Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!

I have spent the last week jumping through hoops for permits, insurance, occupational license etc. and as I was sitting in the bank opening my business account it hit me full force.  This is the last hoop, soon I will have more of a routine, my kitchen back, a time frame for work and play (Bwahahaha like there is a difference when you are doing something that you are absolutely in love with and obsessed with). It is so cool to watch a dream become something. You take a thought and make it real. You pull a rabbit out of your hat.  As I made my deposit into my brand spanking new account I began to realize, even though my new baby isn't feeding me yet, it is feeding itself. I look at empty jars in a whole new way.

Empty jars are waiting to be filled with possibilities.  They are full of dreams. Its  interesting how the sound of changes in boiling water.  While they are being sterilized they clink with anticipation and chatter as if they are discussing what will become of them. Silently and calmly they sit on my crawfish tray while being filled.  The sound of filling the jars is a sound of satisfaction with little plunks of whole fruit happily plopping into hot jell.  Then comes the contentment of quietly and carefully wiping the rims to install the lids. Did you know the bottoms of the jars sound like a well placed "high five" as they are placed in the waterbath? Then for a quiet 10 minutes they gurgle in a waterbath. The timer goes off like applause. Switches are turned off with a click and there is a silence filled with the drips of water coming off the jars and a careful click of glass on plastic crawfish tray and I wait.....plink...............plink.....plink. The sound of completion. And if all this isn't gratifying enough there is a wonderful "thunk" as the jar is opened. I love this new phase of life. I miss the sound of aviation and the excitement but I am so loving the quiet gurgles, bubbles and plinks of my new world. Silence is golden.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Trial and Error

OK Jammers! 50 wacks with a ladle to my knuckles for neglect of my blog! True, I have been gone for too long but I am a Jam Maker first and blogger.....where does that fit in after jam, social life, bills, house cleaning......OK so I neglect the house cleaning too!

It's been an interesting time beginning a business.  I have been blessed with the mentorship of a wonderful experienced business professional who has coached me along the way. My business at the Covington Farmer's Market is growing and me with it. I so look forward to Market Day! After my many years of travel, there is a sense of roots, connection and community at the Farmer's Market that just speaks to my soul. For a tumbleweed, what I am experiencing now was just beyond my comprehension. I am far from financially rich off this but I can tell you I am very rich in spirit! I decadantly look forward to each market day and revel in what ever weather elements, making note of each face that I begin to recognize as a regular to the Market and to my litle booth.

So....the trial and error of it all.  How does that fit in?  Life is a lot like jam making.  If you change one component, even though it's the same but by another maker, all of the components change and sometimes not in a happy way.  Lets talk science!

In the beginning I bought a digital refractometer so I could test the ripeness of fruit and the doneness of my product (called Brix).  Fruits have more pectin in their structure when slightly unripe and your grandma (if she was a Jammer) would also select 25% of her fruit to be slightly to the greener side. This would give you a nicer jell and consistancy but would be a tad tart so then we introduce sugar to the mix for preservation puroposes as well as taste and you have a jar of happiness. Wanna know why??? Good, cause I'm gonna tell ya.  Pectin loves sugar! Loves it so much it wants to be a part of it and bind with it. Together it makes happy chains of love, Sugar and Pectin.....yet even with these happy little chains of love something is missing.....Enter PH. Jam and Jelly like to be on the slightly acid side to make total endearing happiness.  That's why many of the recipes you see include lemon juice.  Happy little lemons, I tell ya,  when life gives you lemons you know you got it good! So the lonely little acid molecules are the life of the party! They LOVE Sugar! They LOVE Pectin.  They just spread their love around and introduce the happy chains of sugar and pectin to other happy chains of sugar and pecting and they all come together in a happy chain of JAM! Jam is just like life! In Life you take the happy stuff and add it to the happy stuff and before you know it, it's spreading everywhere! Now how do I know all this??? Back to trial and error.

