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Jamming with the Queen of Local

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Jamming with the Queen of Local

  [caption id="attachment_568" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="Jamming with Nicolette Novak is fun- not work."]Jamming with Nicolette Novak is fun- not work.[/caption]     I met Nicolette Novak during peach season about 20 years ago. Not an unusual time to meet a tender fruit farmer in the Niagara Peninsula, expecially one who bonded with me in two respects: a dual passion for preserving and baking, especially, fruit pies. The location of our rendez-vous? Nicolette's retail outlet along the Queen Elizabeth Highway where her business focused on baskets of ripe-picked local fruit, homemade fruit pies and preserves.   It was around preserving that we got together in mid August for a day of jamming. Nicolette's life has shifted in the last two decades. From fruit farmer, Nicolette has created a a whole new business based on her passion for where she grew up and lives - The Twenty area of the Peninsula, Beamsville being the major centre of this fruit and wine region. Her enterprise is called The Good Earth, and while its roots are cooking school and catering, with tutored taste travel, it now encompasses weddings, picnics in the orchard, a line of pantry products, notably preserves, apricot jam, for example, plus stocks and other cooking items you may not have time to make at home, take-away lunches, a model 3-season garden, vineyards and a winery. The Good Earth  has had an enormous role in nurturing young chefs in the region and bonding locally grown food to the ever-growing wine industry.  The Good Earth operates year round in a large airy and country-smart compact new"barn", appropriately set in the Novac orchards. Early on Nicolette built an outdoor barbecue area where her teaching chefs, notably pit boss Mike McColl conduct classes all-good-weather-long. I recommend that you check out www.goodearthcooking. com for a list of the upcoming special events and fall classes with resident chefs Isa DiIorio and Patrick Engel plus a sprinkling of local chefs. Soon Nicolette will be posting news about her new winery. But back to that morning in August when I arrived to find a flat of just-picked apricots waiting our time, knive and long wooden spoons. dsc03278 The Good Earth Apricot Jam  Apricot jam just happens to be about my most favourite jam - not that I grew up with it. I was smitten years ago as a grad student, my first day in Paris, when breakfast in the tiny oh-so-chic hotel (I was easily awestruck - it was my first trip abroad) consisted of a big bowl of strong coffee and hot milk, a crackling length of baguette with sweet butter...and apricot jam. Hard not to think of Paris without my mind slipping into reveries of apricot jam.    [caption id="attachment_570" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="For a chunky apricot jam, start with halved or quartered apricots, depending on the size of the apricots, and look for apricots clearly on the firm side. "]For a chunky apricot jam, start with halved or quartered apricots, depending on the size of the apricots, and look for apricots clearly on the firm side. [/caption]     Nicolette's Apricot Jam is suitably Paris-style  soft set - not like most of the commercial apricots jams set firm enough to slice. Her jam is meant to drool over a slice of toast, buttered baguette, croissant or hot scone. The ratio is basically 4 parts prepared fruit to 3 parts sugar. Add some water to help soften the fruit, and lemon juice for tang and set, and you're jamming.   [caption id="attachment_572" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="The fastest way to measure out ingredients is with a small scale."]The fastest way to measure out ingredients is with a small scale.[/caption]     4 lb (2 kg) washed, quartered and pitted apricots 3 lb (1.5 kg) granulated sugar 1 cup (250 mL) water 1/4 cup (50 mL) lemon juice . Wash and air-dry 15 (1 cup/250 mL) canning jars with new lids. Set out all canning equipement: tongs: funnel: metal 1/2 cup (125 mL) measuring cup. Fill a boiling water canner about 2/3 full of water. Arrange canning jars on rack; cover and set over low heat to warm to steaming. Set 2 small plates in the freezer. Place new lids in a heatproof bowl; cover with hot water a few minutes before filling jars with jam. Do not boil lids or bands. . In a large preserving pan or Dutch oven, stir together the apricots, sugar and water.   [caption id="attachment_571" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="This flared, heavy-bottomed preserving pan is from Lee Valley."]This flared, heavy-bottomed preserving pan is from Lee Valley.[/caption]     . Set over high heat and stirring constantly, bring to a rapid foamy boil. Add the lemon juice. Boil hard until the seething mass is reduced by a generous quarter, apricots begin to soften and break down, and syrup surrounding them thickens, about 15 minutes for this quanitity of fruit.   [caption id="attachment_573" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="The Queen of Jam wills the apricot jam to set. Note how vigorously the jam is boiling and how important it is to use long-handled wooden spoon to stir the jam. It keeps your hands and arms away from molten spatters."]The Queen of Jam wills the apricot jam to set. Note vigorously the jam is boiling.[/caption]     . Nicolette is such a pro at jamming that she doesn't need the Wrinkle Test*, but if you aren't as experienced as she, check out the information below. Instead, as the jam cleared, we both listened for the now big bubbles to crack and pop as she stirred, indicating that the liquid had thickened as it reduced. We also did another witch-over-the-cauldron-style test: we stirred the jam with a long wooden spoon, then held the spoon high above the pan, parallel to the pan and watched the jam drop off the spoon back into the pan. Early on the jam flowed off quickly, then it started to hesitate, finally hung in a single drop from the bottom side of the spoon. At that point the jam was done. . Remove from heat; skim off any foam and let settle for about 5 minutes, stirring. . Using the funnel and metal measuring cup, fill the hot jars with jam to 1/4-inch (5 mm) from the top. With a damp paper towel, wipe any jam slopped over the rim. Cover with lids and bands, screwing on bands until you meet resistance, then tighten just a tad more to finger-tip tight.  .Using preserving tongs, set as many filled jars as will fit onto rack in boiling water canner; lower rack. Add boiling water if necessary to bring water level at least 1-inch (2.5 cm) above tops of jars. Cover and bring to boil. . Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat; uncover canner. Let boiling water settle for 5 minutes. With preserving tongs  transfer jars to a rack or folded towel to cool. Repeat boiling any jars that didn't fit into the boiling water canner the first time round.  dsc03323 . Do the usual wipe, label and storage in a cool dark place until the morning when you want to bathe your breakfast in a touch of Niagara summer - or a memory of Paris. The cafe au lait, crusty baguette and sweet butter are optional, but recommended.  . Makes about 14 jars, 1 cup (250 mL), of jam.  dsc03325 Tip: Nicolette used very snazzy preserving jar with a single-piece lid. All of her jars sealed to perfection. If by chance any of your canning jars with the two piece disc and band don't pop and seal, store that jar in the fridge and enjoy its contents within about 3 weeks.  * Wrinkle Test: set two small plates in the freezer when you're assembling your jars and equipment. When a preserve has been boiling and from the pull on the spoon feels as though it's thickening, do a test with one of the plates. Remove the preserve from the heat. Dribble about 1/2 tsp (2 mL) preserve on the plate; let the preserve on the plate cool, about 2 minutes. Run the tip of a spoon through the preserve; if the surface wrinkles, the preserve is set. If the dribble is runny, return the plate to the freezer and panful of preserve to the heat. Boil hard, stirring constantly until the preserve on the colder plates of the 2 plates wrinkles.  dsc03276 Peach Conserve There is a little problem with apricot jam - the season is short, and alas, fresh apricots may not still  be available. You may have to wait until next summer to make a batch of Nicolette's Good Earth Apricot Jam. Peaches to the rescue, in a heritage recipe  that like apricots, makes a very soft-set preserve. The word "conserve" in the title of a preserve indicates a jam-like preserve with citrus fruit. There are sometimes spices as well, but not in this conserve. The original peach conserve recipe  I found hand written by my aunt Bessie Babb of Sebringville, Ontario, included maraschino cherries - and even though I don't usually include them, I've offered them as an option - in her honour.  2 medium navel oranges, Cara Cara if available 1 large lemon 2 cups (500 mL) water, approximate 8 cups (2 L) coarsely chopped peeled and pitted peaches, about 9 large peaches that fit into a 3 L basket, or about 4 lb (2 kg) 6 cups (1.5 L) granulated sugar Optional additions: 1/2 cup (125 ml) slivered maraschino cherries and/or 3/4 cup (175 mL) slivered blanched almonds . Wash and air-dry 9 (1 cup/250 mL) canning jars with new lids. Set out all canning equipement: tongs: funnel: metal 1/2 cup (125 mL) measuring cup. Place 2 small plates in the freezer. Fill a boiling water canner about 2/3 full of water. Arrange canning jars on rack; cover and set over low heat to warm to steaming. Place new lids in a heatproof bowl; cover with hot water a few minutes before filling jars with jam. Do not boil lids or bands. . Scrub oranges and lemon. Cut our stem and blossom ends, and any blemishes. Cut oranges in quarters; slice crosswise very thinly, discarding any seeds. Pare off lemon rind: cut into very thin strips about 1-inch (2.5 cm) long. Squeeze lemon to make about 1/4 cup (50 mL) juice. Set juice aside. . Place orange slices, lemon rind strips, squeezed lemon halves and water in a Dutch oven. Cover and bring to a very low simmer. Cook the citrus fruit, stirring occasionally, until rinds are very tender, almost mushy when pinched, about 55 minutes. Watch carefull and add more water if necessary to keep the rinds steeping in water. When finished, there should be a shallow pool of water keeping the rinds juicy. Remove the squeezed lemon rinds. Let them cool enough to squeeze any liquid  back into the cooked rinds.  . Stir in the peaches, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly; boil hard until conserve is reduced by a generous quarter, about 20 minutes.  . Remove conserve from heat; let cool slightly. Either whiz about a third of the conserve with an immersion blender ( a Nicolette Novak trick to give body to soft-set preserves) or scoop out 3 cups (750 mL) of the conserve and puree in a blender. Return pureed conserve to pot. Add cherries and/or almonds, if using. . Bring back to boil, reduce heat to medium and continue cooking and stirring constantly until thickened and setting point is reached, about 10 minutes. . Remove from heat;  let settle for about 5 minutes, stirring. . Using the funnel and metal measuring cup, fill the hot jars to 1/4-inch (5 mm) from the top. With a damp paper towel, wipe any jam slopped over the rim. Cover with lids and bands, screwing on bands until you meet resistance, then tighten just a tad more to finger-tip tight.  .Using preserving tongs, set as many filled jars as will fit onto rack in boiling water canner; lower rack. Add boiling water if necessary to bring water level at least 1-inch (2.5 cm) above tops of jars. Cover and bring to boil. . Boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat; uncover canner. Let boiling water settle for 5 minutes. With preserving tongs  transfer jars to a rack or folded towel to cool. Repeat boiling any jars that didn't fit into the boiling water canner the first time round.  . Do the usual wipe, label and storage in a cool dark place. . Makes about 8 jars, 1 cup (250 mL), of jam.    [caption id="attachment_577" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="Because some of the conserve was pureed, the spread has a very pleasing thickness. It is almost sauce-like."]Because some of the conserve was pureed, the spread has a very pleasing thickness. It is almost sauce-like.[/caption]     Tip: This conserve, while lovely in all jam uses, is also quite a nice topping for rice pudding, ice cream, vanilla pots de creme, mascarpone cheese or drained yogurt.
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Jamming with the Queen of Local

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