Jams, Jellies, Marmalades, Chutneys, and Pickles

I’ve had inquiries into how i make my preserves, and i have to admit straight off that a learning process has been going on for fifty years and that they keep getting better. Well, except for the accidents.  Practice does not necessarily make perfect, but it sure tends to improve.

On the other hand, we do things for years out of habit, even when we’re not all that satisfied with the results.  Similarly, i’ll be following a procedure that i’ve used for literally decades when suddenly the thought will hit me that a slight modification in technique will yield an equally good or even better result with half the expenditure of effort and time. Just recently i’ve had a couple of aha experiences with my jams and jellies.

For decades I followed the “Waterless Grape or Berry Jelly” recipe that was in every edition of The Joy of Cooking until just a few years ago. And yes, the recipe suggests that you use “slightly underripe” berries and with admirable honesty includes the line, “This doesn’t always work”.

The Beckers tell you that if the jelly fails to set, “nothing but time is lost. Allow one apple and a quarter cup of water to every four cups original fruit used. Cook the apple and water until the apple is soft. Strain off the juice, add it to the unjelled jelly, and recook it as for any other jelly.”

Nothing but time? What the hell am i shortest of? And they neglect to mention that you’ll have to remove all the jelly from the jars and the refill them. And since jellies keep setting as they cool, by the time you’re willing to admit that the stuff hasn’t jelled enough, hours have passed, the utensils are either all crusty or washed and put away, and you are way beyond the jelly-making mood.

Regarding using “slightly underripe” berries, when i am picking my own berries or closely supervising my personal berry picker (Naw, put that one back), i can get underripe berries, but my carefully picked vendors don’t bring underripe berries to market.

So anyhow, for years i turned out jellies that were only marginally set and then in many cases shipped them across the country under the tender care of the USPS whose clerks refuse to promise that they’ll be extra careful not to agitate the box. In fact, they give it a good shake to make sure there’s nothing loose inside, so the jellies arrive liquefied.

I tell myself that well, the taste is more important than the texture, but still i admit that it’s tedious to have to keep your toast level so that the jelly doesn’t run off and that you hate to have to warn people that if they don’t go ahead and eat their jellied toast fast, it will start looking like one of Dali’s watches when they hold it by a corner.

So i did some background processing on this problem and have been experimenting with some new techniques, which i’ve appended to the discussions of the various preserves.  A new ingredient i sometimes add to the jams, jellies, and chutneys is a well chopped, salt-preserved lemon (which you can buy in bulk at Rainbow Grocery in SF).   The bit of salt they add brightens the fruit flavors in the jam, and their pectin helps in setting.

One shortcut before i get into the recipes: instead of steaming up the whole kitchen by boiling the jars and lids, years ago i started just putting them into  the oven and cranking it up to 225 degree (110 Celsius) for a few minutes. I was both flattered and reassured to learn that the famous June Taylor had independently invented the same technique.


For the jams i used to use enough chopped fruit to fill this container that i’d been thinking was a couple of quarts but which i just measured and is more like a couple of liters or five pints.  Now i just buy five-six pounds of fruit and use all of it.  To this i’m adding all but the core of two shredded apples, the juice of three or four lemons, and a quart of white cane sugar. I simmer this until it’s thick enough that it’s threatening to stick and burn if i don’t stir frequently. Then i scoop it into the jars that i’ve had heating in the oven, holding the jars with an old hotpad and immediately screwing the lids on tight so that the lids poink down as they cool.

Note: If you’re using strawberries, you have to watch the pot like a hawk as you’re heating it because they want very badly to boil over and make a hideous mess.  All jams should be watched closely for boilovers, especially at first, but in my experience, no other fruit is so eager to boil over as strawberries.

A late note on the jams: I sometimes use my stick blender on the jams just before jarring them.  Not that total homogeneity is necessarily a plus in jams, and you certainly wouldn’t want to blend a cherry jam.

A later note on the jams:  after reading the section on preserves in Harold McGee’s highly recommended On Food and Cooking, i finally understood that while i could crow that my jams had less sugar than typical jams, if i went ahead and used more sugar they sure would set a lot better.  So i now suggest that you increase the amount of sugar by one half.  You can just eat somewhat less jam. I was also educated by McGee’s discussion of the role of lemon juice in helping the jams set.  Yes, i knew it helped in setting, but hadn’t known i should also increase the amount of lemon juice to three or even four lemons per two-liter batch of jam.  Brightens the flavor and, more importantly, lowers the pH even more so that it helps with setting and also is better at warding off pathogens.  I’m also now adding a finely chopped Moroccan preserved lemon for the salt to brighten up flavors and for the pulp because it contains a lot of pectin.

