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.