Hands up who lost power during Irene? Yep, me too. In a way, we are lucky: given that the combination of NYSEG and Westchester County = power outages at least once a week during winter, we are well-prepared to lose our electricity. We have a gas stovetop, that just requires lighting with a match during a power outage; a propane fireplace to heat the house in cold weather; candles and flashlights a-plenty; and generally a few gallons of water in the garage for extended blackouts. “Extended” meaning more than a few hours: we weren’t quite prepared for two solid days without power. And yet, again, we are the lucky ones: we got electricity back within 48 hours. I have friends who still do not have power, heading into Day 7 post-hurricane.
Hurricane cooking is a strange thing. In some respects, you eat like a king (well, as long as you have some flame to cook with, and trust me: you will pry my gas stove from my cold, dead hands); pricey-yet-delicious Flying Pigs pork chops thawing in the freezer? Better cook ’em up for dinner! Bottle of champagne losing its chill in the fridge? Mimosas for breakfast! In other respects, it leads to strange food combinations and a bit of frontier/camping technique: nothing baked (I had the worst craving for mac & cheese), nothing too messy (definitely not the time for anything deep-fried), nothing requiring too much water (pasta failed the water-return-on-investment test). Also, you need to dive in & out of the fridge or freezer as fast as you can, in order to preserve the precious cold that is in there until the power comes back on. This means you either have to have 1) a very good idea of what is in there, 2) a very good idea of where, exactly, it is, and 3) a plan for what to do with it; or you need to 4) wing it. Hence we had meals such as skillet-toasted bagels with leftover sour cherry-glazed chicken and watermelon chunks; a super cheesey, super bell peppery, super herby frittata; melty ice cream and slightly warm beer; berry-packed jam on a thawed everything bagel; sliced cucumbers with salt. All in all, we ate very well, without resorting to packaged/prepared crap and without letting much of anything spoil.
In the midst of all the interesting meals, rain, wind and candlelight snuggling on the couch, I had a whole bunch of fruit in various stages of decomposition. There were peaches macerating in my slowly-warming fridge; plums about to split open on the counter; berries of all shapes and sizes beginning to thaw in the freezer. I had to do some serious #hurricanning (hattip to Kate for inventing the hashtag!) if I wanted to keep all that luscious fruit from going bad. Luckily, without electricity, phone, TV or internet, there was little else to distract me.
I made peach preserves with smoked paprika and brown sugar, peaches with chardonnay and dried chile, Italian plum jam with poached oranges and cardamom, and a simple, small-batch vampire plum jam with nothing but sugar. It was certainly a bit of a challenge, lining candles up on the backsplash of the stove so I could actually see my pot of jam; washing endless rounds of dishes in a couple of inches of water in a large bowl; blessing my instant-read thermometer as the frozen-plate test was definitely not an option. Yet it was so worth it as I watched the jars line up and knew that every jar represented fruit that would have quickly spoiled in the humid, overly warm, and sticky tropical air. But Irene’s jam? Irene’s jam I made the day after the power came back on.
You see, I didn’t want to open the chest freezer to assess the state of things within: opening it would just hasten the warming process. Likewise I was trying not to open the kitchen freezer, except as necessary to snag melting ice cream for lunch. So I waited until the power came back on and then played a rousing game of Freezer Triage: what was fine and still frozen; what was half-thawed and should be used sooner than later; what was completely thawed and destined for the compost bin. In terms of fruit, everything was still cool, if not half-frozen, and it all went into a big pot with a bunch of sugar: blueberries, cranberries, rhubarb pulp, wild black raspberries, some thawed apple pectin (my ingenious pectin ice cubes are now a Ziploc full of sticky mush); I tossed in a couple of oranges that were softening in the mostly-room-temperature fridge; then Nadine & Kami came to visit and brought over some thawing food from their own freezer, including more blueberries and some red raspberries. Into the witches brew they went! It seems an odd combination: bits & bobs of fruit from various seasons and leftovers from various recipes, thrown together like kids at a freshman mixer and ordered to mingle. Yet mingle they did, and quite nicely I might add: the resulting jam is very tasty, with full-on berry flavor, a nice texture delivered by the rhubarb and pectin, and just a hint of maple sweetness. For a crazy quilt of a hurricane jam, I’ve got to say: Irene, you’re all right.
- 2 lbs blueberries
- 1/2 lb cranberries
- 1/2 lb rhubarb pulp (leftover from rhubeena)
- 1/4 lb red raspberries
- 1/4 lb wild black rasperries
- 1 and 3/4 lbs (3 and 1/2 cups) sugar (organic turbinado)
- zest & juice (about 1 cup) of 2 small oranges (10 oz)
- 1/2 cup apple pectin
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- large pinch salt
- In a large preserving pan, stockpot or Dutch oven, combine all ingredients. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, transfer to a heat-safe bowl, cover and refrigerate (or leave at room temp in a cool spot) overnight. Alternatively, continue cooking to make the jam in one day.
- Prepare canner, jars and lids. Or plan to let finished jam sit in a cool spot, either in the fridge or at room temp, until the power comes back on. The sugar and the cooking down of the berries acts as a preservative, so jam will last for several days, covered, at room temperature.
- Transfer fruit mixture back to the preserving pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; continue to boil briskly, stirring only to prevent sticking. Lower heat if jam begins to stick excessively and use a splatter screen if you have one. Cook jam until it reaches the set point (8 degrees above the boiling point of water, which is often lower than 212 degrees F in stormy/low barometer weather), then ladle into clean, hot jars to 1/4-inch headspace, wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Alternatively, transfer entire batch to a large, heat-safe bowl, allow to cool to room temperature, then cover tightly and store either at room temperature or refrigerated. Do not put hot jam into a refrigerator without power; you will only succeed in raising the temperature in there as the rest of the cold food equalizes with the hot jam.
Yields about 9 cups.
- Stormy weather cooking breeds creativity: it’s unlikely that I would have made a blueberry-cranberry-rhubarb-raspberry-orange-lemon-maple jam on purpose. But the resulting jam is quite nice, with a lovely texture and a bright berry flavor. Don’t be afraid to throw together seemingly strange combinations: you might surprise yourself and discover a new favorite jam.
- This is not the time to make a very low-sugar jam: sugar is a preservative and will help keep the jam shelf stable, even at room temperature, before you are able to either can or refrigerate. Unfortunately, there are no good studies to determine whether or not a natural or local alternative, like honey or maple syrup, can serve the same purpose.
Canned, store in a cool dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated, jam will last for several months. Safe to store at room temperature for at least 1 week.