Slow Jams — Pluot Jam & Apple Butter (RECIPE)

September 29, 2010 § 11 Comments

Pluot jam

“In the face of ‘too much’ we gradually become dry, our hearts get tired, our energies become spare, and a mysterious longing for — we almost never have a name for it other than ‘a something’ — rises up in us more and more.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

I had this quote tacked up in my college dorm room 15 years ago and ran across it again the other day. Seeing it again made me pause. And take a deep breath. It also made me think about how I’d been running around a lot — as we all end up doing — even though I’m at my happiest when I take the time to do something that makes me feel peaceful and fulfilled. For me, one of those things is cooking.

Cooking centers me; it’s a time when I can be present in the moment, fully. To select the freshest, best ingredients, I must attune myself to their look, feel, smell and taste; to prep ingredients, I must pay attention to my knife; to execute the chemistry of cooking, I must engage all of my senses to create the right textures, colors and melding of flavors. A dull tomato would yield an indifferent salad; a slip of my knife while my mind wandered would lead to a bloody finger; and a minute too long cooking or the wrong spices would lead to a dish never to be made again. And at the end, there’s something nourishing and hopefully, delicious, to enjoy with family and friends.

So in the midst of a life that had become too filled with activity and not filled with enough active intention, I decided to create something that required attention, care and most of all, sloooooowness. I decided to can jam. And apple butter.

I’d developed a keen interest in learning how to can food earlier in the year. It seemed like “putting up” food would be intensely satisfying; how rewarding to eat summer’s fresh produce in January! However, an intense fear of canning had held me back for eight months; even though I love cooking, canning seemed like another plane. The worst thing that could happen when you wreck a recipe is that you order take-out; but the worst thing that could happen with canning-gone-wrong was botulism.

The stakes seemed high.

But, I finally persuaded myself that all those people preserving food for so long must mean we know what we’re doing by now. So off I went to my neighborhood hardware store to purchase canning implements and the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, figuring I needed all of the help I could get. Then I popped by the farmers’ market, where I met Tory the farmer; with a grin glowing from his grizzly gray beard, he handed me a Dapple Dandy pluot to try. The sweet juice said “summer” on my tongue, and I knew that I wanted to capture that flavor and the flesh’s fuschia hue in a jar. My final stop was my backyard, where I picked the last of the apples off the tree that I’d nurtured from the brink of death back to vigor.

Dapple dandy pluots

With my “Grill Sergeant” apron on and a different kind of slow jam playing on my iPod (old Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, Earth, Wind and Fire, Me’shell Ndegeocello and Jill Scott), I got to work.

Because I was still pretty nervous about this canning endeavor, I read the “canning 101” sections of Joy Of Cooking and the Blue Book — three times. I washed the canning utensils and started on the fruit. As I was peeling and chopping, thoughts floated into my brain: which errands to run, which bills to pay, what laundry to do. The distraction led me to slice a small slit in my finger; as I stanched the blood with a paper towel, I realized I had to stop thinking about “what’s next” and instead, simply be in — and enjoy — the “now”.

So I returned myself to the present and resumed my chopping. I cooked the apples down and the pluots to the gelling point. I learned a thing or two about the best way to set up a canning operation, burning a finger and nearly dropping a hot jar on the floor. By the time I’d canned 28 ounces of pluot jam and 40 ounces of apple butter and perched them on my kitchen table to seal, hours had passed.

I was covered in sweat and fruit, and I was tired — yet, because I’d taken the time to do something I loved, I also felt renewed and satisfied. As I was wiping the last streaks of sticky fruit off the counter, hearing the jars seal shut with a “pop!”, I wondered:

What would the world be like if everyone paused, even if just for a few moments, and considered WHAT could make them feel peaceful, happy and fulfilled? And then took the time to do just THAT?

