Have I mentioned that the Ballard Farmer's market is my new favorite thing ever? I will always love the University market, mainly for it's being open all year, but there is something about that Ballard market that makes you feel like you have been swept away from it all. After four or five hours there, I feel like I've been on vacation. Last Sunday, my pal Lesa and I spent the day there wondering around, meeting new people, and tasting all sorts of goodies. We were, however, on a mission. Jam. A while back, Lesa and I were chatting over a bottle of wine, when we revealed to each other that neither of us had ever canned or preserved anything in our lives. My mother made apple butter, freezer jam, and jalapeno jelly when I was a kid. My Mamo has always made strawberry jam (and will always remind me of the flat of freshly picked strawberries she was JUST about to turn into jam, when my mom went into labor with me and she had to drop everything and head for the hospital. Needless to say, they sat on the counter in the hot July sun, never to become the row of ruby red jars that she had hoped for!) The point being, it's ludicrous that I was never tutored in the art of preserving! I love jams, jellies, butters, pickles, and chutneys, but until now, I have always had to rely on the ridiculously over priced jars I would pick up at the grocery store, or the gifts of friends. Those pathetic days are now over.
We began our market trip with a few ideas in mind. Neither of us wanted to do pickles or chutneys just yet. We'll save that for canning/preserving part two. I have been wanting to do the Plum jelly featured in Greg Atkinson's book "Northwest Essentials" for a while now, for one thing it sounded delicious and EASY! Lesa was thinking about preserved peaches. We picked up about 4 pounds of Italian prune plums, as Greg calls for, and some gorgeous red haven peaches. Then, we walked by the "Foraged and Found" stand. HUCKLEBERRIES!!! How could I have forgotten about huckleberries?! Of course, something would need to be done with these. I am a Seattle native. Naturally my love for these northwest berries runs deep. There is no commercial licence for huckleberries, so you will not see them at Safeway. But for the brief late summer months, they are available at farmer's markets, and worth every penny. We picked up a few pounds of them, and headed over to my berry lady. Jessie's Berries is one of my favorite farmer's market stops. She is usually at all the markets. Even the brand new, teeny Queen Anne market. Her black raspberries were the star of a dessert special I ran back in July that people are still talking about. Jessie had some 2nd crop strawberries and this would be essentially the last chance I'd have to savor the washington strawberry. A flat was purchased. I am not sorry. This years second pick of strawberries (also known as the everbearing strawberry) has been better than the first. Next, we stopped for a light lunch and glass of wine at divino, loaded up the car, and headed to Lesa's kitchen. Let the canning games begin!
We started with plum jelly, which takes the longest. Italian plums are split in half, cooked down, placed in a jelly bag (or pillow case-see photograph), juices reduced with sugar and lemon juice, then canned. While the plums cooked down, we tackled the strawberries and huckleberries. Both of us wanted to make freezer jam with these berries, which isn't really canning, but who cares? We both love freezer jam, and I hate to cook strawberries. Something about it depresses me. The huckleberries and strawberries were squished gently with a potato masher, then combined with sugar and pectin. That's all you have to do to create beautiful, delicious jam. Make sure you use plastic containers, and most pectin boxes come with instructions for freezer jam. Next it was time to deal with the peaches. Until we tasted one. It was just too perfectly succulent to peel and can. They needed to be eaten as they were, right then. So, we'll do preserved peaches next time. Meanwhile, our plum juice was dripping from it's pillow case into a bowl....very very slowly. "Don't squeeze the jelly bag!" Lesa would yelp at me everytime I went over to fiddle with it. Greg states very clearly in his recipe...do NOT squeeze the jelly bag. Otherwise the jam will get cloudy. It had been several hours at this point, and we were getting ANTSY! ....We squooze the jelly bag. Naughty, impatient girls. You know what? The jelly turned out to be stunning and not at all cloudy. It was a sparkling garnet color and I think it's my favorite product of the day. The plum flavor is highly pronounced and it has a marvelous texture. I will be making it again this month and saving it for Christmas gifts. Here's a link to Greg Atkinson's homepage, where you'll find his recipe for plum jelly. Spending a beautiful Sunday morning at the market and the afternoon in the kitchen is church for me. I came home that evening feeling high from mastering a new skill. I blabbed to Trevor, who listened politely about all I had learned and the people I had met. Then, we had toast with jam. As he took a bite of buttery white bread, smeared with strawberry jam (something he's usually not a huge fan of), he smiled, then hungrily took another bite. Then, devoured the entire thing. Later that night, he snuck into the kitchen for a PB n J made with the huckleberry. Lesa, I think we done good.