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Archive for October, 2010

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I know, I know, strawberry season is over for most folks, but one of the big perks of living in Southern California is that we enjoy fresh fruit almost year round — even strawberries. The development of the newer day-neutral varieties means that strawberry season has been extended well into the fall in warmer climates such as ours. (Click here for more info on California strawberry varieties and seasons.)

I made a small batch of strawberry jam yesterday and though it sometimes seems like a lot of mess for so few jars — 4 full half pints + 1 almost-full jar, small batch preserving is a great way to do a little experimenting.

Also, keep in mind that just because the season is over that doesn’t mean you can’t whip up some jam if you have a craving. You can always pull some frozen fruit out of your freezer if you’ve stored some of your summer bounty there, or get yourself down to the frozen food section your local grocery and buy some unsweetened frozen berries.

I needed to find a recipe that didn’t use pectin, not because I have anything against it, but because I didn’t have any in the pantry and I was too lazy to go get some. I had strawberries, sugar and lemons. That was it and that was going to have to do. I also wanted to use less sugar than is normally called for.

Since strawberries are low in acid and in pectin you can’t just use the fruit and sugar and call it a day. This why many recipes tell you that you have to use pectin to get the mixture to jell. This is simply not true. So far this season I haven’t used any pectin, only lemon juice which contains a fair amount of pectin and I haven’t had any problems getting my preserves to set. (Another thing you should know is that your preserves will thicken up a bit in the jar.)

Not using pectin does mean that the mixture will need to cook for longer to set, which unfortunately results in cooking out some of the flavor. But I found a great blog post by Stephanie Rosenbaum of Bay Area Bites to help me solve that problem. She suggests cooking the fruit, sugar, lemon juice mixture for a bit then removing the fruit and cooking down only the liquid. It worked like a charm!

Even so, I didn’t follow her recipe exactly. Her’s calls for letting the fruit sit for long periods of time and I wanted to just get it over with. So I compressed some of the steps.

But I do have to add a caveat here. Because I used less sugar (a preservative), I can’t say that this strawberry jam will last as long on your shelf as traditional strawberry jam. As I said this is an experiment, but with the small batch method it doesn’t really matter — this jam will be gone in a flash.

Another important thing to note is that with less sugar in the recipe, I was extra careful to make sure that my jars were sterile, boiling them in water for 10 minutes and keeping them hot until I ladled the jam into them. I’ve used the dishwasher to “sterilize” my jars before, but I don’t think you can be sure that works. Better to be safe than sorry.

Next time I’m going try adding some vanilla bean and using honey as a sweetener. And don’t just use your jam as a spread; add it to yogurt, or use it as a filling in cakes, cookies, or bars. It’s part of the fun of preserving.

Strawberry Jam

4 – 5 pint boxes of strawberries

3 cups of sugar

5 tbs of lemon juice

5 – 6 half-pint jars, lid, and rings – this recipe made a little more than 2 pints.

  1. Wash jars, lids, and rings in hot soapy water. Rinse well. Place clean jars in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Keep them hot while you prepare the jam.
  2. Simmer the lids until ready to use (for Ball lids, otherwise follow package directions). Set clean rings aside.
  3. Put 3 small plates in the freezer. You’ll use these to help you determine if the jam is properly thickened.
  4. Rinse, drain and hull strawberries. Cut them in half.
  5. Place in a non-reactive bowl with 1 cup of the sugar. Mash them up a bit leaving about half of the pieces whole. Let sit for 15 minutes.
  6. Put the strawberries in a low, wide pan (this type of pan help cook off the liquid quicker) with the rest of the sugar and lemon juice.
  7. Boil over medium heat for about 10 – 15 minutes until the liquid is released, skimming off foam.
  8. Either scoop out the fruit pieces or put a colander in a bowl and drain the liquid — be careful, it’s hot! Put the liquid back into the pan.

    Liquid looks like this at first.

  9. Cook at a boil over medium heat until it begins to get thick — about 10 – 15 minutes.
  10. When the jam has started to thicken, put the fruit back in the pan and cook a little while longer until it begins to get thick and glossy looking.
  11. From this point on you will need to PAY ATTENTION! Keep stirring to prevent it from seizing.

    When it bubbles thick and glossy like this it's time to test it.

