Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mandarin Orange & Vanilla Bean Jam

'Tis the season for boxes of mandarin oranges to be seen languishing away.  I know I always have a box in my pantry at this time of year, and as much as I swear "this time, I won't let them go bad", I just lose track!
Last week I was given a box for free at the Superstore, you know... those "spend this much get that", incentives.  Normally, to avoid a whole box of oranges from going bad, I try to buy them closer to Christmas, when the house if full of family to help eat them all.  The box I received was already set to turn, some already mushy, and some even moldy(!), there's no way the fruit will last until Christmas, let alone next week, but I wasn't about to turn down "free" food!
You know this of me now, I cannot stand to see food go to waste!  The worst, Jerry.  The worst!
This being the season of giving, how about making a delicious and beautiful batch (check out all those vanilla beans!) of jam to give as Christmas or hostess gifts, or to feed oncoming Christmas company! 

Apples, crab apples, quinces, plums, currants, gooseberries, cranberries, oranges and other citrus fruits, contain high levels of the type of pectin perfect for jelly making.  Soft fruits, like cherries, raspberries, and strawberries, have relatively low pectin levels, and will require a commercial pectin package. 
When using a commercial pectin your jelly mixture will always set, but when relying on the natural pectin in the fruit, it is important to test for the jelly stage.

3 ways to test for the jelly stage are:

1.  The Thermometer test:  The jelling point for jelly is 220F.  Using a candy thermometer would be the most accurate way to test.

2.  The Sheet test:  Using a cold metal spoon (keep it in the freezer), scoop out some of the boiling jelly.  If the mixture has not reached the jelly stage, it will drip drop off the spoon.  If it has successfully reached the jelly stage, it will come off the spoon in a sheet or clump.

3.  The plate test:  drop a Tablespoon or so of the mixture onto a cold plate (keep it in the freezer), return the plate to the freezer for about 1 minute.  Push the spot of jelly with a fork or spoon, if the mixture wrinkles, it's done! 

If the jelly stage is not reached, add a packet of pectin.  No big.

Mandarin Orange & Vanilla Bean Jam

2 lbs mandarin oranges mandarins, well-washed
2 1/2-3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
juice of 2 lemons
package of pectin (optional - if fruit won't jelly)

Finely grate about a tablespoon of zest from your mandarins, then peel all of them, removing as much of the white pith as possible. Cut each mandarin in half around its middle and pick out any seeds. Place into food processor with the zest and remaining ingredients and pulse until well blended and fairly smooth.
Transfer to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 30 minutes, until it sets. Meanwhile, have clean mason jars, and lids in a hot water bath.  Remove vanilla bean, and pour into hot jars, place jars, back in water bath and allow to seal.  Then carefully remove hot sealed jars from pot, and allow to cool.


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