Friday, November 11, 2011

The Pike Place Market, Seattle, and Carrot Jam

Blue sky, seagull, and rows of vendors

Last weekend, I visited Seattle, and was drawn to the famous market. Lively, colorful, marvelous and varied, I found so many interesting foods, crafts, people and eating places to explore. This is a history from the website, www.pikeplacemarket.org     

"HISTORY OF PIKE PLACE MARKET

"Its nine acres and more than a century of operation encompass thousands of fascinating stories - tales of immigration, internment, renovation and urban renewal - all that help explain why Pike Place Market is called The Soul of Seattle."

The best looking and tasting salmon!
"Here is a snapshot of how the Market came to be. Between 1906 and 1907, the cost of onions increased tenfold. Outraged citizens, fed up with paying price-gouging middlemen too much for their produce, found a hero in Seattle City Councilman Thomas Revelle. Revelle proposed a public street market that would connect farmers directly with consumers. Customers would " meet the producer" directly, a philosophy that is still the foundation of all Pike Place Market businesses. On August 17, 1907, Pike Place Market was born. On that first day, a total of eight farmers brought their wagons to the corner of First Avenue and Pike Street, and were quickly overwhelmed by an estimated 10,000 eager shoppers. By 11:00 am, they were sold out. Thousands of would-be customers went home empty handed, but the chaos held promise. By the end of 1907, the first Market building opened with every space filled.

"A century later, Pike Place Market is internationally recognized as America's premier farmers' market and is home to more than 200 year=round commercial businesses; 190 craftspeople and approximately 100 farmers who rent table space by the day; 240 street performers and musicians; and more than 300 apartment units, most of which provide housing for low-income elderly people. "The Market." as the local affectionately say, attracts 10 million visitors a year, making it one of Washington state's most frequently visited destinations."

The Original Starbucks store
On Saturday afternoon, I was one of those 10 million and I got an overview of the complexity of the place. There are buildings with indoor booths, and places in the streets for more vendors. Restaurants, musicians, artists were mostly outside. The first Starbucks coffee shop is right there! and people were lined up to enter and grab a Pike Place coffee, or just take photos of the famous birthplace. I had to return on Sunday morning to take a closer look. These two vendors of Jam and Jelly were my favorites. 
Canter-Berry Farms jam - Pretty!
The first vendor was Canter-Berry farms which was all things blueberry, blueberry jam, syrup, vinegar and chutney. I tasted the vinegar, mellow with a sweet flavor of berries, and the jam was good, too. Doug and Clarissa have been growing blueberries in Auburn WA and making these good preserved for over 25 years. They have the nicest packaging. This is their website, www.blueberries4u.com, where you can order gift baskets online.
Beware! Six levels of heat!
The second vendor was  Mick's Peppourri. Also family owned and operated since 1982, this company specializes in pepper jellies- unusual varieties with hot peppers paired with fruits, and wine flavors. They offered free samples, too, and I had a few eye'opening experiences with their hot jellies! Their flavors are full and spicy and good. My favorite is the hot pomegranate jelly.  There is a website, www.micks.com , and will ship to you with quantity discounts. Then I browsed some booths selling cherries, or honey, or lavender, or pickles, not to mention the lovely seafood vendors.
Mr. Lee hiding under the hat
I felt an overwhelming desire to make a jam with this wonderful fruit. But it is November and what fruit is being harvested locally? just pears! apples! I'm told all the berries, tomatoes,etc are shipped up from California. . What is local, what is special? The tables on the street are loaded with vegetables, particularly eye-catching are beautiful multicolored carrots! Easy to carry, hard to bruise and a challenge to make jam from ! yes! I buy the carrots from Lee's Fresh Produce, where Mr Lee tells me about their farms in Redmond, WA, and how they strive to provide local produce free of pesticides and conscious of the community. The produce looks so rich in color and free of spots and holes. I am very impressed. The carrots can probably by transported through the TSA security checkpoints without too much ado. They are innocent, low tech travelers, and I hope to get them home safely. 
My Pike Place natural tote bag
Here they are in my kitchen. I searched a couple of books and online sources, and there isn’t too much on carrot jam or marmalade,  however there are a bunch of interesting takes on carrot cake jam. They sound more accurately like a conserve.
This Recipe is from the Ball Blue Book 
Grated carrots, orange and lemon juice
 4 cups shredded or grated   carrots, I used one cup pf purple,  one cup of white, two cups of orange carrots
 ¼ cup lemon juice,  ¼ cup orange juice
 2 TBS lemon rind grated, 3 cups sugar
 1 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 cup or so of water
 1 pouch liquid pectin
Note: none of the recipes called for pectin, but I can’t think of making jam without it, the resulting consistency and taste are more like a butter, and might have a scorched flavor.
A small batch of crunchy carrot jam!
In a large stockpot, combine the carrots, juices, lemon peel, sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. The carrots will release some liquid, but not too much. Lower the heat to a slow boil and cook for 20 minutes, the carrots did not disintegrate. Add the ginger and bring to a full boil. Add the pectin and boil for 1 minute. Test for jelling and boil another minute if necessary. Turn off the heat, stir well, and fill the jars. Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes for small jars. The texture was crunchy, thick and a medium jell, and the taste was tilted to the lemon side. But a success, spread on a cracker with cream cheese, and good any time and season!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Wilkes-Barre Farmers' Market

