Ah, Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. Who doesn’t like a mandatory day off to do nothing but cook and eat with friends and family? Hope yours was wonderful.
But like all good things, Thanksgiving comes and goes in a blink (unless you count re-imaginings of that 20-lb. turkey for the next month). What with the late date this year, I’m absolutely ready to dive into Christmas preparations already. Holiday cards, gift wrap, shopping, & planning…it’s on.
The onslaught of Christmas junk is not something I normally look forward to. Does anyone really like ‘Jingle Bells’ blaring 24/7, scrambling for a parking spot at the mall, dashing back and forth between tedious annual gatherings, or watching the steady yet alarming descent of the bank account balance in December? Not I. You can keep your tacky decorations and your consumerism, thanks. I’d rather do some preserving and impromptu tart-making than get trampled at Walmart.
But the real Christmas, I’m convinced, is better than all that nonsense. It’s more like Thanksgiving: cozy gatherings, good food, catching up and celebrating another year with those you love. And yes, there are presents, but not in the quantity or price range we’re used to–my perfect Christmas is full of homemade jam, potholders, knitted mittens, and handmade delights from places like etsy. There’s no room for PS4s and tablets in this snow globe world of mine.
This year, we’re trying to keep things small and relaxed. I realize the snow globe world is tidy and well-ordered and everyone is on the same page..and therefore it’s clearly a fantasy. Real life is messy and inconvenient and completely out of your control most of the time (especially when family is involved!).
We’re only going to be “home” for a week, and we’re planning our boundaries and limitations early to avoid being overextended. I want to go snowshoeing. J wants to hammer at a car with his dad. We will likely say “no” to a lot of people who want to see us and who may actually take offense when we decline. I’m preparing myself to be okay with that.
Our gift-giving is going to be pared down as well, but hopefully in a tasteful way. I’m focusing on canning, baking, and sewing for the next few weeks, and making a concerted effort to do any online shopping sooner than later. Gift-making and giving is a pleasure when it isn’t rushed.
A large part of the “DIY/handmade Christmas” plan is to get some killer gift boxes together. (a la Harry and David boxes, if you’ve ever received one.) Good food can make a great gift. It doesn’t need to be expensive, and it can definitely be homemade. Beautiful presentation is essential. Selecting your “best-evers” is a given.
After we’d arrived home from our Thanksgiving with friends yesterday, I discovered a new “best-ever” while tinkering in the kitchen with some spotty bananas: bananas foster jam.
The bananas caught my eye last night as I was ironing a newly stitched place mat.
“Do you think there’s such a thing as ‘banana butter’?” I called from the kitchen to J.
“Um, I don’t know,” he said after a minute. Another pause. “Like apple butter?”
“Yeah.” I couldn’t see it, but I am sure he gave me a hell-if-I-know shrug. “I’m going to look into that.”
As it turns out, banana jam is totally a thing, especially in the Caribbean.* This version adds brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, followed by a judicious splash of rum.
I can happily announce that I’ve found one of the gifts for the year in this recipe. It tastes like banana bread batter and the idea of smearing it atop a piece of wholemeal bread with some peanut butter makes my toes curl. Are your toes curling, too? I can’t promise that you’re on my gift list, so you’d better not chance it and gather up the ingredients for this now. It’s simple, homey, and irresistibly tasty; perfect for your laid-back Christmas gathering and giving.
Despite the fact that banana jam recipes are all over the Internet, bananas are not safe to preserve for two reasons: First, Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism, does not grow at pH levels below 4.6. Bananas’ pH is anywhere from 4.5 to 5.29, so you need to add a lot of acid to guarantee that it’s in the safe zone. Second, even if you do reduce the pH to a safe level, bananas are too dense for heat to properly penetrate the jars’ contents to kill bacteria. You might be able to safely preserve bananas using a pressure canner, but get in touch with the National Center for Home Food Preservation for the proper method before attempting this.
To ensure this recipe was safe, I revised the directions to make it a banana freezer jam. Just store it in the freezer for up to a year or in the refrigerator for about two weeks. Problem solved!
|Ready for the freezer!|
- Large pot and a saucepan
- clean jars with lids (2.5 pints' worth)
- 3 large bananas (to yield about 2 c. sliced)
- 3 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1/4 c. dark rum (or water, if you must)
- 1 tsp. pectin powder (+1 tsp. calcium water if using Pomona's pectin)
- 1 c. granulated sugar
- 1/2 c. brown sugar
- 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- Place jars and lids in your large pot, fill with water to cover, and bring to a boil on the stove. Boil 10 minutes to sanitize. Turn off the burner and leave the lid on, allowing jars to remain in hot water until you're ready for them later.
- Slice bananas into a bowl and quickly pour on the lemon juice to keep them from browning. Mash briefly, leaving a few chunks. Pour in the rum and calcium water, if using, and transfer the mixture to your saucepan.
- Whisk the pectin powder, sugars, and cinnamon in a bowl and set by the stove. Place banana mixture in the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a rolling boil while stirring. Boil for 1 minute (the mixture should be hot enough during this time that it does not stop bubbling even while you stir gently).
- Quickly pour in the sugar mixture and stir into the banana mix. Return mixture to a boil and boil again for 1 minute to dissolve the sugar. Stir gently to make sure it doesn't stick. Remove from heat.
- Scoop jars out of hot water and ladle hot jam to within 1/4" of rim. Wipe jar rims clean with a damp paper towel and put on lids and fasten finger tight. Freeze if you aren't going to consume immediately.
- Store jam in the freezer for up to a year. Jam will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator once opened.
- Do all your prep work and arrange your workspace in advance. With canning, everything happens at once, and you don't want to be fishing in a drawer for your tongs or scrambling to find a clean towel with a hot jar in your hand.