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?


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Making Pretzels with Family

Mmm... salty crispy homemade pretzels.

Mmm… salty crispy homemade pretzels.

We go to Buffalo most Christmases. D is from Buffalo, and his parents still live in the same house he grew up in. (Which is wild to me, my Dad literally built my childhood home and we still moved out of it 10 years later!) It’s always great seeing the family, but I must say the cold wet gray of Buffalo isn’t exactly a great respite from the cold wet gray of Seattle. A group cooking project is a great way to bond and have fun without having to bundle up and venture outdoors.

St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, the morning of an ice storm. A great way to come in out of the cold!

St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, the morning of an ice storm. A great way to come in out of the cold!

D and I took a weekend trip up to Toronto. We walked to the St. Lawrence Market, which D told me National Geographic rated the BEST FOOD MARKET IN THE WORLD. When he said that, it was all over, there was no chance we were going anywhere else. I mean, I live within a couple miles of Pike Place Market, and it’s supposed to be better than that? Sign me up. Well, it is great, but I would love to go another time of the year to see if there is more produce. But they do have cheese like crazy, olives, meats and seafood (if you’re into that kind of thing), spices, mustards, jams… all delicious and amazing. We had a fantastic, deceptively simple lunch of egg and cheese sandwiches, sampled foods, and came home with bread, cheeses, a terrine, and a delicious mustard. That mustard will appear again in this post…

My new mustard purveyor - Kozlik's. We tasted them all, and it was genuinely hard to decide. We got honey-garlic, but a close second was the balsamic fig.

My new mustard purveyor – Kozlik’s. We tasted them all, and it was genuinely hard to decide. We got honey-garlic, but a close second was the balsamic fig.

Back in Buffalo, the snow was falling, and our pace slowed a little. Lucky for me, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are great cooks who enjoy sharing the kitchen. Upon D’s suggestion, we decided to make pretzels one afternoon. It might have been Christmas day, and it was a lovely afternoon of baking with friends and family.

The recipe is easy, but it takes a little prep time and planning, because it is a yeast bread and needs to rise a bit. (Although I’ve never had to do the twisting, that part looks a little hard). These pretzels make an incredible snack, and would go great with a beer. We keep saying we’ll be doing it for game night, but keep forgetting. It’s a great communal project, fun and with a great reward at the end! I will caution you against making them alone the first time… D and I ate all of them in one day (with this cheese dip) and felt ill. But they are so good you will want to eat as many as you can get your hands on!

We use this recipe from Alton Brown:

1 1/2 cups warm tap water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for bowl
Cooking spray, for pans
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt (we couldn’t find this, so used large crystal sea salt)

Kneading the dough for the pretzels.

Kneading the dough for the pretzels.

Combine water, sugar, salt, and yeast packet in a bowl. Let this sit for about 5 minutes, or until the yeast starts to foam a bit. Add the flour and butter, and mix using a dough-hook attachment for about 4-5 minutes, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (We didn’t have a stand mixer, so my SIL kneaded the dough for about 8 minutes, like a trooper.) Remove dough from bowl and coat the bowl with vegetable oil. Then return the dough the the bowl, cover bowl with saran wrap, and let sit in a warm place for an hour – until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450. Line 2 baking pans with parchment and spray with cooking spray.

Ready the water and baking soda, and bring to a boil.

Action shot! The gang twisting the dough into long ropes. It helps to let gravity do some of the work.

Action shot! The gang twisting the dough into long ropes. It helps to let gravity do some of the work.

Oil a work surface (we used the counter) and divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (the original recipe says 8. We had 6 people so wanted to have an even number of pretzels per person. You can adjust as you like.) Roll each piece into a long rope about a half inch thick, about 24″ long. The dough might rebound so go back and stretch as needed.

Make the ropes into a “U” shape. Hold the ends off the counter, twist, and press onto the bottom of the U, making it look like a pretzel. It’ll take some practice, I hear, but lopsided pretzels taste just as good!

