Jam

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.

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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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.

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