Sunday, August 19, 2012

Meet Me at the Fair

Blue ribbon peach pie,
just out of the oven
I have a former co-worker, from 18 years ago (you know who you are - Kim Forster!), to thank (or blame!) for my odd obsession with county fairs. At the time, I had two very young children at home, but had gotten into cake decorating as a hobby so I could make the girls custom birthday cakes each year. Kim told me about the Durham Fair, which was the largest agricultural fair in the state of Connecticut, where we were living at the time. She was entering some items and thought I should enter into the cake decorating division.

With a three year-old and a four month-old at home, I'm not sure what possessed me to give it a whirl, but I did. I entered one single item - a "flower basket" decorated cake, loaded to overflowing with many varieties of frosting flowers and a handful of butterflies. Boy, was I pleasantly shocked when we returned once the fair had opened to find that my cake had won first place, a lovely blue ribbon and a ceramic pitcher commemorating the fair's 75th year! The feeling of validation and pride was overwhelming and from that day on, I've been hooked.

Once we moved to Colorado, it didn't take me long to scope out the fair in my home county and before I knew it, I was entering my home preserved items, baked goods and sewn treasures. At first, just one or two items, but over the years, my number of entered items has grown. Fifteen years later, I look forward with great anticipation to the opening of the Douglas County Fair and Rodeo here in Castle Rock. I'm now on a first-name basis with the lovely volunteers who check everything in and we take that opportunity to catch up on each other's lives and discuss the new recipes that we've tried out since the year before.

This year's "haul" of ribbons
from the Douglas County Fair and Rodeo
There's such a sense of community at the fairgrounds. Young and old, farmers, ranchers and local business professionals, all gather here to admire each other's entries and appreciate the time and effort that goes into making something beautiful, baking from scratch, raising a prize-winning animal or taking a bushel of fresh fruit and turning it into jars of jam that won't taste like anything you've ever bought in a store.

If you're making wonderful things at home, I urge every one of you to seek out your local county or state fairs and get involved. You'll have a great time and you just might bring home some ribbons of your own. If you don't feel like entering, you should at least stop by and see what your neighbors are up to. It's a bit of a leap back in time and one that will leave you with a smile on your face and probably some delicious treats in your belly.

By the way, two of my blue ribbons this year were for recipes you can find right here on this blog. My own creation of Chocolate Jelly took a blue ribbon and a Ball Canning Award in the soft spreads division. The meyer lemon vanilla bean marmalade also won a blue ribbon and a superintendent's ribbon. You can find both of those recipes in the recipe index by clicking here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mixing it Up - Mixed Berry Pie Filling

Mixed berries and cherries
One of my favorite items to can during the summer is pie filling. There's something so satisfying about capturing the season's freshest ingredients and storing them away - then bringing them out on a fall or winter's evening when everyone least expects it. Imagine the oohs and ahhs when you conjure up an amazing summer berry pie long after the last of the berries has been picked. Mmm! Makes my mouth water just writing about it.

Just when I was gearing up for a berry pie extravaganza, a box of goodies arrived from Mrs. Wages. Those of you who have canned before will be familiar with their variety of products ranging from salsa and tomato sauce mixes to make-it-easy packets for pickles and relishes. In that box was something I'd never seen in stores before, a pie filling mix for something they call Forest Berry Pie. The timing couldn't have been better and since they asked me to try out some of their items, I thought I'd start with that.
The package shows a mix of cherries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Sounds good to me! The process was easy. Wash and drain the fruit. Pit the cherries (of course!) and blanch them for 1 minute. Prepare the jars, lids and canner. So far, so good.
The next step was also quite easy. I added the recommended amount of juice or water (I chose juice) and sugar to the contents of the package and heated in a large stainless steel pot until the sugar was dissolved and the mixture thickened. Remove from the heat, fold in the berries/cherries and you're done. Into the sterilized jars and the water bath, easy as..."pie!" Sorry, I couldn't resist.
The mix makes three quarts of pie filling and once you have those, the options are pretty varied. Besides pie, you could use these lovely jars of berries to make cobbler, spoon over ice cream, angel food or pound cake, or even make a yummy yogurt parfait. My husband enjoyed the little bit extra that wouldn't fit in the jars right out of the fridge as dessert one evening with some whipped cream.

I'd never used a mix to make pie filling before, but I'd have to say it was a fast and easy way to put three more jars of filling on my pantry shelves in pretty short order. All in all, this mix is a welcome addition, especially when you've got a bunch of great-looking berries but not a lot of time. This is a new product, but you should be able to find it in the canning section of your local store now. If not, head over to to find out where to buy it or to order online.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

White Wine Rose Petal Jelly

I don't know exactly why, but on the rare occasions that I experiment with culinary flowers, I always feel so fancy. There's just something about opening up a bag of dried flowers and having that perfume-y aroma waft into the air that makes you feel like you're about to create something special.

