Cooking, Food

Jammin’ the Blues

And the red, purples… but I picked out the greens.

Mulberries, slightly underripe: they ripened when allowed to sit for 24 hours at room temperature.

I made jam last week. It was requested that I bring along a couple jars of my homemade bottled sunshine for the Barfly Breakfast, so it could be spread on toast and enjoyed. I’ve done this before, and it would be no problem, except… I don’t live on the Farm anymore. I rarely have moments of homsickness, this was one of them. No wild strawberries, no rhubarb, no raspberries… sigh.

Black plums
Black plums, quartered and pitted. I had to add more sugar than the recipe called for, they were quite under-ripe.

Ohio is a richly fertile land, surely I can find berries on short notice. I mean, I will have to buy, not pick, but! So we departed on an all-day odyssey. First we went back to the berry farm where we had gotten wonderful blackberries last year, nothing. The cold winter killed off flower buds and set his harvests off this year, on many fruits. I did, however, get to eat a ripe fresh gooseberry for the first time in my life. Mmm! texture like a good grape, but subtle flavor. I will grow these, I vow, when we settle in our own place later.

Trouble was, the day I was looking, we were between strawberry season, and cherries weren’t on yet. We went looking at mulberries when we visited with the First Reader’s family, and harvested a few by shaking the tree over an old sheet. I brought those home. At this point I decided it was time to get creative. At one local store, I found roma tomatoes for cheap, at another, little black plums. And finally, I found blueberries for a very decent price and brought home four pints. I was ready.

canning pots
Sterilizing jars and lids, the scale you see in the big pot is calcium carbonate from my water here in Ohio.

Only not quite. One thing I left behind at the Farm was my pantry full of canning equipment. So I have no jar-lifter tongs, no canning kettle, no food mill or seed-seperator, no jelly apparatus… But I can do this. I thought it through, looked for recipes that would work, conscripted my stock pot into being a canning kettle for the day (I was only working with half-pint jars, so this was possible) and began.

I started with prepping the plums for the Black Plum Preserves. Then I put on the tomatoes to slowly start cooking down, seeds and skin intact, because frankly, I have never peeled a tomato except by scalding and slipping the peel off, and even pressing the lot through the seive was going to be less work than that (yes, I AM a lazy cook). The tomatoes would become Doce De Tomate in honor of my friend Sarah A Hoyt, who loved it as a child in Portugal. These were both going to be no-pectin jams, something I have rarely done in the past, but I knew they would need a long-slow cooking.

Blueberry jam
Blueberry jam cooking down

With those projects literally on back burners, I went ahead with the blueberries. And discovered another equipment lack. I don’t own a potato masher. Not even my old wood pestle I used to use for this sort of thing (I have a sad… most of that stuff was likely thrown away, and that was a beautiful antique). So… Hands! I squished and squeezed until enough berries were broken to begin the cook process. I don’t add water when I’m jamming, and they might burn if there is no liquid. I was using a simple Blueberry Jam recipe from Sure-Jell.

Once that was bottled and in the hot water bath, I began on the mulberry jam. I had picked a few more from local trees to me, including a bit of surreptitous urban foraging involving an old sheet and the back of the grocery store behind our house… fortunately no one was on the loading dock to ask what on earth I was doing. But all this effort had yielded me a pound of berrie, not enough to make a reasonable batch of jam. I added a pound of blackberries I had stashed in the freezer to make Mulberry/Blackberry Jam.

tomato jam
Tomates with lemon zest and allspice (we’re not cinnamon fans here).

Long story short… at the end of the day I had four kinds of jam, twenty jars full of sweet goodness. The black plums were under-ripe, and I’d had to add about a half-cup more sugar, and they were still tart enough to make the First Reader happy. Neither of my pectin jams set up, I’m fairly sure I had a bad jar of pectin. I was all ready to re-make them (reboil, add pectin, put back into cleaned jars, and re-can) when we discovered that they are divine on pancakes. So they will remain syrup. The First Reader did not care for the flavor of the Doce de Tomate, but that recipe only yielded 3 half-pint jars of jam, so it’s not a problem.

I did go out and buy two things I did have, and decided were essential for a kitchen, not just for canning, which I am unlikely to do often, but other things as well. I bought a cheap little scale, which is neither precise nor accurate, but it will do for making jams. I also went out and bought a proper jar lifter tong. While working with the little jars, using a straght tongs and hotpads, I was living in fear of dropping a jar and converting it to scalding sticky jam napalm and glass shrapnel. The jar-lifters are much safer.

I may make a bit more. The tart cherries are coming on, and I adore cherries…

Jars of bottled sunshine!
Jars of bottled sunshine!
pancakes with fruit syrup
Pancakes with bacon, and mulberry-Blackberry Syrup…. YUM!