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Dormancy

20130407-192537.jpgI ate crepes both days this weekend. Yesterday I wrapped slices of butter in the eggy folds. I thought of jam loathsomely, wanting instead the deep, sweet fattiness of pure butter promising the most fill for the hunger that is big in my stomach by the end of the work week. A day later and again with a plate of crepes before me, I craved a certain kind of sweetness, the kind that comes from a tart plum jam. I emptied a jar of Plum, Prune and Apricot Conserves. (Conserves? The preserve contained dried Royal Blenheim Apricots and I think of jams including dry fruit as conserves.) See picture above.

20130407-193107.jpg In a clear moment on Saturday, Amy and I walked the Rose Geraniums outside into the garden. I bought them last year for jam-making. Rose Geraniums are everywhere in jam recipes. Rub the leaves and place them in the finished pot of jam to infuse a few minutes. The two plants I claimed at a nursery last spring summered in my Seattle P-Patch and spent the winter in my apartment. They are gangly from seeing a Pacific Northwest winter from behind smudged window glass. Not a lot of light in that position. The word for our current weather here in Seattle is dynamic and now the geraniums are in the thick of hail, spring wind and dumping rain. After we placed the two potted geraniums, Amy spent a while propping the plants, weaving their spindly stems onto supporting stakes. Some natural, wind-driven pruning might occur in the next month but hopefully the geraniums will find their strength for this quickly oncoming growing season.

But even as I plant seeds in my garden and pat the soil around them there is a sense of dormancy and limbo within myself about the honey preserves project. I am slowly moving in the direction of going commercial, renting a commercial kitchen, buying insurance to cover the risk associated with working in that kitchen, submitting my jam recipes to the WSDA and seeking out permitting from Seattle King County. It is a complicated and expensive process and venturing into commercial jam making as a micro-business where I continue to work full time in my restaurant cooking job and produce jam on the side means I will work non-stop. And I also want to devote time to my love, Amy, and enjoy that same summer that produces so much fruit as not just a time to preserve in jars but also take as afternoons in the park and ride bikes in the sunset.

Big subjects for producing jam commercially involve issues like the high cost of seeking permitting in Seattle (about a thousand dollars if all goes smoothly), storage of several thousand jam jars and where to place a 650 lb. barrel of honey? I literally don't think the floors of my apartment could handle the weight, especially once all the jars contain jam. And I'm doing this without a personal vehicle.

I voice these concerns out loud and afterwards I picture a maze that for just a moment I see from above. I also see there is a definite thruway and a squiggling line (that's me) oozing along in the maze. You know, snail's pace. With my momentary aerial view (that's really a metaphor for my adamance that I will get this project off the ground one way or another) I attempt memorizing the maze so I can pass the route along to the snail on the ground.

This evening talking on the phone to my mother in Vermont about the daunting financial and logistical aspects of commercial jam-making on a micro level, she suggested I look at commercial kitchen space elsewhere, like Whidbey Island. I used to live there and am still connected to food people in the community. When I consider the idea I still see myself buying my fruit at the Saturday University District Farmers Market. I still see sizable transportation costs because of not having a personal vehicle, but I also see the chance of forming agreements with people for rental and storage that better fit the current stature of my project. In the next week I will research permitting in Washington's Island County.

Pink in the pan

Had to share this very pretty picture.It

20130324-171617.jpg This is beets and Meyer lemons combined in the copper pan with honey just before the final cookdown. The final and finished color of the marmalade is more brown than purple. You have probably seen the color I'm talking of. It happens to the skin of the beet when roasted in the oven. I don't yet know the flavor of beet and Meyer lemons with honey. It's too soon to tell. But I do know more about my jam labels and how I want them to look. Here are some looks. Pink is a favorite color of mine. I wrote a whole piece about the color in college and I continue to enjoy the complex associations with pink. Placed on a jam label it looks...yes, feminine. And then sky blue? A baby boys color for sure but set with serious and official black these are the colors that for me evoke a sense of fancy, freshness, and wide-openness which are the emotions I associate with modern preserve making.

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Kumquats, Pears, Lemons, and Fools of Jam

IMG_0722 This is a rare three-day weekend. Yesterday I played all day, waking up early to ride the Metro Seattle bus my partner drives every weekday morning. I'd never seen her at work in this capacity of city bus driver. I love seeing how people work and remembering all the realms we live in as human beings from the domestic to professional and the qualities these realms bring out in us. After the bus ride, I spent the next couple hours reading Vanity Fair and drinking tea in Pioneer Square waiting for Bar Sajor to open, but it turns out they are not yet open for lunch. The wind whips through downtown Seattle giving the neighborhood its own unique weather patterns. The gusts sent me home for lunch, but later when the sun started to show around tall, voluminous clouds, I walked down to South Lake Union for 50 cent oysters at Flying Fish. And finally, that grilled chicken I craved from Bar Sajor happened in Wallingford at a friends house where a group of Irish visitors gathered around lots of boiled potatoes, salad, chicken from the grill, and salmon.

After all that play yesterday I easily settled into marmalade preparations this morning. I sliced and picked out seeds and watched over pots of simmering fruit.

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I'm working on two rounds of Lemon Pear Marmalade and a Kumquat Meyer Lemon Marmalade, which is a Kumquat jelly with slices of Meyer Lemon.

