Jellies Resurgent

Well, I’ve been working on jellies in the last couple of weeks and I’ve got two projects done.

The first jelly was the classic grape jelly. I got a bunch of fresh, organic concord grapes from Blue Skies Farm for super cheap because they were split in the picking.

I guess the farm makes wine from the majority of the grapes they grow, so the field hands aren’t very careful in picking the grapes. Perfect for a jelly maker.

The first time I had concord grapes, maybe 4 or 5 years ago, they were sitting on the counter in the kitchen of the house I was living at at the time. I absent mindedly picked one off the vine and threw it into my mouth. “Wow,” I thought, “this tastes just like grape jelly!” I had always just assumed that the flavor of grape jelly was as related to the taste of real grapes as blue razzberry is to real raspberries. Wrong! It’s just that concord grapes have a flavor all their own. Musky, tart, striking. I liked them a lot and have been eating them every year since as they come into season.

My goal was to try and make the grape jelly without pectin, as I’ve been trying to do with all my other jams. I found a recipe online that suggested I could do it, but I noticed that Ferber adds whole apples to all of her grape jams and jellies. I decided to trust the internet, over Ferber.

Honestly, what was I thinking?

The long story short is this: I’ve managed to make a great tasting grape thing with the consistency of molasses. There’s not really any pectin in grapes, so making jelly out of them is not really an option without added pectin of some kind. Oh well, lesson learned.

Here’s the jelly slowly working its way through a muslin lined chinois to achieve really clear jelly.

My next project was watermelon jelly. I had gotten a watermelon from my friend Andy at Sprouting Acres farm at market and was excited to get it into jelly form. But, after my grape jelly experience, I was wary. I also didn’t want to go the pectin stock route, because one of the great things about the watermelon juice I was turning into jelly was it’s bright pink color and I didn’t want to mess that up.

In the end, I decided to give commercial pectin a try. I can see that it has it’s uses and I’d like to be comfortable using it when appropriate.

This jelly turned out great in terms of color and texture. I also really like the flavor, but it’s not a peanut butter and jelly jelly. It’s also not really a cheese friendly preserve. I will tell you that it’s nice on toast and english muffins. It needs to be on or with something fairly light and unobtrusive because it itself has a fairly light and delicate flavor profile.

Also, depsite the fact that Watermelon Rose sounds both like a bath gel and a stripper, I added a rose hip infusion to the jelly as well. And before you get all in a huff, rose water and rose petals have a totally different flavor than rose hips, the fruit of the rose plant. Rose hips are tart and unctuous, not overly floral and grandma-y.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to in the jam world.

What’s coming next you say?

Maybe Maple Nectarine, maybe Quince Preserved in Honey.

Maybe something else entirely.

Figs Preserved in Honey and Bourbon

Yesterday at this time, my thermometer read 91 degrees. Today? Try 55. That’s right friends, fall is on its way.

I always feel a mixture of sadness and excited anticipation as the seasons begin to change. I wonder if I got everything I could have out of the season we’re leaving, but look forward to the rituals and unique pleasures of the one to come.

And while I feel this everytime a season fades, I somehow seem to feel it most keenly as summer turns into fall. I hate to wait another year for tomatoes, ripe to the point of bursting, to hang heavy on the vine, but can’t wait for the apples ripening on the tree, as crisp as a late September morning.

And so, with this whistful mood in tow, I set out to make a preserve that seems to me to be a perfect reflection of this time of year: Figs Preserved in Honey and Bourbon.

My goal with this preserve was not a jam or a jelly or even a traditional preserve. Instead, I wanted the figs to hold their shape and the honey-bourbon syrup to remain just that, a syrup, and not fully set up. The idea here is both that the figs are the focus and that I wanted something that would compliment a different set of foods.

Think vanilla ice cream and cheese cake, not toast and waffles.

Also, doesn’t a fig dripping with honey and bourbon just make you want to fall over in excitement? Well, it does me.

Here’s how it all played out.

First, I bought some Black Mission Figs. If you get them at the grocery store, be sure to check them carefully for signs of mold, as figs are extremely perishable.

I washed, stemmed and quartered them (except for the giant figs, which I sixthed). I put them into a ceramic bowl with the sugar, honey, lemon juice and one vanilla bean, split lengthwise.

A note on whole vanilla beans: When purchasing a vanilla bean, make sure it is soft and fresh, not old and brittle. The flavors are better and it is far easier to split.

Let these macerate in the bowl at room temperature with a parchment lid for one hour. The figs are soft and ready to give up their moisture (especially after being cut) and so we don’t need to do this step overnight.

Transfer the mixture from the bowl to your preserving pot and bring to a simmer. Return to the bowl, recover with parchment and let sit overnight in the fridge. During the process of transferring, simmering and re-transferring, be gentle with the figs, so as not to break them up into little figgy bits.

On day two, pour the mixture through a strainer (it doesn’t need to be real fine, as everything will be recombined in the end) and collect the syrup in the preserving pot. Get out your bourbon, pour yourself a glass, with an ice cube or two if you like, add some bourbon to the pot and bring to a simmer.

