Category Archives: Preserves

Kim Chi

Homemade kim chiKim chi is an ace up the sleeve, delivering instant, intense flavour to bland ingredients like rice, flour, and eggs.  And unlike most condiments that pack that kind of punch – things like hot sauce or fish sauce – kim chi is quite wholesome.

Kim chi fascinates me because it is simultaneously very similar to and wildly different from a preparation that I am much more familiar with: sauerkraut.  Both are ostensibly fermented cabbage, but where sauerkraut is thinly sliced and acidic, with an almost floral, yeasty aroma, kim chi is chunky, salty, often burn-your-face-off spicy, with something of a fishy aroma.  Sometimes, amazingly, it is also effervescent.

Sauerkraut is made with European-type cabbages like savoy.  The relatively low salt content (I use 1.89% salt) and the relatively warm fermentation temperature (15-20°C) favour both the acid-producing bacteria as well as the aroma-producing yeasts that give sauerkraut its characteristic flavours.

Kimchi can be made with any vegetable, though nappa cabbage is by far the most common.  It almost always has other vegetables mixed in, things like daikon, green onion, and carrot.  A relatively high salt content (~3%) and relatively cool fermentation temperature (4-10°C) favour gas-producing bacteria that give kim chi its subtle effervescence.

While every crock of sauerkraut is a little different, there are really only a few ways that styles of sauerkraut differ from one another.  Kim chi is a much more complicated and variable preparation, and when I first undertook its production it made my head swim.

Like many white kids my age, I owe a lot of my knowledge and appreciation of many Asian preparations to David Chang.  The kim chi recipe in his Momofuku Cookbook is the first I ever made.  It is a frustrating recipe as it uses very imprecise measures (“one small to medium head cabbage”) and so can have quite inconsistent outcomes.  My other beef with the recipe is that it is incredibly sweet, with sugar being the most important ingredient after cabbage, about 12% of the weight of the cabbage by my measurement.

So starting with the Chang recipe I made several iterations week after week as my mother-in-law continued to bring me heads of nappa cabbage from her garden.  By the fifth iteration I had a pickle I was quite happy with.  This is how I answered some of the many questions that came up.

What vegetables to use in kim chi?

I came to realize that a major contributor to the flavour that I expect from kim chi, the funky part, is more from daikon than it is from fermentation.  So in addition to nappa cabbage I use daikon.  Green onion is essential for the flavour I was seeking, plus it’s a good pop of green in the sea of fiery red.  I also appreciate the visual contrast and crunch provided by carrot.

How to achieve 3% salt content?

One of the most important things I wanted to do with my recipe is dial in the salt content so that I knew exactly how many grams of salt to add per kilo of vegetables.  In On Food and Cooking Harold McGee says kim chi should be about 3% salt by weight.  The tricky bit is that we’re using kosher salt and fish sauce, which is extremely salty.  I decided to take the kosher salt quantity from my sauerkraut recipe, then add the fish sauce on top of that.

Should l use sugar in kim chi?

My main problem with the Chang recipe is that it’s way too sweet.  I plan to eat large amounts of kim chi, and want to feel good about it, so I entirely removed white sugar from my recipe.  There is some sugar in the fish sauce, so the kim chi is not entirely devoid of sweetness.

Do you really need to use gochugaru, Korean chili?

In a word: yes.

I was extremely skeptical of the websites that say you absolutely must use gochugaru to make kim chi.  I figured it was a bit like a website telling you that you need to use Italian olive oil to make proper pasta: just a bit of pretension.  Turns out they are more or less correct.

Gochugaru is quite different than North American chili flakes, mainly in that all the seeds of the pepper have been removed.  The flavour is very fruity, and a touch smoky.  As the seeds and surrounding membrane are a major source of capsaicin, Korean gochugaru is actually not as hot as chili flakes, which means you can add a lot of it before the mixture gets too spicy.  This is good because it gives the kim chi a vibrant red colour.  The other important difference is that gochugaru is ground to a consistency finer than chili flakes, but coarser than chili powder.

I made several batches with standard North American chili flakes.  They were all tasty, but did not really have the real flavour and red-stained brilliance of true kim chi.

