Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Barossa Kitchen: Jam Season

Yours truly, putting the jam into jars.
In a red apron, best for working with red fruit !

A relaxing and peaceful day off.  I love working in the kitchen in this house.  It keeps calling me to bake, cook, try new things.  We have a fridge full of leftovers (having plenty of turkey leftover dinners here !).  And also full of some stunningly beautiful fruit.  Raspberries, red currants, blackberries, strawberries, rhubarb, dark cherries, apricots, nectarines.  We also have on hand lemons, oranges, and a stray grapefruit and banana, plus a few kiwi fruit.  This is my best jam making season, summer fruits are gorgeous.  What jam I make is influenced by what is looking best and available in suitable quantity at the right fair price point.

rinsed red fruit
I planned on using the raspberries and red currants.  The latter would keep, but the raspberries were at their peak and needed to be used before they were lost or past it.  I made a mini batch of raspberry and red currant jam last year, stealing fruit from the Christmas dessert plan (I kept a bit of it plus strawberries and made a different dessert with what I had left !).  It was outstanding, albeit a bit of an accidental plan.  So my plan was to start my jam making season doing this one over, documenting the proportions and making a bigger batch (enough for 5 half pint jars or more).  I knew I could get fantastic raspberries at the Barossa Farmer's Market.  $7.50 for a 200g pun net box.  I got four and had a few extras from the week before that were still good.  I bought blackberries too, as a plan B.  Because I could not find red currants the week or two before Christmas !   Then on Christmas Eve, I found them at Nuriootpa Foodland.  I bought 2 small boxes of 125g each.  I needed about 200g for the jam and the rest was to garnish our Christmas dessert, a Rose Petal & Rhubarb Berry Trifle.
bowls and measuring cup

Had the radio on to hear the Ashes test Cricket on the ABC (I enjoy listening to test cricket on the radio) while I set about getting the work area ready for jam making.   I have a very large stainless steel stockpot with a clear glass lid and a small tray for the bottom to hold the jars off the bottom of the pan.  First thing is to get the water in that and start heating it.  It takes the longest time to heat it to  boiling and the jars then get boiled for 10 minutes to sterilise them.   The same pot and boiling water will be used for the boiling water bath to process the jam once it is put into the jars.  I have a smaller pot to use for sterilising the lids and rings.  That one is kept on hand also for boiling water to dip a clean cloth in for cleaning off the edge of the jars before putting the lid on.

towels & cloths:
red is practical for handling fruit !
Once that big stockpot got going, I assembled the rest of my tools.  A stainless steel funnel, jar tongs, lid tongs, stainless steel spoons of various sizes, timber pot coasters, all the jars and lids (already washed), and vintage glass measuring cups (my favourites).  Small little sauce dishes and small spoons get put into the freezer, for later testing the jam setting.  The funnel and spoons all were clean and got dipped into boiling water.  Then I got a variety of cloths at the ready.  Red and dark pink tea towels are practical, because red fruit stains (an inevitable part of jam making) won't ruin them.  Little dark cherry coloured cloths used for holding and wiping jars.  Silicon coasters for the big brass handles of the jam pan.  I also put on an apron (red, best for working with red fruit).

Red raspberries, red currants,
one lemon plus sugar
Then came the fruit.  First raspberries.  Rinsed and then weighed in a stainless steel bowl, so I could calculate fruit weight and work out how much sugar I would need.  Then red currants, pulled off stems, rinsed and also weighed, then put into a duck egg blue Bisonware ceramic bowl.  The raspberries weighed 816g and the red currants 199g.    With just over a kilo of red fruit I measured out 5 cups of granulated sugar for the jam, dumped that into another  stainless steel bowl.  I had a lemon and cut it, squeezing its juice through a strainer into a small glass measuring cup.

I have a fabulous hammered copper jam pan (Mauviel) .  Fruit put into unlined copper must have sugar mixed in straight away.  So I tipped in the sugar first, then topped it with the red fruit, and poured the lemon juice over the top.  By now the jars and lids were into the boiling water to sterilise, so I turned on the burner under the copper pan.  I mixed the fruit into the sugar and we were off  and running !
red fruit atop sugar, in copper jam pan

Jam heating up, on cooktop
It did not take long for the heat to cause the sugar to dissolve and the fruit was mixed in well by then, taking care not to over  stir the raspberries to the point of breaking them down too fast (they are delicate).   The fruit had the most divine aroma, bright, red, and nice mix of tart-sweet.  Red currants are a perfect partner to raspberries.  Before long the fruit and sugar mix was getting nice and hot and then all of a sudden it bubbled and foamed up.  I used a large spoon to skim the foam off into a separate bowl.  I am still getting used to the copper pan, and am carefully making adjustments to my jam cooking.  The copper pan heats up and stays hot longer than the stainless steel one I used to use.  If care is not taken, the jam can go from set to caramel stage very quickly (which would be ruined).  The jam started to bubble away, foam was skimmed, and it started to reduce.  When it was reduced to half its volume, it was time to test if it was at set or gel point.
Jam bubbles & foams up,
I skimmed off the foam

testing gel & set of the jam,
freezer (spoon/dish) method

I use little dishes and small spoons put in the freezer for a freezer method set/gel test.  I get one of each out of the freezer and carefully use another spoon to get a small bit of the jam mix and pour it into the spoon taken from freezer.  Then the bottom of the cold spoon becomes room temperature, then I carefully pour the jam into the cold dish.  And let it sit a minute or too, then run my finger through it to see if the trail stays separated or the surface wrinkles, both signs of a good set.  Today I had to do 4 set tests in fast succession (2-3 minutes between).  The last one I was pretty sure was it, so I turned off the heat under the jam pot.  I was right, and so the jam pan rested for a few minutes, then got put near where I would jar the jam.
Filling a jar with jam,
through funnel