The digital refractometer was defective. I'm an analog kinda girl.  I like to do my own thinking, as you can see by my analogy of happy jam. I sent the refractometer back and to my delight I found a good old fashioned, calibrate yourself 0-80% Brix refractometer! So now I can actually go to my produce growers and check the ripeness of their product to get the combinations of ripeness that I need for my product and get this......I look so freaking geeky and smart with that thing up to my eye in the field! Really, it's not new, it's not magic, vinters have been doing it for like forever so they will know when the grapes are ready for picking. Sigh....I love my new geeky toys. Takes a ton of error out of the trials of recipe creation.

It's Spring here.  I promise to hope that it doesn't take me so long to post again but it's a trial and error everytime something new is introduced to the Jam and it's Strawberry Season!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

You have to pick your battles.....

You have to pick your battles in life.  It's not always about the winning of the battle but the will to fight, the pleasure of the sparring, and in this case, the removing of seeds from tiny kumquats.

I stopped at a fruit stand this weekend to look at early strawberries, still can't believe that in December and January they are picking berries in Louisiana but sure enough they were and they are beauties too. So we stopped at the stand and I run with all the grace of a 52 year old woman with mechanic's knees to the stand to check out the berries.  I swear I must have ADHD or something, I looked at the berries, smelled them ( I tend to smell Everything from socks to interesting things fallen from trees), I held the berries and then promptly put them down and picked up Kumquats, paid and went to the truck.  I am proud of my find when the boyfriend looks at me and asks how the berries were?  I so totally forgot about the strawberries and can not for the life of me tell you why I bought kumquats instead.  I have been peeling, freezing and canning citrus for a month and was looking forward to the smell of something different in the house like strawberries.  He was kind enough to wait a little longer so I could go and get what we had actually stopped for.  Nice berries but this is about the kumquat battle.

As I was researching recipes for the little orange orbs, most all the recipes for them called for slicing into beautiful thin discs.  I found that this was WAY too labor intensive as I would be cutting though the amazing amount of seeds the little things contain. First I cut the ends off into little discs as I thought these would make really a really cool garnish for Lemon Drop Martinis if I candied them. (that will be another post unto itself I suppose)
 I tried cutting them in half lengthwise and squeezing the seeds out but this proved to be futile.

So I quartered them length wise and was able to squeeze the seeds out a little better but really?  I am amazed and the amount of seed these things have in them!!!

OK, check this out, 6 cups of kumquats gave me almost 1/2 a cup of seeds! I soaked the seeds for a couple of hours and got a cup of pectin out of it. That's kinda cool but still not worth the effort unless you are mindlessly bored.
Now that I have decided that kumquats are way to labor intensive to become a "product" the pressure is off and I can totally have fun with an "experiment".  I still had the juice and rind from 5 oranges and 2 lemons that I had previously been making Carrot Orange Marmalade with so I added that to the kumquat cuties bringing the total to 8 cups of fruit and juice.  I added 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 5 cups of sugar and let it come to a boil and then brought it down to a simmer while I took care of other stuff. Since this was to become a preserve, I didn't add the pectin that I made from the seeds (that will go into the Satsuma Vanilla Bean jam). I let them simmer for about 2 hours reducing and waiting for the kumquats to become transparent, carefully picking out the seeds as they loosened from the pulp (I fished out an additional 2 tablespoons of seeds!) I wonder why Mother Nature gave Kumquats so very many seeds?
I ended up with 7 half pints of goodness available for the low price of $30!! (Do you have ANY idea what it takes to juice these suckers?? and seed them?? We are talking Labor longer then the birth of my Sun!) Look in the jar to the left....what do you see???  Two evil seeds floating in the goodness.  I am thinking I will send these to my friends in Oregon and Washington, they may not even know what a kumquat is let alone have someone go to the trouble of processing them. The cinnamon is a very nice touch.

Next is Satsuma Vanilla Bean.  You have to pick your battles. This is sure to be a winning combination!