Mango raspberry jam

Why is it that the peak time for jam-making is also invariably the hottest time of the year? I’m talking now, people.  The raspberries in my yard have started to ripen, and no doubt with the extreme heat this week, they’re going to ripen all at once.

While it’s almost 100 degrees and ultra-humid, I will be tenaciously stripping the canes of ripe berries.  Then boiling gallons of water for hours.  I’m in the thick of it now, folks.

Not only do I have the heat chasing me, I also have my daughter hot on my heels, greedily grabbing berries for her own.  She’s kind of competitive about berry picking; I wonder who she got that from?

I’m cool with her raspberry fixation, but I would like to use some for recipes myself.

Yes, I could just choose to use the fresh berries in other ways, or freeze them to make jam later.  But that would be too rational.  When I’ve frozen berries in the past, I’ve forgotten about them until they’ve been in the freezer too long.  So, I’m driven to make jam now.

If you’ve followed this blog since last year, you may recall my difficulties making raspberry jam.  The first year I attempted it, I used an old-fashioned recipe that didn’t call for pectin. It took forever to make. The second year I attempted it, I foolishly prepared the same recipe and ran into the same problems.  When I grew impatient, I cut the cooking short and didn’t allow it to set properly.  I then discovered that you can snatch jam from the brink and re-make it.

This year I’m going to prepare a raspberry jam recipe that calls for liquid pectin. But an all-raspberries recipe requires quite a lot of berries; until their numbers reach critical mass, I’ll have to wait to make that.  In the meantime I made this mango raspberry jam recipe, which includes just 1 1/2 cups of crushed raspberries.

Since my daughter declared that she loved mangoes (I feel like shouting that from the rooftops), mangoes have become a fixture in our household.

Many people don’t know quite how to cut up a mango. If this describes you, check out my earlier IN SEASON post about mangoes and view Mississippi Market’s video about dismantling mangoes.   For this preparation, instead of cutting it up hedgehog style, I sliced the side pieces into wedges and removed the peel then chopped it up from there.

Note that the amount of chopped/crushed fruit is not the same as the fruit when it’s whole. 1 1/2 cups of crushed raspberries is derived from about 3 cups of whole raspberries.  And it takes at least 3 if not 4 ripe whole mangoes to generate 3 cups of finely chopped mangoes. I used 3 mangoes, and once pitted, peeled and finely chopped, I didn’t have quite 3 cups. As a consequence, I ended up with 6 instead of 7 jars worth of jam in this batch.

Mango Raspberry Jam
(Adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.  Makes about seven half-pint jars.)

Ingredients:
3 cups finely chopped pitted peeled mangoes (about 3-4 large ripe Tommy Atkins mangoes)
1 1/2 cups crushed red raspberries (about 3 cups of whole raspberries)
2 T. lemon juice
1 pkg. regular powdered fruit pectin
5 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Instructions:
Start your water boiling in the canning pot.  Finely chop the mangoes and crush the raspberries.

In a large saucepan, combine the berries and lemon juice and mix in the pectin until it dissolves.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often.  Add the sugar all at once, and return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly.  Once at a full boil, boil it hard for 1 minute, then remove from heat, skim off any foam, and ladle into hot jars.

Add the lids, screw on the bands until fingertip tight and return to the canner, replacing lid.  Bring the water to a full boil, let it boil with the lid on for 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let the jars sit in the hot water for 5 minutes.  Then remove the jars from the canner and allow them to cool completely.

***

What do you like to do with fresh raspberries?  Are you a jam-maker too?

More camping goodness on Eat Local America

The Eat Local Challenge is rapidly approaching!  I wanted to let you know that I’ll be guest blogging periodically at the Eat Local America website during the challenge this year and will announce those posts here when they are posted on the Eat Local America site.

My first post is about the local foods and other ingredients I picked up at the co-op for this most recent cooking trip.  It contains some additional food preparation tips and more photos.

In case you missed them, here are the links to the four posts this week about our tumultuous trip:

Kamping with a K, part 1
Kamping with a K, part 2
Kamping with a K, part 3
Kamping with a K. part 4

If you choose to go camping yourself, may the campfire cooking force be with you!  Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Kamping with a K, part 4

