Cherry Sweet

I bought sweet cherries at the market recently, at S11’s insistence. She ate most of them, but we bought more, and a cherry pitter to go with them. The cherry pitter is a big deal because I am not one for single-use gadgets in the kitchen. I shun such frippery with zealous disdain. However, after manually removing pits from a few dozen cherries for a fruit salad, I hastily pulled up mobile Amazon from the kitchen and ordered one tout suite. Hooray for the single-use cherry pitter gadget.

Our local discount store had cherries on sale for $1.99 a pound, which- after paying $5.99 a pound at another store- is an enormous bargain. Accordingly, I bought an enormous amount… about 10 pounds’ worth.

Of course, we ate a couple of pounds right off the bat. Hey, we had to test out the cherry pitter.

20150626_110546This pitter is a relatively inexpensive model by OXO, which can be found on Amazon for about $13. I like it because the shield minimizes splattering as the pit is pushed through. (It’s also removable for cleaning.) I also like that the pit drops out on its own, so you don’t have an extra movement to unload it. That’s important when you’re processing a lot of cherries! It pits correctly about 80- 85% of the time (I did have a few that needed extra “help”, especially if the cherry was overly ripe), which seemed like a pretty good percentage considering what a pain cherries can be to process.

Enough about the pitter. I have several projects in mind for these cherries over the next few days.

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I have already turned a pound of them into Candied Sweet Cherries, because I am on a mission* to make all the ice cream recipes in David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, and those are a main ingredient in Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry Ice Cream (page 60)!.

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I have also turned three pounds into sweet cherry jam. This lovely jam, courtesy of PickYourOwn (one of my go-to canning resource websites) uses low-no-sugar pectin and 2.5 cups of sugar. I included the optional lemon juice for a bit of acidity since these are destined for holiday gifts and I don’t want to give botulism to my friends and loved ones. That’s worse than coal.

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Hey, do you see my new jam pot there? I read about it on another canning blog, though sadly I can’t tell you which one (Food In Jars, perhaps?); and since I’m highly suggestible interested in outfitting my canning kit with quality equipment, I gave it a go. It was expensive, but I make a lot of jam every year and I think it will be worth the extra price in the long run. Silly thing, but my favorite feature is the graduation markings inside the pot. I hate guessing how much product I will actually end up with, and found the yield markings to be surprisingly accurate (for this first batch, anyway).

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Tomorrow, I plan to make a different cherry jam recipe, one that uses tart apples instead of powdered pectin. I will probably turn the rest of the cherry haul into either frozen cherries for snacking and baking, or canned ones in syrup for winter fruit.

*Just because a mission seems nearly impossible does not mean it’s not worth attempting!

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More Tomatoes

This year I bought two boxes of Roma tomatoes (one bushel total) for $18.  I made a batch of catsup, which yielded 4 halfpints and 5 4-oz jars.  The catsup was a little sweeter than I remembered from the batch two years ago.  I made the newer version of the catsup recipe on PickYourOwn.org.  Bet I should have made the older/spicier recipe.  It’s still good, though, and ought to make a nice condiment for the eight million meat loaves we’re going to be eating this winter while we use up all the ground beef in the freezer.

I also made a batch of salsa, and tonight I processed the rest of the supply into crushed tomatoes.  I got 8 pints and 6 halfpints using the waterbath method in the Ball Book.  While time consuming, they really do taste a lot fresher than commercially canned tomatoes.

 

Salsa!

I did some canning this year, but it’s been more of the small-batch, gourmet, let’s-see-if-we-can-win-a-ribbon-at-the-county-fair* variety than serious, I-don’t-want-to-starve-this-winter, marathon mega-canning.  I’ve come to terms with my neurotic food hoarding as well as my ridiculous overzealousness when it comes to new things to try in the kitchen, so this year involved an impressive but sensible number and variety of jars.

