Sigh. I tried – I really tried. Following this conversation on Tigress’ blog, regarding my disappointment in the recent purchase of Mes Confitures, Christine Ferber’s famous jam & jelly cookbook, I decided that, in order to give the cookbook a fair shake, I would attempt one of the recipes, as is, without any tweaking from me (you have no idea how hard this is for me). Since I had lots & lots of pumpkin to use up, I decided to try out her Pumpkin with Vanilla recipe: essentially just julienned pumpkin, a little acid from orange and lemon juice, sugar, and vanilla bean.
Typical to many of Ferber’s jam recipes, this one calls for a 2-day maceration of the pumpkin in a mixture of sugar, juices and vanilla. I like this technique, actually; it should ensure that all the of elements of the jam are equilibrated prior to sealing into jars (enhancing safety, especially in a jam with low-acid ingredients), but it also serves to make the pumpkin pieces transluscent and a gorgeous, jewel-toned orange, spectacularly beautiful really – at least in looks. Does it enhance flavor? I have no idea. This jam is way, way, way too sweet for me. Cloying would be a good word. I literally got the bitter-beer face and shuddered when I tried it – my teeth ached instantaneously. Even Mr. Sweettooth declared it “almost too sweet for him” (I love the “almost“) and stated that “all you really taste is ‘sweet’ and ‘vanilla’ – the pumpkin gets lost in all the sugar.” I knew it would be – I mean, 2 pounds of sugar? Sugar is the first ingredient on my label; I don’t buy that crap in the store, so why would I make it at home? I’m mad at myself for going against my better judgement and not cutting the amount of sugar in half (which was my first thought); for convincing myself that I should give the book a fair test, that pumpkin is not as sweet as say, strawberries, so maybe the amount of sugar wouldn’t be so bad, etc., etc. Dumb. Now I’m stuck with a bunch of way-too-sweet jam that I will only use as the base of a marinade (one to which I add lots of vinegar or lemon) and the worst part of it is, I’m not even sure if it is safe to can.
In that Mes Confitures conversation, Tigress and I also lamented the USDA’s position on canning pumpkin: the only safe way to can pumpkin is cubed, in a pressure canner. Therefore no pumpkin jam, jelly, conserve, salsa, or pickle is safe to can at home. Period. So I went on a massive geek fest trying to prove to myself that Mary Anne Dragan’s pumpkin marmalade recipe was safely acidic for water bath canning. While I did a whole lotta math, and the math seemed to show that the recipe was safe for canning, I knew deep down that my ‘formula’ for determining pH was likely bogus; and it was. I failed to take into account that the acidification of onions by lemon juice was not a linear equation: the first 5 mL of added lemon juice produces a much bigger drop in pH than, say, the 25 – 30 mL addition. I also failed to double-check my ‘formula’ against the known data: under my assumptions, 15 mL of lemon juice and 100 g of onions should produce a mixture with a pH of 5.08, when in the actual test, the pH was below 4.0. (So perhaps I have invented an extremely conservative canning safety test – even more conservative than the USDA itself – not very handy. But still leads me to believe that the marmalade recipe is safe to can!) The pumpkin jam recipe, as I made it, yielded a “formula pH” 4.64, and while I know the formula is useless, it still makes me uncomfortable. I would feel better if I had doubled the lemon juice; if 15 mL of lemon juice can safely acidify 100 grams of onions, then 105 mL of lemon juice could safely acidify 700 grams of onions, or pumpkins (assuming equal viscosity/equilibration of all the ingredients). Bottom line? I’m storing this in the fridge.
To top it all off, there was an error in the cookbook, presumably in translation. The net amount of pumpkin called for in the recipe was listed as “2 and 1/4 lb (700 g), net.” Two and 1/4 pounds equals about 1 kg, or 1000 grams. Seven hundred grams equals about 1 and 1/2 lbs. So which to use? Frustration! I chose 700 grams, assuming that the original (gram) quantities were correct, and assuming the lower pumpkin amount would give me a higher acidity overall.
