Sunday, June 20, 2010

Can Jam: Berry jams without the boxed pectin

For this month, the Can Jam featured ingredient was _erries....any kind of berries.   For my house, I make tons of strawberry jam...we eat it by the case here.  This is my second year that I've demonstrated making strawberry jam at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market - here is my friend Ellen and me making jam there a couple of Saturdays ago.  I'm the one with the Yes, I Can apron.    It was roasting hot and very humid that day, and I was grateful to be canning outdoors.   Canning indoors on a hot day really is miserable - even if you have air conditioning - because it really heats up the kitchen.  But it's great to do outside.  Behind us stands a double burner propane outdoor stove -- a regular Coleman style camp stove doesn't kick out enough BTUs, but this type of stove does.   I recommend it to anyone into preserving or home brewing so you can take your work outdoors! 

Here's the technique for making jam without the boxed pectin:

For the pectin:
5 tart apples,blossom and stem ends removed, chopped up, core and seeds and all
1 lemon (or 2 limes) choped up, peel and seeds included.

Cook this down until soft, and put through a food mill. I use my Kitchen Aid Fruit and Vegetable Strainer attachment, which is a handy thing to have if you are into canning and already have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer.  It's way easier to use, and costs about the same as a hand cranked food mill.   Alternatively, you could press it through a sieve with a wooden spoon.   This will make about 2 cups of puree.

For the fruit:
8 cups strawberries, halved and hulled and 5 1/2 cups sugar
4 cups blueberries and 3 cups sugar.  Use limes in the pectin with blueberries for added flavor
4 cups raspberries and 5 cups sugar 

Add the pectin puree to the fruit and sugar and boil until it hits the gel temp at your elevation.  For "flatlanders" like me, that's 220 F.  Put the jam in sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  You will not be able to taste the apples or lemons (the limes give a nice lime essence to your jam)

I am not a fan of boxed pectin for a few reasons:

  1. It's cheaper to make it from scratch.  Pectin can be expensive, especially the low sugar varieties.   A product search shows that the popular no sugar required Pomona's Pectin cost almost $5 per box, and regular style boxed pectin (Ball, Sure Jell, etc) runs about $3 per box. 

  2. Using apples in with the berries increases the yield of jam made.   Apples are generally much cheaper than berries, so adding 2 cups of the puree to the fruit decreases the cost per jar.   

  3. The process for making pectin is anything but "natural", despite what some brands advertise. A pectin factory receives apple residue or citrus peels from juice factories. It's mixed with acid to get all the pectin out of the sludge. The solids are separated and then alcohol is added to precipitate the pectin out of solution. Ammonia is added to some kinds to make it work without added sugar normally needed (those expensive brands of pectin that allow you to make jams and jellies without adding sugar), and then it's mixed with dextrose or sugar to stabilize it. 

  4. For the no/low sugar kinds of boxed pectin like Pomona's, it's even more of a science project.  It's made in the same way as regular pectin, but then some amide groups are then introduced into the pectin molecule during the process of de-esterification (a process by which the pectin is changed from high-methoxyl to low-methoxyl). High-methoxyl pectin requires a sugar concentration above 55% to gel whereas low-methoxyl pectin gels in the presence of calcium ions. So, users of this style of pectin have to make a calcium solution and add it to the fruit. So instead of sugar, you're adding calcium ions, so preservers can use other sweeteners like Splenda.   I don't care if they sell Pomona's pectin at Whole Foods, I don't think I want to eat anything that requires "de-estrification" or adding calcium ions. 

  5. I don't use Splenda.  Natural apple/lemon pectin jams require less sugar than boxed pectin recipes.   If you are looking for a less sweet jam, skip the Pomona's/Splenda and just use good old fashioned apples and lemon. 
In the fall, I plan on foraging for crab apples and putting up some pectin for next years jam making.  It will be a great off season canning project.  Happy Can Jam! 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Canned Goods

Every time I go to my dentist, she always has wonderful music playing.  One time she had some Greg Brown going on, and I asked her who he was.  She couldn't believe I hadn't heard of him...and she's right, I had heard of him, of course.   He wrote this song, as covered by some folks called "Delores and the Pickin' Fretter"

The song's got the best chorus ever....
Peaches on the shelf, potatoes in the bin
Supper's ready, everybody come on in
Taste a little of the summer,
Taste a little of the summer,
You can taste a little of the summer
my grandma's put it all in jars.