Several years ago, I made the white wine lavender jelly variation included in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. By all accounts it was a success. There were those who loved the unusual combination of flavors. For me, it just tasted a little too much like shampoo jelly. Not a recipe I'd make again.

Until a few weeks ago when I got the urge to experiment with culinary rose petals and remembered that recipe. To me, rose is a much more subtle flavor than lavender and I couldn't wait to see how the white wine would play against the more delicate flowers, not to mention how the red of the rose petals would tint the finished jelly.

The result was a light and delicious jelly, not overpowering, with a stunning rose hue. I think this jelly is wonderful on toast, but would also make a very nice glaze for poultry. If you're looking for something really different. Give this a try. It's very easy to make and will certainly impress anyone to whom it's served.

White Wine Rose Petal Jelly
(A unique variation on the Herbes de Provence Wine Jelly recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Canning)

Makes 5 4-ounce jars

2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup dried culinary rose petals (you can purchase these online - be sure to buy culinary petals only)
Boiling the rose petals in
the white wine
2 cups granulated sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

Wash and prepare jars, rings and lids.

Pour wine into large stainless steel saucepan. Add rose petals and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for 20 minutes.

Straining the infused wine
Strain the wine/rose petal mixture using a dampened jelly bag or several layers of damp cheesecloth into a bowl. Allow to drip for 20 minutes.

Measure out 1 3/4 cups infused wine and pour into large non-reactive pot. Stir in sugar. Bring to a full, rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in liquid pectin and return to full, rolling boil. Continue boiling and stirring constantly for two minutes.

Remove from heat, skim foam if necessary and pour into hot jars, filling to 1/4" headspace. Wipe rims, place lids and bands and return to boiling water canner for 10 minutes at sea level, adjusting for altitude. Remove from heat, remove canner cover and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner and place upright on towel on counter. Allow to sit, undisturbed for up to 24 hours. As always, if any jars do not properly seal, re-process or refrigerate and use promptly. 
The finished product. Isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Now I've Done It! A Recipe for Chocolate Jelly

Chocolate Jelly!
Well folks, my obsession with chocolate and my obsession with homemade jams and jellies have finally intersected at what has to be some kind of bizarre culinary crossroads. I've done it! I have created (ta-ta-ta-DAH!) CHOCOLATE JELLY!

Dream come true or crime against jelly nature? I'll leave that up to you. All I will say is that it smells and tastes like chocolate, is perfectly safe to can and my 21-year-old daughter thinks it's "bomb" with peanut butter.

First, rest assured that I'm going to share the recipe with you right here on this blog! But before we get to the nitty-gritty details of how to make the stuff, I really need to share how it came to be in the first place - the story of my chocolate epiphany, if you will.

Let's start with a single, simple truth: I absolutely LOVE chocolate. And the higher the quality, the better. In fact, my children will tell anyone who'll listen that one early lesson I taught them is that "life is too short to eat bad chocolate."

Close-up of brewing cocoa
So when I read recently that there was such a thing as brewing cocoa and that a whole cup of the stuff was only 20 calories, I couldn't wait to try it. Turns out that some very clever people have figured out that if they roast and grind cocoa beans just right, you can brew it up in a french press or drip coffee maker and it makes a really tasty substitute for your morning cup of joe. Just to be clear, it's not like drinking hot chocolate in that the brew is thin and slightly bitter. But add a little sugar or no-calorie sweetener and it's a really delicious way to start your day. Very low in calories, a fraction of the caffeine found in coffee (so no addiction headaches) and supposedly full of great stuff like antioxidants and theobromine - even Dr. Oz and Oprah have recently hopped on the brewed chocolate bandwagon.

After reading about it, I promptly ordered some and to get right to the point, I'm pretty much hooked. It gives me that chocolate hit I love and I can actually feel good about drinking it.

By now you're probably saying, "Okay already, Sydney! What does all of THIS have to do with making jelly?" Here's the deal; because actual chocolate is made with butter and cream, it's not safe to can. Most experienced canners know you can create some amazing sauces and jams using cocoa powder, but it's not the same as a true chocolate preserve. It occurred to me as I drank my morning cup that what I was drinking was certainly chocolate, but since it was made just from ground cocoa beans, it also contained no butter or cream. EUREKA!

