Cantaloupe – Peach Preserves and Boozy Fig Jam

I have a confession to make: I’m not a gardener. Plants and I simply don’t mesh. There are all these studies out there saying gardening is good for you, how digging in the dirt leads to a strong immune system and a better mental health… But alas, despite to being born to avid gardener parents, I was definitely endowed with a brown thumb… or two. My aunt, whose apartment looked like a jungle full of luscious green foliage plants, used to say that the secret is to talk to your plants. It was an interesting theory… but the more I thought about it, the less I was sure I was buying it. I mean, I talk to my kids, and have been doing so for years… prattling on and on about how to behave and what I thought they should be doing and why. In the end they pretty much always did what they wanted anyway. So if the offspring, flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood don’t listen, why should I believe some shrubs from the Home Depot would?!

But talking or not talking method aside, I’ve tried many things to overcome this shortcoming: I tried to buy hardy plants, supposedly able to withstand unintentional manhandling. I tried to water them more and water them less; give them attention, or give them space and let them do their thing… but “their thing” in my care always seemed to just be dying. Sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but eventually I always managed to kill them all. They say the first step to overcome anything is to embrace the truth, so I may just as well come out and say it like it is: Hi, I’m Daniela, and I am a prolific plant killer. I’ve come to terms with this; in fact, we all have. Instead of flowers, Mr. Photographer buys me chocolate, and if he does bring me a potted plant from time to time, we have an unspoken agreement it will be up to him to take care of it for me. I enjoy admiring its beauty from a safe distance, casting furtive glances at it from the other room, but won’t dare to come much closer.

I rather stick to doing what I’m good at, which is processing the fruit of edible plants somebody else managed not to do in. I enjoy walking through farmers markets on lazy Saturday mornings, looking at all the beautiful abundance Mother Nature decided to give us, touching and smelling it, and then bringing some of it home and transforming it into something else. And this weekend, we’re jamming, which is probably my most favorite way of succulent produce transformation. Jam making is easy, relatively fast, and I get to play and come up with new and unusual yummy combinations. Plus, my men like pancakes 🙂 Here is a glimpse of what I made: The first one is a peach and cantaloupe jam, which turned out the most beautiful sunny yellow color. It’s also a little runnier (probably thanks to the cantaloupe and its high water content), and therefore awesome to spread on crepes. The boozy fig one is the real winner though. Sweet and a little tart, with just a hint of cinnamon. I threw in some fresh lemon peel and divided the brandy in half – half was poured into the fruit right at the start and left to macerate, and the second half I added at the end of cooking (I didn’t want all that boozy goodness to evaporate!) We tried it right away on some grilled cheese sandwiches, and although it may seem like an odd combination, it was delish! If you decide to only try making one jam this year, this should be it!

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Cantaloupe – Peach Preserves and Boozy Fig Jam

Cantaloupe – Peach Preserves

(makes about four ½ – pint jars)

  • 450 g (1 lb.) peeled and seeded cantaloupe, diced
  • 450 g (1 lb.) yellow peaches, stoned, peeled, and diced
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup (125 ml) fresh orange juice
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground anise
Method:
  1. Process the cantaloupe and peaches in a food processor or a blender. Pour the mixture into a deep saucepan.
  2. Add in the remaining ingredients, and bring the fruit to a boil. Cook, stirring almost constantly, for about 20 minutes, until the jam thickens to your liking. (For more info about how to know if the jam is ready, see this Mirabelle Ginger Jam post).
  3. Ladle the hot jam into clean ½ – pint glass jars, leaving about ¼ – inch space at the top. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process the jars in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes.
  4.  Remove the jars from the water and let them cool upside down. Store the jam in a dark, cool place for up to a year.

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Boozy Fig Jam

(adapted from http://www.epicurious.com; makes about six ½ – pint jars)

  • 2 kg (4 lbs.) fresh purple figs, divided
  • zest from 1 organic lemon
  • 10 tablespoons (about ½ cup) fresh lemon juice (to taste)
  • 4 cups (about 800 g, 28 oz.) granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup (about 175 ml) brandy or cognac
Method:
  1. Process half of the cleaned and stemmed figs in a blender. Cut the remaining figs into ½ – inch (1 cm) pieces. Transfer all the figs into a deep big saucepan. Add in the sugar, lemon juice & zest, cinnamon & salt, and half of the brandy or cognac. Mix together, cover, and let stand at room temp for 1 hour.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil, and cook, stirring often, for about 30 – 35 minutes, until the jam thickens, breaking up the large fig pieces into smaller bits. Add the remaining brandy or cognac at the end. Remove from heat.
  3. Ladle the hot jam into clean ½ – pint glass jars, leaving ¼ – inch space at the top of the jars. Remove any air bubbles and wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands.
  4. Process in a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes. Cool jars completely turning them upside down. Store in a cool dark place for up to a year.

