Friday, September 2, 2011

Jam Is Good

Left to right, vanilla pear (made with pectin) from Food in Jars; black plum; and Michigan peach.

Thus say I:
  1. It is easy and fun to make jam;
  2. It is fun to eat jam;
  3. It is fun to say “jam.” Jam, jam, jam. Jam!
Therefore, I am going to make a boatload of jam this fall instead of/in addition to the too many pickles I usually make.
There are many schools of jam: hard-set jam, runny jam. Liquid pectin, powdered pectin, no pectin. Pounds of sugar; some sugar; no sugar. Sealed in a canner; sealed with paraffin. Cooked jam, freezer jam. I’ve been thinking a lot about all these jamways, their various pros and cons, and I have two working generalizations.

First, you can’t screw it up. If you make a good-faith effort and follow the steps, whatever you turn out will qualify as jam. It may be thin, it may be thick; but it will still fall in the jam gamut. The “jamut.” Snrrrrrk!

Second, all jam is good. Like all religions are good! There’s no right or wrong way to make jam, and there’s no right or wrong religion. They are all valid ways to worship fruit or deity, respectively. And there are many paths to thickness, too. Pectin will thicken jam, as will sugar and cooking down. Every one of them is good and right.

Except for my grandma’s recipe for zucchini jam made with cherry Jello. That’s where I draw the line. No, Grandma! That’s not jam. That’s an abomination of jam and Jello salad!

Basic Jam
Usually I am all for specifics, but jam is more a state of being for fruit. Seedy little fruits make jam that thickens nicely on its own. Fruits with little or no pectin will maybe need you to add some; or you may have to cook them down and they will acquire a hard-candy taste; or you can embrace softer jam. Ripe fruits have more flavor, but less pectin, than firm fruits.

Don't be scared! Let it boil hard.
I’ve gotten good results by measuring out ½ to ¾, even as much as 1, cup of sugar for every cup of chopped or crushed fruit; heat up the fruit to boiling; dump in the sugar and bring to a rolling boil; cook around 5 minutes, put in jars, and process in a hot water canner. You can also use wax, which you’ll find in the grocery store.

Directions very much like this are easy to find on many other Web sites and in books. For more reassurance on how jam becomes jam no matter what, see here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Green Salsa for Lazy People

I have a rule of thumb for salsa: a good recipe has five things in it. Why? Because then I can remember it by counting it off on my hand. I am too lazy to go through life looking up the recipe for something that I should know how to make off the top of my head.

Circular logic aside, I have a convergence of vegetables today: tomatillos, jalapeños, onion, cilantro, and garlic. See? Five things.

Tomatillos usually get cooked, so I will throw them in a pan with water. I will throw in the jalapeños, too. If I were feeling really lazy, I wouldn’t seed them first. I’m going to do it, though, because the people who will eat this with me don’t like too much heat. I may be lazy, but I’m not MEAN and lazy.

Meanwhile I chop up some onion and some cilantro and a clove or two of garlic. How much? Some. Who cares. I’d measure, but I’m too lazy. How fine to chop things? Meh. La-a-a-zy.

Here’s what makes it super lazy: all the things are just going in the blender. I will push a button and then it will be salsa. How much lazier can I get?!

Tomatillo Salsa
A handful of tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed
One or two jalapeño peppers, seeded or not
A clove or two of garlic, minced
A few tablespoons of onion or scallion, chopped
A handful of cilantro, chopped roughly

Put the tomatillos and jalapeños in a pan with water just to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook until the tomatillos turn a dull green and get heated through, about 5-10 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, wash and cut up the other three things.

Throw everything in a blender and pulse a few times until everything is roughly blended. You should have chunks and lumps and few worries.

If you need to add a little salt to taste, I won’t tell and I won’t count it as one of the five ingredients.