Monday, June 17, 2013

Third year - A Copper Kettle Season

I'm getting a late start in jamming this year, but I've jumped in with both feet into a different method - a copper kettle, less sugar and little or no added pectin, inspired by the recipes from the "Blue Chair Fruit Company" cookbook.
In brief, Rachel uses fresh picked, local fruit; usually mixes it with some sugar and lets it stand overnight; cooks a batch in a copper jam kettle, and concentrates the fruit in a soft thick product.

Only 8 half-pints from 6 pounds strawberries  :-(
The good result is a lower sugar, very fruity fresh flavor; the bad result is fewer jars from all that fruit and work.  The copper kettle has a shallow, wide profile which cooks faster with greater evaporation of the water content of fruit. Also, it spatters less.

On June 12, when I was in Pennsylvania visiting my mom, I bought six pounds (four quarts) of locally grown strawberries at Dymond's Farm Market in Dallas PA for $5.25/qt. Though the berries were smaller in size than the supermarket imports from Calif, they were red ripe all the way through and enticingly fragrant with aroma, mmmm.

Strawberry Pineapple Jam
7 cups strawberries
1 cup pineapple,diced
4 cups sugar
3 Tbs lemon juice

If possible, combine the strawberries, pineapple, sugar and lemon juice in a glass or ceramic bowl and let sit overnight in the fridge. Add the mixture to the copper preserving pan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. There will be a lot of bubbles, foam and juice. Start the kitchen timer for 30 minutes. Stirring frequently, adjust the heat a little higher to keep a fast rolling boil. When foam accumulates, lower the heat by half, and skim off the foam. The mixture continues to boil and reduce in volume, after about 15 minutes, the color darkens and the fruit becomes glossy. Start testing for jam consistency by dipping a spoon into the pan and observing the droplets. If it looks thick, and holds it shape, before the timer is up, reduce the heat and skim off any leftover foam. When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and taste it carefully, it's hot.
Take the jars out of the canner and drain them. Fill them up to 1/4 inch from the rim. Wipe the rim clean with a wet paper towel, top with a clean lid and ring. Process in boiling water bath canner for 5 minutes.
Whole berries, sugar, vanilla bean, lemon juice make preserves
The next batch I made was whole strawberry preserves flavored with vanilla. This is a real gourmet treat and so easy to make. Remember to thoroughly wash the berries, and shake off the excess water. Its best to mix the berries and sugar and vanilla bean in advance; the maceration process draws the juice out of the whole berry. I used pectin to thicken it slightly, but I'm not sure I needed it.

Strawberry Vanilla Preserves
4 cups smaller whole strawberries, stemmed
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 piece vanilla bean, about 3" long
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
3 Tablespoons dry pectin
The cutest jar toppers from crafter Mud and Twig

That was all of the strawberries, but I have a few more recipes to try. A new version, recommended by the New York Times, pairs kiwi fruit with strawberries. A trip to the Van Vorst Park ( Jersey City) Farmers' Market, turned up some beautiful stalks of rhubarb, to become a strawberry rhubarb jam. And other explorations....

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Copper Preserving Pan - WOW

Did I mention that I had gone to a jam demonstration given by jam expert and small business success story, Rachel Saunders? I also bought her cookbook, Blue Chair Fruit, She recommends as an essential piece of equipment, the copper preserving pan, saying it is the game changer.  I wanted one very much, but told myself that I had to earn it. When my jams won ribbons at both county fairs that I entered. I decided that after many years of canning, I deserved it and I would make the huge investment. I spent so much on the pot, that i didn't have money left to buy fruit to make the jam. I couldn't wait to try it out and reap the rewards of better equipment and Rachel's example.

However, the first attempt was rather a disaster... in trying to make a grape jelly with homegrown grapes generously given me by my friend, with the plan to return the grapes in the form of sparkling sweet/tart white grape jelly. In my enthusiasm to use the pot, I disregarded all the guidelines that I had learned in the last  few years. Fruit too green, not enough sugar, not adding pectin for jelly, cooking way too long, not reaching the jel point - that just about covers everything about preserves. Here is how it turned out.  I didn't blame the pot ( just at first) - they were all my mistakes.

Getting up and right back on the horse, so to speak, I made a super Peach Jam with Lime and everything turned out according to my hopes. The peaches were pretty ripe, being at the end of their season, and needed a little zing to balance the flavor. This time, I followed Rachel's method exactly, and with my own experience guiding me too, I made a low sugar, no- added- pectin, softly textured sweet and peachy jam. The copper pot really really made a difference in the cooking and it is possible, that for jams, jellies and preserves, this is the right piece.
The copper pot takes up a lot of space on the stove top.