 

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Mirabelle Ginger Jam

I just learned that August 2nd is the International Friendship Day. I had no idea such holiday even existed, but if anything is worth celebrating, it is certainly friendship – a wonderful relation and strong bond between people that multiplies the good in life and divides life’s sorrows. They say there is nothing better than a friend unless it’s a friend with chocolate, but I think a friend who gives you summer fruit to make cakes and jam from must be a very close second.

You see, I was a lucky recipient of a paper bag full of Mirabelle golden plums last week, and I can’t tell you how happy the gift of those fragrant sweet beauties has made me. Things have been kind of crazy around here lately, and when a friend of mine called if I wanted to go plum picking with her, I had to tell her there was no way I’d be able to fit fruit picking in. But it was hard to say no, because in my mind I was already imagining all the juicy tarts, succulent cakes, and sweet compotes I could make. And I suspect said friend must be a pretty good mind reader, because she went and picked the plums for me. If that’s not true friendship, I don’t know what is 🙂

Mirabelles are small and smooth plums with golden yellow flesh that is full of flavor. The riper they are the sweeter they will be. They also are very juicy and quite hard to pit – after pitting the first three it was clear I could forget the cakes and tarts with nicely arranged fruit on top. I ended up cutting the flesh around the pit, but a lot of it still stuck to the pit. When I was done, there was this huge bowl full of fruit skins, scraps of dark yellow flesh and sweet juice, and a slight change of plans was needed to be made: When life gives you mushy fruit, make jam.

There is nothing complicated in jam making – you basically cook up fruit with sugar and optional pectin, and keep it boiling for about 15 minutes or so, until the jam is thick enough to your liking. I like thinner jam to spread on toasts and to top yogurt, and thicker consistency to fill dumplings with. All you have to do is wash and sterilize some glass jars and then dump the fruit with sugar/pectin into a deep pot and get stirring, as jam likes to stick. I love everything about jam making: Who needs aromatherapy candles and meditation sessions, when you can simply stand over a pot full of wonderful fruity aromas with a wooden spoon, let your thoughts wander where they want, and you even get jars of homemade jam out of it as a bonus?! To test if the jam is done, put a small saucer in the fridge beforehand, and after about ten minutes you can start testing if the jam has set. Drizzle small amount of jam on the plate, return it to the fridge for couple of minutes, and then take it out and tilt it slightly. If the jam doesn’t run and your finger leaves a tiny crack on the surface of the jam, it is ready. Ladle it into the preheated jars, firmly screw on the tops, and process the jam in a water bath (or, if you made only a small batch, you can skip the water bath and keep the jam in the refrigerator).

Since the plums were so sweet, I decided to cut the sweetness with lime juice, and spice it up with some fresh ginger, just because I think plums and ginger are a match made in heaven. I didn’t expect the jam to turn this dark and thought it would be more yellow in color. As it is, it doesn’t look much different than my apricot jam. But it s finger-licking delicious: sweet and little bit citrusy, with just a hint of ginger spiciness.  Perfect accompaniment for all your toast-y and pancake-y needs!

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Mirabelle Ginger Jam

(recipe makes about ten 8 oz./250 ml jars)

  • 2 kg (4 lbs.) Mirabelle golden plums, pitted
  • 1 ½ kg (3 lbs.) white sugar
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (7 teaspoons) freshly grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest

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Method:
  1. First, wash the glass jars and lids in hot soapy water. Rinse and place them on a big shallow baking sheet. Place the jars into a cold oven and set the temp to 325 °F (162 °C). (place the jars on a baking sheet in a cold oven, turn the temp to 325 °F/162 °C, and when the oven reaches the preset temp, the jars are sterilized and ready to be filled with hot jam.
  2. Chop the plums, or, if you like smooth jam, run plums with their skins and juices through the food processor or a blender. Transfer the mixture into a big deep pot. Place a small saucer into the refrigerator, so it will be ready when you start testing if the jam has set.
  3.  Add sugar, lime juice, lemon zest, and ginger (adjust the ginger quantity to your taste; I was a little worried the ginger would be overpowering, but it’s just right, only a slight hint). Bring to a rolling boil, lower the temp, and cook on a medium heat, stirring almost constantly for about 10 minutes. Keep skimming the foam gathering on the surface.
  4. After the first 10 minutes start testing the consistency. Remove the saucer from the fridge, drizzle a little bit of jam on it, and return it to the refrigerator for couple of minutes. The jam is ready if it doesn’t run (it can slowly ooze), and when you touch it with your finger, it leaves a tiny crack on the surface. If it’s still too runny, keep cooking and testing every 5 minutes.
  5. Ladle the hot jam into prepared jars (the jars still need to be warm/hot. If you ladle a hot jam into cold glass, the jars can break). Screw on the tops firmly.
  6. Process the jam in a water bath: Place the filled jars into a big shallow pan. Fill the pan with water so the jars are covered with at least 2 inches (5 cm) of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the water and let them cool. Properly processed jam should keep in a cold dark place for a year or longer.

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