For me, a Saturday is better if I visit a Farmer's Market. It just smells like the earth and the season and melds the goodness of life with food. I was feeling so proud of myself about the cherry preserves that I wondered if these beautiful nectarines, priced right, and heaped into the top of a barrel like Tiffany jewels, would behave just as nicely. Wrapping them up in my arms, we cooed to each other about being nestled in a gurgling bath of sugar and lemon juice, and they promised me sweetness.
You should know, though, that even though cherries and nectarines have a stone heart, they are not cousins. A nectarine is messier, smooshier, and less cooperative. (I can talk this way now without hurting their feelings since I cooked the ever living daylights out of them. And in their defense, they behaved just as they were programmed to: STICKY!)
I started with the same technique; cutting around the fruit with a sharp knife, intending to remove the pale, dimpled center in one graceful motion. And that worked for the first two. Then the third simply exploded on me, and juice went everywhere. (Guess this is where I caution you about wardrobe again.) But after we got to know each other, the task went quickly and soon I had 7 and a half cups of beautiful, golden sweet chunks. There is one caveat. You do NOT peel these little suckers. The pectin you need is in the skin, as well as the color, and the essence of what makes it so beautiful on your plate. So don't whine too loudly about it being high maintenance.)
Again, calculating the amounts of the next few ingredients was made through the collective genius of the online experts I accessed. You will be happy to note at the end of this saga that I guessed unbelievable correctly. And when the sugar and the lemon juice infused themselves into the fruit, the juices and softness of the mixture took on a glow that was beautiful. I almost felt bad I had to turn on the burner!
After bringing to a regular but tamed boil, and stirring with a wooden spatula most of the time, the mixture was frothy and looked like pale yellow foam; hints of rose etched into the bubbles letting me know the skins were beginning to do their job. After 30 minutes of cooking I could see we were still a bit away from success, but I added the flavorings and rum at that point. Cooking for another 10 minutes, I could see the foam was all but gone and the fruit looked like dark golden jewels in the thickening and rosy colored pool of syrup. Opting for the dish in the freezer technique again, I took it off the stove and placed a bit of the lovely drippings onto the plate and after three minutes (yes, I continued to stir the mixture at a slow, slow boil while waiting for the cold to share the secret of the pectin's magic), the nudge test was a success. As you will learn, this is something you do by feel.
Putting the lids on, and then later, after some cooling, affixing the labels I created, I was now able to share my treasures. Seemed like a fitting tribute to this smooth, sweet and soft spoken fruit. Le Vie en Rose lives on in my preserves!
Ethereal Nectarine Ginger Preserves
Wash fruit, cut and chop into half to one inch chunks, leaving the skins on. Place in large, oversized dutch oven pan with the sugar and lemon juice. Gradually add heat until mixture is boiling. Keep boil eager but not violent and stir often as you cook for 30 minutes. Don't worry about all the foam. It will subside. Don't try to stir the foam back in though, as it collects around the inside. That introduces sugar crystals. The mixture reduces, so just mess with what's reduced.
At the end of 30 minutes, add the spices and Rum and keep stirring for 10 more minutes. Perform the nudge test (see Pitifully Easy Cherry Preserves for technique) and keep cooking the mixture on a VERY low boil for the next three minutes while waiting.
When done, place into jars, seal but not tightly, and leave undisturbed on counter until you hear the lids pop in. Refrigerate if you're not doing a hot water bath. Can freeze as well.
Isn't it pretty? Dang, I didn't know I could do it. Although I will admit, that as I was adding the lemon zest I felt a certain calmness about my eventual success. Can I tell you how fun it was?
Okay, truth moment: This is the FIRST TIME I have ever made jam. I have no idea why I had to be this old before I tried something so simple, but that's just the nature of the beast. The prospect of it was made possible by a string of recent confidence building food experiments, the fact that spring and fruit make you giddy, and because this little bag of cherries in the supermarket was literally begging me to take it home.
That's how it starts, you know. Like a Sou Dr. Doolittle, I can talk to the celery...and the yogurt, and the orzo and they talk back. Whether it's the supermarket or farmers market, you simply stroll along the aisles and suddenly you look down and there's a bag of sweet, dark cherries in your cart, promising you a night of abandon and exhilaration. Well, I just had to give it a try!