Skimming the foam off the top is easier with the wide shallow pan size.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Jersey City Farmers' Market Exploration #4. Journal Square

Jackie Robinson played ball here in 1946 at Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City.
It's August and the last month of summer is here. The farms are overflowing with corn, tomatoes, cukes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini - all the late summer crops - lettuces, beets and spinach, bokchoy, are still strong and the fruit crops have turned away from berries to stone fruits and melons. There is a farmers' market in Jersey City every day of the week, and the Friday market is held at Journal Square. In search of more delicious string beans and ripe tomatoes,
I ventured out to the PATH Plaza at the intersection of Kennedy Blvd and Bergen St. This location operates on Wednesdays and Fridays, and features the two big farmer's stands, Stony Hill Gardens, and Alstede's. They were rather evenly matched for produce, quantity, prices. 

The historic Loew's Theater stands proudly behind the canopied farmers.
I found an assortment of heirloom tomatoes and dill at Stony Hill; Alstede's offered purple podded string beans. Personal interaction and friendliness, evident here, are important qualities for sustaining the farmer-to-buyer relationship. Stony Hill customers are helped by cute twin girls from the JSQ neighborhood; international exchange students from Slovakia and Bulgaria are spending the summer working at Alstede's farms and market.

The fountain is dry.
I don't know yet, if it's typical of a Friday market there, but the only other vendors are Dr. Pickle (" he's got your cure") and the nut vendor. This urban location has a fountain, civic statues, a kiosk, some planters and shady trees and places to sit. It might be busier on Wednesdays, but the today, the combination of the traffic, empty lot, heavy 1970's-style architecture make it seem less vibrant than it should be. Strolling musicians would be nice.

The next day, my two friends and I set to work on a trio of recipes. We made a peach-cardamom jam, Moroccan-style preserved lemons, and dilly beans. The peach cardamom jam was almost preserves like in texture, and a bold spicy taste. The goal was to make a product that was lower in sugar and pectin, and this is what we did.
6 lbs of peaches
4 lbs sugar
3 tablespoons dry pectin ( 1 box)
1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh 
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Peel the peaches, and slice them into small pieces. We wanted a chunky texture. Put them into a very large preserving pan or dutch oven, and add the lemon juice. Cook over high heat until the fruit boils. Then add the pectin and the sugar. Bring to a boil again stirring well to dissolve the sugar. Add the cardamom and cook until the color darkens a little and the syrup thickens. Test for jell. Add a little more cardamom if you like. If the jam is too runny, cook at a steady boil for another four or five minutes, testing every 2 minutes. Yield: 8 half pints.

We love the widemouth short half pint Ball jar.
A jar packed with lemon rinds, waiting to be filled and capped

Cutting, rolling and juicing 2 dozen lemons.
The basic jar of string beans ready for different flavors.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dilly Beans

I have been wanting to make dilled string beans for a long time. Yesterday I shopped at the Hamilton Park Farmers' Market and bought 5 lbs of nice green and yellow snap beans from my friends at Stony Hill farm, and a bunch of organic dill leaves from the organic farm stand.
Why are most of the pickles sold in stores and at the farmers markets, made from cucumbers? Sure, pickled beets are popular, but dilly bean pickles are rarely seen on a grocery shelf. I asked google, are pickles a healthy food?
You might be interested in what "the nutrition diva" had to say about it. When a pickle counts as a serving of vegetables, that's tops with me! "The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving" by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard has a big chapter on a variety of pickled vegetables.
I researched my "library" of canning books and found each one had a recipe for  Dilled Green Beans. All of them called for white vinegar, salt, dill, garlic and hot pepper. Some pre-cooked the beans, other recipes said to pack raw beans into the jars. I tried a batch each way. In the Better Homes and Gardens, there was an eyecatching photo of Lemon-Bay pickled beans. I made those also, with the yellow beans (to match the lemon). Then I had four cups of leftover pickle solution, so I cut up a huge onion and put that into a pickle.
Dilly Beans, Lemon Bay Beans, raw pack Dilly Beans, Pickled Onion Rings
In all, I worked through the afternoon, washing, trimming, stirring and canning, and have 7 lovely pints of pickled beans and 2 pints pickled onion rings as my reward.
I learned a rule of thumb: one pound of green beans, trimmed into 4 inch pieces, will fill just 2 pints, packed tightly. 
Look for beans at the farm stand or pick-your-own farm, and buy an extra pound. Try this easy recipe, using a few common ingredients, and make two jars. It won't take much time, and you'll have a lovely product that you will not want to open because they look so nice! I mean - you will be so proud of them, you'll save them for a special occasion. Dilly Beans, from "Pickles and Relishes" by Andrea Chesman, page 90. I cut the recipe in half.
Ingredients: 1 pound green beans, washed and trimmed into 4 inch pieces
2 cloves of garlic
2 heads of dill (seed), or 4 stems of fresh dill leaves, or 2 tsp dill seed
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or 1-2 small dried red chili peppers
1-1/4 cup  water
1-1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup pickling salt ( I don't want all that salt, I used one tablespoon)
1. Wash 2 wide mouth pint jars and heat them in a water bath canner put on medium heat. 
2. In a sauce pan, combine the water, vinegar and salt; stir to dissolve, then heat to boiling.
3. Remove the hot jars from the canner, and place them on their sides on a towel. 
Fill the jars laying on their sides, garlic, dill leaves, beans, then the vinegar. 
4. Into each jar, put a clove of garlic, a chili pepper and the dill. 
5. Pack the beans into the jars, so they are "standing up"in the jar. this is easier to do with the jar lying on its side, and using a little plastic fork to move the beans into place. 
6. Stand up the jars and pour the boiling vinegar into the jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace and covering the beans with the liquid.
7. Wipe the rims clean and top with the lid and then the ring. Tighten the ring firmly but not terribly tight.
8. Process in boiling water for 10 minutes for pints, timing when the water returns to a boil.
9. Remove jars and let them cool, undisturbed. The lids should snap down.
10. If you do not yet have a water bath canner, you can use a large deep stock pot, with a little rack made of extra canning rings or a towel, filled with enough water to cover the tops of the jars.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Red, White and Blue at the Warren County Fair