Tents set up on W-B public square looking past a sculpture
towards the Chamber of Commerce and bank buildings
I grew up in Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania and lived there until our family moved to Edison NJ. The area always had a great sense of community and residents from Pittston to Nanticoke to Back Mtn identified with "The Valley". Going back 30 years or more, every Thursday from June through October, there is a farmer's market on Wilkes-Barre's public square and many of the same farms and stands still set up and sell locally grown vegetables, fruits, and honey. In town to visit family last Thursday, I made that familiar trip to the market in search of fresh corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, and hopefully, plums.  


Public square looking toward the Kirby Center. Farmer's tents
line two sides of the square, a bandshell is in the center.
 When I was a young mother, I often took my kids to the square to buy fresh vegetables, have lunch and listen to the bands entertain the crowds. In the photo at right, you can see that tradition continue. One of our favorites, Hillside Farms, was a local dairy farm known for its delicious ice cream. Now "The Lands at Hillside Farms", they are a proponent of organic, sustainable living and have a vision and a mission explained on their website http://www.thelandsathillsidefarms.org/  Recently, there are new CSA (community supported agriculture) farms which are increasing the ability of people to buy locally grown food.
I asked the man at O'Malia's tent how the heavy rains had affected their harvest. The tomatoes suffered the most, as the rain caused their skins to crack and split open, allowing insect and mold to spoil the fruit. Despite the weather, the tables were piled up with plenty of vegetables and it was hard to resist the large baskets of peppers, tomatoes, etc. But I had come to buy a quantity of a particular variety of cucumber, the kirby, which is the best one for making pickles, because of its thin skin, crisp flesh, and medium size. Then I walked around the whole line of stands looking for a particular red plum for my plum jam. Only one stand, Dymonds, was selling them and I was able to buy the last 3 quarts. Happy, I left behind bushels of beautiful apples, beets, tomatoes and more for another day.


CRUNCHY DILL PICKLES, a 3 DAY RECIPE
A plate holds the cucumbers down.

After soaking in brine and syrup.
found a recipe I like on page 268 of Linda Arendt’s book Blue Ribbon Preserves. I took home the 20 kirby cucumbers from the farmer's market. I washed them well, removed the blossom ends ( typically this has a little scar, opposite the stem end which has the rough stub of a stem). I put them whole in a large bowl and covered them with a brine solution of 1/2cup pickling salt dissolved in 3 quarts of water. I placed a plate on top of the cukes and weighed  it down with a jar of water. The cukes must be submerged and soak for 24 hours. The next day I drained and rinsed the cukes, and put them back into the bowl.  I made a syrup with 4 cups of white vinegar, 1 cup of sugar and a spice bag containing 1 teaspoon each of dill seed, mustard seed, celery seed, coriander seed, and peppercorns. for good measure I added a bay leaf. This solution I brought to a boil for 5 minutes and took off the heat and removed the spice bag. Then pour this boiling hot syrup over the cucumbers. Cover the bowl again with a plate and jar making sure the cucumbers are completely submerged. Let them stand another 24 hours. The next day remove the cucumbers and put the syrup in a pot. Bring the syrup to a boil. Pack 3-4 cucumbers per pint jar, adding 3 sprigs of fresh dill to each jar. Ladle the hot syrup into the jars, with 1/2 inch headspace. With a flat blade of a plastic knife, for example, free any air bubbles trapped in the jars. Wipe the rims with a clean damp paper towel, adjust the lids and rings. Process in a water bath canner at 185 degrees for 30 minutes. Note: for Kosher Dills, add one peeled clove of garlic per jar.
Kosher Dills, pint jars
Packed and ready for syrup.
If the cucumbers are too large, you may cut them in half and / or cut them shorter. Pack about 3 cukes per pint jar. Yield: 7 pints.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cardamom, pepper, tarragon and mint, Part 2

