The big difference between cooks who garden and those who don’t is that the former start with what’s available. Market shoppers may claim to do the same—to begin their meals by buying produce that’s fresh and in season. But shoppers usually buy only what they can use right away, and so seldom have to deal with excess. Every success in the garden brings with it a burden—heaps of vegetables or fruits that must be dried, pickled, canned, stored in the cellar, or crammed into the refrigerator. The last is easiest, when the harvest isn’t too big, but before the veggies go sad and limp in the fridge the gardener had better wash the soil from her hands and open the cookbooks.
That’s what I did yesterday, after bringing in a pile of French Breakfast radishes. Nearly everybody eats radishes raw—in salads if not at breakfast with butter. And, of course, radishes are good for fermenting and vinegar-pickling, in various ways. But surely they are most digestible cooked. If I wanted to put a lot of radishes into our stomachs right away, I needed to cook them.
I found inspiration in Irene Kuo’s book The Key to Chinese Cooking (1977). In it is a recipe for a pork-and-radish soup. I had no raw pork on hand, but I had the remains of a half brined ham. And I had a potential ingredient Irene may never have considered: a pot full of fragrant leek broth.
The leek broth resulted from an earlier harvest the same day. Needing to clear a bed so I could plant it with tomatoes, I had brought in an armload of leeks. Since I had plenty more leeks in another bed, these could all go into the freezer. I washed them, sliced them, and blanched them for a minute in batches before spreading them on cookie sheets, freezing them, and vacuum-packing them. Now the blanching liquid smelled too good to throw out.
So I made a radish soup like Irene’s, but with a leek-and-ham-flavored broth and bits of leftover ham. Because my soup wouldn’t be one dish among several but dinner in itself, I served it over buckwheat noodles, with a dish of raw arugula to tear and add at will, Vietnamese-style. What a simple and satisfying meal!
If you have no leek broth on hand, you can certainly substitute other vegetable or meat stock.
Ham and Radish Soup with Leek Broth
2 quarts leek broth, preferably unsalted, from blanching or cooking leeks About 12 ounces ham bone(s) 6 quarter-sized slices ginger ¾ pound radishes About 1 12 ounces ham, in ½-inch dice Salt, if needed Fresh or dried buckwheat or wheat noodles A small bunch of arugula or other greens, such as watercress or spearmint
Strain the broth, if it needs straining, into a large saucepan. Add the bone(s) and the ginger. Simmer the stock for about 1½ hours.
Cut the radishes into pieces about ½ inch by 1 inch. Depending on the variety and size, you can slice them into quarters or eighths, or you can roll-cut them, slicing diagonally with a quarter-turn between slices; this maximizes the cut surface area of each piece and promotes even cooking and flavor absorption. Add the radishes and ham to the soup. Simmer about 30 minutes longer, until the radishes are tender. Taste the broth, and add salt only if needed; the ham will have probably provided enough.
Before the simmering is done, cook fresh or dried buckwheat noodles in boiling water. Drain and rinse the cooked noodles, and divide them among large soup bowls. Ladle the soup over the noodles. Serve the soup with fresh arugula or other greens for eaters to add according to their taste. Diced avocado and oily chile sauce are other tasty optional additions.
From the University of Minnesota Press comes a preserving cookbook especially for cold-climate cooks, whether they grow their own produce or shop at farmers’ markets and farm stands. Savory Sweet: Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen is a collection of condiment recipes by Mette Nielsen, a Danish-born gardener and photographer, and Beth Dooley, a cookbook author and journalist.
Omitted from the book are warm-climate fruits such as guavas, mangoes, fig, and quince, but Californians and even Southern cooks will find plenty to work with here. Beth and Mette use dried apricots in place of fresh, and they liberally employ fresh citrus—especially grapefruit juice and rind, which they combine with various fruits and even with pickled beets.
I don’t know whether the preference for grapefruit is typically Danish, but the Nordic touch is obvious in the authors’ frequent use of juniper, caraway, and dill. Still, I wouldn’t call this cookbook Scandinavian or even Midwestern. Beth and Mette play freely with ideas and ingredients from India, Mexico, Britain, Spain, Italy, the Middle East, and North Africa.
The book includes condiments of all kinds—pickles, relishes, chutneys, dips, sauces, jams, jellies, syrups, butters, mustards, and flavored salt and sugar—and some other preserved foods such as dried fruits and shrubs. Looking through the recipes along with Mette’s lovely photos made my mouth water. Particularly interesting entries include a fennel and onion confit, a pesto of garlic scapes and hazelnuts, a brined radish pickle flavored with juniper and coriander, and a tomato ketchup made with tamarind concentrate. Parsnips surprised me in two recipes—a relish, with grapefruit, and a marmalade, with lime. A chutney of butternut squash and dried apricots “was popular years ago,” but I’d never heard of it (I suspect that the original recipe is from the U.K.). An apple “compote” is sweetened chunky applesauce with horseradish and pepper flakes. The pear shrub with ginger and lime, according to the authors, is a pioneer recipe, though in a quick search I could find no old recipes for shrubs made with pears (prickly pear shrubs do go way back). In any case, almost any preserver will find intriguing ideas in this handsome hardcover volume.
Take note of one odd thing about this book: Although most of the recipes call for mason jars with flat lids and bands, the jars are to be stored in the fridge or freezer instead of the pantry. The authors’ claim that a boiling-water bath would overcook the contents isn’t entirely credible, since most of the condiments are well cooked before they are jarred. No matter, though—most of the recipes have USDA counterparts. If you don’t want to fill your refrigerator and freezer with mason jars, simply use standard processing times as appropriate (see the National Center for Home Food Preservation website). And if you don’t like canning, feel free to use your Tupperware instead of Ball jars.
