Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Citrus Fruit Cocktail

Citrus fruit cocktail cooling on the counter. I swear this sunbeam was total happenstance, but it was so beautiful!

Citrus fruit cocktail cooling on the counter. This sunbeam was total happenstance, but it was so beautiful, I probably took 30 different pictures!

For Christmas this year I got a bunch of books, including Saving the Season by Kevin West. This is a wonderful book, you should definitely check it out. It contains lots of great stories and recipes, all organized by season. There are descriptive pictures and how-to’s, which are useful for a novice home canner.

Fruits, ready to be prepped. I had fun at the Chinese grocer near my home, they have such beautiful fruits for really great prices.

Fruits, ready to be prepped. I had fun at the Chinese grocer near my home, they have such beautiful fruits for really great prices.

Winter is, of course, focused on citrus. If you’re like me, you wait all year for the wonderful grapefruit that come out in winter. What a treat! And I love oranges, grapefruit, lemon, lime, and all other citrus (except maybe kumquats?) but I don’t love marmalade. It’s too bitter for me. And it seems like most recipes for preserving citrus are marmalades. But one of the first recipes in the section is for a winter fruit cocktail. Fruit cocktail! I don’t think I’ve had that since I was a kid and mom was packing my lunches. (Odd memory, one day, she forgot to pack a spoon, and I got clever and used a carrot stick to eat it. Heh.)

Peeling the grapefruit with a peeler.

Removing strips of the grapefruit skin with a peeler. I cut off way more than I needed, it turned out.

This fruit cocktail is all citrus, no pears or cherries. I totally love it! I used a variety of citrus in different colors, but you could just use this as a way to can oranges, frankly. There’s not even that much sugar in it, for you sugar-conscious peeps. I find the grapefruit flavor dominates the others, so if you’re not into that, leave the grapefruit out, or only use 1 (I used 2.)

The hardest part of this recipe is supreming the fruit. It takes a long time, and if your fruit is as ripe as it should be, is really sloppy. I’d definitely take this project on when you’re feeling like spacing out and listening to some good music, or Marketplace on NPR, whatever suits your fancy. But you really do need to supreme the fruit, so that you get all the skins off each section.

Supreme the fruit. Cut off the top and bottom, and set it on one end. Cut the strips of the skin off following the curvature of the fruit. Remove as much of the white part as possible. A sharp knife will be your best friend.

Supreme the fruit. Cut off the top and bottom, and set it on one end. Cut the strips of the skin off following the curvature of the fruit. Remove as much of the white part as possible. A sharp knife will be your best friend.

Recipe, from Saving the Season

6 pounds mixed citrus (I used Cara Cara oranges, red grapefruit, blood oranges, and Satsuma mandarins)
3 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 whole lemon (for zest)
½ cup sugar
(Optional: you can add Cointreau, brandy, bourbon, or other alcohol. Since I thought this could be a snack for the nephews at some point I left it out. But if you’d like to do that, add in ¼ cup of the alcohol just at the end of the boiling process, before filling jars.)

Hold the fruit in one hand (over a bowl, to catch drips), and with the other, cut out each slice. Some will be easier than others, but remove it with no skin. I've never filleted a salmon, but I feel like I could after supreming 6 lbs of citrus. :)

Hold the fruit in one hand (over a bowl, to catch drips), and with the other, cut out each slice. Some will be easier than others, but remove it with no skin. I’ve never filleted a salmon (and don’t plan on it), but I feel like I could after supreming 6 lbs of citrus. 🙂

1. Wash the skins thoroughly, as you’ll be using the zest. With a veggie peeler, remove large strips of the peels of an orange, a grapefruit, and the lemon. Set aside.

2. “Supreme” the fruits. See my photos, but basically you cut off the top and bottom, set it upright “like a barrel” and cut off the skins and all the pith, and then remove each section of fruit with a knife. I did this while holding it over the bowl I was putting the cut fruit in, because it’s a very juicy proposition.

Squeeze out the remainder of the juice from the piths. I kept it all in one bowl until I was ready to use it, which was actually 2 days later. Typical me.

Squeeze out the remainder of the juice. I kept the juice and fruit all in one bowl until I was ready to can it, which was actually 2 days later. Typical me.

3. Squeeze the leftover piths to get all the rest of the juice from the fruit.

4. Separate fruit from juice using a slotted spoon.

Fruit and juice. Look at those colors, man, it looks fake!

Fruit and juice. Look at those colors, man, it looks fake! After sitting for awhile, they’ve all taken on that pink cast of the juice, sadly.

