Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Spiced Grape Jam

Went to the co-op and they had tons of champagne grapes in the reduced bin. They're one of my favorites right now, I like them frozen and they're delicious in rich yoghurt. Boxes of them sell for something like $3.50 each, generally making them a bit out of my price range for regular consumption, but at $.50/lb, I bought four boxes and thought I'd try making some sort of preserves with them.

They were in the reduced bin because they were a bit mushy on the bottom, but I picked through and washed them meticulously and they produced about 5 1/2 cups. 

I read through a lot of recipes for grapes, mostly grape jellies. I didn't really want jelly, I think it's too sugary and a little boring. I like whole chunks of fruit, but I didn't want it to be too watery either so I bought a box of Pomona's Universal Pectin. I found their directions to be rather confusing, but after flipping the sheet over a few times I decided to loosely follow their directions for blueberry jam. 

I added warm spices to it because recently I've been smelling autumn in the air. 

5 1/2 c champagne grapes
1 c sugar
2 tsp pectin (+2 tsp calcium water)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1 pinch salt

Filled 4 half pint jars

Put all the fruit in a pan and mashed it with my hands a bit, but not too much since I wanted some of the grapes whole, so they'd swell in the heat. Also added the calcium water at this point, apparently it helps the pectin set.

I simmered them for about forty minutes, stirring regularly so no burning occurred. At first they produced a lot of water (no foam, though), then halfway through the water began to reduce to a syrup. 

At about twenty minutes, I added a cup of sugar and the syrup thickened earnestly. 

At forty minutes I dusted in the pectin and stirred it for five-ish minutes. 

Ladled it into sterilized half pint jars, sealed and water-bathed them for 10 minutes.

The jam is delicious. One of my favorites I've made. Kind of reminds me of Christmas, in a way. It jelled perfectly fine, and there are plenty of fat swollen fruits in it. I might use a little less sugar next time, and more spices. I think it'll be good in yogurt and on ice cream or possibly as a filling for a pastry. 

Monday, August 24, 2009

Apricot Preserves

I bought about four pounds of pretty little apricots at the farmers market. I don't really like them raw, I think it's a texture thing, they have an off putting pasty consistency. My roommate had a jar of apricot preserves last year, and I fell in love with the almost-candied apricot halves suspended in the jam. 

The recipe I used is a composite based on research, with a little less sugar and a little more lemon. I wanted it saucy and gooey, not gelatinous at all, so I used no pectin.

4 lbs apricots, halved
1 1/3 c sugar
1/4 c water
1/4 c lemon juice 

Filled 3 1/2 Half-pint jars.

Added sugar and water together in a giant enameled pan (I read a straight up aluminum pan will give the fruit a metallic, off taste) over medium heat until it became translucent and a little syrupy.  

Because I wanted that balance of whole fruit in more spreadable jam, I added the fruit in two parts. For the first part, I threw in the halves that were riper and more falley-apartey, since they were just going to turn into mush anyway. I let these simmer, stirring frequently, for quite a while, until all the fruit had changed into a deep, sticky gold mess. 

Especially in the beginning, it created a lot of sweet froth, which I skimmed off into a glass and stirred into my yoghurt the next morning. 

Then I added the second portion, the firmer and less ripe halves. I cooked the mixture for about another half hour, until the thickest bits of apricot had turned color and were almost falling apart.

I smashed open some of the apricot pits with a hammer. The shards of shell are sharp, and fly everywhere, so I covered them with a cloth while hammering to prevent blindness. Inside is a fragrant, bitter little seed which looks exactly like a baby almond. I've heard that 70% of what we taste is smell, and biting into one of these was reminiscent of inhaling almond extract. That's because it contains benzaldehyde, also found in almonds, and used to make cyanide. Some people think it prevents or cures cancer. 

It made me think of the opening line of Love in a Time of Cholera:

 "It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love...[he] had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide." 

From what I read, it's also the secret to apricot jam, giving it a subtle bitterness and flowery fragrance. Over-consumed, they could lead to cyanide toxicity. An average kernel contains only 0.5mg of cyanide, so used sparingly, it's totally safe. 

I grated about four into the bubbling fruit. 

About ten minutes before it was done, I stirred in the strained lemon juice. Some fruit started burning on the bottom of the pan (I blame the sugar, trying to turn into candy), so when I was pouring  it into my sterilized jars, I was careful not to scrape it in since it was an ugly color. I did, though, after all the liquid was gone--it was like apricot candy. 

I sealed the jars and water-bathed them for a little more than ten minutes. 

They're quite strong tasting. I was worried because, since it's late August, most of the fruit I bought was at the peak of sweet ripeness, that the sugar coupled with the long brewing would reduce it to a too-sweet mush, but it's perfect. The extra lemon gave it more bite, and I might use a few more kernels next time. 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blackberry Preserves

"The medicines of another time, the balm of sun and idle August afternoons, the faintly heard sounds of ice wagons passing on brick avenues, the rush of silver skyrockets and the fountaining of lawn mowers moving through ant countries, all these, all these in a glass."
Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

Picked about two gallons of blackberries today with Mr. Jean Nagai.

The neighbor kids asked me why we were doing it and I said because they'll taste like summer in winter.

Rinsed them off and brought them to a boil with two cups of sugar. Betty Crocker's blackberry preserve recipe calls for one cup of sugar for every cup of berries, totally obliterating the fundamental tartness of the berries, so this time I taste-tested it and only added as much as seemed necessary. The liquid never became syrupy, and is lighter in color than the highly sugared versions I've made. 

Poured them in sterilized jars, sealed and waterbathed them for ten minutes. 

A patch of sunlight in the dark.