Lime Ginger Pear Shrub
For this recipe Beth and Mette recommend the Luscious pear, a sweet, juicy variety developed by South Dakota State University for the cold Northern Great Plains. If you live in a warmer climate, you might substitute Bartlett pears. This is a good way to use up soft, overripe fruit.
Because the pears aren’t cooked in this recipe, I recommend you follow the authors’ advice to freeze the jars instead of processing them.
To serve, mix ¼ cup of the shrub into 1 cup sparkling or still water, and pour the mixture over ice. If you like, add a jigger of rum or vodka.
2/3 cup loosely packed coarsely grated ginger 2 tablespoons lime juice 1 cup sugar 3 pounds very ripe pears, coarsely chopped (about 7 to 8 cups) 1 cup cider vinegar
Combine the ginger, lime juice, and sugar in a medium bowl. Add the pears as you cut them. Crush the pears with a potato masher or a fork to release their juice.
Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set the bowl on the countertop out of direct sunlight. Macerate the fruit for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Place a medium-mesh sieve over a large bowl. Working in batches, press the pear mixture through the sieve, scraping the underside of the sieve with a clean spoon. Discard the solids left in the sieve. Stir in the vinegar.
Wash the jars, lids, and bands in very hot soapy water, rinse them well, and place them upside down on a clean towel to drain.
Pour the shrub into the jars, leaving a half-inch of headroom to allow for expansion during freezing. Wipe the rims with a clean wet cloth or paper towel, add the lids and bands, and tighten the bands.
Label the jars, and store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
Makes about 7 half-pints
This recipe is from Savory Sweet: Simple Preserves from a Northern Kitchen, by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). Copyright 2017 by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the University of Minnesota Press.
My German-American friend Nadia Hassani has started an online community of food writers who celebrate “the diversity of the foods that we eat every day.” From cioppino to sauerkraut to tacos to ramen to hoppin’ John, our favorite American dishes originated somewhere else. Write about that, says Nadia. Tell your readers you support diversity.
As a child in California I loved to eat fruits, cookies, ham, steak, ice cream, sourdough bread, and potatoes. Other foods repelled me. I’d stare for hours at the cold mess on my plate until I’d sneaked it all, bit by bit, to the beagle under the table.
I emerged as an adult, happily, with a fresh appetite and adventurous spirit. My adult eating habits and preferences developed under the influence of ethnic foods. A sansei roommate, a Cantonese-American cooking teacher, Indian restaurants, Italian-American winemakers, and cookbooks by immigrants from around the world—all these helped teach me to eat. While still in my teens I figured out that the best restaurants (at least, the best I could afford) were run by people fresh off the boat or plane and cooking mainly for their countrymen and -women. Most exciting of all to me were the ethnic groceries—Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese. The Japanese produce sellers in Berkeley. The Portuguese markets in Somerville, Massachusetts, where we bought chouriço and the greenest, fruitiest olive oil. The Armenian shops in Watertown, with their bulgur and fresh lavash. Boston’s North End, with its cannoli, torrone, fresh ravioli, and semolina bread. Here in Oregon, the Polish sausage maker in Tigard, the Korean supermarket H-Mart, and the Russian/Romanian/Ukrainian markets with their thick sausages, smoked mackerel, and Canadian sour cream. As a gardener, I searched for seeds of Japanese eggplants, Spanish peppers, Russian tomatoes, and Chinese greens. From the foods we grew and the influence of countless immigrant cooks, my family and I developed our own hodgepodge cuisine.
And so perhaps you can forgive me for thinking, during the Syrian refugee crisis, of flatbread, shawarma, kibbeh, falafel, and baklava. How odd to live in a place called Lebanon where nobody appreciates these foods! Wouldn’t it be nice to have a few Syrian families move into our little town? Think what they could do with the local lamb!
On a community website for Lebanon, Oregon, people express their excitement when a new fast-food restaurant opens. They lament that the town lacks a steak house. As a once picky eater, I can’t fault anyone for wanting to eat solely from the same short menu for fifty years or more. And I don’t believe in open borders; an overdose of immigration causes social upset, especially when the natives are finding it ever harder to make a living.
But for me, immigrants in the neighborhood offer adventures in eating—and in shopping, in language, in stories, in music. Immigrant butchers, bakers, cooks, and grocers remind us to value quality over predictability, and community over convenience—because good food and community are ever intertwined. So I say to the world, give us your tired, your poor, and sprinkle them generously across this land. And then let them feed us.
In recent weeks I’ve been busy with the very tedious but so-important work of producing the index for the third edition of The Joy of Pickling. Yes, the third edition will be out soon, on July 1! Online retailers in both the USA and UK are taking orders now.
In this edition I’ve included fifty-some new recipes, such as for cured olives and brined whole watermelons and cabbages, and new technical information, including sources for fermenting containers, weights, and airlocks. Have a look at the blurb on the publisher’s website here.
If you followed the link in the foregoing paragraph, you already know that I have a new publisher: Quarto Publishing Group has acquired the Harvard Common Press. Quarto will also be the publisher of my next book, Savory Jams, to be released sometime next year.
Recently, the folks at Fillmore Container asked me, along with several other writers on home food preservation, three questions: What does preserving mean to you? How has your own approach to preserving changed? And how has home food preservation in general changed? Our responses have just been posted here.
