fixing runny freezer jam

The Damsel has had several questions on how to fix freezer jam that didn’t set up. Without cooking it, she knows of only one thing that can be done.

Well, two, if you count calling it “fruit syrup” and eat it on pancakes and ice cream.

There are two products on the market–Instant Clear Jel and Ultra Jel–that can be stirred into runny jam to thicken it. Instant Clear Jel must be mixed with sugar before using, or it will clump. To rescue your jam with it, mix it with at least a 1:1 ratio first, (more sugar makes it easier to mix without clumping) and then sprinkle carefully into your jam, stirring like mad. Start with 1 tbl. each of Instant Clear Jel and sugar and go from there. If you can find a shaker to use, all the better.

Ultra Jel is a bit easier to use since you don’t have to mix it with sugar, although it’s more expensive. Use the same methodology…sprinkle, stir, sprinkle, stir, until you achieve the consistency you’d like. Taste it along the way, too. Sometimes these products will alter the taste of the jam. If it gets an off “starchy” taste, try warming it a little (in the microwave, perhaps), keeping in mind that warm jam will be, uh, er,  runny. You’ll have to chill it again after the warming treatment to see where you are thickness-wise.

These products are made of corn starch but have been formulated to not need cooking, like regular corn starch would. Since Ultra Jel doesn’t have to be mixed with sugar, you can use it to thicken pretty much anything that’s too runny. Even though it’s a mysterious white powder, it’s a naturally occuring foodstuff, and not dangerous unless you put it in an envelope and mail it somewhere–in which case it will be dangerous to your ability to stay out of jail.

If anyone out there in Runny Jam Land has other ideas for thickening jam without cooking, please pipe up.

pickled onions

The Knight in Shining Armor thinned the onion patch, and brought the Damsel these:

There were just too darn many onions crowding the patch. Since he wants BIG onions, something had to give. When the Damsel saw these, it reminded her of jars she’s seen of pickled onions, and thought she’d give it a go.

The Damsel executed her Google-fu. Dizzying numbers of pickled onion recipes clogged the results. The Damsel is ashamed to admit she’s never made pickled onions before, or even eaten them, so it was tough to choose. But most recipes had a few things in common. 1. a salt soak 2. covering in vinegar 3. spices. So the Damsel added them all up, divided by the number of recipes, and arrived at an average.

One site gave her hope: it said pickled onions were very easy…a great first project for the aspiring pickler. So on she pressed.

First make the brine. This is a fancy word for “salt water.” Use the ratio of 1 cup salt to 2 quarts cold water, according to how many onions you are doing. You just need enough to cover them. Stir until the salt is suspended.

Skin the little darlings, then nick off the root and top. Don’t take much off or they’ll separate into their layers. You know how onions are.

As you complete them, throw them into the brine. The salt water is supposed to help keep them crisp. Apparently soft pickled onions are yucky.

Put a plate, weighted with a cup of water, on top of the onions to keep them submerged in their salt bath. Or any other way you can think of to keep them from floating out of the brine. They must sit there, just like that, for 24 hours.

The Damsel hates waiting. She’s said that before.

When the 24 hours has elapsed, drain the brine and rinse well.

Pack the onions into clean glass jars. These will not be heated, so you don’t need to use canning jars if you don’t want to. You can use old pickle jars, jam jars, whatever.

Add “some” pickling spice. The Damsel used 1 tablespoon per quart. There are lots of recipes out there if you want to make your own pickling spice, or pick up a bottle at most grocery stores.

Bay leaf is one of the traditional spices for pickled onions, so the Damsel added a whole bay leaf to each jar. (even though it was one of the ingredients in the pickling spice. She just wanted to)

Fill the jars with vinegar. It’s up to you what kind. The Damsel read of using plain, apple cider, malt, etc. She used apple cider vinegar. Fill the jars completely, not worrying about “head space” and whatnot since the jars will not be heated. The onions should be covered.

Now the hardest step of all. Put lids on, and then set these away in a dark, cool place for THREE STINKING MONTHS!!! The Damsel hates waiting! But it must be done. Life is full of these difficult moments, but set your jaw with determination and go forward.

Raspberry freezer jam–Ball pectin method

The raspberries in the Damsel’s garden are going gangbusters, and she’s in heaven. Her arms are scratched but it’s oh so worth it. Raspberries—yum.

Freezer jam is nice because it preserves more of the natural, fresh flavor of the fruit you’re using. Plus, it’s great that you don’t have to cook it, and when it’s 100 degrees outside, the less heat the better. We’ll do other types later.

