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Strawberry Freezer Jam

July 15, 2012

Delicious strawberry jam can be elusive.  The standard jam-making technique of cooking down fruit and sugar until the mixture achieves a jell generally does not work with strawberries.  All the fresh sweetness of the ripe fruit converts into an overly sweet darkened mash when cooked.  Not bad, but definitely not one of my family’s favorites.  Mixed with other fruits, it does not seem to be a problem.  The strawberries added to Three Berry Jam only add to the complex fruitiness of the mix.   Slow roasting the strawberries is another option, as I have done  in this Strawberry Rhubarb Jam.  To capture the simple delight of strawberries though, the trick is not to cook them at all.

Strawberry Freezer Jam is perhaps the simplest jam I have made.  Starting with fresh ripe strawberries in season, they are simply cut, mashed, and mixed with a simple syrup mixed with pectin.  That is it, no additional cooking.  As the pectin cools, it jells.  Now since this jam is not cooked, it is not safe for shelf storage.  It can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks and for a year in the freezer.  It is so quick and easy I literally made it while my kids ate their lunch one day.  Since there is no boiling jam it also does not heat up the house like other jam making might.  My daughter took over the job of filling the jars.  We capped them off, labeled them with the name of the jam and the date, and we were done.  What a perfect way to preserve the fresh taste of strawberries for the winter ahead.  It would also be a great jam recipe for someone who is new to jam making and does not want to deal with the sterilization and processing required to safely make other types of jams.

This post is linked with Grow It, Cook It, Can It’s Cook It 2012.  Check that site shortly for a roundup of great jam making posts.

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School has been out for two weeks now, the sun is blazing, and the canning pot has reasserted its dominance on my stove top.  Hello summer!  Canning is usually a solitary sport for me, squeezed in the early hours of the morning or late at night when the kids have finally succumbed to sleep.  While the bubbling caldron of jam is still a bit much for my youngsters, they are quite capable of helping me to process the fruit.  My son found the cherry pitter to be quite a lot of fun and was thrilled when I handed him the knife to cut the cherries.  Who needs summer camp when you can enlist your kids in practical life skills at home?  (Of course, give me a few weeks and I may be screaming for them to go to any sort of camp that will take them!)

Cherry Rhubarb Jam is a delightful balance of sweet and tart with a rich background note of vanilla.  The color is absolutely divine.   This is my second attempt at this type of jam and it is an absolute hit.  There is a relatively small amount of sugar added.  Cherries are so naturally sweet that it is very easy to over-sweeten them. The fruit macerates for an extended time before cooking.  This reduces the overall cooking time, since the fruit has already given up its juice.  Shorter cooking times mean fresher tasting jam and more vibrant colors.  This jam is sure to a new June tradition in our house. Absolutely delicious!

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I would love to say that each jar of jam I make is a smashing success.  It would be great if each jar was filled with mouth watering combinations of fruits that strained our self-control through the winter.  In fact many of the jams filling our pantry do exactly that.  The Three Berry Jam of last July is long gone.  Each weekend we dole out the last drops of the Mixed Berry Syrup over yet another batch of Buttermilk Pancakes.  There is only one last jar of Strawberry Rhubarb to get us through until truly sweet strawberries start cropping up at the Farmers’ Market.  Yes, these are fantastic jams that I cannot wait to make again.  The same cannot be said for the poor Drunken Fig Jam I made (too much of) last summer.  They cannot all be winners.

Perhaps it is the brandy- I am not a big fan, or the need for a bit more acidity, whatever the reason, the fig jam did not fly off the shelves.  It got to the point when I began to consider the unthinkable- tossing the jam in favor of freeing up the precious real estate, when I discovered a recipe from the Gourmet Cookbook and adapted this recipe.

Drunken Pork Chops with Fig and Onion Marmalade is perhaps the perfect application of this drunken jam.  Pork pairs so beautifully with sweetness and fig is no exception.  For this dish, the pork chops sear off first, then nestle down into a saucy bed of well caramelized onions bathed in rosemary-infused brandied fig jam.  The dish simmers slowly as the pork cooks through and the flavors meld.  In the end, the pork is incredibly tender and awash in a deliciously sweet and savory sauce.  No ample stash of drunken fig jam in the pantry?  Just add some apricot or plum jam and a splash of brandy.

How do you cook with jam?  Feel free to link to your recipe below.