Tonight’s festivities centered around a zesty roasted salsa, my take on the venerable Ball book’s “Zesty Salsa” recipe.  I did go a little overboard with the roasting, which is not called for at all in the Ball recipe but a step which I, personally, find almost obligatory these days.  After discovering the absolutely breathtaking sweetness of roasted onions and the depth of flavor that dry heat lends to peppers, I wouldn’t make it any other way.

This is the third year I’ve made this recipe.  It’s not difficult, but it is quite time consuming, especially with all the chopping and roasting that’s involved.  Personally, I think it’s all worth it.  If you aren’t impressed by roasted veggies, then you probably ought not try this recipe, or you’ll be very tired and somewhat underwhelmed after it’s all over.  But if you’re in the know, by all means – give it a try.

I heated my oven to 450 degrees F, then lined two baking sheets with aluminum foil.  I took a bunch (yes, that is a very imprecise number) of Roma tomatoes and halved them, then placed them cut-side down on the sheets, cramming as many on each sheet as would fit.

Roasted tomatoes

I roasted them for 30 minutes, at which point I took them out and tossed them into a paper bag.  I sealed up the bag and let it sit in a large bowl (to catch leaks) for another 15 minutes, or however long it took them to cool off so I could handle them.  The bag causes the tomatoes to steam somewhat, making them super-easy to peel.

Meanwhile, on the same pans, I placed two yellow onions, peeled & quartered, and two red onions, also peeled & quartered.  The onions were very large, a bit bigger than my fist.   I also put about a dozen cloves of garlic, UNPEELED; then there was room for about three very large bell peppers (halved, seeded and de-veined) and a handful of semi-hot peppers (whole).  Roast the onions and peppers for another thirty minutes.  Take the garlic out after about 15 minutes or it will get mushy.

Roasted peppers

The recipe then becomes as follows:

  • 10 cups roasted Roma tomatoes, peeled after roasting and most of the seeds removed (I wasn’t overly picky about removing the seeds)
  • 5 cups roasted onions, a mix of red and sweet yellow, chopped.  I got about 4 cups out of the onions I roasted, then added another large red onion, raw, chopped, to make 5 cups.
  • 5 cups roasted bell peppers, seeded & chopped.  Again, I had to cut up a few other raw peppers to make the five cups.  I peeled the roasted ones.
  • 2-ish cups of roasted semi-hot peppers, peeled, seeded & chopped.  If you like things hot hot hot, leave some seeds in.  Or add hot pepper sauce.  Or use hotter peppers.  I was going for zesty rather than eye-watering, so I took the seeds and veins out.
  • a dozen cloves of roasted garlic, peeled & chopped.  I like roasted garlic.  If you roast it longer, it will get soft like butter and you can use it as such.  That’s a different recipe, however.
  • a Tablespoon of dried cilantro, or a couple Ts of chopped fresh cilantro.
  • 1 1/4 cups of apple cider vinegar.
  • 1 tsp salt.  I don’t think it even needs this much, to be honest.  The original recipe calls for a T and I think that is serious overkill.

Start your jars going in the waterbath canner and get the lids heating up (don’t boil them, of course).  Put all the ingredients into a large pot and start cooking.  When the pot reaches the boil, reduce heat slightly and cook at a strong simmer for about 10 minutes, until any raw veggies are softened and the salsa thickens up a bit.  Turn off heat.

Fill jars with hot salsa, leaving 1/2″ headspace, and process in the boiling water canner for 15 minutes for pints, 20 minutes for quarts.  I got 7 pint jars and 1 1/2 of those 8-oz jelly jars out of this recipe.  The jelly jars are nice to give as gifts, or if you just want “a little bit” of salsa.  I wouldn’t bother with the quarts unless you go through some serious quantities of it at one time.

Roasted Salsa

*We did.  Three, as a matter of fact!

Peach

Peaches are in, and I’ve been wanting to try some of the new (to me) peach recipes in my Home Preserving book.  I made a few last year, with a reasonable amount of success.  My family was not particularly fond of the spiced peaches (sad, because I thought they were quite tasty).  I also discovered that peaches need at least a medium syrup.  Light syrup – which I used – will make them discolor and lose texture much sooner, whether they are frozen or canned.  And frozen ones should be used up within 4-6 months, or they will be stringy and icky.  Also, honey is not particularly good with peach when you’re talking jam, as it also discolors.

