September 29, 2009



My friend Keller blessed me with a huge bag of his fabulous backyard figs. So I have bee on a fig jammathon. Inspired by a Turkish friends tales of her grandmothers fig jam I devised this recipe.
Serve it on a cheese plate with feta or for something really decadent use it in a grilled cheese sandwich with manchego cheese. If you are making thumbprint cookies use a dab of this and you will have a hybrid Turkish Fig Newton.

Jam on!


  • 2.5 lbs fresh figs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/3-cup sesame seeds toasted


  1. Wash and stem the figs removing their woody ends.  Depending on the size of your figs cut them accordingly to give you small bite sized pieces.
  2. Layer cut figs and sugar in a preserving pan with lemon juice. Cover and let sit overnight or until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Place over Medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 45- 60 minutes, until fruit is translucent. Add lemon zest and sesame seeds and cook for 5 more minutes.
  4. Ladle jam into hot sterilized jars. Seal and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

  • 4 8-ounce jars

  • Backyard figs often have a sticky sap to which dirt adheres so they may need to be rinsed twice.
  • I have had variations in the cooking time depending on the variety and ripeness of the figs. Don’t be alarmed if you have to cook them longer, just keep a close eye on them.
  • Toast the sesame seeds in a sauté pan on the stove. DO NOT take your eyes of them as they burn quickly.

September 27, 2009

Jars Jars Jars and more Jars

Jars Jars Jars Jars and more Jars

Recently a reader inquired about the jar in my raspberry jam post prompting me to write a piece on jars, a subject sometimes overlooked. While ingredients and taste are  the most important aspect of canning its container should not be ignored. I realize this is only of importance to some of you but I personally am obsessed with finding the perfect vessels for my preserves. Having spent time and effort in their creation it only seems right that I find them a suitable jar and label. I like to have a collection of jars to choose from, a closet if you will, from which I can select the perfect jar for each preserve.

Below is an over view on home preserving jars and my personal opinions on them, not in order of preference.

Home canning jars in the United States are generally referred to as Mason jars or Ball jars, which are catchall phrases for any number of old fashioned looking jars. Today’s jars are comprised of three components, the glass, the lid and the screw band.The glass container is manufactured specifically for repeated cooling and heating. Never use chipped or cracked jars, and never reuse commercial jars. Bale jars (also called kilner or clamp jars) are unsuitable for home canning.

The lid, which is the flat part, sets directly on top of the jars opening. It is coated with a special (more on this later) rubber like substance that adheres to the jar during the vacuum process. The second part is the screw band whose real function is to keep the lid in place during processing. The lids are designed for  single use only, but you can reuse the screw bands if they are undamaged, no dings, rust etc.

Jarden Home Brands manufactures Ball, Kerr, Bernardin, and Golden Harvest jars, which are all available in North America. Bernardin is only available in Canada. A representative at Jarden told me that all their brands use the same glass and lid manufacturers.

                                     BALL ELITE COLLECTION

Ball, the gold standard in home canning is Jardens most widely available brand. Providing the greatest variety of shapes and sizes, they manufacture everything from a dainty 4oz jelly jar to half-gallon canning tankers.

Ball also manufactures the boutique Elite Collection, aimed at the gourmet canner. The wide mouth jars, which come in two sizes, eight and sixteen ounce, have a contemporary look with brushed silver lids that scream gift.
 When I first saw these jars I was thrilled, “finally” I thought, “someone has designed a cool looking jar”. Cool looking yes, functional no.
The eight ounce, jar with writing on all four sides leaves no room for a label,which means you have to put it on the lid. If you are stacking your jars (essential with these jars as they have an overall height of only two inches) you cannot see, at a glance, what their contents are, which is very annoying.
The 16-ounce jar fares better in this department as, as there is only writing on one side. This  is a pretty jar that lends itself to any number of applications. For my money this is hands down the best pint jar available.

