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Archive for August, 2012

Points West – A Preface 1

Posted on August 28, 2012 by Sahar

My husband Steve & I  decided over the last couple of years that instead of giving each other gifts for our respective birthdays, we’ll take long weekend trips around Texas.  Because, well, we can.

For his birthday, we went to San Antonio.  Did a lot of the usual tourist stuff and some not so usual.

If you’re a tourist, you gotta go here. Casa del Rio. San Antonio.


It’s always festive at Mi Tierra. Great hangover brunch.


For my birthday weekend, we’ve decided we’re heading out to far West Texas.  Marfa and Big Bend. We’ve been there before for the Terlingua Chili Cook-Off (a highly recommended excursion).

Terlingua Chili Cook-Off. The Granddaddy of them all.

Just a few of the fine folks at the cook-off.


A glimpse at Terlingua Ghost Town


Like I’ve done with my trip to New York and New Jersey, I’ll be painstakingly documenting the sights and, yes, food, on this journey so I can share it when we return.


See y’all soon!

Kibbeh – Arabic Comfort Food 3

Posted on August 24, 2012 by Sahar

For my next blog post, I decided to make a dish that is near and dear to my heart; one of my ultimate comfort foods – Kibbeh.  My sisters and I grew up eating this dish.  Rather ravenously, I might add.   It’s part of our heritage.  Putting it together was a collaborative effort for our parents.  Mom always made the filling, Dad put it together – whether as little footalls for the fryer or in the baking dish for the oven.  It was always a much appreciated treat.

Kibbeh (كبة‎) is a popular and much-loved dish throughout the Middle East.   It is generally made with cracked wheat (burghul), spices, minced onion and ground  meat, gnerally beef, lamb, or goat, or a combination.

It can be shaped into stuffed croquetes (basically little footballs) and deep fried for mezze or made into layers and baked for a main dish. Some folks also eat raw kibbeh. Like Arabic Steak Tartare, minus the quail’s egg and capers.

In Israel, Kubbeh matfuniya and kubbeh hamusta are staples of Iraqi-Jewish cooking. Kubbeh soup, served in many oriental grill restaurants in Israel, is described as a “rich broth with meat-stuffed dumplings and vegetables”.

A Syrian soup known as kibbeh kishk consists of  stuffed kibbeh in a yogurt and butter broth with stewed cabbage leaves.

Fried, torpedo-shaped kibbehs have become popular in Haiti, Dominican Republic and South America – where they are known as quipe or quibbe – after they were introduced by Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian immigrants in the early 20th Century.

(some historical information from


Now, on to the recipe.

I make this with a combination of beef and lamb.  You can use all of one or the other if you like.  Goat is also very popular (in the Middle East, anyway) in Kibbeh as well.

As I stated in my Hummous post (3/19/12), I’m pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to my Middle Eastern food.  The one thing I have in the traditional recipe I’ve changed is the amount of onion I use.  Most recipes can call for up to 4 onions.  I use 1 medium-sized one.  Otherwise, it’s pretty authentic.


The ingredients

Spices (clockwise from right): Black Pepper; Kosher Salt; ground Allspice; ground Cinnamon

Pine Nuts. These are not inexpensive. They can go for upwards of $20 per pound depending on where you shop. If you decide you don’t want to go to the expense, slivered almonds are a good substitute.


Kibbeh Filling

2 tbsp. clarified butter

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, minced

1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground)

1/2 c. pine nuts or slivered almonds

1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste


Raw Kibbeh (the top and bottom layers)

2 lbs. ground lamb or beef (use 90/10 ground beef)

2 cups cracked wheat (burghul)

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, or to taste



In this recipe, I call for clarified butter.  I don’t use much, but it’s a necessary traditional flavor component.

A note on clarified butter:  I always like to have it on hand.  It has a much higher smoke point than regular butter (450F vs 350F) so it doesn’t burn as quickly.  Plus, it’s delicious. There are some chefs who deep-fry in clarified butter.  You can buy it off the shelf in Indian and Middle Eastern Groceries (Ghee and Samneh, respectively).  When buying, make sure the container indicates that the clarified butter was made with milk.  If it says “vegetable” anywhere on the container, it’s essentially margarine.

However, clarified butter is very easy to make at home.  It keeps for several months and tastes a whole lot better.