I make winter fruit subscription deliveries this week and though I have boxes and boxes of jam jars ready to go, I always feel a little more prepared when there are also preserves working on the kitchen counter and stove. I'm sitting at a shop three blocks from home with an evening coffee, but back in my apartment kitchen kumquat halves slowly seep flavor into water, juice collects in bowls set under colanders that contain spent, cooked-out pear eighths that simmered for three hours.

To accompany my coffee I brought along Nigel Slater's Ripe. I've mentioned this book on here before. It is an ultimate tome for thinking about fruit in the kitchen, in the pantry, and in the entire context of a meal. I cannot recommend this book enough and to do so I want to start pointing at some of his fruit cookery ideas. I'll start with something really simple. Fool. It's cream, sugar, fruit, a small serving vessel, and a slight chill.

Slater doesn't specifically give a recipe for making a fool with jam, but he points at the concept with " A Damson fool ", page 225. For 4 people, he cooks 1 pound damson plums with 5 Tablespoons sugar. He food mills this. He whips cream (1.25 cups) til it barely holds its shape and to it he adds the fruit and sugar mixture. It's chilled in small cups and eaten several hours later. I have never measured my proportion of cream to fruit. At home, I just whip some cream and add jam to taste, but I knew someone out there would have more helpful information. And here it is. She works with Strawberry Jam. What jam do you have around?

Distracted and Recipe Writing

This is an odds and ends post I think. It's Sunday evening. I've spent the day by myself both resting and doing laps around the house, laundry, defrosting sweatbreads and lamb tongue for dinner, dishes, napping, drinking a glass of mead, and costing out jam recipes I made last year. On Thursday I started a big feeling post about my mother's land back in Vermont. It's the farm I grew up on. I've had the property on my mind for years, but only very recently did I start sharing my dreams and designs for the property with my mother. She is a wonderfully practical woman so I have always thought that I needed a business plan and financial backing before I could come to her with my ideas. She is also (I am learning) very supportive and interested in putting the Vermont land she lives on back to work. This is a very big deal and it involves an intimacy with my home and my mother that is all new to me. Writing about a possible business with my mother back on the land where I grew up is a ball of emotion on the large side. For now the whole thing is sitting in my draft box so I can think more. I had a torrid love affair with a box of Seville oranges and my new copper jam pan.IMG_0690

Now my mind just skitters about. I look online at prices for commercial kitchen rentals here in Seattle. I continue to contemplate whether or how to start producing jam commercially on a level that allows me greater selling opportunities rather than continuing with the grassroots-friends-and-family-suggested-donation approach I currently take. In my head I imagine all the math I must do to establish how much every angle of a micro-jam business costs. Last weekend, I looked at the recipe for Blackberry and Damson Plum with Lemon Basil. Using conservative, ie, high, prices for the fruit, honey, and jars, I came up with a rough cost of goods per jar. Just for the ingredients I calculated a $4.67 cost per 6 oz. jar. I know that's a high price, but I actually found the numbers and their tangibility encouraging.

Then my brain ratcheted to another ongoing question of mine concerning the jam I make. What are its uses again? I spent the next couple days eating jam on toast. People tend to imagine bread first when they think of jam. I rarely eat jam on toast so I wanted to experience my preserves in their natural habitat. At first I loved my morning plate of bread slices, each adorned with a different jam flavor. Good stuff I thought, but by day three, the sweetness of the jam got insipid and I found myself heading for the tartest flavors I could find amongst my stores.

Once I ran out of bread I turned to my two current favorite cookbooks for thinking about fruit and cooking, Pam Corbin's Cake Handbook from the River Cottage Handbook series and Nigel Slater's Ripe. The recipes for Seville Orange Polenta Cake and Banana Bread in the River Cottage Cake Handbook stuck out to me. I decided to combine them into a cake. For my first take on this idea I used a Banana Bread recipe subbing preserves for the mashed banana. Testing out different kinds of honey last year I accumulated more batches of lemon marmalade than I could eat which made it the natural choice for the cake.

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How did it turn out? I am terrible at answering this question. At work it's my job to decide if something tastes "right", but when it comes to eating food at home I am so much less picky. Even more so when tasting sweets. I adore cake. Almost anything baked and sweet I love. Taste Notes, here goes: (Oh, I frosted the cake with a combination of creme fraiche and lemon marmalade.) Taste was good, sweet!, definitely lemony with a touch of that marmalade bitterness. I found the texture disarmingly soft, a zero-to-one-chew-needed-before-swallowing kind of softness. Keep in mind, this was my reaction after eating the cake several hours after it came out of the oven. The cake's mouth-feel improved and all the flavors integrated more by day two. By day four the cake was gone. I think it hit its peak on day three. This isn't unusual for cakes. At my work we currently bake a molasses spice cake that definitely improves with age. I want to make my Marmalade Cake again, tweak it some, maybe you'd like to work on it too? Here is my recipe for now:

Citrus Marmalade Cake

Sift together the following and set aside: 3 cups almond flour + 1/8 t salt + 1/2 t baking soda

Combine the following in 1 bowl and once mixed add to dry ingredients: 1 c citrus marmalade + 1/4 c honey + 4 eggs + 1/2 c yogurt + dash of vanilla extract + zest from 2 lemons

I baked this is in two cake pans in a 325 degrees Fahrenheit until done. Isn't that a maddening direction? Til'Done! No, but seriously my baking times will differ from yours and yours and yours. Just make sure to peep in the oven after 15 minutes and move the cakes around to ensure even baking. It's almond flour and honey so be extra vigilant, these ingredients brown quickly. These cakes should not take longer than a 40 minutes to bake.

