a jam of the evening

By on Jul 9, 2012 in fruit, love, preserving | 2 comments

9 o’clock in the evening is a perfectly reasonable time to make jam. A reward, say, for having spent 2 1/2 hours in meditation over a never-ending line of fresh strawberries nestled in quart boxes, their uniquely sweet and floral scent gently floating up, reminding you yet again that your Strawberry Shortcake doll from the 80s never smelled anything like this. 2 1/2 hours standing quietly over a sink, one hand deftly wielding a small knife, the other guiding the unsuspecting strawberries to the sharp point that would soon relieve them of their stems. One by one, quart by quart, the pile of hulled strawberries mounts in the sink. Who was I to resist their lure? Surely I did not really need to make all 8 quarts into jam. A few berries here and there, just for quality purposes, were tested. On the day of meditation I made five jars of jam. And then looked at the other giant pile of strawberries, glowing in their own rich redness, and decided that maybe I could freeze the rest. Which leads to the night in question. The night during which 9 o’clock seemed a perfectly rational time to make jam. It was really an act of necessity. I do not have a full-sized refrigerator, and the freezer was jammed to the hilt with berries. There was nary a space to stash an ice cube tray to chill my occasional tipple of bourbon. So I emptied the freezer of the strawberries, added some water that would soon become ice cubes, and proceeded to pull out my canning gear. I dumped the strawberries into a 4 qt. stock pot. You would be amazed at how long it takes 12 cups of frozen strawberries to defrost. The canning kettle was slowly heating with a vast quantity of water. I slid the frozen stock pot towards it, hoping the heat would help expedite the thawing process. I began to question whether or not 9 o’clock really was a reasonable time to bust out and make jam. Then I ignored that part of my brain and turned on the burner under the strawberries. The magical thing about heat is that it thaws. I stood patiently above the pot, stirring the frozen berries around, much like you would poke at the embers of a fire to help stoke it. Blissfully, the berries began to thaw and then collapse. Soon all sense of time slipped away as I merrily mashed the berries and threw in the sugar and pectin. The heavenly summery scent was not obscene enough, so in went a touch of balsamic vinegar, the distinct tang melting into the strawberry scent and intensifying it, sending my brain into a fluid state that stopped looking at the clock slowly ticking on above the oven. A spoon was dipped into the sweet lava and held high above to assess the readiness of the jam, relying on growing instinct to tell me when it is done rather than calculated numbers. Jars were filled, a finger dipped into boiling hot water to clear the rim, hot lids and bands thrown on, and the jars lowered into simmering water to seal in that crimson glory. The short dance went on for a while, in the end making six jars of jam. Brow beaded with sweat, I glanced at the clock. It was after 11. I heard the soft ping of one of the jars sealing as it sat on the cooling rack. Then another, and another. Soft musical notes playing into the quiet night of my kitchen. And I smiled. 9 o’clock really is a perfectly reasonable time to make jam. Strawberry Jam note: Do not fear the canning. Everyone freaks out, convinced you will die if you do one thing wrong. Just keep your jars clean and hot, and keep everything you work with clean and hot, and you will be FINE. Also, this recipe is using one very specific type of pectin, so this will NOT translate to other kinds. And this is not the usual Sure-Jell you find in the supermarket. This is very specifically using Pomona’s Universal Pectin, carried in most Whole Foods and likely other natural food stores. It is less chemically based, and allows you to use WAY less sugar than traditional jams while setting just as well. This recipe is probably the seventh iteration of jam I have made using this, starting with their precise instructions and then meandering into my own experimentation. I think I may have finally gotten it right. But try it for yourself. Or try their way for yourself. Worse comes to worse, you have some really tasty strawberry sauce for ice cream. Just try it. I dare you. 12 c. hulled strawberries, preferably fresh 3 c. sugar 5 tsp. pectin powder from Pomona’s Universal Pectin 10 tsp. calcium water from Pomona’s Universal Pectin 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar 6 pint jars with absolutely no nicks or cracks on the rim, 6 new lids, and six bands, fully washed a jar funnel (just a funnel with a wide opening for jars) Jar grabbers A potato masher or something similar Fill a canning kettle or other large pot that can hold your jars without touching and allow the water to rise an inch above the lids. You may have to do the jars in batches (I always do, my old kettle only...

another cranberry

By on Nov 23, 2011 in breakfast, experimenting, fail... or not, fruit | 0 comments

