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Jammin’ with Anarchy in a Jar


We considered pickling eggs. We thought about making hot pepper sauce with beer. We tried to gather enough okra pods to pickle, and we dawdled on which herbs to pick. In the end, Laena McCarthy (founder of Anarchy in a Jar) and I tore through six mason jars last Friday, on our jam-making date. We made concord grape jam, umeboshi-styled pickled plums, pickled hot pepper medley, canned cherry tomato sauce, and two jars of pickled heirloom cucumbers with fennel sprigs. I think we did pretty well for one afternoon.

When I got a pint of concord grapes in my CSA share last week, I knew it was time to call in the expert on all things sticky and sweet. Since launching the business in 2008, Laena’s all-natural fruit jams (under the whimsical take-back-your-food flag of “anarchy”) can’t stay on shelves in the stores where they’re sold. They’re every bit worth the love, if you ask me, as she’s always playing with interesting flavor combinations, like adding smoked salt to grapefruit marmalade, or herbs like Thai basil to perfectly-ripe heirloom strawberry jam. Little did I know that Laena had also never made a jam with concord grapes before! So we had fun trying to figure out what to do. Here’s a little series of our progress, in video.

Concord Grape Jam-Making, Part I

Talk about a small food world: Laena and I have known each other since the second-annual Great Hot Dog Cook-Off, and became friends after I profiled her company for Edible Brooklyn. We’ve done a lot of cooking and eating together since, both at public food events and everyday potlucks, and recently, we were both interviewed for an article in Germany’s largest newspaper, Suddedeutsche Zeitung, that proclaimed us (in German) “the new models” of a food culture in Brooklyn! What a crazy compliment. Anyway, back to the jam.


I managed to pickle two jars of cucumbers and assorted hot peppers plucked from the garden before Laena arrived. There were about enough Hungarian hots, jalapenos, serranos and cubano peppers combined to fill one jar, sliced up. These, like the cucumbers that I cut into spears, were pickled in a very basic manner: with two parts white vinegar, one part water, and roughly two teaspoons of kosher salt.


Laena had some more original ideas for what to do with the other stuff. Instead of making another jam with the plums, also from my CSA share, we decided to pickle them, and do a riff on umeboshi by making it salty and sweet. There was plenty of shiso in the garden to flavor it, too.

Concord Grape Jam-Making Part II, and Pickled Plums

The last jar we made is the one I’m most tempted to pop open immediately, forget storing it months. It was a simple fresh tomato sauce made from yellow sungold and red grape tomatoes, and it was pot-lickingly good. We spruced it up with handfuls of basil, thyme and lemon balm. And we learned something new about canning tomatoes that day, thanks to Sherri Brooks-Vinton and her book, Put ‘Em Up, which we had like a bible on hand. In it, Sherri advises to add three whole tablespoons of lemon juice to each pint jar of tomatoes or fresh tomato sauce, to provide enough acidity to preserve it properly. Use this, instead of vinegar, which would affect its taste way too much.

Concord Grape Jam-Making Part III, the Conclusion

That’s a wrap! And here’s the recipe we (mostly Laena) made up for those plums, which were probably the most unique. Now, pickled plums that are at once vinegary, salty and sweet might not be everyone’s idea of a great snack. But, if the majority of far-east Asian cuisines agree, there must be something highly appealing about it (salty pickled or dried plums of all sorts are common throughout). It’s an interesting taste sensation, and a fun way to experience the juicy texture of the plums anew. Good timing, too, as I’ve been getting so many plums from my CSA each week I can barely stand them.

“Umeboshi” Pickled Plums with Shiso
(makes 1 pint jar)

as many plums as will fit into a pint-sized mason jar, cored and quartered
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
handful fresh shiso leaves, whole

Sterilize the mason jar and lid by boiling completely submerged in water for ten minutes. Remove carefully with tongs once ready to use.

Bring the vinegar, water, salt and sugar to a boil in a saucepan, stirring until sugar and salt is dissolved. Arrange the plum pieces and shiso leaves inside the sterilized mason jar. Pour brine mixture over the plums and fill the jar to one quarter of an inch from the top. Place lid on and seal tightly. Process the jar by placing it upright in a pot of boiling water, so that the water just reaches its lid, for ten to fifteen minutes. Let cool and store for months.


Comment from jay wenzel
Time February 17, 2011 at 3:01 am

cant wait to try your products / i know its going to blow my mind/ jay/ do you have a retail location?

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