What fish sauce to use?

This is one component that I haven’t play around with yet.  I had a bottle of Squid Brand Fish Sauce in my fridge, so that’s what I used in all my experiments.  It’s likely that different brands have different concentrations of salt and sugar and may require adjustments to the recipe.


Kim Chi Recipe

I chose to write my kim chi recipe as a baker’s formula.  I distinguish between two types of ingredient: the vegetables and the flavouring agents.  When added up the vegetables total 100%, like the flour in a baker’s formula.

Kim Chi
from scratch

A plate of crispy kim chi pancakes

Crispy kim chi pancakes with sesame and green onion.


  • 87.89% nappa cabbage, cut into strips about 1″ broad and 2-3″ long
  • 7.29% daikon, cut into thin half moons
  • 3.30% green onion, sliced into 2″ lengths
  • 1.52% carrot, julienne
  • 1.89% kosher salt
  • 7.12% fish sauce
  • 3.43% fresh garlic, finely minced in a food processor
  • 3.43% fresh ginger, finely minced in a food processor
  • 1.36% gochugaru


  1. Combine cabbage, daikon, green onion, and carrot.  Toss with salt.  Cover and let stand at a cool room temperature overnight.
  2. Meanwhile, combine the fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and gochugaru.
  3. The next morning, press the vegetables and strain off the liquid that has pooled at the bottom of the container.
  4. Add the chili mixture to the vegetables and mix thoroughly.  Cover and let stand at a cool room temperature for 48-72 hours.
  5. Transfer to the refrigerator.  After about two weeks a tanginess will have developed.
  6. Store tightly covered in the fridge.


This post was originally published on September 17, 2013.  I’m re-posting it todayfor those that attended my session at Eat Alberta 2017.


Shredding cabbage to make sauerkrautKraut is German for “herb”.  It was also a derogatory term for Germans during the Second World War.  Sauerkraut means “sour herb”, or possibly “German curmudgeon”.  Why this preparation would be called sour herb I have no idea.

Ukrainian, Russian and several other eastern European languages use the word kapusta to refer to fresh cabbage, cured cabbage, and various dishes made with one or both of those.

Sauerkraut is a miracle preparation.  Cabbage and salt.  That’s it.  Somehow liquid appears from thin air and submerges the cabbage.  Over a few weeks, though neither cabbage nor salt are acidic, the mixture develops a piquant tanginess.

I had never eaten sauerkraut before moving to Alberta when I was a teenager, unless maybe once I accidentally got it on a hot dog at a baseball park.  In Edmonton there seems to be a house every couple of blocks that has a big crock of sauerkraut in the basement.  I first learned the process from Yolande at Tipi Creek.

While I’ve made sauerkraut a few times over the past couple years, this was the first year that I went all in and filled a 10 gallon crock.  The ever-resourceful Judy had found us an old Medalta[1] crock, as well as a wooden cabbage shredder, pictured above.  The latter is basically a mandolin with three sets of serrated blades that make quick work of a trimmed, quartered cabbage.  The last piece of the puzzle fell into place on a balmy Saturday morning when I saw that August Organics was selling 50 lb bags of cabbage for $25.

The freshly sliced cabbage, about to be mixed with salt35 lbs of shredded cabbage had the crock brimming, though the volume falls by more than half once the salt is worked in.

The specifics of the preparation are discussed below.



  • 100% cabbage, thinly sliced, roughly 1/16″ wide and  2″ long
  • 1.89% kosher salt
  • optional: spice, usually either caraway or juniper, to taste

The percentages above are equivalent to 18.5 g of salt per kilo of cabbage, or roughly 3 tbsp of kosher salt for every 5 lbs of cabbage.