I’m sorry I’ve been silent so long; the past couple of months have been especially busy for me I’ll try catch up here by taking on several small topics at once.
SORBET MIX FOR THE PANTRY
After dance class last Friday night Greg had a hankering for ice cream, so he and his wife, Wendy, and I sat on plastic chairs outside Baskin-Robbins licking our cones, gazing at Albany’s ugliest intersection—treeless parking lots on all corners, backed by buildings that look like giant shoe boxes—and pondering why we don’t make our own ice cream more often. Ice cream is for birthdays, I said, and it’s always after I’ve made the cake and cooked the dinner that I realize I’ve failed to search out cream, and I must have the real thing, which is darn hard to find in our area if you don’t keep your own cow. But sorbet is better than ice cream, anyway, Wendy reminded me, and where was that raspberry sorbet recipe I’d promised her three years ago? It’s simple, I said—raspberry purée and sugar, that’s all you need. Like me, Wendy and Greg always have raspberries in the freezers. Yes, that’s plural, freezers. I have so much fruit in my freezers that there is little room for anything else. Then I had an idea: What if we made up a sorbet mix in advance, and stored it on a pantry shelf? Probably we would all eat sorbet more often, and stay away from this ugly intersection.
So Wendy vowed to make some raspberry sorbet, and I made plans for my next picking of Triple Crown blackberries, for which I use the same basic recipe. Here it is in the pantry version, which I developed just yesterday:
Canned Berry Sorbet
Press the fresh berries through the fine screen of a food mill.
7 cups blackberry or raspberry purée, from about 4½ pounds fresh berries 2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional, and only for lower-acid fruit such as my Triple Crowns) 3 cups sugar
Combine the berry purée, the lemon juice (if you’re using it), and the sugar in a large pot, and stir. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil the mixture gently for 1 minute—no longer, or you may turn it into jam.
Pour the purée into two quart jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. If you come up a bit short, top off the jars with boiling water. Then add lids and rings. Process the jars fin a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.
A day before freezing your sorbet, put one of the jars into the fridge to chill. Freeze the sorbet according to the directions that came with your device.
Makes 2 quarts
NEW RULE FOR HANDLING JAR LIDS
Jarden, the company that owns Ball and Kerr, has informed Oregon State University Extension that it’s no longer necessary to soak Ball and Kerr mason-jar lids in hot water before using them. Instead, just wash each lid before placing it on a jar and screwing on the ring.
After discovering green garbanzo beansat a supermarket in Salem, I had to try growing my own. A friend had given me some seeds of Hannan Popbean, a brown- to black-seeded chickpea selected by Carol Deppe, a Corvallis plant breeder. Carol calls this bean a popbean not because the pods make a popping noise as you press them open—all chickpeas do this, apparently—but because she pops the dried seeds like corn, by parching them in a hot, dry pan until they swell and break open.
Although Carol grows her popbeans in spring, without irrigation, I planted mine in late May, along with soybeans, runner beans, long beans, and regular bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). A couple of weeks after the initial planting I had to fill big gaps in the other bean rows, but to my surprise every one of the garbanzos germinated. I was surprised again by the foliage, which looks much like vetch and nothing like other bean leaves. The third surprise from my chickpea row was the best one: Deer don’t eat these plants. I learned why they don’t when I ate my first green garbanzo, just two months after planting, and tasted something sharply sour on my fingers. I touched my tongue to a bean pod and understood: The plant defends itself from grazing by seasoning its pods and foliage with malic and oxalic acids. Brilliant!
So, forget my fears about all the special requirements for growing chickpeas. I don’t have a long growing season. I don’t have sandy soil. I didn’t add nitrogen-fixing bacteria to the soil. But I didn’t need any of these things. Garbanzos seem to be an excellent crop for my garden. They are certainly easier to grow than edamame.
I want to share these photos of an excellent stoneware pickling weight for one- and two-quart mason jars. Note the cute little knob handle and the holes to let the brine through. The weight was designed and created by Ken Albala, a prolific author of culinary history books and a professor at the University of the Pacific who somehow finds time to putter in his pottery. Do you suppose we could convince Ken to quit his other gigs and devote himself to supplying the world with pickle weights?
The dark stuff on top of the kohlrabi, by the way, is red shiso, wilted with a little salt. I’m hoping that the shiso will prevent any yeast growth while also turning the kohlrabi pink. If the kraut turns out well, I’ll post another photo later.
When you visit Ken Albala’s blog, be sure to see the post on Funky Dust Pickle Powder. Ken simply shaved some brined cucumbers thin, dried them in a dehydrator, and ground them to a powder to use as a sour and spicy seasoning. I may have to try this myself.
As many readers of this blog already know, I almost never use packaged pectin. After writing a whole book about old-fashioned fruit preserves, made as they were before packaged pectin was invented, I’ve felt no need for Sure-Jell or MCP or any such stuff. But recently Nadia Hassani, who wrote about her own experiment with pectins in her blog “Spoonfuls of Germany,” told me how much she liked Dr. Oetker’s Gelfix, a pectin mix from her native Germany, and offered to send me some. Gelfix seems to be sold all over Europe, but in the United States it can only be ordered through the Internet. I said I’d try it.
I decided to compare the Gelfix with a new product from Ball, a pectin mix that comes in a small plastic jar instead of a box, with flexible instructions that allow you to vary both the batch size and the sugar content. And then I saw a box of Pomona pectin at Nichols Garden Nurseryand decided to include it in the test, too. Available mainly from special sources like Nichols and food co-ops (though some supermarkets are beginning to carry it), Pomona also offers flexible recipes, which allow the use of little sugar or even none at all.
