The color is incredible, but the taste... might need a lot of sugar and lemon to make it into something.
Any tips, advice, recipes, please post! Thanks!
On a quest for something else this morning, I stumbled upon these cactus fruits at the produce market. Hmmm. I've seen prickly pear jelly and jam before, but have never tasted it. Is this the same thing as a prickly pear? I decided they were, made an impulse buy and headed home with four fruits. Got them into the kitchen, sliced one open and my first impression was... wow! The color alone would make an impressive preserve. Then a taste, and... Blech! First, they taste like they have pebbles in them. Their seeds are hard and I wouldn't want to break a tooth on one or digest it. That means I'll have to treat them like I would a blackberry and make juice first. So I'll be going for a jelly, not a jam. But the flavor was bland and texture was mealy. They weren't sweet at all. They reminded me of a really pointless apple, only softer. I'll be keeping an eye out for recipes, but in the meantime, does anyone have any ideas?
The color is incredible, but the taste... might need a lot of sugar and lemon to make it into something.
Any tips, advice, recipes, please post! Thanks!
I recently met a springtime fruit I had never heard of before: the pomelo. A member of the grapefruit family, these giant, golden fruits are impressive in size, but not consistently juicy in my opinion. That was fine with me, because I don't really like grapefruit's bitter flavor. But the pith was huge, nearly an inch thick, and that was something to get excited about. I had been wanting to try my hand at candied peel for a while, and I had heard that the bigger the pith, the better the candy.
I remembered a marmalade class I took with June Taylor several years ago and the candied peel she served. It's funny how you can make candy out of something that starts out as the most awful, bitter thing you can imagine. Boiled, dried and sugared up, bitter citrus peel is barely recognizable. I tried June Taylor's recipe for candied Meyer lemon peels on my pomelo peels and had great success with my first two batches. The next two batches were complete failures. Here's why: The first failure was the result of overcooking on the first boil. In her recipe, June says to cook the peel until it offers no resistance to the bite, but for me, cooking it to this point resulted in a bitter mush. To the trash! I have discovered I like my candied peel to be a little bit more al dente. I want to have to put a little tooth into the peel.
The second failure was the result of pure greediness. June's recipe calls for 3 medium-sized Meyer lemons, so you have to use the amount of pomelo peel to equate 3 medium-sized Meyer lemons. Otherwise, the gigantic pith absorbs all the syrup on the second boil and the syrup evaporates before it can get to 230 degree. I make tiny batches now -- just one pomelo at a time -- and have been thrilled with the results. I also started adding the beads from a real vanilla bean to my sugar. Couldn't really taste the vanilla, but maybe I just need more beads. Candied peel is like a blank canvas -- you can use all kinds of spices and additions to add layer upon layer of flavor. Have fun!
Here's the recipe I use as a foundation.
Warm. Rich. And what a set! These are my first impressions after a recent experiment with turbinado sugar. I'd been curious about turbinado -- raw cane sugar -- since Gillian Helquist told me she used it in her marmalade at Nick's Cove. I'd been mulling her comment about avoiding turbinado when she wanted a clean, bright flavor... I wondered what it would do for the pomegranate juice I'd squeezed. The juice was typical pomegranate: thin and tart and deep purple, with a swirl of ultra fine pulp. I decided to try making a small batch, just four jars, and see what there was to see.
First, let me tell you that pomegranate jelly is pure joy to make in tiny batches like this. The juice blended with the pectin with little coaxing and came to a boil within minutes. I've been getting a little neurotic with my "boiling." I bring the mixture to 212 degrees and that's how I avoid over-boiling. Then I added the turbinado and held my breath as the thick brown grains danced through the pomegranate-pectin mixture and settled to the bottom. Within a few moments, the turbinado had dissolved and the mixture was starting to come to a boil again.
When it came to a full rolling boil, I set my timer for three minutes. Rarely does the Ball recipe (which calls for boiling one minute after adding sugar) hold true on my stove. To my surprise, the jelly was sheeting off the spoon in just under two minutes. I gave it an extra minute of heat and then shuffled the jelly into my hot jars. Splashdown in the boiling water bath for ten minutes, and done!
The next morning, I came running down the stairs like it was Christmas, eager to try my new jelly recipe. I was thrilled! The set was lightly firm, not glassy, and the flavor was deep and fruity. I could taste the pomegranate!