Once you get all the ingredients in the pot, you can let it rest, covered, overnight while you regather the strength to continue in the morning.  Then just keep the mass at a medium boil until it passes your setting test.  For me, I just watch until the bubbles have got rather larger and are starting to throw some liquid up.  Near the end it is critical to stir frequently and watch for the slighest hint of sticking.  If it burns on the bottom, the cleaning process becomes very tedious.


The only jellies i make are of raspberries, blackberries, and tayberries, and for all of them i use an entire flat (12 boxes) per batch. I shred in two apples and everything but the peel of three lemons, and i use an old potato masher to juice everything up. Bring to a simmer and cook until the bits of apple and lemon are soft and easily mashable. Strain this mass into another pot. I have a large sieve with a mesh just fine enough to catch all but the smallest immature berry seeds, and it fits into the tops of the two pots i use. I switch the sieve back and forth between the pots when the level of the drained liquid nears the bottom of the sieve. I pour off the drained liquid into a measuring container. Toward the end of the draining, i help the process along by some mashing around on the pulp with the wooden stirring spoon although if i were cooking up an entry for the State Fair and wanted maximum clarity i wouldn’t do this.

Measure the strained liquid and bring it to a simmer. Slowly stir in one and one-half times as much white cane sugar and bring the temperature back to the boiling point. I sterilize my quart Pyrex measuring cup along with the jars and pour the hot jelly into it.  I pour the jelly into the hot jars, screw the lids on, and cross my fingers that the jelly sets.

You can steep the strained-out pulp and seeds with white vinegar in big jars for a month or so in the refrigerator and then strain it through a cloth for a delicious berry-flavored vinegar.

Late notes on the jellies: For years i’ve been putting into my jams and jellies the pulp of an apple or two (for the pectin) and the juice of some lemons (to brighten up the taste while lowering the pH). Then it struck me that hey, since i was straining the seeds out of the jellies, i could stop wasting the time to seed and devein the jalapeños that are appearing in more and more of the jellies. And sometime after that i realized that well, i didn’t have to peel the apples, either. And then sometime even later i realized that, hey, why not just put the whole damn shredded apple in there (except for the seeds) since i’m straining everything. And go ahead and use two apples and three or four lemons.

And also, i shuddered to imagine how much time i’d spent painstakingly chopping apples into tiny pieces when it occurred to me that i could use the coarsest side of my square grater to shred an entire apple in about a minute, especially if i wasn’t too fussy about getting an occasional piece of knuckle in there. See, that part also gets strained out.

And then i thought about the lemons. The seeds and membranes in lemons contain a lot of pectin. Why not just cut the lemons in half, squeeze the juice into the pot, and then use a knife to scrape the pulp into the pot since anything that’s not liquid gets strained out?  Alas, you don’t want to use any of the peel since you’re not making a marmalade.

And you know what? My jellies are setting better now.


I have been fortunate to have friends with citrus trees, and from them in season i have got Rangpur limes, Meyer lemons, Ponderosa lemons, and underripe blood oranges, all of which make excellent marmalade.  I’ve also made good marmalades out of Lisbon and Eureka lemons as well as regular old green limes and kumquats.

My friend Carol bought a house on Potrero Hill a number of years ago, and among other trees in the garden was one that every year produced a great many of what she was calling “little bitter oranges” because their color was orange and they were so very sour that they seemed bitter.  After i’d been making marmalade out of them for a couple of years, Liz Crane, manager of the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market, identified them as Rangpur limes. Ha!  I see these in the farmers’ markets rarely, and when I do they’re quite expensive.

The first time Carol gave me some, I went online and looked at a number of marmalade recipes. I followed one that was astonishingly tedious, requiring me to juice the limes, julienne the peel, put the reserved seeds and pulp from the juicing into a cloth bag, cook the whole mess together, and finally squeeze the pectin out of the cloth bag. Then i discovered Molly Watson‘s recipe for Meyer lemon marmalade in the San Francisco Chronicle and converted to it for all my citrus marmalades.

Here’s my take on Ms. Watson’s recipe: Cut 5 lbs. (2.25 kg.) of citrus fruit in half and pick out the seeds. Put the halves flat side down and cut them into thin slices. Put the sliced citrus into a pot with 3 cups (~475ml.) of water and 5 cups (1 kg.) of sugar (rather more for Rangpur limes, Seville oranges, or other extra-sour fruit since you want some sweetness to shine through the sourness, but you can keep tasting as it cooks down). Simmer for an hour and a half or so until you’re getting bigger bubbles and it’s threatening to stick. Ladle it into hot jars and seal immediately.