Ginger, on the other hand, is particularly fabulous with peach when you’re talking jam.

Last year, friend L and I made “Gingered Peach Preserves” from one of her canning cookbooks.  It was so good, I wrote myself a note in my notebook:

Recipe for jam

This jam is seriously good.  It’s like sugary sex on a spoon.  Good sex on a spoon.  You don’t even need to put it on bread- you can just eat it out of the jar (hence the spoon).  I still have jam from last year, but none of it is Gingered Peach Preserves.  Those were gone practically by Christmas.

So yesterday I went to the market and bought a box of peaches, and dug out the candied ginger that I bought last year expressly for making this recipe.

Box of peaches

Secret jam ingredient

And then I dutifully followed the recipe’s instructions and measured out five pounds of peaches (which, in case you’re wondering, is about 14-15 peaches).

5 # peaches for jam

Next, I did that nifty trick of dipping the fruits in boiling water for one minute

Blanch for 1 minute

before plunging them into cold water (why is it that we “dip” in boiling water, but “plunge” into ice water?)

Ready to skin

Now, this is where I can tell you about the really neat canning jars I picked up at the discount store a few weeks ago. They were a bit expensive, but still half as much as the fancy “Platinum” series that Ball sells. The thing I like best is the odd shape.

Discount store find

I bet they will be even more interesting when they’re full of jam.

Cool new jars

So I got all the peaches chopped,

Peaches

and the candied ginger minced,

Minced candied ginger

and everything into the pot with the sugar,

Peaches macerating

and I filled up the canner, and got the jars and lids and rings ready. And then I looked at the next step in the recipe: one very important step that I, in my haste to fill those uber-cool jars with sex-on-a-spoon, had either forgotten about or subconsciously ignored. That would be this step:

Important detail

Argh.  Talk about your anticlimax.

No matter. There were still many peaches left. I prepped a second batch and put it in the refrigerator as well. And since “overnight” is a relative term, and it was only 11AM, I figured there was plenty of time to let them macerate and still end the night with lovely jars of hot, bubbly, gingery peach jam.

Ah, the best laid plans.

I still had 2/3 of a box of peaches to work with, so I flipped through the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and found Peach Butter. This recipe did not call for macerating overnight, or really doing anything overnight, so I figured it would be safe. I measured out the peaches, prepped them, stuck them in the pot, and started cooking.

In retrospect, I really should have thought this one through a little better as well. Fruit butters are basically the sweet equivalent of tomato paste. They have to cook a long while to become thick and buttery. This is a nebulous amount of time but you can be sure it’s longer than you feel like standing in front of a hot stove on an August day.

This is the puree when it first comes to a boil. It’s the consistency of a light tomato sauce, or maybe a creamy tomato soup.

Peach butter

This is the puree an hour and a half later. It’s the consistency (and color) of caramel topping.

Peach butter after 1 hour

Happily, I ended up with five half-pint (jelly) jars and two 4-oz jars of peach butter. Sadly, after nearly two hours of stirring and stirring and stirring some more, I really didn’t want to stand in front of the stove any longer. But those groovy new jars, which I’d set aside for Gingered Peach Preserves, kept beckoning. “Fill us!” they cried from their corner of the counter. “Sex on a spoon!” came the muffled cries of the macerating peaches from under the pot lid.   So I dragged the first batch of preserves out of the fridge and started cooking it.

Also sadly, I had skimmed over yet another step in the jam recipe, the one where it said to cook the jam for about an hour until it reached the jelly stage. (It is “jelly stage”, and not “gel stage”, and that is an important distinction which will separate you from your less-informed friends. You’re welcome.)

Waiting for the jelly stage

It’s not essential, but is definitely helpful, to use a candy thermometer when you’re making jam, especially ones that do not use added pectin for the set. Mine is about seventy years old but still works great.