That said the Elite Collection has an essential design flaw. They do not stack. I can’t tell you how many of these I have broken when trying to stack them. So while I like the look of these jars,  I can only recommend them with reservations.
I love the Elite Collection lids which come in boxes of twelve with or without the screw bands. These fit on any Ball wide mouth jar and add a polished look to any jar.

Golden Harvest:
Jardens lower priced brand is available primarily in the South and the Midwest.It is often found at Wal-Mart, Big Lots and Dollar stores. The jars, which are less decorative, have plain lids and come only in quart and pint sizes. I have never used this brand, nor have I  seen it for sale in California. I am eager to try it, as I prefer a plainer jar.

                                    Kerr Quilted Jelly Jars

This brand is available primarily west of the Mississippi.  Many people associate this brand with the quilted jar.  I personally am not a fan of the quilted jar (it looks like a fake Chanel bag) as they too have limited space for labels. In addition to an 8 ounce quilted jar both Kerr and Ball offer a 12-ounce size and an adorable 4-ounce size, great for gifts, or small batch preserves.

Kerr has an eight ounce wide mouth, available primarily in the northwest for canning salmon. I have not personally used thisjar but they look like they would be nice for preserves particularly when topped by an Elite lid.


Bernardin is Jardens Canadian division and they produce many of the same jars I have described  here.  But they do have a few products only available from Bernardin.
They make the 250 ml (approx 8 oz) Preserve and Serve jar, which is my hands down favorite all around jar especially when topped with an Elite Collection lid.

It's a wide mouth jar with  a European look, a flat side for a label and it stacks nicely.

They also have an Elite Collection which makes these charming round pots with gingham lids. They have a country look which is perfect for fruit preserves. Strawberry Jam in one  covered with a red gingham lid is especially fetching. You can order just the lids and put them on regular 8 ounce  Ball or Kerr jars.

I have ordered jars from Canada a number of times without problem. Golda's Kitchen can be accessed directly or through Be sure to calculate the exchange rate and shipping.

Check back in the next couple of weeks, as I’ll be posting another piece on jars. I’ll cover the European jar brands available and as well as other canning resources.

September 14, 2009

concord grape jelly



I love Concord Massachusetts and its illustrious grape. There are many wonderful things about this small historic town northwest of Boston. Full disclosure first: I am partial to Concord, as I was born there. Think of Concord’s gifts: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond, Nathaniel Hawthorn and Paul Revere’s ride immortalized by Longfellow.

But closest to my heart is Louisa May Alcott and Orchard House where she grew up and wrote Little Women. I took my daughter there this summer on a literary pilgrimage. I was pleased to discover that the Concord grape was actually cultivated on a farm right next door to the Alcott’s house. Ephraim Bull (why don’t people have names like that any more?) was their neighbor who in 1849 using native species bred a grape hearty enough for the cold New England climate. I like to think of Louisa and her sisters Anna, Elizabeth and Abigail (Jo, Amy, Beth and Meg) sampling Mr. Bull’s grapes as they ran through the meadows surrounding Orchard House.

Do not confuse this jelly with the Welch’s grape jelly of your childhood. Concord grapes produce a slightly musky jelly which when made with a reasonable amount of sugar, has a dense sophisticated flavor. It’s gamey and foxy, somewhat akin to one of my other favorite New England jellies, beach plum.

I use my “go to ratio” of one of cup juice to ¾ cup sugar. Be sure to include some under ripe grapes for both their tartness and their pectin. To further balance the sweetness of the grapes I sometimes add savory elements. I like to flavor the jelly with peppercorns, red wine and thyme.