5. Add a strip of lemon peel, orange peel, and grapefruit peel into each of 3 sterilized pint jars. Pack the fruit loosely into jars, keeping about ¾” to an inch of headspace.

6. Measure out the juice, and add the lemon juice if you haven’t already. If you don’t have enough juice, add water to bring it up to 1 ½ cups.

Fruit, juice, and peels, pretty much all you need.

Fruit, juice, and peels, pretty much all you need.

7. Combine juice with ½ cup sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. (Here is when you’d add the alcohol, if using.)

8. Pour hot liquid over the fruit, leaving ½” headspace. Remove air pockets (I use a chopstick) and top off if needed. Wipe the jar rims clean, and put on lids and rings.

9. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

I learned something new with this recipe, about “venting.” When I make things like canned peaches or pickles, some of the liquid gets out while processing, making the jars super sticky. This is because of venting, which is when the jars are removed from the water and the quick temperature change causes some of the liquid to escape. So when you’re doing foods in liquid, turn off the heat under the water bath canner at the end of the required time, and let the jars sit in the water for 5 more minutes. Then when you pull out the jars they are less likely to vent. Yay!

Close up of the finished product (in that same sunbeam.) Pretty pretty pretty!

Close up of the finished product (in that same sunbeam.) Pretty pretty pretty!

I actually got 2.5 pints, not a full 3. So I put the half jar in the fridge. I’ve been enjoying eating it (trying to remember to not eat it all at once is a little hard though!) The rest I’ll be saving for late spring or early fall, when I’m antsy for juicy and delicious citrus.


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Apple Cider Jelly

Apple cider jelly, the next day. You can see the small solids in there, I didn't feel like straining them out. They give the finished product a cool "speckled" look.

Apple cider jelly, the next day. You can see the small solids in there, I didn’t feel like straining them out. They give the finished product a cool “speckled” look.

D loves apple cider. He’s from Buffalo, and like much of the northeast, they grow great apples around there. In the fall, farm stands and grocery stores have this amazing apple cider, and every time we go back to visit we get a jug (or two).

Washington state is also known for its apples, right? We have a huge apple industry, and we have some seriously delicious specialty apples. But for whatever reason, we don’t have the apple cider to go along with it. I see it at farm stands, there are a few places you can drive to and get great cider. But it’s by no means a staple, and the cider in stores in Seattle? Meh.

This is all a preface to say that I bought cider last week, hoping it would be one of the good ones. It was from Whole Foods, and pretty local. Sadly, it was really bland, like watery and tart. We weren’t going to drink it, so I decided to turn it into jelly, and the jelly is great!

Here's the jelly on an english muffin. I love the flavor!

Here’s the jelly on an english muffin. I love the flavor! And I like the speckles, too, it makes it look home-made. (Aside: when we’d get the errant chicken bone in our soup, or grilled cheese burnt on one side, our mom would say “well, that’s how you know it’s home-made.”)

D and I really like this. I did a side-by-side taste test with the spiced pear jelly I made in the fall, and this one won! That’s saying a lot because the pear was one of my favorite things I made all year. This batch of apple cider jelly has got a strong cinnamon taste, and has a flavor of apple butter – though not the texture, obviously.

Because I wasn’t in love with the cider’s flavor to start with, I simmered some spices for about an hour in the cider – ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and orange peel. After straining these and the solids out, I had 4 cups of juice exactly. The recipe in the Sure Jell packet says 6 cups, so this recipe is based on 2/3 of their recipe.

Cooking the cider with spices, to get a richer flavor. It also reduced a little in this time, enhancing the apple-ness.

Cooking the cider with spices, to get a richer flavor. It also reduced a little in this time, enhancing the apple-ness.

Recipe (makes 5 half-pint jars)
4 cups apple cider (more if you plan on cooking it ahead of time to allow for reduction)
Cinnamon, ginger, cloves, orange peel, or any other seasonings you like
2/3 Sure Jell low-sugar pectin packet (about 33 grams)
2 2/3 cups sugar

Make your apple cider. If I had a crock pot I would have used it, but instead I just warmed the cider on the stove with 2 cinnamon sticks, 5 whole cloves, 3” of ginger, peeled and cut into coins, and 3 pieces of orange peel. (Random – the only citrus I had was a bergamot orange, so that’s what I used. I love Early Grey tea, and I’d never seen bergamot before. When I saw it at Whole Foods I got so excited, I had to buy it. I would say its scent is closer to lemon than orange, though.) Once you get to a flavor you like, strain the juice. I just used a metal mesh strainer, so the finer solids are still in there. If you want truly clear jelly, use cheesecloth.

Measuring out the strained cider. You can see the bergamot orange in the background, too.