There is one of my motivations for making jam: the appearance of the jars in the sunlight. You see from the top: peach-jalepano jelly, apple-peppermint jelly; cherry tarragon preserves; peach jam with cardamom. 
If you are enamored of the flavor of Mint: mint choc-chip ice cream; mint patties; mint juleps; spearmint jelly slices; I have a great recipe for you! Apple mint jelly, mmm, as shown second from the top, each jar has a small mint leaf to distinguish it. This is a variation on the herb jelly recipe in the BH&G Canning magazine. I have a garden with lots of fresh peppermint and other herbs. It is much much nicer than a jar of commercial mint jelly and of course, it is all natural with nothing artificial, not even green food coloring.
 APPLE MINT JELLY
4 cups fresh apple juice                               
2 handfuls fresh mint leaves and stems, well washed
4 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup dry pectin, or one package
Combine the apple juice and mint and bring to a boil. Let the "decoction" boil for 10 minutes, turn off the heat, and cover. After it cools, remove the mint and strain through a sieve lined with a paper towel. Measure 3 cups of the flavored juice, and add the lemon juice and the dry pectin; bring to a boil. Add the sugar, stirring constantly, and bring to a full rolling boil. Time for one minute and then check the jelling point. Skim the foam, which will rise to the top and begin to jell on the surface. Ladle the hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rims and adjust the lids. Process in the  water bath canner at 200 degrees for 10 minutes for a half pint jar.
  
 CHERRY TARRAGON PRESERVES
Sweet Cherry Tarragon Preserves
but the fruit is not well distributed.
Cherries are a pleasure; the season for fresh sweet cherries is only a few weeks. Cherries have a firmer texture, they keep their shape well when cooked, and thus lend themselves for preserves and conserves where a chunky or whole fruit is desirable. Sweet black cherries are yummy popped in your mouth, but in a plain jam or preserves, the flavor is a little one-dimensional. An herb is needed! Tarragon, with its sweet flavor of anise, complements the dark cherry's. 



Pitted cherries fall into the tray at right.
Here I have set up the new cherry pitter machine. It is easy to use and saves a lot of time. You can pit about 30 cherries a minute as they roll down the tray and into the trap. You can eat them just as fast, too. Regardless, measure 4 cups of pitted cherries. In a large bowl, layer 2 cups of cherries, then 2 cups of sugar, and repeat. Let stand for an hour, or a morning, as the sugar draws the juice out of the cherries. This helps the fruit keep its whole shape as it cooks, and prevent it from floating as it jells ( that might happen anyway, see the photo above). After you let it stand, transfer the cherries/sugar mixture to the large pot and begin to cook it over medium heat, stirring to dissolve all the sugar. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice,10 sprigs of tarragon tied up, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook at a simmer for about 10 minutes stirring to keep the fruit from sticking.
Remove the tarragon and raise the heat to boiling. Add one pouch of liquid pectin, and cook at a boil for 1 minute. Test for jell, it will probably be rather thin, which is ok since preserves are large pieces of fruit suspended in a thick clear syrup. Stir the hot preserves in the pot for 5 minutes, and skim the foam before ladling into hot jars. Wipe the rims well with a damp paper towel and top with lid and ring. Process in the  water bath canner at 200 degrees for 10 minutes for a half pint jar.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cardamom, pepper, tarragon and mint, Part 1

I tried to make the title rhyme with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme(?); however, my choices of herbs and spices as flavorings for jams "sing" of the exotic and the country.


Von Thun's table
Saturday I went to the Metuchen N.J. Farmer's Market in the parking lot off New St. The VonThun farm of Monmouth Junction regularly sets up there and they have a solid offering of all the popular fruits and vegetables. Front and center were some wonderful Jersey peaches, just hours away from the peak of ripeness and ready for jamming. The peaches came from a neighboring orchard. To carry the 6 pounds of peaches, plus corn, eggplant and a melon the size of a pumpkin, VonThun gave me a big tote bag which is so much nicer than the throwaway plastic baggies.


