Longtime readers here know that baking bread is one of my passions (Susan might call it an obsession, one of my many), but I’m also I’m a reasonably competent cook (not as good as Susan, but I try…); I make my own fresh pasta and my own pizza, among other dishes. Of late, I have been branching out into new areas. None of them are terribly challenging, but they are new things for me to learn. And being retired, keeping my brain alive by learning new things is important.
I’m trying more and different foods and dishes. I enjoy learning and experimenting with food; a bit like having a combination of a physics and chemistry lab in my kitchen. Much to Susan’s amusement, I will spend hours searching for recipes and dishes online, watching YouTube videos, and reading our cookbooks (albeit, we don’t have many of the latter; most of mine are for bread and pasta). I have more food ideas than time or energy.
This fall I started making my own pickles, first using onions from my small garden, grown this summer. Then making them from store-bought mini-cucumbers and pearl onions (picture above). I have it in mind to make Indian-style mango and lime pickles in the future. Simple, yes, but the results were very satisfying. And I am curious to try more, try new styles and tastes.
Pickles don’t, at least those I’ve made, involve the use of my breadmaker. And I wanted to use my bread machine for more things, not just the basic loaves I bake in it.
I have a few techniques and recipes for pickles I have yet to explore… but so far my pickles have been excellent (okay, I do like the taste and flavour of vinegar and make a mean gazpacho that is very astringent…). The pickles shown above are, tasted three weeks after bottling, crisp and light, without an overpowering flavour. I expect that waiting longer will help the herbs, spices, and garlic come forward more.
This week, I also started making jam, another first for me. We don’t eat a lot of sugared foods at home, but I do have a weakness for ginger marmalade and sometimes ginger ice cream.
Jam, however, is not something we buy a lot of (a store-bought jar of jam can usually last us months). But I do like blueberries, too, and am somewhat susceptible to having blueberry jam on toast made from my own bread, especially artisan jam (a friend in Halifax sent me some local jams last winter).
Many new bread machines have programs for jam, as well as other products like yogurt, or fermented foods. Mine has a jam setting, so I thought I’d give it a try. The jam program has a fixed cycle of 1:05 which includes about 5-10 minutes of stirring and the rest is heating.
Let me segue. First: my bread machine is at least a decade old (a competent, but aging Black & Decker). It has served me faithfully making bread without problems until very recently (any problems were always caused by my incessant tweaking of recipes). Of late it has shown some mechanical problems and may soon need a replacement because it seems to have issues making (kneading) bread.
I’ve been looking at various models online, reading reviews, weighing my needs against available options, and taking my time (my current preferred choice is a KBS 17-in-one model, but I’m also intrigued by the Breville Custom model). And have I mentioned how I dislike Amazon’s search engine and its customer reviews? But that’s another post…
I was surprised that there are not a lot of recipes for breadmaker blueberry jam online, and none I could find in my bread machine cookbooks. However, the proportions of ingredients for most berry jams should work for blueberries. I had a couple of recipes to use as my base, but I am always willing to experiment.
One recipe I found called for 6 cups of blueberries; another for 5. I used frozen blueberries as my base because they are easy and inexpensive this time of year (a pouch of frozen costs the same as a pint of fresh). A single pouch of frozen blueberries is 600g, or 4 cups. I added a small package (170g or 6 oz) of fresh blueberries, which have me a total of 5 cups. The result made two small mason jars of jam, so that worked.
One of the recipes called for more sugar (2½ cups) and one for less (1 1/3 cups), but preferring a less-sweet result, I lowered the first and upped the second to 1½ cups. This is granulated (white) sugar, which we use very little of at home. I didn’t have enough of an acceptable alternative like agave syrup or honey and didn’t want to use brown sugar or molasses because it has a stronger taste that could overwhelm the blueberries. Sweet, but not excessively so, is preferred.
Pectin was more problematic, in large part because I’ve never used it before and know little about its properties. I used the basic store-bought Certo brand, dry pouch. The 6-cup recipe called for an entire pouch 1 3/4 oz (my pectin pouch weight was 57g) and the 5-cup for 1 tablespoon. I hesitated trying to decide on the amount and ended up using the entire pouch. I can’t estimate the weight vs volume of pectin easily or accurately. And how much should I withhold?
As a sidebar, a recipe for no-cook blueberry jam was on the insert in the Certa package. it called for 3 cups of blueberries, 5¼ cups of sugar (holy sh*t! that is way too much sugar for our tastes!) and 1 package of pectin. So maybe 1 package for 5 cups of blueberries wasn’t too much.
I followed the recipe steps more or less. I mixed the blueberries, sugar, and pectin in a large bowl. I added the juice from a lime, as well as some chopped lime zest from that same lime, and a small squeeze from a tube of ginger. The 6-cup recipe recommended ¼ cup of lime juice, but a single lime is much less, so I added a pouch of desiccated, unsweetened lime crystals (True Lime) for extra flavour.
I used a potato masher to mash the mix but leave enough solid material to make the jam have an interesting texture.
I put everything into the baking pan and pressed the jam cycle. It has one setting; just over an hour long. The first short few minutes involve the machine mixing the items; the rest of the time (and the great majority of it) is in heating the mixture.
