Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Apple Cider Jelly

In two previous posts I made a Clementine Jam and an Orange Jelly, both inspired by recipes from my new book. In both cases I made some adaptations to the original recipes, including the addition of some powdered pectin.

This time I decided to follow a recipe from the book as closely as I could without decreasing the sugar or increasing the pectin or doing anything besides making minor adjustments. Christine Ferber’s original recipe, titled “Cider Jelly with Vanilla” required the use of vanilla beans, which I did not have so I substituted with a very light splash of vanilla extract. The remainder of the recipe was followed as faithfully as I could manage.

Cider Jelly with Cinnamon

  • 1 3/4 lbs granny smith apples
  • water
  • 5 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups apple cider [1]
  • Juice of one lemon

Rinse the apples, quarter them. Stick them in a pot with 3 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain.  Refrigerate the juice overnight.

In a large [2] pot, mix a heavy 2 cups [3] of the apple juice from the first day, the cider, the sugar and the lemon juice. Bring to a boil and continue boiling, stirring, for 10-15 minutes. Check that the jelly has set up enough. Immediately put into warm sterilized jars and process [4].

Results

Because it uses the full sugar content and has no powdered pectin, the jelly is extremely rich and not as thick as I normally like. The jelly was thicker than I expected it to get from this setup, just not as thick as I normally make with the boxed pectin powder. Now I have a much better baseline for understanding her recipes going forward.

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I started with a good quality cider (it was actually the store band, but was so much better than I would have expected).  The vanilla flavor is subtle and is a great accompaniment to the cider flavor.

Notes

  1. Her original recipe being metric, the real equivalent quantity is 3 cups, 2 oz of the cider. A light 3 1/4 should be fine. Somewhere, the engineer in me is preparing a treatise on significant digits.
  2. I initially used a pot that was way too small, and it boiled over. I said some curse words, had to stop and clean off the stove, burnt the crap off my finger, and eventually got a bigger pot. Don’t be like me, kids.
  3. Again, the real value was “2 cups, 1 oz.” Just eyeball it. What’s the worst that could happen?
  4. I processed for 15 minutes.


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Fruit Trees: Part 3

Last time I listed out some of the possible combinations of two small fruit trees that we were considering to plant in our yard come spring.

After talking about it with Dana a lot, we’ve decided that the best combination for our needs is two sweet cherry trees. We don’t have a good pick-your-own source for cherries nearby, at least not one as reliable as our sources for peaches and apples. We also like pears, but we don’t need or even want them in the same kinds of quantities. If I could find a good source of pears I would make some recipes with them, but I don’t plan to do anything with pears in bulk like we want with cherries.

We thought about getting a combination like one cherry tree and one peach tree, but we worry that between the birds and the squirrels, the harvest from a single cherry tree wouldn’t ever be quite enough for our purposes. Maybe we’re overestimating the obnoxiousness of the local ecosystem, and two trees may leave us with an overwhelming buttload of cherries that we can’t deal with. We’ll be eating them and cooking them and jamming them into cracks in the foundation to make them all disappear. Regardless, I’d much rather err on the side of having too many cherries instead of having too few. It would be a good problem to have.

The decision to get two cherry trees is just the first step in a very long journey of difficult decisions to be made. In later posts (I may take a detour for a few weeks), I’ll talk about which particular varieties of cherries we’re looking at.


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Fruit Trees: Part 2

Last time I talked about some of the fruit trees I was looking at, and discussed some of the problems. Today I’m going to list out a few specific tree configurations and talk about the pros and cons of each.

