From Preserving

Strawberry, Blueberry and Lime Preserves

Berry picking is much like one of the greatest moments in the Shakespeare meets modern American teenager movie, ’10 things I hate about you.’

No, really. Stay with me.

I used to love strawberry picking. Crouching in the straw-covered dirt, the wide brimmed hat on my head casting a huge shadow. Searching between the drooping leaves for those tender red berries. Watching mouds of berries stack up quickly in a flat. Feeling the trickle of sweat as the oppresive June humidity mixes with the gobs of sunscreen covering my exposed skin. Groaning as my aching knees slowly creak their way down the row towards more red, red berries.

 

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Strawberry picking in Washington County, New York

Wait, no. Those last two things I did not love. But walking away with 10 pounds of perfect ripe strawberries costing not much more than the price of running a load of laundry to get the dirt off my clothes? Yes, that very much love.

Or, I loved, until I went blueberry picking.

Blueberry fields as far as they eye could see, some planted in the early ’70s. Everything covered in the tiny water dropplets of a misting August rain. Plump dark purple, almost black, berries on every tall branch. Many more smaller white, green, pink and lilac ones still growing.

That Prada backpack, I am sure it was full of blueberries.

 

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Empty bird’s nest in blueberry bush, Saratoga County, New York.

This recipe yields approximately 2 pints of jam.

  • 2 lbs strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 limes, juice and zest
  • 12 ounces (1 dry pint) blueberries

Mix the cut strawberries, sugar, lime juice and zest in a non-reactive container. Cover, and allow to rest at room temperature for an hour or two, or until the sugar had dissolved completely.

Blend in the blueberries, and place the mixture in a deep saucepan. Bring the mixture to a strong simmer, removing any scum that may form. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook stirring freaquently, until a medium syrup forms.

The very easy jam freezer test comes in handy at this point, though my prefered method has always been dipping a clean metal spoon into the jam. If the jam just straight off, its not ready. If it sticks, and a finger wiped across the back of the spoon leaves a clean streak, its ready.

Pack into sterilized one cup containers, and hot process as needed.

The running jar count for 2016:

Strawberry, Blueberry and Lime Preserves: I’ve made this particular recipe three times. Blame the many berry picking opportunities in Upstate New York. 4 8-oz jars per batch. 3 batches x 4 jars= 12.

Jar total: 43 jars.

Pickled Jalapeños, Or How to Use Many Jars

Did I mention before I have a jar hoarding problem?

I have a jar hoarding problem. Fortunately, I also have a jam and pickling problem, and a giving jams and pickles away problem, so things generally even out.

The jar count for the last few months has been this:

Pineapple marmalade: 3 8-oz jars

Pineapple orange marmalade (to be blogged about soonish): 6 8-oz jars

Blackberry and orange marmalade (delicious yet needs work before blogging): 4 8-oz jars 

Cajeta (goat milk caramel): 9 8-oz jars

[Psychologist analysis of my work would suggest an unhealthy obsession with thick sticky substances, fruit which may be employed as a weapon in case of emergency, and cup measures.]

And finally,

Jalapeños curtidos, also known as escabeche de jalapeños, or pickled japaleños: 2 16-oz and 6 12 to 14-oz jars.

Jar total: 31 jars.

This mix uses plenty of carrots and cauliflower with the jalapeños, which greedily such up the heat from the peppers, leaving them the least spicy of the three. Tender summer squash and zucchini work equally well.

The method used here, or just barely cooking the vegetables before pickling serves a few purposes. First, cooking until completely pickled before canning results in mushy pickles. No one likes mushy pickles. Second, fruit and vegetables canned raw float, using up more jar space and liquid than they should. Third, it just tastes better this way.

If you would like skip the canning process but still make a lot of pickles, head to the Phoenix New Times archives for my recipe skipping the process.

