Reason 1: You Don’t Just Learn How to Make 1 Recipe, but 4!
I arrived at Artisan Park for the morning class excited to learn about preserves from my favorite preserve company. We met with the co-owner and teacher, Vicky, who outlined for us all the things we would be making:
Strawberry Lilac Syrup, Strawberry Lilac Shrub, Strawberry Lilac Jam, and Strawberry Vanilla Jam.
Reason 2: Learn the Science Behind Good Jam Making and How to Problem Solve
The class started by learning about the kitchen which was a large open space with different stations and commerial equipment. What really caught my eye were the massive vats and one small pot. They even named them, which I thought said a lot about the fun and character of the company (Molly, Gladys, and Winston). I couldn’t believe they did most of their cooking in the smaller pot and not the big vats (which were used for cutneys and apple butter), but Vicky explained that cooking in smaller quanitities allows for a shorter evaporation time and you can see more of the product. Plus, cooking in small batches allows you to continually taste test and have a more consistent flavor. We went through a bucket of spoons while we were there.
I was amazed at how knowledgeable Vicky was and it was incredibly interesting to learn the science behind making jam and all the nuances you glean over the years of perfecting one’s craft in jam making.
Reason 3: Get Recipes to Try and Tweak at Home
Lilac Infused Water
1 part flower
6-7 parts water
To make the lilac infused water, you boil the water and the flavors of the flowers or other ingredient release into the water (just like tea).
Vicky’s Tip: Wild elder flowers make a great infusion.
Strawberry Lilac Syrup
When we had got there, Blake Hill had already heated up the strawberries and lilac infused water. We got to see the rest of the process.
1 part strawberry (fresh or frozen)
.08 part lilac infused water
Boil the strawberries and lilac infused water.
Let the liquid cool then you strain it and add sugar. (You can strain it twice if need be).
Vicky’s Tip: Buy an almond milk bag because it’s tiny mesh gives a clear liquid, but don’t use with hot liquid)
1 part water
.75 parts sugar
If you want to add less sugar that works fine, but it’ll have a shorter shelf life.
Strawberry Lilac Shrub
This is a cool term for a refreshing drink which can have alcohol in it or not. It originated in England and was popular in America during the colonial times as a way to preserve fruits out of season.
You do the same steps as for a syrup but instead of adding .75 parts surgar, you split the sugar into .25 part vinegar and .5 part sugar.
I tasted it. You would never know it had vinegar in it. Delicious! Light, fresh, and a bit of tang. I would definitely enjoy that on a summer afternoon with a good book. I would also think it would make a great salad dressing with some olive oil.
Vicky’s Tip: The syrups taste amazing over ice cream.
Reason 4: Lots of Personalized Attention and a Hands On Experience
Our class was small, only three of us, but that made it an even better environment because we all had plenty of opportunities to help and ask questions (and we had lots of them!)
Soon after we arrived we got started making the jam. The strawberries were obtained locally from the White River Junction Coop and looked gorgeous, like little ruby gems. Vicky showed us how to cut berries for the jam and we asked questions while we worked, especially the age old question about how much sugar to use and whether to use pectin. I finally understood why my jam never set. I realized that it was silly to make something healthier that was supposed to be a treat anyway.
Vicky’s Tip: Use pectin for less sugar and equal parts sugar to fruit if not using pectin. If you don’t use pectin and use less sugar, it’ll take longer to set and eventually the sugar will reconsistute and you will end up where you started. You can use honey instead of granulated sugar. Blake Hill does a lemon honey marmalade and apricot orange honey jam.
Strawberry Lilac Jam
1 part fruit
1 part sugar
A bit of lemon juice (If you’re making jam with a low acidity fruit (like strawberries), you’ll need to add lemon juice.)
For a recipe and more of the science behind jam making click here.
After we cut all the berries we weighed them and added sugar. I was pouring a little at a time and watching the scale gradually go up to get to weigh we needed based on the amount of berries we had, until Vicky told me it’ll take at least x # of cups and then I was a lot less cautious and just dumped the sugar in. Then we got a chance at stirring the jam, which helped us understand what the consistency looked and felt like.
