Thursday, July 14, 2011
At the beginning of the week, I decided to tackle the daunting task of trying to preserve the fruits harvested from our garden. This was a task I found daunting because I had never actually made jam before, just cut some strawberries for the other people who worked their magic in the back room. Also, I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to do with any of it. The picture above shows the strawberries, black currants and sour cherries I harvested and pitted or de-stemmed, as well as rhubarb and apples from the market all prepped for processing.
Strawberries and rhubarb were easy enough. After weighing the strawberries left from last week, and going out to pick an additional 4 oz of strawberries that day, I decided to combine them into strawberry-rhubarb freezer jam. With the guidance of some online sources, I mainly used the recipe on the box of pectin for strawberry freezer jam, substituting rhubarb for some of the strawberries. I did use one cup less of sugar, similar to some of the online recipes I had seen. I also only had one box of pectin, and I was planning to make several jams. When I bought it, I thought it was enough for processing a large batch of fruit, but then I read fruit quantities on the freezer jam recipes and realized that I needed more! I decided to use almost all of it on the strawberry rhubarb and boiled it the longest time I saw recommended for processing rhubarb to soften it. It set up beautifully.
The harder decision was what to do with the black currants. On the one hand, I wanted to make more jam, but on the other hand, memories of French glace au cassis (black currant ice cream) lured me that direction. Ultimately, I decided to use some for making jam and to reserve the rest for making ice cream.
I decided to use the apples as a neutral base for the strong black currant flavor. I had been planning to combine them with one of the other fruits, but I wasn't sure if it would be sour cherries, black currants, or both together. What led me to my final resolve was a drink that my Duien and I used to enjoy on a weekly basis at The Marlay House: Strongbow cider with crème de cassis. Since I love the combination of black currant and apple, I decided to give it a go, using a recipe for apple honey lemon jam as a base and adding just a handful of currants. I ended up relying almost entirely on the pectin in the apples with just a dash of the powdered stuff, and it set up beautifully. I did find all of the prep of the apples to be a big pain. When the sliced apples finally began to soften after a lot of cooking, and I could smash them a bit with the potato masher as directed, I ended up with what was basically applesauce with currants. In the future, I think I will use the method from my apple butter recipe, where you simply quarter the apples and cook them with skins and cores, then run them through a chinois or sieve. This gives the sauce more flavor, vitamins, and apparently the pectin is also primarily located in the cores and peels. What did amaze me about this recipe was how adding the sugar took it from applesauce to apple jam consistency. The apple-currant jam also set up beautifully, and turned a gorgeous ruby hue. I may have simmered it for a ridiculous amount of time though. Word to the wise: do not try to make two different jams at once; you can't pay enough attention to one of them -- in this case, the strawberry-rhubarb that was bubbling away as I sauteed the apple-cassis. Also, use an extra-deep pot, even if you have a small amount of fruit, or it could boil over, inundating your stovetop as you desperately try to catch the flowing juices in the random extra pan sitting on your other burner. Yeah, don't do it that way.
Strawberry jam to the left, cassis-apple jam, right.