Here’s a lovely essay on clairfied butter from the New York Times (5/6/08): 

Basically, clarified butter is butter where the milk solids have been removed.  It can be made with either salted or unsalted butter. (I prefer to use unsalted. I can control the amount of salt in my recipes.)  It’s always best to use European style butter.  It has a lower water content and a higher butterfat content.  Not only will it taste better, you’ll end up with a higher yield.

To make clarified butter, slowly melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. (I usually do 2 pounds at a time. I recommend doing at least 1 pound.)

Melting the butter.


Once the butter has melted, take it off the heat and, with a large spoon,  carefully begin skimming the milk fat off the surface.

Milk solids on the surface of the melted butter.

Skimming off the milk solids.

I generally discard the milk solids, but some people do use them for other things.  Like spreading on toast or pancakes.  It’s certainly up to you.

After skimming off the milk solids.

Carefully pour the butter into a storage container or into a measuring cup.  Leave any residual milk solids and water in the saucepan.

About 3 cups clarified butter is my yield from 2 pounds of butter.

What’s left in the saucepan is mostly water and any residual milk solids.  Go ahead and discard.

The water and residual milk solids left over.


Now, time for the Kibbeh.

1.  Make the Kibbeh Filling:  In a large skillet,  heat the butter and olive oil.  Add the onion and saute until it begins to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Add the meat (in this illustration I used lamb) and cook until it is no longer pink.  Add the pine nuts or almonds and cook another 2 – 3 minutes.  Add the spices and mix thoroughly.  Cook another 3 – 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the filling to begin cooling. (There may be some extra fat in the skillet. If there is, go ahead and drain it off.)

The completed Kibbeh filling. Yummy. I have a hard time not standing there with a spoon over the skillet eating.


2.  Make the Raw Kibbeh: Put the bulghur in a fine-meshed strainer and rinse it off under cold running water.  Do this until the water runs clear.  Let it drain.

Close-up of bulghur wheat. I like to use a medium sized grain. Too fine a grain will give the kibbeh too soft a texture.

Rinsing off the bulghur.

Put the bulghur in a medium bowl and cover with water.  Let the bulghur soak until it begins to soften; about 20 – 30 minutes.  Drain in a fine sieve, pressing out as much of the water as possible, and set aside.

Soaking the burghul.


3.  Take the meat and put into a large bowl. (In this illustration, I used beef for the Raw Kibbeh.).  Add the bulghur.

The meat and burghul. Getting ready to mix together.


Now, time to use your hands.  Dig in and mix the ingredients together.  You want them to be thoroughly mixed.  Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon, and allspice.  Mix until the spices are well incorporated.

The meat, burghul, and spices all mixed together.


Now, you need to taste for seasoning.  For me, the best way to taste for seasoning is to take a small amount of the mixture and give it a quick fry on the stove.  That way, I’ll get a better idea of how the finished dish will taste once it’s been completely cooked. Plus,  I won’t be eating raw ground beef.

Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add a little of the clarified butter.  Take a small amount of the mixture and form it into a roughly quarter-sized patty.  Once the butter is hot, add the patty to the skillet and cook.  It should take about 2 – 3 minutes.  Take the patty out of the skillet, allow it to cool for a minute, then taste.

Adjust the seasonings as needed.


Cooking the mixture to taste it for seasoning.

Or, you could be like my mom or my Arab aunties and just know by smell when the seasoning is right.  I’ve not ever been able to master that skill.

4.  Once you’re happy with the raw kibbeh, prepare a baking dish.  (In this illustration, I used a 12″ x 18″ dish, and it was a little large.  Use something closer to an 11″ x 15″.) Give it a quick spritz with non-stick spray or grease it with butter or olive oil.

Take half of the raw kibbeh and spread it over the bottom as evenly as you can.  It’ll take some doing, but you’ll get there.  If you wet or grease your hands, it’ll help make the process a little easier.

Begin preheating the oven to 375F.

The raw kibbeh spread in the bottom of the baking dish.

5.  Take the Kibbeh filling and spread it evenly over the bottom layer of the Raw Kibbeh.

Kibbeh filling added to the baking dish.

6.  Time to put the top layer on.  Because of the filling, you won’t be able to spread the top layer the same way as the bottom.  So, a different method is needed.

Take small amounts of the raw Kibbeh and flatten them out into thin pieces and lay each piece on top of the Kibbeh filling.

Putting on the top layer.

Be sure to fill in any little gaps as needed.  I know that it will seem like you’ll not have enough for the top layer; but, if you persevere, you will.

7.  Once you have finished completing the top layer, cut through the layers in diamond or square shapes approximately 2 inches each.  This will help with even baking and make cutting the finished Kibbeh easier.