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bucket or crock.  Let stand for one hour, then mix vigorously until liquid is pooling on the bottom of the container.  (Letting the mixture stand for an hour makes the mixing and liquid extraction easier; you can proceed directly to the mixing, but you’ll have to work harder to get the liquid from the cabbage.)
  2. Once there is enough liquid, use a plate that is slightly smaller in diameter than the bucket to cover the cabbage.  Weigh the plate down (a smaller bucket filled with water works well) until the cabbage is submerged in liquid.  Cover the entire operation in a kitchen towel and secure with an elastic band.  Store at a cool room temperature, maybe 18-20°C.  Most basements are this temperature.
  3. A white scum will slowly form on the surface of the liquid.  For the first week or two, skim the surface every day.  Afterwards, skim whenever you remember that you have a crock of sauerkraut curing in your basement.
  4. After three weeks, starting tasting periodically.  The sauerkraut is done when it has a sharp-but-manageable acidity.

A jar of sauerkraut


1. Medalta, short for Medicine Hat Alberta, was once a large ceramics factory in that town.  They produced plain but distinctive pottery that can still be seen in kitchens and flea markets across the province.  One advantage of setting up such a factory in Medicine Hat was the large oil and gas reserves that could cheaply fire the kilns.  In fact it has been said that Medicine Hat has all hell for a basement.[2]  The site of the old factory is now a historic district housing modern ceramics studios and a museum.

2. Most know this phrase from the Big Sugar song All Hell for a Basement.  When that song was first played on the radio, my cousins in Ontario started asking if we had basements out in Alberta or what the deal was.  The song is actually the ballad of an itinerant worker moving to Alberta to find work.  Big Sugar is quoting Rudyard Kipling, who when touring southern Alberta, wrote, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat.”

The Big Sugar line is: I have lost my way / But I hear tell / Of a heaven in Alberta / Where they’ve got all hell for a basement.

Great lyrics…

Quick Pickles

Quick-pickled cucumbers, carrots, and beets.Quick-pickling is simply cooking vegetables in vinegar, in contrast to traditional pickling methods that require fermentation or canning.  Quick pickling is generally done to small pieces of vegetable, such as sliced onion or carrot, as opposed to large pieces like whole cucumbers.  The cut vegetables, raw or par-cooked, are exposed to a hot brine of vinegar, sugar, and salt, then left to infuse for a greater or lesser amount of time depending on the vegetable and how it has been cut.  Since the vegetables have not been fermented or extensively heat-treated, the pickles are not shelf-stable and need to be stored in the fridge. The specific process changes from vegetable to vegetable, but I always use the following recipe for the pickling liquid:

Quick Pickle


  • 500 g water
  • 500 g sugar
  • 625 g vinegar
  • 30 g kosher salt

There were four quick pickles on the Eat Alberta tasting board: carrots, beets, and cucumbers, as well as the red onion garnishing the whitefish salad.

Quick Pickled Carrots. For vegetables that are tender and mild enough to eat raw the goal of quick-pickling is to sufficiently acidify the vegetables without cooking out their satisfying crunch.  Examples of such vegetables include carrots, bell peppers, cauliflower, and radish.  The process is simple:

  • Combine the water, sugar, vinegar, and salt in a medium pot.  Heat and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
  • Add the sliced vegetables.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, then immediately remove from the heat and let stand at room temperature to infuse.
  • The exact infusion time will depend on how the vegetables were cut.  Very slender strips of vegetable should be sufficiently acidified by the time the pickling liquid reaches a simmer that they can be strained immediately.  Thick-cut vegetables can sit in the hot pickling liquid for several hours, or overnight.

Quick Pickled Beets. Some vegetables, like beets, need to be cooked before being quick-pickled.

  • Cover the beets with foil and roast in a 425°F oven until tender when pierced with a fork.  Peel the beets and discard the skins.
  • Combine the water, sugar, vinegar, and salt in a medium pot.  Heat and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
  • Add the beets.  Bring the mixture to a simmer, then remove from the heat and let stand several hours.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers. The pigment in green vegetables is especially volatile, and becomes drab when heated.  For this reason I often “cold pickle” green vegetables like cucumbers, green beans, and asparagus.

  • Combine the water, sugar, vinegar, and salt in a medium pot.  Heat and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved.  Chill the mixture thoroughly.
  • Pour the chilled pickling liquid over the sliced cucumbers and refrigerate for 48 hours.

