Recipe: Cranberry persimmon jam (small batch).

I know, I know, you’re probably tired of cooking for the holiday season already and the thought of doing more at this very moment doesn’t exactly inspire or thrill.  But, actually…this recipe pretty much cooks itself and the combination of ingredients is rather festive.  An added bonus: while it’s on the stovetop, your kitchen will smell delightful and afterwards, you’ll have something unique and special to serve up to your guests.

This jam isn’t subtle or summery in flavour – it’s full-on winter celebration, warmly spicy and rich.

Cranberry Persimmon Jam (small batch, yield: just over 2 cups)

12 ounces fresh cranberries, washed well (this year, I was so pleased to find cranberries grown in Canada – straight out of Nova Scotia!)

3 fuyu persimmons, peeled, mashed (a potato masher should do the trick, as will a hand blender)

1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom

1 piece star anise

juice of 1/2 lime

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Throw all the ingredients into a large saucepan and stir together.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately turn the heat to low.  You want a consistent low boil – if bits of cranberry and persimmon are festooning the frosty kitchen windows in a pulpy sort of garland and colourful hot fruit dribbles are being catapulted into your Christmas tree as it stands sedately in the living room, you’ve got it on too high.

It will take time to boil this all down – about one hour, more or less.  You don’t have be present the entire time, but you cannot forget about it for too long.  Every once in a while, in between topping up your wine glass and wiping the cranberry-persimmon spatter off the chandelier (because you accidentally had the mixture on too high when you first got started), you will have to stir it.  Just so the sugar doesn’t burn.  Trust me on that one.  Burnt sugar sets off the smoke detector.  And your neighbours really don’t like that when it’s only six in the morning.  But, that’s another recipe from another time….

When the fruit and sugar have cooked down and everything is all jammy and fragrant and you can’t resist taking a bit of a taste, then it’s time to remove it from the heat and pack it into clean mason jars.  Don’t forget to remove the star anise chunk or someone is going to get a tooth-destroying, aggressively licorice-y surprise when they bite down.

Seal and refrigerate the jars when the contents have cooled down and enjoy!  Try to use it all up within three or four days.  That won’t be difficult.

*I think you could substitute a good honey for the sugar without any problems.  I am going to try this next time, and I will update this post if I find that it works.

**I think cinnamon would be lovely with this as well.  I’m also thinking about a whole vanilla bean.  And cardamom pods, versus the ground stuff.  Hmmmm….

***You could definitely process this in a boiling water canner for longer, safe storage.  You could also increase the size of the batch.

****I took a photograph of the jam as it was cooking in the pan, but let’s just say I’m a tad better at shooting landscapes and flowers.  You know what jam looks like.  😉

What are your favourite recipes using cranberries?

 

 

 

Holiday Plants: Cranberries (and a recipe for Cranberry Fudge!)

Highbush cranberry

V. trilobum – nope, not this one!

Not to be confused with the pictured cranberry, Viburnum trilobum (high bush cranberry), which makes a fantastic jelly but grows on compact shrubs, or the ornamental V. opulus and other Viburnum species and cultivars which are gorgeous but not edible, the cranberry we associate with holiday feasting in Canada and the United States is the totally unrelated Vaccinium macrocarpon.  (The viburnums are actually kin to elderberries and are not true cranberries).  V. macrocarpon is native to North America.  The vines grow in marshy areas, and commercial cranberry fields are flooded during harvest times, to make it easier for growers to gather the fruit.  (I found a good video showing the process here).

Viburnum snowball - 16 June 2012

Nor this one…V. opulus

When British colonists first came to America, the First Nations peoples educated them about the value of “craneberries” (called Sassamanash by the Algonquin and Ibimi by the Wampnanoag), which had been used for centuries for dye and fibre, and for food and medicine.  The colonists quickly recognized that the berries were good for staving off scurvy, so they became a staple on board trading vessels of the time.  The berries also became massively popular as a culinary delight in England, and commanded top dollar as an export. Apparently, cranberries could appease grumpy kings, as well:  in 1677, they were sent to Charles II when he became overly fussy about the colonists minting their own currency.  If only international politics were so manageable nowadays!

In 2007, 79,163 metric tonnes of cranberries were harvested in Canada (primarily from operations in British Columbia and Quebec), which translated to $44.3 million in exports and $17.2 million in imports.  That’s a lot of cranberry sauce!

This recipe for cranberry fudge is a holiday staple at my workplace, as one of our former managers still pops by every Christmas with a huge plate for all of us to share.  Even if you’re totally cratered by sugar at this juncture in the holiday season, bookmark this one for next year’s cookie plates…you’ll love both the taste and how easy it is to make.

Cranberry Fudge

Metric conversion table

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/4 cup corn syrup

1/2 cup icing (powdered) sugar

1/4 cup evaporated milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

6 oz dried cranberries

Prepare an 8″ square pan by lining it with plastic wrap or baking parchment.

Combine chocolate chips and syrup in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave on high until melted and smooth.  (Keep checking it so you don’t overheat it.  The wattage varies depending on what model of microwave you have, so I haven’t listed a specific time here).  If you don’t wish to use the microwave, you can do this step in a small saucepan over low heat on the stovetop.

Remove the chocolate and syrup mixture from the heat. Add icing sugar, evaporated milk, and vanilla.  Stir until mixture is shiny.  Add dried cranberries and combine well.  Pour into prepared pan and tap the bottom of the pan gently on the countertop to level the mixture.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.  Cut into small squares and serve.

What are your favourite cranberry recipes? 

Further Reading:  Decking the Halls: The Folklore and Traditions of Christmas Plants by Linda Allen (2000, Willow Creek Press, Wisconsin)

Source: Crop Profile for Cranberry in Canada, prepared by Pesticide Risk Reduction Program, Pest Management Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, September 2007

Soil talk.

I was going through my (eek! seriously disorganized) photo files yesterday and I came across these two pics that I took at the community garden this fall.   The light was absolutely amazing that day in October.

Highbush cranberry2

Highbush cranberries

Mushroom in mulch

Although they look pretty, the mushrooms are symptomatic of a problem in the community garden.  Large chunks of wood mulch were used to dress the beds along the perimeter fence when the garden was built about five years ago (and by “large,” I mean HUGE – see Exhibit A, above).  It was all done mainly for aesthetics over any practical purpose and through the years, many of the chips have been dug under, creating a soil structure akin to cement.  Pore space is at a definite premium, and will eventually affect the way crops grow.  (I won’t get into the whole carbon-nitrogen imbalance thing here, but that’s an additional issue.  I recently read that bark chips can take at least a decade to decompose in soil).  To make matters worse, this year, the mushrooms turned up in full force.  LOTS of mushrooms.  Expected, sure, but definitely not welcome.  Although we made an attempt at damage control in the fall and removed some of the uppermost layers of the wood chip/soil clumps, we’ve got a long way to go to fix this mess.  Definitely a cautionary tale about using the right mulch for the job (and in this case, about not digging it in)!

Let’s talk soil and/or mulch – do you have any problem areas in your garden?