Here's my recipe (I tweaked the recipe from the Ball Blue Book, in case you want to see the original):
Pomegranate Turbinado Jelly
1 3/4 cup pomegranate juice
3 tablespoons Ball Flex Batch Classic Pectin Mix (Also known as RealFruit Classic Pectin)
2 1/2 cups turbinado sugar (I have also tried this recipe with 1 3/4 cups of turbinado sugar and have been pleased with the pomegranate flavor that shines through.)
Sterilize jars and keep hot. Warm lids and bands in simmering water until ready to use. Prepare water bath and bring to boil.
1. Juice pomegranates to make 1 3/4 cups. Strain through fine sieve and a layer of cheese cloth if necessary.
2. Combine pomegranate juice and pectin in saucepot (medium size is fine for this small batch). Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.
3. Add turbinado sugar. It may clump up at first, but this sugar dissolves quickly, so keep an eye on it. Return to a rolling boil and boil for one minute. Pull your spoon through the mixture, testing for set; it will sheet from the spoon quickly.
4. Remove from heat. Pour hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Cover with lids and bands.
5. Process jars in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let cool.
I love summer. People talk about the winter holidays being the most wonderful time of the year, but I disagree. Summer is magic. Fruit everywhere, generous friends inviting me over to harvest... It's heaven.
Every summer, there's one special fruit that rises above the poundage. This year it was my friend Julie's tangelo. By the time I made it over to her house, the branches were heavy with these odd little fruits that are a cross between a mandarin orange and a grapefruit. Julie's tangelo tree provides shade to her chickens, so harvesting was a fun endeavor in the coop.
The fruit is incredible. Not too sweet -- more tart -- and with deep flavors that merge well with other fruits.
Here's a secret about the Ping: I don't like the way orange jelly looks. Aesthetically, it doesn't appeal to me when I blend citrus juice and sugar and pour it in a jar, so I always mix citrus juice with a red or pink fruit. I like to play with flavor, but also with color, so after juicing several pounds of tangelos, I boiled down some raspberries to add a little punch of flavor and color.
Here's another preference: I am tired of sugar overwhelming my interesting fruit flavors. So for this recipe, I used a Low/No Sugar Pectin and about half the sugar that I would have normally used for jelly. I'm sold! I may never do a full sugar jelly recipe again.
The result: Tangelo Raspberry Jelly! I'm pleased to report that my creation placed second in the California State Fair this year. The judges comments were positive; I chuckled when they mentioned the raspberry flavor was faint. That's the idea! It's supposed to be subtle. I mostly use raspberry juice for the color, and their comment on that point was that it was "beautiful." Mission accomplished!
Here's the winning recipe. If you can get your hands on some tangelos, I highly recommend giving it a try. Maybe you'll find your own special way to change it up! If you do, let me know.
Raspberry Tangelo Jelly
3 1/2 cups tangelo juice
1/2 cup organic raspberry juice
3 tablespoons Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin
3 cups sugar
Sterilize jars and keep hot. Warm lids and bands in simmering water until ready to use. Prepare water bath and bring to a boil.
1. Juice fresh tangelos to make 3 1/2 cups. Strain through a fine sieve and a layer of cheese cloth -- tangelos have a lot of "body" to them. (You may need to use several layers of cheese cloth.)
2. Lightly mash one pack (about 1 cup) fresh organic raspberries in small pot. Add 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook berries on low until they are fragrant and juice is dark red, about 5-10 minutes. Strain through fine sieve.
3. Combine juices in a pot. Stir in 3 tablespoons Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin. Stirring constantly to prevent sticking, bring to a full rolling boil.
4. Add sugar. Return to full rolling boil. Boil hard, checking every few seconds for set. Getting to set could take several minutes.
5. Pour hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Cover with lids and bands.
6. Process jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let cool.
With canning, you're always learning. This summer, I was the student and pectin was the teacher.
It all started when I learned from three different sources (all very reliable) that you should use slightly under-ripe fruit for jam and jelly making. Slightly under-ripe fruit has higher pectin levels than fruit at its peak or over-ripe. For years, I had sought perfectly ripe fruit, and wasn't opposed to using fruit that was slightly dinged here and there -- I'd just cut those bruised pieces out. I think the "dinged fruit is fine fruit" theory was widespread -- even farmers would set aside these slightly imperfect fruits just for home canners at the farmers markets and charge a few cents less. You're going to cut it up, pour a bunch of sugar on it and cook the heck out of it, so it doesn't need it to be perfect, right? WRONG!
