Exploring Mes Confitures: A Treasure of Jar-Worthy Preserves and a Giveaway!
“What I’m explaining to you here is my way of doing it. With time and practice, you will refine your own technique. And before long you’ll bring your imagination into play and put together some unexpected flavors.”- Christine Ferber
Jar-Worthy: 1) A food item that is canned and it is fantastic. 2) Is the recipient of a jar going to really, really appreciate it? Earlier this canning season, my husband asked me to set aside some jars for a few folks. I struggled to part with any of the jars. I asked him several questions about how sophisticated the person was when it came to food. Would they realize they had something special or would they just pass it off as a host gift to another soul that I didn’t know? I actually said, “I just don’t know if so-and-so is jar-worthy.” I felt a lot like Elaine Benes from Seinfeld.
Almost every jammer I know loves this book. Ferber makes preserves something special. Let me tell you even Martha Stewart has a flagged copy. Still, is it really worth all of the hype?
I wanted to find out. Last summer, that’s summer 2010 (sigh), I dipped a toe into canning, jamming, and pickling. In anticipation of my expanded canning projects, I requested a copy from the local library early in summer 2011. It never appeared. When I would check, it would show as the dreaded “pending”. Fortunately, I had a friend who had a copy. She was actually heading to my home state of South Carolina for about a week and she lent it to me.
Wow! Reading it and seeing the photos was jaw-dropping. I’ve always thought of preserves as a humble condiment. You know something to put on white toast or to be married to peanut butter, but these recipes were something different. This book showed me that preserves, jelly, jam, could be just as sophisticated as a fine wine, a black truffle, a well-marbled steak, or any other high falutin’ food you could think of except, even in this higher place, the food was accessible. You could still put it on white toast or marry it with peanut butter. There was only one substantial drawback, how would you ever go back to eating normal preserves again?
I haven’t. My husband isn’t a sweet eater nor did he ever put jam on toast or touch peanut butter. That said, these preserves have turned him into a jam lover. No, he doesn’t put it on toast now, but these decadent preserves find a spoon dipped into them by him on an almost daily basis. He then allows the excess to drain back into the jar. Then whatever is still clinging to the spoon, these babies are a soft set not the least bit rubbery or jello-like, gets placed into a creamy bowl of homemade yogurt.
So what happened while I awaited my friend’s loaned copy? I made jam anyhow. I also trolled the internet for recipes by Ferber, there was only one problem, without having the book to reference I couldn’t tell if they were really her recipes or just recipes inspired by her. It mattered so I could separate the chaff from the wheat. I mean $30 for a book solely on preserves seemed a bit rich, I know that’s a bit weird to those who know me since I dropped $100 for Claudia Fleming’s, out of print, The Last Course, but that’s another topic (actually I used birthday gift cards).
The season was on so I made jam. I went to my Ball Book of Home Preserving. And I checked in with my Jam God Mum, Master Canner Catherine Lambrecht. She sent me to the National Center for Home Food Preservation site. I made preserves from fraises de bois, sour cherries, and sweet cherries. I thought they were all delicious. So did the folks who received them. But then, I tried a Christine Ferber variant found over at Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Kitchen. It was supposed to be sour cherry, vanilla, and apricot. I had very, very little apricot so it ended up being mostly sour cherry with vanilla and a smidge of apricot. Still these preserves made me shout, “Oh My Goodness!” because OMG was inadequate. Yes. They were that good.
One significant difference in Ferber jams, that I believe creates a superior preserve, is a long period of macerating the fruit with the sweetener, generally sugar. She’s not the only one that does this, but it was found in almost every recipe in the book. The fruit, sweetener, and lemon juice usually spend the night in the refrigerator. This draws a lot of liquid away from the fruit. The next day, you don’t just dump the mixture into a preserving pan, oh no, most of the time, you put a sieve over the preserving pan and pour the fruit and collected liquid into the sieve. Then the collected fruit syrup fills the pan and the remaining solids are set to the side. Additionally, she also uses small quantities of fruit you know where small means “artisanal”. You won’t ever get 10 or more jelly jars out of her recipes, heck a large amount of a recipe would be one that rendered about 5 jelly jars in the end.
The fruit syrup is cooked to the gel stage alone. Once that stage is reached, almost always it’s 221 degrees Fahrenheit; you add the fruit to the pan. Bring to a subsequent boil over high heat. Skim. Check the set. Place in jars. Invert.