Cutting the Kibbeh.


If you like, take some extra pine nuts or almonds and press one into the center of each diamond or square.  Drizzle a little clarified butter or olive oil over the top.

Kibbeh ready for the oven.

8.  Put the Kibbeh in the oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until it is well-browned.  If you like, turn on the broiler for about 3 – 5 minutes after the initial cooking time to make the Kibbeh golden brown.

The Finished Kibbeh. De-licious.


Let the Kibbeh sit for about 10 minutes before serving.


9.  It’s a good idea to serve this dish with a bit of yogurt on the side.  It will help cut the richness of the dish.

However, I prefer to make a quick salad with the yogurt.  I’ve based this on a recipe very similar that Mom always made.

The salad ingredients.

1 cucumber (If you can go with Hothouse [English] or Persian. If you use standard cucumbers, peel and remove the seeds)

1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped

3/4 c. plain yogurt (I like to use full fat Greek yogurt)

Salt & black pepper to taste


Cut the cucumber into whatever size pieces you like. Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl.  Adjust the seasonings if you like.

The finished salad.


10.  Serve.

Dinner is ready. It tastes much better than it looks in this photo. I promise.


Enjoy! Sahtein!


p.s.  If you like this, I’m teaching even more classic Eastern Mediterranean dishes on Sunday, September 16, at Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar Boulevard.












Chicken Stock (or Broth) 0

Posted on August 14, 2012 by Sahar

Look at any (non-vegetarian) cookbook and you’ll see one ingredient that is used in just about every recipe that is a soup, has a sauce, or a gravy.  Chicken broth.

Chicken broth is used mainly for its rather chameleon-like ability to take on the flavor of most dishes.  The flavor is neutral enough to not interfere with the other flavors; rather, it enhances them.  It can be used in vegetable, pork, lamb (depending on the recipe), and, of course, chicken.

In fact, in many recipes that call for water, I’ll use chicken stock instead if I can.  It just makes everything taste better.

But, while a good sauce or gravy can cover up many sins in the kitchen, the sauce or gravy needs to taste just that much better.  So, if you’re using bad stock, there is nothing you can do to hide that.

The words “stock” and “broth” are generally used interchangeably. Because, well, they’re almost exactly the same thing.

According to “The New Food Lover’s Companion, 4th Ed.” (Herbst & Herbst, 2007):

“Stock is the strained liquid that comes from cooking meat or fish (with bones), vegetables, and other seasonings in water to extract their flavors.”

“Broth a liquid that comes from cooking vegetables, meat or fish, and seasonings in water.”

Basically, the difference between the two is one of use or intent. “Broth” is what you end up with at the end of cooking the ingredients; “Stock” is what you use to cook with.  Other definitions will say that a “Stock” is always made with bones while a “Broth” isn’t.  And, indeed, there is a very different “mouth feel “(a technical term used by chefs to describe taste and texture of an ingredient) between the two.

But, whatever you term it, a stock or broth can make or break a recipe.  A good stock will enhance; a bad stock will ruin.  There’s no hiding it.


There are literally dozens of commercial chicken stocks/broths on the market.  Swanson’s (my personal favorite among the lot), Pacific, Kitchen Basics, and Better than Bouillon are a few that come to mind.  Many stores, like Central Market (TX), Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc. will have their own brands as well.  You can find regular, organic, low sodium, and even flavored commercial stocks/broths now.

However, I always recommend one thing when buying stock/broth from the grocery store.  Avoid bouillon like the plague.  It’s little more than tiny blocks of salt with a little artificial flavor enhancement.

As good as some commercial stocks/broths are, there is really nothing to compare to homemade.

Homemade chicken broth is fairly inexpensive, easy, and, best of all, delicious.  You can control the flavor of the stock, make it with all organic ingredients, make it low- or no-sodium.  It’s completely up to you.

The recipe that I’ll be giving you today is for a traditional white (non-roasted) chicken stock.  This means that all of the ingredients are raw when they go into the water.

Now, on to the recipe.


I will preface this recipe by saying that I don’t particularly care for a lot of vegetable flavor in my meat stocks.  I save that for my vegetable stock.  So, I keep the vegetables to a minimum.  Sometimes, I just leave them out altogether.

You don’t need to get fancy about chopping the vegetables for this.  Just make sure they’re peeled and cleaned.  You can simply cut them into large chunks and that will be fine.  In fact, I worked with a lady who would simply break the celery and carrots in half and toss them in.  No muss, no fuss.