Vicky’s Tip: You can use a hand blender or masher to shrink the berries and it’ll cook faster. You can also try the French technique of letting the fruit and sugar sit overnight and that let’s the juice come out.
At some point in the process, we added local lilacs, which I didn’t know were edible. I would have never thought to add lilacs to food.
Strawberry Vanilla Jam
As we stirred and waited for the jam, Vicky helped another participant take the recipes we were making and apply them to the blackberries in his backyard. He was excited to give it a try. We also thought of other jam flavor combinations like strawberry kiwi, strawberry chili, and strawberry banana.
Vicky’s Tip: Their blueberry and thyme jam is great with cheese. (You make a thyme tea and add it to the jam)
We added vanilla once the sugar was dissolved so it could really flavor the jam. We added about 2 tbs. vanilla, which Vicky said was about 1/2 tbs vanilla for each 1 lb of fruit. You can get ground Madagascar vanilla at most coops and they sell it at the store too. It smells heavenly. I just kept wanting to stand by the cooker as the aroma wafted towards me.
Using powdered vanilla is a lot easier to use then scraping the vanilla pod and doesn’t have the aftertaste of alcohol based extracts. I was thinking I might get some for flavoring my granola.
Reason 5: Learn Tips and Tricks for Excellent Jam Every Time
How to Know if it’s Set
There are many signs you can look for to help you determine if a jam is set, which I didn’t know. The time the jam requires to set depends on the fruit you use because fiberous fruits help the fruit stick together more. Without pectin Vicky said jam usually sets around 218-222 degrees. You can also look for how slowly the jam flows off the spoon and if beads of it start to stick together at the end of the spoon before dripping off. We learned one of the best ways to tell is the freezer plate test.
Vicky showed us how to tell if it was set by the texture on the plate and what happens when you turn it on its side. If you can run your finger through it and it wrinkles, that’s a good indication.
Vicky’s Tip: It can take 24 hours to 2 days to set so if it doesn’t set right away that’s okay, it still might.
Before we knew the class was done and we had beautiful looking jam. You could see flecks of vanilla and pieces of lilac in the jar which really added a lovely presentation. The taste was the best jam ever! Soft, creamy, flavorful, not too sweet. I couldn’t wait. I went home and opened my warm jar of strawberry vanilla I had been swooning over all morning and spread it on some toast. The perfect summer snack.
Reason 6: Get Inspired for Cooking
More Creative Award Winning Flavor Combinations
As we worked Vicky would tell us bits about the company and how they work with other companies, which I found fascinating. She said they do Moroccan cooking sauces for a customer of theirs. Yum! Their award winning Lime with Coconut Marmalade is used in Silo Distillery cocktails. I really love how Blake Hill works with other local companies to create products unique to the Upper Valley, which makes me so proud I live here and can have easy access to such tasty treats. They have won numerous awards as you can see below.
If you haven’t been to the shop to taste test you definitely should! You can see what the shop look like and the taste testing experience here.
I like how they sell sample sizes because a lot of people are probably like me and don’t eat a lot of jam but love having different flavors to try. Plus they make great gifts! I gave some to my sister-in-law and mom as a stocking stuffer for Christmas and they both raved over them.
After class we were spoiled! A lady who works for the store baked some amazing treats for us to have using the Blake Hill preserves we made. They were heavenly. I know. I already said it, but it’s true: Tender texture and flavorful taste. Having the baked goods at the end also gave me ideas on how I could use the jam in creative ways. A lilac cake? Cream cheese and strawberry vanilla bars… oh my.
A fun learning experience that tasted delicious. I provide 6 Reasons Why You Should Take a Class here.
There’s a class this Saturday, July 8th for Gooseberry Jam. Plus learn how to make a mint syrup. Classes are from 9:30 am -12 pm or 2 – 4:30 pm. If you can’t make this weekend there are two more. Stay up to date on all the new flavors and offerings on their Facebook page. I loved it and I hope you will too.
Tada! Successful jam making.