Love seeing those luscious bits of sun-ripened strawberries on newly-baked bread? Love the fresh taste of freezer jam? Love tasting the fruit rather than sugar?
Standard freezer jams are made from crushed fruit combined with pectin and massive amounts of sugar. The recipe has to be followed exactly, because if the sugar is reduced, the jam won't set up, which causes a lot of frustration for health-conscious parents. Chemically, there is a complex relationship between fruit, acid, pectin, and sugar to form the fruit gel we call "jam".
The issue of low-sugar jams can be approached from a different angle using Ultra Gel®, an instant thickener which has been used for many years to thicken fruit purees. Since Ultra Gel® provides thickening without sugar, the jam-maker has full control over how much and what kind of sweetening is used, including sugar substitutes.
According to the FDA's definition, "jam" requires pectin. Thus, Ultra Gel®-thickened gels are designated "fruit spreads". But most people can't tell the difference between a pectin jam and a fruit spread, and the cost savings and ability to adjust the sugar are worth making a change. And as a bonus--the recipe can be doubled or tripled, so the project goes super-fast! And your family will love seeing the fruits of summer all year long!
Start by washing the berries. This is one case (8 lb). Discard any with mold spots.
Trim the hulls off with a small knife and remove any hard cores.
If the berries are very firm, a minute or two in the microwave (for a large bowl) will make them easier to handle without compromising the fresh taste. A pastry blender works well to start the fruit crushing process. Then use an immersion blender if you want a finer puree (use it sparingly if you like a chunky jam.)
Add the lemon juice and stir.
Add the sugar and stir until dissolved (about 5 minutes) The mixture will become more clear-colored.
Add the Ultra Gel gradually, while stirring with a wire whisk or a fork until smooth. Start with 1/2 cup of Ultra Gel®, then allow to thicken for five minutes. Add another 1/4 cup if the product needs to be thicker. It will depend on how juicy the fruit is.
Freezer jam will have a soft set. When jam has thickened fully, package and freeze.
Package the fruit spread as desired. (Personally, I don't use glass in the freezer because of possible breakage, but used glass in the photos because it is an easy way for the viewer to see the amount made from the batch.)
Nothing matches home made bread with Low Sugar Strawberry Freezer Jam!
Here is a comparison of jams made by different methods. The one on the left was made from a standard Sure-Jell pectin recipe. The center sample used the Sure Jell pectin for low sugar. The right-hand sample used Ultra Gel®, which is about one-third the cost of standard pectins per batch.
The fresh taste of strawberry freezer spread is a sure winner for all ages!!
The Quest for the Perfect Apple Pie. . .
The quest for the Perfect Fresh Apple Pie!
I spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks searching for the perfect apple pie recipe--amply filled with slices of deliciously spiced apples with no "cave" between the crust and filling, and especially no oven boil-over (the piemarker's horror, especially the night before Thanksgiving. . ) I tried different varieties of apples and different combinations of ingredients searching for the Holy Grail of Pies. I'll explain the analysis later in the blog, but the three things I found most important were: Choosing the right apple variety, precooking the apples partially to get a full pie, and using Ultra Gel® instant thickener to avoid boil-out (which is what happens when the juices that accumulate as the apples cook boil out of the top of the pie and result in an ever-loving mess in the bottom of your oven. And to add insult to injury, the smoke that results usually ruins whatever is baking.) Here, my friends, is the treasure--the confidence to make the Perfect Apple Pie!
8 c. peeled and sliced tart apples (about 1/4" thick) - pack tightly in measuring cup
2 T. lemon juice (1 T. for very tart apples)
1 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cloves
8 T. Ultra Gel instant thickener (available at www.carnetfoods.com or Amazon)
Homemade or purchased pastry for deep dish 9" pie
Peel and slice the apples into a microwave-safe comtainer (a covered casserole dish works well).
Add the sugar, spices, and Ultra Gel® and toss until evenly coated.
Cover with a lid or vented plastic wrap and microwave on high for 5 minutes.
Stir the apples carefully to make sure they get evenly cooked.
Continue cooking if necessary until the apples lose their crispness and a fork can be inserted easily.
