blue chair fruit

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.

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.