  • Two Sweet Cherry Trees: I like darker sweet cherries more than the lighter ones. I could get two varieties like Bing and Black Tartarian, or similar. I’d have to do a lot of work in early spring to keep these trees safe, but I’d probably end up with a good early harvest of lots of plump dark cherries.
  • One Cherry, One Peach: I’d need a self-fruitful Cherry, like a combination or a Stella. The peach could be any one of a number of freestone yellow varieties, preferably something with disease resistance. I’d have to do a lot of work to protect the cherry, and would have to hope that the birds and the bugs leave me enough at harvest time to actually do something with.
  • One Cherry, One Apple: Again, I’d need a self-fruitful cherry, and I’d need a combination apple (I don’t know of any tasty self-fruitful varieties). Since I can’t pick which few varieties of apple I’d want on the tree, this is actually not a great option.
  • Two Apple Trees: There are a few varieties of apples I really like: Gala, Honeycrisp, Stayman-Winesap and Granny Smith. However, they don’t all flower at the same time so an early variety (Gala) might not pollinate a later variety (Granny). Also, I think the Staymans like to have at least 2 separate pollinators, which I wouldn’t have. A Gala and a Honeycrisp tree would make for great picking in August and early September. Honeycrisp and Granny Smith would push the harvest time from September through October instead. This is a very good option, if I can figure out which varieties I want.
  • Two Pear Trees: We like pears a lot, but two trees full of them might be more than we can really deal with. We love turning apples into sauce, jam, apple butter, pie filling, etc. I’d also like to start making apple juice, cider and cider vinegar, if I can get the resources together. However, not all of those recipes work well with pears (especially the softer, more delicate varieties), or we wouldn’t want to do them as much with pears as with apples. Pears are known for being among the easiest fruit trees for the backyard gardener to grow, however, so I can’t rule this option out completely. This option is definitely in the running, because of the ease of growing them.
  • One Peach, One Apple: The peach would pick early, the apple (a 3-on-1) would pick later. Like the “One Cherry, One Apple” combo above, I wouldn’t have as much control over the particular apple cultivar used which makes this option less attractive.

We do have good sources of pick-your-own apples and peaches nearby, so that has to factor into our decisions to buy any trees. Next time I’ll talk about which of these possibilities we’ve decide on.


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Fruit Trees: Part 1

I really want to have a fruit tree or two in my backyard, and Dana agrees. We love eating fresh fruits, and have loved going to the orchard to pick our own fruit there. It stands to reason that having a tree or two right outside our house would make the process even easier (and facilitate our laziness!).

We don’t have a lot of space on our little plot of land, and we do want to save much of it for our son to play in, so we can probably only fit about two dwarfed fruit trees.

But therein lies the problem: which two fruit trees do we get? There are several types of fruit which are generally suitable for our climate (apple, pear, peach, cherry, apricot, nectarine, plum, etc), and each of them have dozens or even hundreds of particular varieties or cultivars to choose from. Each of those may also have particular requirements or needs which make them incompatible. Here are some examples:

  • Apples and Pears are typically not self-fruitful. If you plant one of these trees the chances are that you won’t get any fruit. You need at least two trees, of different cultivars, to pollinate each other to get fruit (or, you have to hope that somebody else somewhere in your neighborhood has a tree, and the pollinating bugs are able to travel between them). So I’d need to get two apple trees or two pear trees, leaving no space for anything else. Some particularly greedy types of apples won’t produce fruit well unless you have three different types, which is squarely out of the realm of possibility for us. Pears and some varieties of apples can be pretty easy to grow, which keeps them in contention.
  • Plums, Prunes, Apricots, Nectarines and Peaches  tend to be self-fruitful, but they can also be harder to grow than apples or pears. These are all soft-fleshed stone fruits, and share many of the same problems. They are easier to damage and can be more susceptible to various insect pests and diseases. There are some hardier varieties, but not many. If I get a peach tree, I’d only need one of them and I’d be able to plant a second tree of a different variety. I’d want a freestone yellow peach, above any other choices in this category.
  • Cherries have the highest ratio of our love to cook them compared to their price and difficulty to get in bulk.  The value proposition here is high, but cherries are the most difficult of all these fruits to grow. In addition to many of the same problems that peaches have, Cherries also are a favorite target of birds and squirrels and require netting and other precautions to keep them safe. Most varieties of sweet cherries are not self-fruitful, although a small handful of modern varieties are. So we either need two cherry trees or we need one variety selected from a relatively small list.

Whichever trees I get, I’d want varieties that harvest at different times, so we don’t get overwhelmed.

They’re not always easy to find, but some nurseries offer combination trees through the magic of grafting that puts multiple varieties of a single fruit onto a single tree. In addition to having more variety in less space, these combinations are also self-fruitful because the flowers on one side can pollinate the flowers on the other. This means that I could get, for instance, a 3-on-1 cherry tree that would not only be self-pollinating but would also leave space for another fruit tree. Similarly, a 4-on-1 apple tree would be self-fruitful and be able to take up that second slot. However, and here is the biggest caveat of this approach, these types of combination trees tend to have fixed configurations so I couldn’t for instance get any 3 apple varieties I can imagine. I couldn’t get a tree with Gala, Honeycrisp and Granny Smith (among my favorites). Some types of apples which I particularly dislike (Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, and many of their various progeny) are very common on these types of trees.

Next time I’ll talk more about some of the possible combinations we’ve been considering.


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Orange Jelly

After making my by first batch of Clementine Jam with Cinnamon and Vanilla, I was emboldened to try a few other new recipes from my new book. I decided to take a stab at the “Blood Orange” recipe, with regular Navel oranges because that’s what I had.