I pulled bags and bags of frozen raspberries out of the freezer. I was accustomed to making raspberry jam with nothing but sugar and a little lemon juice added. My raspberry jam took a few minutes of boiling to set, but it always set to a pleasant, soft gel, and never turned out stiff or sticky or syrupy. How would I like raspberry jam made with these specialty pectins?
I started by examining the packages.
Gelfix. Nadia had sent me Gelfix Extra, which requires only one part sugar for two parts fruit, by weight. Dr. Oetker also makes Gelfix Classic, which requires one part sugar for one part fruit, and Gelfix Super, which call for only one part sugar for three parts fruit. Nadia finds jam made with Gelfix Classic too sweet. Gelfix Super contains fructose—to boost the sweetness of the jam, apparently, while keeping the calories low. (In case your jam doesn’t set, Dr. Oetker sells packets of citric acid, too. Lemon juice works as well.)
Gelfix pectins are made from both apple pomace and citrus peels. The Classic and Extra versions contain dextrose, a form of sugar that’s included in Sure-Jell and Ball pectins as well and that’s replaced by the fructose in Gelfix Super. Gelfix Extra and Gelfix Super contain sorbic acid, a preservative, apparently to retard the fermentation and mold growth to which low-sugar jams are prone. All three Gelfix versions contain citric acid, which takes the place of the lemon juice traditionally added to jam to aid in gelling. All three also contain hydrogenated vegetable oil, which I imagine is meant to replace the traditional pat of butter that helps keep the jam pot from boiling over. The fat must be in a very small amount and somehow granulated, because the Gelfix pectin mixture is a powder, not a paste.
The Gelfix box contains two packets, each of which makes at least two and a half pints of jam. On the Internet I found prices for Gelfix ranging from $4.65 to $5.95 per box. At $5.00 per box, probably about the best you could do with shipping included, Gelfix would add about a dollar per pint to the cost of your jam.
Keep in mind that the Gelfix instructions are in German. Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
Ball. I turned to the Ball product, called RealFruit [sic] Classic Pectin. Again that word classic. I began to understand that this is a code word for old-fashioned high-methoxyl pectin, the kind that requires a high sugar content for good gelling.1 Only two other ingredients are listed on the label, pectin (from citrus, apple, or both, the label doesn’t say) and citric acid. Ball’s Classic Pectin, in other words, has the same ingredients as Gelfix Classic except for the vegetable fat.
Had I chosen the wrong product for a fair comparison? I’d found a Ball pectin for low-sugar jams on the shelf at Bi-Mart, but on peeling back the label I’d learned that this Instant Pectin was intended only for freezer jam. Now I wondered if Ball made a pectin mix more like Gelfix Extra–a product Bi-Mart hadn’t stocked. A quick Internet search told me this was so. I should have bought Ball’s Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin instead of the Classic Pectin.2
I couldn’t have known this without checking the Web. Here in Oregon, Ball’s new products, unlike the company’s mason jars and lids, are only slowly gaining acceptance in supermarkets and other stores. Ball’s Pickle Crisp is another product that none of the stores in my area have stocked. I’d never seen Ball pectin of any kind until I found it at Bi-Mart, a low-cost dry-goods store that caters to rural folk here in the Pacific Northwest. Now my raspberries were thawed and waiting. I decided to carry on my experiment with Ball’s Classic Pectin.
The instructions inside the Ball pectin label surprised me. There were two recipes, one for “Traditional Jam” and one for “Reduced Sugar Jam,” identical except for the amounts of sugar called for. Packages of old-fashioned high-methoxyl pectin are full of warnings: You must never alter the quantity of sugar, or your jam will fail! The Ball pectin, I figured, must be all or partially amidated, or subjected to a treatment with ammonia that makes high-methoxyl pectin behave more like low-methoxyl pectin, the kind that requires little or no sugar but gels in reaction with calcium. Normally, low-methoxyl pectins require added calcium for making jam. Amidated pectins do not; they are much less fussy about calcium levels. Jams and jellies made with amidated pectins are unusual, too, in that they will regel after you melt them. The Ball pectin isn’t so old-fashioned after all.
Ball’s “Traditional” recipe calls for 1 2/3 cups sugar to 1 1/3 cups chopped or mashed fruit. A weight measurement would be more precise, and also more useful for comparison with the Gelfix proportions. But the old saw “A pint is a pound the whole world round” proves more or less accurate for both mashed raspberries and granulated sugar. So the recipe calls for at least as much sugar as fruit, by weight. Truly traditional jam making, without packaged pectin, typically calls for three parts sugar to every four parts fruit, by weight, though you’d use less sugar with low-pectin fruits and more with high-pectin, high-acid fruits. Ball’s recipe is typical not for no-pectin-added jams but for jams made from high-methoxyl pectins, the only kind sold before the 1980s.
Ball’s “Reduced Sugar” recipe calls for much less sugar, only 1 cup for 1 1/3 cups chopped or mashed fruit. This is more in line with traditional jams. Still, I balked at the either-or choice. The label seemed to be telling me that the pectin could make good jam with a standard amount of sugar or a very high amount of sugar, but not with some amount in between. Why couldn’t there be a single recipe with the sugar amount specified as a range? Most likely, I figured, the marketing people at Ball think consumers can’t handle choices that aren’t black and white.
