Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pacific Coast Black Plum Jam

I think I may have a problem.  Hardly anybody is reading this blog, and yet, this is my 4th post in 4 days.

Riding on the wave of excitement I felt from receiving my water bath, I finally put to use some amazing black plums I bought a couple weeks ago by turning them into even more amazing jam. 

I bought them at a road-side stand on the 152 Freeway on my way to San Jose for a work trip...and when I got home and my water bath and other supplies hadn't yet been delivered, my only option was to chop and freeze the plums (I also froze apricots, pluots, and what I *think* are soursops but have no idea) or they would've gone bad.  With plums, one of my favorite things is slicing into them and being surprised by the color of the flesh.  These were beauties!

Happy Little Hearts
Freezing is always an option if you buy too much fruit, or for some reason don't have time to eat or cook your fruit, or just want fresh-frozen fruit for pies or other goodies in the middle of Winter. 

I decided not to leave anything up to chance with this batch--with each endeavor I hold my breath to see if the jam sets--so I used the recipe that comes on the insert of the pectin box (I used Sure-Jell this time)...however, I did cut down on the sugar again.  8 cups just seems like so much, the fruit is so sweet already.  I used 7...God forbid my jam won't last in the jar, that would be sad. The amazing color starts to pop as it's boiling; I took this picture right at the peak of boiling, before I funneled the jam into the jars:
The # of cups this is supposed to make is largely reduced by how many spoonfuls I taste before jarring.
I woke up this morning to gorgeous, perfectly-set Pacific Coast Black Plum Jam!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"JAM -bor-ee!"

This made me giggle!  See excerpt below from the new show "The New Girl" with Zooey Deschanel, my favorite actress.  Jam-makers get some 'props.'  Episode aired last night, 9/27.

"Do you know how time-consuming that is?!" 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Just Like Christmas!

Last week, I signed up for a CSA Box.  Today, I received my first box, delivered right to my door!  I felt like I was opening a gift on Christmas. 

My Cornucopia
CSA stands for "Community Sponsored Agriculture," and allows consumers to purchase in-season, fresh produce directly from the farmer.  Some CSAs deliver your box of goodness; others have pick-up locations.  The particular farm I ordered from creates wonderful boxes full of a variety of fruits and vegetables small enough for 1-2 people (or larger for a family of 5 or 6), and allows you to choose the frequency so your bounty doesn't go to waste.  I have wanted to do this for quite awhile, but was only able to find farms that delivered giant boxes, which doesn't work for a single person like me who travels for work.  There are so many options out there, I feel confident that if this interests you, you will be able to find one that works for you, too!

Makes me giddy thinking of biting into these!

Some farms allow you to pick whether or not you want more fruit than veggies, more veggies than fruit, to choose your favorites, etc.  I chose to be surprised - this is half the fun, I think, and will force me to eat a wider variety of foods.  I'm already dreaming of what I'm going to do with my Bartlett Pears, Swiss Chard, beets, and cauliflauer...drooling over the future possibilities of what I cook or can!

If you are interested in ordering a CSA Box, go to to find a CSA farm near you.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gearing Up for Puttin' Up

I couldn't resist posting today; I received my new water bath and other canning accessories!  I'm so unbelievably excited to put them to use, I've been feeling like a baseball player without a bat.  For other beginners like me, here are the items I would recommend you should get to begin:

Water Bath + Accessories (from Ball)
Purchasable online from various sources.

  • Large "water bath."  A water bath is a large pot that you use to boil the filled jars in order to effectively seal the lids.  Calgon take me away - sealing is so much easier with a water bath!
  • Metal canning rack to lower the jars into the water bath.
  • Jar Lifter (similar to tongs, but rubberized and rounded in order to pick up the jars out of the water bath).
  • Jar funnel, to help place your jam, jelly, or items to preserve in your jars with less mess and to keep the rims as clean as possible.  I learned the hard way with this one.
  • Metal lid lifter (I LOVE this tool) to pick up the hot, sterilized lids out of hot water to place them on the jars - prior to putting in the water bath.
  • Large pot, short and wide preferably to cook/boil the fruit (so heat is distributed across the fruit you are cooking more evenly).
  • Spatula or stirrer with a flat end.

