Saturday, August 7, 2010

Something old and something new

Well, maybe familiar would be a better choice than old...

After canning 16 pints of a spicy plum dipping sauce I've made for years, we tried something different with a few pounds of the damsons picked earlier in the week.  I've read of fruit cheeses in novels and English cookbooks and finally the time seemed right to try making some myself.

Fruit cheese is made from fruit and sugar and will hold its shape; it can be made in a straight-sided crock or jar and turned out for slicing when ready to serve rather than being spooned out like a softer preserve.  Tart fruits such as damsons and gooseberries seem most common but there may be other fruits that would work as well.  And fruit cheese will keep for months, too, thanks to all the sugar.

It's a pretty basic recipe.  For each pound of damson pulp left after sieving to remove the pits and break up the skins, you use 2 cups of sugar.  Here's a link to a page on the neat site, The Cottage Smallholder, with the easy directions.

The spicy plum dipping sauce is my adaptation of Helen Witty's "Chinese-style Plum Sauce" recipe included in her wonderful Better Than Store-Bought: A Cookbook. I modified it to include crushed pineapple and exclude the corn syrup and whole mustard seeds.  I previously posted the original version on Farm Bell Recipes at Chickens in the Road in case you want to compare the two.  Either one is great for dipping egg rolls, chicken strips, etc. 

The original recipe makes about 4 pints and the version below makes about 15 pints though it could be halved without a problem.  I found we liked this so well it's better to make enough to last till the next year's fruit harvest and still have a little to give away.  I hate it when friends or family beg, don't you?

Remember that this is a sauce for canning.  It's meant to be made and then held on the shelf for a minimum of a couple of weeks before serving -- better yet, make it this summer than wait till Thanksgiving to enjoy.  Almost any recipe for a preserve like this, or for pickles or relish -- similar dishes, really -- will benefit from a waiting period to allow the flavors to meld.  If you taste this as you're preparing it (and I always do and think you should, too) it will likely taste too vinegary and the flavor of the peppers may be too strong, too.  That's normal.  Give it a few weeks, preferably a couple of months if you can wait that long, and the flavors will meld into a wonderful dipping sauce you'll certainly prefer over that orangey-pink stuff in the little plastic packets.

Spicy Plum Dipping Sauce

8 cups plum pulp, *See note
8 cups peach or nectarine pulp, *See note
2 (20 ounce) cans crushed pineapple in juice
2 large onions, diced
2 sweet bell peppers, seeded and diced
5 jalapeno peppers, seeded and membrane removed, finely diced
3-inch knob of gingerroot, peeled and finely diced or shredded
1 head garlic, peeled and minced
6-1/2 cups apple cider vinegar, 5% acidity
3 cups water
1/4 cup dry mustard
3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 pounds brown sugar (approximately 4-1/3 cups)

Combine the fruit pulp, pineapple, onions, peppers, gingerroot, garlic, and vinegar in a very large non-reactive kettle.  Bring to a simmer over low heat.  In a bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk to blend.  Add to the fruit mixture and allow to simmer for an additional 45 minutes.

If you prefer a smoother sauce, press mixture through a chinoise or food mill. Return to the kettle and boil gently, stirring, until the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes longer (it will thicken a little more while cooling).

Process in BWB in half-pint (10 minutes) or pint (15 minutes) jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

Allow the flavors to meld in the jars for at least 2 weeks, better a month, before serving. This one definitely improves with a month or two of waiting — it’s worth it.

I use a steam juicer to prepare the damsons and nectarines or peaches.  It lets me obtain juice from the fruit than run the remaining pulp through a chinoise or food mill to yield stoned, sieved fruit ready to turn into a smooth sauce. (The juice I either can or use for another purpose.)

Alternatively, coarsely chop fruit and place in a large pot.  Heat fruit till softened sufficiently to run through a food mill, removing pits and skins, then measure out the amount of pureed fruit called for in recipe. Repeat for other type of fruit indicated in recipe.

Optional but good:
Roast the sweet red peppers over a flame or under the broiler till the skin is burned almost black. Let stand 5 minutes, then wrap in a plastic bag and let stand for 15 minutes. Quarter lengthwise, scrape off the skin and remove the seeds then set the peppers aside till called for in recipe.

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