Sour Cherry Jam

We were home for the long weekend – in fact, this was the first weekend home and with no houseguests since mid May – so we seized the opportunity to take a quick afternoon trip to the u-pick farms.  We’d hoped to pick strawberries or raspberries, but found ourselves on the cusp of both seasons, and so only able to pick cherries.

Cherry Season at Spicer Orchards
Photo by The Hungry Masses

Now, I don’t know if I can conclusively say that cherries are my favorite fruit, but they’re certainly in the top 5, along with cantaloupe (or muskmelon), apples, clementines, and the first strawberries of summer. I love them in all forms – fresh from the tree, dried and stirred into oatmeal, even artificially bright red and dubiously a foodstuff.

Cherry Picking!

We hopped in the car and drove half an hour north to Spicer Orchards, where we paid the $1 deposit for our picking bucket and set to work. Shane climbed low branches to reach perfect cherries at the top of the low trees, while I wandered around collecting bright red berries in my gathered skirt.

Cherries!

We ended up with about 2 pounds of sour cherries (at $1.50/pound) and 3-4 pounds of sweet cherries (at around $2.50/pound) – definitely cheaper than the grocery store or the farmer’s market, not to mention more fun. The folks at Spicer make their own wine and cider and offer free tastings, so we tried a few samples and had a small lunch before heading home.

But what to do with all the cherries other than eat them? Excellent question. Sour cherry jam to the rescue!

Sour Cherries

Jammin'

Sour Cherry Jam

1.5 pounds of sour cherries yielded 1 pint and 3 half pints of jam. The recipe might have yielded more except that I made a ridiculous mistake in my math and so had to quickly pull and rinse the cherries when I realized I’d used at least twice as much sugar as was necessary. Granted, this wasn’t as bad as the time that I confused teaspoons and tablespoons when making bread in my parents’ bread machine – but it did result in using up the last of the sugar, thus preventing me from jamming up the rest of the cherries. Guess we’ll just have to wait for another day and another post!

Recipes:
Sour Cherry Jam from Food in Jars

1031 Spicy Pepper Jelly

I’ve got to warn you on this one: this recipe will make your house smell weird.  And, if you have a small kitchen and it’s a cold day, it’ll continue to smell weird for the rest of the day.  It was all worth it for three reasons.

First, we got rid of some of our damned banana peppers.  I intended to grow a few hot peppers this summer, but in the hubbub at the farmers’ market, I think a few plants were mislabeled as I ended up with about six banana peppers, two bell peppers, and one other pepper plant of a hotter variety.  As is the way of these things, the banana peppers were the most prolific plants in the garden – second only to the tiny cherry tomatoes – maybe Sweet 100s – that showed up on their own.  No joke, we’ve picked at least 15 pounds of banana peppers this summer.

Second, few things warm up the house more efficiently than four pots of boiling water: one for processing the jars, one for heating up the lids, one for making the jelly, and one for the tomato sauce I made with a few pounds of green tomatoes that ripened when I wasn’t looking.  I’m pretty sure this is a more efficient way to heat the house than our actual heater, in fact.

Third, we now have six half-pints and one pint of spicy-sweet pepper jelly to spread on toast or to use as a marinade or – well, I’m not sure what else we’ll do with it. I just know it’s tasty.

Hot and Sweet Pepper Jelly
Photo by Campobello Island

Recipe:
Hot Pepper Jelly adapted from Simply Loving Home, part of October’s Can Jam.  My only real modification was using banana peppers instead of jalapeños.

0814 22 Pints of Tomatoes

What can I say?  I spent my morning setting up the kitchen – including the all-important wind tunnel formed by the stand fan in the living room and the air exchange fan in the kitchen window – then the afternoon washing jars, boiling water, peeling tomatoes, boiling jars, wiping jars, coring tomatoes, changing ice water, burning myself on the tea kettle, lifting hot jars, adjusting sealing rings, and sneaking out for ice cream.  If I don’t cook anything for a day or two, I think I’ll have earned the break.

And in case you’re wondering, 22 pints of tomatoes equals roughly 18 pounds, half of which came from our garden.  There would’ve been more jars, but our Romas have been affected by blossom end rot, so I had to toss a pound or more that turned out to be nasty on the inside.  I don’t remember how many pints I canned last year, but I think this might be enough to get us almost all the way to next July.  At least I hope so.

0724 96 Degree Canning

I’m not sure what possessed me to take on canning today – other than the giant box of 2nds peaches I picked up at the market this morning.  The peaches were a little underripe, and I wanted to leave them on the counter in a bag to ripen, but the fruit flies would not allow that to happen.  I don’t know where the little buggers come from, but they’re super annoying, and I wasn’t about to let them get the best of our gorgeous produce.