Orange Jelly

  • 1 3/4 lbs Granny Smith Apples
  • Heavy 2 cups of Orange Juice (2 cups, 1 oz.  Eyeball it)
  • zest from 1 1/2 oranges
  • Water
  • 4 2/3 cups Sugar
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • Powdered Pectin

Day 1: Rinse the apples. Quarter them. Put them in a pot with a heavy 3 cups water [1]. Bring the pot to a boil, and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes. Strain out the juice (she strains twice, with damp cheesecloth). Refrigerate over night.

Day 2: Juice the oranges, and measure out a heavy 2 cups of orange juice [2].  Mix the Orange juice, an equal amount of the apple juice from the first day, the sugar, and  the lemon juice in a pot [3]. I zested 3 orange halves at the last minute and tossed it into the pot as well [4]. I also added my remaining half bag of pectin, just to make sure it set properly. Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring, and boil hard for 10 minutes. Remove the seeds if you added them, and then put the jelly in jars and process them.

Here’s a picture of my recent creations, from left to right: my clementine jam, a jar with some orange zest infusing in booze, and my orange jelly.

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Results

The jelly turned out very nice. The set was just about perfect, although there were some small clumps of undissolved pectin in the finished product. The flavor was very bright and orange-ish, without any discernible bitterness. I’ve already tried it with butter on toast, and it was wonderful. I suspect it will go great with some cream cheese on a bagel, or as part of a glaze over chicken.

I didn’t do as good a job skimming the foam off the top as I should have, so some of that ended up in the jars, along with the clumps of pectin. Mulligan. Obviously it’s all edible, but it does detract from the clear, sparkling beauty of the jelly, if you care about that sort of thing. The little bits of zest are visible, and create a great effect.

Possible Modifications

This was a very simple recipe and sometimes simplicity is rewarded. However, there are some things that I think could be changed in future batches, if I were the experimental type:

  • Obviously, do this with blood oranges for the original intended results.
  • Some flavorings that (i think) may go great with this are: fresh crushed black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, “apple pie spice”, etc
  • Some fruits that may go well with this are: Other citrus (lemon, lime, tangerine, grapefruit), cranberries, pineapple, pomegranate, blueberry
  • Various flavored liquors and flavor extracts (vanilla, triple-sec, cranberry or pomegranate liquor, etc)

Notes

  1. She says 3 cups, 2oz. 3 1/4 cup should be fine and easier to measure. I think that the granny smith apple juice is supposed to be the primary source of pectin, since she doesn’t use any powder.
  2. Her original recipe called for 2 3/4 lbs of oranges to get 2 cups, 1 oz juice. I needed an extra orange, two tangerines, and two lemons to get to the necessary amount.
  3. She also takes the orange seeds, puts them in a cheesecloth bag, and includes that during the boil for flavor. I didn’t have cheesecloth bags, so as a substitute I put the seeds neatly into the compost pile.
  4. her recipe called for two whole oranges, thinly sliced and candied to be added. Instead, I added zest from some of the oranges, and used zest from the remaining fruits in a jar with some good vodka or rum. After soaking for two weeks, I’ll use this mixture as orange flavoring or as the starter for Triple Sec.


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Clementine Jam with Cinnamon and Vanilla

As I’ve mentioned previously, For Xmas I picked up a copy of Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber. In her book the recipes are laid out by season, with the spring/summer/fall month chapters filled with fresh local fruits, while the winter ones tend to be filled with tropical citrus fruits that, I assume, she’s getting from the grocery store.  I flipped to the winter section, found a fun-looking recipe made with clementines, and started cooking.

Clementine Jam with Cinnamon and Vanilla

Her recipe calls for 1 3/4 lb of clementine wedges, some thinly sliced lemons, some cinnamon sticks, and some green apple jelly (her hand-made pectin source, made from unripe green apples). I have powdered pectin, I’m out of cinnamon sticks after the xmas season baking rush, and I tend to prefer a more “American-Style” jam to the European varieties (stiffer consistency, smaller chunks of fruit). I changed her recipe to account for the realities of my kitchen:

  • 1 3/4 lbs clementine wedges, pealed and separated. 
  • 3 cups sugar
  • Dash of Cinnamon powder
  • Dash of Vanilla Extract
  • Juice from 1 Lemon
  • Powered Pectin (I used 1/2 package of low-sugar Sure-Jel)

Take some care to remove as much of the white pith as is reasonable, but don’t go all microscope and tweezers crazy. Give the clementine wedges a rough chop and remove seeds. Add them, the lemon juice, cinnamon, sugar and vanilla to a pot. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, put the mixture in a bowl, cover with aluminum foil, and toss it in the fridge overnight.

