Sunday, August 03, 2008

Sunday Jam

Blueberry and Blackberry pie tests.

It's an absolute beautiful Sunday in the Valley. The sun is out. The winds are blowing gently. Low humidity and life is just wonderful. It's also the day that I've got to get some things punched out for the week ahead.

First off is more pie tests using ring molds that I temporarily liberated from Woodberry Kitchen. Four inch INOX rings just might be the ticket. Time to call J.B. Prince. Ran up a couple blackberry pies and four blueberry pies. The key is to get the dough just the right thickness to hold the filling and juices. These tests demonstrate that I haven't quite gotten that thickness consistent. Also, I'm finding that forming the top to the bottom crust is just time-consuming and nearly infuriating. It has to be just right - or else. Damn these mini-pies. But they look so good when done.

I'm a big fan of using whole fruit and letting them break down in the cooking process. It reminds you of what exactly you're eating instead of that pectin solidified mush that are in typical fruit pies.

Straining the Blackberries.

Today's major task is canning instruction by Maria. She's brought over her whole canning kit with jars, parts and the works. I've never done any sort of canning and since I've been exploring jam making, I thought learning how to can would come in handy. Maria is an award-winning canner who placed third in last years' Maryland State Fair so the standards and expectations are high.

What I didn't know is that canning competitions have some very strict rules. How much space between the top of your jam and the lid. Get it wrong = disqualified. Line up the fruit the wrong way = disqualified. Wrong jar= disqualified. Tinted jar = disqualified. Label = disqualified. Commercially canned = disqualified. Man, I had no idea that jam competitions were this tough.

I've been making jams now for a few weeks. First with cherries, then with blueberries. On both occasions, I just added a little bit of sugar and reduced it over heat until it reached the desired consistency. Making jam that way is a labor of love. It's literally hours in front of the stove stirring, waiting and stirring some more.

Maria, The Mexi-Canner.

Maria's way is using a Kraft Food product called Sure Gel. Just add the contents of the packet, heat and away you go. Pectin-enchanced jam is done in no time. It's revolutionary. It's miraculous. It's also a bit industrial. After spending hours and hours waiting, I'm amazed that my blackberry jam is done so quickly. And so simply too.

Just take the blackberries. Crush them up one cup at a time. Strain out a portion of the seeds and leave the pulp. Add Sure Gel. Heat to boiling. Add lots and lots of sugar. Heat to boiling again. Boil for one minute. Divide into clean canning jars. Cap with lids. Boil the entire jar in water for five minutes. Done. Amazing.

Blackberry Bounty, the one with the blue tape is the competition jar.

I taste some of my leftover blackberry jam and it's absolutely fabulous. The flavor is sweet and pops with just the right amount of zing. It beautiful. Suddenly, visions of the First Place Blue Ribbon at the 2008 Maryland State Fair dance in my mind. Yes, I could be a champion canner. I could stand there amongst the other lonely housewives in the Cow Palace, next to the blue ribbon calf that 12 year old 4-H member has been nurturing for the past year. I could be one of them. I could be a State Fair Champion...

Oh, the seduction of glorious visions. Maybe I too could be on the cover of American Canner Magazine.

But for now, there's a bit more work to be done.

Roasting Peppers under the Broiler.

The weather is so nice that I'm just feeling generally lazy. I don't want to continue my prep work, but I should. I want to lounge around on the gazebo smoking vintage cigars and drinking Mexican Coke, but I can't. But the weather is too beautiful to ignore and I succumb to the temptation of the cigar.

Several hours later, I'm back in the kitchen ready to bang it out once again but it's dark and too late to fire up the charcoal grill. Oh well, sometimes luxury and enjoyment must take priority over charcoal grilled food.

Working with an electric broiler is a different experience than the charcoal grill that I'm used to. First of all, it takes longer and doesn't have that chargrilled flavor. Could be better. Could have gotten off my ass earlier. Next time.

The roasted peppers.

But the roasted peppers don't look too bad, do they? It takes awhile but you can still get the same blackness on the skins. The only problem is that it took longer, which means the peppers dry out more and are harder to peel and you lose some of the flesh. The blazing heat of charcoal is much better.

Also, it's better to peel them as soon as possible. Preferably when still hot or warm. I waited until after dinner when the had cooled and it was a bit of a pain to peel them. I'm also happy to report that while peeling and cleaning the jalapenos, I remembered to not wipe my face. Those many times of burning skin and blindness have finally paid off.

The rest of the evening was spent roasting tomatillos, roasting eggplant and vac sealing frozen blueberries, while "quality control testing" the blueberry and blackberry pies I had baked earlier...

Roasted Tomatillos.

"I.Q.F." Blueberries

Eggplant from Martin's Farm.