Also, I never put salt into my chicken stock.  I do this so I can control the salt in the recipe later.

One more note about the cuts of chicken. Whole chickens are best.  Just be sure to remove the giblets (if there are any) and thoroughly rinse the chicken.  Trim as much of the fat as you can (although natural, free range, and organic chickens will have less fat) and, very important, leave the skin on.  It has a lot of flavor, just like the bones.  I will sometimes use, as I did in this particular instance, chicken thighs either in place of or to enhance the whole chickens.  Dark meat has quite a lot of flavor, so I like to add a few extra thighs in.  I don’t recommend using all white meat because it just doesn’t have the flavor to make a rich stock.  If you’re going to go to all the trouble to make homemade stock, you want it to have flavor. Do NOT use boneless, skinless breasts to make stock.  You may as well use water in your cooking instead.


The ingredients


2 whole chickens, trimmed of most fat, about 8 lbs. total (If the chicken has giblets, discard the liver or use it in another recipe. It will make your stock bitter and cloudy.)


1 whole chicken plus 3 -4 lbs. of chicken thighs

1 med. onion, peeled and chopped

2 med. carrots, peeled and chopped

1 stalk celery, cleaned and chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

1 Bouquet Garni (made with 4 sprigs thyme, 1 sprig rosemary, 2-3 bay leaves, and 1 tsp. whole black peppercorns; you can also include about 10-12 sprigs of parsley)

Cold water to cover (preferably filtered), plus extra if needed


Tied Bouquet Garni

The chopped vegetables and garlic


1.  Rinse the chicken (this will help get rid of some of the impurities as well as anything that might interfere with the flavor) and place it in a large stockpot. (You want one that will hold at least 8 quarts).  Add in the vegetables and bouquet garni.  Add just enough water to cover all the ingredients.

Everything in the pot.


2.  Place the stockpot on medium heat, cover, and slowly heat until you just see bubbles start to break the surface.  As soon as that happens, uncover the stock, turn the heat down to low and gently simmer.  This will help to make a clearer stock as well as give it a deeper flavor in the end.

3.  When you see foam rise to the top of the stock, take a spoon or very fine strainer and skim it off the top.  (The foam basically consists of any dirt , blood, or other impurities in the ingredients. Sounds gross. But, hey, it’s homemade.)

You can just start to see the foam rising to the top. The stock has been cooking for about 20 – 30 minutes at this point.

3.  Continue cooking at a low simmer and skimming off any foam for the next 3 hours.  Add cold water as needed to keep the ingredients covered at all times.

After about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Skim off the foam.


After skimming off the foam.

At approximately 1 1/2 hours.

At approximately 2 hours. At this point, you really won’t see any more foam.

Approximately 2 1/2 hours. Add more water if needed.

At 3 hours. Notice how the ingredients have cooked down.


4.  At this point you can do one of two things: either strain the stock and get it ready for storage; or, store the stock as is, overnight, in the refrigerator.  I tend to do the latter.

Ideally, you can quick-cool the stock by filling your sink full of ice, placing either the stockpot or a bowl with the strained stock in the ice.  Stir frequently until the stock is cooled to room temperature (replenish the melted ice as needed).  At that point, either store the stock overnight in your refrigerator or store it into serving- or recipe-sized portions and put it in the freezer.

However, things are not always ideal.  I will let the stock cool in the stockpot on the stove and then put it into the refrigerator to cool overnight. (Luckily, we have a refrigerator in our outbuilding so I have the room to store a full pot of stock.)

To make sure you cool down the stock safely without the use of a sink full of ice, pour or strain the stock into a large, clean bowl, cool the stock down to room temperature (70F) within 2 hours and then down to 40F within an additional four.  This will help to retard bacterial growth and make a safe stock.  (Invest in an instant-read thermometer.  They’re fairly inexpensive and will take a lot of guesswork out of cooking and checking the temperature on your foods.)

In France, and probably other parts of Europe, stock is left to sit on the stove overnight. I don’t recommend that.

Be sure to cover your stock if you store it overnight.

5.  If you let your stock sit overnight, you can remove any fat that has hardened on top before you store it.  However, if you’ve trimmed the chicken before you started, there shouldn’t be too much fat to worry about.  But, it’s up to you.

Stock after sitting overnight. I left the ingredients in to continue adding flavor. However, if you want to strain the stock before cooling, go ahead.


