When time passage is sweet

I would be a fool not to drop a line on a day like this. I forgot to put my jam kitchen dishes away, three plastic cambros, a big steel spoon, a warped cutting board, a dull paring knife, and I just sent my landlord message apologizing, but that episode aside, today was a success. And though it's the second week of May, it feels like the first day of the year.

After over two months away from jam production, I rode my bicycle down down to SODO in deep rain. I soaped down my juice press, pulled out a cutting board, squeezed lemons for juice and over the afternoon I cut 40 pounds of rhubarb and 35 lbs of apples. Everything got stirred vigorously with honey and half a vanilla bean, blanketed with a layer of plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator to macerate for 2 days. On Saturday I have a burly day of production in front of me. 11 pots of a flavor I have never taken all the way through the jarring process. I've mocked up the flavor several times and made many batches in bulk for the Whale Wins, but jarring is totally different. Fingers crossed things go smoothly on Saturday.

But in spirit, today does feel like the first of the year. I am looking out on a packed year of production. V Smiley Preserves heads into the supermarket this summer. 6 locations of Metropolitan Market. 2 Seattle Farmers Markets. At the same time Amy and I are planning our move back to my home in Vermont for 2015. In the meantime I want to meet as many people as I can at the markets and cook and share as much jam as I can jar. Rhubarb into cherries, strawberries with Apriums and so much stone fruit to swill with berries until the apples, quince, and pears outweigh their branches. Here we go!

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Spring Clearance!

Clearing out my jam stores to make way for Spring. Lots of stone fruits, Apricot, Nectarine Apricot, Blackberry Nectarine and a Spiced Apple Quince with Vanilla. See you in West Seattle on Sunday at the Farmers Market.

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ta-do list now-april

maybe this way, it will all come true...

Finalize 2014-15 production flavors.

Brainstorm new flavors to cook in small batches for 2014-15 jam subscribers.

Create a V Smiley Preserves postcard with contact and social media info.

Commission 1-3 original pieces by Hannah Viano.

Launch a new website with Michelle Szwedo’s help that features original artwork by Hannah Viano, Jennifer Walker Hill, and photography by Willa Kveta.

Make a first draft of designs for 2014-15 jar labels (arranging the format, sizing, and spacing of the words that make up a flavor like pear quince orange ginger) so Nova Askue can finalize the designs.

Have labels printed.

Assemble a list of publications to send jam samples to this coming summer and fall.

File my 2013 personal taxes.

Find a bookkeeper.

Apply to the Ballard Farmers Market for Fall/Winter 2014.

Write the New Haven, Vermont zoning board with a detailed plan of what Amy and I would like to do with my mother’s farm and find out what’s possible/impossible.

Research a shipping program so I can

Launch V Smiley Preserves online store.

Visit my sister and old friends in Los Angeles.

Visit Amy’s mom in Montana

Host my mother for 10 days in March.

Photocopy images of passive built structures to start creating a lookbook of designs for Vermont plans.

Research and write a simple cheese and jam pairing rubric for handing out at my farmers market stand.

easy, right?

Frank

One of the things I think about a lot when I'm taking a daily mental survey of my jam business is the question of how to paint a frank picture. Last spring as I fidgeted around, wondering how, wondering when and where to start this fruit and honey preservation project, I probably spent the most time wishing a written manual already existed that covered all my questions, the technical ones about permitting, money, and liability insurance. I vowed that if I ever did pull it together and start a business, I'd keep notes and my notes would be detailed, funny because they included all my mistakes, and they would be typed so I could share them easily. Most important though, in any sharing I did, on Facebook or blogging, I didn't want to post when things were only going well. Doing so didn't seem honest. Actually, it just didn't seem nice. "Look, look at all these lovely things happening to me! Blah blah blah..."

But when things have gone wrong and I've noted the mistake as one to share, to laugh about it, to get it off my chest, maybe even as a cautionary anecdote, I get stopped by something else. Worry. I worry that anyone reading will just think I have no idea what I'm doing and instead of being helpful to someone or being funny, I'm just demonstrating an untrustworthiness. I know that people expect each other to make mistakes, we all know that sometimes a day goes wrong, and sometimes finding out about that is really heartwarming, but I think that's only the case if we're craving someone's vulnerability OR a lot of time has passed and a mistake is far, far away, settled at a solid distance from the present.