Dip the pretzels into the boiling water. This makes them chewy (like bagels), and the baking soda gives them that classic "pretzel" taste.

Dip the pretzels into the boiling water. This makes them chewy (like bagels), and the baking soda gives them that classic “pretzel” taste.

Put the pretzels into the boiling water/baking soda, one at a time, for 30 seconds each. Remove, and put onto the parchment lined baking tray. Give an inch or more of space between each pretzel.

Here the pretzels have been boiled, egg-washed, and sprinkled with salt. Ready for the oven!

Here the pretzels have been boiled, egg-washed, and sprinkled with salt. Ready for the oven!

Make egg wash with one yolk and a little water. Brush each pretzel (this will make them brown beautifully.) Then sprinkle with salt. More is better, in my opinion, because you can always brush it off later, and some people like them really salty.

Bake about 12 – 14 minutes, until a rich brown color. Cool on a cooling rack at least 5 minutes, and enjoy!

All done! And they only have to cool for a couple minutes, unlike other breads, so you can enjoy right away while still warm!

All done! And they only have to cool for a couple minutes, unlike other breads, so you can eat them warm!

We like them plain, or with cheese dip, as I mentioned above, or with mustard. The mustard we had is garlic honey mustard, sweet and very spicy, but a really wonderful flavor.

A little of this spicy mustard goes a long way. Enjoy!

A little of this spicy mustard goes a long way. Enjoy!

Happy New Year to you all! I count this blog, and you readers, in my blessings. I hope you have a year filled with fun projects, exciting adventures, and just plain pleasant times with friends and family.


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Brother-Sister Day making Pear-Cranberry Jam

Pear cranberry jam mixed into plain yogurt - a wonderful snack!

Pear cranberry jam mixed into plain yogurt – a wonderful snack!

I was up visiting my brother and his family last week. He lives a couple hours north of Seattle, and since I’ve had more time on my hands lately I’ve been able to visit mid-week a few times. My brother, Jason, had Friday off, so we had a “brother-sister day.” We have been talking for a while about making jam together, and we were finally able to make it happen. It was so fun!

Cranberries. You can probably find some on sale now that Thanksgiving is over.

Cranberries. You can probably find some on sale now that Thanksgiving is over.

Neither of us really took the time to learn to make jam from Mom. We both helped her a time or two, but didn’t really absorb the process. It was great being able to share this family tradition with Jason, I hope we’ll be able to make another batch next summer. If you haven’t already done canning with friends or family, do it soon! Humans bond over food, and preparing it together is a really wonderful experience.

Anyway, so we went to the store to see what was in season. There were some nice looking pears (Comice) on sale, and I remembered a recipe I’ve been meaning to make for a couple months. Pear and cranberry jam – yummy and seasonal!

Jason peeling the pears.

Jason peeling the pears.

A quick note about Comice pears: eat as many as you can while they are in season. Holy smokes, they are phenomenal! I know I’ve had them in the past, but never noted how juicy and sweet they are. In fact, if I had known they are so juicy, I would have adjusted the amount liquid in the recipe. They are the only pears I’ve every seen turn to mush unassisted when cooked. I made apple-pear-sauce this weekend (to put on French toast), and I barely had to smash them. And the flavor is exactly what a pear should taste like, only better. OK, digression over.

We used the pear corer to slice and core the pears, easy peasy.

We used the pear corer to slice and core the pears, easy peasy.

I like this jam a lot. It’s like a sweeter cranberry sauce, and you can really taste the pears and the cranberries. Very festive! And since cranberries have a lot of pectin already (I mean, cranberry sauce is basically low-sugar no-pectin jam) you don’t need to add any. It would probably also be delicious with vanilla, cinnamon, or other warm winter spices.

4 cups of each kind of fruit. I like Jason's large measuring cup, my biggest only goes to 2 cups.