Lying there on the semi-deflated air mattress the next morning, I felt like Icarus with my cooking wings falling off.  The idea of preparing all of the meals again on Saturday seemed like so much work.  My sister and her family had left extra early to get home.  Shortly after we got up, it started raining; and soon after that, my dad decided to take off early too. 
And with that, the Fellowship of the Kamping was disbanded.
It was time for Plan D.  As in Duluth.  This was the advantage of staying at a campground with wi-fi and why smartphones were invented – so we could sit at the picnic table, look up hotels within Duluth’s Canal Park and book a room on the spot.  
Before we packed up, we enjoyed one last meal together – blueberry pancakes with sausage links and Minnesota-produced maple syrup from Sapsucker Farms.  
The best part of the meal?  My dad cooked.  (Doesn’t food taste better when someone else cooks it?)
(BTW, I wouldn’t recommend cooking inside the screen house like this – not only is it probably a fire hazard, but I’m sure it’s going to stink like sausage grease forever.  But desperate times call for desperate measures.)
As we were packing up, we discovered that the cap had broken off the drain hole for the cooler and that the cooler had been leaking liquid into the back of the car for three days. Oops. 
***
I felt like Pig-Pen rolling into the Duluth hotel parking lot, stinky from campfire smoke, with dirt under my fingernails and an avalanche of junk spilling out of the car along with me when we pulled up to the curb (The Beverly Hillbillies also sprang to mind).  You’d think we had been stuck on a desert island by the way my kids exclaimed about every detail in the hotel room (a bathtub! a microwave! our own little fridge!).  My four-year-old kept calling it the “ho-in-tel”.
There’s nothing quite like a clean, insect-free hotel room, a hot Athena pizza from Pizza Luce and a cold Bell’s Oberon beer to restore your sanity and faith in humanity.  We were going to make it after all. 
 
Upon returning home late Sunday afternoon, we laid our tent on the driveway to dry out from the Saturday rain. Soon afterward, it started to downpour and everything became completely drenched again.
***
The entire weekend was an exercise in the principle of “go with the flow”.  I learned many lessons from this latest trip:  
  • Two nights is my limit for camping, at least right now while my kids are so young.
  • Our car is too small and our cooler is too small for carrying supplies for this many days, to feed this many people.
  • I had perhaps been a tad too ambitious in my meal planning; it’s probably best to build some super easy, kid-friendly meals into your meal plan.  While these Campfire Cuisine recipes weren’t difficult to make, they were more involved than typical camping meals. Sometimes simpler is better.
  • Expect the unexpected when you go camping and be ready to improvise.
  • Staying in hotels is much easier than camping. And cleaner.
I’m sure that each year we’ll get better at the process and, as the kids get older, it will get easier.  But for now?  We’re done with camping this year.
***
The biggest, most painful lesson of all occurred after we had returned home.  The car had been pretty stinky but we’d attributed it to all the food and smoky gear packed from floor to ceiling. After we cleared everything out, though, the smell got even worse.  It wasn’t until Monday morning that I put the puzzle pieces together about the origin of the odor.
Remember how I kept draining the coolers and adding more ice?  One of these times, I noticed that the melted liquid in the cooler looked whitish, and guessed that milk must have somehow spilled.  I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but now I realized that the missing cooler drain cap meant that milky water had likely leaked all over the back of the car on Friday.  
When I got to work, I called a detailing service and explained the situation. Once they learned that the culprit was milk, it was like the situation was elevated to the level of a toxic spill. They told me that not only would the carpets need to be shampooed, everything else in the car would need to be scrubbed down because of the lingering odor.  
And not only that, they said that in 90% of cases like these, shampooing alone didn’t do the trick and the underlying mat lining the back of the car would probably have to be replaced. It may cost $450 and take 2-3 days to do the job.  
Final lesson learned?  Don’t ever, ever spill milk in your car. 
Maybe I will have to go vegan on the next camping trip.
Anyone have any tips for removing spilled milk from car upholstery?

Kamping with a K, part 3

Once we settled in, everything was A-OK at the KOA.  It was hard to believe that this virtual city had been stuffed into our tiny RAV.  

Sure, once fully packed, every time one of us climbed out of the car, an avalanche of stuff cascaded out the door.  Yet, here it was – evidence that the six hours of pre-trip equipment gathering and food prep had been worth it.  We were ready to survive in the wilds of Hayward, Wisconsin.  Within the kozy konfines of the KOA, at least.

But enough about that, it was time to get the chow on.

***
First off – breakfast.  I set out the homemade brioche and strawberry jam and then dove in to the numerous dicing and shredding activities for the two recipes that we had chosen from the Campfire Cuisine cookbook:

Sausage and Polenta Scramble - eggs, polenta, onions, and sausage (we used andouille)
Veggie Polenta Scramble  - eggs, polenta, onions, mushrooms, red pepper and rosemary

The ingredients lists overlapped, so the prep was easy to organize and execute.

The tricky part was the cooking, which posed four challenges.  First, the size of the group meant we needed to make a couple of batches, yet only had small pans to use.  So my husband and I simultaneously cooked on two propane stoves back-to-back.

The second challenge was that the cooking surface wasn’t level.  It wasn’t until after we were in the midst of cooking that we realized the area where we set up the camp stoves was sloped.  So the egg mixture listed to one side.

