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.

Tomato Peach Jam

Our neighbors and friends Graham and Rhea went out of town last week and left Clare and I in charge of watering their garden.  A risky proposition given our track record, but, fortunately, nothing catastrophic happened (aside from the installation of a satellite dish in the middle of the yard, but I don’t think we were to blame for that).

In return for not raining a vegetative pox down upon their plot, we got to pick and eat what was ripe and ready, quite the treat in the middle of August.

This is just the time in Wisconsin for that delicious treat, the Sungold Tomato. Small, round, orange and amazingly sweet, Sungolds, every year, make real for me the fact that tomatoes are fruits. Fortunately for me, my wise neighbors had planted a veritable host of Sungolds and I was transported.

“The fountain sprang up and the bird sang down … Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew”

Using my greatest powers of restraint, I managed to usher the tomatoes home to safety without eating them, a trecherous ten yard odyssey, and proceeded to ruminate what I could make with these little globes of heaven.

Geez, someone’s feeling like an ex-English major today.

There’s a tomato farm in Brooklyn, WI, Tomato Mountain, that makes a bunch of sauces, salas and such for sale at markets with their produce and they make a Sungold Preserve. I thought first of them, but their preserve doesn’t really get my motor runnin’, if you know what I mean. So, I looked up tomatoes in Ferber and most of her recipes call for green tomatoes. She has one for ripe tomato jam with vanilla, but I just couldn’t get into it. It took me a while to do so, but I eventually settled on Tomato Peach Jam. Both are sweet, juicy and a bit musky. Good enough for me.

And they make peach salsa right? So, what the hell.

The next step was to draft a recipe.

I didn’t want either flavor to dominate because they both have so much to offer. Interestingly, there’s a classic french tomato preserve using red tomatoes with cinnamon in it, but I didn’t want to add spices, herbs or influences for the same reason. So, I decided half and half tomato and peach would work.

Ok, so I had my flavor profile in place and so I just needed to work out the texture. In both her tomato and peach jam recipes, Ferber calls for peeling and seeding the fruit. Ok, easy enough. Peaches apparently have enough pectin to make a jam on their own, but not so much with the tomatoes. Her recipe calls for the addition of Green Apple Jelly to enhance the pectin content. So, I decided that I’d use half of what she called for in her tomato recipe in my tomato peach recipe. After a day or two of work, I had that all set.

And with that, I had myself a proto-recipe, all you really need to get the process of trial and error moving.

The first step was to peel the peaches and tomatoes. To do this, you need to score the flesh, blanch the fruit for just a few seconds in boiling water and shock it in ice water.

In the tomatoes, the skin wrinkles and the flesh softens, allowing the easy removal of the seeds.

As you can see, I used both Sungolds and a meduim sized tomato called Taxi to bulk up jam.

I peeled and seeded everything, cut the peaches into sections, mixed the fruit with sugar and lemon juice, put it into the ceramic bowl that is getting the greatest workout of its life this month and let it sit overnight in the fridge.

On day two, I brought the whole mix to a boil and reduced it until it started to take on the proper consistency. At this point, I added the apple jelly/pectin stock and kept simmering until it set up how I wanted it to.

I canned it and let it cool on the counter.

Easy.

The resulting jam is unique but I really like it. It’s not so much a breakfast with waffles jam. It plays better with a robust baguette or sourdough and some good cheese. With the tomatoes, it is certainly bridging the savory sweet gap and it needs to be used as such.

Enjoy!

Tomato Peach Jam

3# ripe peaches

3# ripe tomatoes (Use sweeter, juicier tomatoes, like Sungolds, not sauce or paste tomatoes, like Romas)

Juice of one lemon

4# sugar

1# (1 pint) Green Apple Jelly

Sources

Peaches – Kokopelli Produce

Tomatoes – Graham and Rhea for Sungolds and Happy Valley Farm for Taxis

Green Apple Jelly – Me

Sugar – Shur Fine Can Sugar

Lemon – Harmony Valley Fruit CSA

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.