But the Ball instructions offer cooks another, more flexible choice: that of batch size. Here’s another command you may remember from boxes of high-methoxyl pectin: Never alter the batch size! If you don’t have quite enough berries, go pick some more! If you have too many, leave them out!
Actually, traditional jam makers have to be careful about batch size, too. If your batch is too big for your pot, for one thing, your jam will boil over. For another thing, evaporation is part of the process of reaching the gel point. A bigger batch has proportionately less surface area and so will gel more slowly. Also, natural pectin reacts best when both heating and cooling are rapid.
The Ball label invites multiplying the recipes but warns against exceeding ten jars per batch. You have to do a little figuring to understand out what this means: If the basic recipe makes two half-pints, the ten jars referred to must be half-pint jars. So you can multiply the recipe by five, but no more.
The Ball jar contains enough pectin, according to the label, to make up to 22 half-pints. You’d fill fewer jars with less added sugar, but even with the reduced-sugar recipe you should be able to fill 18 half-pint jars. The 4.7-ounce pectin container costs about five dollars, so using the low-sugar recipe with Ball Classic Pectin would add about 27 cents per pint to the cost of your jam making. At least in the United States, the Ball product is considerably cheaper than the Gelfix product.
Pomona. The last brand in my study contains no added sugar at all.3 The list of ingredients on a box of Pomona’s Universal Pectin is brief and precise: “1 packet low methoxyl citrus pectin and 1 packet monocalcium phosphate.” Low-methoxyl pectins need calcium to form a gel, but they can gel with less sugar and less acid than can high-methoxyl pectins. So no citric acid is included in the Pomona package, and with higher-acid fruits adding lemon juice is optional.
The monocalcium phosphate, the Pomona instructions say, is to be combined with water. You mix ½ teaspoon of the powder with ½ cup water, and you store this “calcium water” in the refrigerator, where it will keep for months. Although the Pomona instructions call for adding calcium water to every kind of fruit, too much calcium can interfere with gelling. So the amount of calcium water called for varies from 2 to 4 teaspoons per four cups fruit or juice. You shake the jar just before you measure some out.
Inside the Pomona package are recipes for low-sugar jams and jellies, no-sugar-added jams, and uncooked freezer jams. My favorites are the all-purpose recipes for cooked jam and jelly sweetened with a little sugar (1/4 to ½ cup per 1 cup fruit) or honey (1/8 to 1/3 cup per 1 cup fruit). For jam, you use ½ to ¾ teaspoons pectin for 1 cup fruit; for jelly, you use a little more pectin, ¾ to 1 teaspoon per 1 cup fruit. Otherwise the two recipes are the same. You refine these basic recipes according to the amount of fruit you want to use and how sweet your jam or jelly to be. These recipes are much more flexible than Ball’s.
The price of a box of Pomona pectin varies from about four to six dollars per box. A box contains 8 to 9 teaspoons pectin. This makes four batches of berry jam, if you use 4 cups of prepared berries per batch. Depending on how much sugar you add, your output will be 18 to 20 half-pint jars of jam. At $5.00 per box, the pectin would add 25 to 28 cents to your costs per jar, about the same as for the Ball pectin.
Making the Jam
I had thawed enough berries to make four batches of jam with about 2 pounds of fruit per batch. I used Ball’s “Reduced Sugar” recipe (1 cup sugar per 1 1/3 cups prepared fruit) for the best comparison with the Gelfix recipe (1 pound sugar per 2 pounds fruit). With the Pomona pectin, I made two batches of jam, one with 1 cup sugar per 2 cups fruit, and another with ½ cup sugar per 2 cups fruit.
The process differed slightly among the brands. With Gelfix, you boil the fruit, sugar, and pectin together for 3 minutes before testing a drop of jam on a chilled dish. With Ball, you bring the fruit and pectin to a full boil, stir in the sugar, and boil hard for 1 minute. With Pomona, you stir the pectin into the sugar, bring the fruit and calcium water to a boil, add the pectin-sugar mix, and boil hard for 1 to 2 minutes. Since I like a softer set, I chose a 1-minute boiling time with the Pomona pectin.
In all cases, the boiling was brief enough to produce a pinkish rather than dark red jam. In all cases, too, the jam set up quickly. As soon as I would take the pot off the heat, the surface of the jam would wrinkle with any disturbance; this is a sure sign of gelling. With the Ball pectin, the jam was clumping as I filled the last jar.
Although the Gelfix instructions say nothing about boiling-water processing, which isn’t normally done in Europe, I processed all the jars the same way. I sterilized them first in the canner, and after filling and closing them I gave them a 5-minute boiling-water bath.
The Taste Test
While my son Ben and his wife were visiting, we held a blind jam tasting with warm biscuits. We had to work at identifying differences among the jams—except in the case of the very-low-sugar Pomona, which lacked the sheen of the others and tasted more tart. To me, this stuff looked and tasted like cooked puréed fruit, not jam, but my husband, Robert, actually preferred its fruitier, less sugary flavor. The other, sweeter Pomona jam was a bit softer than the rest, probably because I’d given it the minimal boiling time. The Gelfix jam, which turned out slightly softer than the Ball, was Robert’s favorite. Deanna preferred the Ball, and Ben was torn between the not-so-low-sugar Pomona and the Ball jam. Most interesting to me was this: No one could tell that the Ball jam had more sugar.
Gelfix works well if you can get it, if you can read or translate the German instructions, and if the price and the addition of vegetable fat don’t put you off.
