Friday, March 30, 2012
Pump up the jams
The below is pretty representative of how I make jam nowadays, which is in small to very small batches, with spice or floral infusions, using volume ratios, cooking the fruit minimally, and stretching the process out over a couple of days. This orange business felt extravagantly wasteful after a month of marmalade—what do you mean I have to throw out the peel?—but the jam is delicious as all get-out so I hold no grudge.
I used four cara cara navels, which look like regular navel oranges outside but grapefruit on the inside. They smell floral and rich, a bit like blood oranges, and have a delicate flavour. The resultant jam would have filled one and a half 250mL jars if I had had any around, but instead it occupies a bit more than half of a 500mL jar. Any orange or tangerine that you like to eat out of hand will do if you want to jam with me.
The preparation for this jam is not really more involved than preparation for marmalade, but it is differently involved. Top and tail each orange and then supreme them—that is, cut off the skin to expose the flesh, then cut the flesh free from the membrane holding it together. You will be left with a pile of peel and some sea-creature-looking defleshed membrane...
...and a smaller pile of glistening nude citrus segments.
Coarsely chop the supremes if you want, but don't exert too much energy on this; they will mostly fall apart during the cooking anyway, and you are free to mash them wholly or partially later if the texture isn't what you wanted. My four oranges yielded a cup and a bit of chopped flesh. Save a few scraps of peel and pith, too.
To intensify the orange flavour I cut the zest off of a few sections of peel, and minced it; this is optional but I recommend it. I had 1 tbsp of zest in total and my finished jam is pleasingly orange-tasting without being bitter at all.
Here is my highly scientific method for figuring out what if any spice to add to fruit preserves: take out a bunch of different whole spices and smell them together with the zest, one at a time, until a clear winner appears. I auditioned anise for the part (and may want to make orange-anise jam in the future, because wow) but eventually picked my old standby citrus enhancer, lavender. 1/2 tsp of dried lavender for a little over a cup of fruit creates a not especially floral finished jam; you can smell the lavender more than taste it, but it also makes the oranges taste more like themselves in a weird way. I recommend it (but still want orange and anise jam too) (and now that I think about it, orange and rose petals) (or orange and marigold).
Okay. Most of the first day's work is already finished, and no actual canning will be done today, but you will need a pot for the next few minutes. Measure the fruit as you add it to the pot; pour in any juice that collected on the cutting board, too. Add three-quarters of the volume of fruit in sugar, and the zest if you are using it. Bring the fruit and sugar to a boil, stirring briskly the whole time.
At first it will look like you forgot to add a crucial ingredient like water or something, but the heat and the sugar begin to draw liquid out of the oranges, and by the time the mixture reaches a boil it's quite liquidy indeed.
Take the pot off the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Add whatever herb or spice or flower you settled on, tied up in a sachet. Also add the peel scraps you saved from earlier, pressing on everything to submerge it in the liquid. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. That's it for today.