I had two recipes for peaches from the Better Homes and Gardens Canning magazine - peach jalepeno pepper jelly, and peach jam with cardamom. I started with the jelly and Here is the recipe:
Straining the juice with cheesecloth lined 
      Peaches: 2 lbs, peeled, pitted and chopped
       Cider vinegar, 1 cup
      Jalepeno peppers, 3 or 4, seeded and chopped
      Sugar, 5 cups
      Liquid pectin, one 3 oz bag


    Put chopped peaches in a large stockpot and mash with a potato masher. Add vinegar and chile peppers. Bring to boiling and reduce heat, then cook for at least 20 minutes until everything is very soft. Use a jelly bag or colander lined with cheesecloth, strain the mixture. You need 2 cups juice. Discard the solids.
Combine 2 cups juice with the sugar, and bring to a boil, stirring. Quickly stir in the liquid pectin. Bring to a boil again, stirring constantly for one minute. Remove from heat and skim the foam on the surface. Fill hot jars with hot jelly, wipe the rims and put on the lids. Process in a boiling water bath canner for 5 minutes. Makes 5 half pints (8oz jars).
Top: Peach-jalepeno Jelly
Botton: Apple-peppermint Jelly


The best jelly is clear and sparkling, from juice that has slowly dripped through the bag. I wanted every last drop of juice, so I squeezed the pulp almost dry and filtered it a second time 95% clear. When I tasted the juice wow, hot and sour and sweet, you have to try it!


The next batch, also from BH&G, was for peach jam with cardamom. See page 73 for the recipe.This brought back memories of a family vacation in Zanzibar in 2009.
Peach Jam ready for lids
The inn served many variations on mango jam, with black pepper, with cardamom, with cinnamon, etc. It was the first time we had jams with strong spices. In fact, we took a tour there of a spice farm, more of a backyard garden in the jungle than a farm, imagine chickens, cats and a 
few other animal species here and there. We carried umbrellas against the rain and traipsed through muddy fields, yet we saw everything from allspice to vanilla. The innkeeper made the jams herself using mango which grows abundantly. Peaches are similar in color and taste.

Monday, August 15, 2011

An Impromptu Taste Testing

Curious about the flavors of my specialty jams, I invited my mother, my sister and her husband, my daughter and her husband, and my husband to taste a selection. Included in the taste test are the lemon thyme herb jelly, from the Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) magazine; the strawberry marsala jam from BHG, the peach preserves in Earl Grey tea from Bon Appetit’, and bing cherry jam from the Blue Ribbon Preserves book.
The jars certainly make an appealing appearance, the light yellow, the dark red, the pinky red, and the brown fillings were examined for texture and  3 out of 4 were judged very good. The herb  jelly was firm but tender, the preserves had big chunks of fruit suspended in a semisoft jelly, the  strawberry jam was thick and  kept its shape, but the cherry jam had the consistency of a jelly with the small pieces of fruit – not acceptable because it was neither jam nor jelly.

Everyone dug in with crackers piled with product, here is the verdict on taste alone. 

* The Winner*: Lemon thyme herb jelly was everyone’s favorite by far. Soft lemony taste with touch of herb
Second and third were either the peach in tea preserves or the bing cherry. Comments were that the peach in tea had a good fruit presence which was not noticeably flavored with tea, and the bing cherry lacked the bright flavor of cherries.
Last was the strawberry marsala jam, which drew at least one ‘thumbs down’ and was decidedly not a “breakfast toast topper”.
Here’s what I would do to improve them. The recipe for the peach preserves in Earl Grey tea called for the tea leaves to be distributed throughout . I would not let the tea leaves mix in; while it doesn’t affect the taste, it looks bad.
For the cherry, I would make a cherry marmalade or cherry conserve, because the large dark cherries tasted great when eaten fresh, but lost flavor when cooked. I could try using a different variety of cherry too.
The strawberry marsala jam would be delicious served with goat cheese and a savory cracker.
It’s fun to try unusual recipes.

Better Pickles and a Special-tea Peach Preserves


I love pickles: dill cucumbers, bread and butter pickles, sweet pickles, mixed pickles, etc. The salty, spicy and vinegary flavored vegetables are indispensable accompaniment to my sandwiches and snacks. However, the quality of crunchiness was hard for me to accomplish in a home-canned pickle. I followed standard recipes from good sources, but they have resulted in a “cooked cucumber” texture, even after chilling them in the refrigerator.