Let cool at least 15 minutes--you will see that the released apple juice is already starting to thicken.
Prepare the bottom crust.
Add the thickened filling to the crust, smoothing the top.
Add the top crust and pierce generously to make vent holes for the steam.
Bake in preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350 degrees for an additional thirty minutes. If the filling starts to ooze through the vents, the pie is done--remember that the apples have already been cooked and thickened, so no need to cook to boiling temperatures throughout.
About apples: I live in a great apple-growing area, so many varieties of fresh apples are easily available, and I think I tried them all! Granny Smiths are a national favorite for cooking for good reason--their tartness is a perfect foil for the added sweetener. The favor of the pie made with Granny Smiths was great but I was hoping for a little more firmness in the texture. Galas were too sweet, Honeycrisps were good, as were Jonnygolds. My current personal favorite, however, is the Fuji which seems to stay firm even when precooked.
About precooking apples: Do it!! Put the sliced apples in a covered casserole dish or cover with plastic wrap and microwave for six to eight minutes, stirring every couple of minutes, until a fork can be inserted. This takes the crispness out of the apples and
allows them to be easily arranged in the pie plate without the expectation of further shrinking, which leaves a very unflattering "cave" between the filling and the crust.
About using the right thickener: This is the real secret to the smooth texture and lovely sheen of the Perfect Apple Pie. Since Ultra Gel® is an instant starch, it grabs the moisture when it is released from the apples and immediately thickens it, which keeps it from boiling out of the pie. And those lovely thickened juices are at their mouthwatering best when still warm. Side of ice cream, anyone?
This photo shows two standard glass pie plates (incidentally, if you want the bottom crust of your fruit pie to be crisp, the heat-conducting qualities of a glass pie plate will be an advantage). The pie plate on the left is a "deep dish" style pie plate and holds roughly 1 1/2 times the pie filling as the one on the right--also a standard pie plate. This recipe is sized for the plate on the left or one like it.
Incidentally, pies thickened with Ultra Gel® can be made and frozen ahead of your big celebration (don't try this if you thicken with traditional cornstarch or flour). After preparing the pies, bake them for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees, then remove from the oven, cool, package, and freeze. Do not thaw before baking--bake at 400 for about 15 minutes to crisp the crust, then turn down to 350 until hot all the way through (remember--they're already thickened). Cover the edges with foil if they start getting too brown.
Happy Holidays to all!!
Apple Pie Filling - Home Canned with love and flavor!
Football weather at our house is also Apple Pie Filling weather! It is a rite of passage to gather the family to survey the plentiful and delicious local apples, choose a good Saturday, and mass produce enough apple pie filling for the year. We have been home-canning Apple Pie Filling for over 25 years now, as early adopters when the USDA came out with recipes that were tested and recommended for the home canner using the modified food starch Clearjel. This recipe has been adapted to use Ultra Gel®, as it is easily available and far more versatile than Clearjel.
Peel, core, and slice apples (1/4 inch thickness for even cooking). Place in water containing ascorbic acid or other anti-browning agent.
Blanch apple slices in boiling water for 1 minute in batches, then keep warm (I use a 6 qt slow cooker on warm). Also see notes below.
Start 4-5 inches of water boiling in the water bath canner.
Combine water, apple juice, and lemon juice in a large heavy pan (I use a 12 qt magnalite--oldie but goodie!)
Combine sugar, Ultra Gel®, and spices in a bowl, mix together, and reserve for later use.
Bring the liquids to a boil
Remove from the heat and add the sugar mixture while stirring with a heavy wire whisk or spoon. This will result in a heavy paste. Remember, you will be adding more juice with the apples, so it needs to be thick.
Return to a medium heat and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly. It will pop and spit, so be careful! Boil for 1 minutes.
Add the warm apples to the liquid mixture and stir gently to avoid breaking the apple slices. Bring back to a boil, then start filling the prepared bottles. Keep the mixture warm. It is important that the mixture in the jars be very hot when added to the water bath canner.
Fill the bottles to 1/2 inch from the top. It is important to leave enough headspace for the filling to expand as it cooks.
Clean the bottle rims well, then add the lids per manufacturer directions.
