Pluot Balsamic Rosemary

(I’ll try to make more, as this was quite a hit!!)   I know, this is not a combination that you’d think of for a jam…but I assure you, it’s worth suspending disbelief. I was a bit skeptical, so tried this recipe in a very small batch, and was convinced that I had to make more by the responses I got! This is destined for a cheese plate, not a PB&J. I’ve tried it with goat cheese, triple cream brie, and on bread by itself, and it is really a fantastic flavor. Tangy and tart, it only has the natural sweetness from the plums and a bit of honey. The strongest flavor comes from the balsamic vinegar and the rosemary.

I cooked down the pluots (plums would have been fine, too, but my favorite vendor at the market had some great, super-ripe pluots, so I went with them) until they were juicy and had broken down. I then added the balsamic vinegar and honey, and kept cooking it until it had thickened.

I waited until the end to add the rosemary, wanting the keep the flavor fresh. The texture is thinner, as it is not thickened with pectin–a great spoonable texture that works well with bread and cheese!

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Cranberry Sauce

I just made some fantastic orange-cranberry sauce, and wanted to give you the chance to pick some up for thanksgiving, post-thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, and Christmas, too! Also, check out my prototype label! I’m still working on a final design, but figured I’d test out a label for the Cranberry Sauce.

I started with the fresh cranberries, then cooked them down with fresh orange juice until they popped and started to thicken. I then added the sugar, and cooked until it reached the right consistency. I added the orange zest right at the end, then canned it up!

Mint Jelly

Mission Accomplished! I’ve completed my first jelly attempt, and I think it was a success. The Mint Jelly turned out great–subtle flavor, little bit of a lemony tang, and just the right balance of thickness to spread-ability.

To start, I chopped up two large bunches of mint, stem and all (the stem is as flavorful as the leaves). I heated the water just to a boil, then let the mint steep overnight. The next day, I strained it, added the remaining ingredients, and voila–my first jelly.

The color is definitely not the bright green you see in commercial jellies, but I prefer the natural color, with no added dye. Though traditionally used as a topping for lamb, I’d encourage you to use this in other ways, too–the original person who requested it swears by its use in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!

Zinfandel – Champagne Grape Jam

I finally had time to make jam from the zinfandel grapes we picked at Chase vineyards a couple of weeks ago. First, I cooked down the frozen grapes so that I could juice them. Since they had seeds, I wanted to strain the juice. I decided to add some seedless champagne grapes, so that I could include some skins, to give more texture and to balance the strong flavor of the zinfandel grapes. I de-stemmed the champagne grapes, and waited to finish juicing the zinfandel grapes after they cooled. To make the jam, I cooked the champagne grapes with the juice, and made a grape jam. I think it turned out great–deep, rich flavor and a little bit of texture from the skins.

It’s Jelly Time

I’ve typically been enamored of rich, fruit-filled jams, held barely together by unctuous juice… However, I’ve recently been inspired by two sources to enter into the world of clear, pure jelly, and test my skills in that arena.

First, a couple of weeks ago, my sister, Christy, and lovely 15-month-old niece, Evie, came to visit. We spent a day in Napa, with visits courtesy of our dear friend Martin, of the Saint Helena Wine Center. He arranged a visit and private tour at Chase Family Vineyards, where we spent a couple of hours wandering around, tasting some fantastic zinfandel and cabs, and eating our picnic lunch. BTW–tested out a new recipe for plum balsamic rosemary jam, and will definitely make again–fantastic with triple cream brie and baguette!

After spending time with our tasting guide, I learned that they had finished the harvest for the year, and the remaining grapes were destined to rot on the vines. Saddened by that prospect, I asked for permission to harvest a bit for jam. She agreed, and I ended up with a large bag of grapes (and Evie ate her fill, too!). I washed, sorted and de-stemmed, but had to freeze the grapes for a better jam-making moment. It seems like that will be this weekend!

Second, I was talking with a co-worker this week who reminisced about mint jelly a neighbor used to make when she was growing up. The only mint jelly available in the stores these days is the artificially green kind that is destined for dry legs of lamb. I was inspired to try and re-create the subtle mint jelly that she remembered…after a visit to the Farmer’s Market today, I’m all set with mint and ready to give it a try!

Caramel Apple Butter

After trying my hand at apple butter a couple of months ago, I felt it was time to try another variation. Finally having finished with Michelle’s pears, I tackled her slightly-tart and lovely little apples. As with the pears, the peeling, coring and chopping was the hardest part–the flavor was so bright and lovely once the apples were cooked down that they didn’t need much tinkering.

As I was cooking on Halloween, it seemed appropriate to incorporate caramel into my apple butter. After cooking the apples for about 30 minutes and pureeing them in the food processor, I heated 2 cups of organic sugar in a saucepan and cooked until it was a deep caramel. I incorporated it into the apple butter, then let the mixture simmer with whole star anise, cinnamon sticks, and cloves for another 30 minutes. It is really delicious–tastes like spiced apple cider with caramel drizzled in…it’s definitely November!

Pear-Honey-Lemon Verbena Jam

For my final recipe with the fantastic pears, I tried to be a bit more daring, using solely my own inspiration and a spoon for guidance. I’ve loved the flavor of lemon as an undertone in my jams, so I decided to make it a starring flavor, with the addition of lemon zest and more juice. I also picked several sprigs of lemon verbena and cooked it down with the jam for a more herbal take on lemon. Finally, I added honey, to give it a bit more depth of sweetness. It’s really unique, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out!