Well, there's a root cellar, fruit cellar down below
Watch you head now, and down you go

Maybe you're weary an' you don't give a damn
I bet you never tasted her blackberry jam.

Ah, she's got magic in her - you know what I mean
She puts the sun and rain in with her green beans.

What with the snow and the economy and ev'ry'thing,
I think I'll just stay down here and eat until spring.

When I go to see my grandma I gain a lot of weight
With her dear hands she gives me plate after plate.
She cans the pickles, sweet & dill
She cans the songs of the whippoorwill
And the morning dew and the evening moon
'N' I really got to go see her pretty soon
'Cause these canned goods I buy at the store
Ain't got the summer in them anymore.

You bet, grandma, as sure as you're born
I'll take some more potatoes and a thunderstorm.

Let those December winds bellow and blow,
I'm as warm as a July tomato.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Michigan Beef Sirloin Salad with Dried Cherries

In 1995, I won the Michigan Beef Cookoff with this recipe I developed.....I went on to compete in the National Beef Cookoff, but I didn't win that.   Contesting is really fun; it takes a lot of time, though, and time is in short demand for me right now.  This recipe is great for summer and features a key Michigan product, dried sour cherries. 

Beef Sirloin Salad with Dried Cherries

Marinade time: 30 minutes
Total recipe time: 30 minutes
Makes 4 servings

1 boneless beef top sirloin steak, cut 1 inch thick (approx. 1-1/4 pounds)
4 small or 2 medium heads Boston lettuce, torn (approx. 8 cups)
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted


1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper

In medium bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Remove and reserve 1/2 cup; cover and refrigerate.

Trim fat from beef steak. Cut steak lengthwise in half and then crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick strips. Add beef to remaining dressing; toss to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes

Remove beef from marinade; discard marinade. Heat large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add beef (1/2 at a time) and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until outside surface is no longer pink. (Do not overcook.) Remove from skillet with slotted spoon.

In large bowl, combine lettuce and reserved dressing; toss to coat. Arrange beef over lettuce; sprinkle with cheese, cherries and nuts. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Making jam without boxed pectin questions answered

Ellen and I had a great time yesterday making jam at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market.   We had a whole bunch of berries from Gibbs Berry Farm which I just discovered is in a town called Onondaga, Michigan, south of Lansing.  This year, we had so much rain I guessed it would take a long time to get this strawberry jam to set up, and I was right.   Normally, boiling the jam that I make with pectin rendered from apples and lemons takes about 20 minutes to get to the right jell temperature, but yesterday, it took much least 30 minutes.  Looking at my jam today, it is still a little softer than what I would like - when I rotate the jars it comes away from the sides and has the viscosity of soft set jello.   It can take a week to get to it's final jell  state, so I am not concerned about will be fine in a few days.

I wanted to answer some of the questions I have been getting about making jam this way:

How does the boiling point of water change with elevation?

The reason why the boiling point of water changes at elevation is because the atmospheric pressure decreases at higher altitude.  When the pressure is lowever, water has an easier time changing to it's gaseous state (also known as steam).   This is why baking and canning recipes always require modification due to your elevation.  Roughly, the boiling point of water at sea level is 212 F, and so the jell temp is 8 F higher or 220 F. At 1000 ft elevation, it's 210 F so you'd shoot for 218 F, and at 2000 ft it's 208 F so your goal is 216 F.   Here's a chart that shows how the boiling point of water changes with elevation.    In the SE Michiga, our elevation is low and so we don't need to make any changes.   The highest point in Michigan is Mt. Arvon, which is near L'anse, MI in the Upper Peninsula.  It tops out at almost 2000 ft, but it's in the middle of a forest so I doubt anyone is making jam there.    Check out this cool map that shows the topography of Michigan and other states. 

Do different apple cultivars have different amounts of pectin?

Yes.  I would love to have a chart that shows Michigan apples with their pectin content, but I can't find one on the internet.  I will send an email to MSU to find out.   I do know that sour apples and crab apples have more pectin than sweet ones.   Also, unripe apples have more than ripe.   In the famous French jam and jelly cookbook Mes Confitures,  Christine Ferber makes apple jelly that she cans and uses the following year for pectin.   Note - if you are a beginning jam and jelly maker, I caution you not to use this book to learn how to make jam or jelly.  It is not a how-to book, rather I use it more as an inspiration.   This is the book I refer to get ideas for some exotic flavor combinations, such as this Orange Pinot Noir Jelly.

