Jam Time

28 09 2011

It’s that time again. That anxiety-ridden, sleepless, sweaty time. That’s right. Jam exchange time.

My partner this year was Evan (Check out her blog! Aren’t those wedding cakes amazing?). She sent me a jar of champagne pomegranate jelly. It was delicious. And I was so impressed that she literally made jelly. I am terrified of making jelly. I’m not sure why. She also sent a perfect jar of strawberry-rhubarb jam. It is all gone gone gone, because it was so good. I didn’t even have a chance to take pictures of it because I was so busy shoveling it into my mouth.

To back up a little though, when the exchange rolled around I was hopeful. Maybe this year I wouldn’t ruin most of the jam I tried to make by entirely disregarding all of the warnings plastered on the Sure-Jel package that say not to mess with the pectin ratio. Maybe this year I wouldn’t include a note in her box of jam full of misspellings. Maybe this year I wouldn’t be crippled with the fear that I’d give my partner botulism. Yes. This year would be different.

I happened upon a giant pile of pluots (a plum/apricot hybrid) and some perfect-looking Italian plums at the local farmer’s market. I wanted to do something a little different with the pluots, so I found a recipe for a savory jam – something that seemed like it would be great with pork or maybe blobbed on crackers with some chevre. It turned out well, though at first bite it is a little… unexpected. Savory. Weird.  I really hope Evan likes it! Oh jeeze. I shouldn’t think this hard about it. The harder I think about it, the more anxiety I feel.

Anxiety over my savory pluot jam will be my undoing!

The plum jam was rustic and lovely. I’m glad I made a bunch of jars of it. I used one at work to barter for Mexican food. Delia, (one of my favorite co-workers) and I are stuck in a cycle of good culinary deeds.  She gives me a burrito, I give her cookies. She gives me homemade salsa, I give her a thank you note. She gives me a plate of chicken, I give her a jar of jam. You get the idea. Clearly I am the lucky one in this cycle. But I am proud of the plum jam! It was good enough to give Delia – a solid trade for her chicken, so I think it was also good enough to send to Evan.

Oh, and I took care of my control issues with pectin by leaving it out of the equation entirely. I left the skin on all of the fruit, which served the dual purpose of adding natural pectin to the jam and making the whole fruit-prep process a little easier.

Jam foam = Best treat ever!

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Hard Cider: Part I

14 11 2010

When my old bike messenger chum Morgan invited me to tag along on her cider-making expedition, I couldn’t refuse. I mean, homemade hard cider! I had visions of an old-timey apple press, mugs of frothy brew, and of course we would all be wearing those white shirts with billowy sleeves that everyone wore in the 1500’s, right? I imagined we’d also sing British sailing songs while waving our mugs around.

It turned out my vision of homemade hard cider was just a tad off. And it wasn’t just my jumbled historical/geographic ideals that  were wrong. I was a little muddled on the process, too. When I told Robert what we had planned, he said his vision involved a 5-gallon bucket and lots of plastic tubing. Apparently he was more informed on homebrew than I was. Thank god Morgan and Kristi had the foresight to watch an informative DVD on the whole process, because I would not have been any help. “We’ve got to let this apple froth sit in these oak barrels for three months!” That’s how I would have gone about it.

Here’s a rough outline of the process: First we spent hours and hours chopping apples and grinding them with the Kitchen Aid grinder attachment. Oh, sorry, let me back up – Morgan got a windfall of apples from her boss who has a prolific tree in her yard. We had a giant box and two big tote bags full. So we chopped and chopped and ground and chopped and ground and chopped and ground and ground again. Amazingly, no digits were lost in the chopping frenzy! For that I am grateful. “Here, try this cider, sorry it tastes a little bit like finger.”  If you want to try making cider, might I suggest the grinder attachment? It was amazing. And it made the job much, much easier than it otherwise would have been. I mean, how on earth would we have smushed those apples? A two by four? A bible?

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Peach Butter (or: I am the most awkward Jam Exchange partner ever)

12 09 2010

I managed not to have a heart attack about the jam exchange, thanks to peach butter.

After the Peach Jam Fiasco of Summer ’10, I was left with about 27 still-delicious and perfectly ripe peaches, but not a lot of time. With work really getting busy, and the rest of life getting in the way, I just didn’t have much time to stand over the stove, skimming foam and worrying that I’d have another batch of failed jam. I did, however, have some time to peel and slice some peaches and toss them in the Crockpot. Aha! PEACH BUTTER!

A quick search on my Google machine turned up about 100,000 very similar recipes/techniques for slow cooker peach butter. Slice the fruit, toss it in the Crockpot with some sugar, and cook the crap out of it. So, that’s what I did.

I loooooooove the result, and I hope my jam exchange partner does, too. It was thick and slightly gooey; dark, dark brown, and had a wonderful tang. At this point, I had run out of 1/2 pint jars, though, and only had 1/4 pint jars left, so I had to send my partner a little jar of peach butter, a jar of my overly-vanilla-y apricot jam, and a jar of the hopelessly seedy peach-raspberry jam. I told myself “Seeds=rustic!” and “Everyone loves vanilla!” and put the jars in the box to be shipped. Then, while standing in line at the post office, I dashed off the most embarrassing note in which I implied that the peach butter was going to give her botulism, and I misspelled the word occur. OMG. What is wrong with me. I hope she doesn’t read the note. Maybe it will get buried in the packing material.

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Peach Jam Fiasco

12 09 2010

I bought another case of peaches this year.

I buy them every year from my friend’s son, who sells them to raise money for his football team. I think this year’s batch of peaches was the best ever. Honey-sweet and juicy, and each one with the perfect texture. Why didn’t I take any pictures of individual peaches? What was I thinking?