Once it comes to a simmer, you have two choices: burn off the alcohol or wait for it to simmer off. I chose to burn it off, mostly because it’s pretty fun, but for God’s sake, don’t burn your house down. Here’s what you can expect if you choose to stick a match (or birthday candle in this case) to it:

Yikes.

Once the syrup is reduced to the consistency you’d like, return the figs to the mix, return to a simmer.

Remove the vanilla bean halves and put into sanitized preserve jars. Cut the vanilla halves into as many jars as you have and put a piece in each jar for additional flavor and decoration. Here’s one of mine before the lid went on. You can see the vanilla bean sticking out some toward the top.

So, that’s the way to do it. Keep sipping your bourbon as you wait for your figs to cool and enjoy the last days of summer.

Figs Presevered in Honey with Bourbon

566 g (or 1 1/4 lb) figs

500 g sugar

400 g honey

Juice of one small lemon

200 g bourbon (1c, roughly) for the recipe plus 100 g bourbon for drinking

When choosing a bourbon, be sure to choose a real Kentucky Bourbon, not some “American Whiskey.” That’s right Jack Daniels, you can keep your Tennessee moonshine. As for how nice a bourbon to get, don’t go wasting a Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, but don’t get something crappy like Old Crow or Rebel Yell. I went with Evan Williams, a mass market bourbon, which is decent. Also, it’s distilled in Bardstown, Kentucky and I am a decendant of William Bard, who founded the town with his brother David in 1782.

This following section has nothing to do with Figs and Honey, so stop reading if you like. It’s a bit of the legend surrounding my ancestor, William Bard, from the mythology of Bardstown. I found it on a geneaology website here.

<<The story is that salt being scarce at Pittsburgh, Bard proposed to three other men, Brown, Evans and Doe, to go down the Ohio river, on a flat-boat, to the salt licks of Kentucky. Doe’s wife went with them to cook for them. They landed near the site of Louisville, and then went to Drennon’s creek, twelve miles distant, where they built a cabin preparatory to beginning the manufacture of salt. The Does had with them an infant six months old. The party had not been many days at the salt licks when they were attacked by a band of Indians. Doe and his wife were both killed and Brown was severely wounded. Bard killed one Indian with his own gun, and with the gun of the dead man he shot another. These fatalities had the effect of intimidating the Indians, and they fled, leaving Mr. Bard with the wounded man and the helpless babe on his hands. He succored the child by chewing bread, that it might have sustenance. In the meantime, Evans made his way to the river in search of assistance. At midnight of the following night, the wounded man died. Bard then barred up the cabin and, taking the child in his arms, followed after Evans. He had gone only three miles when he was attacked by wolves. He escaped them by climbing a tree, where he remained until daylight. Resuming his journey, he soon afterward met Mr. Evans with a company of men led by Daniel Boone coming to his rescue.>>

That’s right folks, if it hadn’t been for good old Danny Boone, you wouldn’t have this here blog to read.

If that’s not a story worth a healthy measure of bourbon, I don’t know what is.

Drink up.

Green Apple Jelly

I made this jelly almost two weeks ago and I’ve already written quite enough on the glories of pectin, so I’m going to keep this short.

I made the jelly using Melba apples from Ela Orchard in Rochester, WI. Bob Ela is like the friendliest, smiliest person on earth and he grows great apples. He also makes the best cider in the state.

You don’t see Melbas in the store too much because they’re very fragile, bruise easily and must be refrigerated, unlike a lot of other apples. But, these qualities actually make them really nice for jelly because they break down so quickly when you boil them, releasing their pectin.

Look at how fast they disintegrate. These pictures are taken about five minutes apart.

I let them simmer, starting with water just covering them, for about 30 min and strained them first through a chinois and then through damp muslin.

The result was a crystal clear liquid, which I measured and added to an equal amount of sugar, by weight, and the juice of three lemons. I let that simmer until it set and canned it.

Here’s the result.

My first jelly

Ever since I started making jams and working on the blog, I’ve been thinking about this memory I have from when I was real young of making jam with my mom at our house in Evanston, IL. I would’ve been about 2 and a half at the time and I remember standing on a chair or stool and helping to stir this dark purple syrup in a big pot on the stove with the back door open and the sun shining in.

It’s a great memory, but I couldn’t be sure it was real without checking. You see, I have a bunch memories from my childhood that just never happened. I don’t know if they were dreams or what, but I’ve come to realize that my little old brain just isn’t content with the facts sometimes. Like that time that my dad fell off the ladder? Didn’t happen. Oh well, I suppose it’s better for him that way, if mildly disconcerting for me.

So, I called my mom to check the facts and it turns out that this one is true! At the time that we were living there, my mom was running a little day care out of our house. There were four big bushes in the back yard and she wanted to make sure the berries weren’t going the kill the kids if they ate them. So, she called the previous owner of the house, an older English couple, to get the story on the berries.

