Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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Apricot Jam

I’d like to make an embarrassing confession: Until this summer I’d never eaten a fresh apricot or tasted apricot jam. Sure, I’ve had some trail mix or granola or whatever with little dried cubes of sweetened orange fruitmatter, but a real fresh apricot has never been on the menu.

I was trying out a small batch of pickled cherries, when I saw a recipe for pickled apricots on the opposite page. I took a quick read-through to see how similar the recipes were, and maybe see if apricots (which are now in season) would be a good project to tackle next. There, at the beginning of the recipe, were some words that changed the course of the next few days:

There is no better way to preserve apricots than as apricot jam, but this pickle comes close.

That’s quite a compelling testimonial, from the author of the pickling book! I decided right then that I would make a batch of apricot jam and, after that notch was firmly carved in my bedpost, I would maybe try pickling some too.

I took a trip to the orchard to grab some apricots. The trees had been thoroughly picked over (by people who, no doubt, knew what I was missing), but my height allowed me to grab some of the ones that were hanging just out of range of the average picker. I managed to fill about half of a 2.5 gallon bucket, which was more than enough to do some experiments on.

No sooner had I walked in the door than I rinsed one off and stuffed it into my cake hole.

Wow. These aren’t just smaller peaches. They’re totally legit. The veil has been pulled off, the die has been cast, Caesar has crossed the Rubicon. Apricots, it seems have been added to the list of things I need to buy too much of each year.

(Besides the great flavor, it helps that apricots are freestone and don’t typically need to be peeled. Processing them is much easier than most peaches, though they are smaller and you need to do more of them).

Apricot Jam

  • 6 cups apricots, rinsed, stoned and finely chopped.
  • 4 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 1 packet Sure Jell no sugar pectin

Process the apricots and put them in a non-reactive bowl. Add lemon juice and 2 cups of the sugar. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and put the mixture in the fridge to macerate overnight.

The next day, dump the apricot mixture into a large stock pot. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.

In a separate bowl combine the remaining sugar and pectin. Whisk to combine (this, supposedly, prevents clumping). When the apricots are boiling so hard that stirring doesn’t make it go down, add the sugar mixture. Stir vigorously.

Being the mixture back to a boil for 1 minute. Ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims, add sterilized lids and bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

Good. Really, really good.

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It’s not just a peach jam with an orange color, like I was half expecting. It has some tartness to it, great texture, great color, and fantastic taste. This probably is up among the top few jams I’ve made since I’ve started making them. It’s not better than my favorite cherry jam, but I definitely like it more than peach jam. I will certainly add this to the rotation, we will be making much of this next year.

I suspect that apricots would mix very well with oranges, tart cherries and maybe even cranberries. I’ll play with these ideas and more next year.

 


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Cherry Thumbprint Cookies

It’s a super-secret family recipe. Like, hush-hush, keep a lid on it, this message will self-destruct in 5 seconds kinds of secret. I’m posting it on this blog where anybody can see it, but I’m trusting you not to tell nobody. Responsibility, shifted.

Dana was making some sugar cookies and I was trying to get rid of some left-over cherry jam, when magic happened.

Oh, and we have this adorable xmas-themed serving plate, which we can only use at this time of year. Let’s take a picture so we can remember it the other 11 months of the year:

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The “recipe” is quite a simple one: Make sugar cookie dough, roll it up into little cookie-sized balls, use your thumb to press it down and form a little cavity, and fill each one with a dollop of jam. We used cherry (my very first batch, from June 2012). Bake according to the directions and, if you’ve been a good boy or girl this year, have one (or several).

These cookies are easy to make and the results are extremely tasty. I’d like to try it with some other jams as well. Luckily, I have a few.

 


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Caramel Apple Jam

In two previous posts I’ve mentioned Caramel Apple Jam but never posted the recipe myself. I borrowed this recipe from another blog, and made a few minor adaptations for my own needs [1]. This year I’ve made two batches of it, because it was so popular.

Caramel Apple Jam

  • 5.5 Cups prepared Apple Sauce
  • 3.5 Cups Sugar
  • 0.5 Cups water
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • Vanilla Extract (to taste)

Prepare the apple sauce ahead of time. Basically follow the recipe for apple butter, but stop cooking it before it turns brown and gets thick.