Other useful items:  Various sizes of liquid and dry measuring cups, tongs to pick up lids if you don't have a magnetic lifter, various sizes of lids, rings, and jars, and make sure to keep a lot of sugar around for spontaneous jam-making!  In my opinion, anything not listed above may just be a 'nice-to-have' and not a necessary I move along and learn more, I will most likely change my mind, so take what I say with a grain of salt, especially since I have purchased my fair share of unnecessary items, such as these absolutely adorable dry measuring cups.  So far, I haven't used them to measure a darned thing, but the 1/4-cup is perfect as a sunflower seed shell spitter.

Sometimes, you just need something pretty.
From CostPlus World Market

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The First Day of Autumn

I invited a few people over last night for the First Day of Autumn.  This was my ruse for getting my unsuspecting friends to taste-test my creations - *palms rubbing together + evil laugh* - and give me some honest feedback.  Ok, well not really.  I only invited the nicest of the nice so that they would then say nice things about what I made in a very nice way even if they didn't really like it.  I'm not ready for honest feedback.

I absolutely love Autumn, and not because it's my name.  The days are still hot, with cool nights and crisp mornings.  The tourists have left the beach, making way for a few extra parking spaces and lots of free sand.  In California, we have the luxury of a longer season for many Summer fruits, and the Fall fruits are also ready to be picked.  The air smells cleaner, and I have an excuse to wear boots!

Fall in Hermosa Beach - kinda looks like Summer!

I created a menu of comfort foods that I love and love to make, and that I could complement with a few of my jams and jellies.  4-bean chili, country-style baked mac-n-cheese, Fall veggie stew, crescent roll brie wrap with apricot jam (needs improvement, which is why it isn't pictured), pumpkin oatmeal cookies (dipped in vanilla ice cream, drizzled with warmed pluot jam), & dinner crackers smeared with cream cheese with a dollop of either banana pepper jelly or jalapeno jelly.

Cracker dressed in soft cream cheese and Grandma Irma's Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

Homemade Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookie, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with Warmed Pluot Jam

I discovered a few things last night.  1)  I have some amazing friends, albeit only 4 of them.  2)  Any given bank robber is only 2 degrees of separation away (insert laughter here, trust me), and 3)  I love making jam and sharing it with others so much, this blog isn't going away!

Gorgeous Pluot Jam - Love the color!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pluot Pleasure

I attended a jam-making workshop today, hoping to learn more about the elusive set point and to receive inspiration.  I learned nothing about the former (I have a lot to learn, but this wasn't the place), and as I began to tune out the speaker and other attendees, I heard a woman ask a question about "pluots."  That was my inspiration.  Pluots are a cross between an apricot and a plum, and their ratio can vary.  They are called apriums when the apricot ratio is higher than plum.  They grow well in Central California, and September is the end of their season, so I suddenly wanted to get some fresh before it was too late.  They are absolutely delicious, and I havent eaten one all summer!

A quick trip to Whole Foods for organic pluots, sugar, and a few organic lemons, and I was ready to go. 

I chopped 6 cups of pluots into small chunks, leaving the skin on.  With pluots, plums, and apricots, you can always leave the skin on.  The skin adds to the color and flavor, and skipping this step makes your session much easier.  I measured out 4 cups of sugar.  The recipe I read required nearly twice that, but I really wanted to honor the flavor of the pluots, which sweeten when heated.  I then squeezed 1/4 cup of freshly-squeezed lemon juice.  Meanwhile, I sanitized jars in the dishwasher, and simmered the lids in hot water. 

I added the lemon juice to the pluots, poured the mixture in a pot and brought it to a boil.  The flesh was golden in color; however, the mixture turned to a vibrant red as the skins infused the liquid.  I cooked for 10 minutes to draw water out of the fruit, then stirred in the sugar and a pinch of cinammon.  I brought to a boil, stirring regularly, and at the height of the boil, I added one package of pectin.  My hope is that this batch is more gelatinous so that it is a perfect jam for spreading on toast and warm bread.

This entire process took about an hour.  I am so utterly excited about how beautiful my Pluot Pleasure turned out in the jar, and I can't wait to begin spreading the love.