It turns out that the couple had moved to the house from England a number of years back and found themselves missing the currant jelly that they had loved so much back home. So, they imported four  currant bushes from the UK and brought them to Evanston and planted them in what had become our backyard. Each summer they would pick the currants and make themselves a year’s supply of jelly. Well, to make a long story short, my mom got the recipe, took it home, picked the currants and we made jelly together.

So, my mom was telling me the story over the phone last week and, naturally, I asked, “Do you still have the recipe?” Turns out she does! She emailed it to me and now I need to see if I can’t find some currants and make it.

So, here’s the recipe from Mrs. Youngren, as written down by my mom in the summer of ’84.

“Pick currant berries and wash them.  Then put in kettle and mash.  Put them on the stove and bring to a low simmer. Don’t add water. Cook about 10 minutes until they become liquid. Then put in a sieve over a pot to collect juice and let sit over night. In the morning measure juice.  Then add the same amount of sugar as there is juice ( 1 cup juice=1 cup sugar).  Bring juice/sugar mixture to a boil while stirring carefully until it comes to a soft boil.  Boil rapidly for 2-3 minutes.  Put in glass jars to cool over night. Put parafin on top the next morning.  Be sure you cover the whole jar.”

And now, 24 years later, here I am with a deep, abiding love of England, jams and fresh local food. Coincidence? Or do I owe more to Mrs. Youngren than I realized?

Brainstorming

I’m starting to plan my next project (while lagging on posting about my last two…) and I’m brainstorming ideas. Here are a few that I’m mulling over: 

Maple Nectarine
Honeydew Almond
Apricot Rosemary
Blueberry
Black Currant Jelly
Watermelon Rose
Cucumber Lime  

Any of these strike your fancy? I’m open to input and other ideas as well, so comment away and I’ll take your advice when I decide what to make next! Who knows, you might even get to taste the end result!

A near perfect dinner

I made a dinner last night that rivaled any other I’ve had. It wasn’t jam, but I just had to post about it.

It was Roast Chicken with Seasonal Roast Vegetables (Fennel, Beets, Carrots, Potatoes and Baby Onions) with Boetje’s Mustard.

Clean, simple and rustic. Classic bistro fare made with all local ingredients. The chicken was tender with crisp, golden skin and the veggies were nicely caramelized and cooked just right.

When people find out that I’m a chef, they say to Clare: Oh, you’re so lucky.

She says: Yeah, I am.

Also, I wanted to point you to another recent article on pectin that appeared in Popular Science magazine. It’s much smarter than what I recently wrote and takes a different take on it’s uses.

Strawberry Jam with Fresh Mint and Black Pepper

My first project has been a recipe straight from Christine Ferber’s “Mes Confitures,” Strawberry with Fresh Mint and Black Pepper. And while Strawberry and Black Pepper is likely on its way toward cliche-dom, I thought I’d give it a go. Strawberries are ripe and in season and I have ready access to fresh mint in my kitchen. Also, it’s a pretty straight forward recipe that I have all the equipment for.

The jam, while being easy, is not quick. In fact, it’s taken me a week to get the jams right. I picked up three pints of strawberries from the farmer’s market last Tuesday night, hulled and cleaned them when I got home and started them macerating with sugar and lemon juice overnight. Ferber is insistant on using a ceramic bowl and a parchment paper lid (she’s insistant about a lot of things) and I followed her orders like a good little cook.

The next day, I poured the mixture into a large pot, brought it to a boil, simmered for five minutes (skimming all the while) and returned it to the ceramic bowl to chill overnight. This step half-cooks the berries and dissolves all the sugar crystals into the strawberry juice drawn out during maceration. It makes a gorgeous, crystal clear, ruby red syrup and the berries are just tender.

On the third, and what should have been final, day, I strained the mixture through a chinois into another pot. I chose a smaller pot this time, reasoning that it wasn’t necessary to use the large one, as I was straining out the berries. Bad idea. Because the pot was taller than it was wide, it was very difficult to keep the syrup from boiling over while reducing it to the proper consistency. The end result was that it ended up not getting reduced enough, but more on that in a minute. One I had finished reducing it, I added back the berries and added the fresh mint and black pepper, returned it all to a boil for five minutes and canned it, thinking I was done.

Well, the problem was that it didn’t set up. Watch this video to see what I mean.

Who wants strawberry soup on their bread? Not me.

So, back to the drawing board. I thought about what to do and decided to just open the jars again, strain out the berries and keep reducing the syrup. I called my personal pastry consultant, Anna, and she thought it was a good idea too.

So, I strained the berries again:

Reduced the syrup and recanned. I’m confident it’s going to work this time because there’s a lot less water in the syrup. Look at the jars cooling from the first attempt (top) versus the second (bottom) and how much water has condensed in the first picture and how there’s none in the second. Water = not setting up. You can also see that the fourth jar is gone. That’s how much water cooked off.

So, that’s the first attempt. I just need to distribute them now and see how people like them!

Up next, Ground Cherry Chamomile Jam.

Sources:
Strawberries – Emerald Meadows Family Farm
Mint – My kitchen
Pepper – Matt Brown’s trip to India
Sugar – Shur Fine Cane Sugar
Lemon – Harmony Valley Fruit CSA