First up, zucchini pickles.  Our garden isn’t exactly overflowing with summer squash, but we had enough in the crisper that I was starting to get concerned.  We both love the zucchini pickle spears that come with sandwiches at Jolly Pumpkin, so I figured it was worth giving them a try.  I used the Zany Zucchini Pickles recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which called for a soak and a rinse, another soak in hot brine, a simmer, and then a quick pack and process in the open water bath. The recipe claimed it would yield 6 half pints – instead I got 4 pints and a whole lot of leftover brine. Pickleback, anyone?

Pickleback, anyone?

Since it was already about 1,000,000 degrees in the house and since the water bath was already boiling, I figured I might as well press on with the peaches. I think it was around this time that I popped open a beer, pinned my bangs back, and gave in to the sweat running down the back of my neck.

To can peaches, you must first peel them.  If you’re canning not-quite-ripe peaches, as I was, you’ll find this quite a chore, even with the boiling water then very cold water trick described in this recipe.  I forgot the lemon juice, so I’m hoping the peaches don’t brown too much – when you’re working with fruit canned in a hot syrup, acidity should only be an aesthetic issue.  I followed the ‘raw pack’ method, meaning that my peaches are in hot syrup but were not themselves hot when canned.  By the time the last batch was in the canner, I was disgustingly sweaty, the fruit flies were out in full force, and I’d made two trips to the compost bin with peach pits and skins.  I earned that beer, dammit.  And I’m looking forward to enjoying the jars of rosy-pink peaches that have already been transferred to the basement shelves.

Recipes:
Zany Zucchini Pickles from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Peaches (roughly the same recipe, though I used the one from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving)

0621 Strawberry Jam, Two Ways

We’re not big jam eaters.  There, I said it.  We both enjoy a good jam, but we’re much more likely to dip our toast in a runny egg yolk than to top it with a sweet spread.  We’re still working through the strawberry-rhubarb jam that I made last year.  BUT when you suddenly find yourself in possession of twenty pounds of strawberries, there’s not much to be done except get your jam on.

In one sweaty afternoon, I made two batches of jam: Strawberry Balsamic and Strawberry Vanilla.  I have the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which I can’t recommend highly enough to newbie canners, and both of the batches are riffs on their basic, oh so basic, strawberry jam recipe.  I’m giving full quantities for the original recipe here, which the cookbook claims should yield 8 pints, but I halved the recipe, resulting in about 5 pints of jam.  I then made the half recipe a second time, so I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I split the recipe?  Except that I made two totally separate batches.  Whatever.  The full recipe, as I prepared it, is as follows.  And it should give you 8-10 pints.  If you make the whole thing.

Strawberry Jam
Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

7 cups granulated sugar
8 cups whole strawberries
4 tbsp lemon juice
1 1.75 oz package regular powdered fruit pectin

Clean and sterilize your canning jars, lids, and rings, and have your open water bath standing by.

Measure sugar into a bowl and set aside.  Wash, hull, and slice strawberries.  Add strawberries and lemon juice to a sauce pan.  Whisk in pectin until dissolved, then bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently.  Add sugar all at once and return to a full rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and skim off foam.

Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.  If you don’t have enough jam to fill the final jar up to the top, don’t process it – set the jar aside for immediate enjoyment.  Place jars in open water bath and bring to a boil.  Process for 10 minutes, then turn the heat off and leave jars in for another 5 minutes before removing.  Let jars cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours.  You should hear the tell-tale plink of lids sealing – if any lids have not sealed, reprocess those jars or stick ’em in the fridge for prompt eating.

Strawberry Balsamic Jam Strawberry Vanilla Jam
Strawberry-Balsamic Jam

Reduce lemon juice to 1 tbsp and add 3 tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar.

Strawberry-Vanilla Jam

Add half a vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, to the strawberries.  Cook as directed, removing the bean before transferring jam to jars.

February Jam: Carrot Jam

Guess what I made?
Guess what I'm gonna make

The February Can Jam ingredient is carrots – a toughie because carrots lack the acidity for safe water-bath canning. Participants were advised to stick to published recipes and not make any changes to the acid to stuff ratios. So that was the first challenge.

Citrus stoplight

The second challenge was coming up with something to make that we would actually eat. I found lots of recipes for things like carrot cake jam, carrot chutney, and pickled carrots – all of which sounded interesting, but either called for other canned foods (why would I buy canned pineapple to make a jam?!) or weren’t things I could really picture us eating.

Shredded carrots and snacks

So I hit on carrot jam. My thought was that if we didn’t like the carrot jam as is, we could thin it with some vinegar to make a carrot slaw – along the lines of the broccoli slaw we had with fish the other week.

Carrot Jam!

