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Archive for the ‘jams’ Category

Winter always slaps me in the face with a wet glove. Work is typically slow to pick up as I wait for clients to return from holiday travel and get back up to speed. I cooked so much last month that I draw a complete blank when coming up with ideas for January. I got nothing. So I turn to sometimes silly little things to generate ideas, like made up food holidays. There’s always something there to work with. Facebook cooking groups are another. Food in Jars has a monthly challenge I decided to do, though I have enough jars of jams, chutneys and pickles stocked up to last a lifetime. Eh, what the hell. The January challenge was citrus and I had a big bowl of fruit that needed to be used. Recipes with purpose I guess and I do love a good chunky marmalade.

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For the last few weeks, the deep purple elongated prune plums have been hanging out quietly on the farmer’s market tables. I always buy a big bag and think of the things I’ll make. Cakes mainly, of all varieties – upside down, almond batter, brown sugar glazed but maybe also a lovely French inspired custard tart, studded with a shingle of plum slices that ooze their crimson juices in the oven. My enthusiasm, though great, is often tempered by my ability to lose track of things. While I keep a running inventory in my head, I am often distracted, miscalculating the time I actually have available to make such things. I also have this fabulous habit of forgetting where I put things. I’m telling you, those refrigerator produce drawers are a hazard. It’s a wormhole in there. With the latest plums, I made a skillet cake and promptly forgot that I stashed the rest in that damn drawer, next to the miso I’ll never get around to using but keep because maybe, I just might. A week later, I found those plums in surprisingly good shape with a heady aroma but they needed to be used pronto. A small amount of jam or fruit butter was in my near future.

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Retro old school appetizers, for the most part, are perfect. Rumaki, that delicious little bite of salty brown sugar glazed bacon wrapped around a bit of water chestnut and chicken liver? They were a requirement at my parents’ parties when I was a kid and I ate as many as I could steal. Green olives wrapped in a cheddar dough and baked until crispy? Delightful. How about meatballs or little Vienna sausages swimming in a sea of those ‘70’s classics, chili sauce and grape jelly? Sounds hideous, I know, but I’m also certain you were the one boxing out the crockpot, fishing around with a toothpick hoping to score that last delectable, caramelized piece. And then there’s baked Brie. Does anything epitomize the ‘80’s more than a golden pastry encased round of gooey cheese? I think not. I also don’t think it should stay stuck in the ’80’s. Holiday party season is here, let’s bring that baby back

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Something comes over me in the waning weeks of summer.  An intense, insatiable need save the best of the seasonal produce becomes too strong to fully ignore. Preserve, can, pickle, jam … anything that makes it possible to enjoy a little hope in the gray, dreary months of winter.  I turn into a hyperactive Betty Crocker.  In the last few years I’ve dialed it back a bit from the epic high of the Summer of 2010 when I worked for a fruit farmer and made colossal amounts of jam that I’m still trying to work through.  But there’s something about tables piled high with flats of tomatoes that I find hard to resist.

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Last summer while working with my friend Kate in Southwest France, I played a curious little game in the name of straightening up the pantry.  Kate, like me, is a bit of pack rat and her side pantry is chock full of interesting things – jars of confit, pickled and preserved bits made over the year, miscellaneous cooking equipment, tools of the charcuterie trade and countless jars and lids awaiting something delicious.  The challenge becomes when you need to find a jar with a matching lid among the bins of supplies.  Good luck.  It’s there somewhere but digging through tub after tub to find a mate may take a while.  So I lugged everything out to the terrasse and played a game I called “French Country Concentration”.  I divided everything into three categories – large, medium, small – jars on one side of the table, lids on the other and went about finding mates.  It was an exercise in the Three Little Bears, repeating too big, too small, just right over and over.  At the end, any stray jars and lids went right into the recycling bin to continue their journey elsewhere.  I may or may not have told Kate that but I didn’t want them kicking around, mucking up the place, no matter how interesting the lidless jar may have been.  Instead, I washed everything thoroughly and put them all back together, nestled in their appropriate bins, awaiting some delicious tidbit.

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As usual, I found myself with too much of a good thing. This time, it was rhubarb. The big red fleshy stalks stared back every time I opened the fridge. Once in a while, a few would tumble out in a desperate attempt to make their prescience more of a priority in my life. It wasn’t happening. Yet.

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What the hell are ramps anyway?  For most of my life I’d never heard of the things and then about five or six years ago, they started popping up everywhere.  The way folks go on and on about them you’d think they’d cure cancer, world peace and the international debt crisis.  How can something possibly live up to that hype?  Then I tasted some.  Huh.  Oniony, garlicy with an ever so slight funky edge that is so much more interesting than a scallion or straight up onion.  Worth it?  I think so.  They’re also a sure sign that spring has arrived, even more so than the season’s first asparagus or rhubarb.  I think that’s what we’re all really looking for after a few dreary months so maybe a little crazy behavior is expected.

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