Washington

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.

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.