Well, it’s been awhile. Since last I updated, I had a baby. Hence the reduced blogging. My urge to make preserves seems only to have strengthened, though, and now that summer’s here in its full glory, I’m at it again. 

For Christmas I was given a copy of Christine Ferber’s Mes Confitures, which I had heard many good things about over on the Harvest Forum.  Recently someone on there asked whether the book has changed anyone’s life. Upon relfection, I’d have to say yes. It has really solidified my transition to no-pectin-added, traditional jammaking, and made me aware of how to layer flavors to get something truly amazing.  So far, I’ve made her rhubard with honey and rosemary preserves and her two kinds of apricots with vanilla and gewurtztraminer. That last one blew my mind, it was so good. The book has inspired me to make two creations of my own using her technique (I know it’s not really her technique, it’s been used for a long time, but she’s where I learned it, so I’m giving her credit anyway) of long maceration, straining, boiling the juice to gel point, then ading solids.  The first was strawberries with Earl Grey. The set was a bit loose and the Earl Grey doesn’t really jump out at you like I sort of hoped it would, but they’re tasty!

And yesterday, I whipped up my own concoction of sour cherries with slivered candied ginger, vanilla, and mead. Cherries are low pectin, too– Ferber uses green apple jelly to provide the pectin in her cherry recipes, but the green apples aren’t in here yet,  so instead I added the finely grated zest of one orange and one lemon, and let the lemon seeds macerate with the fruit overnight to extract all their pectin– I’m delighted to report that it worked and the jam achieved a good set. The flavor of the mead doesn’t jump out at you, either, which is ok by me– I was going for layers of flavor, and I’d say that’s what I got.  The jam is such a lovely, dark red.  I don’t know what Christine Ferber would think of the results, but I’m happy with it.  Now I have one jar of the apricot and one of the cherry open in my fridge, and it’s going to be tough decision-making every day as regards to which goes on my morning toast!

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Plum maple conserve

August 16, 2009

And so this weekend, the canning project was the Plum Maple Conserve from Small Batch Preserving. I followed the directions fairly faithfully (added an extra tablespoon of lemon juice, that was the only tweak), and have no complaints. It took a little while to boil down to the gel point– it seemed to get stuck at 212F for about an hour– but eventually it made it there, and boy is it delicious.  Another one that I may not be able to bring myself to share with others. Sharing never has been my strong point.

Also bought another box of tomatoes, but am out of energy to do anything with them today. The plum conserve took it out of me.  With luck, they’ll last until tomorrow, at which point, pizza sauce. I have a plan to make myself some french bread pizzas to freeze instead of spending an arm and a leg on store-bought ones. Made the baguettes for them today…I hope that they, too, will last until tomorrow.

Peach Butter

August 10, 2009

Every year I make peach jam of some sort– one year it was peach and ginger, last year lemony peach (lemon zest and lemon balm, verbena, thyme). This year I decided to try something a little different– peach butter. The recipe is simple– 4 1/2 lbs medium peaches, peeled, seeded, chopped, boiled 20 minutes with 1/2 c. water and then run through a food processor (I used my stick blender).  Measure out the pulp (should be about 8 cups), add 4 cups sugar, the juice and zest of one lemon, and boil it down until it’s of spreadable consistency.  I added a teaspoon of ground cardamom and a splash of vanilla, too.  It’s that last step– boiling it down– that takes a while.  I expected a couple of hours, it was more like the better part of the day.  Definitely not a quick project. Lots of stirring towards the end to make sure it doesn’t burn on the bottom.  Some minor peach burns from spatters as it became thicker.   But the result! I may never go back to peach jam. The flavor was so bright and concentrated– peach jam with the volume turned up several notches. I got about 6 pints in the end, one of them in the form of 4oz jars for gift-giving, but I may not be able to bring myself to give any of it away.  My peach butter. All mine.

Carnivorous plants update: Something ate one of the pitchers on my S.  rubra, the venus flytraps seem to have survived my unnecessary repotting– one seems to have been trod upon by a cat-sized foot, not clear yet how well it will recover. One of the flytraps caught a housefly– you can see the little fly eyeballs staring out, cold and lifeless.  The sundew has dew and is thriving. The only one still in question is the Nep, still don’t know if it’s acclimating or dying a slow death.

