August 6, 2014

Tony and I are in Japan visiting his family this week, so I left behind this column from my 2005 Second Helpings newsletter for you to enjoy. I’ll have lots to report when we return.

Don’t forget to send me an email about anything noteworthy you consumed on your vacation this summer. When I get back, we’ll swap stories. The reader who sends the best email (describing the most unusual, fabulous or bizarre food) will receive a free copy of my cookbook, “Jane Snow Cooks.” Don’t forget to put “Food” in the subject line of your email.

Dear friends:

If you’re at all mobile, carve out an hour or two for gathering blackberries this summer. Berry picking is food for the soul as well as the body.

Standing in a meadow on a summer morning, with the sun warming your skin while the berries mount in your bucket, is better than a martini for attitude adjustment.

In spite of stepping on a bees’ nest, my outing last week was about perfect. Michele and her newly rescued shepherd, Misty, came along to my favorite picking spot on top of a hill in Northampton (technically Cuyahoga Falls, but I can’t get used to lumping the country with the city). The sky was a cloudless blue and the humidity was at bay. An occasional breeze animated the nodding heads of goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace. The dog rolled in the grass while Michele and I sang silly songs and picked hundreds of fat berries.

In her kitchen, we turned the blackberries into jam, then started on a peck of peaches. Because we’re both watching calories, we made the jams with Splenda. I was skeptical, but the jams taste great.

The color is cloudy, but that’s a fair trade-off for the decrease in calories, which is significant. Our no-sugar jams contain only about 5 calories per tablespoon, compared to about 50 for regular jams. To be safe, the jams must be made with pectin formulated specifically for low-sugar jams.

Michele and I jazzed up the blackberry jam with a splash of brandy, and the peach jam with a pinch of cinnamon. Makes about 3 pints.

NO-SUGAR-NEEDED BLACKBERRY JAM

  •   3 cups ripe blackberries
  •   3/4 cup water
  •   1 box Sure-Jell for Lower Sugar Recipes Fruit Pectin
  •   1 Tbsp. brandy
  •  1/2 cup Splenda granular sugar substitute

Bring boiling-water canner, half full with water, to a simmer. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain jars well before filling.

Float berries in water to wash, then drain well. Place in a large bowl and crush berries. Measure out exactly 3 cups and place in a 6- or 8-quart sauce pot.

Stir in water. Gradually add pectin, stirring until well blended. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Add brandy. Boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in Splenda. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe jar rims and threads. Cover with 2-piece lids. Screw bands tightly. Place jars on elevated rack in canner. Lower rack into canner. (Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Add boiling water, if necessary.) Cover; bring water to gentle boil. Process 10 minutes.

Remove jars and place upright on towel to cool completely. After jars cool, check seals by pressing middle of lid with finger. If lid springs back, lid is not sealed and refrigeration is necessary.

PEACH PASSION JAM

  •   3 cups crushed ripe peaches
  •   3/4 cup water
  •   1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  •   1 box Sure-Jell for Lower Sugar Recipes Fruit Pectin
  •   1/2 cup Splenda granular sugar substitute

Prepare and process jam as described above, adding cinnamon at the same time as water. Makes about 3 pints or 6 half-pints.

Fishing for flavor

When I was at Michele’s making jam, she pulled a tiny tin of sea salt from a cupboard and said, “Smell.” The aroma was lavender-meets-ocean. She promised to get the recipe for the lavender salt from her friend, George Pope. It’s too good not to share. Here’s what George wrote in an e-mail the next day:

“Jane, the ‘recipe’ is just grind dried lavender blooms in a spice or coffee grinder to a fine powder and add it to your favorite sea salt.

“About a tablespoon lavender powder to a half-cup of salt — but really, just to taste. I’ve used everything from kosher salt to French gray coarse-ground sea salt. It’s great on meats, especially beef and lamb, but I’ve used it on everything, including eggs and vegetables.

“A friend in Germany turned me onto this concept, sharing some lavender salt he bought in Italy every year. After looking everywhere, I figured it couldn’t be that difficult to reproduce, and voila.”

George: I love this salt. Thanks for sharing. Those who have never harvested lavender should know to choose tightly closed flower heads. They have more aroma than those that have already bloomed. Or just buy dried lavender buds.

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