Friday, 25 July 2014

It's Jam Season!

I have a few confessions to make: I love the birds and I love foraging in my backyard. I love fresh food.  Really, really fresh food. So I get a serious thrill out of picking something one moment and eating it or preserving it in my kitchen the next. It is such a beautiful, peaceful thing to harvest your own food, surrounded by birdsong, or the voices of little children helping you at your side, questioning everything, learning and sharing their observations as you go along. For all of these reasons, our backyard is full of fruit and constant birdsong.

Black Currants are an acquired but delicious
fruit to make into jelly (and bake onto
pork tenderloin) or to throw into fruit crisps.
These ones are in my backyard right now.
I know there are others like me out there. The Terwillegar Community Facebook page is full of people trading recipes and favourite berry-picking spots, and trading extra backyard berries for excess plants right now. It's a wonderful thing to see.

For those of you who are not green thumbs... you CAN grow fruit in Edmonton! Just ask the Fruits of Sherbrooke... there is a wealth of fruit that can be grown in our climate. The Fruits of Sherbrooke volunteers go about "rescuing" unwanted fruit in the older neighbourhoods of Edmonton and turning fruits like rhubarb and crab apples into wonderful jams, jellies, savoury and tart sauces and ketchups. They are a non profit society that sells their creations at markets around town, and they invest their profits back into their organization, giving unused fruit a terrific (and delicious) place in our local food system.

When we moved into our home, we purposely put strawberries, red currents, black currents, red raspberries, yellow raspberries, black raspberries, gooseberries, rhubarb, highbush cranberries and a single, lone apple tree in our teeny backyard when we did our landscaping. There are flowers too... but my secret thrill comes from the fruit scattered throughout the yard, from the creative experimentation that I can do with our meals and preserves and with the wildlife that our purposeful planting has brought to our backyard. And I love the sense of wonderment, adventure and independence that finding, picking and searching for that fruit gave our children when they were young... and that gives our neighbours' four and six year olds today.

Fresh field berries make the best spring jam!
More than hot house grown fruit, field grown
berries have unbelievable flavour!
Making Jam is one of the easiest things to do and the berries are fresh, ripe and sweet at the market right now. There's nothing like biting into a ripe, juicy sun-kissed berry! And it is ever so simple and really super-easy to capture that flavour... to capture a little of spring and summer... and put it in a jar to bring out in the depths of winter. If you have freezer space, you don't even have to worry about sterilizing jars or even cooking the jam! (And I think that freezer jam tastes far better than cooked jam.) Simply mash the fruit, add the sugar and pectin & stir it up & put it in jars!

See? Nothing to it.

Apricots make a delightful jam that is perfect as a glaze
for a roasted (or BBQ'd) pork tenderloin.
Right now, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants, apricots and saskatoons are in season and available in Alberta and BC. They all make terrific jams! At the Southwest Edmonton Farmers' Market you can find fruits at Steve & Dan's, AIG BC Fruit, Red Apple, Peter's Lakeview Farm and the Holden Colony. Go see for yourself the varieties you can find, and then mix them into a combination that excites your senses.

Each year, I experiment with different combinations of fruit. Sometimes that experimentation is the mother of necessity... a recipe calls for two cups of fruit but I only have one and a half cups of one kind and need to add a half cup of something else to complete the recipe. And sometimes, I'm simply tinkering and trying to improve on the flavour of a previous jam.

Forming terrific checkerboard patterns on the fruit tables
at the market, these two kinds of berries make the
perfect jam pairing.
Black currents have strong flavours, but combined with mellower fruits like raspberries or saskatoons, they can be terrific. One of my favourite jams is a half and half combination of black currents and saskatoons. And I love the colour of a raspberry jam that is made from a combination of red and yellow raspberries.

Certo makes making jam incredibly easy. Certo is fruit pectin that is extracted from lime peels. I buy it in its liquid form in packages that are pre-measured. Fruit pectin is what thickens jams and makes them spreadable, rather than pourable. It is a natural ingredient that is extracted from lime peels.

Blueberries are very easy to turn into a jam and they are
in season right now.
Every box of certo (you can usually find it in the sugar/flour/spice aisle of any grocery store) comes with a leaflet instruction chart inside. Follow the recipes there and you will always have success. There's a wealth of simple recipes and inspiring combinations to choose from. They've worked out the science behind it, so if you follow their fruit amounts for each kind of jam, you won't go wrong (some fruits have higher pectin levels than others, which affect how the jams gel). If you want to find out more, click here.

For now, here's a super simple recipe. Join me... I'm making a batch today!

freezer red or black raspberry jam

Seriously... make a batch of freezer jam and you'll never go back to store bought jam again! The flavour is that good! The recipe is that easy! Kids love getting in on the mashing and the stirring (and the label making).

Did you know that calorie for calorie, raspberries have almost double the amount of dietary fibre that black beans have? That's some nutritional whollop! Raspberries also have calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C and bone-building vitamin K.

red raspberries
Freezer raspberry jam is, hands down, the one of the easiest jams to make! Because it's a freezer jam recipe, as opposed to a cooked jam recipe, there's no fussy & time consuming (not to mention intimidating) sterilizing, hot water canning or cooking involved. And because the berries are never cooked, they retain their vibrant colour and their flavour intensity.

Be sure to use a potato masher to crush the berries and not a food processor so you get little chunks of fruit in the jam. And don't cut down on the sugar or double the recipe as the jam won't set (thicken) properly.

2c. crushed raspberries or blackberries
4 c. granulated sugar
1 pouch liquid certo pectin
2 T. lemon juice

Crush the berries, one layer at a time. In a large mixing bowl stir together the fruit and sugar. Let stand 10 minutes. Add the certo and lemon juice. Stir for 3 minutes. Put into clean glass jars or plastic freezer containers, filling up to 1/4" from the rim. Cover with lids. Leave at room temperature 24 hours or until set. Put in the freezer and pull out and thaw in the fridge a day before you intend to use it. Yield: 5 cups jam.

Recipe from Original Certo Liquid (instructions in the box)
Nutritional information from The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S.
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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

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