Home Cooking Recipes
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Quick & Easy
By Beverly Barbour

Autumn in a jar

Actually, I suppose homemade jams and pickles should be things of the past. But they are so simple to make and so good tasting, that why bother shopping for them and paying for them? Better to do it yourself and have the pleasure plus the product.

Here is a sort of a three-in-one jam recipe from Mark Bittman that calls for a minimum amount of sugar, so that you taste more fruit than sweetness plus you save the calories sugar would bring. And, you don't need a thickening agent such as pectin. Each of the jams is fast to make, about half and hour.

Jam is good on toast or biscuit or cooked cereal but it is also good served as a kind of chutney with grilled meats. Just add a pinch of salt when you're serving with meat. A secret that our grandparents knew. Mint with lamb, chokecherry with pork,and so on, depending upon where you lived and what berries or herbs grew there.

FIGS: The three-in-one concept includes figs. The best are green and soft but reasonably ripe figs of any color can be used; their skins break down, their seeds mingle with the soft flesh and mixture becomes thick. Add a vanilla bean to the cooking pot, if you have any at hand. Do not panic while you are cooking the figs. Don't add water even though they appear dry as they cook. Cook over very low heat until the figs are soft. However, if you are desperately afraid that the jam will burn before the figs cook through, add a little water, gradually until you feel the product is spreadable.

PEACHES OR NECTARINES: With these two more moist fruits you will produce a spreadable jam that is equally at ease on toast or pancakes. Cooking the jam with honey and fresh ginger (don't use anything if fresh isn't available as the jam will then taste harsh). Hint: peaches can be peeled with a potato peeler about as fast as you can remove the skins by simmering the fruit in water for a few minutes and then shredding it off, which is a fairly messy process.

BLUEBERRIES: Careful here as they break down quickly and turn to soup so it takes real boiling to thicken blueberry jam. However, the jam will thicken in the refrigerator and it is wonderful on pancakes.

SPICES: You can have fun trying various combinations in fruit mixtures. Some that seem to team well with fruits are cloves, nutmeg, cardamon and allspice. BUT you must use them very, very sparingly. Or, don't use spices at all as it is after all the fruit we wish to taste.


THREE NIFTY JAMS

The ingredients vary but the method is the same for all of them.

Fig Jam:
1 pound figs, stemmed and chopped
1 vanilla bean, optional
1/4 cup granulated sugar, or to taste

Blueberry Jam:
1 pound blueberries
1 3-inch stick cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar, or to taste

Peach or Nectarine:
1 1/2 pounds peaches or nectarines, peeled, pitted, chopped
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup honey, or to taste

Combine ingredients in a saucepan; fruit should be at a depth of a couple of inches. Bring to a boil over medium heat. (You may need to add a tablespoon or two of water to the figs, but hold off until you see how much of their own liquid they produce.) Adjust heat so that mixture bubbles steadily. If it looks too soupy, use a higher heat to reduce it; if there is not much liquid, use lower heat to avoid burning. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is liquid but thick. Figs will take the least time, peaches the longest. Cool and refrigerate the jam; all of them will thicken as they cool. Store, in jars in refrigerator until used. Remove vanilla bean or cinnamon stick before serving. Each makes about 2 cups of jam in 20 to 25 minutes.


HINTS FOR PICKLE PRODUCER

The results should be beautiful and full-flavored vegetable pickles.

1. Work only with firm vegetables. Get the best looking ones you can find. Success depends upon produce that isn't flawed or flabby.

2. Use plain white vinegar rather than cider vinegar. White vinegar will give you vibrant, brightly colored pickles. While white wine vinegar may taste good, the colors will be dull.

3. Pickle using only kosher salt. It won't cloud the liquid the way table salt does and it will give the pickles a well-rounded saltiness. Table salt has additives to keep it from clogging the holes in the salt shaker and if the salt is iodized you may be able to taste the iodine in the finished pickles.

4. Take the time to make the finished jars look ready for a county fair. If the vegetable being pickled is carrot or strips of cucumber, cut them to fit the jars and you'll be able to pack the jar fuller. They will look nicer and the pickling solution will go further. A chopstick is a good tool for poking around and arranging foods in the jars.


SPICY KIRBY PICKLES

You can store these in the refrigerator or to store without refrigeration pack into sterile jars, cover and process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.

3 pounds kirby cucumbers, halved lengthwise
6 whole cloves
4 bay leaves
2 to 3 dried red chiles
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 cups white vinegar, plus more if needed
1 cup water
10 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar

In one 2-quart jar or a few smaller jars, pack the cucumbers, cloves, bay leaves, chiles, peppercorns, coriander, mustard, fennel and cumin. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar with the water, garlic, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil. Simmer until the salt and sugar dissolve. Ladle the pickling liquid into the jar to cover the cucumbers. If necessary, add more vinegar to cover the cucumbers. Let the pickles cool, then cover with a lid and refrigerate until flavorful, about 3 weeks. Makes 2 quarts.

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