Warning: Shortly after it starts acting like it wants to stick, it will. And very shortly after that, it burns. And little is more disheartening than having to compost the result of all that expense and effort….and then having to chip away at the burned residue in the pot.

Owing to all that pectin in the pulp, the marmalades will set like concrete after jarring if you let them get thick in the pot, so jar them as soon as you get big bubbles that throw up liquid or use one of the classic tests for jelling.  The marmalade will still seem quite runny at the correct jarring point, and if you let it go a bit too long, the only problem is that it will set so firmly in the jars that it will be sliceable rather than spreadable.  But it will still taste good.

I once whined to Liz Crane about how hard it was for me to nail that perfect moment to stop cooking so that the marmalade is smooth and easily spreadable without being runny or, alternatively, too thick.  I was much relieved when she reassured me that she faced the same problem and, to prove it, gave me a taste of a new marmalade of hers that was just delicious, better than any of mine, and frankly, rather runny.

Late note: As my energy declined, i started taking shortcuts, one of which was to simply throw the seeded citrus into the food processor and give it repeated zaps until it’s reduced to small chunks. Hell of a lot easier than thinly slicing all that fruit, and it tastes just as good, but unless you’re really pressed for time, don’t do this.  Slicing the fruit makes better looking marmalade, gives it a better texture, and makes it seem to taste better whether it actually does or not.

Actually, considering that i’ve simplified Molly Watson’s simplification, i probably shouldn’t even be calling my stuff “marmalade” anymore. How ’bout “marmalam” since it’s really more of a jam?

One final note on marmalades:  if a friend of yours ever gets her lemon tree pruned when there are green lemons on the branches, as my friend Gloria did many years ago in Santa Rosa, get her to save the green lemons so you can make marmalade of them.  Use extra sugar, as they are bitter as well as sour, but oh my goodness, what an exotic and delicious marmalade they make!  On the other hand, after this great success i tried making a marmalade of totally green blood oranges and found it inedible.  Go figure.  But i keep experimenting, and my latest experiment is to get my vendor Erik Olsen (Ken’s grandson) to pick for me some blood oranges shortly before they fully ripen because at that point they make a superb marmalade.  If I live another year, I’ll get him to bring me some underripe mandarins.


In addition to two generous liters or five pounds of the primary fruit, the chutneys include a cored shredded apple (red, yellow, or green), two large onions (red, yellow, or white), and a couple of cups of raisins (red, golden, white, etc). All chutneys also contain a quart of brown sugar, a teaspoon of salt, 1 & 1/3 c. vinegar (white, white wine, apple cider, or fruited balsamic or a combination thereof), two inches of peeled and chopped fresh ginger, and chile powder or red pepper or, ideally, fresh hot peppers to taste, but it’s not chutney if you can’t taste the pepper, people. They are flavored with 2 bay leaves, 1 t. cardamom, 1 t. of cinnamon, 10 cloves, 1 t. cumin, 1 T. fennel seeds or 2 star anise, 1 t. fenugreek, 1 t. mace or nutmeg,  1 T. turmeric, and a tablespoon or three of Patak’s Hot Lime Relish or the mild version, in which case you’d use more chiles. I was backed into a corner about specific pepper quantity and will suggest that for your first batch you try three seeded, deveined, and chopped jalapeños or two whole chopped ones….maybe one less for the New Englanders and other pepperphobes.  Regarding the above spice quantities:  you might consider doubling them.

I went through a phase in which I thought it was nifty to use whole spices because one of my favorite restaurants, Shalimar – a little Pakistani dump in the Tenderloin with delicious food – uses them. Somehow, you feel like you’re getting more bang for your buck when you chomp down on a whole black cardamom lurking in your curried spinach. Having inedible chunks in there somehow makes the chutneys seem more “real” although I’m not sure it makes them taste any better, and this is off-putting enough for many people that i’ve broken down and returned to using powdered herbs and spices…..well, except for the bay leaves, cloves, fennel, fenugreek, and star anise.

And finally, i’ve experimented with making chutneys of  a good many fruits, but none of ’em turned out all that well except for feijoas and, no surprise, mangos since they were the fruit used in the original chutney in India.


I’ve been making pickles for decades, starting with okra in 1976, but the only time i’ve pickled a cucumber was in the early eighties when my friend Gary and i talked a Filipina vendor at the Alemany Farmers Market into bringing to market for us a flat of little bitty ones so we could make cornichons.  Some dickering ensued because, as she pointed out, it’s just as much work to pick a little one as it is a big one, and a full flat of the little ones sure takes a lot of picking.  Our cornichons were delicious and to me tasted as good as the little teeny trés cher imported French ones even though they didn’t look as cute.