You would think with all this talk I'd have some secret I'm sitting on. I don't. The day to day of the jam business is good. I'm entering a 2 month break from production. It's time meant for planning, for sitting in shops drinking tea followed by cocktails, and for writing.

Today I picked up Nigel Slater's Notes From the Larder, his day by day diary that gives a good picture of how he's created his other books, maybe even how he's created his homey, authoritative style in general. His voice for food is always inspirational. It says be tangential, be detailed, get pondering and write it all down.

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Commute & cook

King Street in the ID

King Street in the ID

Strawberries, Apricots, Vanilla Bean

Strawberries, Apricots, Vanilla Bean

Tonnemaker Orchard cherries

Tonnemaker Orchard cherries

Toasted fennel seed bound for a flavor I'm working on with Cherries, orange, salt, and Italian Mead Vinegar.

Toasted fennel seed bound for a flavor I'm working on with Cherries, orange, salt, and Italian Mead Vinegar.

Microplane of orange zest

Microplane of orange zest

Delicious Mead Vineger from Italy, dabs of spilled jam, notebook, pen and almond extract for Cherry Lemon Marmalade.

Delicious Mead Vineger from Italy, dabs of spilled jam, notebook, pen and almond extract for Cherry Lemon Marmalade.

Bosc Pear, Bearss Lime, Vanilla Marmalade Recipe

For the last several weeks in the jam kitchen I’ve inhaled the steam of lime, pear and vanilla bean condensing into marmalade. I’m deep in producing several hundred jars of my Bosc Pear Bearss Lime Vanilla Marmalade. Say that fast three times in a row! It is a soft, sweet, and warm marmalade with little zaps of sour and bitter interjected when you bite into the lime rind. I love sampling this preserve to people. And it makes a lovely gift, orange jelly dashed with wisps of green lime rind.

Originality in preserves is a fickle creature. It’s easy to end up muddling flavors in the name of creativity. A cook I know has a thing about cinnamon. “Overused!” she cries. That’s usually my sentiment on vanilla in preserves. Vanilla falls so gracefully into so many flavor brainstorms. Oranges with plums and cardamom, oh, and then I’ll just tie the whole thing up with vanilla! But this bossy, know-it-all voice in my head always interjects, hey lady! that’s the easy way to bring a jam flavor together. In my imagination where ingredients have personalities, vanilla is a sound manager type, someone who takes the tart voice of a blueberry and in the name of balance just mutes the fruit’s special zip right out. But sometimes vanilla in a preserve is more than a tidy bow on top of a flavor and sometimes vanilla steps out of character and lets all the ingredients inside sing at the top of their lungs together.  That’s how I think of Bosc Pear Bearss Lime Vanilla Marmalade. The (Persian) Bearss Lime by the way is the very pretty name for the lime you commonly find at the grocery store. Also, Bosc Pear season is winding down here in the Pacific Northwest so grab those pears soon. Allow almost a week for them to ripen in your home so they are drippy with flavor for the marmalade. Lastly, feel free to substitute another pear for the Boscs if they are unavailable.

Bosc Pear Vanilla Lime Marmalade

2 lb 14 oz Bosc Pears (make sure they are very ripe)

1 lb 1 oz Limes (allow them to ripen to a nice gold-green color at room temperature)

2 lb 8 oz Blackberry Honey

5 oz Lemon Juice, strained

1 vanilla bean pod

Day 1:

Make the pear juice. Cut pears into eighths, place in non-reactive pot, cover with water to one inch above fruit. Pears should float freely in water. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low-medium, cover, and maintain a lively simmer for 3 hours. Check on the fruit every hour. Use a spoon to press on the cooking pears. When the liquid has become slightly viscous pull the pot off the heat. Place a metal mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl and pour pears and water through the strainer. Cover straining fruit with a lid or plastic wrap and allow to drip for 12 hours.

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While the pears cook in water, prepare the limes. Working lengthwise (as though you were making lime wedges), cut limes into quarters. Working widthwise, cut each quarter into thin slices. Your slices should look like tiny pie slices. Place sliced limes in non-reactive cooking pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower heat to lively simmer and cook limes for 5 minutes. Drain and discard the lime cooking water. Return the lime slices to a non-reactive pot and cover with water to one inch above the limes. Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat, cover and cook the lime slices at a lively simmer until the fruit is softened, about 35 minutes. Pull the pot from the heat and let rest 12 hours.