I got out the French press, brewed up a full canister of the chocolate and went to work to make jelly out of it. And it worked! Still not sure what else it's good for besides adding to a peanut butter sandwich, but I'd love to hear from the rest of you. If you give it a try and come up with some great uses, please post them here for the rest of us. Enjoy!
Peanut butter and chocolate jelly
Sydney Rubin's Chocolate Jelly

32 ounces of water
1/2 rounded cup roasted, ground brewing cocoa beans (See source links at bottom)
5 1/2 cups sugar
One 1.75 ounce box of powdered pectin

Prepare jars, lids and boiling water canner
Prepare brewed chocolate according to directions from the supplier of your ground beans.
Make sure that you end up with a full 4 cups (32 ounces) of brewed chocolate. Pour that into a large, non-reactive pot.
Add the powdered pectin and stir to dissolve completely.
Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly until you achieve a full, rolling boil that cannot be broken with a spoon.
Add all of the sugar at once and return the mixture to a full, rolling boil, stirring constantly.
Boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and quickly fill jars to 1/4" headspace.
Put on lids and screw down bands just to fingertip tightness.
Process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes at sea level, adjusting accordingly for higher altitudes (25 minutes here in Colorado).
Remove from heat and remove cover, letting canner and jars sit for 5 minutes.
Remove jars from canner and allow to sit, upright, on a towel for up to 24 hours, or until all the jars have sealed properly.
As usual, any jars that do not have a proper seal should be reprocessed or refrigerated and used promptly.
I've noticed that it may take a week or two for the full chocolate flavor of this jelly to develop. When I first made it, I thought it seemed "weak" and was thinking I needed to make a stronger "brew." After a couple of weeks, it tasted quite chocolaty indeed!

Sources for brewing cocoa beans: where you can purchase 12 ounces for $15. They have several blends at various prices. who offer an incredible selection of brewing chocolates starting at just $10 per pound.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade

Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade
I'm seriously thinking I need some sort of therapy. It simply can't be normal to get this excited over produce. Other people see fruit. I see glistening jars of goodness filling my basement shelves.

To some extent, this propensity of mine toward impulse produce buying is problematic. I have a (more than) full-time job. I have a home and a family to care for. I have responsibilities. But once those seasonal wonders are in my house, staring at me from the kitchen counter, I cannot rest until I turn them into something delicious. What can I do, but to keep stirring up something fun in the kitchen and sharing it with you here on In a Jam?

For some reason, I've been on a bit of a citrus kick lately. First, there was the key lime curd. Then, the Meyer lemons appeared in my local market and I scooped up three bags. For the uninitiated, Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. The skin is smoother than that of a traditional lemon and is a deep yellow to almost orange color. The peel of a Meyer lemon is generally thinner and the juice is somewhat sweeter, with less acidity than normal lemons. All of these traits make them a wonderful choice for culinary experimentation.

The first thing I made was a Meyer lemon curd, using the exact recipe I shared on the blog last week, only with lemons instead of limes. Even though the Meyer lemons are a bit sweeter, they still had plenty of acid content to make a delicious curd.

Then I decided I absolutely had to do something that would take full advantage of the amazing color of the Meyer lemon peel. An obvious choice? Marmalade. But not just any marmalade. A Meyer lemon marmalade with a touch of vanilla bean that would play beautifully off the tart/sweet of the citrus. I think you're really going to enjoy this recipe. The end result is a delicious lemon preserve with the exotic taste of real vanilla and pieces of orange-colored peel that taste like candy.

Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade
(Original recipe appeared in Bon Apetit, although I've made several changes here, including adding instructions for water bath canning.)

6 to 7 Meyer lemons (approximately 1 1/2 pounds)
5 cups water
4 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
pinch of salt

Cut lemons in half lengthwise.
Use a sharp paring knife to cut out the center membrane (the part where all the sections meet) and as many of the seeds as possible.
Remove and discard end pieces, then slice the rest of the lemon halves in very thin pieces crosswise. Discard any remaining seeds.
Pack enough lemon slices and any juice into a large measuring cup to measure 2 1/2 cups.
Put the measured slices and juice into a large, nonreactive pot. Add the 5 cups of water.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to stand, uncovered overnight.
The next day, measure out 5 1/2 cups of the lemon/juice mixture. (You can discard any extra).
Put the measured amount back in the same large, nonreactive pot. Add all of the sugar.
Split the half vanilla bean the long way. Scrape out the seeds and put those in the pot, along with the half bean itself.
Add a pinch of salt.
Marmalade mixture boiling
Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture reaches 230F on a candy thermometer, or use the plate test from my Tips and Tricks section. At higher altitudes, such as here in Colorado, you'll need to adjust the temperature down somewhat. Reaching the final jelling point can take anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes.
Fill hot, prepared canning jars to 1/4" headspace. Process in boiling water bath for 25 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover of canner and allow to sit for 5 more minutes before removing jars. Reprocess or refrigerate and use any jars that have not sealed properly within 12 to 24 hours.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Coming Soon! Lady Marmalade

Be watching here soon for a meyer lemon vanilla bean marmalade recipe!