Habanero Gold

August 2, 2009

Scored some habaneros at the farmer’s market yesterday and so was finally able to try out Habanero Gold. It is delicious.  I used Carol’s big batch adaptation of the recipe, which yielded 12- 4oz jars plus some extra, which I put in an extra jar for us to enjoy immediately (I always feel silly canning something and then opening a jar of it immediately).

I used about 1/3 c. of habaneros, which resulted in a nice burn that’s tempered nicely when you pair it with cheese. If you don’t like hot at all, this isn’t for you, and if you like hot a lot, you may want to put more habs in.  Personally, I have a lot in common with Goldilocks on this point, so 1/3 cup was just right.

pepperjelly

A note on getting the colorful bits distributed evenly throughout the jelly: you’re not supposed to invert jars, because it can break the seal. And that ‘tipping it gently’ thing advocated in some recipes doesn’t work for me. I found that rapidly twisting the jar on a flat surface (as though it were doing The Twist on the dance floor) worked pretty well. They floated back up again a little bit, but ended up better than they started, anyhow.

Canning tomatoes

July 30, 2009

Scored a large box of tomatoes for canning and went to town on them this past week.  Came out of it with several tomato-stained shirts, a lot of tomato skins for the compost pile, and 6 pints each of crushed tomatoes, roasted tomato garlic soup, and chunky basil pasta sauce.  The pasta sauce was the most challenging, mainly because I had to simmer it for something like 3 hours (rather than the 40 minutes the recipe predicts), and it had an alarmingly sharp flavor at first due to all the vinegar (which you can’t reduce, since it’s necessary for making the recipe safe to can). The good news is that after all the simmering, the flavors mellowed and it turned out to be very tasty– bet it’ll be good on pizza as well as pasta.

The first time I canned tomatoes was many years ago, using the “Putting Food By” book as a guide. I had all these little yellow pear tomatoes, and believe it or not, I skinned them all and canned them up. Not sure we ever used them (my mother: “What do we DO with them?”  Me[exasperated]:” Mom, they’re TOMATOES.”), which is probably for the best, since Putting Food By doesn’t exactly use the most up-to-date canning methods– no acid (in the form of bottled lemon juice or citric acid) was added, so who knows what lurked within. Especially since they were Boiling Water processed, and they were yellow tomatoe s(already lower in acid than red tomatoes). Yikes.  Nowadays I not only go by the book, I make sure it’s the most up-to-date book available.

For the best info on canning tomatoes, visit the NCHFP website. If you have questions, visit the friendly and experienced crowd at the GardenWeb Harvest forum.

July 24, 2009

Despite my earlier resolve to continue to eat dandelion greens throughout the year in order to determine whether they are in fact less bitter in early spring, I have failed to do so. (And it’s not for want of dandelions in the yard, believe you me). Some things, you have them once a year and that’s quite enough. Sorry, dandelions, but apparently that’s true of you, too, no matter your ample nutritive properties

In jam-making news, I made some blueberry lavender jam. I’d give the recipe, but I don’t think I need to. Just find any old recipe for blueberry  jam (from the pectin recipe insert, for example), and add a sprig or three of lavender to it.Fish out the lavender before jarring it up. There you go.

It’s also the height of peach season, so peaches are next up in line for the canning pot. Think I’m gonna try peach cardamom this year.  I picked up a Spanish tarragon plant recently– that’s what I have in store for the plums come August. Plum tarragon. I’m not yet sure what I’ll do to the pears.  Maple, maybe. Pear maple. With pecans!  Yes, I think that’s it.

For the first time in many years of buying stuff online, someone has failed to follow through with the product. It makes me sad; I really wanted the stuff I bought! It was a good deal! Now we’ll see how well Paypal’s dispute resolution system works.

The strawberries are in at the farmer’s market! A couple of months ago I made a parfait consisting of layers of pastry cream and strawberries drizzled with a balsamic-orange syrup. The syrup was so good atop the strawberries, I decided that I must do a version of this in preserve form.  As I so often do, I used Pomona’s Universal Pectin to make this low-sugar, bright-flavored jam.  Don’t try substituting another pectin here, it won’t work.

4 c. crushed strawberries with juices

 1/4 c. freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tsp. grated orange zest

1/2 c. balsamic vinegar, boiled and reduced to about 1/4 c.

1/2 tsp vanilla

pinch salt (optional)

 1/2 c. sugar

2 tsp calcium water, 2 tsp Pomona pectin.