Escabeche de jalapeños - Pickled Jalapeños

  • 6 or 7 16-oz canning jars and lids
  • 2 lbs jalapeños
  • 1 lb carrots
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 quart water, preferably distilled or filtered
  • 1 quart distilled white vinegar
  • 1/3 c kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp cracked black pepper
  • 4 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 heaping tsp Mexican oregano
  • 1/2 heaping tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 heaping tsp dry thyme

 

Wash the jars and lids in hot soapy water. Sanitize the jars by placing them on a baking tray in a cold oven. Turn the oven to 350ºF. Heat until jars are completely dry, approximately 10 minutes. Turn off the oven, leaving the jars inside. In the meantime, place the lids in a small pot, cover well with water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Wash and dry the vegetables well. Cut the stems off the jalapeños, and cut into quarters lengthwise, leaving the seeds intact. Peel the carrots, cutting into thick rounds on the bias (thick = a bit more than 1/8″, but no one is actually measuring here). Trim the cauliflower into florets no bigger than 1″ all around. Be sure to keep the vegetables separate when cut.

Fill a canning pot with enough water to cover submerged pint jars with at least 1″ of water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil.

Place the water, vinegar and spices into a large pot. Bring to a boil, and cook at a strong simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cut carrots to the pot. When the liquid comes back to a simmer, add the cut cauliflower. Bring the liquid to a simmer once again, and add the cut jalapeños. Stir the pot occasionally. Turn off the heat when the jalapeños turn dull green.

Pack the pickled vegetables well into the hot sterilized jars, covering with them fully with pickling liquid and leaving 1/2″ clear in the jar. Poke out any air bubbles with a clean skewer or knife.

Seal the jars. Place on a canning rack and submerge into the boiling hot water bath. Process at high heat for 16 minutes. Turn off the heat, and allow the bath to cool slightly before removing the jars. Leave the jars to rest on a flat surface overnight. Refrigerate any jars which did not seal properly.

 

 

The Empty Jar Dilemma

I am a jar hoarding addict. Faced with an empty jar, I can never, ever abandon it to the terrifying fate of the recycling bin. It has to be saved. Which leaves me with a large box of jars in every closet, another in the spidery garage.

And with far too many possibilities of what to do with them. Unless I give myself a plan, these jars will continue to remain empty. And possibly spidery.

Last summer’s strawberry heavy preserves were too good to last long. While New York grows beautiful berries, sadly, peaches are less flavorful, making another favorite, blueberry-peach preserves, less possible. No worries, a tart blueberry-apricot preserves replaced it.

Perhaps a few jars will finally be filled with the beet curd I’ve meant to make for years. Or maybe those brandied cherries I have thought about for ages. This was the year I finally wrote a capirotada recipe. Anything could happen.

Many jars will be filled with pickled jalapeños, heavy on carrots, as they are always the best part. Soon to arrive dried red chiles will be cleaned, soaked and pureed to a fine paste. For when is red chile paste not useful? Or jars and jars of pineapple marmalade? Empanadas de piña are never not welcome in this house.

As soon as a good source for local goat milk is located, gallons of if will be turned into just a few cups of cajeta, thick goat milk caramel, a dessert unto itself.

Clearly, I have work to do.

Sebo y Manteca de Res – Suet and Tallow

While lard has enjoyed a revival in the last few years in this country (Praise the Lard t-shirt, anyone?), rendered beef fat, or tallow, remains mostly in obscurity. Unless you’re really into grass fed lip and body balms.

I blame poor marketing.

Suet, or sebo in Spanish, the large fat deposits near the kidneys, is no harder to find than leaf lard, and the process of rendering is the same. The one place where tallow may not stack up agains lard is in versatility. It can be decidedly beefy in taste and smell and not always as appropriate for pastry applications. Unless of course, you are very talented and turn it into cheesecake.

 

If you’ve rendered leaf lard, then the process for turning suet into tallow will be very familiar. My main warning remains:

Do not for any reason think it is a good idea to cut the suet using a food processor, unless you want to end up with an off-putting pink sludge. I have seen this. It is not pleasant.

Tallow can be referred to as sebo in Spanish, or simply manteca de res.

Manteca de Res - Tallow

  • 5 pounds suet
  • Cold water, as needed

Be sure to remove any blood and blood vessels before cutting and rendering. It is unlikely any large pieces of meat will be attached to the fat, as a good butcher would remove these. Any small pieces remaining can be cooked into cracklins at the end of the rendering process.