After the cycle was over, I removed the pail and set it on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. When the wait was over, I poured the pail’s contents into two previously-sterilized small mason jars (boiled in water for 10 minutes; lids boiled for 5). An important note here is that cooked jams contain melted sugars which can be very hot and cause serious burns if not handled properly.
After cooling (but the jam was still very warm), I took the mason jars out of the hot water and poured the mix into two of them. A third jar I had prepared was not necessary. I sealed the jars and put them into the fridge to cool and set. The next day it was still somewhat too liquid. I expected firm; this jam could move in the jar when tipped. Slowly because it’s thick, but still not as thick as than I intended.
There are tips on remaking the jam so it sets more. Pickyourown.org had some detailled explanations but it seems like a lot more work than two small jars are worth. But I’ll keep it in mind for future should I decide to make more.
So what went wrong?
I suspect it the answer lies with the pectin. Pectin is a natural gelling ingredient, commercially derived from high-pectin fruit like apples. There are two kinds: high methoxyl (HM) and low methoxyl (LM) pectins. HM is the standard stuff, although the Certo box doesn’t say which it contains. Yes, I get nerdy about the science of food sometimes.
The Certo box lists ingredients as; sugar, fumaric acid, pectin, and dextrose (another form of sugar made from corn) without identifying quantities of each. If the ingredients are listed in order, there’s not as much pectin in the package as sugar and acid. Hmmm.
(The liquid Certo lists water, pectin, lactic acid, potassium citrate, and sodium benzoate as its ingredients. The latter is a preservative. Oddly enough, it has both an acid and an alkaline (potassium citrate) ingredient, but I am not a chemist so don’t know why.)
I suspect the fumaric acid in the dry mix is added to help acidify the mix, but it may also be used as an “anti-microbial and bactericidal” ingredient. Pickyourown.org says the acid and sugar are added as “binders” without explaining further.
You can make your own pectin, of course, but it’s another, lengthy step… if you really want jams and jellies without added sugar it’s the way to go. There is a “light” Certo pectin for low-sugar mixes but I haven’t seen it locally. Another company, Bernardin, also makes pectin but again I haven’t found it locally.
You can read the science of pectin at Foodcrumbles.com. The basic takeaway that, in order to form a proper gel, pectin needs sugar and acid:
Sugar: a high amount of sugar dissolved in water binds water molecules. As a result, pectin can no longer surround itself with these water molecules. They’re scarcer. This helps pectin molecules find one another. HM pectin tends to need over 60w% of sugar to form a gel.
Acid: an acidic environment contains a lot of protons (H+). These protons neutralize the negative charges of the pectins, making it easier for them to approach each other. The pH-value needs to be below 3,5 for HM pectins to come together and gel.
My mix was likely deficient of one or both components. I used the juice from one lime, but that’s maybe only a bit more than 1 teaspoon worth. Clearly more acidity is called for. The powered lime probably has little to no acidity.
But wait, there’s more… HM pectins are also rated by their degree of esterification (DE) rating, and there are three types:
Extra slow-set HM pectin: has a DE-value of 50-60%, it takes the longest to set.
Slow-set HM pectin: has a DE-value of 60-70%
Rapid-set HM pectin: has a DE-value above 70%, it sets fastest and at the highest temperature.
Again, the Certo box doesn’t say anything about what type it is. And I can’t find the details online (yet). Nor do I know how long each of these types requires to fully set. Is overnight enough?
Pickyourown,org suggests two other reasons for runny jam:
Undercooking (it must hit a full rolling boil for ONE minute) or too little pectin or sugar leads to runny jam.
Overheating – that is too high temperatures or uneven heat distribution builds excess heat which causes the pectin to break down. This is why you shouldn’t double batches – due to inherently uneven heating of home cookware – commercial canning equipment is design to heat more uniformly.
The jam cycle in the bread machine heats but I didn’t see that it boiled the mixture. The manual doesn’t indicate the temperature used, but I suspect it’s always below boiling. It was quite hot when I removed the pan, but not as hot as bread. Foodcrumbles says, “Most pectins need to be activated by heat to set properly.” Maybe the cycle isn’t hot enough.
And then, maybe I didn’t mash the blueberries enough to release the sugar inside. Blueberries are a low-sugar fruit and the pectin would have less sugar to react with from whole berries. Maybe I needed more sugar, although I hesitate to use more white sugar. Maybe a mix of high and low sugar fruit would work better.
I did a simple taste test on day two: I toasted and buttered a piece of commercial whole wheat bread. One side I put peanut butter, the other not. The jam is tasty and has some nice fruity flavour that even comes through the peanut butter, and the berries give it texture. However, it’s not very blueberry in taste, which I attribute to using frozen berries; they simply lack the more intense flavour of fresh ones. It’s not very sweet, either (which is better for my tastes), with subtle hints of the lime, and while still somewhat runny, has an acceptable solidity, as long as I’m careful not to overload the toast so it runs off. Susan suggests it might go well on vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
I’ll try again, but it will take a few weeks to finish off the current batch at the slow rate we use jams in our house.
I might try an experiment in the near future and use some of the jam in a blueberry bread. I had made such a loaf a few months back, using frozen blueberries without any additional flavouring or sugar, but it was merely okay. The jam might add some punch to it.
Back to the cutting board… maybe next time I’ll get some agave syrup to make it with. And more fresh blueberries. And more lime juice. And…