4 cups of each kind of fruit. I like Jason’s large measuring cup, my biggest only holds 2 cups.

Recipe (from Food in Jars)

Makes 2 ½ pints, or 5 half-pint jars

4 cups pears, seeded and chopped (we peeled ours, but it isn’t necessary)
4 cups fresh cranberries
3 cups sugar
Juice and zest of one lemon
Up to 1 cup water (optional)

Letting the fruit and sugar sit a little before cooking, to dissolve the sugar a little first.

Letting the fruit and sugar sit a little before cooking, to dissolve the sugar a little first.

Wash the fruit. Pick out any bad cranberries, then measure 4 cups and put in a large non-reactive saucepan. (We found 1 bag of ocean spray was just about a half cup shy of this, next time I might just adjust everything down to keep my purchase to one bag.)

As the fruit cooks, the cranberries will start to "pop." If after a while of boiling, if they haven't popped, feel free to start smashing with the spoon.

As the fruit cooks, the cranberries will start to “pop.” If after a while of boiling, if they haven’t popped, feel free to start smashing with the spoon.

Core and chop the pears. We also peeled ours. Pears ripen from the inside out, and ours weren’t fully ripe at the skin level yet. The pulp was so delicious; we wanted only that in our jam. But if you leave the skin on it will soften and melt as it cooks.

And at last, the jam will meld into a jammy texture, with all the cranberries popped and mushed together with the pears. This is when you would add the lemon juice and zest.

And at last, the jam will meld into a jammy texture, with all the cranberries popped and mushed together with the pears. This is when you would add the lemon juice and zest.

Put fruit and sugar into a large pot, and let sit for a few minutes, to let the sugar dissolve into the pear juice. If your pears aren’t releasing any juice at this point, add a little water. The original recipe suggests one cup, but for our juicy pears that was way too much. We had to cook the jam for an extra half hour to get it to the right consistency. Use your best judgment, and remember you can always add more water (or cook longer to reduce the water out.)

Here we are pouring the jam into jars. Jason and his wife and I all got to take turns at this point, and the jam was firm enough that it didn't drip at all!

Here we are pouring the jam into jars. The jam was firm enough that it didn’t spill at all!

Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 15-25 minutes, until the jam is at a consistency you like. It will firm up as it cools, so try doing a plate test. As I mentioned above, we added a cup of water but probably shouldn’t have, so it took about an hour to cook down to a solid set.

We sampled the jam on the only two English muffins in the house. The 4-year-old girl they were babysitting was helping us taste test the jam... and she came back again and again for more toast with jam. It's a hit!

We sampled the jam on English muffins. The 4-year-old girl they were babysitting was helping us taste test the jam… and she came back again and again for more. It’s a hit!

Stir in lemon zest and juice. You could add this earlier, but adding it at the end preserves the flavor more.

Fill into hot sterilized jars, put on lids, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!


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Pomegranate Raspberry Jam with the Ladies’ Preservation Society

Mmm... pomegranates are a great fall treat! Here's a way to make them last throughout the year.

Mmm… pomegranates are a great fall treat! Here’s a way to make them last throughout the year.

A few weeks ago we held our last meeting of the Preservation Society for 2013. With the holidays and busy schedules, it just didn’t make sense to meet in November or December. We’ll be picking up again in January. A new year! New things to can!

We wanted to make something “seasonal,” which is sort of hard in the late fall. I thought about canning cranberry sauce, and will still probably try to do this soon. A friend suggested we do something with pomegranates. What a cool idea! I love them, and they really are a special fruit this time of year!

Pomegranate juice. This brand is way cheaper than the well-marketed national brand, and is still 100% pomegranate juice.

Pomegranate juice. This brand is way cheaper (note, still not cheap) than the well-marketed national brand, and is still 100% pomegranate juice.