In a large stock pot, add the water and the lemon juice. Pour in 2 cups of sugar, slowly and evenly. DO NOT STIR. You’re making a “wet caramel”. In the wet method, caramel and water are cooked together. As the water evaporates, the boiling point of the mixture increases. Eventually, the sugar starts to caramelize, without much fear of burning.

Bring the sugar/water mixture to a boil over medium or medium-low heat. Boil it, without stirring, until the mixture starts to turn to a caramel-brown color.

When you’re ready, add the apple sauce. WARNING: There will be some spluttering. The sugar/water mixture is boiling at a higher temperature than plain water. Adding the apple sauce will change that ratio, decrease the boiling point again, and things will get a little violent. Keep your face away from the opening while you stir to mix.

Add the remaining sugar and the vanilla extract. I used my own homemade vanilla, about 2 Tbsp of it.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is thicker. Since it’s hot, it will thicken up even more when it’s cool, so don’t go crazy.

To preserve this jam, put it into prepared half-pint jars and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

Results

I made this jam last year, and it was very well received. In fact, it was one of the most requested repeat recipes I’ve ever had. A jam with caramel AND apples? It’s a no-brainer.

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Last year I commented that the jam was a little too sweet. I was planning to decrease the amount of sugar, but then I remembered that this is a pectin-free recipe and I couldn’t decrease the sugar without changing the consistency. So I didn’t change a thing.

I had thought about adding a bit of sea salt to the mix, but my wife isn’t a fan of the whole “salted caramel” craze so I didn’t do that either. Next time, maybe.

I made two batches this year. The first batch went perfectly but the second batch had some issues with the caramel. For some reason the sugar wasn’t caramelizing as well as it had previously, with sugar crystals floating around on the top of the bubbling mixture. I had to stir it in, which I haven’t had to do before. When I added the apple sauce the caramel hardened into a large clump. Luckily, during the boiling period, the caramel clump dissolved and the final product turned out the same as always.

All three batches I’ve made of this jam have produced almost exactly 7 half-pint jars of jam, sometimes with almost enough left over for a small quarter-pint jar.

Notes

  1. Her recipe calls for using a vanilla bean, mixed in with the sugar to make vanilla sugar instead of vanilla extract. She also calls for some rum to be added at the end to finish it. I didn’t have rum or vanilla beans, so I used some of my homemade vanilla extract (which is vodka-based) instead. Otherwise, I kept the recipe almost identical because I wanted to get the right consistency.


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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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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.


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Tart Cherry Jam

I clocked out from work for an hour this week and ran down to the local orchard to pick up a few pounds of tart cherries. We also went as a family to pick a few, but the work is really too tedious for the wife and munchkin to do for long. We got less than half as much as a family as I was able to get by myself the day before. All told we had close to 10lbs of the little fellas, and there was plenty of cooking to do.

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The first recipe I wanted to make was a batch of Tart Cherry Jam. I also wanted to make a 50/50 Cherry Jam, with a combination of both tart and sweet cherries, but I haven’t been able to find any good domestic sweet cherries for a price I’m willing to pay. For today, It’s a straight-forward recipe, based on the “Morello Cherry” recipe from Mes Confitures. I don’t think the cherries I get locally are Morellos, but they’re close enough for my purposes [1].

Tart Cherry Jam

  • 2.25 lbs stemmed and pitted tart cherries (2.75
  • 3.25 cup sugar [2]
  • Juice of 1 Lemon
  • 0.5 bag low-sugar pectin

Give the cherries a rough chop. Mix the cherries, sugar and lemon juice together in a large bowl and allow to macerate together for an hour or more. Move the mixture into a pot over medium heat until it just starts simmering. Remove from heat, put the mixture in a glass or ceramic bowl, and refrigerate overnight.

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Next day, strain the cherry mixture over a pot to collect the syrup. Add the pectin (add a little extra sugar if you need, to reduce clumping). Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring continuously. Boil for 5 minutes or so. Add the cherry bits and bring to a boil again. Boil for 1 minute. Ladle into prepared jars with 0.5 inch headspace, and process in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes.

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Results

Despite the name, this jam is anything but “tart”. Did you see how much sugar I put in there? I’m going into diabetic shock just proof-reading the recipe. It actually tastes, as anybody would expect, a heck of a lot like a tart cherry pie. The set, for the most part, seems good. Some jars seem to have set up a little bit better than others. Next time I might be able to cook the syrup down a little bit more and add a bit more pectin to firm it up a little better. With the amount of sugar I’m using, adding a bit more pectin shouldn’t affect the taste too much.