Vintage thermometer

Okay, maybe it’s not 70 years old but it’s older than me, for whatever that’s worth.

So now there are no more pictures of peaches simmering, jam jelling, or anything beautiful and wonderful happening. This is because I got slightly bored, and somewhat tired of standing in front of the stove the whole long day*, and started wandering around the house. I washed some dishes, fed the new kitten, straightened the living room. The amount of time that defined intervals between “frequent stirring” grew longer and longer.

Soon it was time to can the jam. We hit the magical 220 degree mark, and the mixture passed two of the jelly stage tests. I pulled one of the nifty new jars out of the hot canner water and filled it with peachy goodness. I grabbed another with the lifters and rested the funnel in place, about to fill it as well.

And then, friends, my heart plummeted about twenty stories and smashed to bits on the figurative pavement below. Because instead of luscious, goldeny, sexy, gingery jam, I began ladling nasty brown chunks of burnt sugared peach. Somehow, between 210 and 220 degrees F, the jam had burned. All that hard work! All that waiting! All that skimming and stirring and sweating!

Somehow, through angry tears, I managed to get three four-ounce jars out without dredging up too much of the burnt stuff. I processed those four jars and filled another up with the bulk of what was left, which went into the fridge. But it was devastating.

Burnt jam

Look, you can see the burnt bits floating in the jar.  Eww.

Burnt bits

I decided it would be tempting fate to attempt batch two that night. I went to bed instead and had fitful dreams about burnt sugar.

But today, with fresh coffee and a refreshed brain, I started again with batch two.  I stirred constantly instead of just frequently.  I kept a careful eye on the thermometer and hardly even looked away from the pot, let alone wander into another room.  And this time, I ended up with three fancy and four plain jars of the awesomest, sweetest, bestest Gingered Peach Preserves.

Gingered Peach take two

I wish there was a better way to convey just how good this jam is.

Toast with jam

Guess you’ll have to use your imagination.

*except for a fairly crucial five or six minutes

Mama, You Are The Queen of Home Preserving

That was S6’s comment to me at breakfast this morning. My copy of The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving was sitting on the table, so please don’t think she goes around talking like that all the time.

Cherries were on sale for $1.99 a pound this week, and while that might seem high for those of you lucky enough to have a cherry tree, I do not have one of those things. I originally planned to can some pineapple, after snagging a delicious fruit earlier in the week. Unfortunately, they were out of good pineapple when I went back to get more to put up. But they had cherries. It seemed like a good idea.

Cherries

Four pounds of cherries made about 12 cups of pitted fruit. I made two recipes: Cherry [Orange] Marmalade and Spirited Cherries.

Pitted Cherries

I will refrain from making silly jokes about the pits.

Pits

The marmalade recipe, from the aforementioned Ball book, is an old fashioned soft marmalade that doesn’t use any added pectin. I have noticed, however, that the jam/preserves recipes (can’t speak for jellies, as I haven’t made any yet) in the Ball book call for a slight over-abundance of sugar, which may or may not cause the pot to reach jelly stage more quickly than if a less-copious amount of sugar were used. I followed the recipe to the letter, but I think my marmalade was a little over-processed. It reached jelly stage in about 15 minutes, when I was expecting it (per the recipe) to take nearly a half-hour. As a result, my marmalade turned out rather firm. Okay, it’s like Jell-o when you leave out more than half of the water. But it’s darn tasty. Guess we’ll have to eat it all ourselves, which is a shame, since I made it in cute little 4-ounce jars that are perfect for gifts.  But you can’t really give someone hard marmalade and expect them to think you like them.

The spirited cherries are rather straightforward, and involve heating the cherries in a simple syrup,

Cherries in simple syrup

putting them in jars,

Spirited cherries

and then adding a tablespoon of spirits. I used my favorite vodka:

Vodka

I’ll let you know in a week or so whether the spirited cherries are a success or not. But seriously, with some vodka and a bunch of fruit in a simple syrup, I can’t really see where one can go wrong.