Add the filled bottles to the boiling water in the water bath canner. The water should cover the bottles.
Adjust the heat to keep a slow boil. Process for 35 minutes.
A word about apples: There are an explosion of apples that work well for pie filling. Look for the attributes you like in a fresh apple pie--some people like an apple with a firm texture and substantial "bite" where others like a softer, sweeter apple. I've used a wide variety of apples--I started with Golden Delicious fresh off the tree while they still had a natural tartness and liked that they held their shape well. Johnathans had great tartness, but the slices seemed to break up more in handling. I used Jonagolds last year and found them delightful, and this year I'm using Fujis, which are also nice and a little firmer than others I've tried. The moral of the story is--use whatever you like in your fresh pies! When you're purchasing, plan about 1 1/2 lbs fresh apples per quart.
As for peeling apples--6 quarts seems like an overwhelming amount, but just put on a decent movie and get started. We often use an apple peeler/slicer and during a decent football game my husband plus one son can peel enough apples for 3 batches. If the game is really exciting, though, the apple peeling efficiency goes right down the drain! But I never have to beg for help--this is one product nobody wants to run out of!
My personal feeling (coming from a foods manufacturing background) is that if you're going to get out all the equipment necessary to can apple pie filling, you benefit from making multiple batches. So staff the project with pie-loving participants and set up an assembly line. Most of the equipment doesn't need to be washed between batches, saving a ton of time!
On blanching the apples: The theory of blanching (or parboiling) apples is that cooking them quickly inactivates enzymes which cause browning and reduced quality and also to heat the apples in preparation for canning. It is critical that the apples are cooked until a fork can be inserted, and that they be kept warm to ensure that they don't cool down the apple mixture before packing in the bottles. Apple pie filling is very thick, and requires that the mixture be packed at boiling temperatures and immediately be transferred to a boiling water bath canner to guarantee proper heat conduction throughout the jar.
Ascorbic acid or "Fruit Fresh" is added to water to protect the sliced apples from browning while six quarts are accumulated
Make sure the apples are coated with the water and anti-browning agent.
I found early on that I run out of stove space when I make apple pie filling, so I pre-cook the apples in the microwave rather than blanching them. I put 2 quarts in a covered casserole dish, then microwave until a fork can be easily inserted. In my microwave, I cook for 5 minutes on high, then stir, making sure the apples in the center are moved to where they will get more heat, then microwave for an additional 3 minutes.
A fork should be able to pierce the apple pieces easily.
Then the apples and any accumulated juices are transferred to a slow cooker on the warm setting to stay warm. A six quart slow cooker is just the right size for six quarts of peeled and sliced apples. If you get interrupted, turn the slow cooker off, so the apples don't get overcooked. They will stay warm enough.
Add the liquids to a heavy pan that will hold at least 7 quarts and bring to a boil over high heat.
Combine the dry ingredients.
Mix well with a fork or wire whisk.
Pour the dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients gradually, stirring constantly.
Add the apples and stir to combine. Bring back to boiling.
Pack the bottles, leaving 1/2" - 3/4" headspace.
Water bath for 35 minutes, keeping the water at a slow boil.
Peach Pie Filling - Home Canned!
Home-canned peach pie filling--like summer sunshine in a bottle!! Think of peach pie or cobbler in February, when we're all wondering if the sun will ever shine again here in the Pacific Northwest. In my area, there is still a plentiful supply of late-summer peaches. O Henry peaches are one of my favorites for their robust flavor and rich color, but others prefer a firmer peach like an Elberta for use in peach pie filling. Every area has its favorites. But one thing is for sure--regardless of what variety you use, you'll be glad you have it!
Working in batches, microwave blanche the peaches until steaming, stirring once. (I used a covered 2-quart casserole dish and heated on full power for 3 minutes, stirred then another 3 minutes. Your microwave may need different timing according to its wattage and the amount of peaches blanched at a time)
Transfer the peaches and any juice that accumulated to a slow cooker or roaster on the "keep warm" setting until needed.
Combine sugar, Ultra Gel® and cinnamon in a bowl.