The recipe indicated to cover the pans for the final minutes of cooking.  We forgot the lids, so we had to improvise the best we could.

Finally, moderating the cooking temperature on the propane stove proved to be hit or miss  - it was either screaming hot, or turned off (something I’d also noticed when cooking at the Minneapolis Farmers Market demo a couple of weeks back).

Again, we did our best, but the final product was pretty browned. And we forgot the cheese. The hungry hoards couldn’t care less, though, so we just tossed it on top.

One of our camping neighbors walked by and said “you had the best camping breakfast EVER”.  I was confused for a moment, wondering if someone had shared food with them, and then she said “it smelled SO good.”  Nice!

***
After all that, pre-assembling the black bean salad for dinner was a breeze; it only required dicing (peppers), squeezing (limes), and slicing (green onions).

I threw the flank steak into ziploc bags to bathe in the red wine marinade.

***

Then we enjoyed a break from the cooking activity (since my sister was doing lunch) and swam, jumped on the huge jumping pillow and went tubing.  Also, I frantically hunted for my car keys which I kept misplacing, while my husband ran to Wal-Mart in town to pick up five more things we’d discovered we needed once on-site, including a cooking grate for the campfire ring.

Also, I drained water from the three coolers, and re-filled them with ice. Then later, I drained water from the three coolers and re-filled them with ice. Then later, I drained water… We probably went through at least 10 bags of ice; I don’t think we would have survived without the KOA general store.

It was all very relaxing. Well, at least the tubing part.

***
Before we knew it, it was time to make dinner.  To keep the hunger wolves at bay, we whipped up some guacamole accompanied by tortilla chips and some mango salsa that other family members had brought. We started the steak cooking on our new cooking grate over the fire ring, but the coals just didn’t seem hot enough.

My dad came up with the brilliant idea to lower the grill legs so the steaks were immediately above the coals. Sorted! The steaks finished cooking soon after.

A stack of firewood served as a temporary table for the cutting board.

At this point it was getting dark.  It was important to remember that K also stands for Kids. The kids didn’t kare for my kampfire kooking.  Well, 3 out of 4 kids didn’t krave my kooking. My son just ate a tortilla for dinner, while my daughter ate a mango.

I had hardly any energy to push strawberry vodka on anyone.  Time to turn in for the night.

Kamping with a K, part 2

I woke up at 5 am the next morning thinking of extra virgin olive oil and bears.  
With the camping situation uncertain, I still had to crank through the food prep.  After calling my sister about five times to find out what was up, I finally reached her and got the scoop on the bear scare there:
She and her family had arrived at the state park after dark and walked in to the campsite. As they were walking in, they saw signs warning of bear activity. We had three sites reserved in a row, and when they got to the site assigned to my family, they saw yellow tape looped around it like a crime scene, with a big bear trap in the middle. They immediately turned around and booked a hotel for the night. 
The next morning my sister got the lowdown from the park office – apparently, three bears had been spotted in the park in the last couple of weeks and a bear had entered a tent looking for food.  The park workers had caught two of the bears but the third was on the loose.  The staff didn’t seem alarmed and said that they’d move the trap to another unoccupied site that day.  
We were faced with a decision – we could either stay in those sites, move to other campsites within the same park, or find a different campground at the last minute.  
Would you feel comfortable camping there, especially with small kids?  Granted, black bears aren’t known to attack humans like grizzly bears have done, but still…The idea of a bear potentially lurking around creeped us out.  
In the end, my sister had to valiantly adjust the plans on the fly.  After calling some other state parks and finding they were booked for the weekend, we settled on Kamping with a K. KOA, to be exact.  
Ahh, Kampgrounds of America (KOA).  The irony.  
Throughout my childhood, my sister and I took numerous road trips with my dad.  He would usually suggest staying at state parks, but we always lobbied for staying at the KOA.  I mean, they had swimming pools, nice bathrooms, a snack bar, and a souvenir shop…what more could you ask for, really.  Who wouldn’t want to stay there???
Well, the adult me, that’s who.  Now I could see from the perspective of my dad.  Instead of the serene, peaceful, communing-with-nature sort of experience that I was anticipating, it was more like a three-ring circus.   Albeit, a well-run circus with super-nice, kid-friendly staff.

Not that it was horrible, it was just a 180-degree change that I had to get my head around. Oh well. At least I’d be able to go tubing.

I can practically hear your toe tapping right now – you’re thinking, yada, yada, yada, Amy. What about the food?

That first night, we didn’t have to lift a finger; my sister had dinner covered. 
It was the next day that was the cooking ultra-marathon for us, which would prove to push me to my limits.
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