Anyway, with the jam exchange fast-approaching, and with my anxiety surrounding it mounting, and with my recent epiphany regarding seriously over-thought jam, I decided to make a batch of plain peach jam. What a great idea, right? But several events converged to make the entire batch a royal failure. And of course I made a really ginormous batch. So now I have many, many jars of bubbly peach sauce. It’s delicious, but it’s not jam.

It looks like it could potentially be jam, right? Although what's up with the 2-layer look?

I’ve written–okay, not just written, BRAGGED–in the past about tinkering with Sure-Jel recipes and having the jam turn out just fine. Well, this time I flew a tad too close to the sun on my wings of pectin (or, er, something like that). I used probably a cup, or two, or three, of peaches more than I should have. Used only about 1/2 a packet of pectin, and  cut way too far back on the sugar. I cooked it, but probably not long enough (did the Blob of Jam on a Frozen Plate Test for Doneness and it seemed to work, but considering my final result of runny sauce, I guess I should have paid closer attention?). And strangely, it never really foamed up, so there wasn’t any foam to skim, but when the jars came out of the final hot water bath, they were full of bubbles.

Definitely weird. Definitely not jam.

ARGH.

Well, the sauce was not jam-exchange worthy, but it is really delicious swirled into yogurt or oatmeal, and don’t even get me started about how it tastes when drizzed on ginger ice cream. Oh. Mahhh. Gawwwwww.

So maybe it wasn’t a total fiasco? Still, I’m obviously not going to reprint the instructions here. The jam exchange deadline is coming, and I’m nearly having an apoplexy, trying to figure out what to send my partner. Well, at least I still have about half a case of peaches to mess around with. Peach butter, maybe?





I keep seriously over-thinking my jam

4 09 2010

I think that maybe all last year and most of this summer I was having a jam problem. I was on a quest to come up with the MOST DELICIOUS JAM EVER. And so I was trying to combine all sorts of different fruits and flavors. In retrospect, I think I was trying to impress everyone with my jam-making prowess. It was like I was in some sort of jam-making competition that only I knew about. But then, after reading this post by David Lebovitz about jam, I changed my tune. French people, apparently, enjoy single-fruit, simple jams. And aren’t French people usually right about anything food-related? Except snails, I think. What I realized is that jam is about the FRUIT. The most delicious, ripest, full of glory fruit. That’s what we’re trying to capture, right? Fruit at its peak, in a jar. Bottled up so we can enjoy it all year.

But before I had that epiphany, I struggled my way though a couple batches of jam. The first, peach-raspberry, is actually pretty good. I used a peach jam recipe in a Sure-Jel pectin package as a framework, and combined peaches and raspberries from the farmer’s market. It turned out well, only I realized way too late (like, after everything was in the jars, out of the hot water bath, and cooling off) that I didn’t even consider straining the raspberry seeds out. So, if you love the sensation of raspberry seeds wedged in your gums, this jam is totally for you. I can’t really post a recipe, because I think what I did was use maybe 3 1/3 cups of peaches and 1 cup of raspberries. Or something like that. But really, maybe I just should have used peaches? Forget the fancy combinations. Maybe just peaches, or just raspberry? I really over-thought it.

So then I decided to make some of David Lebovitz’s apricot jam, from the aforementioned link. David Lebovitz is like the food Jesus (and I’m not even religious!), so I will do anything he tells me to. His recipe is simple, and I’m sure his turned out much better than mine, because I was all, “I must make this the most amazing jam ever,” so I added vanilla to it, a little too much vanilla, and now the taste of ripe, Colorado-grown apricots is totally overpowered by the flavor of vanilla. It’s not bad, I mean, it’s good, I guess, but it totally does not capture the deliciousness of fruit at its peak. *sigh* I do recommend his recipe, though. Just don’t screw it up like I did.  I won’t repost the recipe here because if you don’t already read his blog, you really should!

Of course, just after I was finishing up the apricot jam, I got an e-mail from Steph at Steph Chows inviting me to participate in the jam exchange again! ARGH! I had a lot of jam I could share, but I was positively gripped with jam exchange anxiety! I mean, what if my jam partner opened up my package expectantly, thinking, “Oh I just can’t wait to taste a little bit of ripe summer fruit,” but was crestfallen to discover two jars of seriously over-thought jam in which any good flavor was totally obscured by all my drastic tinkering?! DOUBLE ARGH! NOW I MUST MAKE BATCH UPON BATCH OF PLAIN, SINGLE-FRUIT JAM SO THAT MY PARTNER DOESN’T HATE ME!!!

Seriously everyone, what is wrong with me? Why am I thinking so hard about jam???





Pickles!

26 07 2010

Since the almond cake I haven’t turned on the oven. It’s just been too hot. But it’s not too hot for PICKLES!

We are total pickle hawks here. We rarely buy them, though, because have you bought pickles lately? They cost an arm and a leg. Or, at least the good pickles, the kosher dills, do. Totally out of reach for the hoi palloi. So when I happened on a recipe for fridge pickles in the latest issue of Organic Gardening, I was all, “Totally dude, I am making these. Totally.”

Have you made fridge pickles? THEY ARE SO EASY! It only takes a few minutes to throw it all together and pack them in jars. the next day you have delicious pickles. Don’t worry about canning them properly, just eat them in a timely manner and you will be fine. One recipe I found said they will keep for at least 9 months. Must be all the vinegar? Well, I made these last week and they are almost all gone. All six jars of them. So I’m not worried about not eating them before they turn.

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