apricots in stages

June 29, 2010

Today I picked up apricots from my friend’s tree. I didn’t pick them off of the tree, but from the ground. Little apricots, that are a bit spotty, but absolutely delicious! They are abundant, like little quail sized easter eggs, all over..

I brought the little speckled fruits home, and sat on my porch to pit them. Today was a perfect day to sit outside. Sunny breezy, and only a few bugs…after the apricots were pitted I covered them in sugar and a little lemon juice.

The power went out, so I couldn’t finish making the jam, but it doesn’t hurt to have the fruit sit in sugar for a bit. A few hours later, I turned on the heat, cooked the apricots, washed my jars, and heated my water for a hot water bath. The usual steps for jam, with a kitchen full of sweet apricots.

The finished jam was thicker than I expected it to be, and some of the cute little spots on the skin still showed up. And I have already had a huge spoonful of jam in my yogurt!

black raspberries

June 28, 2010

Black raspberries remind me the most of my childhood. We would go out into the woods and fields and pick as many as we could. We would bring the berries home and my mom would help us make jam, pies, and crumbles. It would always be a few precious jars. Black raspberries are sometimes all over the place, but more often few and far between. And it is way too easy to eat the berries while you are out foraging…

My friend Bob took me to some really good spots in a field next to his house a few days ago and we picked and picked and picked. He has a good system for picking berries. Belt an empty milk jug with the top cut off around your waist, and have both hands free to pick, balance, and navigate through the undergrowth.

After picking the berries, I took them home and was way too busy for a few days to do anything other than eat a few here and there. This morning I got them out, sat on the porch, and sorted out the sticks and leaves.

Then I sugared the berries, and added a little lemon juice to make a batch of jam.

Black raspberries are incredibly dark, sweet and full of seeds, which I love. I made a simple jam, and bottled it to save mostly for my brother, who lives in the city.

For the dutch oven cookoff we made a whiskey sour cherry spoon bread. A not too sweet cake, rich with butter, and filled with fruit. Cherries soaked for a few days in whiskey and sugar.

We preheated the dutch oven, melted the butter, and then added the cake batter. Then we carefully spooned in the sour cherries.

Then lidded the dish, making sure not to get any ashes in the cake, and set it aside to cook.

We whipped cream with vanilla and powdered sugar to serve with the spoon bread.

A simple and satisfying dessert.

I have a jar of cherries on my porch. They are solar cooking in a broth of sugar and whiskey. I got sick of pitting all the cherries, and this recipe called for unpitted (and unwashed) cherries, whiskey, and sugar. I had all the ingredients, as well as a quart jar, so I made use of them.

To pick the cherries, which were on a huge tree, my friend Duncan helped me out. We backed his pickup truck under the tree (over the sidewalk) and placed an 8 foot ladder in the bed of the truck. I used a pail with a handle attached to my overalls so that I had both hands free for picking the cherries and balancing.

The cherries “cook” for a month, and are supposed to last up to two years.

I found the recipe (originally made with brandy) in a cookbook on preserving fruits and vegetables according to French tradition, without canning. I am not one hundred percent sure that I trust this method, and might not end up leaving them in the sun the whole time…not sure.

Cherries. My first attempt ended up with 8 jars of what my sister calls “Early Bird” cherry preserves.

I picked cherries in the rain, which was actually delightful. The rain washed the sticky ripe cherry juices off my arms as I picked, and the glistening cherries against the dark leaves were a treat to look at.

I brought the cherries home, set up camp on the porch (it had stopped raining) and pitted each and every cherry with my thumb. I have tried cherry pitters, but for small, ripe, sour pie cherries, the thumb works the best. After pitting the cherries, I put them in my jam cauldron layered with sugar. They sat for an hour (according to recipe) and then I heated the mixture to dissolve the sugar. Then the cherries rested again. Overnight this time. I woke up at 6 in the morning, with a clean kitchen, and heated the cherries and filled and processed the jars.

When I gave a nice little jar to my dad, I noticed, to my mild horror that there was a worm left in the jar…I guess organic means that worms get to enjoy the cherries as much as we do…and maybe I am not the best cherry worm remover.

I love the idea of strawberry pie. Fresh fruit, cream, and a buttery crust are all I need to be happy (for a few moments anyways). Oh, and maybe a sprig or two of mint, too.

