Jams, Marmalades, and County Fairs.

I am tempting fate. Fate might win. Oh well. Nothing ventured – nothing gained, etc.

Last year I entered three items in the Preserved Foods Competition at the Los Angeles County Fair: Fig jam with honey and walnuts; Grape jam; and Rhubarb-pineapple Ice Cream topping. I’ve been making some type of fig jam since I moved into this house, with its two fig trees, 13 years ago.  I’ve made regular fig jam with chopped figs; canned whole figs, spiced figs, pickled figs, and figs in balsamic vinegar; and, our favorite, fig jam with honey and walnuts.

Do you know the first step in making grape jam? Peel the grapes! Seriously. Two quarts of home grown concord grapes. Squish them, separate the pulp and seeds from the skins. Warning. Do not do this if you want pristine hands and nails for the next few days. That purple grape stuff is a mess.

The rhubarb-pineapple recipe I found in a cooking magazine where the readers send in recipes. The recipe is fairly easy to make, assuming you can find rhubarb, but my batch came out not jelled quite enough. I’ve had enough canning “disasters” that I’ve become adept at relabeling the results. Slightly scorched and a little runny plum jam became “Roasted Plum Sauce”, and  the rhubarb-pineapple concoction was relabeled as an ice cream topping.

Anyway. . . . . I won a Blue ribbon for the fig jam, and both a Blue ribbon and a large Best In Class ribbon for the Rhubarb-pineapple topping. What a surprise! I was hooked.  I thought, what about entering in other county fairs?

Fast forward. Last month I started thinking about entering the Preserved Foods competitions in other fairs and discovered that while Los Angeles and Orange County Fairs are in the summer, other county fairs are in the spring and I had missed several nearby. Oh well, Orange County was coming up. I sent in the online registration for four products and this weekend was my time to cook.

Two days ago I made a batch of apricot jam with thyme and a batch of lemon marmalade. The apricot jam is a small batch recipe which should have made 2 ½ pints. It yielded 1 ¼ pints, yet it is not only not over jelled. I have no idea what happened.  Let’s just say it is pourable. Somewhat tart too. Maybe it will continue to set up. The marmalade overcooked while I was doing something else, turned dark, and has the marks of a roasted lemon here and there. I refuse to admit that I scorched it. I processed it all in jars anyway but I’m not entering roasted lemon marmalade. The errant batches always stay with us.

The next day I made a new batch of lemon marmalade, watching it carefully. It is a lovely light yellow color with the pieces well-spaced throughout the jar. Then I made the rhubarb concoction. After going to five stores I found the rhubarb. I took it home and cut it up. Put it in the pan with the rest of the ingredients and then realizing that the strawberry jello powder was to be put in AFTER the rhubarb, pineapple, and sugar had cooked for 30 minutes. Still, I cooked the batch until it came to the “soft ball stage” which should make it jell, and canned it. It is somewhat, again, pourable, but thick enough in the refrigerator. Drat. I was hoping that it would jell a bit more because I know the county fair won’t be holding the jams in a refrigerator.

The lemon curd I paid to enter won’t be made – at least not for Orange County fair. I’ll save that for later. Tomorrow I will deliver three jars to the Orange County Fair Administration Office. If I have the nerve I will show up for judging.

Is there a lesson here? Pay attention to the recipe, even when you have blue ribbons framed and hanging in the kitchen.

Has anything like this happened to you? Please tell.

Every Day Is A Good Day.  VJ

One thought on “Jams, Marmalades, and County Fairs.

  1. The Deed Is Done. Drove to Costa Mesa this morning and delivered the 3 jars. Unexpected treat though. Because I only entered 3 items, but had paid for 4, I can enter something in another competition such as baked goods, which has a later deadline, without paying an additional fee. Also, because I entered a competition, I get a yellow OC County Fair ribbon that says “Exhibitor”, and 1 free admission. See you at the fair.


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