Ideally, you want your stock to look like, well, jelly.  Meat jelly.  This happens when you have extracted all possible flavor from the ingredients and you have cooked the collagen out of the bones and skin.  It’s what gives the stock a silky mouth feel and richness.

Mmm… Chicken Jelly.  Seriously, this is what you want to see.


6.  If you have already strained your stock and are ready for storage, go ahead and do that.  However, if you’ve store your stock overnight with the ingredients still in the broth, then, you’ll need to reheat the stock over low heat until it just becomes liquid again.

7.  Strain the stock.  I’ll remove many of the large pieces of chicken, vegetables, and the bouquet garni  from the stock before I start to pour out the liquid.  Saves on splashing messes.  Be sure to let the anything you remove from the stock drain thoroughly before discarding them.  Take a large colander and pour the stock through it into a large bowl or clean stockpot.

If you’ve done this right,  the chicken or vegetables won’t have any flavor once you’re done, so they can be discarded.

(Don’t give any of the chicken to your cats, no matter how persistently they beg.  The garlic & onion that’s infused through the stock and into the chicken will make them very ill.)

First straining of the stock.

Stock after the first straining.


Now, at this point, you can do one of three things:  a) stop straining and store the stock; b) you can cook it down a little further to concentrate the flavors as much or as little as you like; or, c) strain the stock a second time to clean it a little more.

I like a richer, clearer stock, so, I went with  (b) & (c).

Take a fine meshed strainer and line it with several layers of cheesecloth (available everywhere) or a flour sack towel.  Place the strainer over a bowl or stockpot and pour the stock through.  This will catch any last bits bone, meat, vegetable, etc. that wasn’t strained the first time around.

Cheesecloth-lined strainer.

Pouring the stock through the cheesecloth.

What’s left after the second straining. A little chicken, a lot of fat. I have literally seen chefs dip bread into this.

My finished stock. Yummy.

8.  I’ll measure my cooled stock into quart-sized zip bags.  It’s almost always the amount I’ll use and that way I’ll only have to take out what I need.  You can measure out however you like; but, I highly recommend portioning it out.

Stock ready for the freezer.


I’m reluctant to give you an exact amount this recipe will make because it’s a little different for everyone.  Because I cooked this down a bit, I ended up with 2 quarts of stock.  However, you could have up to 4 or 5, depending on the size stockpot you used and how much your stock was cooked down.

Always label and date your stock.  It will keep for up to 1 year in the freezer and 3 days in the refrigerator.




p.s.  I’ll be teaching a class on chicken at Central Market, 4001 N. Lamar, in Austin on Friday, August 24.  If you’d like to see more lovely chicken recipes, sign up soon!





Classic Strawberry Jam 1

Posted on August 10, 2012 by Sahar

I enjoy making sweet preserves.  Of course, this catch-all word also includes jams, butters, conserves, and jellies.  Most of the time, I try to use fresh, seasonal, and, if possible, organic fruits.  Because, why not?  That’s when the fruits I choose are at their best.  However, I have used frozen fruit as well (mostly cherries and peaches) and most seem to work just fine.  Especially when I have a craving for peach butter in the middle of winter and don’t already have some on hand from the summer season.

Overall, I just have fun when I make preserves.  It’s a lot of work; but, when done right, the end result is worth it.


The exact origin of preserved fruit remains debated by food historians. However,  jams, jellies and preserves have a rich history and long have been appreciated and loved by generations of happy eaters.

The making of jam and jelly likely began centuries ago in the Middle East, where cane sugar grew naturally. It’s likely that returning Crusaders first introduced jam and jelly to Europe; by the late Middle Ages, jams, jellies and fruit conserves were popular. Especially among the upper class and royalty. (Another example of something good coming from something bad.)

In fact, the word “jelly” comes from the French word “gelée” which means to congeal.

The world’s first known book of recipes, Of Culinary Matters, written by Roman gastronome Marcus Apicius in the 1st Century, includes recipes for fruit preserves.

Marmalade is believed to have been created in 1561 by the physician to Mary, Queen of Scots, when he mixed orange and crushed sugar to keep her seasickness at bay. It has been suggested that the word marmalade derives from the words “Marie est malade” (Mary is sick), but it is far more likely that its origin is from the Portuguese word marmelo for quince.

Marmalades were a kingly delicacy and many a royal sweet tooth demanded an array of fruit flavors rich with sugar. Chroniclers describe at length the magnificent & table groaning feasts of Louis XIV, which always ended with marmalades and jellies served in silver dishes. Each delicacy served at Versailles was made with fruit from the king’s own gardens and greenhouses.

