Strawberry freezer jam: More fruit, less sugar

I have fond memories of helping my mom make freezer jam from berries we grew or bought, including strawberries, black raspberries, and red raspberries.

My MIL makes lovely cooked jams/jellies/preserves, but I wanted to carry on my family’s tradition, so a few years ago, with a bumper crop of red raspberries, I bought some Sure Jell (fruit pectin) and started jamming.

Rewind!  Did that recipe call for three cups of crushed raspberries and over FIVE cups of sugar?!?  I wasn’t making berry jam, I was making berry-flavored sugar goo.  Okay in small quantities, I guess, but not something I really want to consume frequently.

Unfortunately, traditional fruit pectin, like Sure Jell, relies on the sugar to work.  If you reduce the sugar when using Sure Jell, you’ll get a runny, improperly jelled jam or jelly, also no good.

A little hunting led me to Pomona’s Universal Pectin.  This pectin is activated by calcium, so you can use much less sugar, but still have well-jelled jam.

We have lots of strawberries coming in now, so I took advantage of the opportunity to try my first batch of freezer jam with Pomona’s pectin.

Here’s a comparison of fruit and sugar need to make five cups of jam with the two types of pectin*:

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That means that the fruit:sugar ratio is 4:1, or four times as much fruit as sugar, using Pomona’s Pectin, but a frightening 1:2, or twice as much sugar as fruit, when using Sure Jell.

I carefully followed the package instructions for freezer jam that came with the Pomona’s pectin, and I’m happy to report that I have almost six cups of lovely strawberry freezer jam, with 1/4 the sugar (compared to making jam with Sure Jell).

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Pomona’s Pectin is noticeably more expensive than other fruit pectins (and less widely available — check with your local health food store or WF; I’m pretty sure Local Harvest Grocery carries it, for StL folks), but it’s worth it to have a final product that is healthier and filled mostly with fruit rather than mostly with sugar!  I’m looking forward to testing it with raspberries in a few more weeks.

UPDATE (5/29/14): I went back and sampled some jam after twelve hours in the freezer.  Compared to the Sure Jell recipe, the jam made with Pomona’s froze a lot harder (i.e., more difficult to get out of the jar).  Scientifically, this makes sense: sugar lowers the freezing point, so the higher sugar Sure Jell jam freezes less hard than the lower sugar Pomona’s jam.  I think it’s worth the trade-off for a healthier jam, but I wanted to give a heads-up.

* The instructions with the Pomona pectin gave a range of sugar, from 3/4 c. to 2 c. to use for this amount of fruit.  I stuck to the lower end of that range, using perhaps a slightly generous cup of sugar.

 

Garden update: May 2014

The cold winter and chilly start to spring delayed some things in the garden, but never fear — gardening is happening!

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The garlic survived the cold winter, and is growing well.  The spring crops (beets, carrots, peas, cruciferous, greens, onions) are growing, but slowly.  If we continue to have a hot May, the spinach and many of the cruciferous veggies may bolt before yielding much.

Most of the summer harvest crops are in the ground: tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, green beans, and squash.  We are still babying the eggplant seedlings here, in pots, trying to get them large enough to stay ahead of the flea beetles.  And we’re awaiting our shipment of sweet potato slips, but those can go in the ground any time now.

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Just a few quick pics — if you want the “fancy” version of the spring garden tour, see this post from two years ago.

We went from a few weeks of small asparagus and arugula harvests, to this past weekend, when Matthew returned home with the asparagus, plus bags of kale, collards, and rapa (another green you cook), AND over five pounds of arugula (most of which he sold to Local Harvest).

The strawberries are set, and some are starting to blush.  If Sir is lucky, some will ripen before he leaves for Florida next week.  If the birds decide to share, it looks like we might have a decent harvest of tart cherries this spring, as well.

How does your garden grow?  What crop are you particularly excited about this year?

Expanding our produce storage?

Since last summer’s garden bounty (and maybe longer), we’ve been thinking about getting a second refrigerator to help handle produce overflow.  While the garden produce technically already has two fridges (ours and my MIL’s), sometimes that is not enough, especially when we’re harvesting large amounts of bulky produce, like leafy greens.

While we may well put a second fridge to good use, it just seems excessive, and, while theoretically we could unplug it when not in use (winter and early spring months?), I imagine once we have it, we’ll find a way to use the space (e.g., storing apples), and it will be a year-round thing.

Plus, while having more fridge space may somewhat alleviate the stress of Matthew returning from the garden with BUCKETS of produce, there’s still the fact that we’ll have buckets of produce to deal with — it won’t just cook or preserve itself!  So, while Matthew’s been pushing for the second fridge, I’ve been dragging my heels, but knowing that it will probably happen sooner or later.

This second fridge doesn’t have to be anything fancy, since it will be living in our basement.  You’d think it would be easy to find something in decent used condition, at a very affordable price on CL, but that has not really been the case in our [sporadic] searching.  Plus, there is the complication of getting a vehicle to haul what we find.

So, on Monday night, when Matthew happened to check CL and saw a posting for a working fridge for $80 located relatively nearby, he jumped at the chance, especially when the seller offered delivery that night for an extra $20.  Matthew drove over to check it out, decided it was a go, and returned home to wait for the delivery.

Wrangling a full-size refrigerator into our basement was hardly what I was in the mood for after nine o’clock at night, so, as a compromise measure, we decided to just stick it in the garage.

Half past nine found us in our dark, rainy alley, alone with the couple selling the fridge and the truck with the fridge, along with a full-size van and two unknown males (who arrived with the sellers).  Them: 4.  Us: 2.

