Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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White Peach Juice and Syrup

We bought a bunch of peaches with the intention of making some jam and peach butter. Making peach butter is easy because you don’t have to peal the peaches first. Pealing the peaches isn’t difficult per se, but it is time consuming and what I haven’t had in abundance lately is time.

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The next weekend when I finally had the time to prepare jam, the peaches were starting to descend into over-ripeness. Making Jam from over-ripe fruit is worse, perhaps, than making it from the under-ripe ones. In emergency mode (I end up in that mode quite often)  I decided instead to do something new: peach jelly.

I started looking around the internet for recipes for peach jelly. The ones I found mostly start with the words “take X cups of prepared juice…”. Well, that doesn’t help when I don’t know how to prepare the juice. So I had to look for recipes for peach juice, before I could find one for peach jelly.

But then again, considering my jelly didn’t set (for reasons I’ll describe below), I’m calling the result more of a “syrup”.

Due to luck of the draw, only white peaches ended up in my batch of juice, so I can call these things White Peach Juice and White Peach Syrup without any reservations.

White Peach Juice

  • White Peaches [1]
  • Water [2]

Rinse, pit and slice the peaches. Toss them in a stock pot like you just don’t care. Add enough water to fill the pot about half as high as the peaches. Cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Strain the fruit out of the juice using a sieve, and press the remaining fruit to extract all the liberated juice. Put it in the fridge, or drink it, or turn it into jelly or syrup or whatever.

Results

The juice is a beautiful ruby red color, almost reminiscent of cherries instead of peaches. The flavor, however, is all peach. It’s not sweet like bottled juice you’d get at the grocery store, but it’s good and refreshing nonetheless.

White Peach Jelly/Syrup

  • 3.5 cups white peach juice
  • 4.5 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 box Sure Jell pectin for low-sugar recipes
  • Juice of 1 lemon

I mostly followed an existing recipe, with the addition of the lemon juice. Bring the juice to a boil. Add 4 cups sugar and boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly to prevent overflow. Add the pectin and remaining sugar [1], stir to mix well, and boil hard for an additional minute. Ladle into prepared jars and process [2]. I processed in the pressure canner at 6lbs for 15 minutes.

Results

Let me just put this out there: This recipe did not set. Instead of a white peach jelly, I ended up with more of a white peach syrup (just as tasty, but we use it in different ways).

Here’s an important lesson that I knew but completely forgot about: Pectin breaks down in high heat.  You can use the pressure canner, but it has to be done a special way: You put the jars in the pressure canner and bring it to a boil, but you keep the pressure regulator off so that pressure does not build up (and the temperature does not exceed 212 degrees). You would process for the same amount of time as you would with a normal water bath, 5-15 minutes depending on a variety of factors.

If you want to make syrup, leave out the pectin (and maybe boil it down a little longer). If you want to actually make jelly, don’t over-process like I did.

Ignoring the problem with the pectin, the end result was very nice. If it were a jelly, it would have more sugar than I normally like, but as a syrup it’s par for the course.

The color of the syrup was the same ruby color as the juice, and it has a great, light peach flavor. It’s sweet and wonderful. Here’s a picture of the syrup (right) with the peach butter from last post:

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Notes

  1. As always, I mix the last bit of sugar together with the pectin because it prevents clumping and I’m a major opponent of clumping.
  2. I processed this jelly at the same time as my peach butter, and did both in the pressure canner. I processed the jars at 6lbs of pressure for 15 minutes.
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Peach Butter

A day after making the first batch of the Peach and Cherry Jam with my peaches, another wave of peaches came ripe. These included almost all the rest of the yellow peaches, which wasn’t very many. I’ve been wanting to make a big batch of peach butter in the crock pot, and this was the perfect opportunity. I would call it “White Peach Butter”, but because a few yellow ones got involved I feel like the more general title is better.

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Crockpot Peach Butter

  • Peaches, pitted and sliced thick[1]
  • Sugar [2]
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Put the peaches into the crockpot. Cover with sugar and lemon juice. Toss. Cook on high for 6-8 hours, or until the butter has reached the desired consistency [3]. Somewhere in the middle, hit it with a blender [4] to make it smooth and chop up any big pieces of skin. Ladle into prepared jars and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes [5].