Pickled Red Onion. Pickled onion is a great garnish for canapés and charcuterie boards.  Pickled red onions are often made with red wine or red wine vinegar to reinforce the natural purple of the vegetable.  I only use cider vinegar in my kitchen, so for vibrant pickled red onions I re-use the pickling liquid leftover from beets.  This is what makes my pickled red onions a deep, electric fuchsia.

  • Reserve the pickling liquid from the quick-pickled beets.
  • Add sliced red onion to the pickling liquid.  Heat in a medium pot.  Once the mixture reaches a simmer, kill the heat and strain off the onions.

Buffalo Jerky

This post was originally published on December 3, 2010.  Re-posted today for Eat Alberta.  I chose buffalo jerky for this year’s Eat Alberta tasting board because of the significant role that similar preparations played in the history of this province.  Please read The Story of the Buffalo for more information.

Strips of bison jerkyJerky is my nominee for best representation of southern Alberta by a single food preparation.  This is partly because of its historical connection to the buffalo hunt and ranching, but also because it takes advantage of the arid landscape.  In dry regions jerky can safely be made on hot days, when the temperature is around 30°C, simply by leaving the sliced meat to hang outside.[1]

What Meat to Use.  Buffalo can be purchased at most farmers’ markets in Edmonton.  My preferred producers are First Nature Farms and Thundering Ground at the Strathcona Market, and Medicine Man at the City Centre Market.  

You should use a very lean cut of meat from the hip (butcher-speak for the hind leg).  The cuts from the hip are the inside round, eye of round, outside round, and sirloin tip.  I find that sirloin tip is the most commonly available.

Clean and Slice the Meat.  Silverskin, the lustrous sheet of connective tissue that surrounds individual muscles, is the enemy of tender jerky, so remove as much as you can.  Slice the lean meat across the grain into strips about 1/8″ thick.  It goes without saying that this task is best performed with a commercial meat slicer.  Whether you’re using a knife or a fancy slicer, you’ll get more even, consistent slices if the meat is partially frozen.

Lightly Cure the Meat.   It’s worth noting that the dried-meat made by Plains Indians before European contact was not salted.  Modern jerky is always salted before drying as it helps protect the surface of the meat from pathogens during the drying process.

I’ve included a very basic recipe below.  I think the evergreen flavours of juniper, rosemary, and Labrador tea go especially well with buffalo. Cover the mixture and keep it in the fridge for 24-48 hours.

Basic Jerky Cure

  • 100% lean buffalo meat, cut into 1/8″ slices
  • 2% kosher salt
  • 1% minced garlic
  • 0.5% crushed juniper
  • 0.5% chopped rosemary
  • 0.2% fresh cracked black pepper

Drying Techniques.  To make jerky properly, it’s important that you don’t cook the meat.  I’ve tried the completely passive jerky technique here in Edmonton, but my meat molded before it dried (it was an overcast day, and only about 20°C: I should have known better…) For consistent results, I’ve since used a heat source like a low oven, a food dehydrator, or a barbecue.  The barbecue is good because you can introduce a bit of smoke using this simple technique.  The Plains Indians and Métis often use smoke to flavour their dried meat. Traditionally a hole was dug and a low fire kindled within. Scaffolding was erected over the hole, and strips of meat were hung until dry (crude drawing at right…)[2] At first I was skeptical about whether I would be able to smoke the meat on my barbecue and maintain a low enough temperature, but with the hood propped open about a foot I was able to keep the temperature just under 40°C while letting the smoke linger around the meat.

Strictly speaking, the jerky isn’t done until the meat is completely dry and very hard and brittle. At this point there is no moisture for microbes, and the meat can be kept safely at room temperature.  That being said, if you can pull the meat just, just before it is entirely brittle, you’ll find that the flesh is luxurious and smooth and chewy.

Buffalo jerky



1. Ruhlman, Michael. Charcuterie. ©2005 WW Norton and Company Inc, New York, NY. Page 65. He elaborates on jerky’s connection to ranching, and its usefulness as a preservation technique, on his blog, in this post.
2. This set-up, and other interesting information on frontier life on the prairies, is from: Thomas, Dorine. Rubaboo. ©1981 Pemmican Publications, Winnipeg, MB.