What are some good books for jam and jelly making?

As always, I recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  It's got some wonderful recipes for neophyte and experienced canners.   Next, I'd give a shout out to my latest addition to my collection, Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves.   I love this book as much as I love Linda's Joy of Pickling.    Check out my canning friend Tigress' interview of Linda Ziedrich for some great tips.  I can still remember reading Linda's fact based "Nursing Mothers Guide to Weaning" back in my La Leche League days....I wonder if all La Leche League Leaders eventually take up canning and pickling and jamming?

Can I put up pectin when apples and lemons are in season?

Sure! Using the recipe I've been using, the ratio is 5:1 apples and lemons. You'd process it just like applesauce. I think that instead, this fall I will use crab apples from my neighbor's tree to make my own pectin There's a great method outlined for doing so in Linda Ziedrich's book.  Come back this fall to my blog and I am sure I will post about it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Strawberry Jam canning demo at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market

Today, I will be demonstrating how to put up strawberry jam without boxed pectin with my friend Ellen Bunting from Growing Hope.   I like to use the pectin found naturally in lemons and apples to make sure my jam sets up.    The recipe I'll be using can be found here.   It has been so rainy that I'm sure the pectin content in this year's berries will be low, so to make sure I have a good set, I am going to rely on temperature to make sure my jam has boiled long enough.   Jams and jellies should be boiled until they are at the jell point (8 degrees above the boiling point of water).  At sea level, that's 220F.    Hope to see you there!

Saturday, June 05, 2010


My mother died on May 25 at 1:30 pm.   What to write about my mother?   I could write a ton of things.  She was a fantastic gardener, and she would be glad to know that her garden looked wonderful on the Tuesday she died.  She has a purple clematis climbing a trellis at the back door that one of the hospice nurses remarked on how beautiful it was.   The azaleas were in bloom.  We had opened the front curtains to show her how the front yard looked, and I am hopeful she was able to notice.  That morning,  I went out and picked some of her magenta rhododendrons and put them in a vase next to her hospital bed.  Her next door neighbor remarked that she could remember my mother doing the same thing this time last year.  I can remember picking some of those same flowers and wrapping them in a wet paper towel and aluminum foil to give to my teachers every spring at Rinke Elementary School.    The bright pink roses were in bloom from the bush that was at the house when we first moved there in 1969.   It was planted by the original owners, a family known to us as kids as "The Balooneys", although I don't actually know how their name was spelled.   How on earth did my mom keep the Balooneys' rose bush living for 40+ years?   I can't count how many rose bushes that haven't survived at my house.   When my mom was still able to talk, she kept telling me to take cuttings of her roses and dip them in butyric acid and plant them at my house for my daughter, who drew her Grandma lots of rose pictures.   I've tried it 4 times now and it hasn't worked, but I'll keep trying until I succeed.   Maybe I need to try a root cutting hormone?

My mother was the kind of gardener that would see things she liked somewhere and try to find it on sale somewhere or get a cutting or some seeds and make it happen in the perfect spot in her yard.   She wouldn't hesitate to knock on a stranger's door and ask them about a flower.   I can remember when I first moved to Ann Arbor, she wanted me to make sure I planted what she called "Coronation Flower" - it was a magenta colored dianthus with light green fuzzy leaves that self seeded.   I had quite a bit of it for a while, but no longer.  I am sure if I looked at her garden when I am there tomorrow, I will find some to bring home again.  She wasn't big on Latin names of plants; when I called her plants by their scientific names, she'd gently correct me with their common names.   But what did I know?  I used the proper names and my plants didn't survive.  She called hers what she called hers and they lived. 

Despite her lack of appreciation for science when it came to gardening, it was her lifelong wish to donate her body to science which I think is a wonderful thing to do.  How it works when the time comes, all you do is make a phone call and some really kind people come and pick up the body.  Since my mother died in Warren, that meant she went to the Wayne State Medical School.  In other areas of the state, bodies are taken to U of M or MSU.   Following the study of the body, the cremains can be returned to the family if desired.  So, at my mom's funeral service, she won't be there physically, just in pictures.   Also, she'll be there in flowers.  She wasn't big on cut flowers from the florist, so my sister and brother and I have all bought the same rose bush to plant in her honor - it's called Carefree Wonder and I am hoping that it's true to it's name and it survives at my house.