Results

…That’s the theory, anyway. The recipe I was following said that you wouldn’t need more than 6-8 hours in the crockpot, on low heat. I had mine on high heat, and cooked the batch for 10 hours before giving up for the day. I transferred the slurry to a sealed container and refrigerated overnight. The next day, I tossed it in a large stock pot and cooked over medium-low heat for another hour or so before it reached the right consistency.

I only used about 1 cup of sugar total, so the butter wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet. I would call the flavor things like “mature”, “deep” and “complex”. I tossed around the idea of adding some cinnamon or pie spices, but decided that the pure peach flavor was more than enough for this particular batch of peach butter (and Dana strongly agreed).

The final product is relatively thick, but not as thick as some of the driest butters I’ve seen before. It’s a deep brown color, and could easily be mistaken for apple butter. I got 7 jars (8oz) of the finished product. Here’s a picture of my completed jars of peach butter (on the left) with some jars of Jelly I’ll discuss in a different post.

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Notes

  1. I used just about enough peaches, a mixture of (mostly) white and yellow, to fill the crockpot. It wasn’t quite full.
  2. In jams, you need sugar to thicken the final product. With butters, you are thickening by boiling away water and cooking the fruit down into a goo. I used about 1 cup of sugar to start. Some sugar helps to liberate juice from the fruit and prevent it from browning. As the peaches cook, taste it and adjust sugar levels as necessary (you can always add it, you can’t take it away). For the entire batch of peaches, which filled the crockpot, we used about a cup or so of sugar.
  3. I’ve seen fruit “butter” be anywhere from a syrup-like consistency down to something thick and firm. The more you cook it, the less “fresh” taste you’ll have and the more caramelized rickness you will have. It’s all about personal preference. I tend to like apple butters thicker, but since I’ve never made peach butter, I stopped a bit earlier.
  4. We have an immersion blender, which makes things very easy. Using a regular blender would require scooping the peaches out of the crockpot, blending them in batches, moving the blended ones into a bowl while you blended the next batch, etc. If you have an immersion blender, use it. If not, definitely price a few out.
  5. I actually did this particular batch in my pressure canner, because I did another recipe at the same time and had more jars to process than would fit in my biggest stock pot. I followed all the instructions from the manual, and processed the jars at 6lbs of pressure for 15 minutes.


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Mixed Peach and Cherry Jam

Dana and I went out to the farm to kick off the start of peach season. White peaches are in and yellow peaches are just getting started. In reality we probably should have waited till next week for yellow peaches to really be ripe and ready, but we just couldn’t wait any longer [1]. Last year we didn’t have great luck with white peaches, so we were a little shy to get too many of them again this year. We hoped that the yellow peaches would be ready enough, but when we got to the farm it was exactly like they said: the white peaches were ready and the yellow peaches, for the most part, were not. We were already there and the price was right.

We grabbed 2 buckets of white peaches, then headed over to the yellow peach area and grabbed two buckets of those too. Then, one of the farm hands mentioned that some of the trees in the yellow peach area were actually white peaches in disguise, and were probably more ripe than the yellows were. Everything is all mixed up, but the end result is that the vast majority of peaches we got were the white ones.

Most of the peaches were not quite ripe immediately, so we used them in batches as they became ready.

We had a bag of sweet cherries left over, and Dana had asked for them to be turned into quarts of pie filling. When I picked through, too many were starting to rot and there wasn’t enough left for filling. In emergency mode, I tossed the few cherries we had left into a bowl with the few peaches that were already ripe, and prepared a batch of Mixed Peach and Cherry Jam.

Mixed Peach and Cherry Jam

  • 1.5lbs Sweet dark cherries, stemmed, pitted and chopped [2]
  • 1.5lbs mixed white and yellow peaches, skinned, pitted and chopped [3]
  • 3 Cups sugar, divided
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Dash Amaretto
  • 1 Bag Sure Jell Pectin

Add the chopped cherries and peaches to a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic) with the lemon juice and 2 cups of sugar. Allow to macerate for 10 minutes. Dump the fruit mixture into a pot and bring to a simmer. Return to bowl and refrigerate overnight.

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Next day, strain the syrup into a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Boil hard for 5 minutes. Add the fruit, sugar, pectin [4], and the amaretto and boil for 1 minute more. Ladle into prepared jars and process for 15 minutes.