I refer to my previous post about “Icicle Pickles”. These came out really nice, they were cucumber spears that became a little translucent upon processing, kind of like icicles. They tasted great but were limp and soft, not a desirable texture. I had to find a better way.

The change I made was in the canning process. I read about in the book, Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt, published by HP Books.
The author describes a processing called Low Temperature Pasteurization, which is a variation on a water bath canning, on page 263. Lower temperature of the water, a few degrees under the boiling point, for a longer time period, usually 30 minutes, allows the pickles to remain crisp and retain their natural color, while still making them safe for storage.

I tried this method yesterday, with some of my home grown cucumbers and dill seed, and tasted them today.
Are they crunchy? YES!   Thank you Ms. Linda J. Arendt.

Here is the recipe. Makes 6 pints. For whole, half or quartered (spears) cucumber pickles, I recommend a wide mouth pint jar. Makes a nice looking product and is easy to pack the larger sizes. Regular pint jars work well too because the cucumbers rest just under the shoulder of the jar and stay in place without floating up.
Dill Pickles – quick fresh pack method
4 lbs cucumbers, sliced in half, about 4 inch long pieces.
1 quart white vinegar
1 quart water, use distilled water if your water is hard
½ cup pickling salt
¼ cup sugar
6 heads of dill seed, or 6 teaspoons dill seed
24 peppercorns

Scrub the cucumbers with a soft brush in running water, to remove the dirt and spines. Rinse well. Cut into halves or quarters of the right length to fit into the jar.
In a large pot, combine the water, vinegar, salt and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring until dissolved. Add the dill seed and 4 peppercorns into each jar, and pack the cucumbers snugly. Pour hot vinegar solution into the jars, covering the cucumbers and leaving a ½ “ head space. Insert a plastic knife into the jars to free bubbles of air. Wipe the rim clean and put on the lids and rings.
In a water bath canner, heat the water to 185 degrees. Set the jars into the rack and start the timer for 30 min. Use an instant read thermometer or an immersible probe, like Pampered Chef's. Keep the water temp between 180 and 185. Do not boil or let the temperature fall below 180 degrees. After the time as elapsed, remove the jars from the canner and set out to cool.

Why not try a really unique product? Like Peach Preserves in Earl Grey Tea syrup? Yes, let’s try it.

So my friend Maria brought over 5 lbs of peaches, earl grey tea bags, and I had the sugar, the lemon juice and the jars.  She peeled, pitted and sliced them into ½” sections and layered them with the sugar and lemon juice in the large stockpot and left it for 30 minutes to release some juices. Then I placed it on medium heat and while stirring to dissolve the sugar, added 4 teabags. The recipe directed to open one tea bag and stir the leaves into the fruit. As the mixture heated up, the tea began to color it light brown and it released a the mild floral fragrance of bergamot.. Brought the mixture to a full rolling boil, cooked for a couple of minutes, stirring fast of course. We added one pouch of liquid pectin and cooked for another one minute. Then we had a little bit of jell, but with a preserves you want a clear jelly like syrup, not stiff. The consistency improved as it cooled in the jars and the flavors needed some time to combine. You can see the tea leaves in the syrup. The leaves escaped the bags when the preserves was boiling. I don't think I am happy with that.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

ICICLE PICKLES HOMEMADE FROM MY "FARM"

 I have a little vegetable garden which is planted with a few cucumber vines, a half-dozen tomatoes, some pole beans and a couple zucchini, plus lots of herbs.  Just this week, in this heat, the cucumbers have grown like crazy, and I picked more than 5 pounds.


As you can see, the cucumbers are rather large, too large for whole dills. 
I found an easy recipe for "Icicle Pickles" in my old standby, the "Heinz Guide to Successful Pickling", easy because it calls for only a few ingredients and a quick method.

 The batch recipe called for 3 pounds cucumbers, trimmed and cut into spears, one large sweet onion, cut into 6 pieces, 6 (4 inch) pieces of celery, 1 tablespoon mustard seed, 1 quart white vinegar, 2-1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup pickling salt, and 1 cup water.  

 I had six wide mouth pint jars and lids on hand, so I washed them thoroughly, and put them aside. I washed the cucumbers in the sink with a vegetable brush to get rid of the spines and dirt, always wash the produce really well. Then I cut the cukes into spears, and put them in the crock and covered them with ice water to rest for a couple of hours, while I ate dinner.

