Tiny beach plum jam

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I’ve moved! I’m no longer picking and jamming in the Finger Lakes of New York, but in Somerville, MA. I feel super lucky in my new neighborhood, because after only 9 days here, I’ve already made my first batch of local jam.

A really tiny batch of jam, not even filling an 8-ounce jar. But still. If you like jams with a good punch of tartness, this is the jam for you.

The plums themselves are tiny too–completely round and the size of marbles or Everlasting Gobstoppers. They’re beach plums, found up and down the northeast US near the sea. If you live in the UK or the northwest US, you may find similarly small cherry plums growing wild. I was exuberantly excited to find them here, because I’d once picked beach plums on Martha’s Vineyard and made 8 ounces of the best tart jam I can remember out of them.

These ones are on the unripe side–completely ripe ones will be dark purple–but that’s fine for jam. The beach plums are the small round plums in the pictures below.

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So even though it’s a little ridiculous to make such a small batch of jam, here’s how. It’ll set up very fast, because tart plums are full of pectin and because it’s such a small batch. Mine turned out a gorgeous ruby red color because all the plums I used were red.

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If you don’t have beach plums, use the tartest plums you can get.

A Tiny Batch of Tiny Plum Jam

Makes less than 8 ounces

Ingredients:
8 ounces small plums (unpitted)
1/4 cup water
About 1/2 cup sugar

1. Put a small plate in the freezer for later. Wash the plums and put them in a pot with the water. For beach plums, put them in whole. For larger plums, slice them into halves or quarters and remove the pits.

2. Simmer gently, covered, for about 15 minutes or until the plums are totally soft and their skin is wrinkled.

3. Turn off the heat, let the plums cool some, and then remove the pits. You can do this using a food mill, or by pressing the flesh/juice through a colander, but I found with a batch this small that it was easiest just to pick the pits out with my fingers. (Bonus: you feel like a kindergartener finger painting!)

4. Measure the amount of flesh/juice. I got 3/4 cup. Put it back into the pot.

5. For each cup of flesh/juice, add 3/4 cup sugar. So, if you get 3/4 cup flesh like I did, add 1/2 cup sugar.

6. Heat the jam until bubbles form (this won’t take much heat because it’s such a small volume). Cook, stirring, until the jam passes the wrinkle test when a small dab is put on the plate in the freezer.

7. Put the jam in a clean jar and store in the fridge.

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

Directions

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.

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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Fresh pea and mint soup

Earlier this week, it was a typically grey day in upstate New York.

In the land of the grey, the one red fruit is king.

(The French name for those rose hips above, I recently learned, is scratchy-butt.)

But wait! All is not grey, not even on the cusp of December. See it, in the middle of that picture above?

Mint! An enormous patch of it, actually, completely undamaged by frost.

So I picked some, and I made fresh pea and mint soup. My friend Ari introduced me to this soup a few years ago, and it’s become one of my favorite things. At first I was skeptical, thinking of fresh peas mainly as a plain side dish that would be pretty boring as a soup. But this soup is amazing. It’s rich and smooth and sprightly at the same time. The flavors of fresh peas and mint blend together so well that you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

I tend to make it when we’re having people over for dinner, because of the aforementioned amazingness, but also because it’s beautiful, fast, and easy. It requires minimal chopping of vegetables and only a few ingredients. I have made it with leeks or shallots, and this time I thought we had some shallots but then discovered we’d run out, so I just used an extra onion. And it was still great!

Somehow making a soup with the flavors of spring was the perfect thing to do with a late fall harvest, and made the day less grey.

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Fresh Pea and Mint Soup (adapted from Barefoot Contessa)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Two 10-oz packages frozen peas
1 onion, chopped
White part of 2 leeks, chopped (or you can substitute a few minced shallots, or just more onion)
1/3-1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
4 cups vegetable stock or water (you can make vegetable stock with the green parts of the leeks)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1. If you’re making vegetable stock: clean the leeks very well (here’s a good tutorial). Cut off the green parts, and simmer them in 4 cups water.

2. In a medium pot, cook the white parts of the leeks (or shallots) and onion in butter over medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes, until soft.

3. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add frozen peas and cook 3 minutes.

4. Turn the heat off and add mint and salt.

5. Puree soup in a blender or with an immersion blender, then add sour cream, stir well, and serve.