  •  scant 4 cups

  • 4-5 lbs concord grapes
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups sugar

  1. Wash grapes and remove stems discarding any overripe grapes. Combine wine and grapes in a large non-reactive pot. Cook over low heat mashing a bit. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium, continue cooking for 10 minutes.
  2. Carefully transfer to a moistened jelly bag or cheesecloth set in a strainer. Let drip eight hours. Do not squeeze bag or push down on the grapes or you will get cloudy jelly!
  3. Let juice sit overnight in the refrigerator and pass through a moistened jelly bag one more time to remove all the sediment.
  4. Measure the juice; you should have about 4 cups. For every cup of juice add ¾ cup of sugar. Place in a large saucepan and over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Raise heat to medium high and boil stirring constantly and skimming as needed. Watch carefully, cook until jelly is set 10 -15 minutes.
  5. Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal. Process in a hot water bath 10 minutes. Label and enjoy.

  • Add a few sprigs of thyme or one sprig of rosemary and 8 peppercorns to the juice in step 4. Put them in a tea ball or tied up in cheesecloth. Remove before straining.
  • Add 6 cardamom pods to the juice in step 4. Put them in a tea ball or tied up in cheesecloth. Remove before straining.

  • Beware; this stuff stains like all get out! Wear black while making it.
  • Keep some moist cloths or sponges nearby, as it will also stain your counter tops and anything else it touches if you don’t wipe it up immediately.
  • If you are fussy about your enameled pots (like Le Creuset), which have light interiors, do not use them, as they will stain.
  • Do not worry about the cloudy residue on the grapes, it's natural.
  • This recipe is for concord grapes only, use other varieties at your own risk.

September 10, 2009



The high cost of raspberries can make working with them prohibitive. I am not referring to flavorless supermarket berries. I am talking about berries right off the vine, warm from the sun, berries with so intense a flavor that it’s almost impossible to get back home with a full basket. This season I was lucky enough to hit Underwood Family Farm at peak season. Their bushes were laden with fruit and I came home with a groaning flat for under twenty dollars.

Wanting to bottle their delicate essence right off the vine I rushed to make jam. Plunging into my canning library I went first to canning goddess, Christine Ferber’s Mes Confitures. She recommends leaving the berries unrinsed so that they retain their flavor. Not an option for me, my berries were rife with bugs, leaves and odd bits. Perhaps, I thought, I should refine my picking skills. I imagined Madame Ferbers pickers, in white kerchiefs and starched aprons, far tidier than I.

Next I consulted the more reasonable and equally exalted jamming guru, Linda Zedrich. She suggests mashing the berries. Once again not an option: my berries seemed far too fragile. Her recipe had what I refer to as the “go to ratio” which I often use: 1 cup of fruit to ¾ cup of sugar. Many older canning recipes favor a one to one ratio, which produces a jam too sweet for my taste.

Wanting to do as little to the berries as possible I employed the old fashioned method of warming the sugar in the oven which means less cooking on the stovetop and therefore less breakdown of the fruit.

Many recipes nowadays say “DO NOT DOUBLE” which I usually ignore, but with fruits this delicate I heed that advice. The objective is to preserve the fruit’s essence and working in small batches insures this.

This is the simplest of jams but I spent more time thinking about it than many others I've made. My daughter Isabel said “Mom this might be your best” as she bit into her third piece of toast. But I don’t think my raspberry jam is so special. It’s just that homemade raspberry jam is truly a rare delicacy.


  • Scant two pints
  • 4 cups raspberries
  • 3 cops sugar
  • Juice of one lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 250. Place sugar in a shallow ovenproof pan and heat in the oven for 15 minutes.
  2. Warm your preserving pan over low heat, add sugar and lemon juice followed by the berries. Stir gently and increase heat, bringing to a gentle boil. Skim as needed. Cook about 5 minutes until set. With this jam it is better to have a slightly runny jam than an overcooked one.
  3. Ladle into hot sterilized jars and seal. Process in a hot water bath 10 minutes. Label and enjoy.
  • This stuff is precious so I like to use 4 oz jars, that way there’s more to go around especially if you plan on gifting it to VSP’s (very special peeps).
  • Raspberries contain both pectin and acid so it sets up fairly well