Black raspberry freezer jam

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If you want as much deliciousness with as little effort as possible, freezer jam is the jam for you. I wasn’t even going to post about it, because I made in 15 minutes before a doctor’s appointment and didn’t bother to take pictures. But it was so good.

There’s no canning needed. You don’t even cook the fruit at all. You mash the berries in a measuring cup, and boil the pectin and sugar in a separate pot. Because you cook the pectin and not the fruit, the flavor is incredibly fresh, more like eating freshly picked berries than any other jam. It does need to be stored in the freezer, though.DSCN0930

I used Sure-Jell low- or no-sugar-needed pectin. If you use a different kind of pectin, make sure to get one that works for freezer jam. Then just follow the manufacturer’s instructions for raspberry freezer jam, scaling the recipe down to 2 cups of berries (or whatever amount you have).

Looking for more freezer jam? Serious Eats has some tasty-looking freezer jam recipes for slightly larger batches (about 5 cups).

Black or Red Raspberry Freezer Jam

Yields one 16-oz jar

Ingredients

2 cups black or red raspberries

3/4 cup sugar

12 grams (about 3 1/2 teaspoons) Sure-Jell low-or-no-sugar-needed pectin

1/4 cup water

Methods

1. Using the back of a large spoon, mash the berries in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup.

2. Stir together 3/4 cup sugar and 12 grams pectin in a pot (dry). Add 1/4 cup water, then bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

3. Immediately stir the pectin mixture into the berries.

4. Pour into a clean freezing-friendly container (leave a bit of space at the top, because it will expand in the freezer). Let the jam sit at room temperature until it sets, refrigerate for 24 hours, and then freeze. If not frozen, it will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

Blackcurrant scones

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Scones are the best. I am not a morning person, but knowing there’s a batch of scones waiting for me makes getting up actually pretty enjoyable. I like my scones buttery, flaky, and only a little bit sweet. These are currently my favorite.

Currant scones are pretty common, and they’re tasty enough. These scones aren’t any of those currant scones you’ve had before. Currant scones are usually made with dried currants, which are… actually raisins. Not currants at all! What a cheat!

Last year I lucked into a large supply of blackcurrants and I’ve been making these scones all winter and eagerly awaiting blackcurrant season so I could share the recipe with you.

Blackcurrants are strongly flavored, wine-y and too tart for most people to eat out of hand. In the oven, they explode into small gooey pockets, like little dabs of blackcurrant jam.

I do realize it’s 87 degrees out. You don’t have to make these now. All you have to do is:

1. Go out and get your hands on some blackcurrants.

2. Measure them out into freezer bags, 3/4 cup of blackcurrants in each bag, and freeze.

3. When you feel like baking again, take out a bag and use it for one recipe of scones.

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This scone recipe is adapted from the fantastically detailed Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum. The original calls for the dried-raisin kind of currants, so I’ve substituted fresh or frozen blackcurrants (frozen actually work better, since they don’t squoosh when you’re rolling out the dough), and I streamlined the recipe a bit because I am not patient.

The scones are delicious, and naturally they go very well with blackcurrant tea.

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Blackcurrant scones

Adapted from Flaky Scones in The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum

Makes about 12 scones

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (if you don’t have this, you can use all white flour)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons white all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or up to 1/2 cup if you like your scones sweeter)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen black currants

Methods

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cut the cold butter into 1/4-inch thick slices with a sharp knife.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, and salt.  Add butter, and cut in with a pastry blender until the pieces are about 1/2 inch in diameter. Then, using your fingers, flatten out the butter pieces to large flakes. Mix in the buttermilk or cream just until the flour is moistened and begins to form large clumps. Using your hands, form the dough into a ball.
  4. Flour a counter or tabletop and turn the dough out onto it. Lightly flour the top of the dough and a rolling pin.  Roll the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick and about 8 by 12 inches. Arrange the dough rectangle so that, if it was a print job, it would be Landscape, not Portrait.
  5. Place the blackcurrants on the bottom half of the dough. Press in gently. Fold the top half of the dough down over the blackcurrants.
  6. Roll out the dough one final time into a 1/2-inch thick, approximately 4 by 14 inch rectangle.  Make alternating diagonal cuts in order to form triangular scones.  Place scones about 1 inch apart on a rimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper (scones will rise, but will not spread).
  7. Bake for 15–20 minutes or until scones are lightly brown at the edges. Check the scones after 10 minutes to see if they are baking evenly, and if not, rotate the baking sheet. When done, transfer and cool on wire racks. The finished scones freeze well, too.

