Preserving: traditions… and some fruits, nuts & tea.

I’ve heard a lot recently about keeping traditions alive, especially after someone has passed away. For me it’s important. Vital, even. And that’s been something that has always been important in my family. The year my great-grandfather Tom died in late November (my grandmother’s father), her & my grandpa put up a Christmas tree. A smaller one, but still. The year her mother Mary passed away right before Halloween, her brother still passed out candy at the house because it was his mother’s favorite holiday. To not do these things would feel wrong to us. However, everyone grieves differently. For us it’s important to continue with the things those people loved to do… we’d feel sadder & lonelier without them. To each his own. But for me, that’s how our ancestors & family members are kept alive. Making their recipes, using their decorations, etc. Doing the things they used to do & love. Preserving the traditions. My grandma loved Christmas, to not celebrate it would be wrong.

Speaking of preserving…. in the last few days before Christmas, I thought I’d throw in three more ideas for seasonally appropriate jams/conserves/jellies. Perfect for gift-giving, as additions to the Christmas dinner/after-dinner spread, or for a Christmas Day brunch. All three are different, yet totally Christmas-y. And in case you’re wondering…

Conserves are made with dried fruits and nuts and are cooked. They have a very thick and chunky texture. Conserves work very well as a spread and as a condiment for meats and cheeses.

Jam is a thick mixture of fruit, pectin, and sugar that is boiled gently but quickly until the fruit is soft and has an organic shape, yet is still thick enough that it spreads easily and can form a blob. In addition to being a spread, jams are also good for fillings.

Jelly is made from sugar, pectin, acid, and fruit juice and is a clear spread that is firm enough to hold its shape. Jellies can also be made from ingredients other than fruit, such as herbs, tea, wine, liqueurs, flowers, and vegetables.

– source: TheKitchn

Does that clear up the confusion? So anyway, like I said, three recipes. Yes. I said THREE. Three whole recipes today. I must be crazy, right? Three recipes for three different types of jarred up, old timey, homestyle holiday fare. I guess you could say this post is a trifecta of awesomeness. Or a triple threat. Whatever it is- it rocks.

Those are regular size cupcake liners used as lid covers!

First up is the conserve; made with dried figs, dried plums & walnuts. The recipe was sent to me by my friend Chrisie who found it in an old cookbook of her grandma’s. I used whole dried Black Mission figs & Plum Amazins’ diced dried plums myself- the original recipe calls for two types of dried figs. I had the plums & figured why the hell not. My mother is a big fig person, so these were made specifically as a gift for her. I’m giving you the original recipe in it’s entirety, with any modifications I did in parentheses.

FIG (& PLUM) & WALNUT CONSERVE

Makes roughly 8 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup packed dried black figs
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup packed dried California figs, or any medium light brown figs (I substituted Plum Amazin dried plums)
  • 1 medium orange, both the juice & the fruit (I used just the juice from a small orange, since I used slightly more figs than called for, I didn’t think I needed extra pulp or fruit)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar (I used half light brown, half dark brown)
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup white wine (I omitted this)
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups toasted walnuts, chopped (I didn’t toast them, I just tossed them in and let them cook with the fruit)
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage (I used cardamom instead, only ½ teaspoon)

Directions:

  1. Snip the stems off the figlets and place in a large bowl along with the boiling water for 30 minutes. Slice the California figs in half (if using the Plum Amazin’s there’s no need to do that, they’re already diced) and place in a large pan along with the figlets and fig water.
  2. Cut the orange in half; juice half and dice the remaining half, including rind, into small pieces. Add the orange juice to the pan. Mix in the remaining ingredients, except the walnuts and sage (or, like I used, cardamom). Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Mix in the walnuts and sage and cook for an additional 10 minutes (I let it cook down longer, so it was a much thicker consistency). Spoon the fig and walnuts into clean, hot jars, pressing down.
  3. Ladle the juice over the fruit, leaving ½”-inch headroom. Wipe the rims clean and seal. Invert the jars for 10 minutes. Restore to an upright position and cool. Check the seals, label and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

Since it’s an old recipe, and it relies on the inversion method, you might want to add in about 15 minutes processing time in a water bath canner. Unless you’re not anal about these things. I know the USDA would say otherwise, but this recipe is old & I doubt anyone died from it. Still & all I’d hate to be responsible for anyone croaking from preserves.