Working with a very sharp knife, cut the suet into 1/2″ cubes. It will cut more easily if slightly frozen, preventing the fat from becoming too soft.

Place the cut suet in a large thick-bottom pot large enough to accommodate everything in a not too deep of a layer. Add enough cold water to the pot to cover 1″ of the fat.

Cook over low-medium heat. Skim off any impurities. Filter the rendered tallow through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Five pounds of suet should result in approximately half a gallon of tallow.

When the last bit of fat has been rendered, return any bits of fat and cook meat that remain to the pot. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crunchy.

Camotes Poblanos – Puebla Style Sweet Potato Candy

There is a rule in caramel making. Against all logic, at least once or maybe twice, the caramel maker will stick their finger into a molten batch of caramel. Caramel, I am convinced, is much like standing at the edge of a precipice. The longer you stare at it, the more tempting it is.

When making caramel, I stare fixedly, almost unblinkingly at it. Everything else stops until that caramel is finished. It has to. Caramel is a jerk that will turn on you the moment you take your eye off of it, much like a homicidal house cat.

Unlike the homicidal house cat, caramel and candy making can be very rewarding. There is no other reason why an otherwise logical individual would choose to stand for a seemingly endless amount of time stirring a bubbling mixture of melted sugar and sweet potato mash capable of bursting into volatile splatter the moment the spoon is put down.

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Obviously, the nuns of XVII century Puebla, the likely creators of camotes Poblanos (sweet potato candy) liked to live on the edge. Like convents and monasteries everywhere, convents in Mexico produced specialty food items to supplement their income, and many of Mexico’s sweets owe their popularity to enterprising nuns.

Dulce de Camote Poblano - Puebla Style Sweet Potato Candy

  • 500 g (approx. 1 lb. 2 oz) sweet potato
  • 500 g (2 1/2 c) granulated sugar
  • 1 c water
  • Juice and zest of 1 large lime, or 2 key limes
  • Confectioners sugar, as needed
  • Parchment or wax paper

Cook the sweet potatoes in a 400ºF oven until very soft. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and pass through a potato ricer or food mill. Add the lime zest and juice, mixing well.

While the sweet potatoes are cooling, place the sugar and water in a 3 quart stainless steel pot. Cook over medium heat until the caramel reaches hard ball stage, between 250 to 265ºF. Test the caramel with a candy thermometer, or by pouring a small amount into a glass of water and pushing into a small ball with a spoon.

Remove the caramel from the heat, and very carefully, mix in the pureed sweet potato and lime mixture. Return the heat and cook while stirring continuously, over medium heat, until the mixture is very dry and the bottom of the pot is easily visible while stirring. The candy should stick to the spoon, and if any drops it should be in a large and sticky dollop.

Line a baking tray with parchment or wax paper. Pour the candy onto the tray and spread in an even layer. Allow to cool completely.

Cut 20 pieces of parchment or wax paper into 3″ x 4″ rectangles. Dust the working surface and hands lightly with confectioners sugar. Pinch off a small piece of candy, rolling smooth and forming a small log on the sugared surface. Place on a paper rectangle. It is easier and faster to shape all the candy before wrapping individually. When wrapping, place the candy log at the bottom of a long edge. Roll the candy. Pinch the ends and twist in opposite directions.

The candy should keep for two weeks. If it lasts that long.

Ate de Membrillo – Quince Marmalade

Quince may be the ugly duckling of tree fruit in the United States.

Wait, no. That is too gentle.

Quince is the freckled, red-headed step child of tree fruit in the United States. There’s nothing else you can call a fruit that receives a response of ‘what is that?’ when asking for it an orchard which grows it.

Its there, mostly taking up room among the apples in mid to late fall at the farmers market, looking like an unloved, freckled, red-headed ugly apple or pear. Or actually like a very hard, chartreuse-hued, slightly fuzzy, knobby pome fruit. No mere apple or pear is that interesting to describe.