I decided to conduct an experiment. I sliced and diced 5 cups of slightly under-ripe plums with the skin on (there's plenty of pectin in fruit skins, seeds and pits) and made my jam according to a Ball Blue Book recipe. The jam did its normal thing, but it seemed to set up faster -- took me by surprise! Before I knew it, my jam was sitting up straight on a spoon. When I opened my tester jar the next morning to have a taste, the knife didn't move through the jam as easily as I like it to. This jam was tasty and tart, but definitely FIRM! (I prefer a softer set, but have friends and family who like firm jam.) I still had loads of slightly under-ripe plums, so for the next batch, I peeled about half of the plums. The result was a nicely set up, but not too firm, batch of plum jam. My theory: If I was going to use fruit that had a higher level of pectin, I needed to remove some of the peel to get the texture I prefer.
One of my sources at the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, Diane Beckles, pointed out that canners might have to make a trade-off between pectin content and sugar levels. Slightly under-ripe fruit may not be as sweet -- it depends on the fruit.
There is a lot to consider when you're choosing your fruit! And, now it makes sense when I see tips that suggest using 3/4 firm-ripe and 1/4 under-ripe fruit in your recipes. (Not that you always have a choice when in comes to ratios of firm-ripe and under-ripe. This seems like splitting hairs, even to me.) I'll continue to mix it up and document the results, and of course, share with all of you!
While other states looked forward to winter’s end this year, in California, we felt like we were cheated. It’s been warm and gorgeous for months – which is wonderful – but too many cloudless, sunny days without rain are the harbinger of drought. And so it goes, we are navigating our way through a drought – some of us for the first time. There has been plenty of talk about what the drought will mean for crops. I started to worry a few weeks ago when I noticed my jam stores were getting low. “Is there going to be fruit this year?” I wondered. Silly question perhaps, but being new to droughts, I thought it was worth asking.
I caught up with Farmer Al Courchesne, founder and CEO of Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood. Farmer Al grows pears, a variety of stone fruits, quince, apples, Meyer lemons, kumquats, persimmons, and my favorite – pomegranates. Frog Hollow Farms also runs a café in the San Francisco Ferry Building where you can get coffee, homemade pastries and other goodies.
Here’s what I learned:
Q: I put up about 40 jars of apricot jam last year and I am just starting to run low. I have hesitated to be too liberal with my jams because of all the buzz around the drought – some people have speculated that fruit yields will be lower. What do you say? Will I have fruit to can this summer?
A: We’re seeing normal crops this year. Here in East Contra Costa County, we’re in an old irrigation district – we have legal rights to the water that’s adjacent to our district. Water rights are called “riparian” rights; ours dates back to pre-1914, making our irrigation district, the Byron-Bethany Irrigation District, one of the oldest in the state. We will probably have all the water we need this year – we are good to go and will have a normal crop and plenty of fruit. We were lucky to get about 2 to 3 inches of rain in late February and March – that helped.
The challenge is going to come later in the summer when demand for water goes up and more demands are being made on the limited water supply by farms and industry. That’s when rationing will kick in – some farms further south in the southern San Joaquin Valley are already rationing. Those farmers probably decided early not to plant certain crops. But as far as fruit trees are concerned, you have no choice: the trees are already in the ground so you have to water them.
Q: What is Frog Hollow Farms doing to conserve water?
A: We’re changing our soil structure with compost so we have better water-holding capacity. We’re mostly composting residues from our farming and fruit operations.
Q: What’s taking the biggest hit from the drought?
A: Cattle grazing in the mountains relies on grass that grows from rainfall. That sector is going to be hit hard this year. My guess is that crops like cotton and alfalfa will also be impacted. Those crops will be cut back before tree crops are.
Q: I read on your website that you got your start in farming while living in Hawaii. What did you farm there? What lessons did you bring back to the mainland?
A: In Hawaii, I farmed vegetables on two acres of rented land. You can’t plant trees on rented land, so I planted tomatoes, eggplant, lettuces, corn…
The main lesson I learned was about marketing. Back then I was just a tiny grower and I learned the only way to survive was to sell direct to consumers at farmer’s markets, or to work directly with restaurants. Most farmers sell their crops to middlemen at a small fraction of what the consumer value is.
