food

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

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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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.