New Canning Tools from Progressive

Just when I'd thought there was nothing new to make canning easier - and believe me, I'm always on the lookout - I heard about some pretty impressive-sounding home canning gadgets that were recently brought to the market by Progressive International. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to get a chance to try some of them out and a couple of weeks ago I got that chance. Thanks to the nice people at Progressive, a box of goodies arrived at my doorstep containing a new canning rack, lid lifter and the item I was most looking forward to trying, a canning funnel with head-space measurements listed right on the tool.

New canning tools from Progressive International
Truly, I don't know of too many big advances in equipment for the home canner in the 20+ years I've been involved in the past-time, so this is a pretty big deal. Here are my unvarnished opinions of the three items I tried:

I was most looking forward to trying out the canning funnel. If you look at the picture, you can see the head-space measurements on the funnel, with a nifty gap in it so you can easily see the side of the jar. This funnel fits regular or wide mouth jars perfectly and is a definite step forward in canning tools.

If you're new to the art of preserving, you'll love this tool because it takes the guesswork out of the whole head-space issue. If, like me, you've been doing this so long that you'd know those jar markers blindfolded, the Progressive canning funnel has a nice surprise in store for you as well.

The part of the funnel that fits inside the jars is shorter than the outer collar. This means you can put the funnel down without ever having the messy inner part touch your work surface. I can't emphasize enough what a joy it is to get through the jar-filling process without a mess on my counter-top. Simple, but brilliant!

Another item I tried was the Progressive lid lifter. This is basically your traditional magnetic tool, designed to remove hot canning lids from a pan of simmering water. The upgrade here? The tool has a rounded bottom, which allows you to place the lid directly onto your jars as usual, and then roll the lifter to the side, which releases the lid without ever being touched by human hands. I'm sort of thinking this may be a solution for a problem that doesn't exist, but it's also one of those things that couldn't hurt either. On the plus side, it works as promised, has a nice feel in your hand and doesn't seem to suffer any of the magnet loss issues so common in the Ball version I've used until now.

Finally, I tried out Progressive's new canning rack, which ended up being the most wonderful surprise of all! It seems so simple, yet it's a true improvement on the past and a great step forward for home canners. The stainless steel rack is reversible. Put it into your water bath canner one way and it's a perfect fit for seven small sized jars. Flip it over and it holds up to four quart jars nicely. The best part? If you're using smaller jars, the racks are stackable. Add a second rack and you can add an entire second layer of seven more small size jars. What a time-saver! I loved this one so much, I'm planning to buy myself another.

All in all, these are really nice tools and I appreciate the thoughtful design that Progressive put into them. Nice to see a company breathe new life into the old standby tools. By the way, all of these canning tools are dishwasher safe. That's a definite plus as well! If you want to try them out for yourself, you can find them at Sur la Table and Kitchen Kaboodle stores now, as well as a few other gourmet kitchen shops around the country. You can also check them out online at

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Key Lime Curd: A Tropical Treat

I've been putting up canned goods for more than twenty years, but last weekend I tried my hand at my very first "curd." No, not cheese. That's an entirely different story for another time. What I made was a fruit curd, commonly used in Great Britain as an alternative to jams or jellies. Fruit curds have a custard-like texture, but are often smoother, especially when you use butter in the recipe, as I did. They also contain a higher concentration of juice and, in the case of lemon or lime, the zest, which gives a curd a far more intense flavor than most custards.

Curds can be used just like jams or jellies. They're great on toast and scones. But they can also be used as a pie or tart filling, stirred into a little plain Greek or regular yogurt, or eaten straight from the jar. (Oh, go ahead. I won't tell!). While there are certainly more steps to preparing a curd than go into the usual jam recipes, I found it quite easy to do and a really delicious change of pace.

You should note that canned curd won't hold up as long as jam or jelly, so be prepared to use these up within a 3 to 4 month period of time. They should be stored (as most canned goods) in a cool, dark place away from outside light. If you notice any browning or separation after your canned curd has been stored for awhile, that's an indicator of spoilage and they should be discarded immediately.

