03 August 2013

Homemade Living: Summer Jams

At the beginning of my summer vacation I decided I wanted to do a feature called "Homemade Summer", in which I would make and blog about things that are usually bought premade in the grocery store but can actually be made fairly cheaply and much more deliciously at home. Of course, various vacations and work and life got in the way and I only managed to post about marshmallows before it was suddenly August. I should just learn my lesson about starting new features. I never can seem to stick to the schedule I set for them.

Anyways, I still LOVE the original idea of Homemade Summer, especially since many people are trying to step away from processed ingredients in an effort to get healthier. That's part of it for me as well, but I also just like proving to myself and the world that supposedly complicated things like cheese and pickles and mayonnaise are not only possible to make in a small home kitchen but easy, fun, and typically loads cheaper and more delicious. That's why I've decided to change "Homemade Summer" to "Homemade Living". Instead of being a 15-week rushed summer feature, I'm going to make this particular type of home cooking an additional facet of my blog with posts appearing regularly but not according to a strict schedule. Not only will this allow me to blog at a pace that fits my busy schedule, I'll be able to keep writing about this fun topic for as long as I still have things I want to try to make!

One of the reasons I decided to change the format of this feature is that I've recently gotten into canning. I've canned once or twice before- a jar of apple butter here, a couple jars of salsa there- but I've never really embraced canning for all the wonderfulness it is. It's the chance to snatch up all the glorious fruits and veggies of each season when they are at they're lowest price and greatest flavor/texture and turn them into something that can be enjoyed all year long! Things made with out of season ingredients are just not going to taste as good as things made with ingredients in the peak of their season. Instead of switching to store bought sauces, preserves, etc in the off season, wouldn't it be better to have a couple jars of homemade summer tomato sauce or autumn apple butter in the pantry ready to use whenever you please? Yes, it would be.

I think the reason most people don't can is that they presume it is complicated and that you'll need a whole bunch of fancy, expensive equipment. This is not the case AT ALL and if you saw my crappy, scratched up, 5 piece pots and pan set that I have to work with, you'd have to believe me. All you really need are jars, lids and bands which are super cheap (10$ or less for a set of 12 at Fry's), a medium-large sized pot for cooking your preserves/brine, a large pot for processing your jars, and a small pot for simmering your lids. Ideally you will also have a set of tongs for lifting the jars and a small rack to keep them off the bottom of the pan, but I've gotten by without- it just makes for a riskier canning adventure (meaning, I dipped my hand in boiling water by accident yesterday. ow.). If you have the desire to can, don't let a limited kitchen hold you back. It's easier than you think! I recently purchased Marisa McClellan's book Food in Jars, which I definitely recommend for the novice canner as it goes over the basic waterbath process and has loads of delicious recipes.

Today, I wanted to focus on one of the first things people think of when they think canning- jam! Jam is awesome because it really concentrates the flavor of whatever fruit your using and can be eaten in so many different ways- swirled into yogurt, spread on toast, with peanut butter on a sandwich, mixed into a vinaigrette, glazed over chicken or pork, spooned over ice cream- really anywhere you might want a punch of bright, fruity flavor, you can insert jam. This post is going to focus on three different jams I've made this week using delicious mid-summer ingredients: blueberries (I just can't stop buying those giant boxes of them!), tomatoes, and cantaloupe.