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CANNING 101

Since I only recently got over my fear of canning, I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert and give you a 101 lesson. But if you’re serious about canning, here are two good “how-to” manuals:

1 — I highly recommend the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (click here). It’s extremely easy to follow, includes many helpful pictures and also offers recipes. The $8 is worth the intro to canning section alone

2 — If you don’t want to take the plunge and buy the Blue Book, this free website is a good starter’s manual, offering canning basics and recipes (click here)

Also, I would recommend the following equipment if you plan to can frequently:

1 — Canning kit, which typically includes a boiling-water canner or pressure canner (latter necessary only if you’ll can low-acid items like veggies); canning cage to keep the jars from touching the too-hot bottom of the canner and from jostling around; canning funnel for easy ladling into jars; thin spatula to remove air bubbles and measure headspace; jar lifter to get jars in and out of boiling water; and magnetic lid lifter to get lids out of hot water

(My first time canning, I followed internet tips and used my biggest stock pot with a towel at the bottom and tongs instead of a lid lifter, and while it was doable, it was honestly a pain in the butt.)

2 — Food scale

(I used our bathroom scale for a while but it’s kinda tricky to figure out the difference between 2 and 3 pounds on a scale made to weigh things greater than 100 pounds.)

(Finally, some sources will tell you to use a candy thermometer to test the gelling point temperature; I find the freezer test, described below, much easier.)

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RECIPES

(1) PLUOT JAM (you could also use plums)

Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

Yield: 28 ounces (3 8-ounce jars + 1 4-ounce jar)

Total Time: To be honest with you, I didn’t keep track! But it’s not something to do if you’re in a hurry

Planning Notes: If you’re canning the jam, make sure your jars, lids and rings are washed. Then, start bringing water to simmer in your boiling-water canner, put the jars in a 225 degree oven to sterilize them before you prep the jam ingredients and put the lids in a saucepan with just enough water to cover and bring to a simmer. Also, set up a “jar-filling” station next to your stove: lay down a clean towel and put your canning funnel, spatula to remove air bubbles, and a damp, clean paper towel on top and your clean rings next to your station.

Ingredients

2 pounds pluots or plums

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup bottled lemon juice

Cooking Instructions

Put two small saucers in the freezer.

Wash, stem and pit fruit; cut them into halves if small, quarters if large. Mix in a large saucepan with sugar and lemon juice.

Lightly crush with the back of a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, to the gelling point (the point at which the jam will hold its shape).

Pluot jam boiling

Test for the gelling point by putting a spoonful of jam on one of the saucers from the freezer; put the saucer back in the freezer for 1 minute (take the jam off the heat while you do this so it doesn’t cook more). Take out the saucer and run your finger through the jam; if most of the line remains and the jam doesn’t run back together quickly, it’s ready (it’ll run back together a bit). If not, put the jam back on the heat, boil for another minute or two, and test again. (And feel free to eat the jam left on the saucer; why not?)

When the jam is ready, turn off the heat. Ladle jam into jars hot from your 225 degree oven, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Run your spatula around the inside of the jar to remove all air bubbles; check again and get as many bubbles out as possible. Wipe the jar rim clean with your damp paper towel, put on a lid and twist on a ring until finger-tight. Place immediately into the boiling-water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.

Bring the water in the boiling-water canner to a roiling boil with the lid on. Once it reaches a roiling boil, set your timer for 10 minutes.

At 10 minutes, lift jars out of the boiling-water canner and place on a clean towel in a spot where the temperature won’t shift dramatically (I put them on our kitchen table). Leave 12-24 hours and check to ensure a seal formed. To check for a seal, untwist the ring, grab the jar by the lid and gently lift the whole thing off the table with your hand hovering beneath the jar. If the lid stays on, you have a seal. Congratulations!! You just canned jam.

Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place (like your pantry) for up to a year.

