Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Jam Session

June has been an odd month weather-wise. Actually, the same can be said for the year so far, but June, by far, has been one of the rainiest I've seen so far, or remember. I can probably count on my two hands the number of full days we've had that was rain-free. Needless to say, the incessant amount of rainfall this past month has put a damper on my plans to go strawberry picking. I eventually gave in, realising that no matter how long I wait, I probably wouldn't be able to beat Mother Nature before the strawberry crop was all gone.

So off to the store I went, but much to my dismay, the strawberries just weren't up to par. Apparently, my luck with strawberries just wasn't on my side. However, the other berries looked nice, so I piled a few pints into my cart, along with some lemons, sugar and 7.5 pounds of apricots and headed home to do some good old-fashioned preserving.

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There's something really comforting about jamming. The task does seem a bit taunting for newbies, but it's really not that hard. You merely wash the fruit, cut them up and remove the pits if need be, and throw them all together in a large pot with some sugar and water and let it do it's thing. However, it's all about the TLC you give to your pot of jam, patiently standing over the hot stove as the fruit mixture slowly turns mushy, and then thicken, skimming off the foam and gently stirring it from time to time, that determines how good a jar of jam you'll have in the end. Jamming does require a bit of time, so make sure you give yourself a whole day (or at least a whole afternoon if you're only making one kind of jam) so that you don't end up rushing through the process.

Along with the Mixed Berry Jam, I made another, much larger batch of Apricot Almond Jam. The apricot jam has to be one of my favourites, with its delicate, tart flavour. The apricot flavour really comes through and the orange undertones from the zest adds a nice touch. I absolutely love how this jam smells as its cooking over the stove, and the bright, jewel-like orange colour is absolutely gorgeous. The Mixed Berry Jam is the perfect jam for any berry-lover, with a mixture of different berries (use whatever's in season and whatever's freshest!). The flavours of the berries are deeply concentrated here, and I love to leave the mixture a bit chunky so that when you spoon it out of the jar, you can still see bits of the whole fruits. I found this jam with the amount of sugar it asks for to be a bit too sweet for my own palate, so I like to add a bit more lemon juice to mellow out the sweetness. Both jams are absolutely delicious though; a perfect way to start off your morning on toast with a hot cup of tea. And Mother Nature...bring on the rain. No amount of rain can damper my spirits now with these bottled jewels.

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Apricot Almond Jam
Adapted from Laura Calder's French Food At Home, Food Network Canada

2 1/2 lb apricots
1 cup water
3 1/2 cups sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
6 apricot kernels or whole almonds (optional)
Orange zest (optional)

Quarter the apricots, leaving the skin on. Crack 6 of the pips with a hammer and extract the kernels inside. Taste them; if they are bitter, use only 3 and/or replace the rest with chopped almonds.

Pour one cup of water over the sugar in a large, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil to dissolve to syrup. Add the apricots and almonds, if using. Bring to a boil, and cook uncovered. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface.

Once the mixture stops producing foam (about 10 to 15 minutes later), continue cooking over medium heat until the mixture thickens to a syrupy texture, 30 minutes more. Alternatively, drop a spoonful onto a cold dish and place dish into the freezer for 1 to 2 minutes; if it jells, it's done.

Remove from heat and ladle into sterilized jars. Seal, process to seal lids, and store in a cool, dark place.

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Mixed Berry Jam
Adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2008
Makes about eight 1/2-pint jars

4.5 lb mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries)
4 cups sugar
Juice of 1 large lemon (about 4 tablespoons), plus more to taste

Combine fruit, sugar, and lemon juice in a large, non-reactive bowl. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Transfer fruit mixture to a large, heavy saucepan or pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Mash to a thick puree with a potato masher. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer until mixture begins to thicken, stirring often, about 20 to 30 minutes. During this stage, if you find the jam to be too sweet for your taste, add some more lemon juice.

Drop 1 teaspoonsful jam on a chilled saucer and return to freezer for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove sauce and push edge of jam with fingertip. If jam has properly gelled, surface will gently wrinkle. Remove saucepan from heat and ladle jam into sterilized jars. Clean rim of each jar with a damp cloth. Place lid on top and seal with screw band, twisting to close but not too tightly.

Place filled jars into a pot of boiling water, ensuring that the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. Cover pot and boil gently for at least 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Wait 5 minutes; use tongs to remove jars without tilting. Check lids for seal by pressing each lightly. Lids of sealed jars will be concave and show no movement when pressed. If lid is unsealed, place back into the pot of boiling water and process a few minutes longer, or use a new lid. Place upright on a towel; cool completely at room temperature.


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