Day 2:

Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthwise. Scrape out the bean’s contents and deposit them along with the scraped pod, strained pear juice, lime slices and their cooking liquid, honey, and strained lemon juice into an 11-quart, non-reactive and wide preserving pan like an enameled Dutch oven or—if you have one—a copper jam pan. If you do not have a large pan, split the mixture in two and cook in your standard stock-pot in two rounds.

Over high heat, bring the pot to a boil. The mixture will cook at a high heat until it sets. I like to determine set by having several spoons ready on a plate in the freezer. Cooking times vary depending on the pan and your stove. The cooking mixture will proceed through several cooking stages. When it reaches the foaming stage start to run a heatproof spatula along the bottom of your pan. Don’t over-stir! This slows the cooking process. As the foam disappears, the bubbles get smaller, and the sound of the pot changes to a low, dull roar, stir more often to prevent sticking.

Test for doneness by pulling the pot off the heat and placing a small bit of the mixture into one of your frozen spoons. Allow the spoon to cool in your freezer until the underside feels “room temperature”. Tilt the spoon. If the mixture has formed a skin and moves sluggishly down the spoon then the marmalade is set and done. If the mixture runs down the spoon easily, return the pot to the stove and continue boiling. Remove the pot from the stove each time you check the set. Check the surface of the jam in the pot after it’s rested off the stove for several minutes. If you notice a skin has formed on jam’s surface, this is another sign the marmalade has set.

If you are canning the marmalade, follow the jar manufacturer’s instructions or if you want to eat your marmalade right away, simply extract the vanilla bean from the mixture and place in glass jars and let cool. Store marmalade in the refrigerator if you aren’t canning it. You can eat the marmalade immediately, but I recommend waiting a couple weeks. The flavors continue to develop and will be in full display several weeks after you make the marmalade.  

The Jam Jar Homes

Hello on a Friday evening! I have just come home from a meeting with the buyer from Pasta & Co, the University Village and Bellevue food shops sistered to Beechers Cheese Company. Turns out they love jam and their buyer Jessica has been pushing them in the locally made direction. They will be carrying my Fall/winter flavors Quince Marmalade and Cranberry Apple Marmalade. This is a lovely bookend on a challenging week which I mostly spent in bed doing battle with my overexcited wisdom teeth and a fever. Thank goodness for antibiotics, painkillers, my partner Amy, and Seasons 4 & 5 of 30Rock, which together have helped me weather the wisdom teeth attack.

More jam news is more jam homes. Look for V Smiley Preserves at Lower Queen Anne's Marx foods starting next week. Several small batch--fun flavors that are hard to find--are now on the shelves at The Pantry at Delancey. Check out their awesome cooking classes online too. I learned how to make jam because of their classes. Lastly, the big, no, the epic one, West Seattle Farmers Market!! I officially debuted the V Smiley Preserves stand last weekend at the very same time my wisdom teeth were trying to claim new gumline territory. I'm excited to do the market again next week, the 17th (pain free I'm hoping). It is an honor to be selling in the Seattle Farmers Market. They are a venerable system for accessing the best ingredients. And winter markets are another whole level. The cold is intense! So come support your mittened farmers and producers. See you at the Junction Sunday the 17th of November.

Taking Stalk

This morning I visited the Rose Geraniums in the garden. I read the fresh sheet from Billy's Gardens (in Tonasket, WA) with my breakfast which made me think about the preserving schedule for the next couple weeks. Quince, glorious quince, will come in from the orchard soon and then I will start dismantling the Rose Geraniums one sprig and stalk at a time to make Quince Rose Geranium Grappa Marmalade, one of my all time favorite preserves to make and eat. Amy has taken beautiful care of the two, now gigantic Geraniums that have grown all summer in preparation for quince season.

In the pots this weekend, strawberries and Pluots cooked down to make jam for my co-worker Alex's pop up brunch this coming Sunday at Vif, the adorable, go check it out now if you haven't, coffee and wine shop on Fremont Ave less than a block north of The Book Larder and Dot's. Alex and I work together at the Whale Wins and he and the sous-chef of the Walrus and the Carpenter are presenting a 3 course brunch on Sunday the 15th. There might be a few seats left...check out vifseattle.com. The Strawberry Pluot Honey Jam comes near the start of the meal, with a scone naturally.

What else?
Before heading into cook dinner at the Whale Wins tonight, I stop by Marx Foods in Lower Queen Anne. Marx is an online and local Seattle specialty food store. Marx puts the products to a panel of tasters so I'm bringing 8 jams and marmalades for them to sample.