Pluot jam on crackers with peanut butter

Serving Notes

Pluot jam is tasty:

  • On toast
  • On crackers with soft cheese or peanut butter
  • On ice cream
  • Dolloped onto pie crust dough scraps cut in the shape of cookies and baked until golden

When in season

  • Pluots and plums: May-October, though I think they’ve been at their peak in August and September this year (click here for info on choosing and storing pluot varieties)

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(2) APPLE BUTTER

Apple butter in 4-ounce jars

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks, CMB Sweets and Thomas Keller’s ad hoc cookbook

Yield: 40 ounces (5 8-ounce jars or 10 4-ounce jars if you’re doing gifts)

Total Time: To be honest with you, I didn’t keep track! But it’s not something to do if you’re in a hurry

Planning Notes: If you’re canning the butter, make sure your jars, lids and rings are washed. Then, start bringing water to simmer in your boiling-water canner, put the jars in a 225 degree oven to sterilize them before you prep the ingredients and put the lids in a saucepan with just enough water to cover and bring to a simmer. Also, set up a “jar-filling” station next to your stove: lay down a clean towel and put your canning funnel, spatula to remove air bubbles, and a damp, clean paper towel on top and your clean rings next to your station.

Ingredients

4 pounds flavorful apples (Gravensteins are great, but any flavorful apples will do — Galas, Fujis, Jonathans)

1/4 gallon apple cider (you may need up to 1/2 gallon)

3/4 cup sugar (you can use up to 1/2 cup sugar per pound of fruit, but it depends on how sweet the apples you’re starting with are and how sweet you like your butter)

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Juice of 1 lemon

Cooking Instructions

Since you’re cooking the fruit into a thick, spreadable consistency, you don’t need to cook this to the gelling point like you do with jam.

Wash, peel, core and roughly chop the apples into bite-sized chunks.

In a big, heavy Dutch oven or pot over medium/high heat, add the apples and the cider. The cider should just cover the apples, so add more if necessary.

Bring to a simmer. Skim off foam a couple of times if a lot of it forms.

Cook the apples until they are tender, about 20-30 minutes. Take the apples off the heat, let them cool for a few minutes, then puree in a blender in small batches (don’t fill your blender more than halfway full or it’ll explode all over your counter — not fun). The puree should be the consistency of thin applesauce.

Put the puree back into your big Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Bring puree to a simmer.

Apple puree coming to a simmer

While stirring, slowly sprinkle the sugar, spices and lemon juice over the puree and stir in.

Continue to simmer over medium/medium-low heat. From here, it’s going to take a while to reduce to a thick consistency (about 1-2 hours, maybe a tad more). Stir regularly so it doesn’t scorch on the bottom. It’ll bubble and plop like lava and splatter all over your stove. You want it to be thick enough to spread and turn a caramel hue.

Apple butter, ready to go!

When the butter is ready, turn off the heat. Ladle butter into jars hot from your 225 degree oven, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Run your spatula around the inside of the jar to remove all air bubbles; check again and get as many bubbles out as possible. Wipe the jar rim clean with your damp paper towel, put on a lid and twist on a ring until finger-tight. Place immediately into the boiling-water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.

Bring the water in the boiling-water canner to a roiling boil with the lid on. Once it reaches a roiling boil, set your timer for 10 minutes.

At 10 minutes, lift jars out of the boiling-water canner and place on a clean towel in a spot where the temperature won’t shift dramatically (I put them on our kitchen table). Leave 12-24 hours and check to ensure a seal formed. To check for a seal, untwist the ring, grab the jar by the lid and gently lift the whole thing off the table with your hand hovering beneath the jar. If the lid stays on, you have a seal. Congratulations!! You just canned apple butter.

Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place (like your pantry) for up to a year.

Serving Notes

Apple butter is tasty:

  • Spooned into plain or vanilla yogurt and sprinkled with granola and nuts
  • Swirled into oatmeal or other hot cereal
  • On toast or pancakes
  • On crackers with soft cheese
  • On ice cream (by itself or with dark chocolate chips — mmm, good)

When in season

  • Apples: July-November, though they’re available year-round if farmers keep them in cold storage and sell them (click here for more on where to buy locally-grown apples)

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