2012 -- Off to a Delicious Start


Unlike many folks, Robb and I made no plans for New Year's Eve. Large crowded spaces just aren't good for him, and neither is staying up late. We had a lovely night at home. Robb cooked a delicious dinner, and then we both baked this incredible sourdough bittersweet chocolate cake. Clare over at Curbstone Valley Farm mentioned that she had been experimenting with this recipe, and her online friends sat drooling until she posted instructions.

Back before Xmas, I was given some 80-year-old sourdough starter. Amazing stuff, that. To think that families have been continuously cooking with this living bacterial culture is kind of thrilling, if you're a big old dork like me. Robb has been making beautiful breads and pancakes with this stuff. All these things are delightful uses for sourdough.

But cake? Sourdough cake? Pure genius!

Today, after we got home from our Chicken Tourism, I decided to make a batch of persimmon-ginger preserves. Our persimmons are starting to get soft, which means they need to be used up. This jam actually calls for persimmon pulp, the mooshy flesh of an exceptionally ripe fruit. And we're starting to have a lot of that.

This jam was so delicious, that I immediately made a second batch.

The time has come for me to admit that while I understand how to make jams that taste great (at (least to me) and I feel confident in the kitchen safety and hygiene aspects of jam-making, I really don't have a clue about how to work with pectin.

Sometimes my jams gel beautifully, and sometimes they're extremely runny. I'm baffled by my rate of failure. I had thought that I was over-cooking (and thus killing) my pectin, but this batch had pectin added at the very end. Who know? Maybe I under-cooked this pectin. Oh well, this jam is so delicious, I don't care of it runs off of my toast. I'll happily lick it off of my jam-sticky knuckles.

I think I'm going to sign up for a class on jam making, if I can find such a thing. Does anyone have any suggestions, either about where to find a class (I'm thinking about the Institute of Urban Homesteading), or about why I suck at getting a decent texture to my jam?

update: The jam is gelling nicely, after all, although I really can't take any credit for understanding why it is working.


So glad the cake turned out great for you! I hate posting recipes I've only made once, but it was so tasty, I had too! I was soooo tempted to make one for New Year's!

For your jam, I had a little bit of a similar issue this summer. As you know, set is affected by everything, from pectin in fruit, to ripeness (more ripe generally means less natural pectin), and the sugar:pectin ratio in the recipe.

Regardless, being a fellow dork, I rather like Harold McGee's book on "Science and Lore of the Kitchen", and often reach for it when things don't quite turn out the way I expect, or (as with the chocolate cake) I'm trying to make substitutions.

I had a runny olalliberry jam issue this summer. It turned out, according to McGee, I wasn't getting my jam hot enough. Once you're over the boiling point, the increases in temperature during jam making directly correlate to the water:sugar ratio (and thus the set of your jam). Temp increases as water content decreases, and sugar concentration increases. Low water:high sugar = set.

The recipe I used for the berry jam was time based, not temp based. I was terrified of overcooking these berries as they were very ripe when I started, and I didn't want to destroy their berry-like texture. Batch 1, which didn't get hot enough (the runny batch, pre-McGee) is now an amazing sauce for pancakes/ice cream (some mistakes are remarkably edible). Batch 2, after reading through McGee's section on jam making, is actually...well...jam! It's well set, and there are still recognizable berries in there. So, for me, I learned that time-based recipes are missing the point, not all berries are created equal, and jam making goes best when I use a thermometer! All that said, I could probably use a class too :P
Well you sure hit the nail on the head. It was an entirely time-based recipe. So few persimmon recipes, so I wasn't picky. And, indeed, this will make a great fruit sauce.
Anonymous said…
For jam techniques you might try your local Master Food Preservers. Our local chapter shares space with the Master Gardeners at the cooperative extention here in Sacramento.

As far as the jam goes, it may set up it a week. Some are funny like that. But sauce does sound way yummy, especially with sourdough pancakes! Mmmmmm!
~Traveling Garden Gnome
AKA The Mad Hatters
Anonymous said…
Last year Gary and I had a bumper crop of red raspberries. He made preserves and I made jam.

I didn't know that after we made the stuff it was supposed to sit in a cool out of the way spot for 3 weeks to "set". We made our stuff and immediately tried it out, and it was disappointing. Disgusted at all the hard work we did, and unwilling to even look at it to toss it out, I shoved it all away and intended to throw it out about a month later when things slowed down.. When I went about doing this, low and behold, I tasted it again, and the extra time really made a huge difference.

The recipes we tried came from an old book we found in the attic. We used apples as a natural pectin, since commercially available stuff wasnt in this area, apparently.

Mr. H. said…
That sourdough cake sounds and looks wonderful...mmm.:)
Martha said…
I read that you can freeze persimmon pulp for later use. Maybe that would take some pressure off of you.
Noreen said…
The sourdough cake sounds (and looks) wonderful! Quite a gift, to receiver starter that's been at work for 80 years. Wow!
Anne Bonny said…
*sighing* You guys are my hero's! 80-year-old starter, homemade jam, persimmons. Soo Jealous!
Stefaneener said…
Noooo, nooo, not the Institute!

I'd be happy to talk jam to you any time. Happy new year. Now I need to feed that starter and get going on cake. . .
Anonymous said…
I love to read your blog, always something interesting here. I'm too political so I'll just sign Anon.


PS How is the kitten you found? I hope he made it. You are both such special wonderful people. Hugs!
The kitten we found cost us a lot of money and worry, but he's a healthy happy slightly crazy member of our family now. You can read all about his adventures, by searching his name, Smog.
Amber said…
If you end up with really runny jam, just call it syrup and have it on your pancakes =o) That is what my mom did... so yummy!
Ali said…
The GardenWeb Harvest forum is an excellent resource for home preserving of all kinds including jams. Several of the regulars are Master Food Preservers and/or Cooperative Extension Service specialists. They have always been extraordinarily helpful to me when I've had questions. That whole website is actually pretty amazing. You can learn anything from preserving food to understanding mutual funds to building a house.

That said, persimmon syrup sounds amazing.

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