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Chocolate plum jam & how I “Ferberized” my life.

September 22, 2012

This post is definitely about chocolate plum jam. Chocolate plum jam with an added kick. But there’s another side to it, and that’s the side I’m going to start with, if you don’t mind. But of course you don’t mind. You’re very accommodating, aren’t you, my dear readers.

But first, take a look at these gorgeous plums. Then keep reading.

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Anyway… something you may not know about me: I make it a point to seek out things that most people aren’t talking about, or get inspired by things that most people don’t know exist.

Let me clarify. I, by my very nature, seek to be different. It’s not always a conscious decision. There are times I go running to the supermarket in an outfit I find perfectly boring and get stared down. Although, I don’t think having a bandanna around my hair & tied in the front is particularly odd- haven’t they ever seen Rosie the Riveter or an episode of I Love Lucy!? And speaking of, my hair is almost always a cause for double takes, as odd as that may seem. This was not always the case. At least not visually. I kept my weirdness inside for most of my life, until high school when I let my freak flag fly. And it wasn’t easy to do in an all-girls Catholic school, but trust me, I found ways. And once I opened those gates, it was all over. I can’t fit into a mold. I can’t look like everyone else; even if I tried to I’d fail. I can’t pretend to enjoy what most other people might enjoy if I genuinely don’t. I’m just naturally drawn to the unusual, the unique, the borderline bizarre. I’ve always been a bit of a mad scientist & a loner. Creating things, pushing the limits of what I can come up with, but all very much inside my own head. A thinker, planning my attack quietly and then surprising everyone with my results. Of course, as is witnessed by this blog, I also have many normal and borderline “boring” (to some; not to me! Hence the quotes) interests as well. Like baking. Or buying beautiful fruit. Or making jams & jellies. So why not combine the two…. the element of crazy surprise and the pastime of preserving…

Time to see the plums again, I think.

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They were calling my name. So I had to buy them. I bought them without knowing what to do with them. I debated letting them just sit on my counter until they were too ripe to look pretty anymore, but good sense won out. Partially due to the fact that I can’t stand to waste anything, but also because I got inspired. Also- that whitish film? It’s called the bloom, and it’s perfectly normal (and safe).

One of the people I’ve been curiously drawn to as of late is Christine Ferber. Ferber is a pastry chef/chocolatier turned confisuese or maker of jams. Her jams and jellies are considered the best in the world, however of course she isn’t exactly a household name in America. As a matter of fact she’s practically unknown here by most accounts. She’s written a book that I’ve had on my Amazon wishlist for a while now- Mes Confitures: the Jams & Jellies of Christine Ferber. The mere phrase ‘mes confitures’ makes me think of jars upon jars of glittering jellies, in different colors, all open and half eaten with golden spoons sticking out. All of this on a beautiful table, like something out of the movie Marie Antoinette. Just that one little phrase speaks volumes to me about the book. This book isn’t a beginners guide to canning, quite the opposite actually. She assumes you already know the basics, and gets down to the nitty gritty of making her highly praised confitures. The varieties of unique recipes she comes up with are so intriguing to me, not to mention her history (pastry chef… chocolatier… confiseuse… what a resume). She kind of inspired me a bit. And the fact that we’re experiencing such a canning boom… I can’t imagine why she isn’t a more talked-about name here in the U.S. Oh, wait, nevermind, we idolize people like the Kardashians, not the true artisans that actually deserve our accolades. Not the mad scientists who create the genius desserts or chocolates that make you close your eyes and say “Oh my freakin’ GOD.” No. Those people don’t get any credit. Maybe if they compete on a Food Network challenge they do, but otherwise? Eh. Anyway, moving on. Upon doing my research I found out Ferber was born in Alsace, a place where I have family history (a set of great-great-great-grandparents of mine were from there). Immediately upon finding that out, I knew I wanted to know even more. It was then I found out she was a pastry chef who became interested in jam making (which reminded me of myself, kinda, except baking is still my first love). Unfortunately, most of the websites (including her own) are not in English. I did learn a few things from the German Wikipedia & this extremely interesting article, however, and at the same time brushed up on my translation skills (years of doing my German/Alsatian ancestry has made me surprisingly decent at reading & deciphering German).

Christine Ferber (born 1960 in Niedermorschwihr , Alsace ) is an award-winning pastry chef (Pâtissière) Chocolatière and Gelierköchin (Confiseuse) of jams , which are among the best in the world. [1]

Ferber Niedermorschwihr operates in the village at the foot of the Vosges north of Colmar, a small pastry shop, where she has worked as a pastry cook and fourth generation chocolate confectioner. In addition to the jam-making, she heads the bakery and patisserie with about 20 employees. Niedermorschwihr was used as a typical Alsatian village in the backdrop of a Japanese television show.

For three years she studied until 1979 at the Patisserie School of Brussels, then they could patissier, chocolatier and confectioner call Champion. [2] A further three years she studied with the top names in Belgium and France, including one year with the master pastry chef Lucien Pelletier in Paris.