The Damsel has made a lot of freezer jam in her life, and sometimes it has not “set up”. . . in other words, it doesn’t get as thick as she’d like. Runny jam can be used on pancakes and such, but it’s annoying to have it not turn out. She’s tried several brands of pectin, which is the thickening agent used in most jams. She’s discovered that the recipes must be followed scrupulously, but sometimes the jam’s runny no matter how perfectly it’s done. Maybe the full moon affects it.

She also cringes at the amount of sugar most recipes call for. . .many even call for more sugar than fruit. Yuck!  Her experiments with low sugar recipes have been hit and miss, and then will sometimes spoil in the refrigerator, since the high sugar content is a preservative.

So, when she saw a new Ball brand pectin at the store, she decided to try it, so she can say she’s tried it all. It caught her eye because it uses a lower percentage of sugar, and also doesn’t call for corn syrup like many recipes do. The Damsel doesn’t have anything personal against corn syrup, but white sugar is cheaper and easier to measure, so, yeah.

Pick a mess of raspberries. Or buy them if you must. You’ll need around 6 cups. Wash them gently in a colander. The Damsel apologizes for the freakish look of this stream of water running into her berries, but there you have it.

Pour the pectin into a mixing bowl. Just so you know, these directions are strictly for the Ball type pectin, and won’t work with any other pectins.

Add one and a half cups of plain white wicked sugar. Stir these together until well mixed.

Put the drained berries into another mixing bowl and lightly mash. Raspberries are fragile—you don’t need to heave-ho. In the Damsel’s humble opinion, jam should have chunks of fruit and not be totally smooth. This is her wish.

Measure out four cups (one quart) and add to the bowl of sugar/pectin. Admire the jewel-tone red goodness, and dream of the jam that is to come.

Stir for three minutes. The mixture will become more runny as you stir, and you will think three minutes is a very long time. Persevere, dear students, until the bitter end. Now just let it sit for 30 minutes to thicken.

Sit back in amazement that you have just made freezer jam. Yes. That is all there is to it, except for putting it into something, including your mouth.

You can use freezer containers, or pretty much anything that can be frozen. The Damsel uses pint jars because she has many, many of them. You could use store-bought jam jars, pickle jars, salsa jars, whatever. People say you should be careful about doing that because jars can break in the freezer. The Damsel admits this is possible, but it has never happened to her. Other bad things have happened in her freezer, but not broken jam jars. She’d rather not talk about it any further.

You’ll end up with about 5 cups of jam. (Review lesson: 1 pint=2 cups) The black spot in the half-full jar is not a housefly, so don’t worry. A blackberry jumped in and made itself at home, and the Damsel said well, okay. By the way, you store this in the FREEZER. Except for the currently-being-used jar, which is in the refrigerator. But not for long.


Yeah, baby.

how to dry lavender

If you have lavender in your garden, maybe it’s flowering for you now like it is here in the mountains by the Damsel’s cottage.

Lavender has a strong, fresh scent that’s been used for centuries. Very old-school. It’s used in soap, candles, lotion–pretty much anything scented has a lavender rendition. Some people even eat it.

It’s simple to dry, so you can enjoy it in your garden now, and then dry some for later. Have your cake and eat it too.

Cut a bunch when the buds are just opening for the strongest scent. Wrap the ends with a rubber band. Jute or ribbon would be oh-so-charming, but you must do as the teacher says. A rubber band will hold tight while the stems dry. If you use something else, the shrinking stems will fall out of their ties. You can always tie something pretty on TOP of the rubber band if you must.

But why? You’ll be  hanging this in a dark place where no one will see your rubber band felony. The dark preserves the delicate purple of the lavender. One simple way to hang it is to unfold a paperclip into an “S”, hook it through the rubber band, and then over a pipe thingy in the garage or storage room. Hanging it upside down helps the buds keep their shape.

If it doesn’t matter for your purposes what color or shape the buds are in, you can quickly dry the lavender by laying it out in the sun. Takes no time at all, maybe a day if it’s hot and sunny.

The dark room lavender will need a week or two. When the stems are brittle, you’re done.

Now, many folks use just the buds for their scented things. Like a sachet. An easy way to dislodge the dried buds is to put the bundle into a pillowcase and gently roll on a table or countertop, as if you were rolling a rolling pin. Don’t smash, just softly roll back and forth. Then pull out the stems and pour the buds into a container.

You can then use them to 1. make soap 2. make tea 3. make candles 4. put them in a sachet 5. make a lavender oil infusion 6. pulverize and sprinkle on salad 7. put in your hair if you’re an Irish bride 8. sew into a hot trivet 9. etc.

The Damsel has heard of putting lavender in a sleeping pillow but she’s not doing that.

The stems are perfectly wonderful laid on top of a fire. The Damsel is saving her stems up for such a thing. If you have a lot, you could even tie the dried stems together into a lavender log.