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Results

For a variety of reasons, the peaches that were ripe immediately included most of the yellow ones. The end result was approximately 50/50 white and yellow.

The jam was a deep crimson red color, almost as dark as a cherry jam but with the noticeable white and yellow chunks of peach. The jam was a little bit too thick, but not terribly so. A little less sugar, a little more fruit, or a little less pectin all might be good ideas for the next attempt.

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The flavor is very good and very peachy. Dana said that she really couldn’t taste the cherry in it, but I could taste it. It is definitely a more complex flavor than just a peach jam, even if the cherries aren’t screaming at the top of their lungs. In the future mixing in some tart cherries, or a splash of a cherry liquor (kirsch, if I don’t have any homemade extracts available) might help balance the flavors a little bit more.

Possible Modifications

  • Tart cherries are just barely out of season. Apricots, are in along with some varieties of nectarines and plums. Any combination of stone fruits could be used here, in place of the existing ingredients or in addition to them.
  • Use vanilla extract in place of the amaretto. Use a cherry liquor instead.

Notes

  1. Dana could wait, and Xander couldn’t care less. I was the one who was busting at the seams. Next time, I may sneak out of the house in the morning and go picking before they even get out of bed.
  2. Approximate. We had a bag that was about 2.5lbs according to my fuzzy memory of what Dana may or may not have said when she bought them. A little more than  half of those, according to my untrained eyeballs, were usable. For the scientists in the audience, we’re not even up to a single significant digit. The real amount of cherries used could be anywhere between -5 lbs  to 10 lbs.
  3. There were more white peaches than there are yellow peaches. I tried to use approximately the same amount of peaches, by volume, as I had cherries. Of course, the cherries were already in the bowl with the sugar and lemon macerating, so my estimation may be off. Way off. Again, I could have used anywhere between 0-10 lbs peaches.
  4. I always mix some of the sugar in with the pectin, to prevent clumping. But then I read the box of pectin and saw that “Dextrose” (a sugar) was the #1 ingredient in the package, which means it’s probably already mixed enough. Whatever. Old habits die hard.


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50/50 Cherry Jam

I mentioned a few posts back that what I really wanted to make this year was a cherry jam with half tart pie cherries and half dark sweet cherries. I lamented that I wasn’t able to find any domestic sweet cherries for a price I was willing to pay. Well, no sooner do I publish that post than Dana finds a few bags at a good deal, so we’re back in business!

Of course, she finds it right as the tart cherries in my fridge were starting to go south. I picked through them quickly, and pulled out all the good ones that were left. In the end, I had fewer tart cherries than I had sweet cherries. I’m still calling it “50/50 Cherry Jam”, even though the ratio was probably closer to 60/40 or even 75/25. If they hadn’t just gone out of season, I may have run back up to the farm to pick another couple handfuls.

50/50 Cherry Jam

  • 2.5 lbs sweet dark cherries, stemmed, pitted and roughly chopped
  • approx 1lbs tart pie cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 3 cups sugar, divided
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Half bag Sure Jel pectin
  • Dash Amaretto

Put the cherries in a nonreactive bowl (glass or ceramic) with 2 cups of sugar and the lemon juice. Mix gently and refrigerate overnight [1].

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Next day, strain the syrup into a large stockpot. Add the remaining sugar and pectin [2] and bring to a boil. Boil hard for 5 minutes. Add the cherries, any remaining syrup and the dash of amaretto to the pot. Bring to a boil again and boil hard for 1 minute. Ladle into prepared jars and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

Not that there’s a lot of competition, but this might be the best cherry jam I’ve made so far. Actually, this might be the best cherry jam I’ve ever had, whether I made it or not. It’s definitely in the running to be among the best jam recipes I’ve ever made, of any type. In short, the results are amazing.  The cherry flavor is rich, vibrant and complex. The more I think about it, actually using a proper 50/50 ratio might be too much, because the tart cherries would start to overpower the sweet cherries and some of the magic might be lost. The ratio I stumbled onto, about 3:1, turns out to be absolutely perfect.

This is definitely a winning recipe, and one I’ll do my damndest to make again next year. I’m glad I had the idea, and that I jumped on it when all the pieces came together.

