Thursday, 30 May 2024

Foodie Freak: In a jam

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I was once a much healthier person. I was a marathon runner and a weight lifter. I ate very healthily and if you were to see pictures of me from that era I was quite thin and in great shape. Nowadays if you see me running you better look out, because shortly there will be a werewolf bounding up in hot pursuit.


I haven’t noticed any mysterious deaths that could be attributed to werewolves here in the county, but they might be subsisting off of deer and the kills are being blamed on cougars. We’re lucky here in America to only have werewolves; according to my Asian horror encyclopedia, Japan also has werecats and werebears.


Even though I’m not in the shape I once was, some of the credit for me being able to escape the werewolves is that I try to eat a lot of low fat or no fat foods. One example is that I have lots of jams and jellies in my refrigerator at home. Not only are they no fat, but they provide diversity for my daughter’s school lunches instead of just lunch meat and cheese on bread everyday. I have to keep her in shape to be able to outrun the werewolves, too.


Another reason that I like jam is that it is an almost magical food to me. It’s a mixture of fruit juices and sugar that, through some sort of magic spell, transforms into a solid. It’s the magic of the pectin in the fruit cells. Just how that happens I’ll describe a little later.


The pectin that causes jams and jellies to be a solid is a soluble dietary fiber that has been found to lower blood cholesterol. Pectin is also an intestinal “lubricant” and is frequently used to cure both constipation and diarrhea. Up until recently pectin was a main ingredient in over-the-counter intestinal medications.


But what is the difference between jams, jellies and preserves? Is it just local dialect, or are there differences in the recipes, production, and products? There are also many different types of jellies, jams, and preserves made with meat, of which duck confit is the most familiar. Today we’ll just focus on those made with fruit.


Jelly is a “clear” fruit juice that either sets naturally or with the addition of pectin or occasionally gelatin. Jam is a jelly with the addition of fruit pulp, which is normally pureed or mashed. Preserves are typically a jam or jelly with whole or chunks of fruit. “Conserves” hold no legal definition but the term is occasionally used in the place of “preserves” but can include multiple different fruits, nuts, and other additions. Marmalade is jelly with the addition of fruit peels. Most marmalades are made with citrus fruits of all varieties. Citrus peels are very high in pectin.


And to add to your international food education, in the UK the word “jelly” actually refers to a gelatin dessert or what we call jello. The French word “gelee” is the root for jelly. The Greek word for the tomato is “Lycopersicum” and translates to “wolf’s peach.” The root word for pectin means “congealed.”


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration actually considers jams and preserves the same, but differentiates them from jelly. The United States Department of Agriculture requires that 45 percent of a jelly or jam be fruit.

 

The United States makes about one billion pounds of fruit spreads per year and the average American eats over two pounds of it in that same year. Your average child will eat 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the time they graduate high school.


Nobody knows the true origin of jellies but it is believed they originated in the Middle East. This makes sense because they had sugar cane to work with and would be able to preserve their fruit for long term use. European soldiers returning from the Crusades brought jellies and jams home with them. Oddly enough, the oldest book known to man, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” which also originates from the Middle East, has a primary character named Enkidu who is a “man-beast.” Could this just be a coincidence? Did the crusaders bring lycanthropes to Europe from Jerusalem? You will have to judge for yourself.


There are several methods used in the making of jams, but since I’m not actually skilled in doing it I won’t go into recipes or describe how to make it. I’d probably leave out a very small but vital step and you’d wind up with strawberries all over your ceiling. The basic process comes from heating fruit which releases the pectin from the cells. The pectin binds together, trapping the juice and any fruit pulp in the matrix. There are “freezer jams” and no-cook type processes, but they aren’t as common or generally as successful as the heating method.


I have known Sabine Hue De La Roche for many years, and she has become a jam and jelly maker here in the county that is becoming quite popular. I have six jars of her different preserves in my refrigerator right now because my family likes them so much, and you know I am very interested in supporting local businesses.


She has a red bell pepper jam that is fantastic on a bagel with cream cheese, among its many other uses. There is also yellow bell pepper jam that has a little kick, and an orange bell pepper jam that has a real heat to it. She also makes pear, pear/cranberry, pear/rhubarb, plum, cherry/plum, peach, blackberry, pumpkin and, my personal favorite, kiwi/banana flavor.


I use the Hue De La Roche Farms jellies and jams in some unorthodox manners also, but I’m sure you were expecting something like that from me. I use them on various meats for braising, basting, even marinating in them. If you should want to experiment with them just keep in mind that straight jelly can and will burn easily due to the sugar content.


Dinner on a recent evening was chicken breasts with a red bell pepper jam, sour cream and garlic sauce. It was very good, although the mashed plantains as the side dish wasn’t as popular. I’ve also marinated beef in the red pepper jam mixed with soy sauce to make beef jerky, which was simply delicious.


You can purchase her jellies and jams at the High Valley Wines and Steele Winery tasting rooms, Nylander’s Red and White in Clearlake Oaks, and Seely Produce stand in Upper Lake. She can also be found at farmers markets around the lake. On Tuesdays, Kelseyville Lumber in Kelseyville; on Thursdays, Coyote Valley (Middletown), behind Hardester’s; Fridays, Redbud Park, Clearlake; and Saturdays: Steel Winery, Farmers Finest.


If you’re from out of the area, Sabine does ship. You can contact her for her full product line and pricing by sending an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or writing to The Hue De Laroque Farm, P.O. Box 821, Clearlake Oaks, CA 95423.

 

I don’t think I have to tell you, but if you eat too many fatty foods you can really do some shape shifting in your own way. So, eat more jam and keep the werewolf at bay.


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community. Follow him on Twitter, http://twitter.com/Foodiefreak .

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