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?

Pectin – everyone’s favorite heteropolysaccharide

Before I get too far into this whole blogging thing, I want to give credit where credit is due. In the not too distant future, I’ll likely be the world’s hottest blogger in the experimental artisan jam scene. And before my head swells with pride, I want to come clean about who does most of the heavy lifting around here.

That someone is pectin.

Without pectin, this blog would be a tour of the world’s worst soups.

Pectin is the veal stock of making jams, with the added advantage of not having to boil babies to make it.

So, what is this marvelous pectin? Well, I’ll tell you.

Pectin is a complex carbohydrate found in plant cell walls that helps to bind the cells together. All higher-order, terrestrial plants have some pectin, but pectin levels vary depending on the plant, the part of the plant and the time of year. For example, unripe fruits have more pectin than ripe fruits and hard tissues have more than soft tissues. In fact, one of the reasons ripe fruit is softer than unripe fruit is because of enzymes produced during ripening that break down pectin in the cell walls, thus softening the fruit’s flesh.

Pectin is important to jam making because of it’s very useful gelling properties. When exposed to the proper ratio of water, sugar and acid, pectin forms a very uniform, consistent gel.

And what would jelly be without a good gel?

Gross, that’s what.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but basically, when you boil the fruit for a jam, the pectin comes out of the cell walls into the acidic syrup (a pH between 2.8 and 3.5 and a sugar concentration of 65% is ideal) and once enough water cooks off, it forms a gel, capturing the remaining water and allowing the jam to sep up. If too much water remains, the pectin molecules won’t come together in a high enough concentration to form the chains needed to create a good gel (you need about .5 to 1.0% concentration). And that’s when you get a poorly set up jam.

If you want to know what that looks like, take a look here.

There are many brands of commercial pectin available to the home cook, but they are all basically made the same way. The peels, cores and remnants left over after the production of apple or citrus juice (all of which are high pectin fruits) are dried and ground and have their pectin extracted in the form of a syrup. This syrup is vacuum dehydrated and the leftover powder is reground, sifted and packaged. A home cook will then add this pectin powder to a jam they are preparing to increase gellation and shorten cooking times. Commercial pectin is a convenient, predictable way to make jams at home.

But, not all of us making delicious jams use commercial pectin. Instead, we rely on the pectin that naturally exists in fruits to create a good gel. It takes a bit more work and a bit more thought and planning, but I think it’s worth it. I put a lot of time, thought and energy into making the best jams I can and I don’t want a heavily processed food byproduct in there.

So, the question becomes, what do I do if I need to increase the gel of a jam I want to make. What if I want to make cherry or pear jam, fruits with very low pectin levels? The answer comes in the form of Green Apple Jelly or what I’ve been calling Pectin Stock. Right now is a perfect time to make it because we’re just at the start of our apple season and, so, many of the apples available right now are very high in pectin. All one needs to do is add a bit of this jelly to a low pectin jam in place of some of the sugar and let it work its gelling magic.

I’m going to do a post on making the jelly in a few days, but the important thing for this post is that I now have several quarts of Pectin Stock that I can use whenever I’m making a jam that requires a pectin boost. And because I made it myself, I know who grew the apples (Bob Ela), when they were cooked (Monday) and what all went into my pectin (not much).

And that, my friends, is the sort of thing that makes me happy.