Ball’s RealFruit Classic Pectin is cheaper than Gelfix but requires more sugar. If you want to make your jam with less sugar, look for Ball’s Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin. Be sure you don’t buy Ball’s Instant Pectin by mistake; it’s intended only for freezer jam.
Pomona pectin costs no more than the Ball mix and is the clear choice among the three if you want to add pectin but not dextrose to your jam. Pomona also allows more flexibility in the amount of sugar you add to your jam than does either of the other products I tested. The necessity of adding calcium water is little bother. The only problem I see with Pomona is its limited availability. To encourage your local store to carry it, send your name and your store’s name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
One final suggestion: For truly traditional jam, try making it without added pectin. Use three parts sugar to four parts mashed raspberries, and add a squirt of juice from a fresh lemon. The process is simple and quick, and the result is delicious. For more information, see The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves.
1. The main component of pectin is something called galacturonic acid. Molecules of this acid have groups of atoms called carboxyl groups. In nature, about 80 percent of these carboxyl groups are esterified with methane—in other words, turned to esters, groups of atoms that give fruits their fruity aromas. Methoxyl refers to a methane group, CH3, that is attached to a larger organic molecule through an oxygen atom. This arrangement is commonly described as R-O-CH3, with R representing the larger molecule. The linkage by way of an oxygen atom is also called an ester linkage.
When pectin is extracted, the proportion of esters decreases, to a varying degree. The ratio of esterified to non-esterified galacturonic acid determines the behavior of pectin in making jam and jelly. So pectins are classified as high-methoxyl (or HM, or high-ester) or low-methoxyl (or LM, or low-ester), depending on whether more or less than half of the galacturonic acid is esterified. As far as I know, Pomona is the only pectin packaged for home preservers that is identified on the package as low- or high-methoxyl.
2. Ball’s Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin contains dextrose, pectin, citric acid, and calcium ascorbate. The last ingredient helps preserve color while presumably providing the calcium needed for low-methoxyl jams to gel.
3. When figuring how much sugar you’re adding to your jam, you must account for how much sugar is in your pectin package. Nadia had informed me that, for a given weight of fruit to be prepared, Sure-Jell is heavier than Gelfix. The weight is mainly in sugar, in the form of dextrose. I compared the Ball mix with the other two in this way: If 1 kilo fruit makes 6 cups “Reduced Sugar” jam with the Ball pectin, and the 133-gram jar contains enough pectin to make 18 cups of this jam, then we can figure that the Ball mix would add 44 grams per kilo of fruit, compared with 32 grams per kilo for Sure-Jell and 25 grams per kilo for Gelfix. These differences, to me, are minor. But I appreciate that Pomona leaves the addition of sugar entirely up to the jam maker.
Beginning to bolt just after my coriander is a fellow umbellifer, Florence fennel, which grocers often label as finocchio (Italian for “fennel”) or anise. Florence fennel is not anise; nor is it the fennel that grows wild over much of California, perfuming the air after fires and providing children with “Indian bubble gum,” the Styrofoam-like flesh of the dry tall stems. That fennel reached America from Iberia, where its delicate foliage feeds swarms of colorful little snails who later get eaten by the bowlful in Lisbon bars. Fennel of the wild sort produces the best-tasting seeds, but only Florence fennel—a smaller, tamer, garden variety—can be eaten as a vegetable. This fennel swells at the base of the stems into a plump, white, layered bulb that you can use much like celery.*
Don’t wait too long, though. If you do, the outer layers of the bulb will grow tough and stringy, and the core will grow thick and long, though it will still be edible (it is very good candied). Fennel bulbs past their prime are best used cooked rather than raw.
Because much of the anise-like flavor is lost with cooking, I usually prefer to use my Florence fennel raw, but even young fennel bulbs can be a little tough for some tastes. So for salads and pickles I generally slice the bulbs very fine, using a mandoline. This would be too much trouble with my big stainless-steel mandoline, which takes me at least five minutes just to set up. But my plastic little Kyocera mandoline is perfect for the job. The secret is the ever-sharp ceramic blade. I also like the simple mechanism on the back side for adjusting the thickness of the slice.
I used the Kyocera mandolin recently to make—
Pickled Fennel with Orange
¾ pound Florence fennel bulbs (about two small ones), with a few inches of the stems, sliced very thin 1 teaspoon pickling salt Zest of ½ orange, in thin strips 6 tablespoons white wine vinegar Juice of 1 orange (about 6 tablespoons) 1 tablespoon sugar 4 black peppercorns, cracked with a smack from a knife blade held horizontally
In a bowl, toss the fennel slices with the salt. Let them stand for an hour.
Drain the liquid from the fennel, and toss the slices with the orange zest. Pack this mixture into a pint jar.
In a saucepan, heat the vinegar, orange juice, sugar, and pepper, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot liquid over the fennel. Cap the jar, let it cool, and store it in the refrigerator.
The pickle will be ready to eat in a day or two. Serve it on top of mixed raw greens or on its own as a salad, sprinkled with a bit of minced fennel frond.
The best source I’ve found of additional ideas for using Florence fennel is Elizabeth Schneider’s Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide. Having grown up in Greenwich Village eating fennel from Little Italy, Elizabeth uses Florence fennel with abandon–baked, fried, braised, stir-fried, and puréed, in soups and salads and pasta sauces, and even baked whole and stuffed into chicken.
*Celery is yet another cousin in the big, marvelously aromatic family Umbelliferae, so-named for their umbrella-like flower clusters.