At 24, she took over the business of their parents and then developed the Department of pastry and chocolate. In the early 1980s she made her first jam, but her mother advised her of sticking with her other commitment, as the housewives in the village would make their own jams. She stayed there, sticking with the jams and finally gained international notoriety as far away as Japan. Ferber cooks her very unusual and delicious gourmet jams herself, of which she has composed nearly 300 kinds already in the copper kettles of their bakery. Each batch is cooked in small copper kettles, each of which is worth € 1000. This copper kettle was made to the specifications of a scientist for a better “set.” The native wild fruits are collected from friends and acquaintances. Fruits that do not grow in Alsace such as apricots, figs and exotic fruits, can be delivered to Ferber from the Paris wholesale market Rungis. The fruit is always cooked with no preservatives and no more than four of a certain variety. To 1 kg of fruit are only 800 grams of sugar and a little lemon juice. All fruits are heated simultaneously and only as long as necessary, i.e., about 5 minutes on high flame, stirring constantly. The careful preparation and quality of their creative jams from Alsace therefore brought nicknames like “jam queen of Alsace”, “la the fairy confitures” or “Christina, Queen of the jams.” Complex aromas (aigre-doux / sour-sweet) develop their creations, such as white cherry, peppermint, rose hips with orange, wild apple jelly with cinnamon, blueberry with licorice.

Several books such as “Mes confitures” and “Mes Tartes” followed. The three-star chef Alain Ducasse wrote a preface to and known to have never eaten a jam other than those of Madame Ferber.

In several countries, Christine Ferber has courses for making jam and confectionery offered, such as France, Italy, Japan and the United States. [5]

Taken from via de.Wikipedia.org

(translated into English with many mistakes by Google Translate, fixed with a small amount of help from yours truly)

Sadly, her jams are nearly impossible to find here in the States, so I’ll probably never know if her jams & jellies are truly the best in the world. But regardless, I was inspired. Jams like Ferber’s aren’t the same old, same old you can find in any supermarket or Ball Book of Preserving. They aren’t your great-grandma’s jellies, made 12 pints at a time. They’re made from the highest quality ingredients in smaller batches, and in different flavors like strawberry lemongrass or black cherry with pinot noir. That’s the kind of canning I like to do. I have no use for 20 half-pints of strawberry jam, nor do I find it exciting. I’m not a preserver that preserves to make it through the winter, just like I don’t cook, bake or eat simply to sustain myself & prevent starvation. I create, and that means I create edible art that’s juts as beautiful as it is delicious, because that’s just who and what I am.

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I do things in the kitchen with the same crazy artistic flair (& sometimes oddity) that I possess in all other facets of my life.

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And therefore it’s in the vein of Christine Ferber and other unique jammers that I decided the plums I bought were not going to be canned in an average plum jam. Or plum jelly. Or even a slightly more interesting plum-orange jam. I decided I wanted to make a chocolate plum jam. And so I did. With a teeny bit o’ homemade cherry bourbon up in there for good measure.

Oh yeah. That’s right. I added some bourbon to the mix. Chocolate plum cherry bourbon jammy goodness.

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I mean, it’s almost fall. So we’re all getting ready to hunker down and the deeper, heavier flavors are coming out. So why not make a chocolate plum jam? With bourbon? What better to have on a chilly fall night. Even though it’s not chilly yet at all.

And I know there are mom’s out there who’ll see the title of this post and immediately think of another Ferber-izing. Sorry to disappoint. My kid has four legs and only kept me up at night for a week or so. This type of Ferber-izing, my type, is quite different. Because, see, it has nothing to do with kids. It’s just that I’ve decided that there’s definitely no reason for me to make boring preserves in massive quantities. Unless it’s a special request, or I have an enormous amount of berries here, why should I make just make jar after jar after jar of ordinary ol’ plain strawberry jam? Or ordinary raspberry jam? Or for that matter plain old blueberry? Nope. From here on out it’s exciting & unique preserves only. Ones with liqueur or herbs that you wouldn’t expect. Revolutionary pickles. Totally different combinations of things. Ones that are equally beautiful swirled into homemade ice cream as they are on artisan breads. Ones that make great cupcake fillings just as much as they make excellent toasted English muffin accompaniments at breakfast. I prefer to continue as I have been, buying the best quality ingredients I can and making them into uniquer items like raspberry jalapeno cilantro jam, champagne jelly, lemon-orange marmalade with Jameson Irish whiskey, rose petal hibiscus tea jelly, Molotov Cocktail pickles & hop pickles, or cherry vanilla vodka preserves. So no, Christine Ferber wasn’t the person who initiated all of that… I’ve been doing that stuff for a while now. But she’s the person who helped me officially decide what I had suspected for quite some time: that I could never be the person with the boring pantry filled with 600 jars of plain dill pickles & boring grape jelly.