Let the cakes rest for several minutes before you pop them out of their pans and place them on cooling racks.

While they rest, mix together the Citrus Marmalade Frosting: 2/3 c creme fraiche + 1/3 c citrus marmalade + 1/4 c honey.

Once the cakes cool completely, ice them up! Remember, this cake improves with a little rest time. Taste it over several days and see how it changes.

Refrigeration isn't necessary, just store covered in a cool place.

See it as an anniversary

Today I peered into a jar of marmalade and using a dessert fork poked for the thickest slices of rind I could find amidst the jelly. The jar was a narrow-mouthed 16 oz. Kerr brand bottle I filled with pink grapefruit and lemon marmalade a year ago. I remember making the marmalade. The steam from boiling down the preserve almost obscured my view of a clear Seattle winter day. The rich, almost unbelievable ever-fresh scent of citrus oils driving into the apartment air from two pots on the stove replaced any longing I had for heading outside. The smell of cut lemons cooking, unfolding and releasing every bit of their flavor and pectin into simmering water, still catches me by surprise. I marvel at the magnetic quality of something so impossible to eat on its own like a lemon. The vapors of paradox pierced the whole house. Siren-like, the lemon whet my senses promising brightness without any fuzz or haze.

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It's been about a year since I started this preserves project. That jar of pink grapefruit and lemon marmalade I mentioned earlier was my first stab at the preserving methods laid out in Rachel Saunder's Blue Chair Fruit Cookbook. The leftovers are pictured above. Today they look more like specimens than jars of food. That makes routing around in them easier. I went through a period of being embarrassed that I'd actually given jars of the marmalade away as gifts. But the pink grapefruit and lemon marmalade is a year old and it's qualities are less troublesome. Now it's a sweet artifact of my last year intensively studying jam and marmalade-making.

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I checked the Blue Chair cookbook out from the library when I signed up to be a class assistant to Rachel Saunder's Marmalade 101 course at Delancey's Pantry, the Seattle restaurant's farm-chic backroom space for cooking classes. I had a week to look at the cookbook before the marmalade class. I remembered finding the book overwhelming, but interesting. The sheer number of recipes was surprising, the size of the book for just one subject, jam. I had never had citrus so delineated as a subject. I'd heard of Bergamot oranges but i never thought of them as a fruit to hold in the hand. And then the specificity about strawberry varieties, cherry varieties and sentences like, "use late-season Pluots such as Flavor Grenade or Flavor Rosa". So much to think about and keep track of while making jam.

I don't think it's an unfamiliar idea that detailed presentations can initially appear over- opinionated, even narrow. Maybe though, we let ourselves fall in-step and what initially felt tight now looks expansive. Each directive is a piece of information. Nine recipes for orange marmalade teach how certain spices effect flavor, how the size of the fruit pieces change a marmalade, when to add vanilla extract versus orange blossom water. Maybe all these choices are annoying. Maybe they clutter the flavor of a preserve. Or maybe we just learn more from such particularities.

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When I look at that fork the varying slices of pink grapefruit rind reflect all the uncertainty and excitement I felt approaching the Blue Chair recipe. I had so many questions. And actually I am still unsure what size to cut that rind. I chose what I remember Rachel saying was one of the most challenging marmalades in her book. (Trying to show off is my way of being excited.) I made this marmalade with sugar although before I mixed the sugar in with the two kinds of grapefruit juice, the two kinds of lemon juice, and the sliced grapefruit rinds, I reserved a small portion of the mixture to sweeten with honey. That would be for me I remember thinking.

Cooking that marmalade, both the honey and sugar versions, was like going out to sea with charts I could read but not interpret.

20130203-185312.jpg Besides the wildly different sizing of my grapefruit rinds, I bottled the sugar marmalade too quickly after it came off the heat and all the solids shot to the top of the jars. Both marmalades were overdone, the honey one exceedingly so, but all told, it felt like a success. I decided to give jars away immediately. (More signs of excitement.) I handed them out to my co-workers at Theo.

I found my honey sweetened marmalade poorly textured and very bitter, but it set! A honey preserve had set hard! This meant beautiful jams like the ones made by Blue Chair Fruit were possible. I just had to figure out which fruits and what kind of honey made good preserves. I already had some ideas. The previous year I accidentally made perfectly spreadable Blueberry butter and my apricot preserves from the same year turned out remarkably thick. The Blue Chair Cookbook contained the rest of the clues. I just knew it.

Squash Jam, winter compromise or cold weather must?

20130114-114729.jpg macerating kabocha squash When I worked at Sitka & Spruce, the summer kitchen was often too busy preparing for lunch and dinner services to put up any quantity of preserves for the dormant months. Matt Dillon, the chef and owner, turned to Claudia Roden's Squash Jam recipe to provide the sweet condiment people wanted accompanying the biscuits and scones we served. Sitka went through a lot of jam. Between October and April squash and pumpkin appeared as the easiest jam-making material we could get our hands on. Thinking about it now and with a lot more preserve making experience under my belt, I wonder why we didn't make marmalades? The citrus ingredient wasn't local but we seemed perfectly happy going through one to two cases of lemons per week for cooking purposes. I remember the sous-chef ringing his hands in March, wondering if we had enough squash jam to get us through the winter. He was hoping to order some cherries from Tonnemakers who freeze a portion of their crop every year to sell the following spring when nothing else is ready for market. Tonnemaker wasn't getting back to Sitka's sous chef and there with no word heard from Tonnemaker stood Sitka's shaky jam future. A pretty insistent voice inside of me asked "really!? That's it? Squash or Cherry Jam or bust?" Out loud, to my sous chef, the question came out, "could we make something else, with dried for instance?" He shook his head, which essentially meant, no.