Well, it turns out the recipes we found for pomegranate jam using fresh pomegranates were a little ridiculous for a casual evening with friends. They involved either juicing the fruit or including the seeds in the final mix. What? The seeds are way too big to be spreading on toast. And then, even at a sale price of $2.50 per pomegranate, we’d be paying a lot of money for a little jam, and having to work really hard for it. BUT feel free to do that. I read you can juice a pomegranate just like an orange: cut in half and squeeze. Have you tried that? I’m curious if it works.

Smashing the raspberries.

Smashing the raspberries.

So anyway, we decided to go with bottled pomegranate juice, 100% juice of course. We added raspberries, because a recipe we saw online had that combo and it sounded great. Pomegranates are a little bit astringent, but it is easily mellowed by a fruit without any bitterness.

Stirring the jam before it boils. This is why we invite friends over, to help with the stirring!

Stirring the jam before it boils. This is why I invite friends over, to help with the stirring!

The final product is fan-freakin-tastic. It’s sweet and has a really nice texture, not as chunky as jam but not as smooth as jelly. But, I will say, even though the raspberries are only a small part of the total (less than a quarter by volume) they are the dominant flavor. I have an extra bottle of the pomegranate juice, so I will try making jelly out of it soon, and see how it turns out. But that’s a project for another day (and probably a season that’s a little less busy).

More stirring. Only now it's getting hot over by the stove.

More stirring. Only now it’s getting hot over by the stove. Look at her boil!

Recipe
Makes 3.5 pints (we used half-pint jars, and got 7)

4 cups pomegranate juice
2 pints raspberries, cleaned and smushed
¼ cup lemon juice
4.5 cups sugar
1 box (1.75 oz) low sugar pectin

This is made the same way you make any jam or jelly. Mix the fruit juices and fruit in a large, non-reactive pot. Mix the pectin with ¼ cup sugar, and add to the mix.

Stirring constantly (ish), bring to a full rolling boil over medium or medium-high heat. This took us about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining sugar, stirring constantly (for real). Bring back to a full boil, and then continue to boil vigorously for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Test the gel. I like the cold plate method – put a little on a cold plate and into the freezer for 2 minutes.

Filling the jars.

Filling the jars.

Let the pot sit on the counter for up to 5 minutes. This is a great time to skim the foam off the top. I like to let the jam sit so that it sets ever so slightly. Then anything suspended in it (in this case, seeds) will be evenly distributed throughout the jars, rather than rising to the top.

Pour into sterile jars, add sterile lids and bands, and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

Finished jars. You can see the jar on the right was filled while the jam hadn't set much, and all the seeds floated to the top. The jar on the left was filled just a couple minutes later, but is more uniform. No difference in flavor, obviously. You may need to stir the jar on the right after opening, is all.

Finished jars. You can see the jar on the right was filled while the jam hadn’t set much, and all the seeds floated to the top. The jar on the left was filled just a couple minutes later, but is more uniform. There’s no difference in flavor, obviously, but you may need to stir the  jar on the right once you open it.


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Spiced Pear Jelly – a delicious comedy of errors

Spiced pear jelly and buttered whole wheat toast = heaven.

Spiced pear jelly and buttered whole wheat toast = heaven.

This is the story of how making a series of mistakes lead to my favorite preserves this year. This jelly has the sweetness of pears and the warmth of holiday spices. It tastes like spiced cider or something similar, but without the tartness of apples. I highly recommend it!

So here’s how it happened. I had these plums that I had gathered on our less than successful blackberry picking trip. Then, I bought some beautiful pears at a farm stand outside of Monroe, and thought I’d make plum/pear jelly. I used the basic recipe for pear jelly from pick your own, because I really only had a handful of plums, and added spices to it.

Bartlett pears and foraged plums

Bartlett pears and foraged plums

I pitted the plums, but didn’t peel them (they were really small!) Next, I peeled and cored the pears, and sliced the fruit. Then, I read the recipe, and it suggested I leave the peels on, for color and extra flavor. So I pulled them out of the compost (the ones on top, anyway) and added them back to the pot. Cooking the mixture down to mush, I then strained it to get fruit juice. I had just under the amount needed for a half recipe, so I went to the store and bought some pear juice, just for the half cup I needed. I didn’t feel like doing math with the sugar and pectin.