The recipe I'm sharing with you here is for a key lime curd. It's such a wonderful combination of sweet and tart - it tastes tropical and refreshing - like sunshine in a jar! To make this recipe, I used bottled key lime juice, both for ease and consistency of acid levels, but used regular limes for the zest, as I couldn't locate key limes in my market last week. I'm looking forward to trying this again using actual key lime zest to see if it makes a difference. Honestly, it's hard to imagine that this could be any more tasty, but one never knows.
Here's the recipe so you can try it yourself, along with some great photos thanks to my husband, Alex Rubin, and his amazing photography skills.

Key Lime Curd
Makes approximately eight (8) 4-ounce jars

1 cup bottled key lime juice (I can always find Nellie & Joe's Famous Key West Lime Juice at my local store)
Outer peel only (no white pith), from about 6 regular limes
2 1/2 cups superfine sugar (this is finer than granulated and makes a smoother curd)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 large whole eggs
7 large egg yolks

Prepare your jars, bands and lids. NOTE: Fruit curds can be negatively affected by high heat, so by the time your jarred curd is ready to go into the pot for processing, be certain the water temperature in your canning pot is not above 180°F.

Lime zest processed with sugar

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the outer peel from the six limes. Be careful not to get the white, bitter "pith" underneath and set aside.
Pour sugar into a food processor. Add the pieces of lime peel and pulse until the peel is grated finely and completely mixed with the sugar. Set aside.

Put just enough water in the bottom of a double-boiler so it doesn't touch the bottom of the double-boiler insert. Heat over medium heat to a low simmer, not a vigorous boil.
Whisking in the sugar & zest
Off the stove, whisk the egg yolks and whole eggs together in the top pan of the double-boiler. Slowly whisk in the sugar and zest mixture until combined and smooth. Whisk in the lime juice.
Adding the butter pieces

Then add butter pieces.

Put the top pan of the double-boiler over the simmering water. Stir continuously with a silicone spatula or spoon until butter has melted completely and the mixture reaches 170°F.
Straining the curd
Remove from the heat and place on top of a towel. Continue stirring gently until the mixture has thickened (about five minutes).

Run the curd through layered cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer to remove the pieces of lime zest. These can be discarded.
Fill your jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.
Process 15 minutes at sea level, 25 minutes above 6,000 feet.

Key lime curd, ready to eat!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Canning Labels Quick & Easy

I consider myself a fairly organized person. My preserving shelves in the basement are NOT in alphabetical order, but they are tidy, with neat little rows of matching items. Part of that organizational process includes labeling all the jars of goodies I prepare throughout the year. And since I give many of them away as gifts, it's especially important to me that the jars be labeled properly and with correct canning dates. It's also important to me that my jars look pretty and very clean.

So it always drove me crazy when those jar labels - the kind that are applied directly to the glass - didn't come off cleanly or completely. Worse yet, when
the family doesn't remove the label before running the jars through the
dishwasher, that label goo can be practically impossible to remove.

The remnants of an old label.
If this is something that bothers you, too, I'd like to introduce you to a great little website, A Lotta Labels is run by Rebecca Barnes and it's truly a treasure trove of labels and fabric toppers for use by home canners. Simply go to her site at, pick the size and designs you want, and before you know it, you'll be getting a packet-full of beautiful canning labels as the finishing touch to your home-made works of culinary art.

One of the things I like best about Rebecca's labels is that they are designed to fit perfectly on the TOP lid of your canning jars. Since those inner lids can't be reused anyway, they just get tossed out in the trash and there's no sticky label residue left on your reusable jars. Genius! Rebecca will even customize your labels with your name if you'd like. Happy canning!

My recent order of labels from A Lotta Labels.
Here's how they look on a jar!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How Nice! A Blog Award for In A Jam

This whole blogging thing is still very new to me. So imagine my surprise when I saw that my little effort to share some of what I love about home preserving was recently given the Liebster Blog award. This particular award is especially nice because it carries with it a "pay it forward" element that continues the chain of recognition and kindness. Essentially, someone wonderful has taken the time to acknowledge my efforts with this blog, and acceptance of the award means that I now have the chance to recognize five other blogs that I find interesting. In addition, I get to share my selections with you here.

First things first; thanks so much to Pammy from Thyme Square Gardens, who bestowed this award on In a Jam. Pammy is an amazing organic gardener and shares her talent and creativity regularly on her own inspiring blog.

Next, the Liebster Blog "Official Rules:"

1. Link back to the person who gave it to you and thank them.
2. Post the award to your blog.
3. Give the award to 5 bloggers with less than 200 followers that you appreciate and value.
4. Leave a comment on the 5 blogs to let them know that they've been offered this award.

Finally, my five Liebster Blog awardees. I urge you all to check them out and support those who take the time to share their stories, knowledge, expertise, or even a laugh with everyone on the Net.

