Friday, August 1, 2014

Stone fruit jam Part 1: Plum Licorice Jam

Plum Licorice Jam
If you are looking for the best time of the year to buy stone fruit, the answer is:  right now.  Even way up here in the cold, dark north, we are having what feels like a glorious eternal summer, and farmer's market stands and supermarkets alike are filled to the brim with stone fruits.  In Finland, nearly all of it is imported from somewhere south:  Spain, Italy, Hungary, but the quality and prices have been really good.  Last week I bought 8 kilos of plums and 9 kilos of nectarines.  I was still dreaming of the markets in Sicily where these beauties were selling for €0,65 per kilo, but then again, the local price at my neighborhood store of €0,99 wasn't so bad either.  So I tracked down the fruits and veggies guy and asked him if I could buy a few boxes.  Apparently, this isn't a very common request, because it took him a while of running around the store, amiably asking his colleagues how to make it happen, and then leaving the cashier with a long explanation of how to ring me up.

Beautiful plums at the Ballaro Market in Palermo, Sicily
We brought about half of these gems to the cabin to share with family over the weekend, and it was clear they weren't used to seeing stone fruits in such large quantities either.  While Finns gather 8-liter pails of bilberries and lingonberries; and fill their containers with wild raspberries and homegrown currants, they don't tend to use stone fruits for "putting up" as we say in the US.

It was one of those moments where I realized that I was operating on an autopilot response from old habits:  remembering the trips to Eastern Washington with my parents when we'd buy huge boxes of the fruits growing in the hills around Lake Chelan:  apricots, peaches, Bing Cherries, Rainier cherries, nectarines, pears, apples, I'd happily wandered home to my Helsinki apartment with heaping boxes of fruit, with no qualms whatsoever about the large quantity.  In fact, I was delighted with the opportunity.

I still love the whole process of gathering and canning fruit.  It's one of my favorite things to do during the summer months, when nature's bounty overflows it's limits and tumbles in a colorful array onto my tables and countertops.  My creative juices really start to flow as soon as I cut into the first piece of fruit, and I had no problem thinking of way to effectively dispatch 17 kilos of fine-looking edibles.
sealed and labeled for storage
If you are canning anything, the first thing you need to do is make sure you have clean jars.  2 kilos / 4.5 pounds of fruit makes around 1 liter / 1 quart of jam, with a bit of overflow - meaning you may can the lion's share for later, and have a bit in the fridge to enjoy immediately on toast or with your morning oatmeal.  You will want  four or five 2,5 dl jars / pint jars for each of these jams, plus lids.

In Finland, where finding the two piece lid is impossible, I typically by Quattro Stagioni jars with lids.  A lot of the local grocery stores:  K-markets, Prisma, etc carry these, along with spare lids, during the summer season.  You can also find them in Stockmann, but expect to pay a higher price.  In the US, the 2-piece lids and jars are available everywhere including grocery stores and hardware stores, so it'll be no problem.  In Germany and the UK jars tend to be readily available in my experience; I'd love to hear how it is in the rest of the world!
White peaches, sweet and juicy, at Ballaro Market in Palermo, Sicily

Also, I don't use pectin if I can help it as I think it tends to make jam a bit gluey, and because most fruits have sufficient pectin by themselves.  I also have reduced the amount of sugar typically used in jams, as I like the fruit flavor to be readily apparent with a slightly tart edge if possible.

This Plum Licorice Jam is really interesting:  the licorice flavor isn't separately distinct from the plum; rather it deepens the flavor of the plum with a lingering licorice note in the background.  It's excellent over oatmeal or with yogurt, and we enjoyed it over freshly fried lettus (Finnish crepes), make over the outdoor campfire and then slathered with a generous spoonful of this jam followed by a handful of blueberries.  Happy summer moments.

Plum-Licorice Jam & Nectarine Mint Jam

Plum-Licorice Jam

2 kg / 4,5 pounds of Italian plums, pit removed and quartered
660 g / 3 cups of granulated sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 star anise / tähti anis
2 teaspoons licorice extract/essence (if you can't find it, add 2 additional stare anise)

In a large stockpot, combine the plums, sugar, lemon juice, and star anise.  Stir well to combine; cover; and allow the fruit to macerate for 1 hour.

Set the pot over high heat and bring to a rolling boil.  Reduce the temperature to medium-high, stir; and set the timer for 15 minutes, allowing the fruit to bubble undisturbed.  Meanwhile, place five teaspoons on a plate in the freezer.  You'll use these later for testing whether or not the jam is ready.

While the jam cooks, prepare your jars:  Wash in hot, soapy water and then fill with hot water and set aside.  Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil.  Add your one piece lid, or the cap part (with rubber seal) of your two piece lid and boil for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat and leave the lids in the hot water until you are ready to use them.  This sterilizes the lid and softens the rubber which helps the seal.

After 15 minutes, remove the star anise from the jam.  Continue to cook the jam, stirring regularly, for another 10 minutes.  At this point, turn off the heat and take one of the spoons you have in the freezer.  Fill it with jam and return it to the freezer for five minutes.  If the jam wrinkles slightly when you push it with your finger, it is ready.  If not, cook it for an additional 5 minutes and test again; repeating as necessary.

Once the jam has gelled to your liking, turn on the heat again and add the licorice extract, bring the jam to a boil and stir for 30 sections.  Remove from heat.

Using a wide mouth funnel placed in the jar and a ladle, spoon the jam into the jars, leaving a 1/2" / 1.5 cm space at the top.  Repeat until all of the jars are full.  Using a damp paper towel, wipe the rim of the jar so there is no jam residue left.  Place the hot lid on the jar, and, using a towel to hold the hot jar so you don't burn your hand, tighten the lid finger-tight (don't over tighten; the best way to ensure that you don't is to use your thumb and first to fingers to tighten the lid, which means you won't have enough finger strength to push it too far.)

Wash the big jam pot.  Put a dish towel in the bottom and place the jars on top.  Fill with water to cover the jar by at least 1"/ 2,5 cm.  Put the lid on and bring the pot to a boil.  Once boiling, set the timer for 15 minutes.  When the timer stops, turn off the heat and let the jars rest for 5 minutes.  Remove the jars from hot water and set on a dish cloth on the countertop, right side up, to cool completely.  Check to make sure the lids have sealed:  the top dome of the lid should be pulled in tightly and shouldn't move when you press it with your finger.  Sometimes you'll hear a ping as the jars cool and the lid seals, but not always.  If the lids are sealed, label the jars and store them in a cool, dark place for up to one year.  If your jar doesn't seal, put it in the fridge and use it within one month.

Makes 1 liter / 1 quart of jam

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