What is up with me and the jam this year? I don't know, but I'm having fun, so let's not analyze it any more than that, k? I feel like I could be Wallace, The Next Generation: "Jammm, Gromit, more jammmmm."
I created two new jams. One's a definite keeper, the other just a qualified success.
I know you want to hear all about them, in painful detail, (or maybe not -- maybe you want to skip to the end to hear about the yarn in the photo...) so I'll start with the qualified success first. When I was trying to imagine unique and interesting jam recipes, I said, "Hm, I wonder if there is such a thing as carrot jam." Crazy me. Well, it turns out not so crazy, because yes, indeed, I found a couple on the 'net. Seems it might be a Canadiana kind of thing. Maybe I knew this all along; maybe it was something from my youth that I had forgotten. I'm not sure. But I found two recipes online. I took the elements I thought I liked from each one, and then I made it my own by combining them and then adding my own special touch -- a stiff shot of cognac. It just so happens that right after I made it, we were invited to dinner at the home of some Canadian friends, and the guy who received it as a host gift said, "Cool. I'll get a buzz off my morning toast." (not really -- all the alcohol is long since boiled off and only the added flavor dimension remains.)
Spiced Carrot Jam With Cognac
1 pound carrots, peeled and grated (about 4 cups)
2 juice oranges
3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
scant 1/2 cup cognac
1/2 teaspoon each of allspice, cloves & cinnamon
Have 4 one-cup jam jars and lids prepared (wash in hot soapy water and scald in a pot of boiling water; keep hot)
Remove zest of citrus fruits, then juice them. The original recipe said you should have about 1 cup juice total from this. (I did not. That's when I decided to bring out the cognac bottle. I figured it couldn't hurt. Thus -- BAM! -- the recipe became my own.)
Combine all ingredients and heat them together over low heat until the sugar has dissolved, 3-4 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until thick like jam. The recipes I found say "about 30-40 minutes." I say "for 20 days." At least that's what it felt like to me. I am quite certain, although I did not time it, that it was more than an hour before it was the right consistency. This is why I prefer jams with pectin added -- they're cooked for only a couple of minutes, which better suits my impatient nature.
Spoon jam into containers. This will keep for months in the refrigerator, or process for longer-term storage. If processing, leave 1/4 inch headspace in jars. Wipe rims with a clean damp cloth, put on rings. Process in a boiling-water bath (place the jars in a large pot, cover with hot water, making sure the water is 1-2 inches OVER the lids. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat a bit, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from hot water and place on a towel to cool. As the jars cool, you will hear little melodic "pop" noises as the lids seal.)
Why is this only a qualified success? I found this jam almost too sweet -- at least when I tasted it while it was still warm. One of the recipes says this jam's flavor improves with age, and that seems logical, given the citrus and spices and especially now, with the addition of cognac. That combination of ingredients lends itself to a mellowing and maturing and blending of flavors after a few days. This jam is really intended to be served with meat, and I am sure it will be wonderful as a condiment with roast duck or turkey, or marinated swordfish, or a good ham -- even a nice marinated, grilled tofu. I could also envision it served as an appetizer with a strong cheddar cheese or goat's cheese and crackers. It has a lovely spicy, festive quality to it. I would have to choose my audience for serving this, but it is really good, has a fabulous aroma, and could be appreciated by the right people, for sure.
My biggest complaint is it is very labor-intensive. The grating of the carrots (I did mine by hand to get the size I wanted -- my food processor would have made long strings, and I wanted shorter grated pieces), the zesting of the fruits, the juicing of the fruits, the endless STIRRING, and the recipe only yielded three jars, not four, for me. I was exhausted when it was all over -- too exhausted to make the two other jam recipes I had intended when I began my day. So. Not a complete success, but an interesting bit of jam, anyway, and sure to be appreciated by the right people.
Now for the one I'm really proud of.
Spiced Plum Jam With Grand Marnier
6 cups pitted and chopped plums (about 4 pounds)
3/4 cup Grand Marnier
1/3 cup water
1 T. lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
7 cups sugar
zest of one orange
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
Combine plums, Grand Marnier, water, lemon juice and pectin in a large sauce pot. Allow to macerate* for a few minutes while you are washing and sterilizing the jam jars (you need about 8 half-pint jars).
Bring plum mixture to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Add sugar all at once; return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Skim foam off and discard. Pour into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Put in lids and screw tops tightly. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath as described in recipe above.
With plum jam, it is desirable to turn the jars upside down and right side up a couple of times during the cooling process so the chunks of fruit are dispersed relatively evenly throughout.
*macerate [MAS-uh-rayt] To soak a food (usually fruit) in a liquid in order to infuse it with the liquid's flavor. A spirit such as brandy, rum or a liqueur is usually the macerating liquid.
This one is very special and very delicious. So pretty -- tart and sweet and spicy and orangey all at once. It has a Christmassy feel to it. I can imagine this on buttermilk biscuits or toast or scones -- and also as an accompaniment to meat dishes. Or, if you're like me, you'll just eat it straight from the jar off a spoon or add it to your plain goat's milk yogurt. Run, don't walk, to the store to get the plums before they're out of season! I already got eight pounds more for my next two batches.
About that yarn: A lady five or six miles from me raises Clun Forest sheep and sends her fleece out to a "wool pool" to be processed/dyed/spun, and once a year has a two-day sale of this lovely yarn in her living room. I bought some two years ago and went back this weekend and got 20 skeins. It's too good to pass up -- very special and a very good price. I've got plans for it all. David has been making noises that "he's only ever got a pair of wristers" from all my knitting. I think he is suggesting he needs a sweater. I chose the blue for him. The green, I have another idea for, and the plum too -- and it won't be made into jam -- I promise!