A couple of years ago, I wrote about how inspired I was by a woman in Oakland, CA who had a little toast and jam business going, turning the front room of a pizza place into a cafe during the morning hours when it's usually closed. That woman's name is Rachel Saunders and since then she's grown her jam business considerably, offering about 100 seasonal flavors a year and expanding into retail markets all over the Bay Area. Amazingly, she also found the time to write a cookbook. So while I was expecting to like this cookbook, I was a little surprised by how much I really, really like it. Read on for my review and for a great tip on how to can your jam without boiling up a big pot of water!
Title & Publisher: The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, by Rachel Saunders with photographs by Sara Remington. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC, 2010.
First impressions: Wow. This is a BIG book, weighing in at 372 pages. It's a hard cover, with a nice matte textured dust jacket and a sturdy sewn binding that helps the pages to stay flat when opened. The book is divided into three main sections, with bibliography, sources and an index in the end.
There's a very extensive introduction section that tells the story of Blue Chair Fruit and offers excellent definitions of the words 'jam', 'jelly' and 'marmalade.' Also very interesting is a section on fruit which covers such topics as seasonality, ripeness, sweetness and sourness/bitterness, texture, and perfume.
Finally there's several pages on preserving itself, with an emphasis on process and equipment. What really makes this shine are Sara Remington's photographs that show the several stages a pot of jam goes through as it cooks down. This is done for both low-sugar and high-sugar jams as well as marmalades. Another bonus is Ms. Saunders method for testing doneness, which involves placing several spoons in the freezer and using them to cool off a small amount of jam to check for firmness and texture.
Number of recipes: About 120, fittingly arranged by season. From deep winter offerings of bergamot and grapefruit to the splendid glut in high summer and on to the quince and cranberry of autumn, this book sings with the sensuous pleasure of ripe, luscious fruit. The book ends with an alphabetical listing of fruits, explaining their season, varietals and good pairings.
Great Tip: Don't mess with large vats of boiling water to preserve your jams, jellies and marmalades! Simple heat the jars and lids in a 250 oven for 30 minutes, remove, fill and cap, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Voilà!
Recipes for right now: Elderberry-Orange Marmalade, Pear Jam with Rosemary & Pine, Citron Shred, Cranberry-Orange Marmalade, Italian Prune & Cardamom Conserve
Recommended? Oh yes! This book is in my top five for holiday gift giving this year. I can see pairing it with a set of pretty canning jars or, if your pockets are deep enough, one of the gorgeous all-copper kettles Ms. Saunders recommends for jam cooking. But I'm definitely, greedily keeping a copy for myself. I know this is just the push I need to experiment with marmalades this winter ... and strawberry-kumquat jam this spring ... oh, and it's for sure going to be a better summer for Bleinheim apricots next year ... but meanwhile, that Quince and Candied Ginger Jam recipe cannot be ignored much longer!
• Buy the book: The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders, $22.15 (Amazon)
(Images: Dana Velden)