Black raspberry jam

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I will be brief. This jam is superb. I’ve never made black raspberry jam before, and I’m seriously planning to make it every year from now to ever. It has the dark, slightly wine-y taste of true blackberries without their mustiness; it has the tang and sprightliness of red raspberries too. It is rare and delicious.

It did require picking a lot of wild black raspberries, and I have the thorn scratches to prove it.

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In total, I used 12 cups of berries for the jam: the recipe calls for 6 cups of mashed berries, and I found that I needed 2 cups of fresh berries to get 1 cup of mashed.

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It’s pretty simple jam, just four ingredients: black raspberries, sugar, lemon, and pectin. You could even leave the pectin out and just cook your jam longer, if you don’t mind a less firm set.

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I decided to remove some of the seeds by passing about a third of the jam through a food mill. If I were making this jam just for myself, I probably wouldn’t bother, especially not this year when we’ve gotten a lot of rain so the black raspberries are big and juicy. But I want to give some as presents, and I know not everyone enjoys as many seeds in their jam as I do.

When I was finished I wanted to eat jam off of all the pots and spoons, and I ate buttered toast with black raspberry jam for lunch.

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Jam of the Gods (Black Raspberry Jam)

Slightly adapted from Food in Jars

Yields 5 half-pints and 1 quarter-pint jar

The recipe below has minimal canning instructions. If you’re new to canning, Food in Jars just did a really nice post on the basics. Actually, even if you’re not new to canning, it’s worth a look; I learned quite a bit (like how high to fill your boiling water bath so it doesn’t overflow later).

Ingredients

6 cups mashed black raspberries (12 cups unmashed) (equal to about 4 pints or 3 pounds)

3 cups sugar

Juice and zest of 1 medium lemon (juice = about 1/4 cup)

2 tablespoons powdered pectin (I used Sure-Jell low- or no-sugar pectin; 2 Tbs is less than one box)

1. Set out all of your canning equipment. Prepare your jars and start the boiling water bath heating up. Put a small plate or saucer in the freezer (for the wrinkle test–see step 5).

2. Measure 6 cups mashed berries. Combine in pot with sugar and lemon juice and zest. Bring to a boil while stirring. Cook until the mixture is thin and runny and the berries have started to fall apart.

3. Run one-third to one-half of the mixture through a food mill (I did one-third). Recombine with the rest of the jam. (If you don’t mind seediness, you can skip this step.)

4. Continue boiling the jam, stirring constantly, until it starts to thicken a little. Stir in the pectin.

5. Cook for roughly 5-9 minutes (the timing will depend on the width of your pot, among many other things), until the jam passes the wrinkle test when you put a little on the plate in the freezer (see Step 7 of this recipe for the wrinkle test).

6. Remove the jam from heat and ladle into clean jars. Apply lids and bands and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (start your timer when the water reaches a full boil after you’ve added the jars). Remove and let cool.

7. When the jars are completely cool, you can test the seals by removing the bands from the jars and lifting them up an inch just by holding the edges of the lid. If the lid stays on, the seal is good. Sealed jam will keep for at least a year. Keep any unsealed jam in the refrigerator–it will keep for several months.

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Berry season

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We are at a critical juncture, my friends. A critical, tasty juncture. One berry season is beginning, and another is at its tail end.

A few days ago, the season for black raspberries began; they’re also known (around here) as blackcaps. Rubus occidentalis is the species we have in the northeast: they’re the shape of raspberries but black when ripe, and smaller, seedier, and tastier than true blackberries. Oh, you can argue for blackberries, but blackcaps are my favorite non-tropical fruit, so you won’t persuade me. They taste like summer. You can’t get them out of season. You can sometimes find them for sale at farmer’s markets, but mostly you have to pick them yourself, and eat them warm from the sun with purple stains on your fingers, a sprinkling of thorn scratches on your arms, and a great sense of satisfaction.

Go out and pick some. You’ll find them in ditches, and on the edges of fields and woods. Drive slowly around on country roads looking for a flash of black berries or of whitish undersides of leaves. It’s a good year for them, in the Finger Lakes area anyway (the rain we’ve been getting has made them bigger and less seedy). I think I’ve got enough to make a batch of jam.

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And while black raspberries are going into full swing, the season for serviceberries, also called juneberries, is just ending. You can probably still find some to eat in the next few days, depending on the tree. A serviceberry tree looks like this:

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Serviceberries taste like mild blueberries and contain tiny seeds that give them a hint of almond flavor. When ripe, they’re a dark blue-purple. I usually eat them out of hand, or add them to smoothies or oatmeal, but you could probably use them any way you would use blueberries.

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They’re a perfect berry for urban foraging, because the trees are often planted as ornamentals. (Birds love them, too.) This public Google Map of edible fruit in the Ithaca area includes a bunch of serviceberry trees and also a black raspberry patch. Add more trees to the map if you find any!