When my friend Rose Marie first asked me what I knew about water kefir, I was baffled. Water kefir, she explained, was a culture for a bubbly beverage made from water, not milk, in the form of “grains” that resemble those that produce kefir.
I was skeptical. Was water kefir, like kombucha, another excuse to drink soda pop and call it good for you?
Well—yes, more or less. But I’ve since come to enjoy using what many Americans are now calling water kefir but that has gone by many other names in the past, including California bees, African bees, ale nuts, Balm of Gilead, beer bees, beer plant, and Japanese beer seeds. Europeans call water kefir tibi, and they maintain that it came originally from Mexico, where it is likewise called tibi or, traditionally, tibicos.1 In Mexico, grains of tibicos are fermented with pineapple juice or brown sugar (or both) in water to make tepache de tibicos, a refreshing, sweet, slightly alcoholic beverage.
Rose Marie ordered some of the grains from an online vendor and brought me about two tablespoons of them in a little plastic tub of water.2 I poked them; they were firm, irregularly shaped, colorless and translucent gelatinous masses, averaging about a quarter inch across. I fed them some sugar and put the tub in the refrigerator.
Within a day or two the lid was swelling. I needed to do something soon with my tibicos, I figured, or risk killing them. I could put them in a jar on the counter with more sugar water, but I wouldn’t want those empty calories, and why would they? Surely they would prefer to have some fruit juice. I didn’t have a pineapple handy, but it occurred to me that I had dozens of bottles of fruit syrups of various sorts, left over from candying fruits or made experimentally. On hot days my kids sometimes combined the syrups with carbonated water from the grocery store. I considered how I hated buying those plastic bottles, and hauling them back to town to recycle them.
I was beginning to see some value in tibi.
So I began making my own tibi pop. The recipe is simple:
Pour ½ to 3/4 cup fruit syrup, depending on the magnitude of your sweet tooth, into a quart jar. Add a tablespoon of tibicos and enough water to fill the jar. Fit a lid on loosely. Set the jar on the kitchen counter. Wait two days. Strain out the tibicos, rinse them, and store them in fresh sugar-water in the refrigerator. Funnel the partially fermented liquid into a liter-size clamp-topped bottle, the kind with a ceramic stopper that’s lined with a rubber ring. Clamp the bottle shut. Leave it on the counter for two days, no more. When you’re feeling hot and thirsty, unclamp the bottle. Gas should explode from the bottle just as if you’ve opened a bottle of champagne. If the explosion is weak, reclamp the bottle and wait another day or two. Then pour a glass of the bubbly. Adjust the taste if you like, with an ice cube or a squirt of lemon. Reclamp the bottle, and leave it on the counter. Pour yourself more tibi every day or two until the bottle is empty.
Each time you open the bottle, it will be as bubbly as before, or more so. I’ve made strawberry tibi, Asian pear tibi, plum tibi, and even tibi from syrup left from preserving green walnuts (the last tasted a bit like root beer). My only mistake was when I left the tibi bottled too long, perhaps four days, without releasing the pressure. Between opening the bottle and reaching the sink I managed to spray every wall and cupboard and several open cookbooks with plum pop.
If you don’t drink your tibi every day, do remember to open the bottle daily to release the pressure. If you forget one day, open the bottle the next day in the sink or outdoors. Ignore the example of one tibi maker, who, after a bottle of his tibi exploded, stood at a distance from the others and shot them with a rifle.
In an article published in 1990, Jürgen Reiss analyzed tibi scientifically. 3 The grains, he found, are made of dextran, a polysaccharide. Within the dextran are, in a symbiotic relationship, three species of microbes: Saccaromyces cerevisiae (which is used in making beer, wine, and bread), Lactobacillus brevis (common in sauerkraut and fermented pickles and a spoiler in beer), and Streptococcus lactis (also known as Lactococcus lactis, and used in making buttermilk and cheese). Reiss concocted his experimental tibi with dried figs and other dried fruit, as is common in Europe.
This is what happened in the fermenting tibi, according to Reiss: The sugar level declined constantly. After six days the alcohol reached its maximum level, slightly less than 0.5 percent, and acetic acid reached its maximum, too. Lactic acid was produced “in reasonable levels” only after fourteen days.
I can barely taste the acetic acid in my tibi, but I can’t miss the lactic acid. When it comes on, after about three weeks in my cool kitchen, the pop suddenly goes flat and sour. It is now vinagre de tibicos, which is drunk in Mexico to promote weight loss, fight arteriosclerosis, and prevent heart attacks. Only at this point does tibi seem truly comparable to kombucha, a weak vinegar made from a solution of refined sugar, flavored with tea, and usually drunk when partially fermented, so it’s at once sweet, sour, and slightly alcoholic. Both tibi and kombucha are considered probiotic, tibi because Lactobacillus brevis is said to survive in the gastrointestinal tract. Tibi is different from kombucha in that tibi is slow to sour and, when it does, the acid produced is mainly lactic, not acetic.
Tibi is also much gassier than kombucha, though not as gassy as commercial pop. As a child I never liked those sharp-tasting bubbles or the violent burps that followed. But with the gentler gassiness of tibi I’m learning to appreciate the taste of carbonation. Yes, carbonation has a taste! Only a few years ago, at the University of California, San Diego, scientists discovered that an enzyme expressed on the sour taste receptor cells in our mouths is stimulated by carbon dioxide.4 Humans have been enjoying this taste since at least the late Middle Ages, when bubbly mineral waters from natural springs became popular, medicinal refreshments. Ginger beer, made from another set of bacteria in natural symbiosis, originated in England in the mid-eighteenth century (you can buy ginger beer “plant” as well as tibicos from online sources). Europe’s great appetite for both mineral and bacterial bubbly waters caused Joseph Priestly to believe he’d made a great discovery when he invented the first artificially carbonated water in 1767. Soon English and American pharmacists were combining carbonated water with syrups to produce our modern soda pop. Until well into the twentieth century, people believed that carbonated water of any sort, syrupy or not, would cure or ease all sorts of ailments.