Sour Cabbage Heads

A homemade sour cabbage headThis happy fellow at left is a sour cabbage head, sauerkraut in whole-cabbage form.

You can make sour cabbage heads simply by burying little cabbages throughout your sauerkraut crock after you have liberally salted and mixed your shredded cabbage.  The mass ferments together, and at the appointed time you can prod through the conventional sauerkraut til you find the whole heads of cured cabbage.  It’s rather like an Easter egg hunt only with more lactobacillus.

It didn’t cross my mind to make sour cabbage heads this season until about a month after I had started my large crock of kraut.  Lisa had bought some pretty little savoy cabbages.  I stole one.  Then I dug a deep well into the centre of the dense, wet, tangled mass of kraut.  I planted my cabbage head in the bottom, then back-filled the hole.

Today, a month or two later, I fished the cabbage from the crock.

The most common use of cabbages cured in this manner is to snap off the whole leaves and make them into sour cabbage rolls.

When making cabbage rolls with sour cabbage leaves I forgo the tomato sauce and instead use mushroom cream sauce.  Not sure what the traditions are, but the sour cabbage leaves don’t need any supporting acidity.

Relish – The Post-Pickle Blitz

Chopped vegetables, for piccalilliThe following post is either going to blow your mind or convince you that I’m stupid.

I don’t eat a lot of relish, but every now and then it goes well with charcuterie, or maybe a steamed wiener on a sweet white bun.  For the past few years I’ve been trying to make relish and other condiments like piccalilli by chopping up a bunch of vegetables and canning them with a sweet and sour pickling liquid.  I haven’t been entirely happy with the results.  Maybe I chopped the cucumbers too coarsely, and the condiment didn’t have the semi-fluid, spreadable consistency I was looking for.  Or perhaps, since the chopped vegetables have to be completely submerged in the pickling liquid for safe canning, the relish was too soupy and had to be pressed before eating.

I’ve always thought of relish as chopped cucumbers that are pickled.  Then I realized – and this is the potentially “stupid” part – that it could just as easily be pickled cucumbers that are then chopped.  I love the idea of only pickling whole or mostly whole vegetables, then blitzing them in a food processor to make a spread.  Here are some of the benefits I see to this method:

  1. Whole or mostly whole vegetables retain better crunch through the canning process, so they make for a spread with more structure and texture.
  2. It’s much, much faster to can large pieces of veg.
  3. By blitzing the pickles at the last minute, condiments can be tailored to fit the dish.  If you put up some dill pickles, a few jars of pickled zucchini, some pickled peppers, onions, and garlic, then you can combine them into any number of piccalilli-masterpieces throughout the winter.

Maybe this is how everyone makes relish and I only just clued in.  At any rate, next year’s pickle pantry is going to look a lot different than this year’s.



  • 2 cups dill pickle
  • 1.5 cups pickled bell pepper
  • 0.5 cups raw onion
  • 0.5 cup grainy Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt

Onion Jam

"Cheese and Crackers": Sylvan Star gouda, dried fruit and nut cracker, and onion jamThis is one of my favourite condiments of all time.

I make two different versions of this jam, one for red onions and one for white onions, the only difference being the colour of the final product.  The recipe below is for the red variety.  To make the brown marmalade, at left, use white onions, dark brown sugar, and cider vinegar instead of red onions, white sugar, and red wine vinegar.


Red Onion Jam
adapted from River Cottage Preserves Handbook


  • 120 g canola oil
  • 1300 g red onion (about 4 large onions)
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 120 g crabapple jelly, or some other red fruit jelly, such as currant
  • 200 mL red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper


  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the onions.  Reduce heat to low, cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are wilted and beginning to colour, about 40 minutes.
  2. Add the sugar and jelly.  Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring more frequently, until the mixture turns dark brown and most of the moisture has been driven off, about 30 minutes.
  3. Add the vinegar.  Increase the heat to high and cook rapidly until the mixture becomes gooey and a spoon drawn across the bottom of the pan leaves a clear track across the base, about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and season with the salt and pepper.  Spoon into warm, sterilized jars and seal.  Use within a year.