Foraged Japanese knotweed quiche

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I found some free greens this week! In my own backyard!

Japanese knotweed is a tough invasive here in the US. Before this spring, I’d read in many places that knotweed shoots are edible, and even that they taste like rhubarb. Now, I love picking my own food and I pick crazy things like Cornelian cherries and laboriously put them through a food mill to make jam two Christmases in a row. But I have noticed that sometimes foragers claim a food is edible, and they’re pretty much speaking only literally. Technically, it’s edible, but I don’t see much reason to eat it. I mean, if it’s not at least as tasty as kale, I can just go to the store/farmer’s market and buy some kale.

That is to say, I’m not committed to eating wild food for its own sake, though it is fun. It has to taste good too.

I really love rhubarb though, so I thought, if it tastes like rhubarb, maybe it’s worth trying. Being dubious, I just picked a few shoots at first and steamed them to see if they were any good.

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Nope, not rhubarb, but to me they had exactly the lemony taste of marinated artichoke hearts. Tasty: check. Striking a blow against invasive species via eating: check. I picked a bunch more and made a quiche.

Of course, an important disclaimer about picking wild food: never eat anything that you pick unless you know for sure what it is. Ask an expert.

Japanese knotweed has heart-shaped leaves and green stems with red stippling, like this:

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The only time they’re edible is when the shoots are young–they’re best to harvest when they’re 6-8 inches long, but up to 12 inches is OK. At this size, you can eat the whole thing: stem, young leaves, and all. It develops a bitter taste if it gets much larger than that, and the stems toughen. So harvest them soon! In upstate New York they probably won’t be small enough to eat for much longer.

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One important note: because Japanese knotweed is very very invasive and can sprout from cut pieces, be very careful not to spread it! As the Richmond Land Trust says, “Don’t even think about composting it.” Don’t throw pieces of it in your backyard or anyone else’s; if you have bits left over from the recipe and you need to get rid of them, you can drop them where you harvested them so at least you’re not spreading them to a new area. The simplest thing is just to eat all that you harvest.

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I guess I’m a convert. While the quiche was baking I went back and harvested more shoots for some future recipe. Do you have any ideas for what to do with them? I’m all ears. Have you eaten any invasives lately?

Japanese knotweed quiche

Crust:
1 1/4 c flour
7 Tbs cold salted butter
3 or more Tbs ice water

Filling:
8 oz young Japanese knotweed shoots, 6-8 inches long (about 2 cups when cooked)
3 cloves garlic

2 Tbs olive oil
2 oz cheddar cheese, grated or cut into little pieces
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 oz grated parmesan

1. To make crust: Add flour, salt, and sugar to a large bowl. Cut the butter into thick slices and add it to the bowl. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or two knives, or use your fingers. Continue until the butter lumps are small but visible, about the size of a pea.

2. Add 3 tablespoons ice water. Mix and squeeze the dough together with your hands; see if the dough clumps together into one big ball when you squeeze it. If it’s too dry to gather together, continue to add ice water a tablespoon at a time until it comes together. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 15 minutes or more (or if you’re impatient like me, don’t bother).

3. Roll out your pie crust between two pieces of waxed paper. Remove the top piece of waxed paper, then flip the crust over onto the pie plate.

4. To make filling: Chop the knotweed, leaves and all, into 1/2-inch pieces. Steam for 5 minutes or until tender. Mince the garlic and saute in the olive oil.

5. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Mix in the cheddar, milk, salt, pepper, half of the parmesan, and the knotweed and garlic.

6. Pour into crust. Top with the other half of the parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the center is set and the top is browned (in my oven, after 30 minutes it looked like this and was not set; it took about 20 minutes extra to cook fully).

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Colombian fruit, of the dragon and passion varieties

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What is this scaly-looking yellow thing? It’s a fruit of the dragon variety!

Today: dragon fruit and passion fruit, or Part II of Eating My Way Through the Tropical Fruits of Colombia. During lunch on Wednesday, I looked up to find snow/freezing slush pelting against the window, so it seems a good time to remind myself that I was recently someplace very warm, and it will soon be very warm again. Although even then, Ithaca will not be growing any of these:

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This wrinkled little beauty is a maracuya, the second kind of passion fruit I tried in Colombia. While the granadilla I mentioned in my recent post is sweet, the maracuya is sour and makes a REALLY excellent juice. The seeds were also excellent stirred into  lightly sweetened plain yogurt for breakfast (the yogurt came in small plastic milk-jug-shaped bottles, white with blue writing, although I don’t remember anything so useful as a brand name). My friend, our host, said she finds them too sour for eating out of hand, although if you like sour things it would probably be right up your alley. The goo around the seeds (mmm, appetizing, no?) is orange:

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When selecting a passion fruit, you don’t need to hold out for a nice smooth, unwrinkled one. Actually, wrinkles are good: they mean it’s ripe. Which brings me to the third kind of passion fruit I tried:

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So, I was warned. My friend said these weren’t ripe, and I went ahead and bought one anyway, because I wanted to try as many kinds of fruit as I could! And it was fuzzy! And about the size, shape, and color of a pickling cucumber! So appealing.

