Monday, July 18, 2011

The Experimental Kitchen

I love experimenting in the kitchen.  Baked goods, canning, breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Opening up my cupboards with a mind towards creativity makes me feel happy.  I swear I can hear a set of old rusty gears in my head get greased up and start running smoothly.  Yesterday I decided to try a new way of making jam.

Elderberries from last years bout of jam making
I love Jam.  Last year I made: blackberry, black raspberry, peach, cherry, summer berry (cherry, blueberry, serviceberry), red raspberry and elderberry.  It makes great gifts and even if you don't do PBJ you can put it on ice cream add it to seltzer for a summery drink, use it to make thumb print cookies or make breakfast bars with a thin layer of it spread in between layers of crumbly crusts.

So the thing with jam is pectin.  Pectin is what makes it firm up.  You can also use gelatin (but knowing that it comes from boiled animal parts that I didn't boil yourself might hold you up on that as it does me)  Some fruit have plenty of their own pectin, but unless you boil the crap out of them, that pectin isn't truly released so buying some pectin to add helps things along.  However, I've been pretty convinced that there had to be a better way of making jam that didn't require the expense (you get two lousy envelopes of liquid pectin for $4) of pectin.  I was right.

MaryJane's Farm sells what they call ChillOver(c) and though I'd love to give her the business, I'm a little too self-sufficient for that.  I knew my local bulk food store sold agar powder so yesterday I bought some and used it to make Black raspberry jam.  At $4 for 1.5 ounces, it may seem expensive but I only used 1/2 tsp for this jam!  It's going to last for many more than two lousy batches.  And wow - it turned out great!

Now I remembered agar from my days as an assistant in the plant pathology labs where I went to school.  It solidified the gels for the petrie dishes for us to grow the spores of fungus on for our research (yeah, dry; see why I'm not into that anymore? Though it was a great experience).  Agar pronounced AH-ger comes from an algae with hard gelling properties.  It's totally plant derived.  The woman at the store had no suggestions on how to use it, the internet had limited resources as well (believe it or not) but I did find some info here which gave me some clues.

Basically, I weighed the berries, used half their weight in sugar, mashed 'em up good(no heat), stirred it vigorously to extract as much juice as I could, (med-low heat) added about 1/2 tsp of lime juice, simmered very low for 4 mins, added 1/2 tsp of agar powder and let it simmer for about 5 mins. (being careful, with less liquid it could burn easily so I stirred it a lot).  You'll notice I didn't let it sit over night as the link above instructs.  I ended up with something more like preserves which is just what I wanted and this morning I had it on toast; yum!

With a cuppa tea of cours
Between the lessened amount of sugar and the lessened boiling time this made phenomenal stuff!! The jars still sealed up as they would with any cooked jam and this small batch was perfect since all those jams I made last year?  Yeah, I still have almost all of them!  Except the elderberry and black raspberry - they were amazing and were eaten first.  My only concern is that the shelf life on this jam may not be quite so long since there's less sugar, which is a preservative.  Guess smaller batches are the way to go!  Give agar a try!  And remember not to take your kitchen too seriously.


  1. Really interesting about the agar. I was thinking about the shelf life. I think you probably use the boiling method for your canning. I know a pressure cooker canner is used for low acid food like green beans. Would it work for the jam? Or could you freeze the jam? I know freezing isnt probably farmgirl, :) but maybe?

  2. I think in such small batches, freezing is a viable option. While it's not true farmgirl - eventually I'll have a root cellar and they stay pretty cool (as I'm sure you know). Luckily, though I love jam, we don't eat much of it so hopefully storage won't be too big of an issue! Thanks for the comment!

  3. Lookin' good!!
    Glad to see you are back :)

  4. Thanks! It feels good to be back! Had a very farmy weekend. Ahhhhhh......