And I think it worked! The resulting jam is sweet with a hint of spice – I ate some of it on toast yesterday, and would definitely eat this alongside a savory piece of fish or in a shrimp taco.  There’s no pectin in the recipe, so I didn’t expect the jam to set up like last month’s marmalade, but it is loose enough that I might keep these jars in the fridge just in case – which also means they’ll be handy for quick eating.


Carrot Jam
Based on a recipe found at wisegeek.com

4 cups grated carrots (approx 1.5 pounds whole carrots)
juice and zest of 1 lime, lemon, and orange
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons coriander (maybe more)

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and simmer together until the carrots are suspended in a thick syrup, ~30-45 minutes.  Pack in sterile jars and process for 10 minutes in an open water bath, or just stick it in a big container in your fridge.  Good times!

January Jam: Honey Clementine Marmalade

Instead of talking about tonight’s dinner (Pizza Mia redux), I’d like to tell you about my marmalade.  Honey clementine marmalade, in fact.

Honey Clementine Marmalade

I signed up for Tigress’ Can Jam, thinking it would be a great opportunity to try some new recipes and get more confident with my canning.  This month’s ingredient was citrus – not anything even remotely local, but a fun place to start.  Tina suggested clementine, and I remembered this dessert, made for Carl several years ago on the eve of my birthday. After some digging around, I settled on this recipe, albeit with a few modifications.  I had intended to photograph the whole process, but as it happened, I started the marmalade Wednesday night, preparing the syrup and peeling the little clementines.  The whole bit needed to go in the fridge overnight, and I had good intentions of finishing it off yesterday – but then the end-of-week exhaustion hit, and I just couldn’t be bothered.  Everything pulled together tonight, though, and now there are three jars of sunny marmalade waiting for English muffins – perhaps another weekend project?

Honey Clementine Marmalade
Inspired by Confiture de Clémentine aux Epices from Serial Cooking

  • 6 clementines
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, ground ginger, and ground cloves
  • 2 tsp pectin (I used the Ball sugar free stuff)

Grate the zest of all of the clementines.  Juice three of the clementines, and peel the remaining three.  Remove as much of the pith as possible, then slice the segments in thirds.  In a saucepan, bring to boil 2 cups water and the sugar, reserving two tablespoons.  Simmer for 15 minutes, then cool and add to the clementine juice, segments, zest, and spices.  Cover and leave to rest overnight.

The following day, transfer the jam to a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Combine the pectin and the reserved sugar, then add to the jam.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved, then bring to a boil until the jam sets.

Transfer to sterilized jars and process 15 minutes in an open water bath.  Makes 3 half pints.

Can it!

Shane shared this article on Google Reader tonight and it had what I imagine was the intended effect – getting me thinking about the small canning empire I started last summer.  The author argues that canning – in its current urban incarnation – is less about frugality and more about a bourgeois sense of connection to what we eat.  (Is bourgeois the right word?  I’m never sure if I’m using it correctly.  Anyway.)

There are a couple of things I take issue with in this article.  First, the opening paragraph references the author’s ” $15 per pint, straight-from-the-Greenmarket, homemade and canned in Brooklyn, N.Y., macerated and simmered in unprocessed sugar, spiked with organic chiles and small-batch Kentucky bourbon strawberry jam” in her calculation of a $17 PB&J sandwich.  $15 per pint is a ridiculous figure for jam – I think we can all agree on that – but unless she ate the entire pint, her sandwich probably works out to more like $3 at most.  She makes an important point, though – you’re not saving money by canning when you’re paying more for the raw ingredients than you would the finished product in the quantities produced.

I started canning last year in the midst of an eating-local mania.  Over the course of the summer and fall, I canned around 2 dozen pints of tomatoes, 8-10 pints of peaches, and a lot of applesauce.  In addition, I froze zucchini, asparagus, roasted tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, green beans, and roasted red peppers.  We’re still working our way through all the frozen stuff, though we exhausted the peaches earlier in the summer, and are on our last (I can’t believe it!) jar of canned tomatoes.

Has it been worthwhile?  Taste-wise, mostly.  The frozen vegetables didn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped, but the fruit was all great.  Always having tomatoes on hand is excellent, and the peaches were a treat long before they’d returned to the market.  Has it been financially worthwhile?  Not sure.

We buy most of our produce from the assorted DC FreshFarm markets.  It’s always a toss-up as to whether the market produce is cheaper than what’s at the grocery store.  Much of the time it’s comparable, and the primary gains from shopping at market are being able to select the specific quantity you need from higher quality products – in addition to the warm fuzzies that come from dealing with people who have first-hand experience with the produce, rather than a stockboy who doesn’t know what you’re talking about.

