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TRICKY RECIPES CAN PAY OFF WITH SWEET GOODNESS.



Published: Wed, August 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Tricky recipes can pay off with sweet goodness.

By JUDITH EVANS

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

By choosing simplified recipes for small-batch jams, you can dispense with jar lifters, vats of boiling water, pecks of produce and warehouse-store-size bags of sugar. The trade-off is shorter shelf life, but that shouldn't be a problem: Good jams go fast.

Because these jams are not processed in a boiling-water bath, you can use pretty jars with one-piece screw-on lids or old-fashioned jars with clamp-on lids. Just make sure that your jars and utensils are scrupulously clean, and refrigerate the jam as soon as it cools to room temperature.

Homemade jams can be finicky, even for experienced cooks. The most reliable recipes use commercial pectin, a natural substance that allows liquids (such as fruit juice) to gel. Pectin is sold in powdered and liquid forms; stores that carry canning supplies, including most supermarkets and some hardware stores, usually have both. Don't substitute one form of pectin for the other. If you follow the recipe exactly, you should have good results every time.

Instead of using purchased pectin, many recipes rely on the natural pectin in fruits. The amount of natural pectin can vary widely, with underripe fruits having more. Recipes without added pectin tend to be longer-cooking, and the timing of the recipe is a guess more than a guide.

When making jams without added pectin, the best way to judge the gel point -- the temperature that will result in a jam that's not too thick or too thin -- is to use a thermometer and cook until the liquid is exactly 220 degrees. Less precise but time-tested are the spoon test and the plate test. If a spoonful of jam slides off a metal spoon in a sheet rather than in drops, it is ready. Or put a few plates in the freezer. When you think the jam is ready, spoon a bit onto a cold plate and let cool to room temperature. If the jam is set, it has cooked enough.

One of our recipes, for Minted Raspberry-Peach Freezer Jam, requires no cooking at all (although the sugar is warmed in the oven so it dissolves more easily). Even more so than with most jam recipes, this one requires patience -- it needs to sit at room temperature up to 24 hours for the jam to set.

And if this -- or any other fruit jam -- fails to set, don't despair. Simply call it a sauce, and ladle it over ice cream, pound cake, waffles or pancakes.

MINTED RASPBERRY-PEACH FREEZER JAM

31/2 cups superfine or granulated sugar

1 cup mashed fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries

2/3 cup finely chopped, peeled peaches (1 medium peach)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 (3-ounce) pouch liquid fruit pectin

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place sugar in an ovenproof shallow pan; warm in the oven for 15 minutes (warm sugar dissolves better).

Combine raspberries, peaches, mint and warm sugar in a large bowl; let stand for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add lemon juice and pectin. Stir constantly for 3 minutes (or longer if necessary to dissolve sugar).

Ladle jam into clean jars or plastic containers to within 1/2 inch of the rim. Cover with tight-fitting lids. Let stand at room temperature until set, up to 24 hours. Refrigerate for up to 3 weeks or freeze for longer storage.

Yield: 4 cups.

Per tablespoon: 44 calories; no fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 11g carbohydrate; 11g sugar; no fiber; no sodium; 1mg calcium; 7mg potassium.

Tester's note: If desired, double the amounts of sugar, raspberries, peaches and lemon juice and cook on the stovetop, following the directions included in the pectin package. Stir in 4 tablespoons mint after removing from heat. Yield: 7 cups.

Adapted from "Small-Batch Preserving," by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard (Firefly, 351 pages, $19.95 paperback).

EASY BLUEBERRY JAM

1 (111/2-ounce) can frozen white grape juice concentrate, thawed

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (colored portion of peel)

3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

In a large saucepan, combine grape juice concentrate, lemon zest and blueberries; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently to prevent the berries from sticking or burning, until the mixture reaches 220 degrees, about 25 minutes.

Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside for 1 hour. Pour the jam into hot, clean jars to within 1/4 inch of lips. Wipe rims clean, attach lids, and screw the caps on tightly. Invert the jars briefly for a quick vacuum seal. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate up to 1 month.

Yield: About 3 cups.

Per tablespoon: 16 calories; no fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 4g carbohydrate; 4g sugar; no fiber; 1mg sodium; 1mg calcium; 12mg potassium.