Thanksgiving. Christmas. The food part of the holiday season kicks off in earnest tomorrow. Turkey, potatoes, sweet potatoes, with and without marshmallows, green beans doused in condensed soup and onions that emerge from a can and yet are suspiciously supposed to be “fried,” scads of warm dense pies filled with all manner of fruit and nut. And inevitably… the cranberry. A great deal of us were introduced to cranberry sauce via the can. If you were very lucky, you could make the “sauce” slide out in one solid quivering log. More often than not it had to be scooped out into an eery dark mass that was sparingly scooped onto the plate in an obligatory holiday act, then poked and pushed around to make more room for stuffing. In more recent times the home cook has been inundated with a hundred different ways to make cranberry sauce from scratch, a task only a few steps more complicated than opening a can. This garners our ruby friend a hair more respect on the plate, but it is still competing with the stalwart old standards that are set to bust the belts of everyone seated at the table. So why not make our tart little friend something other than a side at a holiday table? Why not enjoy the cranberry for simply being… a cranberry? A tart fruit that smacks you in the face and rises above other challenging strong flavors. A fruit that cooks so easily, needing no peeling or chopping, just drop into a pot and stir while watching the skins slowly stretch and pop (much like the bellies around the holiday table.) Why not use it to top off some yogurt? Scintillating cranberries play well with the mellowed out bite of crystallized ginger. Regular sugar is too blase for the feisty little berry. Honey, now there is a sweetener worth the time of the cranberry. Enough to add a little complexity, but not so much as to take away from our ruby diva. A splash of water, a bit of time in the pan, where the cook can take delight in smashing the bursting morsels, a little bit of cooling, and voila. A simple little compote, tartness tempered by a bit of sweet, topping off smooth, lovely, cool yogurt., a base that lets the diva swim around and sing like the Esther Williams of the breakfast world. Maybe you add orange zest in, maybe orange liqueur, maybe some jalapeno, or maybe you use only the cranberry and honey, just enough to take the edge off. This cranberry sings solo, it is no backup to turkey or any other vegetable. Try it. You might like it. Cranberry Sauce Option #543 6 oz. whole cranberries 3 Tbsp. honey (my preference, use more or less if you like… start out with 2, see how you like it, go from there) app. 2 Tbsp. crystallized ginger, finely chopped 1/4 c. water   Add all the ingredients (reserve 1 Tbsp honey) into a small saucepan. Set over medium heat. Stir often, especially once the cranberries start to cook and burst in earnest. It keeps the number of messes from the cranberry explosion down. Cook until all the berries have burst (making sure to take some childish joy in smooshing some of them against the walls of the saucepan.) Taste for sugar, add more if you like. Let cool to room temperature. Plop a good spoonful onto a bowl of straight up plain yogurt (or vanilla, if you don’t like plain.) Stir it up, enjoying the pink swirl. Add as much or as little as you want.   Notes: You will definitely notice the chunks of ginger, which will sort of turn jellyish when cooking. I might consider either pureeing this for real in a blender before adding, or trying ground ginger in place of the crystallized. It also might be good with a bit of a liqueur. I am not overly fond of cranberry and orange, although it does work well, but adding orange zest or Grand Marnier would likely work wonders in here, too. And I was totally serious about adding jalapeno. But that… that is another recipe....

suggestive frozen fruit

By on Aug 7, 2011 in dessert, experimenting, fruit | 0 comments

In the lush damp heat of summer, frozen treats call out to child and adult alike. Anything to alleviate the oppressive heat that pushes through the cracks in the windows, defying fans and air conditioners, laughing as it maintains dominion over the sweaty human masses. But so many of these treats are born of false coloring and high fructose corn syrup, and soon they collapse, falling in gooey glops to the searing ground below, creating a sticky film of goo over the hands on the way down. But what of… frozen fruit? Pure, unadulterated, no colorings or flavorings born of a laboratory in New Jersey, just honest straightforward fruit. A quick whirl in a blender, the right childish popsicle molds, a few hours in the freezer, and you have a treat that not only helps abate some of the sticky damp of summer, but satiates the never-ending fruit cravings that result in fridges bursting with fruit, saving some of these sweet denizens of fructus vitae from a composting end. Bright mango, certainly not native to the local clime of Illinois, but a fruit that exudes tropical warm weather with its faintly flowery scent and rich sweetness, and bright tart lime, the perfect counterpart to the bright orange flesh, are whirled together into an impossibly creamy pulp. Plump blueberries bursting with their own sweetness are next, paired with a bit of savory basil, a surprisingly good combination. The puree turns a deep purple, and one can almost divine the future in the quivering dark depths. The two are swirled together, refusing to neatly swirl, but instead getting all twisted up together, the bright array of flavor dancing cheek-to-cheek. A few hours in the freezer, and voila… for a few minutes, the heat abates. * A quick note: Somewhere else in this blog I have stated that I am not a cook, just a wild experimenter, and most of these recipes are, in fact, first or second runs, based on research, past experience, etc. Which means that they are far from perfect. So I am going to start adding notes about what did not work for me. And start adding failures, as a warning to all…   Mango-Lime-Blueberry-Basil Ice Pops (this made four, using about 1 1/4 cups of actual fruit puree) (inspired by Mark Bittman’s recent article here)   2 large ripe mangoes with as much flesh removed as you can Juice of 1 lime (and zest, if you wish) generous half cup blueberries, washed 4 large basil leaves, torn roughly by hand popsicle molds   In food processor, whirl together the mango and lime until it is a smooth puree. Pour into measuring cup, rinse out processor, throw blueberries and basil in, whirl into a pulp. This will require stopping to scrape down the sides every so often. Add to the mango puree. Attempt to beautifully mix this so it will swirl together. Fail, realize it will still be pretty and tasty, pour into popsicle molds. Freeze for at least four hours. Unmold, realize the rocket pop molds you bought on sale at the kitchen store have one interesting design point that makes you blush. Make a note to find other molds should you ever have to serve these around teenagers. Or, frankly, your own friends.   Notes: While the flavors of the individual fruit purees were lovely on their own, and even in raw form, in freezing much of the subtly goes away and is lost when you actually eat the dang thing. My next round will be simplified, concentrating on one flavor, not four. Also, I went with pure fruit and did not add sugar. This was fine, but there were a lot of ice crystals I did not particularly like. I am not particularly sure of the process behind making those crystals smaller or less apparent, but by gum be assured I will be doing some research. And now I need to eat one of these. You know, for testing...