One by one, I took a sterilised jar out of the hot water in stock pot, tipping the water back into the pot.  The funnel gets put in the jar, next to the jam pan.  I spoon the jam into the jar through the funnel.  When full, I carefully wipe the edge with a clean cloth dipped in boiling water.  Then place a lid and ring on the top.  It is tightened to light finger tight, so air can escape during processing in the boiling water bath.  Then the jar is returned to the stock pot, using the jar tongs.  This process was repeated six times. When all six jars were in the stock pot and water, I turned the heat back up to bring it to boiling.  And processed the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Each jar was removed from the boiling water bath in turn and placed carefully on a timber coaster to cool.  In very quick succession, the jar lids popped as they cooled, indicating they had a good seal.  Each will have a shelf life of a year (if they last that long !).  When the jars were cool enough, I tightened the rings on them a bit more.  And fixed small labels to each with date of the jam and a best by date of one year hence.

Filled jar of jam being put
in stockpot for boiling
water bath processing

last bits of jam in the pan
The dregs of the jam pan got scooped out and put in a clean small jar for testing tomorrow morning !  There was not enough in the jar to sterilise (a partly empty jar will bob around in the boiling water bath….yes, I have tried this and do know !).  Also, I discarded the foam skimmed off the cooking jam and underneath there was a lovely syrup.  I put the syrup in a another jar.  It will make a nice topping for ice-cream.  The test jam and jam byproduct syrup do not have a long shelf life, they will be used this week and went right into the fridge !
Copper jam pan wash up

clean &ready for next batch !
I clean up all my tools and things right away, so it can all be put away and ready for next batch of jam.  Which might be tomorrow !  

Ashes Raspberry - Red Currant Jam

The cricket had been going pretty well.  So I decided to name this jam Ashes Raspberry - Red Currant Jam.

Looking forward to soon have studio space again for painting.  To see recent progress on the last phase of the renovations, completion of the studio, see placeandtimedesign blog, where I post renovations news and progress.

Friday, December 20, 2013

When Life Gives You….

Cherries !

I saw a great interiors photo of a beautiful kitchen last week and it had in it a cute sign that said Cherries on it.  I decided I would like one for my kitchen.  So I set about to do a prototype sign and work out my composition options, colour palette, and so on.

I have been wanting to integrate typography into my art, but free hand efforts have not looked how I want….so decided to use some form of an image transfer on this sign to get the composition of the letters as I liked before hand painting the lettering in my colour palette.  And last week I was in the middle of doing some experimentation with image transfer techniques and was timing and comparing the use of them, before teaching a variety of methods in a new workshop Brocante in the Barossa NEW Image Transfer on Chalk Paint ™ Workshop in January and March.  So I used an image transfer of the lettering onto the board (and did a time trial on it too).

First, I did a trawl online to see Cherries signs and motifs I liked.  I did not copy these, but definitely was inspired by fruits of the trawl.  I combined elements inspired from a number of sources into my design.  Then, I created the actual motif lettering in Microsoft Word, using WordArt feature, trying a number of fonts and shaping to the word before I found one I liked.  I used a pale colour, because I intended to paint over it all.  Then, printing the word art in reverse (mirror image), I  used Annie Sloan's Decoupage Glue/Varnish to apply the word "CHERRIES" to a board painted in Chalk Paint ™ decorative paint by Annie Sloan (colour of ground is Old White).

I began to paint over the lettering by hand and used Chalk Paint ™ by Annie Sloan in Primer Red, Emperor's Silk and a bit of Graphite for a little shadowing effect on the letters.  This took awhile and it does have a hand painted look to it.  I was as steady as I could though and used small taklon (4 and 6) flat and bright paint brushes for the painting work.

Then with small (2 and 4) bristle brushes, I used Antibes Green, and a more emerald looking mix of Antibes and Florence to create some leaves around the lettering.  I did leaves free hand.  I put in some shadows with  Graphite, so the lettering would stand out more and to give the leaves a look of part shadiness.  I used the darker red Primer Red to paint on some clusters of cherries amidst the foliage.  Emperor's Silk is a brighter red and was used for the brighter parts of the cherries, along with it mixed with a very bit of Old White (to make a quite bright warm pink).  To complete the cherries, I lightly put in some Old White highlights where the light would dance on the cherries.

To finish my prototype sign, I used Annie Sloan Soft Wax, first in Clear, then in Dark.  I gave the sign a bit of distressing with sandpaper.  And I rubbed back a bit of the dark wax, especially on the white bits around the letters, to brighten it up.

I like the sign.  I want to make a bigger one and will be planning that.  My immediate design dilemma:  How big should the sign for the kitchen be ?!