I won't keep you in suspense -  I've won a ribbon for each entry in the Warren County Fair! How exciting and surprising. I'm so glad I took a chance.
First place and a blue ribbon for Chunky Mustard Pickles and for Apple-Mint Jelly. Second place and a red ribbon for Pineapple Marmalade and for Peach-Jalepeno Pepper Jelly, and third place and a white ribbon for Plum Jam. 
I'm really proud of them all.  The prize winning recipe for the pickles is in the previous post about Van Vorst Park Farmers' Market.

Second Place for the Peach-Jalepeno Jelly.
Each jar was displayed with the entry tag, recipe and the comment card. Judge's comment for mint-apple jelly, " sealed well, color and taste excellent, make some more".
That was my first time making herb jelly, a little challenging, but worth it. You can use other herbs too.
Here is the recipe, from the Better Homes and Gardens Canning special interest magazine, 2011, page 106
Mint-Apple Jelly
  3 ounces fresh peppermint leaves
  3 cups fresh apple juice
  1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed
  1 pkg, 1.75 oz, powdered pectin
  4 cups sugar
1. Wash, cut and measure 1 cup mint leaves. 
2. Simmer the apple juice and mint together for 15 minutes. 
3. Strain, reserving the juice, and discard the leaves. 
4. Combine the flavored apple juice, lemon juice and dry pectin in a large pot. 5. Heat to a full boil and add the sugar. Stir to dissolve completely.
6. Return to a full rolling boil for 1 minute.
7. Remove from heat, skim foam, fill jars to 1/4 " headspace and adjust lids.
8. Process in a water bath canner for 5 minutes, timing when the water boils.
Yields five 8oz jars.

The Concession stand and the Rides behind it.
The Warren County Fairgrounds are about five miles north of Phillipsburg NJ, and the fair is noted for its hot air balloon "inflation". It also features all the usual fun attractions of a county fair: carnival rides, strawberry shortcake; farm animals; quilts; pig races; beauty and baby contests; tractor races, vendors and community organizations, and something new to me "Polish-style hamburgers".There is so much to see and do and a lot of effort is put into it.

A girl and her goats.
I'd like to thank Becky Hummer, of the Warren County Rutgers Cooperative Extension office, consultant for the canning exhibits, who helped me fill out the paperwork and kept my opened jars an extra day so I could pick them up. Exhibitors who enter 5 or more items received a week long pass, and I wish I lived closer so I could take my son-in-law and my grandson to the competitive hay bale rolling and the 4 wheel drive truck pull. Maybe next year...

Next weekend I plan to enter more jams and pickles in the Middlesex County Fair in East Brunswick. Can this city girl win some more ribbons? 

Oh, you definitely want to check out this great article on canning, southern style, in the August issue of Southern Living magazine. Looks like a lot of fun and some new twists on traditional recipes, as well as a quick 3 step description of how to can and properly process your jars. I've been invited to make corn relish and tomato marmalade; and mango jam and Indian pickles; and zucchini sott'olio, sounds like a good time for a party?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jersey City Farmers' Market Exploration #3 - Van Vorst Park

The Farmers' Market at Van Vorst Park is like a little gem tucked inside a secret garden. The market is set up in the center of the square around the gazebo and you walk down shady paths bordered with roses and flowers to reach it. Besides the farmers, there are the knife sharpener, Stella's Argentine empanadas, three tables of baked goods, and Dakota Dog selling the cutest handcrafted toys for pets. It's friendly, small and simply charming.