Below is the red version of this jam, which I served as a condiment for puffball mushroom fritters at last year’s Ukrainian Christmas dinner.  Photo courtesy of Valerie Lugonja.
Puffball mushroom fritters with red onion jam

Homemade Cornmeal

Dried cobs of cornMy bid for Bartlett’s: “Culinary invention has two mothers: scarcity and excess.”

I think everybody understands how scarcity can encourage adventurous eating.  We often say that the first man to eat a lobster, or an oyster, was a brave one, indeed.  But it’s when you find yourself with an overwhelming surfeit of food that you can start doing really interesting things.  The first person to press grapes to make wine must have had a lot of grapes, more than he could have eaten before they started rotting.  And the first person to distill wine to make brandy must have had an awful lot of awful wine.

I wrote earlier in the fall of our bountiful corn harvest, and of a few of the ways we prepared the fresh corn: grilled, creamed, and made into chowder.  We actually had so much corn that we were able to dry some. Lisa set the cobs on a rack in a low oven.  The kernels turned brownish, shrunk into their sockets, and started to look a bit like rows of teeth set in the jaws of an old man.

Dried kernels of corn, ready to be ground into cornmealOnce the cobs were dried through, the kernels popped off easily.  We ran them through a grain mill, and damned if we didn’t have the most flavourful cornmeal that’s ever been in our kitchen.  Between my nostalgia for eastern Ontario (where my dad grew up on cornbread, which they called “Johnnycakes”)  and my background as a line-cook (where I made polenta almost every week) I admit to going through more than my share of bland, industrially-processed cornmeal, so it’s a thrill to have this stuff around.

I once got in a polite argument with a chef I was working for.  He had polenta on his menu, and the recipe he had provided the prep cooks was from the Zuni Café Cookbook, a restaurant in San Francisco renowned for impeccable, fresh ingredients expertly but simply prepared.  The recipe had three ingredients: cornmeal, water, and butter.  I suppose there was salt, too.  Zuni Café no doubt was using the best corn grown in California, dried and freshly ground.  We were using Purity brand cornmeal from a large distributor.  Purity cornmeal tastes only vaguely of corn, and has the crunchy, siliceous texture of sand. It should only be used as a starchy conveyance for the warm, earthy flavours of stock, onions, garlic, melting cheese, butter, herbs, black pepper, and maybe a splash of vinegar.

Having now worked with our freshly milled cornmeal, I completely understand the Zuni recommendation for a light hand.  The flavour is amazing, sweet, and unmistakably corny.  It has an interesting texture, too: a little bit of the crunch you expect from cornmeal, but the grind has made it lighter, and flakier.  While Purity cornmeal needs an army of ingredients to make it flavourful, good cornmeal can definitely stand on its own.

This really was one of the most exciting things to happen in my kitchen this fall.  Stay tuned for a discussion on cornbread…

A fistful of homemade cornmeal

Crabapple Jelly

A pot of Dolgo crabapples, ready to be made into jellyCrabapple is my favourite jelly, hands down.  The perfect balance of tart and sweet.  A distinct, local flavour sitting in the pantry all year.

The following recipe works well for the Dolgo crabapples we get from Lisa’s dad’s backyard.  I imagine there is huge variation in sweetness, acidity, and pectin content in crabapples across the region, so I can’t say for certain if this will work for you.  But it’s a good base recipe.

For the record, I don’t core the apples.  I don’t even stem them.  I remove leaves, if I find it convenient.  I mash with a fork and strain through a jelly-bag, so the seeds and stems don’t end up in the jelly.  Pressing cider with Kevin has made me a lot more relaxed about things like that.

For a detailed description of the chemistry of jellies, and why we do what we do to make jellies, see Jelly Primer.