Lastly, following a 10-minute boiling water bath (I was optimistic about room temp storage) – I had a jar fail to seal. Why? No idea. Headspace spot on. Rim crystal clean with no nicks, fleabites, etc. Screwband on just right. Just refused to seal. I think that has happened to me once before in my 3 years of canning. Mme. Ferber is mocking me.
Most people rave about Christine Ferber’s preserves. People travel from far & wide to go to her cute little shop in Alsace. Alain Ducasse has only good things to say. And I will freely admit that I do not have a sweet tooth: I’m forever cutting down the sugar in almost every recipe that contains sugar and many, many commercially-prepared things are too sweet for me (I don’t want to taste sugar in my peanut butter, thank you very much). So, if you don’t have my aversion to le sucre, by all means, try this recipe out. It is a gorgeous jam, and the vanilla aroma is quite lovely. But if you have ever made one of my jams, and enjoyed it, or if you find commercial jams too sweet – you won’t like this jam. Given the proportions of pumpkin to sugar, I think you could easily cut the sugar in half and still have plenty of syrup for a nice jammy texture. Perhaps I’ll start my own line of jams – Ferber Lite. Ooooh, the heresy!
Taken directly from Pumpkin with Vanilla in Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber
Pumpkin Jam with Vanilla Bean
- 1 and 1/2 lb (700 g) pumpkin, cut to a fine julienne (approximately matchstick size)
- juice of 1 lemon (scant 1/4 cup or 50 g)
- 200 mL (200 g, or approx. 7/8 cup) orange juice (from 4 oranges)
- 2 lbs (900 g, 4 and 1/4 cups) sugar
- 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
- Day 1. Chop pumpkin in half; scoop out seeds and stringy flesh (reserve seeds for roasting). Slice into 1-inch sections; trim any stringy interior with a sharp knife, and remove the skin with a vegetable peeler. Slice into fine julienne (matchsticks), taking care to keep the pieces similar in size. Tranfer to a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add lemon and orange juice, sugar and vanilla beans to pumpkin. Stir well to mix and dissolve sugar; cover bowl and macerate fruit overnight in the refrigerator.
- Day 2. Pour macerated fruit into a large stockpot and bring to a simmer over high heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, return to bowl, cover, and refrigerate for another day. Fruit should start to look transluscent and the entire mixture will darken in color.
- Day 3. If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids (see Options for notes on canning safety!). Pour macerated fruit into a preserving pan or large stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally. Skim foam. Continue boiling over high heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove vanilla pods to a small bowl, and trim into jar-sized lengths (you’ll divide these among the jars). Return mixture to a boil and cook until the set point: 220 degrees F (or 8 degrees F higher than boiling water on your thermometer), or wrinkles in the frozen plate test, or sheets off the back of a spoon. Add 1 or 2 pieces of vanilla bean to each hot, sterilized jar and fill with hot jam to 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe rims, affix lids, and allow to set at room temperature before storing in the refrigerator.
Yields about 5 cups.
- I can’t confirm that this recipe is safe to can. Granted, I expect we would hear about it if fans of Christine Ferber’s jams were dropping dead of botulism poisoning; but I can’t help but think that there might be something a little more to her production-scale processes than she has shared with us in her cookbook. As you know, the USDA does not consider any pumpkin preserve safe other than pressure-canned cubes of pumpkin. Even though my pH-o-meter formula is bogus, I still cannot feel good about recommending water-bath canning for this jam; maybe if I doubled the lemon juice (according to the safe-for-onions theory, 105 mL of lemon juice should be enough to safely acidify 700 grams of onions). I recommend refrigeration, but if you must can, I would suggest doubling the amount of lemon juice, just to be on the safe side, and processing for 10 minutes. The original recipe, like all of Ferber’s recipes, simply specifies to fill sterilized jars to the rim, invert, and store at room temperature without processing.
- I found this jam way, way too sweet; cloying is the word. I doubt I will make it again, but maybe someday I’ll try it with half the sugar – or even less, and double the lemon. Maybe.
Canned, in sterilized jars, store refrigerated for several months. Stored refrigerated in un-sterilized jars, use within 2 months. You could likely freeze it indefinitely, but I’m not sure what effect that would have on the set once thawed.
Fall through Winter (and sometimes, on into Spring!).