Anyway, this is a curuba, or banana passion fruit. They are supposed to be yellow when ripe (and yes, slightly fuzzy, that’s normal). If you try to eat them when they’re green, like I did, they’ll be inedibly sour. But pretty! Presumably they are tasty when actually ripe.

And finally, getting back to the odd yellow football at the top of the post:

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This one is not a kind of passion fruit, it’s a pitahaya, or dragon fruit. They grow on cacti in the genus Hylocereus and I really just did not understand their appeal until I ate one in Colombia. US grocery stores sometimes sell a hot pink variety, and Trader Joe’s even sells dried dragon fruit slices; the fresh ones I’ve had were watery and tasteless, and the dried ones were crunchy and tasteless. Someone brought the dried ones on a hike, and we all agreed that it was like chewing on cardboard.

But! This one in Colombia was good. I cut it in half and we scooped out the flesh with a spoon (don’t eat the yellow skin). The seeds were crunchy and a little bit nutty, and the fruit tasted almost exactly like a peeled red seedless grape: sweet, juicy, and crisp. Not the most remarkable taste, but good, and its unusual appearance made it pretty fun to eat.

How about you? Have you ever tried dragon fruit? Anyone want to contradict my harsh judgement of US dragon fruits as completely tasteless?

Railway potatoes: easy Indian food

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Indian food doesn’t have to be hard.

It doesn’t have to involve a ton of spices. Like these Railway Potatoes (via Straight from the Farm), which I found because I needed something to take to a potluck later today. The author’s mother used to make them for train journeys, so I thought they’d stand up well to being transported to a potluck and served at non-piping-hot temperatures. Three spices is enough to make them delicious.

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OK, so that was four. But the ground coriander isn’t even in the recipe, so it’s completely optional. I…I just couldn’t resist. I am in love with ground coriander, I want to put it in everything, and I think it goes especially well with potatoes.

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But hey, what if you don’t have even these four spices yet? Well, you can get cayenne and turmeric in most grocery stores. Coriander and black mustard seeds are less widely available, but the Ithaca Wegmans carries both of them (in the International section) and I’ve found them at other local grocery stores too. If you can’t find coriander, that’s fine, it was optional anyway! For black mustard seeds, you can substitute regular yellow mustard seeds. Yellow mustard seeds will be milder, but they have the same basic mustard-y flavor.

This recipe will also introduce you to a technique I use a lot for Indian food: measuring out the spices into small bowls (as described in the recipe) before you even turn the stove on. I hate fiddly steps in recipes (and washing extra dishes) and hardly ever use mise en place in most of my cooking, but I find it’s really important for Indian food, or anything where you’re cooking spices for very short times at very high heat. You add them so quickly that it’s easier if you can just pick them up and dump them in instead of having to fiddle with the measuring spoon.

Consider this your gateway recipe to cooking Indian food!

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Railway Potatoes

Adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes (by Ruta Kahate) via Straight From the Farm

Serves 4 as a side

1.5 lbs small non-russet potatoes (anywhere from one to three inches in diameter)

1 onion

3 Tbs. peanut oil

1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds (or substitute yellow mustard seeds)

1/2 tsp. ground turmeric

(optional: 1/2 tsp. ground coriander)

1/2 tsp. cayenne (adjust depending on your spiciness tolerance and the strength of your cayenne; I put in only a dash because it’s for a potluck)

1.5 tsp. salt

Scrub the potatoes and cut off any blemishes. Cut the larger potatoes in half, and then cut all of them into slices 1/8 inch thick.  Halve the onion and thinly slice. Measure the mustard seeds into a small bowl. Measure the turmeric (and coriander, if using) into another small bowl.

In a wok or a large heavy skillet, heat the oil at maximum heat.

When the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds, being careful to avoid getting spattered by oil.  After 30 seconds (by now the seeds should have started popping), add the turmeric (and coriander, if using) and give one quick stir. Immediately add the onions, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add the potatoes, stir, and then add the cayenne. Turn the heat down to medium. Add a small splash of water (it will hiss), cover, and cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are done, stirring about every 2 minutes. Add the salt and taste to make sure the potatoes are done. Serve hot or warm or cold.