  12. As jam thickens, test by taking one of the plates out of the freezer and putting a teaspoon of the liquid on the plate. Take the jam off the heat to prevent it from overcooking and put the plate back in the freezer for 3 minutes.
  13. Take the plate out and draw your finger through the middle of the jam puddle. If the liquid runs together, cook for a few more minutes and test again. If the sides don’t flow back together, you’re almost done.
  14. Reheat to boiling and ladle into the hot jars. Draw a knife through the jar to release any big air bubbles. Wipe rims and threads to remove any traces of jam, place lids and rings on and tighten with fingertips. Don’t over tighten or any air trapped in the jars won’t be able to escape in the processing.
  15. Boil in a hot water bath for 10 minutes (more if you’re at a higher elevation — 5 minutes for every 1,000 ft above sea level).
  16. Remove from water, place on a towel or rack and leave undisturbed for 24 hours.
  17. Remove rings, check seal and store. If your seal didn’t take, you can store the jar in the fridge for 2 – 3 weeks.

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Colorado





California


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Colorado

California


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The gardening season is winding down for many of us and even if you live in warmer climes like I do (Southern California), you’re probably looking around your garden and thinking about what worked well this past season and what didn’t work. And that’s exactly what Mary Beth and I talked about this morning. So of course we’re going to share — even if it means a couple of slightly embarrassing confessions.

Mary Beth:

My waterfall pond was one of my big successes this summer. I’d been wanting to expand my little pond for long time and I finally got around to it. This little oasis has been a constant source of wonder and entertainment for me. The pond is visited by all sorts of wildlife and I never get tired of watching them. Even the raccoons’ habit of rearranging plants and rocks every once in a while is funny — as long as they don’t get out of control. That’s when I start fantasizing about traps and dart guns.

Another project that worked for me was planting peppers and tomatoes in pots. This actually worked better than I thought it would. I planted 2 Black Krim tomatoes and 2 Hatch Chili peppers in containers to keep wildlife, especially the raccoons, from stealing my precious veggies. The plan was to cage the pots, or if that failed I was going to bring the pots into the house at night. Turns out neither was necessary. I was especially pleased with the Krims. They were big and juicy — best BLT’s ever!

As for failures, for some reason anything that I planted in the squash family didn’t do well. I got practically no harvest from these plants. Even the zucchini were a bust (embarrassing as it is to admit it). I haven’t quite figured it out. Maybe they weren’t in a sunny enough spot, or it could have been any one of a hundred other things. Gardening can be unpredictable like that. Hopefully next year will be better.

Barbara:

I’m going to start out with things that didn’t work for me: I’ve complained about them before and I’m still doing it. My California Natives are still not doing well. There are a host of possible reasons to explain why they aren’t thriving. The simplest is that I’m not patient enough, but I really think it has more to do with where they are planted. All of them are under eucalyptus trees where they are probably not getting quite enough sun and where they have heavy competition from the tree roots for nutrients and water. On the other hand, it might be because they are getting too much water.

The natives are planted in beds that surround what is left of my lawn, which is also suffering under the eucalyptus. I’m still watering it though and that might be too much water for the natives. Time will tell if this is the problem because my next big project is to rip out the lawn and install pathways and native grasses, or maybe a little meadow. Either will use much less water. I’ve been threatening to do this for a long time, but with the lawn in such bad shape and the fabulous new John Greenlee book, The American Meadow Garden (thank you, MB!) on my reading table I’m on my way.

Planting tomatoes in pots worked out just so-so for me. Our summer was cloudy, overcast and very cool making for a lousy tomato harvest for everyone this year. I’ll give it a try again next year.

And now I’m going to completely embarrass myself by telling you the secret of my biggest success. As you know I am a fairly haphazard gardener and I’ve never been good about tending to my plants. Becoming a Master Gardener this year changed my bad habits and put me on the path to garden success!

What was it that so improved my plants’ health and bloom production? Regular watering and feeding with fish emulsion. There’s my confession and it’s pathetic! But my teachers made a convert out of me after I learned in-depth about plant growth and development. I could practically hear the poor things begging me for food and water. So this year I was very diligent. And surprise, surprise, it really paid off and the results were a pleasure to behold all season long.

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