I wasn’t fooled, though. I was drinking pop without dyes or artificial flavorings or colorings, pop that might please the bugs in my bowels, pop that didn’t require buying or recycling a nasty plastic bottle, but still I was drinking pop. Could I make it a little more healthful? I eyed the quince in honey syrup on my kitchen counter. This was March, and the jar had sat there since early December. I make quince-honey syrup every year by simply mixing a pound of cubed quince with a pint of honey (this and many other syrup recipes are in The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves). The honey draws water out of the quince pieces, which slowly shrivel, and soon I have 2 ½ cups of raw syrup, rich with vitamin C from the quince and aromatics from both the quince and the honey, ready to soothe any sore throat that arises.
We’d had no sore throats over the winter, and now spring had almost arrived. It was time to strain that syrup, revive the shriveled quince cubes by simmering them in white wine, and make myself some quince-honey tibi.
The tibicos seemed to respond to the honey as well and as fast as they did to refined sugar. The drink turned out a little foamier than usual (honey causes foaming when used in jam making, too). It tasted strongly of both quince and honey. The quince-honey tibi was especially delicious after a week, when it was less sweet and noticeably, though barely, alcoholic.
At this point I value my tibicos enough to want to share them. Sadly, they haven’t multipled noticeably; I still have only about two tablespoons. Rose Marie said ginger seemed to encourage tibicos to reproduce, but mine didn’t respond when I put a couple of slices of ginger in their refrigerator tub. In Jürgen Reiss’s experiments, he found that tibicos reproduced themselves when fed dry figs but not when given other dry fruits (raisins, dates, prunes).
In my pantry I have dried Desert King figs in plenty. My next batch of tibi, I think, will be fig-flavored—perhaps with a little ginger added, too. After that, I’ll have to try a Mexican-style batch, with pineapple. I don’t need to buy a pineapple, actually. As I now recall, there’s a bottle of pineapple syrup in my pantry.
1. The best source of information I’ve found on tibicos in Mexico is Más Allá de Pulque y el Tepache: Las Bebidas Alcohólicas no Destiladas Indígenas de México, by Augusto Godoy, Teófilo Herrera, and Miguel Ulloa (México City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2003). As far as I can find, the book is unavailable in any U.S. library or bookstore, but most of the discussion can be read on Google Books. According to this book and other sources, tibicos develop on the fruits and pads of nopal cactus, which may be the original, ancient source of the grains.
The most enjoyable part of keeping a WordPress blog, to my mind, is checking your blog’s statistics to see where in the world your most recent readers live. Although many of my international readers probably lack enough facility with English to leave their comments, and some may come upon my blog accidentally, they’re still my readers, or at least my brief visitors. It’s nice to know that in some slight way my blogging may be affecting lives all over the world.
I’m musing about what an international free-for-all blogging has become because of my two recent nominations for blogging awards. Both nominations are from “allotment” gardeners (which means, I think, that they have community garden plots), but one is in Australia and the other in Britain. And one of the awards apparently originated in Italy.
I’ve reluctantly turned down the Very Inspiring Blogging Award, because it would have required my answering a lot of questions and finding fifteen other bloggers to nominate. But I’ll happily accept Il Blog Affidabile, “The Reliable Blog” award.
Un Blog Affidabile must fit this description:
1. The blog is updated regularly. 2. The blogger shows genuine passion for the topic. 3. The blogger promotes the sharing and the active participation of readers. 4. The blogger provides content and information which is useful and original. 5. The blog is not packed with too much advertising.
A winning blogger must do the following: 1. Thank the nominating blogger and provide a link to that person’s blog. 2. Add the Affidabile logo to the winning blog, in a post, widget, or page. 3. Describe when and why the blog was begun. 4. Nominate five other blogs for the award. 5. Let the bloggers know they have been nominated.
To meet the latter criteria, I offer the following information:
The Gardener’s Table was nominated for Il Blog Affidabile by Debbi Love. At digginwivdebb, you can learn about what Debbi has been growing in her allotment.
I started this blog about three years ago. Besides serving the purpose described under “About This Blog,” it is a repository of material for future editions of my preserving books and, possibly, other future books.
All but one of the blogs I’m about to nominate is international in one way or another. Allison of Spontaneous Tomato writes about the foods of the various countries she has lived in and visited, in Asia, Europe, and elsewhere. Ting Gough of Playing with Food was born in Laos, grew up in various Asian countries, and now writes about preparing the food she grows in New Hampshire. Meg Bortin of Everyday French Chef is a long-time American journalist living in Paris and Burgundy who writes about French home cooking. Kate of Kate’s Creative Spaceis a young, British, new-and-improved Martha Stewart. Most foreign of all the bloggers in this bunch, to me, is the American who has always lived in America: Green Deane of Eat the Weeds. Through his blog he shares his amazing store of knowledge about the edible wild plants of Florida, which to someone from the Pacific Northwest is a very exotic place. Please check out each of these blogs. You’ll find them most affidabile.