When I started thinking about canning, I realized right away that it was only going to be financially worthwhile if we could get the stuff to be canned very cheaply.  The author refers to putting up the bounty from a home garden – which is what my grandma did for years.  With no home garden to plunder, the only financially feasible option was buying 2nds produce – or going the you-pick route.  Whenever possible, we buy 2nds produce – things like tomatoes, apples, peaches, and pears that are still edible when less than perfect.  2nds produce is generally at least $1 cheaper per pound than the unblemished stuff, so by my calculations, it works out something like this:

10 pounds of tomatoes at $2 per pound produced 8 pints of tomatoes plus 3 pints tomato sauce.
Total expenditure on raw materials: $20

Cost of comparable store-bought items:
8 14 oz cans Giant-brand whole tomatoes @ $1.39 each: $11.12
3 14 oz jars Giant-brand Thick & Rich spaghetti sauce @ 1.25 each: $3.75
Total expenditure: $14.87

Does it work out to be financially worthwhile?  No.  Or at least not really.  This also doesn’t calculate in the cost of the jars and lids – a one-time investment in infrastructure – or the electricity used in the process.  At the same time, the oft-extolled “satisfaction of a job well done” is worth $5 to me.  I felt immensely proud to have done the dirty, sweaty work of canning.  I have continued to feel proud every time I open the cabinet to grab a jar of tomatoes at the last minute.  In the last 12 months, I can count on one hand the number of jars of tomatoes we’ve purchased – 3 at most, and those were because we were cooking in bulk for Obama volunteers.

Canning is not financially worthwhile at $16 for two quarts of strawberries, which is what the author paid – but then I guess if you can afford to pay $16 for two quarts of strawberries, the financials don’t really matter all that much.  Taking a $5 loss on something you enjoy doing is much more reasonable.  $5 would get you (maybe) two games of bowling or a skein of yarn or a single ticket in the bleachers at a baseball game.  Depending on where you live, $5 covers a beer or a Value Meal.

Last weekend I made 9 pints of Lodi applesauce – $16 for a peck of apples + $.07 for 1/4 C sugar = $1.78 per pint.  A 25 oz jar of Giant-brand Apple Sauce (Natural) is $1.69.  The price difference is about $.05 per ounce – except that Lodi apples aren’t usually available in the store.  They’re early apples, with a very short production season and a limited shelf-life.  They’re also the apples my grandparents grew in their backyard, so I grew up with Lodi applesauce, rather than the overly sweet or cinnamony stuff most kids had.  The extra $.05 per ounce is worth it for taste and – for me – nostalgia.

Will I be canning this year?  It depends on what’s available, and how much it will cost.  I’m volunteering at the  market this year, and as a result I get half-price produce.  Half price might be worthwhile.

May Projects!

This year, I resolved to complete one project per month.  I’m not sure how well I’ve done at posting about those projects, but that’s neither here nor there, as this post is about May’s project.  And by ‘project’, I mean ‘projects’!

Project #1: envelopes for the Etsy shop

Drakesboro, KY

Earlier in the year I inherited three boxes of deaccessioned USGS maps from the library.  After asking and then asking again if I *really* got to take them home, they sat in a corner ignored until I finished my last class and could focus on them.  Right now I have 9 sets of envelopes posted, and a possible custom order pending.  Hooray!

Project #2: Handmade items for the Facebook meme

I promised handmade items to Jackie, Jen, Tina, Molly, Rachel, and Greg.  So far I’ve made an apron each for Jackie:

Sparkly Stars for Sipes

Molly:

Fun prints for Molly

Rachel:

Olivia apron for Rachel

and a special bonus for Jennifer, who was late on the draw.

Fun patterns for Jennifer

Items forthcoming for Jen, Tina, and Greg.  I have plans, but I’m not revealing them yet.

I also canned four pints of strawberry-rhubarb jam (and 7 more half pints tonight!):

Strawberry Rhubarb

And no, I have no idea what June’s project will be.  Hopefully the Etsy custom order – and also more canning (pickling too)!

Today: a list

  1. Awake at 4am, lulled back to sleep by the rain.
  2. Spent much more than I planned at the Dupont market – buffalo burgers, strawberries and more strawberries, broccoli, ZUCCHINI, golden beets, chive blossoms, salad, rhubarb, and basil.
  3. Finished the rest of the grocery shopping, made pesto, dramatically reorganized the fridge to make 2 shelves work (used to have 3 but one broke), and cleaned the kitchen and bathroom – all before noon!
  4. Drove all the way to Cherrydale Hardware only to find no 4oz jelly jars.  Bought lids and Taco Bell.
  5. Prepped and canned four pints of strawberry-rhubarb jam.  Scraped the pan with some bread from the market.  Even better than last year’s batch.
  6. Transplanted the herbs and the lime tree.  Planted lavender seeds – would really, really like it if my kitchen smelled like lavender year round.
  7. Dinner: spare ribs braised in this and that, broccoli with an amazing vinaigrette, glass of Garnacha.
  8. Sleepy E.