Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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New Years Resolutions and 2014 Recap

OK, it’s been a really long time since I’ve written. Not just for the blog, but anything! I’ve been at my “new” job for 9 months now, so I guess it’s time for me to stop feeling like it’s a temporary schedule. My job (see this post here) is wonderful, but my commute is making it so that I have less time at home, and less energy, to do the things I enjoy. Things like cooking, canning, seeing friends, and writing.

Well, that needs to stop. So what if I’m in the car 3 hours a day? I have time on the ferry to write, and time on the weekends for cooking projects. I need to stop spending my weekends in non-stop “catch up on sleep” mode. The New Year is a classic time to make changes and recommit to the life I want to live. My resolution is to stop letting my commute rule my life. So this post is my first in months. Soon I’ll be starting projects again, but for now I’ll just catch up on what I’ve missed.

Canning Projects

I didn’t make nearly as many canning projects this year as the last – mostly due to time constraints. The recipes I took on were mostly repeats – things I know I like and will eat.

Leeks Vinaigrette, or oil-preserved leeks. Great as a side or on salads.

Leeks Vinaigrette, or oil-preserved leeks. Great as a side or on salads.

Oil preserved Leeks (called “Leeks Vinaigrette” but it is not salad dressing, which I would actually love to make sometime) with the Ladies Preservation Society

Strawberry Jam (here’s a post on this from a couple years ago)

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry jam (left) and strawberry jam (right). I made these a week apart in a very productive moment last summer.

Raspberry jam (left) and strawberry jam (right). I made these a week apart in a very productive moment last summer.

Apricot Jam (this one was new – made with my friends in the Ladies Preservation Society – and was really fun. The resulting jam is a little tart for my taste, but has great apricot flavor.)

Peach Jam – we took a field trip to the Yakima farmer’s market and bought peaches there. Yakima is about 2-3 hours east, and is the heart of farm country in WA. Their farmer’s market is basically heaven.

Bread and Butter Pickles (recipe here)

Concord Grape Jelly – my neighbors have a grape vine that produces more fruit than they can use, so they put out a call to the neighborhood to come take them. 1 hour later I was washing and stemming 9 lbs in my giant sink. I made juice, and the next week made it into jelly. Next year (they say I can use their grapes again next year!) I’d like to try grape jam. I think it’ll be a little more work, but jelly is still kind of weird to me. I think I have enough photos to make this one into its own post, actually. Maybe I’ll do that soon.

Concord grapes picked moments before. These were turned into jelly.

Concord grapes picked moments before. These were turned into jelly.

Geez – is that all I did? I’m sure there were a few others, but these are the bulky items. See what I mean? I’ve really got to get back into the swing of things. I had enough jam for Christmas and hostess gifts this year, but only just.

So, onward, upward, and into the garden! Next week I’ll write about the projects going on in our little garden. Happy New Year!


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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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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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Popovers – the best way to eat jam!

Popovers, ready to eat! The left has peach with cardamom jam, and the right has strawberry jam.

Popovers, ready to eat! The left has peach – cardamom jam, and the right has strawberry jam.

I’ve made a lot of jam this year. I mean, a lot a lot. Combine my obsession with learning to can, love of making jam, trying to use seasonal fruits… I have basically infinite jam in my basement right now. I will be giving a lot out as holiday gifts (hi everyone!), but D and I will be eating much of it ourselves.

I try to find fun ways to use jam, like in baked goods, or with cheese at parties. But mostly, I eat it the way God intended – on toast.

But the best way of all to eat jam is on popovers. I make popovers every few months. They’re for special occasions, like Sunday morning football, or when you have houseguests. It’s not a hard recipe, not by any stretch, but if we each ate 6 popovers a weekend, well. That’s just not healthy. And they don’t keep, so you have to be ready to eat them all the same morning.

Popovers, just put in the oven.

Popovers, just put in the oven. Wait till you see what comes next!