Here’s where the controversy resides. She doesn’t ever advise any additional processing of the jars, nor does she suggest these preserves should be frozen or refrigerated. She’s an open -kettle jammer. The open- kettle method of canning is what many folks did to preserve food years ago in this country. It was a commonly used method of preserving fruit. I’ve got recipes in my old Joy of Cooking that use the open- kettle method of canning. Interestingly, the University of Georgia’s National Center of Home Food Preservation, indicate that this method began to fall out of favor around 1944.
Here’s the kick, the rest of the world is filled with open- kettlers. I recently, spoke to a friend who made a comment about jam on Facebook. I chimed in asking if she had used open-kettling for processing. She subsequently let me know a family member from out of the country googled open- kettling and then was a bit upset that we Americans are so risk-adverse. She’d been preserving food for a very long time with no negative consequences.
I’m a bit risk-adverse. I’ll admit it. I don’t mind a short water bath canning if that decreases the chance of spoilage (heck, jamming is a lot of work and no one wants to lose their efforts) let alone some sort of food poisoning.
That’s the end of the controversy. The results, even when water-bath canned are divine! But don’t take it from me; hear what others had to say:
“oh yes! the peach and BLiS preserves are fantastic! thanks@chicagoduilaw !”
“Pairs4life Thank you for sharing a jar of your sour cherry/vanilla “jam”. It was AWESOME! Also, I loved every one of your jams that you brought to the picnic. That spicy tomato peach number hit it out of the ballpark for me. I’m inspired…got to go can now!”
Text received on my Cellphone:
September 30,2011 at 9:40 p.m.
“Your peaches with blis… PHENOMENAL! I’m eating it plain. :)”
Okay, these are just preserves done using her technique those quotes aren’t even about her recipes but you get the point. You can take your own favorite jam recipe and add the day of maceration step, and the cook the syrup step, and come away with something that is a true wonder. So below there’s a recipe for the peaches with BLiS that is mine but uses Ferber’s technique plus American traditional Boiling Water Bath Canning (BWB). There’s also Ferber’s fig and honey with bay that my husband just ate on a plate, while I write this, with cheddar and biscuits (we call them crackers, but what are you going to do when your husband is from across the pond).
Fig and Honey with Bay from Mes Confitures
2 ¼ pounds figs
3 ¼ c. sugar
3 ½ oz of honey
6 bay leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
Slice figs thinly. Combine figs, sugar, honey, lemon juice and bay leaves in a bowl. Cover with parchment and let macerate for half an hour.
Pour into a pan (preserving pan if you have one, many folks use a dutch oven, my preferred pan is an over-sized non-stick wok) and let simmer. Remove from heat and place back into a bowl and cover with parchment. Refrigerate overnight.
The next day, bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, continue to cook on high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring gently. Check the set (this means make sure the mixture has reached a gelling stage). Remove the bay leaves and return to a boil. Place jam into jars and seal.
Peaches with BLiS
3 lbs. yellow peaches
3 ½ c. sugar
Juice of 1 small lemon
5 oz of BLiS, separated*
*BLiS is a specialty grade A Maple Syrup that has been aged in barrels that formerly housed bourbon. It is non-alcoholic.
Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Blanch yellow peaches for 1 minute in boiling water. Plunge peaches into the ice bath. Remove peaches from ice bath and pat dry. Cut an “X” at the bottom of each peach, peel them and then cut them into dice.
In a shallow, wide, and large pan (assuming you don’t have a preserving pan), combine the peaches, sugar, lemon juice, and 3 oz. of BLiS. Simmer then pour into a bowl ( Ferber likes you to use glass or ceramic, so that’s what I do). Cover the bowl with parchment and refrigerate overnight.
Place sieve over your jam making pan and pour fruit mixture into the sieve. Set the fruit in the sieve aside. Bring the collected fruit syrup to a boil. Skim, it gets foamy, and cook on high heat until the syrup reaches 221 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. Add peaches. Return to a boil and cook on high heat for about 5 minutes. Yes, you’ve got more foam so skim it off. Return to your third boil, and yes it should reach 221 degrees Fahrenheit again. Lower heat to your lowest setting and time it for twelve minutes. Once twelve minutes has passed, skim any remaining foam. Add the remaining 2 oz. of BliS, fill the hot jars and seal. Process for 5 minutes in a BWB.
I’ll giveaway a jar of something, I have to check the larder, that is a Christine Ferber recipe, or uses her technique. Leave a comment with the words GIVEAWAY MES CONFITURES. Tell me why you can, or why you haven’t done so yet, but are interested in canning. I’ll use a random number generator to announce the winners next week.
If you want more talk of canning, jamming, and pickling whether you have things you’ve made or want to talk to folks who do, there is a Canning-Swap-o-Rama on October 29th at 1 pm. Details are here. I’m excited to see what you’ve made and discuss methods with you.