When I started farming on 13 acres in Brentwood in 1976 it was a whole new ball game – I planted trees, not vegetables, so it was a whole different learning curve. Brentwood had a very different climate and soil than Hawaii. I learned that every agricultural project has different requirements for success. Two fundamental aspects of farming are soil and climate. My focus has been growing what responds well to the climate and soil here, and enhancing those crops with sustainable practices like making compost.
It all started with the best intentions: A friend had shared a bag full of ripe and fragrant quince with me, and, knowing she couldn't eat a lot of sugar, I decided to leave out some of the sweetness when I made membrillo and quince jelly. It would be great! I could share it with her and she would eat it and enjoy it. Right? WRONG.
My heartbreak started with the membrillo. I used the same recipe I had used before, but ignored the writer's note that sugar helps the membrillo carmelize. No problem, I thought. I don't have a food mill, so decided that instead of taking the laborious task of chopping the quince by hand (quince is a very stubborn and hard fruit and difficult to chop), I'd run it through the food processor. The mixture was a paste by the time I finished pulverizing it. Was it a good idea to take this short cut? Hard to say now -- it may have worked fine had I not reduced the sugar by half. I cooked it and cooked it, standing over the stove with my wooden spoon, imploring it to firm up. Finally, after nearly an hour, I spread it into a pan and hoped for the best. The next morning, I cautiously lifted the plastic wrap and peeked under -- blah. Failure. The membrillo lacked the amber jewel color of the last batch I made a few years back -- this time it was a sad mustard color -- and there was no satisfying gelatinous tooth. I pitched it.
I'll have more success with the jelly, I thought to myself. Quince have so much pectin -- maybe I don't need so much sugar!
One thing I have to say about quince -- you don't waste a thing. You use the flesh for the membrillo and the peels, cores and seeds for the jelly. So, the next evening I came home from work, wrapped my hair in a bandana and got to work. Again, reducing the sugar, but this time, only by two ounces. In the pot, the mixture looked promising. It had that gorgeous jewel color I love and it had a nice shoulder when I did my plate test. I canned and water bathed it, and went to bed, but didn't sleep well. I dreamt about quince and jelly and in my dream I kept opening jar after jar of jelly, biting my lip as I pressed the knife into the jar... Did it... Set? The next morning, I dashed downstairs and pried open a jar. My heart sank. It was glop. And it didn't taste very good, either.
Lesson learned: Don't reduce the sugar when you make anything with quince. *Sniff*
It's 90 degrees from California to New York, but summer is nearly over - sigh. It's a bittersweet time for us canners -- the panic of how we're going to get through all the bags and bowls of stone fruit, berries and tomatoes is not as intense. And we like intense. But in that moment of rest that follows the last summer harvest, there's a pang of anticipation for what's next. Here's my Top 4 list of what I want to can this fall.
I used to think apples had something against me -- I couldn't make a decent apple pie to save my life. Apple butter? Yeah, never again. Last year, I reluctantly bought apples from a rosy-cheeked farmer at my local farmer's market because she promised me if I mixed my apple varieties I would achieve success in flavor and texture. It was life-changing advice Now, my pantry is stocked with applesauce from October to New Year's, and I think my applesauce is good enough to give as a gift. And it's easy and fun to make -- I can see how it would be a good first canning adventure for a kid (with supervision, of course). Here's a recipe for My Favorite Applesauce. Give it a try and let me know what you think... and how you tweak it to make it your own.
2. Grape Jelly
A fellow canner recently told me about her conquest of a winding grape vine and it made me think how fun it would be to make Concord Grape Jelly. I loved it as a kid, and probably haven't had it since. Here's a recipe that looks interesting. I looked at a few recipes this one has the smallest fruit-to-sugar ratio that I found.
3. Dulce de Membrillo and Quince Jelly
Two years ago, a friend gave me a big bag of quince and I just stared at them for awhile, not knowing when they would be ripe or what they should taste like. A chef friend said to wait until they turned floral and so I waited and waited, smelling them every day until I thought yes, they smell like a flower now. I found a dual recipe that taught me how to use the quince flesh for dulce de membrillo, and the peels and cores for jelly. No waste whatsoever and you get months worth of sweet eating. Dulce de membrillo is pureed quince flesh cooked with sugar to a paste. The high pectin content gives it a jelly-like consistency, and it makes an impressive appetizer with Spanish manchego cheese and white wine.
I was not as successful with the jelly. If you use the recipe I shared, watch your cook time carefully and test for set ever 2 or 3 minutes. Quince are rich with pectin, so a set is almost assured. The recipe says to cook it for a loooooong time, and I overcooked my jelly the first time. Even my dear Dad, who is usually very complimentary of my jams and jellies, said it was a no-go. The flavor of this jelly was good, so I will definitely use this recipe again. Every stove heats differently, I guess.