Open Me

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sweet Therapy

Two weeks ago, I drove to Idaho with my dog, the Best Dog Ever.  She and I have been on countless road trips together, logged thousands of miles across the Western U.S, and this trip began with high hopes and the excitement I always feel when I'm about to visit Idaho in the Summer. 

However, by the end of the drive through California, the high desert of Northern Nevada, and finally, my hometown, I realized that I had been in denial about what one of my reasons was for taking this trip.  My elderly dog's health had been sliding for the last year, and my head had come to terms with the fact that I was going to have to let her go to rid her of her pain.  My heart hadn't quite caught up.  The day after we pulled up to my parents' house, I made an appointment to rest my poochie to sleep and take away her pain.  My dad and I buried her in the backyard and had a funeral. My sister, Dad, and I sobbed over her little grave under the pine tree.  She was a wonderful dog.  I knew I needed to make this life change in the cradle of home.  I needed quiet, but also something to do to keep my mind busy.

That day, I began picking jalepenos and banana peppers from our garden, preparing lemons I had picked from a friend's tree in Burbank and brought with me on the drive, and immersed myself in what was an amazingly therapeutic task - preserving some of Summer's gifts in jam, jelly, and marmalade.  5 delicious batches:  Jalepeno Pepper Jelly, Banana Pepper Jelly, Lemon-Ginger Marmalade (a recipe I dared to adapt myself - bold!), Lemon-Strawberry Marmalade, and Apricot Jam (apricots picked by my sister from a neighbor's tree). 

I'm still trying to get used to the absence of my dog and best friend, but I am so grateful to have been in a place and time to use my hands and my heart to create something I can now share with all of you.

Lemon Ginger Marmalade - "Happiness in a Jar"

6 Large Lemons, freshly picked
1/4 c. freshly grated ginger
1 1-3/4 oz. package of pectin
6 cups sugar
2 cups water

Zest all 6 lemons.  Most marmalade recipes ask you to peel the lemons with a paring knife, but I prefer a less bitter taste, so I just zested the rind instead.  Using a paring knife, remove the pith from the lemons, remove the seeds and membrane.  In a large pot, combine the lemons, zest, water, and ginger.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the pectin, increase to high heat.  Add the sugar, while stirring.  Bring to a rolling boil (this means it will boil even when you stir it).  Remove the pot from heat, and let it sit for about 5 minutes.  Use a skimmer to remove any foam or seeds.  Pour into 6 8-oz. jars.  Quickly place lids on the jars, move the jars to a boiling water bath on a rack.  Boil jars for 10 minutes.  Remove jars from water bath using tongs.  Place on a clean towel at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Home Fresh Home

In the sun-soaked way of dreams, I see my 7-year old self running, giggling with my sisters through corn-fields on the Snake River Plain in Southeastern Idaho, the heart-beat thump of being lost and then shrieking at the thrill and disappointment of being found.  Hide-and-seek in the country.  Dirt in our toes and fingernails, mud splat in the face, a tangle of braids down our backs and Kool-Aid stains on the corners of our lips.  My brother Paul wanting to ignore us, but being outnumbered, succumbed to the necessity of humoring us.  On our way home, the sweet scent of bright green beans, the moist, earthy aroma of freshly-dug spuds in baskets in the back of our sky-blue station wagon.  Carrots.  The nose does not forget.

A few months ago, through the stress of career and dealing with the loss of a long relationship, I started yearning for those bucolic times.  Golden memories of apricot jam smeared on a warmed potato roll, cinnamon apple sauce we crushed through a grinder attached to the end of our kitchen table - everyone taking a turn no matter how young or small you were.  A freshly-sliced tomato straight from the garden, sprinkled with a bit of sugar on a small plate - breakfast.  When things get complicated, I always want for something just like that.  Something simple.  Fresh.  Home. 

I hatched the idea of re-visiting my home, picking foods straight from our backyard, and preserving the yumminess.  I re-kindled my love of canning, in particular, preserves, jams, and my favorite - Jelly.  And now I want to share it with you.  And lest I not forget about other wonderful things - wine, health, food, cocktails, travel, and the wonderful people I share them with. 

Welcome to Autumn's Copper Pot.