Next, I boiled the juice with pectin and a little sugar. Only, I forgot that I was using half the recipe, so I dumped the entire packet of pectin in. As it was dissolving, it dawned on me that I had a real problem on my hands. Thankfully, I had extra pear juice that I bought earlier that day! I quickly added 3 more cups of store bought juice. That meant that my plums were now about 5% of the total, and my beautiful pears were only about 35% of the total juice. All that work making juice, and I had to dilute it!

Well, the jelly set nicely, and I poured in into jars and sealed them and so forth. But it was time to go to dinner so I left the jelly on the counter, to process the next morning. I was meeting a friend for lunch, and I wanted to show off my amazing jelly, but after re-processing them that morning, they were liquefied. By the time I gave her the jar, I wasn’t sure it would ever reset! But, when it cooled completely it was once again fully set, so I was off the hook. Phew.

All this is to say that sometimes, things don’t go as planned. And you have to improvise or start over. Sometimes those errors are fatal, and you end up with crummy jam. But sometimes, you get the most delicious jelly you’ll ever taste.

Jar of Jelly

Spiced Pear Jelly

Makes a little more than 1.5 pints (the double recipe made 3.5 pints)

2.5 pounds ripe pears
.5 pounds ripe plums (or just add more pears!)
~1 cup water
½ cup pear juice (or as much as needed to get a total of 3 cups fruit juice)
1 cinnamon stick
1” fresh ginger, peeled
2 cloves, whole
2 cups sugar
½ package (about .87 oz.) low sugar pectin

Note: this is the original half recipe that I meant to make. I ended up with twice as much, but I’m pretty happy about that.

Cooking down the pears, plums, and spices in a little water.

Cooking down the pears, plums, and spices in a little water.

Slice and pit fruit, you don’t need to peel. Put all spices into a cheesecloth packet. Add water and the packet of spices to the fruit. Cook, covered, on medium or medium high heat.

Cook until fruit is mushy, about a half hour. Pears usually don’t dissolve down (unlike apples, for instance), so I often use my potato masher to help them along. Or, if you have a food mill, it would work great once the fruit is soft.

This is my set up for straining fruit for jelly. I put the cooked fruit and juice in the top colander, which drains into the sieve, which drains into the bowl. If you don't have cheese cloth this works very well.

This is my set up for straining fruit for jelly. I put the cooked fruit and juice in the top colander, which drains into the sieve, which drains into the bowl. If you don’t have cheese cloth this works very well.

Remove spices from the mixture and set aside. Strain the fruit and collect the juice. You can use my makeshift method (description in this post) if you don’t have a jelly strainer. You want 3 cups of juice. If you are short, add some pear juice (100% fruit juice). Or, you can just start with bottled juice and save yourself a bunch of time. I won’t judge.

Put three cups of juice over medium high heat, and add spices (still in the packet.) This is just to infuse as much spice flavor as possible. I only added back the cinnamon stick at this point, because I like cinnamon best.

Cooking the juice with a little sugar and pectin. You can sort of see the cinnamon stick at the bottom of the pot, which I left in for extra flavor.

Cooking the juice with a little sugar and pectin. You can sort of see the cinnamon stick at the bottom of the pot, which I left in for extra flavor.

Mix ½ cup sugar with the half packet of pectin. Add to juice, and stir until dissolved. Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Add the remaining sugar and stir constantly until it’s back to a rolling boil. Once there, stir for 1 minute and remove from heat. Pull out the spices, and skim off foam. I’d probably test the set at this point, too (basically, just cool the jelly super fast, either by putting on a cold plate or spoon and setting in the freezer.)

Put in sterile jars with ¼” head space. Add sterile lids, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!