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‘Cause really, you can just go and buy that stuff if you want it. Why not make the things you can’t buy? Why not have an imagination like Willy Wonka and create the things Smuckers, Polaner or Bonne Maman aren’t already doing? Sure, once in a while it’s nice to make a simple jam, or a simple few jars of pickled green beans. I understand- been there, done that. And there’s nothing wrong with it. Some people really dig on plain blueberry jam, and if you’re putting up fruits & vegetables to last you all winter, you might not want six jars of that chardonnay blueberry jelly, you might want the basics. But why do we have to just be boring all the time? Where’s the Ball Blue Book just for the rebels?

And okay, okay, I hear you. You’re saying, “Dude. Wake up. There are TONS of canning blogs giving me TONS of awesome recipes with vodka & bourbon & unusual/exotic jams.” Yes, this I know. And I read (and love) many of them, as well as the books I own that do the same. But I’m rebelling against the extreme banality that people who don’t do it associate with it. The canning blogs & books I choose to read are awesome- filled with important information but never boring. But there are ones out there that are like reading a DVD player manual. SNORE. And let’s face it, there’s still a stigma on it. You’re either a “wack job survivalist” or “doomsday prepper” canning for the end of the world, an old lady who plays bridge or you’re a farmer. Canning is still, despite the big resurgence, considered boring & old lady-ish. I get funny looks when I buy jars, as if people think, “I guess she’s making crafts/wedding favors/a chandelier she found on Pinterest” not “Wow. I bet this bitch is going to go home and make a ROCKIN’ batch of pickles.”

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Let’s change that, shall we? All of you, start going out there and buying jars to use for their actual purpose. START CANNING. Start making amazing recipes and sharing them with friends & family. Get them to start canning. Kick start the canning revolution in more places than just the food blogging world.

SPIKED CHOCOLATE PLUM JAM (adapted from Grow It Cook It Can It‘s recipe)

This recipe made me 3 half-pint jars and one 4-oz jar

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. plums, perfectly ripe (this is key)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 teaspoons cherry bourbon (or Kirsch)

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars and put the lids in a bowl of hot water. Keep jars hot.
  2. Dice the plums into a large bowl, and add the lemon juice. Toss to coat. Combine them with all the rest of the ingredients (all EXCEPT FOR ONE TEASPOON OF BOURBON/KIRSCH- leave that out for now) in a large saucepan. Turn the heat up to high, stirring occasionally (or else the fruit will scorch).
  3. Cook this way until the mixture reaches 220° degrees on a candy thermometer. Turn off the heat. Stir in the remaining teaspoon bourbon or Kirsch. Ladle the mixture into your hot jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.
  4. Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Check seal.

The end there should really say, “Check seal. And then even if sealed, open immediately and spread all over everything. Then eat.”

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At least on some bread with goat cheese brie. If you prefer dark chocolate, then use a dark cocoa powder. I would have myself, but I only had regular cocoa powder on hand; the only dark chocolate I had was in bar form. And using melted chocolate in jams is tricky, it can burn at the high temperatures needed to make jam set. So I just left it at that. Also, if you like an orange-y flavor, you can use Cointreau instead of cherry bourbon or Kirsch. I guess you could also go in a totally different direction and use Chambord too, if you wanted. Or hell, I guess a tablespoon of just about any liquor will do. You could even up the chocolate quotient and use a chocolate vodka. And of course, I don’t think this needs to be said, but… yes, it’s still amazing whether it’s on toast, English muffins, in yogurt, on ice cream, with soft cheeses and even in/on/around muffins.

I will say this: no matter how or why you’re canning, or what you’re making- it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you put your all into it. I don’t care if you’re making nothing but strawberry jam your whole life because it’s your favorite thing. That’s totally cool with me, because I know homemade always tastes better than storebought. As long as you’re making it with heart, it’s all good. Because the point is, if that’s who you are, then be it proudly. If you’re strawberry jam, then go ahead and be an awesome fucking strawberry jam. Just don’t pretend to be a strawberry jam when you’re a cherry pinot noir preserve, or vice versa. For me, I just have to be who I am. And that’s anything but ordinary.

So when are you Ferber-izing your life?

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Side note: I get e-mails sometimes specifically asking about my dishtowels/cloth napkins/tablecloths/etc. For example, the towels/napkins in this post got a couple of questions, as did some of these: the jam muffins, both the pickled eggplant & the pickled shrimp, this post about my 5-year blogiversary, this one about the drunken cherry scones & of course, this one too. These e-mails center around “where do you get them?” or “where can I get that!?” And I have a feeling, a very distinct feeling, that the little embroidered lady at the top of this post will get a few questions too. Well there’s good news and bad news. You want the bad news first? Okay… the bad news is some of them (including that little lady) are vintage. Like the one in the picture at the top of this post. That means you’ll most likely never get your hands on them, although you might get something like them. The good news? The rest are interesting finds from places like Ikea, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel or Williams-Sonoma (mostly Ikea, ’cause they’re cheaper & can be replaced easily). If you like a certain something you see in a picture, feel free to ask! I’ll always answer, and point you in the right direction to get them yourself if possible. And just for your edification, the list of posts I linked to above? In the exact order of the links, the towels in the posts above are, Ikea, vintage, vintage, vintage/Ikea, vintage and Ikea.

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