Sometimes, when you make an item in great quantity it takes on this monstrous side. In its glut and ubiquity the Squash Jam went from being food to something else. Even as my fellow cook co-workers rolled their eyes about the Squash Jam complaining it tasted of nothing but sugar, customers loved it. I was reminded of all this recently when a friend and server at Sitka facebooked a link to a glutenfreegirl post about Sitka's squash jam. My friend had been glutenfreegirl's server and they got a mention in the blog post. A small part of me was alarmed. Squash Jam, back on the menu. Nooooo! When I started my second year at Sitka and was falling in love with preserve making, I made it my mission that next winter we would serve something else besides Squash Jam with the scones. Fortunately at the same time I also started working at Sitka's sister restaurant the Corson Building down in Georgetown where it was part of my job to make preserves to supply both restaurants. (Now, after making jam for the last year using Rachel Saunders' cookbook I realize I made every jam mistake I could while working at the Corson.)

I ended up leaving my job at Sitka and the Corson before I got to see my preserves used on the table. In the letter where I gave notice I actually closed by saying I hoped I had made enough jam for them to not need Squash Jam. At the time I thought we all agreed Squash Jam equaled a compromise, not an excited choice for a jam. So hearing about Squash Jam at Sitka in a glutenfreegirl post also made me smile.

A couple days later and fresh from a Rachel Saunders Jelly making class at Delancey's Pantry, I'm actually reconsidering Squash Jam. And today I started a batch although it's really more a Squash Marmalade. This is a complete experiment based upon Blue Chair methods. I am making a squash juice (squash cooked for a long time in water), apple juice (apples cooked in water to draw out all their flavor and pectin), and macerating just a couple ounces of julienned kabocha squash in honey and lemon. I will strain the squash and apple juices overnight and tomorrow combine them with the kabocha pieces/honey/lemon mixture to cook into a jelly-jam preserve. We'll see how it turns out.

A "CSA" for preserves: the Winter Honey Preserves Subscription

20121215-222101.jpgEach week in my kitchen I make densely textured and fruit-redolent jams with just honey, fruit and lemon juice. Be a part of product development, invest in a fledgling project and the making of a tiny business by subscribing and you shall receive the very best of the these small jam batches. The subscription runs January- March, those quiet months. In the subscription, marmalade abounds (seville oranges, meyer lemons, tangerines, grapefruit) along with quince, apple, guava, pear, kumquat, cranberry, and pomegranate preserves.

Preserve Packages ranging from 3 to 9 jars. Jars are 6 ounces.

3 jars >; $34* 5 jars >; $52* 7 jars >; $72* 9 jars >; $86*

*suggested donation

To work out the details, email me vmsmiley [at] gmail [dot] com or leave a comment/question below.

Thank you

Give the gift of a sweet winter.

20121211-120257.jpg Sometimes the sun really shines in the winter and when it does and I have a warm scone at my fingertips, I see the crown that fruit preserves set upon food. Another jam maker in Seattle, Deluxe Foods, likens some of their preserves to jewels. I love this. Fruit and sugar behind glass can so easily become just another jar of jam. Maybe your mother made jam as you grew up or you have a friend that gifts jam every year and it ends up pushed to the nether regions of your kitchen shelves alongside condensed milk and an open package of nori. The idea of jams as edible jewels is precious for something gustatory like jam-eating, but it still captures how I think of preserves as functional, shiny treasure amongst the canned beans and cereal boxes.

This is a long-winded intro/plug for my winter preserve subscription! The subscription starts after the holidays when winter settles. The preserves offer a celebration of the season with lots of citrus, pear, apples, quince, etc., but also a respite with jars of plums from summer and the promise of escape and warmth given by sweetness. Like the summer honey preserves subscription, this is for friends and family and I think it would make a great gift for your friends and family who love food and who dig the idea of supporting a fledgling local food venture. All the details for the winter honey preserves subscription can be found here.

Post Party Notes

Playing for Favorites.

I woke up the morning after the jam party, the coming out event I put on for my ongoing project with honey preserved fruit, wanting to continue the party. Over the course of the previous afternoon and evening, as people came and went from my apartment, I settled on the pecan shortbreads (an Elana Amsterdam recipe from Gluten Free Almond Flour Cookbook) mounded with crème fraiche and topped with jam as my snack when I sensed my energy flagging. I tried a different jam each time. The jam jars, all 33, were still out on the shelf as I got ready for work the following morning. Wooden tasting spoons stood clustered and at attention in mason jars placed around the room. I used one to spoon scoops of jam for today’s crème fraiche and shortbread breakfast. With a hangover from yesterday’s party giddiness (nerves not alcohol) now settled in my stomach and at the back of my head, I didn’t have much of an appetite. I ate out of utility, finding energy for the work-day, but tasting the jams gave me a small reenactment of yesterday’s pleasure when friends gathered sampling all the jams and taking home their favorites.