I needed ingredients to make Mustard Pickles and found them at the stand displaying a wide variety of fresh greens, reds, whites and purples. Their prices for Kirby cucumbers and bell peppers and white onions were a bargain and they had lots of corn, tomatoes, eggplant and nice looking leafy vegetables. Just because there was the “Jersey Fresh” label on the jar, I bought some really good honey made by Trapper’s Honey LLC from Clarksburg.  

I was happy to see a farmer advertising cheese and eggs for sale, Ed Huff of Central Valley Farms of Asbury NJ. His third generation family farm began years ago as a dairy farm, selling milk. Then, uncertainties with processing and marketing the fluid milk led to a change in direction, to making fresh artisanal cheese.

 Central Valley Farm's cows are grazing in green pastures all spring and summer - only this milk is used for the cheeses. Their booth displays beauty shots of the cows and the hens, giving them their due. Today the table has a smaller selection of produce, but coming soon are 30+ varieties of heirloom tomatoes and peppers Central Valley Farm rotates to Union Square (NYC) and an uptown market, plus a CSA. 

Bon Appetit' magazine has tips on shopping at a Farmers' Market. It's worth the look.

This is the batch of pickles I’m taking to the Warren County Fair. It's a quick and easy recipe which will be submitted in the category “Any other pickle”. 
Chunky Mustard Pickles
Yield: Six Pints, One Halfpint, and a Quart of Extra Pickle Juice 
Ingredients: the pickle solution:
   5 cups white vinegar
   ¼ cup prepared yellow mustard
   3 ½ cups sugar
   1/3 cup salt
   2 TBS celery seed
   2 TBS mustard seed
   ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
   ½ teaspoon whole cloves
 The vegetables:
     5 lbs Kirby cucumbers
     3 large white onions
     2 large green peppers
     4 medium stalks celery

1. Scrub all vegetables thoroughly in running water. Seed (if seeds are large) and cut the cucumbers into chunks.
2. Dice the green peppers, onions and celery.
3. In a large stockpot combine the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and spices.  Bring to a boil, stirring well to dissolve the sugar, salt and mustard.
4. Add the chopped vegetables to the pot, and heat until almost boiling, about ten minutes. Then reduce the heat to very low. Have clean hot pint jars ready.
5. Fill the pint jars with vegetables, and cover with vinegar solution to ½ inch of the rims. Using a canning funnel helps so much.
6. Wipe rims clean with a paper towel, adjust lids, and process in a water-bath canner, using a lower heat pasteurization method, of 30 minutes at 180-185 degrees.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cherry Conserve

Don't you love cherries? Fresh cherries are here and gone in a matter of 2 or 3 weeks. I found them at the Grove St Farmers' Market on Monday and bought as much as I could carry. Ort Farms had a table of early stone fruits, along with the cherries, there were two varieties of plums and some peaches. Truth to tell, the cherries were grown in Washington state. Ort Family Farms is located in Long Valley NJ and has family friendly activities and offers a CSA program too.  They sell at several other markets around here.

I've been wanting to make a conserve. Here is how the Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving describes it: "Conserves are jams garnished with nuts... and sometimes with dried fruits." This is their recipe for Cherry Hazelnut Conserve, adjusted slightly, substituting pineapple for the orange.

2 lbs of sweet cherries, about 3 baskets
2 ½ cups of sugar
½ lemon
1/2 lb pineapple
1/3 cup hazelnuts, chopped
¼ teaspoon citric acid

1. Wash and pit the cherries, yielding 4 cups.
2. Wash the lemon and remove the yellow rind, slicing it into very thin pieces.Discard the white rind and chop the lemon pulp.
3. Chop the pineapple coarsely, about 1/3 cup
4. Mix all the fruit with the sugar, and let it stand for a few hours or overnight. Stir well until the sugar is dissolved. Taste the mixture for balance of sweet and tart, and if it is not tart enough, add the citric acid.
Homemade Cherry-Pineapple Conserve
5. Pour the fruit and juice into a tall stockpot. Bring to a rapid boil of high heat. Set the time for 15 minutes. As it cooks, the water evapor-ates and the foam rises threateningly in the pot. 
6. Stir to prevent scorching and lower the heat slightly if the jam is sticking. Observe when the color darkens and the liquid becomes syrupy and shiny. 
7. Turn off the heat and pour in the chopped hazelnuts.
8. Stir steadily 4-5 minutes, to release more steam and distribute the fruit and nuts evenly.
9. Ladle into hot jars, wipe the rims, adjust the lids and rings, and process 10 minutes in a water bath canner. Yields four halfpint jars.