Last night I got home with more strawberries than I knew what to do with. Well, not really, but there were a lot. Before bed, I mixed up a batch of pie dough. 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 stick butter, and a bit of ice water. I put the dough in the fridge over night, and this morning I rolled it out, pricked it, and popped it into the oven. I left the pie crusts on the counter to cool and ran off to work.

This afternoon, I came home and filled the pie shells with a whipped cream and yogurt mixture. It is one of my new favorites: very simple, fresh, and delicious. I used greek style hung yogurt mixed with sugar, lime zest and lime juice, and vanilla. To this mixture I added the whipped cream.

On top of the pies I added strawberries (whole around the edges, and sliced with sugar in the middle. I threw in a mango as well here. To garnish the pies I picked some mint from the garden.

All 6 assorted mini pies made it safely into town in my pie baskets.

When there are strawberries, there ARE strawberries. As with most fruits, if you choose to eat them when they are fresh, you have to eat a lot of them, all at once. This is of course how to make up for not eating them the rest of the year. (It is also a good way to get a stomach ache.) Pick them, eat them, can them, eat them, make pies, and eat some more.

My friend Bob has a huge garden, and the strawberries were ripe for picking last night. We went by, and picked tons! I came home with two turkey-roasting trays full (which is actually half full, as the fruits shouldn’t be layered too deep..). Last night I canned a batch of jam (and started crusts for pies).

Strawberry jam is a simple mixture of sugar, fruit, and lemon juice. I didn’t use much pectin, and the resulting jam was thin, which is perfect for things like pancakes and yogurt.

To thicken the jam a little bit, I boiled it for a while. You don’t want to boil the jam too much though, or you will over cook the fruit. hmmm..

Today my friend Hilary and I made jam. She supplied two bundles of rhubarb, and I added a well packed cup of rose petals.

The result was a sweet, delicately rose scented rhubarb jam. We ate the better part of a jar with spoons while we processed the jars.

The rhubarb and sugar were mixed first, and left to sit. When the sugar had mostly dissolved, we added lemon juice and rose petals.

We put the mixture onto a burner and let it boil for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, we washed, dried and set up our jars, lids, and canning utensils. We used Weck canning jars (glass jars and lids, made in Germany) which are the cutest things ever!

Below are the filled jars. We ended up with quite a few! The rhubarb jam is quite thin, with a little scent of rose, and I can’t wait to put it onto vanilla ice cream..

green tomato tart

May 30, 2010

What to do when you get paid in green tomatoes?

At the end of a morning of playing music at the farmer’s market, we received a collection of  treats from many of the different vendors! Among the items was a bag of green tomatoes, and I took them home to try to make a green tomato tart. I had a recipe in mind that I wanted to try from Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, one of my favorite cookbooks.

The crust was very simple, a mixture of flour, powdered sugar, and butter, pressed into the bottom of the tart pan. No rolling out, and it tasted delicious! I am going to remember this for other recipes…

Then I arranged apple and green tomato slices around, covered with lemon juice and dusted with a sugar and flour mixture. (You are supposed to use corn starch, but I didn’t have any.)

The recipe only called for three tablespoons of sugar in the tart. At the end you are supposed to add 1/2 a cup of blackberry jam. I didn’t have any blackberry jam, and wanting to use up something that I had in my cupboard I substituted a jar of spicy jalapeno pepper jelly. I wasn’t sure if it would go…green tomato, apple, vinegar, and the sharp bite of pepper, but it ended up tasting pretty good.


May 11, 2010

Erika taught Heli and I how to make crostata in Italy. She showed us how to make it in pretty much the same way her mother (and probably grandmother, etc, etc.) made it. Erika made one exception, she melted the butter. Somehow she was able to pull it off, but when I tried to repeat this feat, I ended up with a very very hard tart…

So Heli and I cut in the butter. And then add an egg, and a little milk, and let the dough chill. If you have an extra jar of jam, this is the perfect desert. Sweet, but not too sweet, and fresh with the zest of a lemon in the crust.

We made ours with Heli’s apricot jam. With the left over dough we made a mini crostata with pear butter.

We latticed the tops, and drove the tarts into town to bake at the store (again..).

We had a little tart for my mom’s birthday, and snacked here and there for the rest of the afternoon…