The assignment for December’s Mastery Challenge was making fruit paste.

(Note: The header image for this entry captures what may be the last moment in yesterday’s zany kitchen adventure that I was on track to actually produce fruit paste.)

I’m going to skip straight to the end, and just say honestly: I am pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

“Clickety-clack” is the sound of reindeer hooves on the roof, and also the sound of my teeth on this fruit brick.

In my defense, I had never even heard of fruit paste, and the internet seems to have a wide variety of answers to the question “what the heck is fruit paste, anyway?” But “you should be able to crack a tooth on it” is probably not any of those answers.

After some confusion and much ado, I settled on a recipe for plum fruit paste. Because I’ve learned one or two things this year during the Mastery Challenge Series (especially “if you aren’t sure about something, don’t start off with a huge batch of it”)  I chose a small-batch recipe that did not require processing . Also, some descriptions of fruit paste say not to put it in a jar at all.

Unfortunately, it’s December, and I couldn’t find fresh plums in the grocery store. (Yes, I could have gone to a different grocery store. But… unfortunately, it’s still December. Despite – or as a result of – being a holiday month, December doesn’t actually contain such things as “free time.”) My research suggested that making fruit paste from frozen fruit was A-OK, so I picked up a pound of frozen, pitted cherries instead. Cherries are another stone fruit from the rose family, so the substitution seemed reasonable. Plus, another ingredient was the zest and juice of one lime, and as those of us who frequent Sonic know, cherry and lime are a winning team.

Look, ma, I’m making fruit paste! Or… so I thought

I boiled the cherries, lime, and a vanilla bean until the cherries were soft, then pushed the pulp through a strainer. (What didn’t go through got mixed into my overnight oats for this morning. This proved delicious — and unbeknownst to me at the time, would be the only usable thing I got out of this recipe.) My recipe said to measure the resulting liquid and mix it with an equal amount of sugar.

Once again, “I did not murder anyone in my kitchen” seems like an important disclaimer here

I’m pretty sure that following this step was my critical mistake – the moment in which two parallel universes diverged. I hope the person in that other universe has some amazing cherry paste in her refrigerator this morning. As for me and my universe: Even at the time I added the sugar in, I was dubious. That seemed like a lot of sugar. But what do I know about fruit paste?

I set it back on the stove to boil down the prescribed 40 minutes. After 15, I was concerned about how concentrated it was looking already. After 25, I was really pretty sure that 40 minutes was going to be way, way too long.

But what do I know about fruit paste?

Nothing. But I know that when something starts to smell burnt, you ignore the timer and take it off the stove.

I’d read that fruit paste (in some incarnations) is also called “fruit cheese,” a mental image that is up there with “drinking vinegar” in terms of really unpalatable branding. But this is not only somebody’s poor naming decision. Apparently fruit paste is often put out on cheese trays as a slice-able cracker-topper. Okay, that sounded good! I was looking forward to my fruit paste. It smelled delicious once it stopped smelling like burning, and the hardening bit that I pried off the spatula tasted really good. With the idea of turning it out and slicing it up in mind, I wisely poured it into a rubbermaid container instead of a glass jar.

Good thing. I’m pretty sure it would not have come out of a glass jar. When I turned it out of the rubbermaid container, I thought I’d just slice off a little piece to try. Um.

…this isn’t right. Is it?

*tap tap* *tap tap* There’s no way a knife is getting through this.

Too bad I wasn’t trying to make hard candy. Apparently I have that skill down pat.

So… that didn’t turn out so well. I still know nothing about fruit paste (except, hopefully, how not to overcook it next time).

But — despite the vagaries of sickness, scheduling, and months of the year that I was really, really busy — I have managed to complete the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge every month! I had a few disasters (fruit paste and oven-based dehydration were not my finest hours), and discovered some things I can make, but just don’t like (gravlax, kimchi). But I also have some new skills that will definitely become part of my regular repertoire (low-temperature pasteurization, marmalade, removing boiled eggshells with a vinegar bath, fruit shrubs) and discovered some new recipes that I absolutely adore (peach mostarda, cantaloupe jelly).

Looking back over my blog entries makes me realize what an incredibly busy, productive year it has been in the kitchen. My mason jars and I aren’t done with 2017 just yet — I have about six pounds of Meyer lemons from Lemon Ladies Orchard sitting on my counter and smelling amazing — but for the rest of the year, I’ll be sticking to the known. Some days, that is challenge enough!

And then, on to 2018!