Some of the choices surprised me. Tomato preserves, from the simple Tomato Jam to the Tomato Marmalade (Orange and Lemon slices) and Tomato Plum Preserves had stymied my summer subscribers. I still owe one subscriber an email outlining uses for tomato preserves. Bacon, sourdough bread, chevre, and more bacon come to mind. For the party, between Amy and I, we cooked 6 pounds of bacon to set the sandwich bar up with a vengeance. When eaten with bacon, the Tomato Jam tastes like the most luxurious ketchup. Maybe there is a genetic component to adoring tomato preserves? They baffled my whole family, but certain folks at the jam party couldn’t ferret out enough jars of Tomato Jam to take home with them.

Keep the Color.

Oxidation….gross or just the sign of natural preserving methods? I made a lot of Apricot Butter in July, using the 30-pound box of apricots I brought from Mair Taki Farm to play with different infusions and flavors. I made flavors like Rose and Apricot and Espelette (a Basque chili) and Star Anise with Apricot. Now November, and despite liberal use of lemon juice in my recipe, the very top of the jarred Apricot Butter is darkening. The same happens to the Golden Raspberry Jam and the Aprium and even the Strawberry Orange and Strawberry Pluot though with the strawberry jams it’s harder to discern the darkening because it shows less against the red jams.

I held onto two jars of marmalade from Rachel Saunders’ Marmalade classes at the Pantry last winter. The marmalades are made with sugar and they too have darkened though not nearly as significantly as my Apricot Butters. I can’t decide what I think about oxidation. It’s a question of aesthetics versus process. I don’t worry about the color changes in the red hued jams because the shift is so subtle, but with a brilliant orange colored jar of apricot, does part of the enjoyment come from the color? And is something lost from the eating experience when the orange fades to brown? Or is the great integrity of naturalness—the honesty of letting it all hang out—lost from the jam-making process when I add the smallest bit of powdered citric acid to keep the color?

The natural in naturalness is complicated. There is a fair amount of fuss involved in making simple-looking, simple-tasting, simple-intentioned food. Thinking about the jam I want to make, I have to wonder how disruptive a little citric acid is compared to when I take three days to make 8 jars of marmalade or when I cut apples for a preserve into three different size categories to achieve spreadable jam still redolent with fruit chunks. Does a jam taste the most like the sum of its contents when you throw the contents into a pot and cook them down or when you carefully develop all the parts of the apple flavor by including apple juice, apple pieces, and apple brandy, each prepared separately and then combined to cook down into a jam? In other words, is the addition of citric acid really just a piece of good technique that maintains a fruit’s golden character?

No-Name Jam.

Earlier I was thinking about people’s favorite jam flavors. So far, Tayberry Jam wins hands down. The name, Tayberry, is exotic and nostalgic at the same time. Just what is a Tayberry, people ask in a tone that says, “I feel like I know this but can you just remind me?”. Tayberry, by the way, is a Scottish cross of black raspberry and blackberry. In the days following my project-launch-style jam party, I’ve thought about names, business names specifically. The quest is part of a larger question of what to do next with my project. For being so fond of words, I’m surprised by how stumped I am for a business name. Good, even decent ideas are few. My wish to avoid kitsch, cuteness, Latin, new-age (wu-wu), thesauruses, words that require a dictionary, ampersands, and sentimentality, might just about wipe out all genuine choices because the truth is I love all of the above. Just not for my business name. Don’t worry, I’m not going with No-Name Jam! For me, a seafood restaurant chain on the East Coast takes all the association with it on that name. No, the ideas that come to mind are always one or two words preceding the word preserves. The other day when I came home from work frustrated about the game of knowledge tossed around in a restaurant kitchen, I wanted to name the jam project, Wide-Eyed Preserves. But does wide-eyed make you think of innocence or a scary movie? And is innocence a positive? It seems to me a name must be both concrete in imagery and positive in association.

This is where the Tayberry comes back. A couple months ago I wrote a post called Tayberry Heart. I’d just fallen in love with the berry and was struck by its raspberry façade and its blackberry core, that white center to which the berry’s aggregate drupes cling. Now I also love the Tayberry for being the perfect first spokesjam of my honey preserves project. The Tayberry jam is both a safe and spectacular introduction to jam and “good-enough-to-eat-all-by-itself-on-a-spoon” jam eating, which I think is what artisan jam-making and eating, at its core, is all about. Savoring.

But does having the word heart in a name teeter on New Age (wu-wu)? I know, who cares. Heart is timeless and endlessly re-claimable. And (because it’s always best to look over my shoulder and see what other people are doing just to remind myself of both my daily small insecurities and the constant search for relevance) a very cool coffee roaster in Portland Oregon is named Heart!

The search for a name is really a traverse through personal language associations. Heart associated with coffee sounds tender and gutsy, but with fruit preserves, perhaps a more feminine realm than coffee (really? where do I get the idea that coffee is more butch than fruit?), the word heart might just be pretty and sentimental. And what’s so bad about pretty and sentimental….blah, blah, blah.

While I continue to traipse through this, here are some funny and serious ideas compiled during walks with Amy and I and Beans the dog.

Killer Bee Jams

Bee Fruits

Embroidered Fruits

Embroidery Room Preserves

Bedizen Preserves

Foggy Window Preserves

V Be Jammin

Lez’Bee In Jam

Hive Fruits

Wide-Eyed Preserves

Open Jam

Ajar Preserves

Apini Jams

Worker Bee Preserves

Tayberry Heart Preserves.

When the fruit couldn't wait I took a picture.

