Thursday, July 21, 2011


 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,

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...


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.

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!