Adirondack Dog - Cheryl is a great lady who devotes much of her life to outreach and education on issues that affect the blind. She's also a driving force behind one of the Guiding Eyes puppy raising programs in Upstate New York. Her brand new blog and site follow her adventures with her faithful companion, King and will also soon be a great place to shop for unique dog items..

Help the World - Karen Flewelling is a truly inspirational soul. She works tirelessly to bring supplies, water, medical attention - whatever's needed - to parts of the world and people in need. Check out her blog where she shares news of her latest efforts and maybe you'll feel moved, as I did, to help.

Fig and Walnut - The young lady who writes this blog is clearly passionate about food, and that's all I really need to know. The photography is lovely, the recipes look amazing and she'll take you on a food voyage around the world. - In the interest of full disclosure, I actually have no idea how many followers this blog has, but whatever it is, there should be more. Drool-worthy photos and an ingredient searchable list of cocktail recipes should make this your first stop when planning a party, or a quiet evening for two.

Machine Embroidery Crafts - Finally, a shout out to a blog that focuses on another hobby I'm passionate about, machine embroidery. Barbara regularly posts pictures of her latest creations, gives some tips on how she made them and provides some resources for crafters, along with a link to her store if you want to buy any of the adorable items she makes.

Thanks again for the honor, Pammy!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Toast! To Spiced Beer Jelly

Several weeks ago, when I first started this blog, I promised to share with you my second attempt at a recipe for spiced beer jelly. Unfortunately, several family emergencies kept me out of the kitchen for awhile, but I had a chance to get back in there yesterday and am happy to report SUCCESS on the beer jelly front!

First and foremost, I need to give credit where it's due. I originally found this recipe on Putting Up with the Turnbulls, which is a great site to check out and listed in the "Links I Like" section of this blog. Their recipe calls for making your own pectin by cooking apples and using the resulting juice to get the gel in your jelly. I followed their instructions, but the altitude here can be tricky and I ended up overjelling my mixture. The end result was something more akin to spiced beer honey than jelly. Not a terrible thing, mind you. It still tasted amazing on toast and served as a really nice glaze ingredient for poultry. My mission, however, was to create an actual jelly. Yesterday, I went back to the drawing board, making a few concessions to ease and speed, two items I hold in very high esteem.

I eliminated the apple step and opted, instead for two packets of liquid pectin, a huge time saver! Another problem that gave me fits during my first crack at this jelly was the fact that the beer mixture kept foaming to ridiculous heights. It was nearly impossible to keep in the pot, probably because of the carbonation in the beer. Instead of going right to the jelly-making step, I decided to try steeping the beer with the spices first, in order to take a little "life" out of the beer before attempting to turn it into jelly. The end results were wonderful; a nicely spiced jelly, with the right consistency and a cooking process that was much more controllable. Want to give it a try? I'll walk you through the recipe here:

My ingredients, ready to go
Spiced Beer Jelly - Ingredients
(Makes 12 4-ounce jars or 6 6-ounce jars)
(2) 12-ounce bottles of amber ale (You can try whatever beer appeals, but I really like the flavor of our local Avalanche Amber Ale from Breckenridge Brewery).
2 sticks cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
Grated zest of 1 orange
Ingredients for steeping
2 cups 100% apple juice
Juice of 1 lemon
5 1/4 cups sugar
2 pouches liquid pectin

Put beer, cinnamon, cardamom and orange zest into a medium-sized, stainless steel pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, cover and allow ingredients to steep for 20 minutes.
Remove and discard cinnamon sticks.

Transfer beer mixture to large, stainless steel pot. Stir in apple juice, lemon juice and sugar. Heat on high, stirring constantly. Bring mixture to a full, rolling boil that can't be broken by stirring. Add both pouches of pectin and continue stirring. When mixture comes back to a full, rolling boil, continue boiling hard and stirring constantly for two minutes, or until mixture begins "sheeting" off a spoon.
Filled jars
Remove from heat, quickly skim foam and fill hot jars to 1/4" headspace. Wipe rims with clean, wet cloth and cover with lids and bands. Tighten bands to fingertip tight (just until you feel resistance). Place jars into water bath canner. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cover. Process for 10 minutes at sea level, 25 minutes here in Castle Rock, Colorado.
After 25 minutes, turn off heat and remove canner lid. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then remove jars to clean towel on countertop. Allow to sit for 12 to 24 hours until all jars have "popped," indicating an adequate seal. Reprocess or refrigerate and promptly use any jars that don't seal properly.


Filled, processed jars

Spiced beer jelly on toast. YUM!