Dolgo Crabapple Jelly


  • dolgo crabapples
  • water
  • white granulated sugar


  • 2 straight-sided pots
  • fork
  • jelly bag
  • candy thermometer
  • jars, with lids and collars


  1. Put the crab apples in a pot.  Add water until the fruit is just, just covered.  Bring to a rapid boil and cook until the apples are tender.  I tender to use super-ripe apples, many of which are windfalls, so they are tender after only three minutes of boiling!  Don’t overcook the fruit.
  2. Remove the pot from the stove and gently mash each crabapple with a fork.  Let the mash stand for fifteen minutes.
  3. Pout into a jelly-bag fastened over a large pot and let the mash drip.  Preferably over night, but a couple hours will work fine.
  4. Measure the strained juice.  For every 600 mL juice, weigh out 400 g granulated sugar.
  5. Combine the juice and sugar in a pot fitted with a candy thermometer.  Boil vigorously until the mixture reaches 218°F.
  6. Immediately transfer to sterilized jars and process.

Suggested Uses

  • A good spread on toast.  This seems like a no-brainer to me, but Lisa insists that the Jolly Rancher-like tart-and-sweet flavour of the dolgo is inappropriate at breakfast.  I’ll let you decide for yourself.
  • Whisk crabapple jelly, then a bit of butter, into a stock reduction as a sauce to accompany game.
  • Inject into freshly fried doughnuts.
  • Use it as a component in one of my favourite condiments, onion jam.
  • Spread onto sponge cake to make jelly rolls, or in between sheets of pound cake for layer cake.
A crystal-clear jar of Dolgo crabapple jelly.

Jelly Primer

Close-up of a crystal-clear jellyI know: jellies aren’t hip.  When I say “fruit jelly” you immediately think of your great aunt, or possibly high tea at the Fairmont Empress.  Jellies are stuffy.

I love jellies for three reasons: one, they’re tasty and I eat them for breakfast; two, they’re extremely handy to have in the pantry, to stir into sauces or inject into doughnuts; three, they are beautiful, visually and conceptually.  Actually they’re a bit like headcheese, conceptually: the cook extracts a natural thickener from the main ingredient, then concentrates it to form a network that gives the food a unique, wobbly texture.

If that piqued your interest even remotely, please, read on.


The Chemistry of Jellies

Lets start at the beginning.  Unlike animals, plants get all their nutrients and energy from soil and air and sunshine.  They therefore stay in one place, and require a rigid framework on which to grow.  Like animal cells, plant cells are made of fluid enclosed in little sacks of a semi-permeable membrane.  Unlike animal cells, they also have a firm wall surrounding their cell membranes for additional structural support.

These cell walls are analogous to reinforced concrete.  Fibers of cellulose act as the iron rods, and hemicellulose and pectin act as the cement that cross-links the rods.  Hemicellulose is made of glucose and xylose sugars, while pectin is in fact “long chains of sugar-like subunits,”[1] whatever the hell that means.

Here are some things that happen when we cut and cook fruit:

  • the thermal and physical disturbances break the pectin chains in the cell walls apart,
  • cell membranes rupture, spilling cell fuild everywhere, and
  • the loosed pectin dissolves in that cell fluid (and any other liquid you have added to the mix).

The pectin does not re-form into its characteristic chains because it has been diluted, and the sub-units can’t reach eachother.  To aggravate the matter, the pectin sub-units accumulate a negative electrical charge, and so are actually repelled by eachother!

As sympathic cooks we can help pectin chains re-form by doing the following:

  • adding sugar – Sugar is hygroscopic and attracts water.  With water molecules flocking towards the sugar, the pectin molecules have an easier time finding eachother.
  • boiling off excess water – This also reduces the distance between pectin molecules
  • adding acid – Acidic solutions are full of hydrogen ions (H+) that neutralize the pectin molecules’ negative charge.  After contact with a hydrogen ion, the pectin molecules no longer repel one another.

The three steps above that help reform pectin chains also happen to preserve the fruit and discourage microbial growth.

With the pectin chains re-formed, there is now a network that traps water and gives the jelly its characteristic firm-but-wiggly texture.

You can make a jelly out of almost any fruit or vegetable you can imagine.  However, different plants have different amounts of pectin in their cell walls.  Apples, for instance, have quite a bit.  Peppers don’t, so to make a pepper jelly (like, say, the green jalapeno jelly the serve at Dadeo with their biscuits…) you have to add pure pectin (and food colouring…)  Obviously these jellies can be very tasty, but I like making jellies that use the pectin that occurs naturally in fruit.  Pectin-low fruit, like rosehips, can be cut with apples or crabapples to boost jelly-forming power.