After dinner, I drained the cucumbers and packed them cold into the jars, adding to each a piece of celery and of onion, and a 1/2 teaspoon of mustard seed.  The advantage of the wide mouth jars is that it is easy and quick to pack them. In the meantime, the vinegar, sugar and salt and water were put into a pot to boil.

 Filled the jars with the hot pickle solution and wiped the rims clean, put on the lids and rings. They were processed 10 minutes in the boiling water canner and then removed and left to cool. All of them sealed ( the lid flattens down), which is good! but I will have to wait a day or so to open one and taste the pickles. They do look very nice, don't they?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blueberries and Books

Saturday I was in Dallas Pennsylvania and went to Dymond’s Farm Market for blueberries to take home to NJ. Dymond’s has had a farm on the rolling hills of Luzerne County for at least 40 years. I remember going out as a twenty-something to pick strawberries and tomatoes. They run a cute retail market and bakery on route 309 in Dallas which also sells country gifts, jams and candy. As I opened the door to go in, I was hoping to get the cherries that I missed buying two weeks ago. Alas! No cherries. What happened? The farmer told me the cherry crop was good, and just being picked when the huge thunderstorm and rain on July 3rd and 4th damaged the crop on the tree and the cherries split open. I kicked myself for not buying them when I saw them. Note to self: make a produce calendar and checklist to be prepared for timely purchases.
Now in the middle of July, raspberry season is also over, he said. This week they are picking beans, squash and blueberries. Coming right after that are the tomatoes and early corn. Hmmm. I picked up 3 quart containers of Dymond’s Farm blueberries.
I want to make a larger quantity of the Sweet’n’Sour Spiced Blueberry Jam that we made last week, to have some to give away.


I used 3 pounds of blueberries, 3 pounds of sugar, the cider vinegar, the lemon juice and the spices and the pectin. It seemed to cook up fine yet when I checked the sample,it’s not set right. A tablespoon of jam slides down the plate when it is tilted. I will let it set longer and try again. I may want to cook it again with more sugar to see if it will improve.
I have learned what I know from books and from experience. I think books are invaluable teachers. My oldest one is the Ball Blue Book of Home Canning and Freezing. It is a great basic book that covers all the fundamentals and teaches good technique. These are new this summer: The Better Homes and Gardens magazine titled "Canning" which has beautiful photos and tempting recipes; and "Blue Ribbon Preserves" by Linda J. Amendt. Her book goes into depth about the science of soft spreads, pickles and much more, and it has loads of recipes. Plus, as the title conveys, its goal is winning prizes, and to accomplish that, you have to be consistent, determined and ( I guess) willing to slave over a hot stove for weeks! Nonetheless, I am curious about the Middlesex County Fair. Besides the rides, are there farm and home competitions? I will check it out and let you know.
The pint of blueberries are from New York state. They are cute enough to be cooked in a pie! Look around for the farmer's market in your towns. Buy local and eat well!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Scotch Plains Farmers' Market and Blueberry jams

The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Farmers' Market is held on Saturdays 9am-2pm in the downtown. Maria and I had our plans to buy blueberries for jam, but when we saw all the tables we got excited and had to buy at least some corn, tomatoes, peaches, too. Right now blueberries are in season and plentiful and I bought 8 pint containers, about 6 lbs, to make jam.

The sign displayed above the table states that the produce is "Jersey Fresh". That is a designation I like to look for, because it means that the food crop is grown on New Jersey farms. It's one of the programs of the NJ Department of Agriculture to promote the produce of our state. Another designation is "Jersey Grown" which applies to nursery stock like shrubs and trees. When you can, support your local farmers! Here is more information on "Jersey Fresh" and lists of local farms,  http://www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/.

Getting back to the house, we met Elisa and started making jam. We worked together on the whole process, from washing jars, to prepping ingredients and then cooking and jarring the jams. Happy to say we all worked very efficiently together in the hot kitchen.

First we made the blueberry spiced jam recipe from Alton Brown, found on the web and reproduced here. His instructions are very detailed, orderly and understandable. The jam is a real winner! Our only complaint was the actual yield of 5 jars with leftover was less than the planned yield of six 8oz jars. So I must tinker with the recipe to make more.

