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My first introduction to canning was in college. My housemate and friend worked at an organic farm on the edge of town. Part of his pay was a full share in the CSA. Every week he brought home not only a box packed full of produce, but often the extras gleaned from the rows that week. And so, we did some canning.

A few years later, I moved back to Los Angeles, far away from farms on the edge of town and seasonal eating, and it was a while before I rolled up my sleeves and put a big pot of water onto boil again.

The next time I decided to can, I was going to teach a friend (who, not coincidentally, also went to college in said town and who was also missing the way of being in that town). We decided we were going to can anything and everything in one night, and came back from the farmers’ market with heavy bags. We did peaches, pickled beets, pickled green beans, and pickled brussels sprouts, as well as fig jam. The term “small batch” had not entered my vocabulary yet. Needless to say, we were up very late that night.

Since then, I have learned a lot. And for me, small batch, is the key to success (especially with two little ones to look after). I made three batches of jam and sauce last week: pluot, fig, and hot pepper. And, while my pantry is filling up with the preserves of the summer, I still feel like an amateur when it comes to jam. The actual process of canning: sterilizing, filling, and processing jars is the easy part. It is getting jam to set properly that remains a struggle.

It all started with pluots. I had never even held a plout before last week. I went to Muir Ranch to pick up my first CSA box, and there sat a tray of them. One of the Ranch’s partnering farms had a bumper crop and they were free for the taking, and they had a jam recipe in the newsletter going home with me. I couldn’t resist.

I sliced and removed the pits the night before, and then set to work in the morning, seeing them through to their new state. I am pretty sure I overcooked the first batch, but the second came out beautiful. It didn’t set up enough for me to call it a jam, so I said it was a sauce and called it a success. See below for the recipe.

Next came the figs.

This is my third or fourth year making fig jam, so it feels easy at this point. I know what to expect. Just the figs, sugar, some lemon juice, and a box of pectin. They turned out beautiful and set perfectly.

Then came the pepper jelly. I actually roasted most of the peppers first and then chopped up some fresh ones at the last minute to throw in just for fun.

This is my third foray into pepper jelly. Last year the hot peppers I put in were not so hot, so I had a good tasting jelly without much of a kick. This year, there is definitely a kick, but the “jelly” is sloshing around in the jars. Looks like I am going to have to crack them open and try again. Anyone out there have any jam setting secrets?

In between jam sessions I have been drying and roasting tomatoes for the freezer, and slicing and freezing hordes of peppers. I am getting a little burned out, but the tomatoes keep coming! I think I am done with jam for the season, but am going to try my hand at tomato soup. The idea of thawing and warming some up on a cool winter day is just too irresistible.

Pluot Jam (from Muir Ranch CSA Newsletter)

I tripled the recipe and packed into sterilized jars.

  • 3/4 pound ripe Pluots (about 3 large or 5 small), halved, pitted, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 4 teaspoons (or more) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Place Pluots, honey, 4 teaspoons vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, lemon peel, rosemary, coarse salt, and pinch of pepper in small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until fruit has broken down and mixture is thick, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool. Adjust seasonings; add chives.