Close-up of spiced beer jelly.
Can you see the spices and pieces of orange zest?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

This is Juicy: Making Jelly from Juice!

Summer's bounty! Concord grapes from our arbor. 

We canners can get a little antsy this time of year. The summer is exhilarating, with no end to the preserving possibilities presented by the never-ending bounty of in-season fruits and veggies. The winter, on the other hand, seems devoid of fresh inspiration. But it doesn't have to be!

You can be putting up jars of homemade jelly tomorrow using good quality, pure fruit juices. Call it cheating. Call it a shortcut. Call it whatever you want. I call it a little taste of summer right when we need it most. And it's so simple to do. When really great, in-season, fresh fruit is nowhere to be found, I skip the turning-fruit-into-juice-step and go right to the making jelly part using 100% fruit juices.

Newman's Own 100% Grape Juice (I buy the big bottles from Costco) makes a concord grape jelly that's darned close in flavor to made-from-scratch. Each fall, we make a trip to DiNardo's Cider Mill in Canon City, Colorado for a bushel of roasted Hatch chilies (my husband's green chili is amazing!) and so I can stock up on a trunk full of pure ciders from the DiNardo Bros. Their flavors are amazing - cherry, blackberry, black raspberry to name just a few - and they make amazing jellies. When the preserving bug hits in the dead of winter, all I have to do is pull a bottle from my pantry and I'm ready to go. Ever wanted to try making pomegranate jelly, but thought it would be too much work? Pick up a bottle of pure pomegranate juice (Costco is also my source on this one), and you've skipped the hardest step.

By the way, if you use this method, you can mix fruit juices for great combinations. Try grape-apple, grape-cranberry or cherry-apple as idea starters.

The rules are simple:

  • Buy only pure, 100% juices, preferably with no added sugar. Clear (no pulp) juices work best.
  • Pick your favorite jelly recipe.
  • Measure out the same amount of bottled juice as you'd use of prepared juice if you were starting with fresh fruit.
  • Prepare, jar and process as usual.
I'll even get you started! Here's my recipe for grape jelly using Newman's Own Grape Juice instead of crushing, cooking and straining your own fruit. This one is practically fool-proof and a great one to try if you're brand new to the art of canning.

Grape Jelly from Juice - Yields 8, 8-ounce jars
5 cups 100% grape juice, no sugar added
6 cups sugar
1 box regular powdered pectin (1.75oz/49 to 57g)

Wash and prepare jars and lids and keep jars heated in simmering water until ready to be filled.
Pour measured juice into large pot. Gradually stir in powdered pectin, sprinkling a little at a time so it doesn't clump up.
Bring juice and pectin to a full boil over high heat, stirring frequently.
Add sugar all at once, stir to dissolve and bring back to a full, rolling boil over high heat. (A rolling boil is one that cannot be broken by stirring with a spoon!)
Boil hard for 1 minute, continuing to stir constantly.
Remove from heat, quickly skimming off any foam that's developed on the surface.
Quickly pour hot jelly into your prepared, hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace (leaving 1/4" between the jelly in the jar and the inside of the lid. Generally speaking, that will be to the first glass thread marking on the jar).
Wipe rims with a clean, damp cloth. Center lids on top and screw the bands down just until you feel resistance (not too tight!).
Place jars in a water-bath canner, completely covered with water. Cover and bring to a boil. Once at boiling, process for 10 minutes (at sea level - see my link to the Ball altitude adjustment chart under "Links I Like" for higher altitudes). FYI, here in Castle Rock, Colorado, where we're at 6200', I process my jellies for 25 minutes.
Turn off heat, remove canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes.
Remove jars from canner, place on clean dishtowel on counter and allow to sit for 12 to 24 hours. If any of your jars do not seal properly, reprocess or refrigerate and use promptly.

Note: If you're interested in getting in on ciders from the DiNardo Bros., they don't have a website, but you can call them directly and they'll ship to anywhere.

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Monday, February 20, 2012

My Father-In-Law & the Infamous Quince Jelly Episode

I've been thinking a lot about my father-in-law, Herb, who passed away quite suddenly last week. Now that the shock is wearing off just a little, and the fog is starting to lift from our collective family consciousness, a flood of great memories keeps coming to me. Given my long-standing love affair with creating unusual preserves, it might not be surprising to know that one of my favorite memories of my father-in-law has to do with - what else? - making jelly for him.

Herb Rubin
It all started when my in-laws retired and moved from Upstate New York to a home in a neighboring town here in Colorado so we could all be closer. Herb discovered that, among other things, the yard of their new home contained a quince tree. He was very excited when that tree produced fruit and asked if I could make jelly from that fruit.