And...I finally finished and submitted my application to the Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which connects to my final piece of news. The bike trailer. For my birthday, Amy, my sister Moira, and my brother in law Andy gifted me a honking 300 lb. hauler of a bike trailer from an Iowa company called Bikes at Work. Amy assembled the (as she calls it) "puzzle" this weekend. The finished product is a utilitarian kind of dazzling. It's pretty and useful! Now I can get the jam to the farmers market.

I'm still figuring out how to use the Squarespace app and sprinkle the pictures into the text. The last one is the nightly view I see when I emerge from the jam kitchen.

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In the Pots Volume II

I am on the bus heading back to the jam kitchen after volunteering a couple hours for the orchard work party at my community garden. I have a plot in Seattle's original 'P-Patch'. Picardo it's called and it's first letter is the origin of the 'p' in 'p-patch'.

We tied everbearing raspberries together, weeded the blueberries, currants and gooseberries and some folks pruned the stone fruit trees, which unlike apples and pears, adore a summer pruning. Then everyone harvested what was ripe on the bushes and trees. I ducked out for that part to visit my plot. I picked tomatoes, summer squash, beans, shiso, thai basil, and broccoli. My dear partner Amy met me up there and she weeded, watered and helped harvest. Now she's hauling the veggies up to our home while I return to the jam kitchen to finish my three day weekend of jam making.


Saturday was Strawberry Blackberry. Yesterday was Nectarine Blackberry and today, Monday, is many, many jars of Blackberry Prune. Lots of blackberries! I bought 80 lbs of them on Saturday and my sole mission of the weekend has been channeling blackberries into 100's of little glass jars.

Back to work!

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In the Pots Volume I

Today I finally, finally, finally sold my jams to Renee Ericksen the owner of The Whale Wins in Seattle. I work in the kitchen at the Whale. We have talked for several months about selling my jam there, but there have been so many dots to connect to get there. The labels came back from the printer. I hauled out my stores of jars and applied away. Renee perched the jars near the entrance to the restaurant. I should have taken a picture, but the whole thing made me so giddy I just couldn't. Currently on sale are Apricot Butter, Nectarine Blackberry Jam, and Blackberry Prune Jam.

In the pots tomorrow, I'll cook down and jar Apricot Nectarine Jam, the last of the apricots. Billy's Gardens delivered peaches and tomatoes today and I'll spend the day prepping that fruit for Sunday jam-making. Everything must be peeled and chopped, measured and have appropriate amounts of honey and fresh squeezed lemon juice added.  

Tomorrow also marks the all-important set-up of my books. Oy! My dear friend Stephanie is coming over from Whidbey Island to guide me through the process. Hello Quickbooks. It's been a while. I used to do data entry in Quickbooks for artists in LA. The work turned me into a ruthless receipt collector. My poor wallet's never been the same since.

Thought you'd enjoy this pretty pic of Agastache Blossoms sitting on Blackberry Jam.  

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Get In The Kitchen

After working my pastry shift at the Whale Wins I took the afternoon off from all things business related, biked home, took a long nap, ate potato chips and a piece of apricot cake While doing dishes. Amy graciously cooked morning and nighttime meals the last several days as I ran around town collecting items for jam-making and getting acquainted with my kitchen in SODO and its very small reach-in cooler. Tonight it's my turn. Stuffed peppers?

Last night I vowed to juice a case of lemons while I prepped and cooked several batches of Apricot Butter (my first in the commercial kitchen that homes V Smiley Preserves). I only got halfway through the lemon case before the final jam  jars came out of the oven and it was time to clean up. I'd already filled my section of the cooler with boxes of apricots so I brought the half case of lemons home with me. Maybe lemonade later. 

This is a time of serious logistical lessons. I don't own a car and for storage reasons must buy fruit in very small quantities. I am still establishing relationships with farmers and suppliers. Sometimes honey deliveries come  3 days later than planned and when the honey does not come the ordered fruit must be sent back. Sometimes, even when I remember everything on my list of items to bring to the kitchen from home,  I forget my kitchen keys. 

I laugh about these moments with Amy when I get home. I am lucky to get a chance at pursuing my little dream of a micro jam company. And I look forward to getting the routines down. Fruit comes in and jars of jam go out. 