Popovers (and their brothers in another world, Yorkshire pudding), are the coolest thing you’ll ever bake. Their name is apt, they puff up so much they pop over the sides of the pan! They’re terribly fun to watch grow in the oven, but the best part is eating them. Buttery, eggy, crispy, light and fluffy.  Add a little jam, and you’ve got yourself an amazing breakfast treat.

I’ve played around with different recipes and different pans for years. I even bought a special popover pan from Williams Sonoma. That pan failed me, but it did give me a recipe that I like.

Here they are at the time I turn the temp down, a little more than half done.

Here they are at the time I turn the temp down, a little more than half done.

Popovers (adapted from the one that came on my popover pan)

Makes 12 popovers. This recipe can easily be doubled if you have more people to feed.

2 Tbsp salted butter, melted
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1 cup AP flour
½ tsp salt
Cooking spray with flour in it*

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Spray muffin tin with cooking spray that contains flour (I use Pam Baking).

*This step is really important, as otherwise the popovers stick in the tin, and you kind of ruin them getting them out. Even regular cooking spray and butter were trouble for me. It’s the only thing I use this type of Pam for, but it’s worth it. I gave up on popovers for two years before I learned this trick from Nadine (a friend, who also blogs at Delicious Nadine), and she was right!

Add a couple drops of melted butter to each muffin cup, as well.

And here they are, all ready to eat! You can almost feel the crispiness, can't you!

And here they are, all ready to eat! You can almost feel the crispiness, can’t you?

Whisk together milk and eggs. Mix in remaining melted butter (about 1 Tbsp). Add flour and salt, and whisk together until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling each one about 2/3 full.

Cook at 450 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 325, and cook for 8 more minutes.

Remove from muffin tin onto a cooling rack or plate. Eat as soon as possible, they deflate by the minute as they cool. They are still delicious deflated, but it’s fun to tear them apart while they are light and fluffy.

Resting on the rack. We have to take turns choosing, because some come out fluffier than others :)

Resting on the rack. We have to take turns choosing, because some come out fluffier than others 🙂

Serve with jam, and enjoy!

I just told D that I was writing this post. Then on what I thought was another track, asked what he’d like for Sunday’s breakfast. He said, shockingly, “popovers!” so I’ll be making them this weekend. And to go with it, the jams that are currently open are the peach-cardamom jam that my friend made, strawberry jam that I made, and some pomegranate-raspberry I made with the Preservation Society the other day (post coming soon.) Yay!


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Raspberry-Chipotle Jam with the Ladies’ Preservation Society

Raspberries from the Farmer's Market, one of my favorite things!

Raspberries from the Farmer’s Market, one of my favorite things!

Oh my! I can’t believe it’s taken me two weeks to post this! The Ladies Preservation Society met two weeks ago, how late can I be? Well, let’s not waste any more time…

Peel the lemon (get as little white part as possible), slice the peel, and juice the lemon.

Peel the lemon (get as little white part as possible), slice the peel, and juice the lemon.

For our July meeting, it was a friend’s turn to choose a recipe. She thought up the idea to do a raspberry and chipotle jam, and was surprised to find there already was a recipe for it online. Well, as they say, there is nothing new under the sun. So we went out to the farmer’s market on the most gorgeous day to collect our fruit.

Slicing the chipotle pepper. You also add some of the adobo sauce from the can.

Slicing the chipotle pepper. You also add some of the adobo sauce from the can.

Part of the fun of the Ladies’ Preservation Society is the chance to make foods we might not normally have the time or the creativity to do ourselves. I didn’t know what to expect from this recipe. Sweet and smoky isn’t a flavor combination I’m used to. But, sweet/salty or sweet/savory are huge right now, and I’m a big fan of those for sure. The recipe contains lemon juice, lemon peel, roasted garlic, chipotle peppers, and adobo sauce, in addition to the fruit and sugar.