Bring water to a boil in a large, heavy pan (at least 8 quarts)
Add sugar mixture and stir in. This will make a very thick paste that might look like it has some lumps in it. Don't worry--it will be fine.
Add the peaches The extra juice from the peaches will smooth out the thickened juices
Bring back to a boil and immediately pack the pie filling into clean jars, leaving 1" headspace
About blanching the peaches: In general, blanching is a concept that involves plunging fresh fruits or vegetables into boiling water for a short period of time in order to raise the temperature quickly. For purposes of home-canned pie filling, it is critical for every part of the jar of filling to achieve the appropriate temperatures to inactivate the enzymes and kill the microorganisms that cause food spoilage. Some recipes suggest blanching by dipping the peeled and sliced peaches in boiling water and that is certainly effective. But you lose all that flavorful juice and that just hurts my heart! Microwave blanching in a covered container should achieve the same goal if done properly and have the advantage of retaining the juices.
To accomplish this, put the peeled and sliced peaches in a heavy glass bowl (covered by a plate) or covered casserole dish and microwave for two minutes (be sure to protect against steam burns by using oven mitts). Stir carefully to make sure the peaches in the center are getting equal heat, and continue to microwave for another two minutes. Repeat as necessary. It only takes a batch or two to figure out a system that works. When adequately cooked, a fork should pierce the peaches easily but they need not be limp They should, however, be steamy and too hot to handle! Then slide them into a slow cooker on the "keep warm" setting until you have enough for the batch.
Pie filling is a thickened product, which means that heat will be slower to penetrate than if free water is available. In order to achieve a pie filling that will keep for the long term, it's really important to make sure all the pieces of the pie filling are at boiling temperatures when the bottles are packed. I know, we all hate to overcook those beautiful peaches, so its best to be able to work fast and get the peaches peeled and blanched as quickly as possible.
Peach Pie Filling is a delightful "end of summer" treat that will give back during the cold winter ahead (for those of us who have cold winters. . .)
Just a note: A quart of home-canned pie filling isn't enough for a deep dish pie. It is adequate for a standard pie (see photos of standard pie plates). If you want a larger pie, you might need to use a quart and a half of filling, or possibly add some blueberries.
Perfect Peach Pie!
Peach Pie--life doesn't get better than a cool fall evening and warm peach pie and ice cream shared with friends. The glory of peach pie is the syrupy richness of the sweet, thickened juices of the ripe peaches, but that's also part of the drama of peach pie. Because ripe, flavorful peaches are so juice-filled, as they heat during the baking process those juices are released. Traditional thickeners--flour and cornstarch don't thicken until the juices get to boiling temperatures. And that can create two problems: 1) The bottom crust can become soggy from all that juice, and 2) The juice can boil out through the slits in the top, creating a very smelly mess on the bottom of the oven and a pie that isn't very pretty.
The secret to "Perfect Peach Pie" is using Ultra Gel® as a thickener. It is an instant starch, which means when that yummy peach juice is released, it is immediately thickened, ensuring a crisp crust and no boil-out. And a presentation you can be proud of!!
Combine the sugar, Ultra Gel® and cinnamon in a separate bowl. (Woops, hadn't added the cinnamon, yet)
Add the sugar mixture to the peaches and stir or shake gently.
The sugar will start to pull the juices from the peaches, where the Ultra Gel® will start to thicken them.
If after a few minutes your peaches look drier than this, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Some peaches are juicier than other, either from the way they were stored, how ripe they are, or what variety they are.
Turn the peach mixture into a 9" pie plate lined with pastry.
Using glass pie plates for fruit pies give the best chance of getting a firm, well-baked bottom crust because glass absorbs the heat well. Second choice would be a dark-colored metal pie plate. Save the shiny ones for single-crust pies, where the heat can come from both top and bottom. Notice the two different styles of pie plates: One is about 1/2 inch taller than the other. This recipe is sized for the pie plate on the right--if you want to use a bigger or deeper pie plate, you will need to 1 1/2 x the recipe
Yumminess on the way!
Cut slits to allow the steam to escape and crimp the edges well. I like to brush the top of the pie with milk for better browning.
Ahhhh. . You've been smelling it for the past hour--now to put it on the cooling rack and watch your guests gather round. Notice--no boilout. Beautiful pie with plenty of juiciness!