In the United States, early New England settlers preserved fruits with honey, molasses or maple sugar. Pectin extracted from apple parings was used to thicken jellies.

In 1897, Jerome M. Smucker first pressed cider at a mill in Orrville, Ohio. Later, he prepared apple butter too, which he offered in crocks that each bore a hand-signed seal — his personal guarantee of quality.  And, thus, a well-known brand name was born.

A grape jam patent was first issued to Paul Welch in 1917 for the puréeing of grapes. He called the product “Grapelade.” The entire production was purchased by the U.S. Army and shipped to France for consumption by the troops during World War I. When the troops returned to the States after the war, they demanded more of this “Grapelade,” and it was produced in quantity. And many generation of happy children have enjoyed Welch’s Grape Jelly.

The Food and Drug Administration established Standards of Identity for what constitutes jam, jelly, preserves and fruit butters in 1940.

(information from


What is the difference between different types of preserves you ask? Good Question.

Jelly is a clear product generally made by cooking fruit juice with sugar and pectin as a jelling agent and citrus juice (lemon or lime) as an acid to help give it an even firm, even texture.  As a rule, jelly contains no fruit pieces.

Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit cooked with sugar and, sometimes, pectin, and citrus juice (lemon or lime).

Preserves are fruit cooked with sugar to the point where large pieces of fruit are basically suspended in a sugar base.

Marmalade is a soft, usually citrus-based, jelly that includes both the flesh and peel of the fruit in the base. The peel helps give the marmalade its sour/bitter flavor.

Conserve has more than one fruit and also usually includes nuts or raisins or currants.  It is cooked down until very thick and can be used as a spread or like a chutney.

Chutney originated on the Indian Subcontinent. It is generally not served as a spread, like a conserve, its closest Western cousin, but as a condiment. It can range from mild to hot on the spice scale.  It usually consists of chopped fruit, vinegar, spices, and sugar.

Fruit Butter is a fruit puree combines with citrus juice, sugar, and spices.  It is slowly cooked down to a smooth, thick consistency.  It contains no actual butter, however.

Curd is a dairy based spread made with butter, eggs, sugar, and is usually flavored with either citrus, especially lemon, or berries.

Fruit Spread is a relative new comer to the preserve family.  It’s is generally a lower calorie spread made with fruit juice concentrate and/or low-calorie sweeteners as all or partial replacement for sugar.


One of the most important ingredients in making fruit preserves, is pectin.  Pectin is a complex, non-nutritive polysaccharide extracted from apples or citrus fruit. It helps form a gel when combined with the correct amount of acid and sugar.

Essentially, pectin helps forms with water in an acid enviornment.  The added sugar helps the pectin’s ability to gel and effects the texture and consistency of preserves as they set.

Some fruit, such as apples and plums, have enough natural pectin to generally not need any extra pectin added.  Other fruits, such as strawberries and pears, always need added pectin.

You can also make your own pectin from apples.  There are numerous recipes available in books or on the internet.

Classic Pectin. Both powdered and liquid. This is most commonly used type of pectin.

Liquid and powdered pectins are not interchangeable.  Liquid pectin is always added after boiling and not reheated back to a boil but immediately ladled into the sterilized jars. Powdered pectin must be added then boiled for a period of time to activate the gel process.

Instant pectin. It’s used for uncooked freezer or refrigerator jams and jellies.


Low/No sugar pectins. These use calcium powder to start the gelling process. You can use up to 40% less sugar, low calorie sweetener, or honey in place of regular granulated sugar.

Pectin can fail to gel your preserves if it is too old, or under/over-cooked.  Also, if an ingredient, like sugar, is added at the wrong time, it can interfere with the pectin and the jam won’t set up.

On the left, improperly made strawberry jam. I put in the sugar too soon and cooked the jam too long. The pectin failed and the jam never set. One the right, a masterpiece.

There are a few tools that are very helpful when you’re canning.  A wide-mouth funnel, a magnet (for picking up lids out of hot water), a bubble remover/headspace tool, and jar tongs.

The starter kit with all the utensils. It’s fairly inexpensive.

Magnet, funnel, headspace tool, and jar tongs.

If you don’t have these items, you can do some substituting.  Just be sure that whatever you use is non-metallic or a non-reactive metal (i.e. stainless steel) so it doesn’t react with the acid in the preserves. (As a matter of fact, I find a pair of standard tongs with rubber bands wrapped around the ends work better for picking up the 4-oz jars instead of the jar tongs.)