Because of the stunning success of this recipe, I’m thinking about even more combination cherry jams in the future (mixing in lighter Rainiers or even some wild black cherries, if I can find some).

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Notes

  1. I got lazy and left it in there for like 3 days. Just a little old. It’s still good, it’s still good.
  2. Mix the pectin into the sugar, to prevent clumping.


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Blueberry Lemon Jam

Our grocery store was having a sale on blueberries: buy one pint, get a second one free. Doing the math, unit price came down to about 2.50$ per pint. For that price, we got 6. We still have a quart of blueberry pie filling in our pantry, so instead of making more of that I decided to make something I didn’t make last year: Blueberry jam.

But…we also have a pile of lemons, and I have a great recipe in my book for a Blueberry Lemon Jam. That’s what I made. I’m very easily distracted.

Blueberry Lemon Jam

  • 4 Pints Blueberries [1]
  • 1 Cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • Zest of 1 and a half lemons
  • 3 cups sugar [2], plus 1/4 cup
  • Half bag of Sure Jel Low-Sugar Pectin

Rinse the blueberries and pick over [3]. Combine blueberries, lemon juice, sugar and zest in a large pot. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, put in a glass or ceramic bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, return the mixture to the pot and boil. Mix the 1/4 cup sugar and pectin in a bowl, to prevent clumping, and add to the fruit mixture. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Ladle into prepared jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

The Jam seems maybe a little bit loose. A little thicker than a syrup, a little runnier than an average jam. It’s pretty good as-is, but I also wouldn’t be upset if it set up a bit more. Next time I’ll probably use the whole bag of pectin.

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I got about 8 pints of jam from the recipe, though the picture only shows 3. One didn’t seal so we put it in the fridge and started enjoying immediately. The flavor of the jam is very punchy. It has a rich blueberry flavor with a hint of tartness and brightness from the lemon. I suggested that it could maybe use more lemon zest, but Dana says it’s fine. I feel like the flavor is missing something (mint or cinnamon, maybe?), but overall it’s still a very tasty jam. It’s good on toast, but I think the real beauty of it will come on a bagel with a little cream cheese.

Notes

  1. The original recipe calls for 2 1/4 lbs of blueberries, 7 ounces of lemon juice, and two whole lemons, sliced thin and poached in sugar syrup. I weighed each pint to be about 10 ounces. Rounding up, the result is 40 ounces (2.5lbs). Rounding the 7 ounces of lemon juice up to an even cup also keeps the ratio very similar. Instead of using two whole lemons sliced, which I don’t like doing, I zested a lemon and a half. I figure the potency of grated zest would be similar in overall flavor to the two whole lemons. If the recipe doesn’t turn out, it’s not my fault because I was sort of following somebody else’s recipe.
  2. The original recipe calls for 4.5 cups of sugar, which might have needed to be rounded up because I increased all the other ingredients. But, since we have miracles like “powered pectin” here in the modern world outside Alsace France, I cut down the amount of sugar and let the pectin do the work of thickening the jam.
  3. I ended up having to discard several overripe or otherwise creepy berries along the way, so I tossed in an extra half pint of berries (which also needed a good picking-over). I think, in the end, the final quantity was still around 4 pints or just a little over.


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July 11 Garden Update

The garden is just humming along right now, and we’re getting tantalizingly close to harvest time for some of the goodies. It’s amazing how much better things are going this year than last year. I heard a report on the news yesterday that late blight has been confirmed across the river in New Jersey, but I’m hoping that a few days of westerly winds and dry heat will help keep my little plants safe.

If things continue the way they’re going now, our tomato plants are primed to give us a monster crop. I took a quick count of tomatoes that are currently growing, and have these numbers:

  • About 55 Slicer Tomatoes (“Big Boy” and “Better Boy”) on 4 plants
  • Over 150 plum tomatoes on 6 plants
  • more cherry tomatoes than I can reasonably count

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Not all of them will become ripe at the same time, of course, so we will avoid a major flood, but there are still going to be enough for us to play with in the months ahead. I’m thinking about putting up a few quart jars of tomato sauce, and maybe dehydrate a few too. I’m not super interested in canning salsa or bruschetta again, but if volume gets high enough we’ll have to consider it.

I can already see 2 little cherry tomatoes turning orange and red. I’ll pull those in soon and we’ll just eat them raw while their siblings ripen up.

