Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Chamomile Berry Preserves

It started with the simplest of things- a cucumber plant that went out of control. I had the brilliant idea to make pickles.  So I invited a couple of friends over to help slice, measure, sterilize and seal a dozen jars of the best pickles I have ever had on a burger.  We shared the jars and some good conversation that afternoon.  By the end of it, my friends and I had caught the bug.

A couple of weeks later the call was made again.  This time, jam was on the agenda.  We spiced the tiny plums from backyard trees, made curd from tart grapefruit (also of the backyard variety) and experimented with cantaloupes and vanilla.  That last one had so much potential that I couldn't help myself but try it again with a less assertive melon and quite a bit less sugar.  The result was like the nectar of the Gods.  I was hooked- on canning, preserving, jamming, and pickling anything I could put in a jar.
I was so hooked, I ended up turning my obsession into a business a mere two months later.  You can check it out by scrolling down to the little Etsy shop announcement over on the right sidebar.  It's over there waiting for you and I think you'll like it.  Go ahead, I don't mind if you leave for a few minutes to check out my wares (and those of my super-talented-ceramic-artist of a sister!).  You know you want to.

Are you back?  Great!  Because I have a new favorite jam that I'd like to share with you.  Okay, so every new jam is my favorite.  But it's really, really good.  It's a bit tart, a bit sweet with a lightly honeyed floral flavor balancing it all out.  Exactly what I love in a jam.  And just what you should be looking for in one too.  None of that flat, one note supermarket stuff.  And a whole lot less expensive that the boutique stuff the good folks at Williams Sonoma would like to sell to you.  And as a bonus, it makes use of an infused simple syrup that will show up in another recipe later this week (and perhaps an Arnold Palmer on my dining room table later this week at dinner, sorry you'll have to make your own).
Chamomile Berry Preserves
Makes about 1 pint. 
For the printable recipe, click here.

This is a simple jam- no pectin and no canning bath.  It is meant to make a small batch to enjoy right away.  The only unusual ingredient is the chamomile simple syrup.  I had the great fortune to find a bundle of organic fresh chamomile flowers in my CSA box a few weeks ago.  So I made an infused simple syrup that I have used to sweeten and flavor a few different sweets since.  If you can't find the flowers at your favorite farmer's market, you can easily use chamomile tea to make the infusion (assuming the dried flowers are the only ingredient).  If you can't find the flowers or tea, try using maple syrup to sweeten the preserves.

1 generous pound mixed berries ( I used blueberries and strawberries in a 1:2 ratio)
1 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs chamomile simple syrup*

Stem and chop the strawberries coarsely.  Place in a large bowl with the blueberries. Stir in the lemon juice and chamomile simple syrup.  Lightly mash the blueberries.  Let the mixture sit on the counter for 30-60 minutes to allow the berries to release their juices.

Place the berry mixture in a medium heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat.  Bring the mixture to a boil and allow it to cook over the same heat for 10-15 minutes.  The bubbles will change from loose small bubbles to large bubbles that take longer to pop.  You can test the done-ness of the preserves by using an instant read thermometer (it is done at 220 degrees) or by placing a metal spoon in the freezer.  Dip the frozen spoon in the jam, if the jam is still loose and runny after a minute or two on the spoon, it is not ready.  If the jam is thick and does not run easily, it is finished.  Place the finished jam in a clean jar, cover and refrigerate until cool.  It will keep for several weeks.

I love this jam on toast with butter or simple lemon muffins, but it also pairs well with softer cheeses like my favorite Humbolt Fog and makes a great topping for ice cream or yogurt.

*Chamomile simple syrup- Place 3/4 cup sugar and 1 1/2 cups water into a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the sugar.  Turn off the heat and stir in the flowers of 1 bunch chamomile (or two chamomile tea bags).  Allow the mixture to steep until cool.  Strain the flowers out and place the syrup into a lidded container.  It will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks.

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