Just because I couldn't help it. .
It's a great time of year to check out the garden or take advantage of a local farmer's market to create some truly cost-saving salsa. Many people can't justify home-canning in terms of dollars and cents, but salsa is a winner! And you can do it without help; the components can be prepared separately, then combined at the end. No temperamental fruit that discolors if you get distracted! And you can customize it to the flavors and "heat" profile your family prefers.
Part of the science of food preservation involves inactivating harmful microorganisms and spores that cause food spoilage and can cause food-borne illness. These are killed by a combination of acid and heat. The higher the acid, the lower the risk of food spoilage (think pickles). The lower the acid, the higher the heat needs to be (possibly requiring pressure canning, but that's a post for a different day). Salsas contain both higher acid and lower acid components. As a former Advanced Master Food Preserver with my local University of Idaho Extension office, I had a front row seat to the many hundreds of calls Master Food Preservers field this time of year regarding the safety of specific salsa recipes. My favorite calls always started with "I know this isn't an approved recipe, but Great Aunt <insert name> made it for fifty years and nobody ever died." Hmm. . . If you want more feneral information about salsa, consult a source approved by the FDA; there are many on the web.
This recipe is modeled after a recipe published by the Pacific Northwest Extension Service, but has LESS total low-acid ingredients. Tomato paste has been added to the recipe for color and flavor and Ultra Gel® instant thickener has been added to improve the consistency. The processing time is also slightly longer to account for a thicker salsa.
A note about peppers and heat (the spicy kind): Few things are as "hotly" debated as how piquant a salsa should be. From a "heat" perspective, this recipe (according to my sensory taste panel) closely approximates the profile of Pace Medium salsa. Peppers vary amazingly in terms of "heat" and flavor based not only on their variety, but on their growing conditions and the parts of the pepper used. The best way I've found to standardize the heat in a salsa is to use pickled jalapenos as the base for the heat; they are much more consistent than their fresh counterparts.
If you want to experiment with heat, change the VARIETY of peppers, not the amount. For example, change up some or all of the jalapenos for serranoes or other hotter varieties, or include the seeds for more heat. Never use more peppers and onions than the approved recipe calls for. Also, do not reduce the amount of vinegar in the salsa mixture. If you want a milder vinegar flavor, try a cider vinegar rather than a white vinegar.
When I'm ready to make salsa, I want to make a goodly amount to limit the number of days salsa takes over my kitchen and the amount of time, effort, and energy that goes into each bottle. So I try to get organized so I try to set things up like a mini-manufacturing plant. Here are some ideas to make the process go faster.
I wash all the tomatoes first and set them aside, then thoroughly clean and bleach the sink and fill it most of the way with cold or even icy water for blanching many tomatoes at a time (in preparation for removing the skins--refer to the recipe.) It's easy to let out some water as it gets warm and add more cold water or ice.
When the weather cools, I like the put the tomatoes outside to chill them thoroughly before blanching. The skins split easier when the tomatoes are cold.
I use an 8-quart pan for blanching the tomatoes; a Dutch-oven type (more shallow) pan seems to be easier to use than a tall soup pot. The boiling water should cover the tomatoes, although the tomatoes will keep coming to the top. Work in batches if you're alone; put a batch in the boiling water and watch them carefully; the riper and larger the tomato, the sooner the skin splits. (The skin of greener or smaller tomatoes may not split when the skin of other tomatoes does. Use your best judgment based on the size of the tomatoes, how long the tomatoes have been in the water, and how close they are in ripeness to other tomatoes in the batch.) Pull tomatoes out with a slotted spoon individually as soon as they are ready and transfer into the cold water. If you have help, you can keep a continuous process going and that speeds things up a ton! Add ice or cold water as hot tomatoes warm the cold water bath; the tomatoes are easier to handle and more appealing if they're not too hot and mushy from overcooking.
As soon as the tomatoes are cooled, start peeling them. If you leave them in the water too long, they will get waterlogged. While that isn't the end of the world, the salsa may be more watery and less flavorful.