Everything in the pot, ready to cook.

Everything in the pot, ready to cook.

Also, this is a no pectin recipe. The only other time I’ve made jam without pectin was quite the saucy failure. So this was a good opportunity for me to take a backseat and learn something new. (As the perennial hostess of these parties and selector of recipes, I’m often the leader. This was a wonderful change!)

We did end up mashing the mixture, as the raspberries were taking a while to fall apart.

Action shot! We did end up mashing the mixture, as the raspberries were taking a while to fall apart.

This was found over at Jules Food, here’s the recipe.

It’s a long recipe, and we followed it closely, so I won’t repost it here. We didn’t have a candy thermometer, so we went by testing the set. It ended up taking us much longer (35 or 40 minutes rather than the 10-15 she suggests) to get a good set. It was a hot day, and I was glad to have the 3 of us, so we could take turns stirring.

Another action shot, look at that swirl! This is after it was cooking for awhile, you can tell it's starting to look like jam.

Another action shot, look at that swirl! This is after it was cooking for awhile, you can tell it’s starting to look like jam.

The end result is a little quirky for me, like more sweet than savory but with a smoky aftertaste. The raspberry flavor is really great, and at first that’s all you taste. Then comes the sort of garlic and chile flavors, then the smoke, then the heat from the peppers. That smoky aftertaste means it’s less like a dessert than most jams, even though it is very sweet. I suggest adding more chipotle and garlic, go whole hog with the savory thing, and maybe try reducing the sugar. I didn’t find it to be very spicy, but if you’re spice-averse follow this recipe first before upping the ante.

Doing a plate test. Keep a couple of small plates in the freezer. To test the set, put a spoonful of the hot jam on the plate and put back in the freezer for 2 minutes. If the jam "wrinkles" when you touch it, it's ready to come off the stove. It took us at least twice as long as the recipe recommended to get the wrinkles.

Doing a plate test. Keep a couple of small plates in the freezer. To test the set, put a spoonful of the hot jam on the plate and put back in the freezer for 2 minutes. If the jam “wrinkles” when you touch it, it’s ready to come off the stove. It took us at least twice as long as the recipe recommended to get the wrinkles.

D says he likes it more than normal raspberry jams, because he likes the acidity and smokiness balancing out the sweetness. I liked it with a soft cheese (like brie… see photo below). It might be perfect on roasted pork or chicken, but I’m vegetarian so I’ll leave that to others to test. I think it’s best just plain on toast (with butter, of course).

As an aside, here's what my stove looks like when I'm making jam. One pot for jam, one (rear) to start heating the water bath water (it takes forever on my electric stove) and one to hold the lids in hot (not boiling) water to keep sterile.

As an aside, here’s what my stove looks like when I’m making jam. One pot for jam, one (rear) to start heating the water bath water (it takes forever on my electric stove) and one to hold the lids in hot (not boiling) water to keep sterile.

Pouring the hot jam into jars. We used a normal funnel this time, for chunkier jams I have a wider-mouth funnel. Also, check out how little counter space I have. That's my whole counter, and it's always a mess! Yet I find that I can still manage to do a lot of cooking. Someday maybe I'll have a big kitchen, but I'm not wait for that day to have fun cooking.

Pouring the hot jam into jars. We used a normal funnel this time, for chunkier jams I have a wider-mouth funnel. Also, check out how little counter space I have. That’s my whole counter, and it’s always a mess! Yet I find that I can still manage to do a lot of cooking. Someday maybe I’ll have a big kitchen, but I’m not going to wait for that day to have fun cooking.

Beautiful!

Beautiful! I love the jewel tones in jam, and the raspberry seeds are like stars.

Last but definitely not least... the payoff! I love doing taste-testing pictures, because it means I have to do a lot of tasting. Enjoy!

Last but definitely not least… the payoff! I love doing taste-testing pictures, because it means I have to do a lot of tasting. Enjoy!