Older than apples, quince is likely the fruit being referred to in ancient documents mentioning apples. When very ripe, the fruit turns golden, losing the fuzz that covers it when still green, and become soft enough to eat raw. It also becomes very fragrant, a scent I’ve heard described frequently as that of ripe pineapples, but seems more like the sweet smell of leaves as they begin to decompose. Blame that scent association perhaps with the daily walks ankle-deep in slowly decomposing fallen leaves.

Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs, New York.
Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs, New York.

The following recipe, for ate de membrillo, or quince marmalade, describes the best, or at least easiest, way I have of making this thick preserve, taking advantage of the nature of the fruit and lazy use of kitchen equipment. This is a food I’ve made for years, with batches varying from two pounds to 20. Each of those batches was made in a slightly different way, using more or less sugar, granulated or brown, with vanilla, without. Peeling the fruit, dicing small, etc. I’ve learned things when working a large batch of hot sticky paste requiring constant stirring, capable of spewing like molten lava from a volcano.

In Spain, dulce de membrillo, as it is called there, is traditionally paired with aged Manchego cheese. In Mexico, where the fruit and the preserves are very popular, it is used as pastry fillings, perhaps in some nice empanadas. This preserve is much thicker than the average jam. Though it can be canned easily, it is typically poured into block molds, sometimes dusted with sugar. It is not uncommon to hear this sweat tread referred to as queso de membrillo, or quince cheese. 

Look for quince that is yellow, smooth, and free of black spots. The fruit does not ripen much after cutting from the tree, but it will lose its soft fuzz. If not available at a local farmers market, it can be found in Mexican grocery stores in the late fall months.

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Jars of ate de membrillo, quince paste.

This years batch of ate de membrillo was made from 6.625 pounds of fruit, resulting in slightly over a gallon of preserves. Clearly, this is a ridiculous amount to make.

Ate de Membrillo - Quince Marmalade

  • To cook the quince:
  • Quince, in quantity desired
  • 1 lemon
  • Mexican cinnamon
  • Star anise
  • To make the marmalade:
  • Granulated sugar, roughly 75% to 80% of the weight of uncooked quince
  • Sea salt
  • Advice from years of experience (and comparing to every recipe for this I could ever find): 
  • Do not peel the fruit.
  • Do not bother grating the fruit unless you really need the arm work out.
  • Coring the quince and placing the seeds in a cheesecloth bundle is nice, but not necessary if using a food mill.
  • Cooking the peels and seeds separately to produce pectin to thicken the marmalade with is just plain stupid.
  • Strain and save the cooking liquid, which is full of pectin. Store in the freezer.
  • Use organic, or at the very least unbleached, granulated sugar.
  • Do not measure the amount of sugar needed to match the pulp by volume. Use a scale. Scales are your friend.
  • Patience, low heat and constant stirring. Or expect hot projectiles to fly out of the pot.

Wash the fruit very well. Cut into quarters. Trim away the blossom end of the fruit, or the bottom, as well as any bruised parts. Chop roughly. Keep the cut fruit submerged in cold water with the juice of a lemon squeezed in.

Place the cut fruit in a saucepan, cover with cold water. Add star anise, and a crushed stick of Mexican cinnamon. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the fruit is soft.

Puree the cooked fruit with a food mill, fitted with the finest disk included. This will separate the seeds from the fruit, as well as any tough pieces of skin. If using a food processor, it will be necessary to separate the seeds with a cheesecloth bundle from the fruit before cooking.

Strain and reserve the cooking liquid, if desired, as this is now liquid pectin. It can be frozen until ready to use.

Weigh the puree, and measure out, by weight, an equal amount of granulated sugar. If desired, the amount of sugar can be reduced by up to 25% of the weight of the puree.

Place the puree and the sugar in a thick bottomed pot, stirring well to combine. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently. Cooking time varies greatly by batch size, and can be several hours. Continuous, frequent stirring is necessary to prevent burning. Be very careful to watch for splatter. When ready, the marmalade will be a deep amber color, feel quite dry and stick to a spoon without dropping back in the pot.

The finished preserves can be canned, or poured into greased molds and refrigerated.