Measuring out the strained cider. You can see the bergamot orange in the background, too.

Bring 4 cups of cider and pectin mixed with ¼ cup sugar to a boil over high heat. (I generally hang out at 9, rather than 10, to avoid scorching.) I kept an extra cinnamon stick in the mix, just to keep the flavor amped. Once it is at a rolling boil, add the remaining sugar. Stir constantly until it returns to a rolling boil. Once there, stir for another minute, and then remove from heat.

Cooking the cider into jelly. I've gotten pretty good at this part, it's all the prep and whatnot that I still need to work on.

Cooking the cider into jelly. I’ve gotten pretty good at this part, it’s all the prep and whatnot that I still need to work on.

At this point, test the set (I use the chilled plate test) and skim the foam and remove the cinnamon stick. Pour into sterile jars, wipe rims, and put on lids and rings. Process in a water bath for 5 minutes, then cool for about a day.

I strongly recommend this jelly!  My house smells wonderful, I have a bunch of new tasty jelly, and I used up something that might have gone to waste. Not a bad afternoon!


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Things I’ve learned so far…

I've been a busy bee this year! Here are all the ways I preserved peaches this summer and didn't get around to telling you about.

I’ve been a busy bee this year! Here are all the ways I preserved peaches this summer and didn’t get around to telling you about.

I’ve been looking for a good time to write a “what I learned about making jam this year” article, and the rolling over of the calendar feels like as good a time as any.

I’m not really big on resolutions. After 30+ years of trying, I’ve only ever effectively kept 2 resolutions: to stop biting my nails at age 13, and to become vegetarian 11 years ago. While those were good goals, and I’ve kept them to this day, I don’t have a great track record overall.

So, I didn’t set resolutions this year. However, it’s always a great time to assess what I’ve learned and think about how to apply that moving forwards. I choose to think of it as growth, and then there are no resolutions to break. Heh.

Here are a few things I’ve learned (or in many cases, relearned) about jam this year:

1. When the recipe says bring to a rolling boil, be patient and wait until it’s actually totally boiling. You know that phrase about a watched pot? It was made for people like me.

See that? That's a rolling boil.

See that? That’s a rolling boil. This is the quince star anise jelly.

2. It will turn out different every time, even with the exact same recipe, so don’t expect uniformity. (Example: two batches of strawberry jam, made a month apart, taste really different. This was probably due to different types of strawberries or different level ripeness. But you know what? They are both amazing.)

3. Prepare everything in advance – have jars in boiling water or in the oven before you start. Count out lids. Even better, double check the day before, so you are sure you have enough pectin, jars, sugar, and fruit.

4. Try to not freak out when it doesn’t go right.

5. Friends are very helpful, and make standing over a hot stove in the summer way more fun.

Many hands make light the work, and make cooking a lot more fun.

Many hands make light the work, plus it’s more fun! This is at a class I took this fall… I plan on writing about that soon!

6. Have some 100% juice on hand (apple is a good neutral, but I’ve used pear, peach, and pomegranate), for fixing the jam if you add too much pectin.

7. Read the recipe completely before starting. You don’t want to find out mid-recipe that it’s supposed to sit for 3 hours when you don’t have 3 hours to spare. Ahem.

8. Head space matters!

9. Label everything right away.

These labels weren't made "right away," but I did label with masking tape on the lids pretty quickly. It can get hard to tell the jars of red stuff apart.

These labels weren’t made “right away,” but I did label with masking tape on the lids pretty quickly. It can get hard to tell the jars of red stuff apart.

10. You might get addicted, be aware. Have ideas of how to give away jam.

11. Jam doesn’t need fancy fruit. Farmers markets are great, and I get a lot of inspiration there, but I try to look for cheaper fruit at fruit stands or those produce resellers. Buy in season.

12. Try different recipes; you never know what you’ll like.

Pickled peach pie. This was more delicious than I expected, sweet and spicy and tangy, but not vinegar-y. I would definitely make it again.

Pickled peach pie, made with the peaches we pickled this summer. It was more delicious than I expected, sweet and spicy and tangy, but not overly vinegary. I would definitely make it again, although regular peach pie is still the king.

I think these can be boiled down to a few key ideas:

Be prepared – Be patient – Be unafraid

This advice fits for most areas in my life, frankly. So, moving forward in my jam and food preservation adventures, I hope to have internalized some of these lessons. Particularly the ones about being prepared… I tend to operate on whims, and get started before realizing I don’t have everything I need, or that the recipe is a 3-day process.

Anyway, enough about me. Are there any food “resolutions” you’ve made for this year, or lessons you learned recently?