Adapted from "True Blueberry," by Linda Dannenberg (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 128 pages, $22.50).

MICROWAVE GINGER PLUM JAM

3 cups chopped peeled purple plums (about 10 to 12 plums)

2 cups granulated sugar

4 teaspoons lemon juice

1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Place plums and sugar in a deep 8-cup microwavable container. Stir in lemon juice.

Microwave, uncovered, on high power for 7 minutes, stirring twice. Add ginger; microwave, uncovered, on high for 15 to 18 minutes or until mixture reaches 220 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, stirring every 4 minutes.

Ladle the jam into hot, clean jars to within 1/4 inch of rims. Wipe rims clean, attach lids, and screw the caps on tightly. Invert the jars briefly for a quick vacuum seal. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate up to 1 month.

Yield: 21/2 cups.

Per tablespoon: 56 calories; no fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 14g carbohydrate; 12g sugar; no fiber; no sodium; 2mg calcium; 32mg potassium.

Adapted from "Small-Batch Preserving," by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard (Firefly, 351 pages, $19.95 paperback).

QUICK BLACKBERRY PRESERVES WITH LEMON ZEST

4 pints (11/2 pounds) blackberries

1/3 cup water

Grated zest (colored portion of peel) from 1 lemon

31/2 cups (approx.) granulated sugar

Rinse and drain berries. Combine with water in a heavy, nonreactive 5-quart pan. Cover and bring to a simmer. Uncover; simmer for 10 minutes. Measure the volume of fruit and juices. Set aside the same volume of sugar.

Return fruit mixture to the pan; return to a boil. Add lemon zest. Add sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the mixture to return to a boil each time before adding more. Continue cooking until the liquid reaches 220 degrees, 5 to 10 minutes. Preserves will be quite thick.

Pour preserves into a 1-quart mixing bowl; let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to redistribute the berries. Fill hot, clean jars to within 1/4-inch of rims. Wipe rims clean, attach lids, and screw the caps on tightly. Invert the jars briefly for a quick vacuum seal. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate up to 1 month.

Yield: 31/2 cups.

Per tablespoon: 58 calories; no fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 14.5g carbohydrate; 13.5g sugar; 1g fiber; no sodium; 6mg calcium; 34mg potassium.

Adapted from "Gourmet Preserves Chez Madelaine," by Madelaine Bullwinkel (Surrey Books, 260 pages, $14.95 paperback).

GREEN TOMATO JAM

2 pounds green tomatoes

2 lemons

1 tart apple

1/2 cup water

1 (4-inch) cinnamon stick

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

Scrub and rinse tomatoes, lemons and apple. Remove and discard stem ends of tomatoes; cut tomatoes into quarters. Transfer 2 tomatoes to a food processor; pulse until chopped. Pour into a heavy, nonreactive 4-quart pan. Repeat with remaining tomatoes. (Or dice tomatoes with a knife.)

Grate zest (colored portion of peel) from lemons. Add to the pan. Halve lemons; cut off and discard pith (white part of peel). Slice thinly; remove seeds. Add lemon slices to the pan.

Peel, quarter, core and dice apple; add to the pan. Pour in water; add cinnamon stick. Stir to combine. Cover the pan; bring to a boil. Uncover; simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in 1/2 cup sugar; return to a simmer. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar. Let jam return to a simmer, then cook, uncovered, until the temperature reaches 220 degrees, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat; remove the cinnamon stick. Pour the jam into hot, clean jars to within 1/4 inch of rims. Wipe rims clean, attach lids, and screw the caps on tightly. Invert the jars briefly for a quick vacuum seal. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate up to 1 month.

Yield: 31/2 cups.

Per tablespoon: 20 calories; no fat; no cholesterol; no protein; 5g carbohydrate; 5g sugar; no fiber; 2mg sodium; 3mg calcium; 35mg potassium.

Note: This mild, sweet jam is good with savory muffins, scones and other breakfast breads.

Adapted from "Gourmet Preserves Chez Madelaine," by Madelaine Bullwinkel (Surrey Books, 260 pages, $14.95 paperback).




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