11 October 2013

Jam Session

Last month's jam-making went very well.  The first day, I put up 12 half-pint jars altogether: nine strawberry, three peach.   Over the course of three days' work, we ended up with 36 jars, about half peach, half strawberry; four of them a combination of the two.

I combined a couple recipes (one here and one here) and adapted them, so I guess I can post my version here.  I followed a small-patch process and found it to be manageable for a first-time jam-maker.  Sometime in the last year, I watched a video that compared assembly-line-style task management with performing a repeating task over and over from start to finish and the results were pretty interesting.  I still have some questions about the video itself (and thus, I'm not posting it), but found that doing everything in smaller batches was much easier on my hands as I wasn't repeating each motion without a break to do other things.  Also, while I clung to the recipe pretty fearfully the first time through, the second, third, and fourth time through I had it down and was able to move more smoothly and with more confidence.  If I'd done large batches, I may have done each kind of jam once, but I wouldn't have learned the process as well, which stood me in good stead over the next few days.

Step One Ingredients:
  • 4 cups cut up fruit (I used peaches or strawberries, but this would probably work with other fruit or a blend of two or three, too)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup xylitol, depending on how sweet (ripe) your fruit is
  • vanilla extract or 2 split vanilla beans (I didn't measure the extract, but it was between one and two teaspoons.  If you use beans, scrape the beans from the pod and mix them well into the fruit, then drop the pods in too.  I used extract with the peaches and beans with the vanilla.)

Step One Instructions:
  1. Mix everything up in a bowl, then transfer to a quart jar.  
  2. Let it sit in the fridge at least overnight.  I cut my fruit up on Saturday and didn't start making the jam until Wednesday.  As long as it stays cold and the fruit doesn't go bad, you're golden.

Step Two Ingredients:
  • the quart jar of cut up fruit (which will have shrunk a little and have a lot of yummy juice at the bottom)
  • 3/4 - 1 cup xylitol (again, depending on how sweet your like your jam and how sweet your fruit is)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • a couple pinches of salt (brings out the sweetness better than adding more sweetener)
  • Pomona Universal Pectin (mix the calcium packet with 1/2 cup water and open the pectin packet, which you'll be measuring out with a teaspoon): 2 teaspoons of calcium water and 2 teaspoons of pectin powder

Step Two Instructions:
  1. Pour your fruit into a skillet (cooks faster than a deep pot).
  2. If you used vanilla beans, they're probably very soft right now.  Softly scrape them again and mix the rest of the beans into the fruit.  Discard the pods.
  3. Add xylitol, lemon juice, a couple pinches of salt, and calcium water.  Mix it up!
  4. Gradually add two teaspoons of pectin powder, whisking it in so it doesn't clump (If there's an easier way to do this step, I'd love a comment to enlighten me!).
  5. Heat the mixture to 220˚.  Some instructions will tell you to cook until it's thick enough not to run when you dip a spoon into it and run another spoon across the back of it, but some of my batches aren't jelling the way I'd hoped they would, so I'm going to stick to the thermometer from now on; the somewhat confusing part for me was that those last few degrees take a long time.
  6. Pour into three clean and dry 1/2 pint jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of head room.
  7. Wet bath process the jars for 5 minutes.  Since I'm so new at canning, I'm not going to include instructions, but there are lots of books and websites that break down the process and instruct in safe measures.  I've had only two jars that didn't seal.  I'll re-process them again tomorrow, and if they don't seal after being re-processed, we'll eat them right away.

Variations: I added some lime juice to the strawberry jam to try to develop a more complex flavor, and I think it worked.  I also added apple pie spices to the peach jam and substituted coconut crystals for some of the xylitol.  A few batches of strawberry jam also received a few shots of moscato d'asti.

We've been enjoying the jam with crème bulgare and a grainfree bread recipe that we're still working on (coming when we perfect it).  It's also good on grainfree crackers.


13 September 2013

11 September 2013

Jam and Jelly Progress

I spent a lot of Saturday chopping strawberries and slicing peaches (but not so much that I didn't have time to spend with a friend and attend another friend's birthday party).  The fruit has been sitting in jars in the fridge for the last couple days, macerating in xylitol and vanilla (split beans with the strawberries, homemade extract with the peaches).

I also saved my peach peelings; I boiled them for about a half hour yesterday and then let them steep all night to prepare to make peach jelly.  This morning, I strained out the juice and then squeezed all the peelings in a cloth to get every bit of juice.  I have over a gallon (I think - it's in a big mixing bowl, not in a measuring cup or a pitcher).

After school today, I'll be working on my first few batches of jam.  I'm using small-batch recipes so that I don't feel overwhelmed my first time jam- and jelly-making.  I've never canned before, either, but after seeing some of the pictures on other blogs, I realized that it's not as completely complicated as I thought it would be and that I already have the big equipment.  I did invest in a six-utensil canning set, but that was only about $10.

On my radar:

  1. how to make vanilla bean paste
  2. how to make cola syrup with xylitol to mix with club soda for a low-cost, sugar-free soda
  3. learning about aromatherapy (I'm thinking about studying chemistry with my high schoolers when they start next month as a beginning point)
  4. perfecting my sugar-free (almost), grain-free chocolate chip cookie recipe (improved from Alton Brown's recipe and, really, almost there)
  5. experimenting more with almond flour, coconut flour, and whey powder as a substitute for wheat flour (trying to adjust Paula Deen's peach cobbler recipe for dessert tonight; also want to work on sandwich wraps, crépes, pancakes and waffles, and English muffins to go with all this jam!)