I'd never made quince jelly before. I didn't even know what a quince was and I'd never actually seen the fruit before. But I was, and still am, always up for a challenge, so I happily picked up the culinary gauntlet Herb had thrown. I headed to the Internet to do some research and it wasn't long before I'd found what seemed to be a suitable recipe.

It called for 3 pound of quince and I relayed my needs to my father-in-law, who quickly obliged by bringing over a sack of small, yellow fruit with a shape similar to a misshapen pear. When weighed, it would take 20 of these pieces of fruit to make the 3 pounds I needed. The recipe called for rubbing the fruit with a towel to remove the fuzz, cutting the fruit in half, using a melon baller to remove the seeds and cores and bundling those seeds and cores into a piece of cheesecloth to boil out the natural pectin. Why I didn't just use a box of pectin is a story for another day.

What you should know about quince, and what I quickly learned, is that they are hard. Ridiculously hard. Mahogany hard! But I was determined to make this happen. By the time I was done preparing the fruit, my hands were bleeding and I had blisters that would take weeks to heal. But I'd done it. I made that jelly, and it was pretty darned tasty. Herb was so proud to have something made from fruit he'd picked off his very own tree.

Two weeks later, as I did some grocery shopping, I stopped in my tracks. There, in the middle of the produce section, was a lovely display of GIGANTIC quince. At least I thought they were gigantic. They were actually normal sized fruit and I would only have needed to process 5 of them to the 20 from my father-in-law. Turns out, those quince Herb gave me were the smallest, saddest quince ever to be turned into jelly and if either of us had had a clue what a quince should look like, or how many should make up a pound, I wouldn't be sharing this story with you now.

We both laughed pretty hard when I told him about it, and he never asked me to make jelly from his quince tree again.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Recipe: Syd's Grand Marnier Jelly

To get things started on the recipe front, here's one of my own creations - Grand Marnier Jelly. This is easy to make and something different. Given that it's the middle of winter and cold (at least it is here in Colorado!), I like this recipe because it doesn't rely on fresh fruit, which can be hard to come by this time of year. I'm pretty picky about using fresh ingredients in all my jams and jellies, so I'm always on the lookout for recipes I can make in the dead of winter.

It occurs to me as I type this that the first recipe I mentioned in this blog was beer jelly (for which I'll share the recipe when I have it "perfected") and now I'm sharing a recipe for jelly made with liqueur. Not sure what you'll all think of that, but I promise that not EVERYTHING I'll share with you starts with some sort of alcohol!

Syd's Grand Marnier Jelly

1/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup pure orange juice (no pulp, or strained)
1/4 cup water
3/4  cup Grand Marnier (or other orange flavored) liqueur
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin

Combine all ingredients except liquid pectin in a large, non-reactive pot. Bring to a full, rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

Stir in full pouch of liquid pectin. When the mixture comes back to a full, rolling boil, continue cooking, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Remove from heat and pour into hot, prepared jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe rims and apply lids and rings to fingertip tightness. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes at sea level, adding time for higher altitudes. Where I live in Colorado, the correct boiling time is 25 minutes.

Here's a great link to the Ball canning web site's altitude adjustment chart. This is a great one to print out and keep handy if you need it.


Friday, February 10, 2012

Welcome to In A Jam!
Preserving delicious food for family and friends used to be a natural part of being a homemaker. Now it's a hobby and, in my case, a passion (maybe a sickness!). It reminds us of a time when people put real effort into what they fed their families and the food just plain tasted better. I've had a fascination with bringing out the best in food for most of my adult life. Along the way, I've filled too many canning jars to count, fed a whole lot of friends, family and colleagues and won some blue ribbons for my efforts.

Many of the people I've shared my jams and jellies with had never before tasted real, homemade preserves and it's an awakening for them. Nothing store-bought can compare.

If you've already discovered the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with getting into the kitchen and turning a bowl full of fresh fruit into sparkling jars of goodness, I invite you to share your experiences, questions, recipes and photos here.

If you're just starting out, or thinking about getting started, I hope you'll consider this blog a resource and a place to gain some confidence. I'm always happy to share some of the tips and tricks I've picked up over the past twenty plus years.
Spiced beer jelly ingredients in the pot.

For my part, I plan to share my adventures with all kinds of jams, jellies, salsas, veggies and pickles - and I do LOVE to try new and unusual recipes. For instance, this weekend, I'm going to try to whip up a batch of spiced beer jelly. I've attempted this one before. The flavor was amazing, but the set was too firm, more like honey than jelly. I'm hoping for a better result this time around. I'll let you know how it goes!
Bubbling nicely.
The finished product!

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