Jars. Gotta have them.  There are 4 standard sizes of jars available to the home canner: 4-oz, 8-oz (1/2 pint), 16-oz (pint), and 32-oz (quart).  The pint and quart sizes are more often used for pickle, vegetable, and whole fruit preserves.  4-oz and 1/2 pint jars are used mostly for jams, jellies, etc.

4-oz and 1/2 pint jars. These are the most common sizes used for jam & jelly making.

When you buy jars, they generally come in a box of 12.  They will contain jars, rims, and lids.

The components of the canning jar. Jar, lid, rim.

When you open the box, inspect the jars carefully.  Make sure there are no cracks in the jars.  If you find any, throw the jar away.  Keep the lid and rim, though, if they’re not damaged.

Jars and rims are reusable if you want to make preserves again.  The lids are not.  The seals on the lids are one-time-use only.  If you want to just use the jar for storage, then you can re-use the lid.  But it can’t be used again for sealing the jar after processing.

There are also 2 sizes of “mouth” on a canning jar: regular and wide.  I generally use regular mouth jars for sweet preserves.

Boxes of regular and wide mouth jar lids. When buying extra lids, be sure you buy the correct size for the type of jar you’re using.

Size comparison.


It’s always good to have an extra box or two of lids on hand.  As I stated above, lids can’t be reused unless you’re going to be using them merely for storage.  Otherwise, the lid must be discarded.

Before starting the canning process, the jars, lids, and rims must be washed in hot, soapy water, rinsed thoroughly, and drained.  This can be done in the dishwasher if you like, but I find it easier to just wash by hand.  Plus, it’s faster.

Clean jars, lids, and rims.


Have a large canning pot, or as I happen to have, a large stock pot, with a jar rack in the bottom.

My well-used jar rack.


Fill the pot with water  (filtered, if you can) and then place the jars in the rack.  Ideally, the jars don’t touch.

Jars ready for sterilizing.


Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil and boil the jars.  Make sure the water is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars.

Most books I’ve seen recommend boiling the jars for anywhere between 1 – 5 minutes.  Me? Once the water is boiling, I just let it boil and leave the jars in.  I’ll add water as I need to.

Place the lids in a small saucepan and cover them with water.  Again, I generally go at least 1″ above the lids.  I bring the water to just the boiling point, turn the heat down, and let the lids sit in barely simmering water.  This sterilizes the lids without melting the seals.  (If the seal melts before it’s placed on the jar, it’s no good.)

Lids in simmering water.

You don’t need to sterilize the rims.  If everything is done properly, they’ll never touch the food.  But, if it makes you feel better, you can sterilize them if you like.


And, finally, a few notes on jam making (and preserves in general):

The USDA doesn’t recommend modifying canning recipes (and NEVER make multiple batches at once; i.e. doubling), since improvising could affect the acidity of your canned goods and create an environment for bacteria to thrive.  But as any cook knows, half of the fun of making a recipe more than once is the tweaking!  There are a few changes that you can make to the recipes, safely, however.

SUGAR:  Feel free to add more or less.  It’s only added for flavor and to help stabilize the shape, set, and color or whatever it is you’re canning.  It’s not added as a preservative.  Keep in mind, though, that insufficient amounts of sugar in jams and fruit spreads will result in runny, dribbly spread, which can sometimes – but not always – be remedied by increasing the cooking time or by adding more pectin.

LEMON or LIME JUICE:  Unless otherwise noted in a recipe, always stick to bottled citrus juices, since fresh can vary in acidity.

HERBS and SPICES: Feel free to play with the amounts of herbs and spices called for in a recipe – it won’t adversely affect the recipe’s pH.

HONEY:  Honey can be substituted for sugar, though keep in mind that it’s not a cup-for-cup conversion, since honey is more dense than granulated sugar.

A few changes to never make:

NEVER decrease the amount of acid, whether vinegar, lime juice, or lemon juice

NEVER substitute vinegar for bottled lemon or lime juice in a recipe, since vinegar is slightly less acidic than the citruses.

(Source: Tart and Sweet, Rodale Books, 2010)


Now, on to the recipe.


The ingredients


4 lbs. strawberries (Always buy extra to take into account bad berries, trimmed out bruises, and from removing the tops)

1/4 c. lemon juice (use bottled; see above)

1 pkg. (6 tbsp.) powdered pectin

6 1/4 c. sugar



1.  Wash, trim, and cut the strawberries in half or quarters, depending on the size.

4 pounds of cleaned, trimmed, and cut strawberries.