All of these recipes use the waterbath processing method which is as follows:
1. Collect and clean the number of jars your recipe will require. For each jar, make sure you have a band and a clean,  new (previously sealed will not work) lid.
2. Place a rack in the bottom of a large pot and place the jars on top of the rack. This will keep the jars from coming into direct contact with the heat source and thus prevent breakage. Fill the jars and the pot with water until the level reaches 1-2 inches above the top of the jars. Cover the pot and place over high heat while you prepare your recipe.
3. Place the lids in a small saucepan and cover with water. Simmer for 15 minutes on very low heat. Keep the lids in the hot water until ready to use.
4. When you have completed your recipe and the water in the large pot is boiling rapidly, use tongs to remove the jars (pour out all the water) and place them on a clean, towel-lined counter. Do the same with the lids. Fill the jars, leaving 1/4-1/2 inch headspace at the top. Use a moistened paper towel to clean off the rims of the jars. Place the lids on the jars and lightly screw on the bands to keep them into place. Don't over-tighten.
5. Place the filled jars back into the boiling water. Cover and process for the indicated time (usually about 10-15 minutes, though altitude makes a difference so make sure to look it up for where you live. Higher altitude=longer processing time).
6. When the processing time is complete, use tongs to carefully remove the jars and place them back on the counter. You should notice the sound of each lid popping inward as the hot air escapes almost immediately after being removed from the water. That means the processing has done its job! Let the jars cool overnight at room temperature and don't move or mess with them.
7. The next day, test the seals by removing the bands and lifting each jar by its lid a few inches off the counter. It should hold fast. Most preserves can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year. Once opened, store in the fridge and use in a few weeks.

I first fell in love with tomato jam at a cafe in Portland where it was used as a signature spread on breakfast sandwiches, and I've been wanting to recreate it ever since. This recipe is adapted from the blog Use Real Butter and it's (added) pectin free so relies solely on sugar, the pectin already in the fruit, and a long simmering time to reach its smooth, spreadable texture. The result is a bright red intensely tomatoe-y jam that is sweet but also warm and savory. It is ah-maze-ing on crackers with sharp cheddar cheese or soft goats cheese (or probably any other cheese, too) and can also be smeared on toast by itself or topped with a runny fried egg. It can also do whatever ketchup does and then some!

Makes 2 pint jars with a little extra.

3.5 lbs mixed tomatoes- I used a BIG (1 lb) yellow heirloom, a box of grape tomatoes, and 5 or 6 vine tomatoes.
1 small yellow onion
1/2 cup diced granny smith apple
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
1. Chop up all the tomatoes, onion, and apple and place in a large stock pot.
2. Add all other ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then reduce to a simmer.
3. Cook for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and burning at the bottom.
4. Once the jam has reached the desired consistency, fill your (already cleaned, heated) jars and process for 15 minutes.

This is classic, uncomplicated Blueberry jam. It works anywhere you would usually put fruit jam such as yogurt, toast, or a pb&j. Like all other homemade jams, the flavor of the main fruit is super concentrated to the point that it just seems to be bursting with fresh summer blueberries. I've never been a fan of store-bought fruit jams because they tend to be cloyingly sweet and unappealingly sticky and thick; luckily, this version is free from those issues. It's sweet and spreadable while remaining light and fruity. This and the following recipe are adapted from the book Food in Jars.

Makes 3.5 half pint jars or 7 4 oz jars

4 cups smashed blueberries
2 cups granulated sugar
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 3-oz packet liquid pectin

1. Combine blueberries and sugar in a medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Add lemon juice and spices and cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the jam is thick and shiny.
2. Add the pectin, stir, and cook an additional 5 minutes or until jam is thick enough to drip slowly from a spoon.
3. Fill prepared jars and process for 10 minutes.

I'm not the biggest fan of canteloupe but I'm a BIG fan of this jam. It tastes less like the melon and more like a zesty, creamy, tropical treat. It uses real vanilla bean which makes a world of difference in my opinion- I just can't resist things flecked with those teeny little black spots. Like the blueberry jam, it does what any other jam will do. It's a bit thinner than some other jams, making me think it would be particularly excellent over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum!

Makes  2.5 half pint jars or 5 4 oz jars

3 cups diced peeled cantaloupe
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
zest of one lemon small lemon or 1/2 large lemon
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 3-oz packet liquid pectin

1. Combine cantaloupe, sugar, and vanilla bean pod and seeds in a medium pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
2. Add lemon zest, juice, and pectin and return to a rapid boil. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the bubbles are thick and then mixture has somewhat reduced. Remove the vanilla bean pod and discard.
3. Fill prepared jars and process for 10 minutes. 
It's the weekend, so find your local farmer's market, snatch up some fresh produce, and try making some jams! You won't be disappointed. Plus if you can hold on to a few jars you'll already be stocked with delicious homemade gifts for the holidays!


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