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Bert Greene's Kitchen

Notes of Readers Spark Jam Sessions

August 27, 1987|Bert Greene | Greene is a New-York based food writer

I am a man blessed with perpetually high hopes in the kitchen. Every summer, for instance, I decamp to my house in the country with a sole resolve: to make jams and jellies in August or early September. This is a time on the East Coast when fruit is not only ripe and reddening on the vine but the price for it does not bankrupt me.

Because of other pressing emergencies my master plan is often postponed until October or November when the only fruit to be found is in the freezer at my local supermarket and at sky-high prices.

This year, two letters from far-flung readers changed the pattern of my preservation ritual. A note from the first correspondent (from the Bronx) announced: "It's mulberry season. Today I took my boys on a trip to visit my favorite tree: a huge old monster mulberry. Jam, muffins and pie will soon follow in short order. I love free eats but people do look at you strangely when you forage. In the past I've had people ask if mulberries aren't poisonous. Of course I'm tempted to reply that I always give poison berries to myself and my kids. But I never do."

Thanks to her good example, I went foraging for mulberries, too. Or, more precisely, went poaching in the underbrush of a neighbor's backyard. I came home with enough fruit to produce a healthy batch of glistening blue jam.

Another post card from a reader in Lansing, Mich., occasioned yet another jam session at my summer stove. "I just received a windfall of late-blooming apricots big as plums from a friend up on the peninsula. However, they arrived the day I found and bought a bargain bushel of peaches. Would you, by any chance, have an all-purpose recipe that will work to make jam or conserve of both?"

Actually, I did not have such a recipe. But I had a copy of one of my favorite guides to making elegant homemade treats on the book shelf, Helen Witty's "Fancy Pantry" (Workman, 1986). With a little fudging here and there I managed to convert Witty's formula for apricot jam to "no sweat" peach as requested.

Late fruits are reputed to be the sweetest. This recipe adapted from my own blackberry jam recipe was originally published in "Cooking for Giving" by myself and Phillip Schulz (Irena Chalmers Cookbooks, 1984).

END-OF-MULBERRIES JAM

4 to 4 1/2 cups fresh mulberries or blackberries

1/4 cup orange juice

1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel

4 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pick over berries and wipe gently with damp cloth.

Place orange juice with berries in medium-size heavy pot and bring to boil. Add orange peel, sugar and cinnamon. Return to boiling and boil until jam thickens when spooned onto chilled plate, about 20 to 25 minutes. Ladle into sterilized jars and seal. Store in cool place. Makes about 6 half-pints.

The great advice Witty gives jam makers is worth noting here. "During their short season, buy only fruit that looks as if it might come to full ripeness--it is too much to hope, except in California, to find tree-ripened fruit," she states. An interesting facet to the following recipe is that the peeled fruit and sugar are combined and allowed to mingle before being boiled. That makes a noticeable difference in cooking time.

HELEN WITTY'S APRICOT OR PEACH PRESERVE

3 to 3 1/2 pounds ripe apricots or peaches

1/3 cup strained lemon juice

4 to 5 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Finely slivered peel of 1 orange, optional

Scald apricots in batches by placing in sieve and plunging into boiling water about 30 seconds, then dropping into ice water 15 seconds. Drain fruit, then strip off skins and quarter.

Combine fruit and lemon juice in ceramic or stainless steel (not aluminum) bowl. Mix gently with rubber spatula. Add sugar and almond extract and mix again. Set mixture aside a few hours, or store, covered, in refrigerator overnight. Stir gently a few times.

When sugar is almost fully dissolved, transfer mixture to pot or preserving pan. Place over medium heat. Bring to boil. Adjust heat and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Skim off any foam.

Pour mixture into bowl. Let cool. Cover with towel and leave at room temperature 6 hours or overnight.

With slotted spoon, lift fruit into sieve set over bowl. Let juice drain from fruit a few minutes. Return all juice to preserving pan and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Return fruit and orange peel to boiling syrup. Bring all to boil. Boil hard 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Cool preserves 5 minutes. Ladle into sterilized jars and seal. Makes about 7 half-pints.

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