Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I lied.

Ok, so I must 'fess up. Many weeks ago, I vowed that the canning season was over, and that I had already so much jam over the summer that I was calling an official halt to the madness. But...clearly I need a twelve-step program, because I couldn't help my damn self! I already told you about the best-ever apple butter that I've put up since then, but I forgot to mention the beautiful plum-orange jam that I made at the very end of the season. I found some amazing Long John and Empress plums at our new green market that was held on Thursdays through the end of October. The jam recipe was from the tried-and-true Ball Blue Book, and man, is it yummy! I didn't make that much of it--just a few jars--but I have in mind using it as a lovely cake filling at some point in the future. So I just wanted to share the recipe, and give it two thumbs up, even if you don't get around to making it until next year (at least there'll be a record of it here so that I'll remember to make more, too!).

Plum-Orange Jam
Ball Blue Book)

5 cups chopped and pitted plums (about 3 1/2 lbs.)
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 package powdered pectin (such as Sure-Jell)
5 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier)--I substituted fresh orange juice instead, as I was out of liqueur

Combine plums, orange peel and pectin (and orange juice, if using) in a large sauce pot. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam (even the foam will ‘gel’ a bit and tastes good on toast!). Stir in orange liqueur (if using). Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

Yield: about 6 half-pints

Making this extra half dozen jars of jam didn't really push me over into the crazy category, but this next tale will surely confirm my poor mental health prognosis. And I blame the Bakerina. Long ago, I read about paradise jelly--a heavenly mixture of apples, quinces and cranberries--on her blog, and vowed to make some of my very own. The problem was finding the darn quinces! I have been looking for them, literally for years now, in two countries no less, to no avail. And then suddenly, this year, they turned up in my local grocery stores. Quinces are cousins to apples and pears and are harvested around the same time in the fall. But if you find them, they'll probably be among the "exotic" fruits. That's kinda funny, because quinces are an ancient fruit. In fact, legend has it that it was the forbidden quince that Eve sampled in the Garden of Eden, not the apple, which was cultivated much later. It's also odd to think of the quince as rare because they are quite common on the European breakfast table as preserves, and in Spain and Latin American countries as a jellied paste or membrillo that is most often eaten with a sharp manchego cheese. Moreover, because quinces are frost-hardy, they could easily be grown in my region, that is, northern New York and Quebec. They just aren't. And I'm guessing that it's because they are not a great fruit for fresh-eating (too hard and sour), and have to be cooked to be enjoyed. As so few folks take the time to make homemade preserves or pies/tarts anymore, that there isn't much of a market for them. Most of the quinces found in our markets come from Argentina (so sayeth the Wikipedia anyway), and believe you me, you'll pay the airfare! In our stores in town, they wanted two dollars APIECE for them! Fortunately, quinces are so strongly perfumed that you don't need many of them to flavor a whole dish. This is why they are often used in concert with apples and/or pears, usually in a ratio of 2 to 1, apples to quinces.

And this brings us back to paradise jelly and the Bakerina's wonderful but ridiculously over-sized recipe for it. Makes "at least 8 jars," indeed! I should have been suspicious when the instructions called for TEN POUNDS of apples and FIVE POUNDS of quince. And I had to have three separate jelly bags strung up around the house to strain that amount of juice! Better judgment should have prevailed, but it did not, and I ended up with 28 jars or some crazy thing. But oh, is it heavenly! It tastes largely of apple, but sort of honeyed and floral from the quince, and then with a finishing tang of cranberry. It's a lovely thing to look at, too, shimmery red and jewel-like. If you can find quinces in your market, I highly recommend that you make some of your own. (Although any of my personal friends reading this, don't bother--you'll be getting some for Christmas. Try to act surprised. Tee hee.)

Paradise Jelly

(Source: Prepare to Meet Your Bakerina)
Yield: 24-28 half-pint jars--I recommend making a half or even a third of this recipe

10 pounds tart apples
5 pounds quinces
2 one-pound bags fresh cranberries
sugar (see instructions)
juice of 2 lemons*

Wash the apples and quinces, but do not peel. Cut the blossoms from the quinces and quarter. Put in a large stock pot, add water just to cover, bring the fruit and water to a boil and cook until fruit is collapsing (this will take the better part of your day, as quinces are hard little suckers). Pour the mix into a jelly bag and let drain.

Cut the blossoms and stems from the apples and cut into four to eight pieces. Put them into another large pot along with the cranberries, add water just to cover, boil as with the quinces and pour into a separate jelly bag (I needed two more for this!). Let the bags drain overnight, or for at least four hours. Do not squeeze the jelly bags, no matter how much they look like they need squeezing, for squeezing will turn the juice cloudy. After the bags have rendered as much juice as they will, if it is past your bedtime, pour the collected juices into a huge vat and refrigerate until the next day. (Paradise jelly in this quantity is a full weekend project!)

The next day, measure the juice. For every cup of juice, measure 3/4 cup of sugar, if you like a tarter, cranberry-accented jelly or one cup if you like a sweeter, more quince-flavored jelly. Bring the juice to a boil, add the sugar and lemon juice*, stir, skim the foam (just for aesthetics, but very important to get a crystal-clear jelly and not a lot of micro-bubbles), and begin testing for a set after ten minutes. (Most cookbooks recommend that you cook no more than four cups of juice at a time, because it is trickier to determine a set if you cook much more than that, but I did six cups at a time to no ill effect.)

Meanwhile, sterilize your jars. When you see your jelly has turned into jelly (either by the sheeting test, the plate test or the thermometer test), decant it into the sterilized jars, apply the lids and screw bands, and return them to the canner. Process jars for ten minutes.

*The Bakerina didn't say how to divvy up the juice of two lemons, so I mistakenly added it to the big vat of combined juices before cooking the individual batches of jelly. Then I was afraid that there wouldn't be enough acid for it to set properly (though apple and quinces both have tons of natural pectin and that really shouldn't be a concern), so I added an additional teaspoon or so of juice to each batch before boiling. I'm not sure what I was supposed to have done, but my jelly all set perfectly nonetheless.


Randi said...

Wow, you are a crazy gal!! I've never made jelly before but I think I'll try this if I can find quinces. I've never seen them though. Our store does get a lot of exotic fruits that just get marked down because anyone here is afraid to try them. Btw, do you have christine ferber's jam book? Its on my wish list at amazon but I wanted to know if it was worth it.

JoyBugaloo said...

I have wanted the Ferber bible for a long time, but I haven't been willing to cough up the money for it as of yet. Although I have given it as a gift twice! ;-) People swear by it, as she has interesting methods and unusual but delicious flavor combinations. Plus, you can't buy her preserves here, and no one could afford them if we did!