And then i started pickling various string beans, which make an excellent substitute for the celery stalk in a Bloody Mary.  From that it was an easy step to snow peas and sugar snap peas, the latter being the most popular of all my pickled beans.

Finally i branched out into Brussels Sprouts, asparagus, and beets, all of which have gone over very well.

What i’ve never done is make fermented pickles.  Shoulda tried that when i had more energy and patience.

I’d been pickling things for many years before i discovered that the traditional pickle recipes call for way too much salt and a one-to-one vinegar/water ratio, which is way too sour.  The pickling liquid that i use for all my pickles except beets now consists of 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar with 1 T. of salt per 3 c. of liquid.

For pickling herbs, i toss into each jar various combinations of dill seeds, celery seeds, and mustard seed.  For about half the jars i slip in a dried Thai chile or, for small jars, half of one since they’re so hot.  The other jars get a long pepper of which there are two main species, Piper longum from India and Piper retrofractum from Java.  I can’t tell the difference for appearance or taste.

Green beans and Brussels sprouts must be cooked al dente before jarring, but pouring the boiling pickling solution into the jar is quite sufficient to cook the asparagus, snow peas, and sugar snaps.

For pickled beets, first cut off the little tail and the skrigglety part at the top where the leaves were and then boil them for 30 minutes to an hour, until the beets are tender but not squishy.  Let cool until you can handle them, then skin and slice the beets, saving the cooking water.  Then in a large saucepan pour in 2 c. of the leftover beet water, 1 c. vinegar and 1/4 c. sugar (which is half the usual amount in beet recipes).  Add 1 t. salt, a cinnamon stick, 2 t. cloves, 2 t. allspice berries, and 2 t. peppercorns or Piper retrofactum (the “long pepper” and boil this  solution for 3 or 4 minutes before pouring it into the sterilized jars full of alternating slices of thinly sliced red onion discs and cooked beets.  Screw the lids on tight.  If there’s not a good seal when the jars cool, just put those jars into the refrigerator.

LATE NOTE ON BEETS:  Having noticed an enormous variation in the amount of sugar in pickled beet recipes, I’ve now started leaving out the sugar in the beets and just telling people to eat the top one and then add the precise amount of sugar that their taste buds require.  Give the jar a shake and put it in the refrigerator to let the added sugar flavor the beets over the next few days.  This practice has been very well received.

Niabell Grape Jam

OK, i’ll do a separate entry for this delight. Sybil and i were shopping at Hamada’s in the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market one Saturday in late summer 2013 and she handed me a big purple grape. Taste this.

I was stunned. Maybe the best grape i ever ate, so i bought a bunch and devoured them over the next couple of days.  And then realized that even though they had tough skins and big seeds, i had to try making a jam.

So i went browsing around for ideas and came up with the following method:  rinse off five pounds of grapes, position two big bowls side by side, grab a bunch of grapes with your right hand and hold it over the right bowl, remove a grape and hold it down in the bowl while squeezing it from the end opposite the stem so that the pulp squirts out into the bowl, and drop the skin into the left bowl.  No need to try to squeeze all the pulp out because the main point is to remove the seeds.  Repeat for all the grapes.  And no, it doesn’t take all that long if you get a rhythm going, especially compared to pitting cherries.

prepping Niabell grapes

Simmer the pulp and seeds until the pulp has broken down and then put the juice and seeds into a sieve and mash around with a spoon until there’s nothing left in the sieve but seeds.  Until i figure out something to do with grape seeds, i’m putting them into the compost.  Umm, better yet, feed ’em to the wildlife.

Late note:  For the second batch, i broke down and bought an Oxo food mill, which sure was a lot easier than mashing pulp through a sieve.

While the pulp is simmering, put the skins into a food processor, puree them well and add them to the seedless pulp and juices.

Add a couple of shredded apples and the juice of a couple of lemons  and cook at a low boil with two quarts of sugar until thickened sufficiently.

Pour into hot jars and seal.  ta da!

And oh, credit where it’s due.  Hamada is the only vendor i know who grows these beauties.  And late note, Hamada is no longer at the Ferry Plaza.

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One Comment

  1. Matte Gray
    Posted 24 January 2014 at 17:00 | Permalink

    In December 2013 i ran into a man at the Noe Valley Farmers’ Market who was asking Liz, the Market Manager, about making marmalade out of naval oranges from his tree. Had a great conversation with him as we put our heads together and suggested he just use my recipe but cut back a bit on the sugar.

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