This past summer, I took a lot of photos of fruit and honey boiling down to jam. Steam and bubbles obscured any chance of my phone's measly camera capturing 'the action'. I'd pull the pot of jam off the heat and try to capture the dynamics of a jam in progress, the shimmer and gloss of sugars condensing and concentrating. Really I was trying to capture the excitement I felt for the jam in the pot on that particular day and more generally, with each camera-on-jam attempt, I held up the excitement I felt for this honey preserves project.

I've been working on making honey preserved fruit products and recipes since May of this year. The idea of Stovetopletters was that it could serve as a spotty, but spontaneous recording device for the work I did in the kitchen. I like to write. It's what I studied in school but for me it feels more comfortable to be studious about food and unbidden about writing.

Still, I have all these jam related pictures, pictures meant to accompany posts that I didn't write. As I clean up after the coming out / launch party I threw this last weekend for my honey preserves project, part of the tidying entails going through roughly 2.5 seasons (May-November) of food photographs. Here they are with abridged explanations, otherwise known as captions.

Preserves layered in a late May birthday cake.

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All the parts of a three day marmalade combined in one bowl before the cook down that transforms the juice, the honey and the fruit slices into a beautiful marmalade.

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On my way to the Queen Anne Farmers Market.

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An everyday work lunch brightened by a jar of preserves.

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With jam making goes scrubbing. It only took an afternoon of jamming to do this to the wall next to my stove. Also, this was the hottest day of the year in Seattle and I had bought waaaaay too much fruit at the farmers market.

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Thank goodness for these ones. You know, bees!

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I transported the fruit home home by bus. Waiting on the 49, thinking about Tomato Preserves and Strawberry Nectarine Jam.

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Sometimes it's hard to remember to put some away for the winter.

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Then the tomatoes in our Seattle P-Patch ripened and I made Tomato Marmalade with oranges and lemons.

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Two of us rode our bikes to Edel's house, picked up her Vanagon and drove to Christine's yard where we picked plums and prunes. The prunes ripened in our apartment and I spent the next three weeks making plum and prune preserves.

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I loved making this jam. I picked the apples from the tree across the street from my Capitol Hill apartment building. The plums and prunes are from Maple Leaf.

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Sharing jam with my family in Vermont. That is a Vergennes Laundry wood-fired oven croissant.

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My father passed away in October. I had to wait a couple days before I could leave Seattle and get back east. On my parents land in Vermont, they had apple, plum and pear trees. While I cooled my jets in Seattle I made this jam to honor my father's passing. Vanilla, Apple, Pluot, Pear with Lemon. Considering my dad's personality, the jam turned out appropriately, the flavor was layered, the texture complex.

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I used the peel to infuse in some ginger liqueur to be used in next year's preserving cycle. More presently--I thought to myself as I ate the rest of the orange--full-fledged winter, citrus, and marmalade season are coming!

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Here is the ginger liqueur in process.

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Setting up a store of kinds in my apartment. My first jam tasting, Jam Party!

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Dessert or breakfast? I now have one jar open of every jam I made this year, which is a number over 30. I've got some serious eating to do. If you are in Seattle, feel free to contact me if you want to lend a hand. You bring the ice cream, yogurt, scones, gluten free toast, etc, and I have the jam.

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Everyday Eaten

Amy, my sweetheart-lady friend, rises early for work. She is a Seattle Metro Bus driver. Almost every day her morning goes like this, wake up, heat water for coffee in a saucepan (we don't own a kettle), stand, watch water boil, make coffee and a peanut butter and jam tortilla roll-up, stick it in a ziplock bag now on its 3rd re-use, put on bus driving uniform, don insanely visible, construction-orange colored fleece jacket, get on a bicycle, vroom! I keep a cadre of four, six, and eight ounce jars of jam on the kitchen counter and tucked on the upper right part of my refrigerator. The jars are filled with the leftovers from each pot of jam I make; the bits of jam that weren't quite enough to fill a whole jar. The jam cools on the counter and I eat it in spoonfuls for dessert. This is part of the quality control process, especially if the jam sticks around for a couple days. By week two of a jam's life everything involved in the flavor has mellowed and melded.

So when Amy pulls out the blackberry prune jam with lemon basil for her morning peanut butter roll-up and leaves it on the counter I take the opportunity to check up on the flavor. I made the jam in August, but now I taste the steeped lemon basil in its subtle, full glory; a sweet herbal touch that on day two of the jam's life (the last time I tasted it) was only barely hinted at.

Amy's good at pulling out the jars I've forgotten about in the rush to make more jam. A lot of the jars are unlabeled. I'll remember what it is, I tell myself as I screw on an unlabeled lid and push the leftover jam to the back of the counter. And I usually do remember, but for those moments I am not there at 3:30 in the morning, Amy doesn't care. She opens the jars, sniffs to ascertain the flavor and places a few dollops on her peanut butter roll-up.

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Thinking about a party

Jam and food (beyond toast, after yogurt and before ice cream). How do they combine and why even make an effort to wrap jam into everyday eating and cooking? Especially when jam costs as much as fine cheeses and wines? It's a big, sugary question. Depending on the day I'm not very good at answering those questions except the cost one (jam making is labor intensive, one batch or roughly 3 quarts of jam taking 2-3 days to make using organic and/or local ingredients). Most days I feel like jam is made for eating straight out of the jar. But today as I start to get serious about planning a jam party on the 17th of November, I'm thinking hard about easy-going ways to wrap jam into the everyday. Tarts may not look every day simple but with a pressed-into-the-pan crust this could be straightforward. It's yogurt, onion and cherry tomato sprinkled on tomato-marmalade-covered tart crust. Thinking about what to make, what to make....