For all intents and purposes, it looked like the lead-in to a Craigslist urban legend, where we end up bound and gagged in the garage while they rob us blind.*

Fortunately, that did not happen.  You can accuse me of having a wild imagination, but Matthew was having the same thoughts.  Later, we decided it would have been smarter for one of us to stay inside, where we could keep an eye on things and call the police, if necessary.

Still under the impression that we wanted the fridge in the basement, the sellers had invited two friends along to help get it down there.  (As Matthew and I stood there contemplating how the two of us would get the thing to the basement, we rather wished we had stuck with the original plan.)

Anyhow, we got the fridge in the garage and they got their cash and headed out.  I’m still not thrilled that four random people now know the location of a garage full of bikes — guess I didn’t really think that through ahead of time.  In retrospect, we probably could have left the garage door down, and gotten it the rest of the way in by ourselves.

So, we’re now the proud (?) new owners of . . .

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. . . this guy.  Despite the freezer on bottom, which I thought was a relatively recent innovation, this fridge must be at least fifteen years old.  Age and appearance don’t really matter, but SMELL does.

Unfortunately, despite a nose that is super-sensitive to cigarette smoke, Matthew missed the fact that this fridge did NOT come from a smoke-free home (the owners were smoking outside when he arrived to look at it, so he assumed they always smoked outside, and walking through the smoke outside desensitized his nose to the third-hand smoke indoors).  While you might think that something that is mostly made of metal would not really pick up odors, that is sadly not the case.  Smoke is pernicious!

At this point, we’re not sure we’ll keep it, but we’re very glad it’s only stinking up the garage and not the basement and apartment, as well!  Some sources claim a thorough vinegar wipe-down will eliminate the smell.  We’ll give that a try, but I’m not so sure, and if it still smells smoky, it’s outta here (assuming we can find a buyer)!

 

Using up and starting anew

‘Tis the season for finishing what remains of last year’s harvest, getting some early tastes of this season’s bounty, and prepping the garden for much goodness to come.

The Old

  • In the “root cellar“:
    • Potatoes — For awhile there, I really wasn’t sure we would make it through all of these.  I’m planning a new potato triage strategy for this year’s harvest (more below).
    • Winter squash and sweet potatoes — Also a decent  bit to use yet . . . .
    • Onions — a couple of pounds of small (i.e., pain-in-the-butt to use) onions left.  The fact that I pay three dollars for a single (large) organic onion at the store may motivate me to put in the effort to use these.
    • Garlic — what’s left is a bit dehydrated, but still okay to use.
  • In the freezer:
    • In general, items in the freezer aren’t as urgent, but still good to make room for this year’s harvest.
    • Loot includes shredded zucchini (for zucc bread), red raspberries, chard, pureed winter squash, green peppers, and fennel.

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This meal made use of some of our stored potatoes (Purple Viking, which are white inside, and an all-blue variety, which look dark purple).  Plus canned beats.  The cabbage for the slaw was not from the garden.  And, alas, we don’t have chickens, so the eggs are from the farmers’ market.

So, potatoes.  They store best if you leave the dirt on after harvesting, but by this time of year, when they’re a bit wrinkly, cleaning them is a pain, especially the little ones.  For this year’s harvest, my plan is to immediately (i.e., within a few weeks of harvest) sort out all of the littles, wash them when their skin is still nice and smooth, and then prioritize eating them within a month.

The New

Thanks to the voles (ha!), we didn’t leave much in the ground this winter.  Instead of one long low tunnel (or a couple of shorter tunnels), as in winters past, Matthew put up one relatively small tunnel, mainly to keep the artichokes alive.  He also planted some arugula in that tunnel.

After the winter we had, I didn’t expect anything to survive, tunnel or no, but lo-and-behold, the arugula made it, and we’ve been having arugula salads for the past few weeks.

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It’s so nice to taste fresh, raw veggies at this point in the year, after lots of cooked veg all winter.  The meal also included some freezer goodness: green peppers, red peppers, and tomatillo sauce, plus some of our homegrown corn meal went into the corn bread casserole.

In the ground

As of this past weekend, the spring garden is in great shape.  The potatoes are planted, along with all of the cruciferous seedlings, fennel, and onion starts.  So many plants ready to be outside and growing!

We are also starting a number of things from seed: peas, beets, lettuce, spinach, and chard — all in the ground!  Matthew’s mom made this awesome planting grid, that makes planting easier, faster, and so organized (I love that last one!).  I hope to get some pictures of the grid in action this weekend.

Big things from the garden

Exhibit #1: A ridiculously large sweet potato

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Shown with a grapefruit and my hand for some sense of scale, what this guy lacks in beauty, he makes up for in size, weighing in at just over 12 pounds.  He suffered some damage from voles during the growing season, and his growth outpaced their eating.

I made a huge, way-too-thick batch of this sweet potato peanut bisque, which I originally read about over on Spatoola, with half of it.  I roasted the other half in big chunks, and stuck them in the freezer for a future batch of mashed sweet potatoes.

Exhibit #2: Lunga di Napoli winter squash

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Unlike the sweet potato, which was abnormally large, this lunga is rather par for the course for this variety.  It’s just a big ol’ squash.

We sliced and roasted about a fifth of it as a dinner side earlier in the week.  For the remainder, I roasted big chunks to puree into a simple soup consisting of squash, coconut milk, grated ginger, and a bit of salt.  This very simple soup perked up significantly with the addition of some carmelized onions, plus Paul’s beans.

I actually thought this big guy would go further, perhaps yielding some extra puree for pumpkin bread or pumpkin butter.  I guess that will wait for the next squash.

After a failed attempt at pumpkin butter last year, I finally figured it out several weeks ago.  Turns out that it’s pretty simple — you just have to let it simmer for. ev. er.  That’s the trick.  Anyhow, we’re about finished with my first batch, and I’m looking forward to making more.