Making Clear Jelly, with Clear Flavours

Step One: Mash.  In traditional jelly-making, cooks extract the flavour and pectin from fruit using a mashing technique.  The fruit and cold water are combined in a pot so that the fruit is just, just covered.  Adding excess water will dilute the flavour and pectin.  The water is brought to a boil and the fruit is simmered until just, just tender, as overcooking will muddle the flavour of the fruit.  Once tender, the fruit is smooshed with a fork or potato-masher or some improvised fruit-smoosher.  Typically the mash is removed from the heat and left on the counter for fifteen minutes so that the flavour and pectin moleclues can leach into solution.

Step Two: Strain.  One reason that jellies are no longer cool is because they have a refined, Victorian, clarity, while the modern diner prefers natural, rustic presentations.  At the expense of a bit of flavour, and a bit of wasted fruit, jellies are strained so that they shine like Swarovski crystal.

The fruit mash is transferred to a strainer set over a container, and left to rest for several hours.  The strainer, traditionally, is a jelly-bag, but towels or perhaps a chinois could be used, though I’ve never tried them.  It’s important to let gravity do the draining for you: don’t press on the mash or you will cloud the jelly.

Step Three: Add sugar.  The exact amount will depend on the fruit you are using.  For a strained fruit juice with a specific gravity of 1.032, I add 400 g of granulated sugar for every 600 mL of juice.

Step Four: Boil.  Boiling rapidly will keep the flavour fresh.  This applies to stock reductions, as well as jellies.  To ensure clarity, as we concentrate the pectin by boiling the jelly, we skim any foamy sludge that forms on the surface, just as when reducing stock.

We can judge, roughly, when we have concentrated the solution sufficiently by measuring its boiling temperature.  The more solids that are dissolved in our jelly, the higher the boiling temperature will be.  As we boil and reduce the liquid, the temperature will rise.  This is a fairly reliable method, but it’s not perfect.  Even if we know the amount of dissolved solids, we’re not sure exactly which of those are simple sugars, and which are pectin.  For most jellies, I stop boiling at 218°F.

Step Five: Jar.  Once you’ve reached the right temperature, the jelly needs to be transferred tosterilized jars immediately.  If you remove the jelly from the stove and let it stand, it will start setting up, and when you go to pour it into the jars it will be clumpy.  Once the jelly has started to set, in my experience it will never be smooth again, even if you return it to the boil and try to whisk out the lumps.  Besides being clumpy, the jelly will not be as firm.

To summarize:

Jelly Making: A General Procedure

  1. Put acidic, pectin-rich fruit in straight-sided pan.  Add water until fruit is barely covered.Bring fruit to a rapid boil and cook until just-tender.  Remove pan from heat.  Mash fruit and let stand for fifteen minutes.
  2. Pour mash into a jelly bag, suspended over a deep pot.  Let drip for at least two hours, preferably over night.  Do not compress mash to extract juices!
  3. Measure collected juice.  Scale out appropriate amount of sugar.
  4. Combine juice and sugar in a pot.  Bring to a rapid boil.  Monitor temperature until mixture is just below 220°F.
  5. Immediately pour into sterilized jars.  Lid jars and process.


Troubleshooting Jellies

Now that you know the science of jellies, you should have no problem troubleshooting.  Common problems:

Jelly did not set:

  • Improper ratio of juice to sugar; namely, not enough sugar.  Sugar attracts water, making it easier for pectin molecules to find each other and hook up.
  • Jelly not cooked long enough, ie. not enough water has been boiled off.
  • Not enough acid.  Acid neutralizes pectin’s negative charge so they are no longer repelled by each other and can reunite.
If the jelly sets too firm, the opposite of the above might be the cause, ie. too much sugar, jelly over-cooked, too much acid.
  • O my God, you didn’t press the mash through the jelly-bag, did you?  Good.
  • Jelly cooled before being jarred.



Don’t you feel empowered by all this information?  Put it to good use:



1.  McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking. ©2004 Scribner, New York. Page 296.  This is the only direct citation I used, but really all of the scientific info is from this invaluable reference.