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The Marm is Back

It's still autumn. I mean really we're just settling into it. We're grudgingly accepting the rains even as our soil must rejoice.Fall and winter whisper together this time of year. They have to. A winter is warmer with a busy fall behind it; stocking up on winter squash and finding the coolest place in an apartment to store it, tucking apple butter into the canned goods cupboard (or maybe just buying my apple preserves instead), cranberries stockpiled in the freezer, bargain cabbage scooped up and shredded for sauerkraut.

I willingly let winter whisper in my kitchen this week as I made marmalade. Nothing says winter like marmalade. It's not technically bound to using citrus as a medium, but I think the marmalade-equals-citrus-association is strong and winter definitely equals citrus. Marmalade is just a sticky word to define. My current working definition is fruit solids (ranging in size from shreds to chunks) cooked and suspended in jelly. The Pear and Lemon Marmalade I made with warm spices, Ceylon cinnamon (otherwise known as True Cinnamon), Cardamom, and Clove hovers in thought between the deeply autumnal feel of the University Farmers Market this weekend and resolutely wintry feel of the drenching rains of Sunday and Monday.

Usually my preserves making is a squeeze between sleeping and working. I always buy too much fruit at the market because my mouth and mind swell with all the jamming, marmalading potential housed in the vendor booths. But this week has had no squeeze. Instead I've had several very pleasant days off as I decompress from leaving my job at Theo Chocolate and wait for the paint to dry at The Whale Wins where I start working tomorrow!

This positively lazy marmalade is my honey adaptation of the Rachel Saunders' Blue Chair Fruit Cookbook recipe for Pear Lemon Marmalade. Someday soon I will pass along one of my recipes....I keep copious notes, but they are not copious enough. I get fuzzy with the cooking times and five minutes before the preserve sets and it's time to bottle and reset the timer, well, it always seems like all hell breaks loose in that time period.

Ceylon Cinnamon, Clove, and black cardamom seeds crushed in their pods all go into a tea infuser, which hangs out in the cooking marmalade until the preserve sets.

Just starting to cook.

Entering the final stage of cooking.

Look at those wrinkles! This marmalade is set.

Jarring the Marmalade and pulling it from the oven after 15 minutes have passed.

Fruit Pit Master

20120929-161242.jpgI'm getting faster at this! Whipping out the plum side of Tomato Damson Jam 'cept I'm using the pounds and pounds of prunes picked from my friend's yard. My sweetheart Amy grew the tomatoes. Those prunes are small! And delicious. Thanks Christine and your beautiful yard!

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Rich by the gallon

20120927-084508.jpg Raw honey arrived from Silverbow! It's honey produced from the region of country I live in, the Northwest. This is 60 lbs of Blackberry flower honey. Its becoming my go-to honey for fruit preservation; sugary, straightforward, with mild fruit notes. It is so satisfying to scale honey out of this bucket when I'm measuring for preserves. Like I learned from working at Theo Chocolate and handling equally large quantities of corn syrup, the best way to move between these buckets and the food scale is with a big silver spoon dipped into the blond amber, toggled one way then the other with the flick of my wrist to prevent drips and plop! Honey sliding over cut fruit ready to macerate for a day or two.

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Nectarines kept under the surface of their own juices. This is maceration; fruit, honey, lemon.

It's been a month.

20120908-161346.jpg I arrived to the market an hour before its close. The piles of melons for sale were low and many of the remainders were so ripe they wouldn't last the day out. The melons reminded me of the question I'd asked myself as I rode the bus to the market, had I missed summer not going to the August markets and not making a single jar of jam this month?

There was a fully waxed and on the wane feel at the market. The melons of course, the bargain boxes of tomatoes and peaches, and loads of apples and pears whispering about fall with the first heirloom squash sitting like plump specimens signaling, not for me to buy them, but for me to come deeper into the farm's stand and pick out ruby yellow peppers for gazpacho.

And what did I buy for jam-making? I felt like a student unwilling to move on from a fling started in spring. I don't want to go back to school accepting apples, Damsons, and free-stone peaches as my companions. So I didn't and I brought home more strawberries!

I have a similarly youthful association with nectarines. It's because of the tart that accompanies the sweet. Peaches are for the mature, those people who notice the fuzz on the skin and like it. They eat the fruit slowly, allowing the mess, meeting it with a relishing calm that makes the experience look a little provocative. But that's not me yet and I buy nectarines like I'm proudly playing bad pop music.