Place 1/4 of the strawberries in a large saucepan.  With a potato masher, crush the strawberries.  Continue with the rest of the strawberries, 1/4 at a time. (The strawberries don’t need to be smooth.  A rough crush will do.)

Crushing the strawberries

2.  Add the lemon juice and pectin to the strawberries.

Adding the pectin and lemon juice

Place the saucepan over medium heat and, stirring frequently, bring the berries to a boil.

Boiling strawberries.


3.  Add the sugar and stir constantly until it is dissolved.

Adding the sugar.

4.  Stir frequently until the strawberries come to a boil again.  When the come to a hard boil, stir constantly and boil for 1 minute.

Just after all the sugar is dissolved.

Boiling strawberry jam.


5.  Remove the saucepan from the heat.  Skim off as much of the foam as possible.

Skimming off the foam. Take care not to get any of the hot jam on your skin. It hurts.


6.  Now, it’s time to use your tools.  Take the small saucepan with the lids off the stove and set it close to where you’ll be filling the jars.  Take the canning pot from the heat and carefully, using the jar tongs, remove the jars from the boiling water.  (If you’re using regular tongs with rubber bands, make sure you pick the jars up on the outside. Do not have anything touching the inside of the jar.)  Take care when you pour out the water so that you don’t burn yourself. I like to have a rimmed baking pan lined with a towel to put the jars on as I take them out of the pot.  It makes them easier to carry to where I’m filling the jars and to take them back to the pot for processing.  Leave the jars right side up.

Take a jar and place the funnel on top.  With a ladle (stainless steel is fine. It won’t react with the acid), carefully fill the jar, leaving 1/4″ headspace at the top.

Using the headspace tool to measure 1/4″. Very important that the headspace is correct.


A word on headspace:

During processing (either in a water bath, as this recipe calls for, or a pressure cooker for low acid foods and meats), the heat causes the contents of the jar to expand. Air escapes around the two piece lid.  If there isn’t enough headspace, the food could seep under the lid as it expands. This will interfere with sealing.

After processing, the contents of the jars contract as they cool and the lid is pulled down tight and the jars seals themselves. If you have too much headspace, the processing time specified in the recipe may not be long enough to drive out the air. This can also interfere with proper sealing.

Any canning recipe should specify the headspace, but, generally, use 1 inch for low acid foods (such as vegetables), 1/2 inch for whole fruits, and 1/4 inch for jams, jellies, and most other sweet preserves.


Use the other end of the headspace tool, if needed, to remove any air bubbles.

Now, to help make sure the lid will seal properly, take a damp paper towel, and wipe off the rim of the jar.  Any food on the rim will interfere with the seal.

Cleaning the rim of the jar.

Take the magnet and pick one of the jar lids out of the hot water, shake off the excess water, and carefully place it on top of the jar.

Taking a lid from the water.

Now, take a rim and screw it to finger-tight on the jar.  Don’t make the rim too tight, or air may not escape during processing.  You can tighten the rim once the jar has sealed.

Jar ready for processing.

Continue with the rest of the jars.

Once all the jars are filled, put them back into the canning pot.  Be sure the water level is at least 1″ above the tops of the jars.

Jars all ready for processing.

Cover the pot and bring the water back to a boil.  Once the water is boiling, boil the jars for 10 minutes.  You are now processing the jam.

Once the jam has been processed, take the canning pot off the heat and carefully remove the jars.  Place the jars on racks and let cool.

Strawberry Jam. Fresh from the canner.

The jars can take up to 24 hours to seal.  However, it usually doesn’t take that long.  You’ll know the jars are sealed when the lid becomes concave.  You’ll also hear something like a “ping” when the jar begins to seal.

Once the jar is sealed, you can tighten the rim.

Ideally, let the jars sit for about 24 hours before moving them.  But, as long as you let them sit until they are cool, you should be fine.

If the jar doesn’t seal, put it in the fridge and eat the jam within 2 – 3 weeks.  You can also remove the contents from the jar, wash it and the rim, discard the lid, re-sterilize everything, fill the jar again and process.  It’s up to you.

Be sure to label and date the jars.

Jar labels

You can keep sealed, unopened jam for up to 1 year (recommended).  Once it’s opened, you should eat it within about 3 weeks.

If you find any mold, throw the contents away.  Immediately.  Just a little safety tip.

However, if all was done properly, you should have no issues.





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