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Three Berry Jam

July 6, 2011

My family and I just returned from a delightful escape from reality in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Without the modern distractions of cars, phones, and computers, our days were peacefully filled with banana slug hunts, star gazing,  and swimming until we pruned.  It was a much needed pause in an otherwise busy life, a centering of sorts.  But alas, there are other responsibilities to which we must tend.  Some are grudgingly attended- bill paying, laundry folding, car repairing. Other responsibilities are the important rituals of life that help to make meaning and define some of the rhythms of our family life.  At the top of the list during this time of year is preserving the glorious bounty of summer.

Berry season is short, so we rely on the craft of jam making to preserve these flavors for the dark days.  On our way home, we stopped into Gizdich Ranch and picked up a flat each of raspberries and ollalie berries. I combined these two berries with some strawberries I froze last month to create a mixed berry jam.

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Oatmeal Jam Bars

April 22, 2011

With Easter around the corner, the house is a buzz with preparations for the Easter bunny.  The chickens are busy laying eggs, the kids are dying them and collecting greens from the garden to leave for a bunny snack.  As the Easter bunny’s executive assistant, I have collected some items for the bunny to present the children.  We  (the grown-ups at least) are not big on candy in our house (especially when the kids would presumably start eating it upon rising and discovering their baskets.)

So this year, there are books, stickers, and as a compromise, a small cache of jelly beans.  I wanted there to be something special as well, something beautiful, exciting, sweet, but not so over the top that I would cringe as my kids ripped into them at 7 am.  Ah ha!  This year the Easter Bunny takes up baking!

Strolling through the supermarket aisles, I found a large cookie cutter in the shape of an egg.  Inspired, I sought out a recipe for an oat bar which I would top with jam to create a colorful egg-shaped cookie bar.  After an extensive search, I settled on a recipe for Raspberry Breakfast Bars from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  Since my pantry is still full of jam, I adapted the recipe to skip the raspberry filling (though it looks quite good and I may revisit it in raspberry season) and use my homemade jam instead.  I also added coconut flakes to the crust, just because I am on a coconut kick right now.
The real trick here was to figure out a way to make sure the jam would show through.  The original recipe calls for the crumb topping to cover the entire bar, but I wanted colorful polka dots of jam.  To accomplish this, I  tried multiple methods and settled on dotting the top of the crust with jam.  Once cool, I cut them into egg shapes and bagged them individually for the Easter bunny to present.  Mmmm, the smell of these bars is out of control.

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Whoever invented the peanut butter and jelly sandwich was a genius.  What other meal takes only minutes to prepare, but is incredibly nutritious, and with any luck will inspire cheers from the happy and hungry youngsters (or more mature eaters) ready to devour their sandwich?   This sandwich has saved the day millions of times for mothers and fathers around the world, myself included.

As with any meal, the quality of the product is dependent on the quality of the ingredients with which you start.   In our house, PB & J stands for peanut butter and jam since the pantry is generally loaded with various homemade jams and very little jelly.  Our favorite is berry jam, either blackberry (as pictured above), ollalie berry, or raspberry.  The next layer is organic, natural peanut butter (surprisingly enough Costco makes a great one), and of course the bread.

Oatmeal Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread is my go-to slicing bread.  In the summer when my kids and I hide from the world (and the grocery stores) in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this is the bread that feeds us between the weekly trips to town for provisions.  It is very easy to put together and turns out beautifully every time. The bread is slightly sweet from the maple syrup which makes it perfect for peanut butter and jam sandwiches or even grilled cheese.  The bread also toasts beautifully, so in the off-chance you have leftovers the next morning, it will taste great toasted and slathered in butter and jam or honey.

Oatmeal Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

makes 1 loaf (enough for 6 sandwiches)

adapted from Bon Appetit

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons warm water

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 egg

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (divided)

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1 teaspoon  salt

Mix warm water with yeast.  Allow to sit 5 minutes while the yeast dissolves.  Pour yeast mixture into a mixing bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients except for 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour.  Mix until dough ball forms, then knead on a lightly floured board until dough in stretchy and supple.  Add some of the reserved flour, 1 Tablespoon at a time, until the dough is soft, but not sticky.

Place dough ball in a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with a plate or plastic wrap.  Let rise 1 1/2 hours in a warm place until it has doubled in bulk.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured board.  Press into a  8-inch square.  Roll the square into a log.  Place log seam side down in a buttered 8 x 5 x 3 inch bread pan.  Let rise 45 minutes until 1 1/2 inches higher than pan. (see picture)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake 30-40 minutes until center registers 180 degrees.  Cool 15 minutes, turn out on rack.  Bread will slice most easily if you allow it to cool completely.

Here is a printer friendly version of the recipe:

Oatmeal Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

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Weeknight No-Knead Bread


Cardamom Bread

Beer Bread

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