And next… the big ol’ boozehound of the crew: vanilla-brandy chestnut jam. This smelled so good cooking on the stove, it took everything in my power to not eat it. Seriously. As it was cooking, I wanted to just eat it right out of the pot. Then once the brandy was added… well, forget it. It seems like this is a pretty insane jam. Very rich, very dessert-like.

VANILLA-BRANDY CHESTNUT JAM

Makes about 8 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¾ lbs. peeled chestnuts, chopped
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
  • 3 cups light brown sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons brandy (depending on taste)

Directions:

  1. Put peeled chestnuts and vanilla bean (or extract) in large sauce pan and just cover with water. Cover pan and bring to a boil; simmer until chestnuts are tender (about 30 min.). Remove and set aside vanilla bean. Drain chestnuts, reserving cooking liquid.
  2. Put chestnuts, sugar, and about 5 tablespoons cooking liquid in heavy pan. Split vanilla bean and scrape out seeds; add seeds and bean to pan. Heat mixture gently, stirring & gently “smooshing” the chestnuts (don’t worry if they remain in little chunks), until sugar is dissolved, then raise heat and boil until mixture is thick. Remove and discard vanilla bean (if used); stir in brandy.
  3. Ladle hot jam into sterilized jars, seal, and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

If you prefer a smoother jam, without chunks, then purée the chestnuts before step 2. I like jams to have chunks of fruit (in this case nuts) in ’em, so I left the pieces of chestnut. And I’ll be honest here & say I bought pre-peeled chestnuts. I could not sit there & do that until my fingers bled… that’s dedication. I just like to reap the benefits. Plus, I scaled it back to make just 4 4-oz. jars, so for that small amount of chestnuts it’s kinda silly to go through all that. But certainly do as you wish.

And finally… last but not least… Gingerbread spice jelly! Made from TEA. Who’da thunk it? This is a fantastic idea, one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” type of deals. As soon as I saw this in Taste of Home magazine, I ripped it out & circled it.

GINGERBREAD SPICE JELLY (courtesy of Robin Nagel from Taste of Home magazine, December 2011)

Makes 5 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 18 individual gingerbread spice tea bags (I used Celestial Seasonings’ Gingerbread Spice tea because it’s the only one I know of!)
  • 4 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 pouches (3 oz. each) liquid fruit pectin

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from the heat; add tea bags. Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Discard tea bags. Stir in the sugar, apple juice and butter. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove from heat; skim off foam. Carefully ladle hot mixture into hot jars, leaving ¼”-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles; wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner (adjust that for your altitude). Let cool on a tea towel for 12 hours. Check seal. (Recipe author says jelly may take up to 2 weeks to fully set- mine set as soon as it cooled)

Since these are all wrapped up & ready to be given as gifts, I can’t tell you how any of them taste yet. But I’m sure they’re both amazing. From what I saw & smelled, I think the fig conserves would be excellent on a cracker with a piece of cheese (maybe even on a sour cream pound cake), and the chestnut jam would probably be awesome with a piece of pound cake or over vanilla ice cream. Now the jelly… hmm… I’d say on warm toast with a cup of tea. But I also kinda wanna say that it’d be great in thumbprint cookies.

Speaking of wrapped up- if you want to do this with your preserves as an easy way of jazzing ’em up, wait until after the 12-24 hours are up and you’re sure they’re cooled & sealed. Then just unscrew the band, place a cupcake liner on the top & screw the band back on. Totally simple! And after seeing all the amazing entries in Well Preserved‘s Pimp That Preserve contest, you might have been inspired to start pimpin’ your jars… but you just didn’t know where to start! Well this is an easy way. Then you can just tie a ribbon on it, put a label on & you’re done. Although I happen to think the homemade labels & little penguin stickers on my Gingerbread jelly are mighty cute, too (they’re from the scrapbooking section of Michael’s). Be creative. Take it from a 2011 Pimp That Preserve winner *wink* The best thing about giving jars of treats like these as gifts is that unlike cake, cupcakes, cookies or bread, there’s no expiration date. Well there is, but it’s so far in the future no one has to feel the need to eat it all in one week!

Maybe Santa would like a jar of one of these instead of the usual cookies this year?

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