like them best when the peas inside the pods are expanding but are not quite touching.

In the garden I test ripeness by touch and general appearance. If I can't decide, I try to see the size of the peas on the inside. This is the size range I'm looking for. (I'm just showing this in my kitchen - normally they are still on the plant).

In the garden I test ripeness by touch and general appearance. If I can’t decide, I try to see the size of the peas on the inside. These two show the size range I’m looking for. (I’m just showing this in my kitchen – normally they are still on the plant).

In the past, I’ve only eaten them straight off the plant or raw in salads. This year I thought I’d use them in a few recipes.

First up: Easy Spring Vegetable Risotto

Baked risotto with chard and peas. Also tasty with roasted asparagus!

Baked risotto with chard and peas. Also tasty with roasted asparagus!

I used Ina Garten’s recipe for Easy Parmesan “Risotto” (here), subbing veggie stock for the chicken stock, and instead of frozen peas put in fresh peas (trimmed and chopped) and some chard (braised in veggie stock until soft). This is one of my new favorite recipes – it is as easy as she says, and comes out wonderful. I expect I’ll make this one for guests soon, as it does most of its cooking in the oven. Yummy!

Next up: Peas and Pods

As simple and fresh as can be: peas, peas, mint, and butter.

As simple and fresh as can be: peas, peas, mint, and butter.

I’ve been holding on to this recipe from Cooking Light since 2008 (!) but hadn’t tried it until now. After trying it the other night, I’ll definitely be making it again. It’s crazy easy, and really fresh and delicious. The mint goes quite well with the peas, a combination I wasn’t sure I’d like.

Recipe

¾ lb snap peas, trimmed
2 cups frozen peas, thawed
1 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
Salt, to taste

Steam snap peas, covered, for 2 minutes. Add thawed peas, steam 2 more minutes. Combine all ingredients in bowl, gently toss to coat.

Last: Sauteed Corn Succotash

Corn sauteed with onions and peas. A great summer side dish!

Corn sauteed with onions and peas. A great summer side dish!

I make this corn dish really often in the summer, and this time I added the peas right at the end. It’s really tasty, but I will say I think the sweetness of the corn competes a bit with the sweetness of the peas. I might add something more savory next time, like kale or zucchini. But the results are crisp, bright, and beautiful! (And perfect if you’re hosting a Ducks game day party).

Recipe:

1 Tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
2 ears corn, with kernels cut off
½ lb pea pods, trimmed and sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste

Melt butter in pan, and add onion. Cook about 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Add corn, cook for 2 minutes. Add peas, cook for 1 more minute. Add salt and pepper, and serve warm.

And of course, if you only eat the peas raw strait off the plant, I won’t blame you one bit. Enjoy!


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Brandied Cherries

Chelan cherries stemmed and ready for pitting. They are delicious!

Chelan cherries stemmed and ready for pitting. They are delicious!

It’s cherry season at last! I have been excited about cherries since I was thinking about starting the Preservation Society and this blog. Cherries in Seattle are everything. We do all kinds of berries really well up here, and apples of course (mention of Washington Apples is required of all residents in the state.) But cherries! They are amazing, they are so sweet and tart and juicy and oh my goodness.

West Seattle farmer's market - I go to this one on Sundays and the Columbia City one on Wednesdays.

West Seattle farmer’s market – I go to this one on Sundays and the Columbia City one on Wednesdays.

Part of my excitement is that in my household, cherries are the one fruit that is 100% loved by D and me. He doesn’t love many fruits, but he loves cherries. And I do too. I tend to make a lot of cherry baked goods, and buying a cherry pitter was a turning point in my life. In fact, this year I just bought a mega 4-cherry pitter and I’m in heaven.

This farmer gave me a discount because I was buying 7 pounds.

This farmer gave me a discount because I was buying 7 pounds.

Anyway, I made cherry jam the other day (or at least, tried to) but I’ll discuss that later. It’s warm and it’s the weekend and it feels like a cocktail kind of day. Time for brandied cherries!

All recipes for brandied cherries will include sugar, brandy, and cherries.

All recipes for brandied cherries will include sugar, brandy, and cherries.

I started with another recipe, but they won’t be ready for 6 weeks. They are in the fridge, labeled with the date they’ll be ready (7/25). Patience was never my strong suit, so I found another recipe that is ready the same day. Ooh, they are tasty. And the best part? Because I’m not at a bar, where they have inventory and standards, I’m allowed 2 cherries in my drink.

Cooking on the stove

Cooking on the stove – the first recipe I used did not involve cooking. This step speeds up the cherry maceration to allow the brandy to soak in.

This was a fun project, and if you’re having houseguests or a BBQ sometime soon (ahem, 4th of July?) I highly recommend these in whiskey, sparkling wine, or soda drink. Or, how about trying them as a topping on ice cream? We had them in bourbon, and the second round we added a little of the steeping liquid to the drink as well. Bam.

The cherries get a little darker and softer in appearance when they are ready.

The cherries get a little darker and softer in appearance when they are ready.

Recipe (based on one from Imbibe Magazine, original here)

*I halved this recipe, which made 1 pint jar.

1 lb cherries (I used Chelan cherries, but use whatever sweet red cherry you have)
½ c sugar
½ c water
2 tsp lemon juice
1 stick cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup brandy

Ready to be refrigerated. This color is so rich!

Ready to be refrigerated. This color is so rich!

Wash, stem, and pit the cherries.Bring all ingredients except the cherries and brandy to a boil. Reduce heat, and add cherries. Simmer 5 minutes, or until softened. Remove from heat, add brandy, and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate in jars for up to 2 weeks. (I question this time limit, because the other recipe I made says 1 year. Why? I’ll be testing this.)