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Notes

  1. Wikipedia claims there are two varieties of tart cherry: Morello (dark red) and Amarelle (lighter red). If those are my only two options, the ones we got are definitely Amarelles.
  2. We can probably use a little bit less sugar next time, but these cherries are so tart that it’s hard to know how little sugar we can get away with and still have the jam be pleasant to eat.


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Jam Recipe Ideas

In my last post I talked about what went well in 2012 and what didn’t go so well, and also outlined some of my plans for preserving in 2013. My plan, in a nutshell, is to make more of the things we like and try out some new recipes as well.

All winter I’ve been thinking about novel new jam and jelly combinations. I’ve been inspired, in part, by my new book and things I’ve browsed on Etsy and Pinterest. Also, some ideas came into my head from who-knows-where. Here’s a quick list of 10 recipe ideas that I might like to try this year:

  1. Cherry and Blueberry Jam : I can’t believe I didn’t try this combination last year when we were swimming in both of these delicious fruits. This year, it’s happening for sure, and in future years it’s sure to be a staple (since I now have 2 cherry trees and am planning to buy some blueberries). A little Amaretto, some vanilla and/or some chocolate (if I can get up the nerve to use chocolate in a jam again) would really make this combo pop. Some Pomegranate juice might really push the whole thing over the edge.
  2. Blueberry and Lemon Jelly : I’ve heard of Blueberry-Lemon as a common flavor combination. These two things, in a smooth clear jelly, would be a match made in heaven. There are a few things I could add to this to make it even more complex: Pomegranate, Cherry, Basil, Mint, Lavender or a little bit of my orange extract.
  3. Peach and Cherry Jam : These two great stone fruits definitely belong in the same jam together. I had intended last year to make a white peach and cherry jam, but the white peaches didn’t cooperate and I had to do something else with the cherries before they went bad. A decadent, chunky yellow peach and cherry jam would be awesome with maybe just a touch of amaretto or bourbon.
  4. Peach, Orange and Blueberry Jam : Am I crazy? I think a combination like this, or one with just Peach and Orange, would make a great combination. A little bit of orange juice and zest would help bring the chunks of peach and the whole blueberries together. Consider also with a touch of vanilla or cinnamon. Valencias will be in season at just the right time for this.
  5. Pear and Lemon : This seems like a great combination to me. Sweeten it with a little bit of honey? Add a little cinnamon or vanilla? This one has real potential.
  6. Blueberry and Pear Jam: This might even go well with apples instead of pears. Maybe a little bit of lemon or honey will help it out too. The problem is getting the good blueberries and the ripe pears together in the same place at the same time. Freezerman, to the rescue!
  7. Cranberry Apple Jam: Not a cranberry sauce with apple, but a full-fledged apple mixture with some cranberry added for color and tartness. This would go well with any of the fall seasonings: cinnamon, clove or ginger especially.  With only mild changes this recipe could become Cranberry Apple Butter, instead of a Jam. A splash of orange extract or lemon zest will really brighten this up either way.
  8. Orange, Cranberry and Pomegranate Jelly: I think this recipe has great potential to be similarly festive, but more bright and less homey than the apple variety above. Imagine some of this spread on a fresh-baked gingerbread cookie, or with a little fresh cracked black pepper on a nice, sharp cheese tray. If we boil out the cranberries in a little bit of water or clear apple juice, they’d be a perfect accompaniment to fresh squeezed orange and pomegranate juices, and a little bit of zest.
  9. Mulled Apple Cider Jelly: I did Apple Cider Jelly this year and it was a big hit. Next year I want to try a similar recipe but with mulling spices and maybe a little bit of bourbon (or spiced rum!) thrown in for good measure.
  10. Pina Colada : Pineapple, Coconut and maybe a hint of dark rum. This combination really speaks for itself and would help to bring a little bit of tropical beach to the long winter months. It also gives me an excuse to buy fresh pineapples and fresh coconuts from the store.  Another tropical drink favorite of mine, the Pain Killer, uses  pineapple, coconut, orange and is seasoned with just a little bit of nutmeg. That would be a great alternative recipe to try as well.