We have three large spaghetti squash forming already, which is awesome. However, I haven’t yet seen anything that looks like a butternut squash or a pumpkin. Considering that the plants are right next to each other, in the same soil, with the same watering schedule, I can’t figure out why the spaghetti squash are so far along and everything else isn’t. Maybe I just can’t see them under all the vines and dense foliage. Maybe I just have to be a little bit more patient.

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Peppers are doing well. I have two large bell peppers (one “California Wonder” and one “Orange Bell”). A few more teensy little ones are set on other plants. I have two large cayenne peppers, and a large cherry pepper just starting to change color. There are a handful of small, narrow “Thai Long Hot” peppers starting to grow, and one tiny yellow “Tabasco” pepper, sticking straight up off the top of the plant.

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The last garlic plant finally got ready. They say you’re supposed to wait for a dry spell to pull garlic, so it cures more quickly and is less prone to disease, but the string of rainy days seemed endless so I pulled it anyway. In total I have 6 garlic cloves just waiting to be used. They’re resting with my remaining onions (3 large and 8 medium, the small and weird ones went into soup). I’m already looking forward to buying some new garlic to plant this autumn.

Blueberries are almost completely done. The last few stragglers have been getting nabbed by the birds as soon as they turn blue, so we’re done with them for the season. The harvest this year was small but rewarding. I hope they’ll really do well. Maybe, if Dana hasn’t killed me by then, I’ll pick up a third plant.

Potatoes are limping along. A few of the plants are starting to take off, but several of them seem like they’re just giving up and rolling over to die. My hopes were never particularly high for them, and I really don’t expect to be getting anything out of them this year. Next year, maybe, I’ll do some better planning and try for a better crop.


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Tart Cherry and Blueberry Jam

I still can’t find good, domestic sweet cherries for sale anywhere, and the imported ones are costing anywhere from 3.99$ to 5.99$ per pound, depending on where I shop, the day of the week, the phase of the moon and a few other less obvious factors. Since I can’t find any of those, and since I’ve still got a few tart cherries left over to play with, I decided to make a batch of tart cherry and blueberry jam. The fun, bright colors are wonderfully relevant to the holiday.

Most of my jam recipes are based on recipes from my book or from various websites that I frequent. I wasn’t really able to find a good recipe for a jam like what I’m making here (at least not one that I liked), so I decided to wing it by combining a few other recipes and general techniques that I’ve picked up over the past few months [1].

Tart Cherry and Blueberry Jam

  • 2 cups tart cherries, stemmed, pitted and roughly chopped [2]
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries, rinsed, sorted, stemmed and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sugar (reserved)
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 1 Box, Sure Jel Low-Sugar Pectin

Combine the cherries blueberries, lemon juice, cinnamon and 2 cups of sugar in a large non-reactive bowl. Allow to macerate for 1 hour. Put in a pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Let cool, return to bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

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The next day, strain the syrup into a pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Mix the pectin and remaining sugar together and stir into syrup. Add the berries, stir, and increase heat to high. Bring to a hard rolling boil. Boil for 1 minute. Ladle into prepared jars and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes [3].

Results

Yeah, I didn’t get the ratios quite right, and the end result was pretty thick. The jam was a gorgeous deep purple color and the bits of blue and red fruit were absolutely gorgeous in it. However, it’s noticable that there are fewer cherries than blueberries, something I’ll have to correct for next year.

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Notes

  1. Apparently my book learnin’ wasn’t good enough, because I got the ratios quite wrong.
  2. There’s noticeably more blueberries than cherries in the final result. This may be because the tender little cherries absorbed more color than the deep-blue blueberries lost. Next year, I’m thinking I’ll use 4 cups cherries, and a pint or a pint and a half of the blueberries. Maybe a little lemon zest too…
  3. I actually tried an experiment today. Instead of a normal boiling water bath canner, I used a tip from the internets and processed the jars in my new pressure canner. I’ve read two competing ideas. The first that I used was to boil in the pressure canner with the lid on (but the weighted pressure regulator off) with water filled up most of the height of the jars but not covering. In this configuration, I boiled for 15 minutes. The second suggestion, which I have not yet tried, is to pressure process like normal at 6 lbs of pressure for 10 minutes. I’ll try that next.