And the payoff: extra tasty cherries in my drink.

And the payoff: extra tasty cherries in my drink.

Check back in late July to see how the other recipe compares.


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Tropical Fruit Compote

Waffle with butter and tropical fruit compote.

Waffle with butter and tropical fruit compote.

I love breakfast, but D and I are usually content with cereal and coffee. I reserve cooking big breakfasts for Sundays in the fall, because we watch football and it’s good to have sustenance for the long (and frequently painful) day. To make waffles even more delicious, I started making compote to go with them. Basically, I take whatever fruit I have and cook it down so it’s warm and sweet and gooey. Growing up, my mom always had applesauce and powdered sugar on her waffles, so that was my original inspiration.

For this morning’s waffles, all I had was a mango. I’ve never tried doing this with tropical fruits, but it sounded good. A bit later I looked in the fridge and saw I had a little leftover papaya and pineapple from a garden club meeting that I’d completely forgotten about. Ok, now things are getting interesting! At D’s suggestion, I squeezed a little orange juice to add more acidity. I’m not in love with papaya (unless I’m in Hawaii and it’s fresh, but then it’s another beast altogether) but this combo was fabulous.

The mango had already cooked for 5 minutes when I added the papaya and pineapple.

The mango had already cooked for 5 minutes when I added the papaya and pineapple.

Recipe

1 mango, chopped into 1/2” cubes
1/4 cup pineapple, chopped into ½” cubes
1/4 cup papaya, chopped into ½” cubes
Juice from half of 1 orange (about ¼ cup)
sugar to taste, if needed

I start cooking the fruit before I start the rest of breakfast, so they are cooked by the time the waffles are done (and yes, I totally just use a waffle mix). Place fruits in a small saucepan, and cook, covered, over medium or medium-low heat. Stir occasionally. If the fruit are drying out, turn down the heat or add some liquid, like fruit juice. We cooked this uncovered for the last few minutes, to reduce the OJ.

Mmm... warm, sweet, and saucy!

Mmm… warm, sweet, and saucy!

The compote is done in 10-20 minutes, usually. Basically, you are looking for it to become a sort of lumpy sauce. But you can stop it whenever you feel it is done, or once the waffles are ready.

Serve warm on top of waffles, pancakes, French toast, toast, anything. You can still add maple syrup, but you don’t have to. Then get ready to feel like a fancy cook, it’s so delicious!

The finished product, ready to eat. Not only is it delicious, but this compote is truly beautiful!

The finished product, ready to eat. Not only is it delicious, but this compote is truly beautiful!

Variations:

– Apples, pear, or apples mixed with pear. Pear doesn’t break down as well as apples, so bear this in mind and chop them the size you want them to be at the end.

– Peaches, a little sugar, lemon, and cinnamon. It’s like peach pie!

– Cherries with a splash of bourbon (I haven’t tried this, but I’m fantasizing about it for next weekend).

– Strawberries, or any other berries.

All these fruits cook differently, so trial and error is your friend. But I will say, there are very few errors, unless you’re concerned with the way it looks (why?). They will all be delicious.


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Candied Ginger

Candied ginger

Candied ginger

When I had the Ladies’ Preservation Society over to make pickled ginger, I bought way too much ginger. Really, like three times the amount we needed. And as usual, when I have extra produce I look for a recipe I’ve never tried before. Candied ginger is a confection I’ve always enjoyed, but never really sought out. Now that I know how easy it is to make, I may have to start using it in baking!

Cutting ginger 1/8" thick, which is easy using a mandoline.

Cutting ginger 1/8″ thick, which is easy using a mandoline.

A quick search found that Alton Brown has a 5-star (!) recipe for candied ginger, and it is rather simple (but time consuming, like most candies). It looks long but each step is really easy. My notes are included in the recipe.

Recipe (from the Food Network, original recipe here)

Nonstick spray
1 pound fresh ginger
5 cups water
About 1 pound granulated sugar

Directions

Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

Ginger cooking in water, about halfway through the 35 minutes.

Ginger cooking in water, about halfway through the 35 minutes.

Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandoline (see my notes on peeling and slicing ginger in my post on pickled ginger). Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender. (Note – the only way I know to test for tenderness is with my teeth, and taking a bite was really intense. My second batch I just went by the time, and was right. Is there a better way to test, like wobble-factor or something?)

Ginger bubbling in a sugar syrup.

Ginger bubbling in a sugar syrup.

Set aside ¼ cup of the cooking liquid, and drain ginger in a colander. Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the ginger, ¼ cup water, and sugar to the pan.

The syrup should be evaporated and the sugar turned back into crystals, something like this.

The syrup should be evaporated and the sugar turned back into crystals, something like this. It gets hard to stir and keep the sugar off the sides of the pot.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes (Note – this step took far longer in both of my batches. It was nearly double this! Definitely go by appearance and not timing in this step). Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate into individual pieces. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Candied ginger all finished and cooling.

Candied ginger all finished and cooling.

Done! During my first batch, I got worried I would burn the ginger and drained off some of the liquid to speed up the process. The results were fine but not spectacular. Then in my second batch I was patient and watched for the crystallization he mentions. This batch was the real winner.

I found some cute half-pint jars to gift the ginger in.

I put some ginger in cute half-pint jars to use as gifts.

D and I were in LA last weekend, so I brought a couple of jars down as a hostess gifts. One friend went through hers kind of quickly, having put it out for guests to find. Another friend hid hers in the cupboard when people came over, so she wouldn’t have to share. Don’t you love making things that are a hit?

Uses for this: eating plain, cut up and put in ginger cookies or spice cake, on ice cream, or chew on a boat to help with motion sickness.