Saturday, October 25, 2008

It's all about the jam this summer

The biggest food hurdle I wanted to launch myself across this summer was the making of jam. And it was a bit intimidating. But with Josh's help, and some assistance from his aunt and parents, we did well enough to enter three different jams into the Downtown Home and Garden's jam competition. There were sixty some entries, and with great dismay I have to admit that none of our jams placed. The winner of the competition was a spicy little rendition called The Deer Ate Everything but the Hot Peppers Jam. Admittedly, it was delicious. The recipe will be below. The three that we entered were 1) Zen Michigan Peach Cardamom, 2)Homegrown Sour Cherry with Leopold's Blackberry Liqueur, and 3) Empress Plum with Indonesian Vanilla Bean. Besides these jams we also made an apricot chutney, a plum jam from the remaining pulp of our plum wine, and a three berry with cherry and rose water jam.

I've never thought of myself as a jam eater. I love some buttered toast, drippy in almost erotic flavors, feeling like you're engaging in a secret something you wouldn't dare share. Jam, however, has found a place on our shelves with its sweet and sour flavors, the full and good ingredients competing for their ideal place on our plate. The sour cherry jam is probably my favorite, partially because it seems to find itself spread in its bumpy way across the grid of my waffles or falling in streaks down the sides of scooped vanilla ice cream. But I look forward to attempting a spice filled coffeecake sandwiching the peach cardamom jam, and the empress plum swept onto a pumpkin cheesecake.

There's a balance with jam in terms of cooking time and the gelling of the fruit. You don't want to have jam that tastes overcooked and too sweet, but you also don't want your jam to be too runny. Some fruit contains enough naturally occurring pectin that adding more is not necessary. Our plum jam gelled beautifully and spreads in a perfect purple pool of flavor. The cherry might have benefited from bought commercial pectin, but also was really interesting in its flavor complexity.

I suppose in most parts of the world these recipes come a little late, but perhaps there are some hot peppers still lingering in corners of refrigerator drawers. Here are a couple of recipes.

The Deer Ate Everything But the Hot Peppers Jelly
8 Sweet green peppers
4 jalapeno peppers
1 1/2 cup vinegar
1 1/2 cup cider
1/2 tsp salt
5 c. sugar
1 pkg powdered pectin
green food coloring

Wash peppers, remove stems and seeds. Cut into 1/2 inch squares. Puree half of the peppers and 1/2 cup of vinegar in food processor. Puree remaining peppers and vinegar. Pour all into a large bowl and add cider. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Measure 4 cups into a sauce pot. Stir salt and pectin into juice. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Add sugar and return to a rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add a few drops of green food coloring.

Pour into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust caps. Process for 5 minutes in hot water bath.

Suggestions include: Wear gloves while handling jalapeno peppers, make one batch at a time (don't double), and it's delicious poured over a brick of cream cheese!

Homegrown Sour Cherry with Leopold's Blackberry Liqueur & Zen Michigan Peach Cardamom Jams

I adapted these recipes from this blog's recipes, the cherry jam substituting a local distillery's blackberry liqueur for the kirsch and cherries grown at home. That local distillery has since moved to Denver and is called Leopold Brothers. Here's the description of the blackberry liqueur. Their products are phenomenal.

Josh's mom, dad, and aunt were in town for the beginning of this jam making shenanigan and were the laborers that picked and pitted the cherries. I'm sure it was just what they anticipated doing after a 22 hour drive!

The peaches were all bought at Ann Arbor's Farmer's Market when Michigan peaches were in season. Remarkably, Michigan has some of the most amazing fruits in the entire world. I've become enamored with Farmer's Markets. Shop at them as long as they are open, braving the chill and toting your eggs and squash while all the while admiring the frigid farmers manning their stands.

The pricey and delicious Empress Plum with Indonesian Vanilla Beans Jam was adapted from this site:

And finally, the Apricot Chutney from the book Preserving Summer's Bounty:
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup coarsely chopped onions
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 TB chopped raisins
1 TB crushed, minced, peeled ginger
5 c, fresh apricots, pitted and quartered

In a large enamel or stainless steel pot, combine the honey, vinegar, onions, allspice, raisins, and ginger. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the apricots and simmer for 30 minutes or until thick, stirring occasionally.

To can: Pour into hot, scalded half-pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Seal and process for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

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