Tuesday, August 31, 2010

End of Summer jam

The real pleasure of cooking is the joy of sharing the results, don’t you agree?

Today in my kitchen I am teaching granddaughters Aidan and Caitlin to use summer bounty to make gifts to share with their teachers for the holidays.

For years, our classes on making and packaging food gifts always sold out weeks in advance. Students would leave with an almost evangelical excitement, eager to prepare and personalize gifts that would be so much more meaningful than purchased ones. My late husband Paul and I even wrote a book on the subject, With Love From Your Kitchen.

One of the most popular recipes from those classes was a shimmering jam we invented one languid summer afternoon when we merged purple-skinned rosy-fleshed plums with dark Jamaican rum and orange rind.

Now, in a different life in a different home, I still cherish my summer ritual of strolling through local farmer’s markets seeking out and tasting the plums or pluots (a cross between plums and apricots) until I find the perfect color and flavor to make this divine concoction.

Then I buy lots and lots to make many batches of this jam, enough to fill and seal at least 100 of the beautiful 8 ½ -ounce Quattro Stagioni canning jars usually available at the Container Store and on Amazon.com. (See Note)

As the holidays approach, I wrap my jam-filled jars in cellophane and ribbons and give them away as gifts.

Plums and pluots are just coming into their perfect ripeness. Even if you've never made jam before, give it a try. Better yet, invite a favorite friend to join you in shopping and chopping, to enjoy jam-making and sharing the results.

My girls will hug themselves for planning ahead when they open the family gift cupboard to see jars stacked there, waiting, like a secret Swiss account, to be withdrawn when just the right moment arrives.

Stirring heartfelt wishes for loved ones into all that is simmering on your stove is your secret ingredient.


For about 16 eight-ounce jars of jam

8 cups pitted and chopped dark-skinned purple plums such as Santa Rosa, or pluots (Flavor King pluots are wonderful)

14 cups sugar

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Grated peel (zest) of 2 large oranges

½ cup Myers’s dark Jamaican rum

Certo liquid fruit pectin (2 packets if using plums, 1 packets for pluots)

Note: I like the one-time use lids that come with the Quattro Stagioni jars, but sometimes use the two-piece lids and ring bands that come with the more common Ball or Kerr brands jars you find in most supermarkets.

If using the two-piece lids, know that the outer ring bands may be used again and again, but the inner lids should be used only once.

Another note: When filling jars, your job will be easiest if you use a wide-mouth canning funnel available at many hardware stores or online.

Wash jars in hot soapy water and rinse; place on a baking sheet and keep warm in a 225 degree oven until ready to fill. Pour boiling water over the jar lids (and rings, if using) and set aside.

Using a small, sharp paring knife, halve the fruits, remove the pits and cut each half into about 8 or 9 cubes. Combine the plums, sugar, lemon juice and orange rind in very large (8 to 10 quart) stainless saucepot. Place over medium-high heat. Heat the mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar, to a rolling boil that you cannot stir down and boil hard for 1 minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the Certo and rum. Skim any foam off the surface; continue to stir and skim for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, ladle the hot jam into the hot jars to within ¼-inch of the top. Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel dipped in the boiled water. Dry with a clean, dry paper towel. Use the tongs to place the lids on the jars and screw the lids or ring bands on tightly. Turn the jars upside down after sealing and set a timer for 30 minutes. Turn right side up, and finish cooling cool. You will hear the jar tops popping as they seal.

When the jars are completely cool, wipe the outside of the jars to clean away any drips. The jars should sparkle (I polish mine with window cleaner to make sure they do).

TO PREPARE IN ADVANCE: Cut up enough plums or pluots and freeze in plastic bags in 8-cup quantities for jam making whenever the mood strikes. Jars of prepared jam, properly sealed, may be stored in a cool, dark, dry place for at least six months and up to a year. Stored in the refrigerator, they will keep indefinitely.


Label the lids of your jam-filled jars with round self-adhesive labels, then wrap in clear cellophane and tie with ribbon. Or, for a country kitchen look, you can tie tiny-print fabric over the top and secure with miniature rickrack.

For a more arty, modern look, you can wet cooking or stationery parchment paper and place it over the top of the jar and secure with a rubber band. When the parchment is dry, use a ribbon to hide the rubber band. The result is a tight, drum-like seal on which you can use colorful markers to write a special greeting.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Vacation bliss

Our very favorite cruise line for elegance and affordability is Celebrity!

You may remember that last October I wrote here about how Ted and I traveled roundtrip aboard Celebrity Solstice from Rome to Santorini, Ephesus, Istanbul and Athens. It would be hard to find a more enjoyable itinerary.

Now we’ve just returned from our second Celebrity cruise, this time aboard their newest ship the Eclipse--a voyage through the Baltics--roundtrip from London to St. Petersburg.

Being tall, Ted and I were both dreading our coach-fare flights roundtrip from Los Angeles to London aboard Continental. We were surprised at how super-comfortable they turned out because we purchased extra legroom seats for $49 each on all three flights by going online within 24 hours of departure.

Another advance arrangement worked well too. Through reservations made online, a driver picked us up at Heathrow airport and drove us through English countryside to the ship in Southampton with a one-hour detour to see the ancient, mystical site of Stonehenge and the little city of Salisbury.

Boarding the ship, we settled comfortably into verandah stateroom 7228, our home for the next two weeks.

Having requested a table for two slightly separated from other tables we were overjoyed to find ourselves dining solo next to a window. The quality of all Celebrity food is excellent and imaginatively presented--like this curried chicken salad served in a pineapple ring:

June is cool in the Baltics, 58-68 degrees, so we put on an extra layer for all our shore excursions and found all the ports fascinating. I have posted already our adventures in Stockholm, and will soon post more on Copenhagen and St. Petersburg as well.

But truthfully, we cherish sea days as much as port days because of the pure leisure, rest, reading time, and nurturing of having all our meals available whenever we desire. Add to that all the luxurious amenities on this latest ship in the Celebrity lineup, including Macintosh classes in the iLounge (Internet room). I attended every class and am now making a photo keepsake album on the new iMac I purchased on our return. In fact, I am so inspired that I am even blogging from my new iPad! Apple technology makes all my work feel like play!

Views from our verandah never darkened because the sun never really set! This is how it looks between 11:30 PM and 2:30 AM:

Here is a page from our trip's photo journal that shows a picturesque farm near Berlin where we feasted on a delicious lunch of grilled bratwurst:

The Eclipse Theater is such a delight every evening we have to remind ourselves we were actually at sea and not some venue in Vegas! I took the amazing photo below with the best camera I've used yet, my tiny Canon digital SD 960 IS that cost less than $250.

We returned so relaxed and well-rested that almost every week since I find myself yearning for just one more sea day aboard the Eclipse!


As I wrote in my last post, I've been teaching my granddaughters how to cook one day a week. I always introduce them to tasting and preparing a new food, so this week it was papaya. Then, I took one of my favorite ship memories and doctored up some Costco chicken salad with curry powder and dried cranberries and toasted almonds. and filled papaya halves with salad, garnished with sliced strawberries and nasturtiums from the garden and some Major Gray mango chutney.