Christine Ferber’s Pumpkin Jam with Vanilla Bean

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

INGREDIENTS

  • 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

METHODS

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

OPTIONS

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

STORE

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.

SEASON

Fall through Winter (and sometimes, on into Spring!).

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25 comments

  1. Tai

    Indeed, Mr. Sweettooth does say that this one tastes like sugar. And sweetness. And vanilla. No pumpkin, no nothing else.

    Too bad, too – it’s gorgeous. Ah, well.

  2. those jars look gorgeous and appetizing. i do have a sweet tooth, but i want to taste my fruit, or in this case pumpkin. huh!? could madame ferber let me down? kaela, your bursting my sufficiently jelled bubble! ;)

  3. local kitchen

    Well, my pumpkin was almost 5 months old, so maybe it wasn’t exactly bursting with pumpkin flavor. But really – I don’t think a fresh-off-the-vine pumpkin would stand a chance against this much sugar. I made a 1:1 marinade with white wine vinegar last night, for a roasted turkey breast, and it was *still* too sweet.

    It does look gorgeous, though, no? If only it weren’t hidden away in the fridge… this one may *force* me to buy a pH meter to test it out!

  4. This is a really interesting post. As I’ve said on my blog I am a little neurotic about this canning thing (so in a way, I don’t mind if the USDA is overkill because at least then I have a little margin!). But I have seen other preserving books that for example talk about preserving under oil at room temperature (flavored oils, namely) which I understand is a big no-no. One of them (whose name escapes me) was also French and also seemed to be a direct translation with absolutely nothing on methodology. Like you say, they aren’t all dropping dead of botulism in France (and I’ve had this conversation many a time with Andrea at Family & Food re Germany). Of course there are cultural differences, but I would think wherever you are on earth, ph is ph!

    In any case, while I do have a sweet tooth, I’d probably come out where you come out on that pumpkin jam. I was looking forward to this post after those tweets yesterday!

  5. local kitchen

    I remember reading somewhere an interesting discussion on wine grapes: that a cooler climate produces a grape with higher acid, and lower sugar, while a warmer climate produces a grape with lower acid (acids are lost through respiration in warm weather) and higher sugar. I don’t know if that translates to other fruits and vegetables, but it would make sense that different regions, not to mention different fruit/veg varieties, would produce differences in pH.

    Since Alsace and the Northeast have a similar climate (in contrast to California) we might be fine, safety-wise, if we consider this climate variation in pH to be valid. And the USDA has to take into consideration the range of fruits & vegetables grown across our entire nation; certainly a range of climates, and the majority of our commercial produce comes from California.

    I don’t really know, but it is all interesting to think about. And it really makes me want at pH meter! Got to get on that.

  6. Jim McNulty

    The other option to lots of lemon juice, is to use citric acid like the big canners do. It packs so much more of an acidifying punch than lemon juice.
    I looked at the recipe, and thought why not add the lemon peel to the mix cut up in little strips like the pumpkin. That would make it more tart also.
    Regards Jim in California

  7. I dunno, but that jam looks spectacular. And I have a total sweet tooth, so I would probably love it. I mean it’s just gorgeous–filled with sun and vanilla flecks. That said, I do love all the time and thought you’ve put into the canning of pumpkin debate. The pumpkin that finally got sacrificed gave it’s life up for something worthwhile, in my opinion. When I first got Mes Confitures, I was a bit deflated in its lack of theory and technique, but was happy with all the gorgeous ideas. I loved the clementine marmalade I made. But really, there were a lot of recipes that I would just not do. And sweet tooth notwithstanding, yes, two pounds of sugar is just insane.

  8. local kitchen

    Hi Jim, and welcome! I agree that lemon peel or citric acid (which I usually use in my tomatoes) would up the acidity and give it some tartness; but I was really trying to stick to the original recipe. The pumpkin marmalade recipe of a few days ago include lemon and orange peel and was quite delicious (although I cut the sugar on that one too).

    @Julia – The jam really is gorgeous; and I must admit, that I am especially sensitive to sugar. I’ve never been a big sweets person (I’m a definite salt-a-holic) but in recent years, since I’ve been eating locally, it tends to make you avoid most processed foods because they’re not local. I think our tastebuds get used to all the sugar we eat, and once we eliminate that stuff from our diet – man, I taste it in EVERYTHING. Peanut butter, bread, salad dressing – these are things that just shouldn’t taste sugary. Well, nothing should taste *sugary*, really – sugar should be like salt – and enhancer, not a flavor all its own.

    That said, even Tai, who will gladly put tablespoons of honey into already-overly-sweet fruit yogurt, says this is too sweet. Even too sweet as a marinade cut 1:1 with vinegar. So, yes – 2 lbs of sugar? Overkill. But very, very French.