August is about making as much jam as possible, jam for wholesaling, jam for the subscriptions that start in September. Right now I am working on building a stock of Apricot Butter before the apricots are all gone. After that, in about a week, I start on Blackberry Plum Jam and fingers crossed, Strawberry Pluot. I played phone tag with Nate Youngquist from Youngquist Farms for a while there, but as of Tuesday, I have a source for the 150 pounds of blackberries I need. Hooray!

Dormancy

20130407-192537.jpgI ate crepes both days this weekend. Yesterday I wrapped slices of butter in the eggy folds. I thought of jam loathsomely, wanting instead the deep, sweet fattiness of pure butter promising the most fill for the hunger that is big in my stomach by the end of the work week. A day later and again with a plate of crepes before me, I craved a certain kind of sweetness, the kind that comes from a tart plum jam. I emptied a jar of Plum, Prune and Apricot Conserves. (Conserves? The preserve contained dried Royal Blenheim Apricots and I think of jams including dry fruit as conserves.) See picture above.

20130407-193107.jpg In a clear moment on Saturday, Amy and I walked the Rose Geraniums outside into the garden. I bought them last year for jam-making. Rose Geraniums are everywhere in jam recipes. Rub the leaves and place them in the finished pot of jam to infuse a few minutes. The two plants I claimed at a nursery last spring summered in my Seattle P-Patch and spent the winter in my apartment. They are gangly from seeing a Pacific Northwest winter from behind smudged window glass. Not a lot of light in that position. The word for our current weather here in Seattle is dynamic and now the geraniums are in the thick of hail, spring wind and dumping rain. After we placed the two potted geraniums, Amy spent a while propping the plants, weaving their spindly stems onto supporting stakes. Some natural, wind-driven pruning might occur in the next month but hopefully the geraniums will find their strength for this quickly oncoming growing season.

But even as I plant seeds in my garden and pat the soil around them there is a sense of dormancy and limbo within myself about the honey preserves project. I am slowly moving in the direction of going commercial, renting a commercial kitchen, buying insurance to cover the risk associated with working in that kitchen, submitting my jam recipes to the WSDA and seeking out permitting from Seattle King County. It is a complicated and expensive process and venturing into commercial jam making as a micro-business where I continue to work full time in my restaurant cooking job and produce jam on the side means I will work non-stop. And I also want to devote time to my love, Amy, and enjoy that same summer that produces so much fruit as not just a time to preserve in jars but also take as afternoons in the park and ride bikes in the sunset.

Big subjects for producing jam commercially involve issues like the high cost of seeking permitting in Seattle (about a thousand dollars if all goes smoothly), storage of several thousand jam jars and where to place a 650 lb. barrel of honey? I literally don't think the floors of my apartment could handle the weight, especially once all the jars contain jam. And I'm doing this without a personal vehicle.

I voice these concerns out loud and afterwards I picture a maze that for just a moment I see from above. I also see there is a definite thruway and a squiggling line (that's me) oozing along in the maze. You know, snail's pace. With my momentary aerial view (that's really a metaphor for my adamance that I will get this project off the ground one way or another) I attempt memorizing the maze so I can pass the route along to the snail on the ground.

This evening talking on the phone to my mother in Vermont about the daunting financial and logistical aspects of commercial jam-making on a micro level, she suggested I look at commercial kitchen space elsewhere, like Whidbey Island. I used to live there and am still connected to food people in the community. When I consider the idea I still see myself buying my fruit at the Saturday University District Farmers Market. I still see sizable transportation costs because of not having a personal vehicle, but I also see the chance of forming agreements with people for rental and storage that better fit the current stature of my project. In the next week I will research permitting in Washington's Island County.

Pink in the pan

Had to share this very pretty picture.It

20130324-171617.jpg This is beets and Meyer lemons combined in the copper pan with honey just before the final cookdown. The final and finished color of the marmalade is more brown than purple. You have probably seen the color I'm talking of. It happens to the skin of the beet when roasted in the oven. I don't yet know the flavor of beet and Meyer lemons with honey. It's too soon to tell. But I do know more about my jam labels and how I want them to look. Here are some looks. Pink is a favorite color of mine. I wrote a whole piece about the color in college and I continue to enjoy the complex associations with pink. Placed on a jam label it looks...yes, feminine. And then sky blue? A baby boys color for sure but set with serious and official black these are the colors that for me evoke a sense of fancy, freshness, and wide-openness which are the emotions I associate with modern preserve making.

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