Combine the reduced vinegar, orange juice, strawberries, pinch of salt, and calcium water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. In a small bowl, mix the sugar and pectin powder well.  Stir into the strawberry mixture, stirring vigorously. Bring back to boil. Stir in the orange zest and vanilla.  Ladle into properly prepared jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Or refrigerate. Makes about five 1/2 pints.

May 26, 2009

I’ve been busy with the art festival season starting up again, but the garden is enjoying its spring growing spurt, I’ve been cooking yummy things, and just received a new shipment of tea from Upton. All of this means I haven’t been reading marketing research articles– I’ll save that for the cold months, unless something truly fascinating comes up (I just did a pass through the journals yesterday, and this month, nothing fascinating has).

So for the time being, a report on the tea in my latest order, which contained my current favorite breakfast tea, Assam Koilamari (which I had just run out of this morning, with the result that I had only had one cup and was just able to summon the energy to drag myself to the mailbox to retrieve the life-restoring shipment).  Also Moroccan Mint tea, a long-time favorite of mine for iced tea, and a sample of Tung-Ting Milky Oolong, which I’m drinking as I type– a very nice cup, but I have to say I don’t taste the creaminess alluded to in its name.  Just the same sort of sweet green flavor I associate with jade oolongs. Perhaps a side-by-side taste test is called for.

Also in the shipment was Special Grade Temple of Heaven Gunpowder (purchased to blend with my own homegrown mints), Earl Grey Creme Vanilla, Orange Spice Imperial, and a complimentary sample of Kandy Ceylon BOP, recommended for iced tea.  Haven’t sampled these yet, and will try not to do so all in one day (would be a lot of tea-drinking even for me).

…and more dandelions

April 21, 2009

Tried dandelion pesto yesterday. With walnuts. You know the drill– a couple cloves garlic, a dash of olive oil, some toasted walnuts, and a handful of greens. Not bad, considering that I thought the greens would be too bitter at this point. 

I made a pasta dish with garlic, wine, sundried tomatoes, white beans (cannellini I canned last week), and the pesto. I think it would be better as a plain old bean dish rather than over pasta, but that’s not the point– the point is, the dandelion pesto worked pretty well in it.  Not at all like eating your lawn. That said, neither was it quite as exciting as I had hoped, so I added a couple of tablespoonsful of basil pesto to help it out. The dominant flavor was still dandelion, though.

Pretty sure I won’t be mixing up big batches of it and freezing it the way I do basil and oregano pestos.  It was good, but not must-have-it-all-year-round good.  Something to look forward to having once or twice every spring? Definitely.

Dandelion cuisine

April 20, 2009

I keep thinking I’ll come back here and talk about marketing some more, but I’ve found I’m just not into that at the moment. Spring has hit, I’m into cooking.  And also getting ready for art shows, but mostly spring and gardening and cooking.

Since we never put chemicals on our lawn (yes, it shows), and since (relatedly) we always have a bumper crop of dandelions, this year I remembered to try cooking with them before they got too big. A couple of weeks ago I had a go at the greens. Observations: a) not bad! And eating them makes me feel virtuous and redeems my weedy lawn somewhat; b) they’re a bit much as the only green in a salad, but an excellent component when mixed with others; c)  I just can’t bring myself to eat plain sauteed greens, meh; d) soup! I’ve been really into bean soups lately– made one with black eyed peas, onions, curry, smoked sausage or ham, and some dandelion greens thrown in and I think that’s the winner.  They add a nice layer of subtle flavor to the broth, and a lot of nutrition. 

If you search the internet for dandelion recipes, it seems like you get the same handful of recipes that everyone’s copied from each other. No one seems to be doing much innovating in this department.  What I want to inspire me is Iron Chef: Battle Dandelion.  Now the greens in the yard are getting a bit big and going to flower, which if I believe what they say means that they will be more bitter and less tasty. I’m going to have to check this out for myself, I think. 

Experiment 2 was dandelion flowers. There are three recipes out there (maybe four, depending on how you count) for these: wine, jelly/syrup, fritters.  I gave the syrup a try, figuring that that would be the easiest thing to do to give me the best idea about the flavor and whether I would like it enough to bother with anything else. Result? Not worth the work. It’s a pretty golden color, but not very interesting.  Flowers in a salad or as garnish would be fine, but that’s about it in my book. 

The other often-cited use for dandelion is the roasting and grinding of the root for some sort of hot beverage. I’m not even gonna bother, though I’ll keep it in mind if any post-apolcalyptic scenarios preventing tea importation develop.