    I agree there are some great flavor ideas in Mes Conf; and it’s nice to have a general ratio reference (1 tbsp of herb, or 1 cup of wine, per batch). But I feel perfectly fine in my one attempt to ‘keep faith’ with her recipes; now I’ll go to work tweaking. :)

  9. I do, I am afraid have a bit of a sweet tooth, which works against me. Do you think that tasting this would throw me off of sweet forever? The color is so very beautiful though. Almost enough to make me want to make it just so I can sit the jars on my shelf to look at!

    Great post, glad that you shared.

  10. Tarc

    The problem with straight pH calculations is that the plant cells are essentially little bags of weak buffering systems, and the cell contents do have a significant effect on what one would think would be a pretty easy calculation. The practical answer is startlingly simple: order a roll of pH paper online. I just got a roll of pH 3.5 to 5.5 paper in the blue color range (better to avoid the color of most test materials). Make your goodness for the jar, dilute it in nearly neutral water if necessary (water is a poor buffer, so bottled or RO water (Absopure or Culligan, for instance) is good, but tap is not because of the iron and calcium) to make it clearer so you can read the paper. Dip, wait a tick, and then check the color. Add acid of your choice, wait a few minutes for pH equilibration (remembering that cells are buffer systems), and then test again. And if you use a commercial acid with a set pH, you can just jot the amount required down and use this over an over. Personally, I always go down to pH 4.0 for canning, and make sure to give the mix a few minutes so I know the end product will be that low. Chunky jams will take a bit longer, but the good thing is that you can often adjust the pH before you cook. And hey, I’m going to try this recipe because I have no idea what the phrase ‘too sweet’ means. :P

  11. local kitchen

    Thanks, Tarc, for the pH strip tips. Back in the day, I used to have my own little lab bench with my own lab-grade pH meter; I think I’m just addicted to the numbers. I’ve tried the strips and for me, they are just not accurate enough; I can never tell whether the color is *exactly* the same (yes, I *am* a numbers geek, thank you for asking!). :) One of these days, I will spring for pH meter.

    And as for the too sweet; well, you’ll never know until you try!

  12. Exactly! I tried a strawberry jam from Mes Confitures yesterday, except I subbed basil for mint. I love the technique, but OMG, my teeth hurt from the sugar. (And I *am* a sweet fiend!) Stupidly, I had set a second batch in the fridge to macerate before I finished the first. I dove in and scooped out about half the sugar from the bottom of the bowl, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m also going to hit it with some balsamic.

    So glad I’m not the only one. I’ll go to MC for technique and flavor inspiration, but not proportions from now on!

  13. It *is* a gorgeous jam; my pictures don’t even do it justice. The little matchsticks of pumpkin are translucent and jewel-like in the jam: it’s just way, way, way too sweet for me to eat. Tai’s been having it lately in PB&J’s though….

    I agree – I’ll page through the book for flavor combinations (and relative amounts) but next time will dial WAY back on the sugar and see how it goes.

    As for your already-macerating bowl: maybe you could add more fruit and macerate for another day?

  14. I’ve just looked up the recipe in my copy of Mes Confitures and am puzzled by the quantity of pumpkin. My book states:
    A scant 3 pound (1.1kg) pumpkin or 2 1/4 pounds (700g) net
    Your recipe rightly states that 700g is 1 1/2 lbs. There is something funny going on here. When I read your post my first thought was that something had gone askew in the translation, which from my experience of these things wouldn’t surprise me. I do have an original copy in French at work, so will check what that book says and will report back.
    As you say, Christine Ferber’s combinations of fruits are inspiring. Macerating soft fruits with the sugar before cooking really brings out the strong fruit flavours in my opinion. I consider that the most important thing I have learnt from this book. Once you have the knowledge you can often make up the rest for yourself, which I know may not suit everybody who has forked out a tidy sum for the book. Of course now I’ve joined the ‘canning club’ I have learnt a whole lot of stuff about food safety that was never a consideration for me before.

  15. Robin Blair

    Do you think the net part might mean that you use 1.1kg of whole pumpkin with skin and seeds but after you have cut it up, skun and de-seeded you are left with 700g of pumpkin? I’m not remotely mathematical unfortunately but that just popped into my head after reading Gloria’s post. I’ve really enjoyed reading all this, am currently sitting in a lovely warm autumn evening in Apple Tree Creek (Queensland, Australia) having just finished making Rosellas in Syrup (Wild Hibiscus Flowers or Fleur de Jamaica) very yum in a glass of bubbles and am now contemplating what to do with all the unexpected pumpkins that have popped up in my garden, think I’ll give this a go. Thanks heaps.