Blueberry Spiced Jam, from Alton Brown,

Blueberries, 2 pints, 12 oz each
Dry pectin, 1/3 cup
½ teaspoon star anise, ground fine
¼ teaspoon ground or grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons cider vinegar
Sugar, 3 cups
Water, ½ cup

Wash blueberries well and pick out stems etc. Place them in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the pectin and stir, then add spices, lemon juice and vinegar. Bring to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking and boil gently for 5 minutes to cook the fruit and release juice and air. Add the sugar and the water and bring to a high boil, stirring constantly, boil hard for 1 minute. Test for jell.  Skim the foam. Fill the jars. Even adding the extra half cup of water (unusual step) the actual yield was 42 oz. less than expected. The jam was medium jell, nice smooth texture with pieces of berries distributed, and great tasting.

Lemon Thyme Herb Jelly, yield 32 oz, two 8oz and four 4oz jars

This recipe is from the BH&G canning magazine. This magazine format cookbook is so appealing and has many unusual and intriguing recipes. I think will try to do them all. Anyway, the herbs are from my home garden, but it was necessary to buy the apples at the supermarket. BH&G on page109 had a good traditional way to extract fresh apple juice by cooking the apples till soft, straining the juice through a cheesecloth, taking up a lot of time. Of course, being a traditionalist and glutton for punishment, I did it and earned a fresh apple-flesh colored juice and a quart of nice pure applesauce as a bonus. The most important point of this long process is that the apple juice has lots of natural pectin because the apples cook with the skins and cores.
This recipe is simple from this point on. 
Pick and wash two large handfuls of herbs, enough to make a cup or more of chopped herbs. I used lemon thyme alone.
3 cups unsweetened apple juice
¼ cup lemon juice
1 package dry pectin, (1/3 cup)
4 cups sugar
This jelled very well, in fact, it was hard to skim off the foam, because it set so quickly.

Put herbal juice, lemon juice, pectin and sugar into the pot and bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for one minute. Turn off heat, and test with a metal spoon for jell. This jelled very well, in fact, it was hard to skim off the foam, because it set so quickly. Reaction to this varied from “love it” (me) to “very good”, to “how to serve it?” Generally, the texture was a medium jell, fairly clear pale yellow color, and sweet lemon taste, not strongly herbal.

We made a recipe for jam without pectin, cooking the fruit for a half hour on a slow boil to thicken it. The blueberry apple mixture did thicken, but the product is sticky, not like jell, and has an overcooked bitter sugary taste. This has happened to me before with fruits low in pectin. I like the bright taste and texture that pectin makes. Not every recipe is a winner.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Strawberry picking at the Giamarese farm and jam making, from my notes...

TUESDAY JUNE 7, 2011

I went to pick strawberries at the Giamarese farm in East Brunswick and I picked 14.7 pounds of really ripe berries. The day was so hot the berries had a hot juicy taste.
When I got home, I put them in the fridge and made preparations to make jam.
The ripest ones were washed weighed and trimmed. This first batch was 3 qts at 4-1/2 pounds, and the recipe was for 3 lbs.
The jam boiled up and tested for weak jelling but I jarred it. The leftover sample firmed up well in the fridge, however jam in the jars is still quite loose.
Possible remedies: more lemon juice, more pectin or more sugar, a smaller quantity of berries or all of the above. Taste is excellent !  Yield : 7 twelve-ounce jars.
The Giamarese ( jam- a- rees) farm is a family owned farm located in East Brunswick NJ since 1930. It's not too far to drive from Edison. Here is their website. It's a pretty farm, with a pond and swans, and a farm store which sells their produce and manages the pick-your-own customers.
 www.giamaresefarm.com

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Starting Out

I'm new to blogging, so there will be some tweaks and updates now and then, as I work out the details and look of this blog. 
This is the summer of jam for me. My goal is to step up my game and go from a skilled hobbyist to an expert in making fruit preserves, including jam, jelly, conserve and marmalade. Most of the time I'll be using the recipes from cookbooks and other sources, and also trying out some of my own. Also, it will be necessary to include pickles and tomato products, since I can't resist them either. I have some family and friends who promise to help in the canning, and others who will help with the tasting. We can discuss local sources of fruit and vegetables, a bit about jars and equipment, and hopefully make the labor intensive process of jamming a little less laborious. At the end of every batch, remember, are jars full of a  really delicious and really unique homemade product to eat. That's the fun!