4. Pomegranate Jelly
A fall and winter tradition! This deep purple jelly is fun to make and a treat to eat. This recipe calls for bottled juice, but I always use fresh juice. Here's how to make your own juice -- easy:
What do you want to make this fall?
I used to love canned peaches when I was a kid. And canned pears. And fruit cocktail. I don't buy much of these canned items anymore, not because I don't like them, but because they are weird to me now. It's the syrup. It's sort of slimy and thick -- it's more sugar than I need when I'm eating something that's already sweet enough.
Enter my new passion: canned nectarine halves. A canning buddy with a green thumb invited me over this summer to can whole pieces of fruit. Her tree was dropping nectarines by the box full, and she needed help. When she asked me if I wanted to do extra light, light, medium or heavy syrup, I immediately said extra light -- I want to taste the fruit, not the sugar. I was pleasantly surprised -- canning fruit halves is way easier than jam. Just cut the fruit in half, remove the pit, and put in a bowl with a little bit of Fruit Fresh (it keeps the fruit from turning brown). Then boil the halves in your simple syrup and pack them into your sterilized jars. You have to get all the air bubbles out, otherwise your fruit will float. My friend was in charge of that part -- she used that plastic headspace tool that comes in canning kits. I hated to do it, because it mussed my lovely assembly of the fruit -- I had them layered perfectly, but... Oh well.
Process in a boiling water bath and you're done! We used this recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation. They include a handy table on how to make your syrups sweet, or not so sweet, depending on your taste. http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_02/nectarine_sliced.html
If you have a few extra halves that won't fit in your jars, put them in a bowl and enjoy. Eating warm, cooked nectarines and spooning up every last drop of your perfectly sweetened simple syrup will remind you of being a kid in summer. Try it with the last of your summer harvest if you've had your fill of jam. Or plan a canning day when your fall fruit starts coming in. I would love to do a batch of canned pear halves!
You know how people say that if you want something you should send your message out into the universe? It may sound like new agey stuff, but I think it might be true. Case in point: At the beginning of summer, when the farmer's markets were just starting to bustle, I sent a little wish into the air to receive fruit from people who had more than they could use.
Soon after I made my wish, I received a call from a canning buddy who said she had a bag of crabapples to share. Crabapples? Fun! I had never tasted or canned one. Surely I could find something to do with a bag of crabapples.
My friend ended up bringing me at least 12 pounds of fruit, and at first, I was a little bit intimidated. Crabapples are tiny, tart apples -- you can't just eat them like a Fuji or a Granny Smith. Bite into one and you immediately know something is awry -- this isn't something you want to eat unless you cook it down and pour a bunch of sugar on it. I figured I would do jelly, and set about processing the fruit to make juice. Ever processed large amounts of tiny crabapples? It takes a while! But it's fun, and the result is an amber-colored juice that reminded me of quince juice and membrillo.
I left the juice in the refrigerator for a few days until I had time to make the jelly. When I was ready to can and added the sugar it seemed to turn cloudy -- like unfiltered cider. In the pot with the heat on medium high it turned a milky beige and went completely opaque -- I wasn't so sure how it would turn out. I imagined it would look like canned milk in a jar! But once the juice finally boiled and about a minute passed, a clear, golden-pink syrup brewed below the milky façade. I breathed a sigh of relief -- Whew! It is going to be ok. And it's more than ok -- with all the pectin in crabapples, this jelly sets beautifully, like magic! The taste is sweet and light, just like the crystal-clear color. Light amber and absolutely lovely!
A tip: When you strain your fruit after boiling it, let it run through cheesecloth in a sieve and leave it alone. Don't push the pulp through to get every last drop. This will make your juice -- and jelly -- cloudy.
Give it a try. You are in for a surprise!
Here's a link to the recipe I used from the National Center for Home Preservation site: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_07/crabapple_jelly.html
About this Blog
A "ping" is the sound a lid on a jar makes when you pull it from the hot water bath. It's a victorious sound and proof of a successful canning effort. This little blog celebrates the ping and the art and craft of canning and preserving. It is full of recipes, tips and tricks that I have learned the old-fashioned way: through trial and error. I also post plenty of home canned musings -- please feel free to comment and have some fun here, too!