If you are new to peeling tomatoes, here are some hints from someone who has peeled thousands of pounds of tomatoes:
1.) Use a thin-bladed knife (I like a 5" boning knife), and sharpen it before you start.
2.)Many tomatoes have a tough "core" you will want to remove. Just use the tip of your newly sharpened knife and cut out the around the core--just down an inch or so. Then grab a corner of the peel between the knife blade and your thumb and pull it off. You shouldn't need to cut the peel off at all, unless there is a spot that isn't ripe.
After peeling, you can either dice the tomatoes and store them in a bowl or keep them whole to dice in a food processor later (my choice if I'm doing a lot). Be sure to refrigerate if you have to stop in the middle to take care of necessary tasks like fixing dinner or putting the kids to bed.
If you are using fresh green chile peppers, you will want to roast and peel them. There is no safety reason for peeling, but the skins are tough and not very palatable in the salsa. Wash the peppers and lay them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Put them toward the top of the oven, nearest the heating elements, and broil them, turning them as necessary, until all side are blistered. Then tuck the peppers into a paper bag to "steam" as this will help the skins come away from the flesh. Remove the peppers from the bag when cool enough to handle and strip the peel off with a sharp knife. It isn't a big deal if every little bit doesn't come off, but you will probably want little to no skin in the finished product. Cut the stem end off the peppers, split them, and remove the seeds if you like. The seeds will provide extra heat. I usually remove them in an effort to standardize the heat from one batch to the next, but it's up to you.
I rarely have enough Anaheim chilies in my garden to do multiples batches of salsa, so I usually find myself supplementing with canned chilies from my nearby restaurant supply store. I also find large cans of pickled jalapenos there. I'm always delighted when I can find the canned chilies in a diced form; if not, a few whirls of the food processor or a chef's knife does the job.
It's all downhill from this point. Take a few minutes to dice the onions by hand or in a food processor. (I dice enough for several batches at once and store them in the refrigerator in Ziploc bags; only one cleanup!) If I'm using fresh jalapenos, they go in the food processor at the same time as the onions.
Measure all the ingredients and turn into a heavy 8-quart pan or Dutch oven. Heat to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. As the tomatoes heat, they will release juice and the mixture will become much thinner. Simmer for ten minutes to make sure everything is at boiling temperatures. Meanwhile, add water to the boiling water bath pan you will use for processing and get it on the way to a good, rolling boil.
Ladle the hot salsa into prepared jars, add the commercial "flats" and rings, and tighten snugly, using hot pads to protect your hands. Put the filled jars into the boiling water bath. If, for some reason, the salsa cools before it is ladled into jars and "processed" in the boiling water bath---interruptions, late nights, etc.--be sure to bring the salsa back to a boil and simmer ten minutes before ladling into the jars to ensure a safe product that will keep well. Process in the boiling water bath according to the recipe instructions.
When the jars are cool, you can remove the rings and wash off the jars if needed. Label with the date and store for future use. You've just opened the door to a multitude of meals and snacks! Thinking of something like chicken breasts with salsa cooked in the Instapot with sour cream served over brown rice topped with diced tomatoes, black beans, green peppers, and cheese. . . But that's a post for another day. Stay posted!!
Kitchen Hack! Lower Sugar Strawberry Freezer Jam
Homemade Strawberry Jam - Nothing ever made toast taste so heavenly! And because freezer jam isn't cooked, it maintains a bright, vibrant color and "fresh from the garden" yumminess! But if you cringe when you see how much sugar is in each batch, here's a hack for you!
The problem is that standard pectin needs a specific amount of sugar to set. If you reduce the sugar, you guarantee jam that is thin and runny. So here's the hack--Use the recipe that comes with the pectin, reduce the sugar by up to 1/2 and add 1/2-3/4 cup of Ultra Gel® modified food starch after you stir in the pectin to help thicken up the jam. Works like a charm! Lots of great strawberry flavor without all the sugar!
One caution, though. Since the jam doesn't have massive amounts of sugar, it will spoil quicker. Probably best to package in small increments that can be used quickly. And keep it refrigerated or frozen when not in use!
Ultra Gel is available on our website or on Amazon prime. Search for "The Real Ultra Gel" to see all the options!