Strain out the syrup from the fruit, and put the syrup into the pot.  Add some pectin (maybe mixed with some more sugar to prevent clumping) and bring it up to a full rolling boil. 221 degrees is your target for the jell point, depending on altitude. Check consistency. Since she was using an apple jelly instead of a thicker more concentrated pectin mixture I started small and worked my way up until I reached a good set. I ended up using about half the serving of pectin. Add the chunks of fruit back to the syrup and boil for about 5 minutes more. Ladle into waiting sanitized jars, and processed in a water bath for 10 minutes.

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Results

This jam, from the bits I’ve stolen so far, is very light, bright and cheerful like the clementines that I started with. The citrus flavor is very light and subtle, and there’s very little tartness or bitterness to be found. It’s got plenty of nice pieces of fruit floating in a slightly under-set, bright orange jam. I only made a small batch because peeling all those clementines and picking away the pith is a huge pain in the backside, but next time I’ll consider making much more. Next year when the clementine boxes start appearing in the store, I’ll definitely snatch some of them up to make sure they are as fresh as possible.

Possible Modifications:

Some modifications I’m thinking about making to future batches are:

  1. A little bit of fresh cracked black pepper would help to bring some seriousness.
  2. Some cranberries, both fresh and dried, would add some color and a little tartness. Blueberries also might go well.
  3. Some zest, both from the clementines themselves, the lemons, or even additional oranges, might help make the citrus flavor brighter and more robust.
  4. Her original recipe calls for slices of lemon. Chunks of lemon and lemon zest may work better for me to give  little tartness without the big slices and all that pith.

Overall it’s a great recipe, and I’m looking forward to making the next one.


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For Christmas this year my wonderful brother-in-law bought me two new books related to cooking and preserving: Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber, and The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. Both are books I’ve learned about relatively recently on various food blogs I’ve been following, and I’m really excited to have them. These two books are already starting to affect my plans for the new year.

I’m definitely looking forward to trying my hand at some pickles next year. The pickles I made last year were good enough but there is definitely room for me to do a lot better.

The jam book I was expecting to contain some extremely deep and complicated recipes, drawn from an internationally-recognized master. I expected to be barely able to read and follow along, and be exposed to a world so incomprehensible that I could only stare in awe.

I was…wrong. These recipes seem extremely simple. The hardest part might be, as is stressed repeatedly in the book, to get fresh-picked local ingredients. Actually, if I can’t duplicate some of her recipes it’s precisely because I don’t have a source for some of her more specific ingredients (she uses things like Morello Cherries, Vineyard Peaches and some specific plum varieties that I haven’t been able to find locally). When I realized how simple some of these recipes were I went through something like 5 stages of grief:

  1. Denial: There’s nothing special about any of this. It’s all stuff I know how to do already, just in slightly different combinations than I’ve ever tried before. I could have figured all this out on my own from reading the internet (if those adorable cat pictures would just stop distracting me!)
  2. Anger: What is this crap? I was expecting to learn from the master, and instead she’s telling me things I already know! What makes her so famous that she gets a book published about Jam? I could write this book and it would have booze and blackjack too. In fact, forget the book!
  3. Bargaining: Maybe she’s holding back the real knowledge. Maybe she’s a fraud. I’ll go buy a different book about jams and maybe that book will have the real nitty-gritty that I’m trying to learn.
  4. Depression: What’s the use? Maybe the few simple little things I’ve made, and the few techniques I’ve learned is really all there is. Maybe Jam-making isn’t a skill that’s worth studying and practicing, because there isn’t much to learn. It’s a shallow well.
  5. Acceptance: Why is Christine Ferber famous and I’m not? What makes her so special? Then I have my Socrates moment: I don’t even know how much I don’t know. She’s on a different level from me, and I don’t even know why she’s so famous. What’s her trick? What’s the secret? I really need to read that book carefully.

So I started reading. And reading. I found some recipes that looked positively delicious, fruit and spice combinations that I might have never considered on my own. Her techniques were simple and seemed easy to follow, but it’s exactly that simplicity that makes me worry about doing it right. I picked a recipe that I wanted to try right off the bat, and got started cooking (I’ll post details if it turns out okay!).

2013 is looking to be an awesome year for this domesticated guy, and I’m really looking forward to all the cool recipes and projects that I’ve got on the horizon.