Okay, we didn't get 'at it' right away, there was foreplay. My fingernails are still a bit tattooed with purple juice, but really, pitting a cherry isn't complicated, it just takes a long time. And if you need to meditate, this is the perfect task.
Because I don't have 7 children or a zucchini garden I tend to do things in small batches the first time. I bought the small canning jars, 12 in all, expecting to use only about 5 or so. In the end, I only filled three and all who have tasted have made me promise to make more. Anyway, sometimes you learn best by muddling through.
First of all, there are LOTS of YouTube and Blog videos about making preserves, and a lot of them range from maddening to vague, with only a few punctuated with the kind of help a self made cook really needs. So hopefully my learning curve will help you. If you're interested, I chose to use a recipe from a blog by David Lebovitz. It's great and very simple. When I read his blog I knew he was my kind of mentor, especially when he talked about learning to do this without a perfect recipe. You go Dave.
Next, it's important that you have everything out and ready to go. This happens FAST and you will want things at your fingertips. I'll get to the tools as well as the ingredients in the recipe below.
Finally, go buy a loaf of ciabatta bread now, 'cause you are GONNA WANT this slathered on it the next morning when you make french toast.
Recipe: Pitifully Easy Cherry Preserves
Sterilize the jars and lids. I just run them through my dishwasher. It's okay if when you take them out and fill them they're hot. So is that blazing red syrup you're putting in them.
Now. Get a roll of paper towels close at hand, a good, sharp paring knife, and for heaven's sake, wear black. Wash cherries thoroughly, remove stems. Cut each cherry in half, like you would do if you were going to pit an avocado. Peel off one side. Dig out the pit with the knife and place the two halves in a bowl. (Sometimes it's not two halves, sometimes it ends up in 5 pieces, but it doesn't matter. Just start stacking them up.) Now, chop 3/4ths of them into smaller pieces and leave the last 1/4 a little larger. Not as big as halves, just not mince-meat.
Place in a large, deep dutch oven. (I LOVE using my cast iron pot.) add the lemon juice. Cook over moderately low head until they're all nice and soft, like they would be if you were cooking cranberries for Turkey Day. About 20 minutes if you're cooking on a lower heat. Now, take them back out and measure them. For me I ended up with cherries AND syrup close to 3 cups. Now, measure out 3/4 that amount of sugar. Put the fruit back in the pan, add the sugar and the lemon zest and before the magic begins there's one more task. Okay, take a small glass plate and place it in the freezer. It is our cheat plate to test when our concoction is done. Now, turn the heat on almost to high, get your best wooden spatula, make sure no one is going to run in your kitchen asking you to take a phone call, sign for a package, or switch TV channels.
The next 7 minutes belongs to your pot. Stir in the sugar and keep cooking, and you'll see it all come to a rolling boil. You don't want a violent boil, just keep it going. Stir for about 4 minutes and the mixture should start to show less bubbles and a little bit of thickening. Take the pot off the stove, pull out the plate, and put a bit on the syrup on the plate and back in the freezer. This is now the moment you can change the channel for any helpless people in your home, or put the towels in the drier. Now, back at it. After about 4 minutes, check the freezer. When you nudge the syrup, does it kind of wrinkle and hold? If not, cook the syrup a bit longer, 2 to 3 minutes and check again. It will probably be good the second time. Now we're not looking for a rubbery consistency, just a bit of a wrinkle. You do NOT want to turn this to a crystal, overcooked mess. Those cherries deserve your vigilance!
Guess what. You're DONE! Take the pot of yumminess and add that dash of Grand Marnier. It REALLY brings out the depth of flavor and it sounds fun when you're telling people what your secret ingredient is. Okay, place in jars with about 1/2 inch room at the top, and seal tightly. You can, at this point, move to a water bath and seal so you can store for a long time. But this isn't going to last, 'cause it's waay too awesome, so I just let them sit on the counter for about 3 hours until they're not hot, and then you put them in the fridge.
They'll last for about 2 to 3 months. If they do, you have serious issues about avoidance. I'm telling ya, the next morning the ciabatta will do all the talking and you'll be smacking your lips!
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Meet the Cook...
My name is Camine Pappas and I love to create beautiful and delicious food that anyone can make. My signature style centers around a love for combining things in a way you might not expect as I work to find a hidden combination of colors, textures and flavors from the things that are in my pantry and/or easy to obtain.