  16. Kristen

    OH NO! This is why I should Google a recipe BEFORE I start it, right here.

    Can I ask your help?? I am 2 days into making this recipe – it is macerating in the fridge right now – and I’m due to cook it in an hour or two; but I am realizing that I used the larger, incorrect measurement in pounds for the pumpkin! It didn’t even dawn on me to double-check the translation from grams to pounds. What’s more, it’s a double batch – I always double the Ferber recipes because her yield is typically so tiny – but I think I might be ending up with 12-14 jars that I would have to refrigerate and couldn’t send as gifts, yikes!

    Issues of sweetness aside, do you think I could add A LOT more lemon juice at this point – just before cooking, without the additional maceration time, and get a PH that wouldn’t leave it liable to kill everyone who eats it? I had really hoped that I would not have to refrigerate this jam – I’ve been planning to mail it out as Christmas presents – but I don’t want to give the gift of botulism, either.

    The recipe as written is 700 g pumpkin to 75 ml lemon juice (1 lemon) – or about 1000 g pumpkin to 110 ml lemon juice. If I up it to 225 ml lemon juice (3 lemons) per 1000 g pumpkin, can I leave this on the shelf without freaking about it? At least for as long as it takes to ship it cross-country? Unfortunately I have no access to anywhere I could buy PH paper today, otherwise I’d grab some and go crazy. Please advise if you see this – thank you so much for your help!

  17. Hi Kristen,

    You are not alone – I look before I leap ALL the time. :)

    Of course, I can’t offer you any guarantees, but my guess is that with 225 mL of lemon juice this would be safe (especially if you tell people to store refrigerated, just to be on the safe side). According to my (admittedly bogus) safe-for onions theory, 140 mL of lemon juice would safely acidify 1000 g of pumpkin, so 225 mL gives you plenty of margin for error. Also, recently I’ve been thinking more about the fact that it could be the large amount of sugar in Ferber jams that is protective; recipes for fig jam, without any added acid, abound on the Internet, but the sugar amount is VERY high. I’ve read a theory that a very high amount of sugar protects from botulism by essentially removing any available water from the jam (botulism toxin need water to reproduce). For comparison, my pumpkin marmalade uses 2 lemons, 2 oranges and 3/4 cups orange juice; I’ve stored that since the Spring and have eaten it without issue.

    So, a long-winded way of saying, I *think* you’d be safe with that amount. But I would probably tell friends to store it in the fridge as soon as they receive it. to be on the safe side.

    Hope that helps!

  18. Kristen

    Thank you SO MUCH! I really appreciate the advice from someone who knows their way around the canning pot a little better than I do. I’ll proceed with the 225 ml/1000g and just tell people to pop it in the fridge when it arrives.

    And also, thanks for the dinner suggestion I got from paddling around your wonderful blog just now. Bacon and cauliflower… two great tastes that go great together; why didn’t I think of that before?

  19. OMG this is a lot of work to peel and prep the pumpkin. I decided to try it simply because it is intriguing. My pumpkin was about 2.5 pounds unpeeled and still seeded so I used about 3/4 of it. I did use the amount of orange and lemon juice you have posted. But I only put in 2 cups of sugar. I will check the sugar tomorrow to see how it stands on the sweet scale. I have a few friends who are willing to try it. I decided to be up front about the USDA stand on pumpkin and asked several friends if they would be willing to try it. All said they would. So I will see how mine turns out with only 2 cups of sugar. And I used vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla beans.

  20. Kathryn

    I’m a little late to the party here, and I too wish I’d read this blog post first. I just tried Ferber’s Pear with Vanilla… same thing. It tastes like sugar and vanilla, and that is pretty much it. No subtlety at all. It’s not bad, exactly, it just tastes like candy in a jar which is not really what I was going for. The pears I used were quite fresh, from a local farm, so I’m sorry to be missing their flavor. I’m already thinking of alternate ways to use it, and I think it might actually be lovely as a glaze for a fruit tart, if you don’t mind the bits of pear. If you did create some “Ferber Lite” recipes, I for one would be a big fan!

    • Hi Kathryn,

      I’ve adapted Ferber’s basic jam method to many preserves since then, all with substantially less sugar: search “Ferber” on the blog and you should come up with quite a list. Also, with my too-sweet pumpkin jam I made a grilled chicken glaze that was quite a hit. I often will add some sort of vinegar to an overly sweet jam to make a meat glaze or salad dressing – it works surprisingly well.

      Hope your next pear adventure works out better!
      Kaela

  21. Pingback: This week’s Pumpkinrot Links » Magic and Dreams and Good Madness

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