At home I haven't made anything in the kitchen since I got back from California that had a statement of "I'm here!" about it. That's an important moment to have before I can settle into a kitchen project. I know eggs may not seem like the ultimate statement of kitchen presence, but when they are River Farm eggs fried in butter, edges crisped, eaten with homemade salsa and a glass of wine, all while sitting down, it's pretty special. Now the kitchen feels like mine! And now I shall calculate the right honey to fruit ratios for nectarines and strawberries with the help of the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook.

the Bay, the Mother Jam

Instead of making Blackberry Jam I'm in San Francisco. I arrived on Saturday. I'm on vacation from chocolate work at Theo in Seattle and I'm marking my birthday, which is today! It's a low key day. I walked 2.5 miles from where I'm staying to get a coffee. That might sound either high or low key to you. It's high key if I think about the internet-exclaimed, coffee related opinions I spent too much time reading through this morning before making my caffeine pilgrimage. But it's low key when I have the time to walk 50 minutes to sit and drink. I'm at Haus in the Mission because I wanted the comfort of its unvarnished pine cocoon. I must be craving slices of the forest. Looking around as a tourist in San Francisco, the city feels more urban than my current Seattle home. But even as a stranger here, I'm seeing so much I like. One of those elements being JAM-ness. And I haven't even tried to collect the evidence that the Bay Area is a/the center of preserves. It's just really apparent. Well, I guess the 'apparent' part comes from the preserves-shaded glasses I wear. I look into shop window and the packages of hand-rolled crackers and cotton sacks of heirloom beans fade beside the shelving for preserves. In the space between caramel sauces and 5 oz. jars of honey there are the marmalades, butters, and jams from June Taylor, Blue Chair Fruit, Jam, Frog Hollow, INNA.

I met one the owners/makers (it's a two person company) of Jam (welovejam.com) at the Sunday Inner Sunset Market. I perused their market stand with my friend Jason who eats sugar so he tried several samples from the jars on hand. I chatted with the jam-maker while Jason tasted. Jason worked on finding which plum varietal jam he actually wanted to buy (the welovejam.com website says that if a preserves jar doesn't list the fruit variety then you should run!). Jason loved what he tasted and the Jam owner had a lot of flavor himself. He was very opinionated and possessed a healthy sense of pride in the product AND when I asked him about the vogue, the market and energy for preserves making in the Bay Area, he answered by saying that he was the first. He started the trend. Our interaction reinforced several ideas for me.

1. The "We are the BEST" marketing approach is powerful! I think it's kind of impossible to be the best (at least for very long) in a realm like arts and crafts. Better to be really fucking good and enjoy what you're doing. The "best" things seems so high stakes to me because if you aren't the best (a status sanctioned by a combination of the critics and the fans) then it's kind of awkward if not straight up embarrassing. Instead of being confident you just come across as blind. The "best" game relies on the sanctity and anxiety of  "what do they know that I don't?". Many people are cowed in this situation. They're sheep-like and repeat the emphatic opinion as their own. (Like the guy I heard in the Ferry Building yesterday saying Scharffen Berger was the best chocolate maker in the country. His friends nodded along. I work for a U.S. chocolate maker that claims that "best" title for themselves too.) Or, people are purely student-like, "okay that's the best, got it, got it..." But knowing about the best feels like you're getting in on something. It's got a serious pedigree association. Knowing about the best gives us the chance to be part of the best. That's pretty exciting. And I totally went for it when I listened to the Jam owner. As I stood in front of his market stand ready to be influenced, trying to suss out what I was seeing and hearing, Jam's relatively low prices for artisan preserves had me initially wondering about the quality, but when the owner stated with deep, slightly patronizing conviction that his product was the best, I had this scrambling moment of "shit, I better get on board with this or I might never know the best!!".

2. Sometimes one person's opinion is another person's opportunity AKA Rules are meant to be broken. a) I've picked up a lot of jam jars in the last 4 days. I tip them side to side to see how much the preserve moves in the jar. I'm checking the set. Soft set rules! I'm still astonished by how well-accepted soft set preserves are by consumers in this artisan jamming market. I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve a pretty solid set with my preserves so every time I tip a jar and see the contents do a lazy slosh to the side I get a feeling of wonder and relief. It's an invitation to worry less about set and cook with even more flavor focus.

b) Difference is branding. Blue Chair Fruit thinks a jam lacks balance without lemon juice included. My background in restaurants leads me to agree with this. Acids brighten and pop flavor. INNA Jam cooks differently. They are fruit focused first and last which for them means no lemon in there. They don't work with citrus at all. And they are comfortable using a commercial fruit based pectin. All the way on the other end of the spectrum are the folks at Jam. They don't want lemon or commercial pectin in their jams. It's just fruit and sugar. When I compile all these opinions and self-imposed rules the sum total isn't confusing. The message to me is: do your thing!

My thing is honey preserved fruit.

Lionel Loves Jam

A friend I had not seen in almost four years recently visited me in Seattle. She helped me taste a lot of jam. It was our dessert after a lunch we shared. I braised lamb shanks in Apricot Chutney I canned last year and with them we ate copious amounts of cheese from the cheese shop down the street (the Calf and Kid) and greens from my garden. We still needed something sweet. I got out almost every spoon in my kitchen and we tasted and tasted. She was especially drawn to the Marmalades for their texture and bittersweet citrus tang, but she also ended up buying Blueberry Butter for her daughters and the Apricot with Espelette, Cardamom, and Star Anise for curiosity's sake. My friend's back home in Texas now, but she's been sending me videos of her daughters and their friends, like Lionel (the Lion), eating jam. They are adorable. Check it out: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=622389625193

Bachelor Jam

I'm starting late, but today I fired up a batch of Rumtopf aka Officer's Jam aka Bachelor's Jam. It's not jam at all, but booze soaked fruit. It's made in a crock with gradual additions of fruit as its ready. With each layer of fruit one adds a certain amount of accompanying sweetener (honey in this case), which mulls with the fruit for about an hour before several cups of gin, vodka or brandy are added. I've only used vodka. By the holidays the jam will be ready. Today I'm starting with cherries and strawberries and half a handle of vodka.

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