Sunday, December 2, 2007

What's Good About the Morning?

That's what a vendor at Alemany said, jokingly, to a customer who wished him a good morning. And understandably so: San Francisco mornings are now brisk and gray; the rains are only a few weeks away. Though we may benefit from it, no one looks forward to monsoon season.

It was a good morning, though. Guisell, the wonderful owner of Sabores del Sur, gave me an alfajor, because I looked like I needed it.

The De Santis family stand had lovely, weird citrus fruits, like calamondins, variegated pink lemons (like the one above), and bright orange limes. The sign said "rang pure lime," but I haven't found any references to that name anywhere.

Pickles and Preserves features recipes for a number of weird and old-fashioned fruits: the marmalade chapter alone has recipes that include greengage plums, crab apples, quince, and even calamondins.

I adapted a lime marmalade recipe submitted to Pickles and Preserves by Mrs Everette Rogers of The National Hotel in Leesburg, Florida. Instead of straight lemons and limes, I used orange limes and variegated lemons.

Lime Marmalade

6 large limes
1 lemon
1 cup sugar

Wash fruit, then slice finely with a mandoline, discarding seeds and pieces of pith. Cover with water and boil for 20 minutes.

Measure the mixture and add enough sugar for a 2/1 fruit to sugar ratio; I had about 2 cups of hot fruit, so I added 1 cup of sugar.

Boil over low heat until you reach desired thickness, around 45 minutes. Process in sterilized jars.


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fig jam!

This weekend I made it out to Ferry Building, hoping to catch my friend Dave who is volunteering at the booth of one of my favorite nonprofits, La Cocina. Alas, I was too early for Dave, but not for some excellent figs.

I bought two baskets of organic figs at $5 each and have been following Sean Timberlake's recipe, with a few mods.

2 baskets of figs
1 c sugar
2 tb honey

Pour boiling water over the figs. Let sit for 15 minutes, then remove the stems and pat dry.

Mash and measure the figs--I got about 3 cups. Mine were a bit sweet, so I added a scant 1 c of sugar--you may wish to add more to taste.

Pop the mashed figs in a sturdy dutch oven and cover with water (mine took 2.5 c water). Stirring occasionally, simmer the mashed fruit with sugar and honey for about three hours, until the mixture thickens and pulls together. Process in sterilized jars.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Big Time Weep Fest

Today I'm not interested in writing about what I picked up at the market this morning. It's fall, my favorite season. I am a bit sentimental always, but especially when the weather cools.

Two aspects of my jam project please me especially. One is the time spent with my friends from the Alemany market, especially Marco, Dan and Dan's daughter, whom I met for the first time when she was haggling with a vendor to reduce the price of some sub-par tomatoes.

"Too low! Too low!" the farmer said, shaking a finger. Dan's daughter shrugged and made as if to browse elsewhere until the farmer relented. She is eight, I think, and has a sparkle of wickedness in her eyes.

It delights me to run into them at the market, brag about the deals or exotic produce we've found, and speculate about what we'll turn up next week. I've been able to chat with some wonderful farmers as well, like the lady who sells beautiful little carrots and peonies and the guys who sell the excellent stonefruit.

Also, I like the time I've been able to spend by myself, in my kitchen. My very first apartment in San Francisco, a sublet in the Sunset district, had several deficiencies: namely, five skittish cats, decades old carpet, and perennial fog. It also had a beautiful old stove on which I loved to cook. Since I lived there, I've sworn that all of my apartments will have pretty stoves.

The kitchen and I each have our personal failings: it is small and I never do the dishes. It's unlikely that either of us will change, yet we accomplish great things together. In a little nook I've lodged a table to use when friends come and eat; my upstairs neighbor lends her chairs. It was beef bourguignon and an apple tart last weekend, with four wonderful people. In November I'm making chicken and dumplings and a dessert yet to be determined. Probably something with jam.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Quince-Apple Butter

Quince jam or butter recipes can be found in cookery books dating back to the 16th century. Shakespeare mentioned the fruit in his poems and named a character Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Called the "membrillo" in Spain, quince is cooked into a paste and served with Manchego cheese.

This weekend I made a fruit butter with quince, "Pink Lady" and "Cameo" apples from Alemany. While I bought a few organic lemons to throw in just in case, the pectin in quince skin was sufficient to firm the butter without it.

2 large quince

3-5 assorted medium apples

Enough apple cider to cover the fruit

1 cup sugar

Quarter and core the fruit, pour in enough cider to cover it, and boil until soft. Peel off the skins (they should fall away easily) and run through a food mill. Boil a 4:1 pulp/sugar mixture and add any spices you'd like--I put in about 1/4 tsp cinnamon and a pinch of cloves. Cook until you reach desired consistency, then process.

Also this weekend I baked rugelach for an open house at my friend Kate's studio, using homemade apricot jam. Early reports indicate success.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Yali Butter

The figs of weeks past were somewhat a disaster. Already a bit overripe when I bought them, slicing and leaving them out overnight resulted in an odd cobwebby coating. I can't explain it, but I sure as hell am not eating it.

I'm still working on creating a butter out of Chinese dates, but in the meantime, defeated by figs, I went for a quick hit: pear butter. I looked through the many pear options at Alemany last weekend and found these in bin marked "yali":

"Is that a pear?" I asked the two Asian farmers at the stand.

"No," the woman answered.

"An...Asian pear?"

"No," the woman repeated.

"Yali," the man said.


I asked for a sample. It looks and tastes just like an Asian pear, with a firmer bite than a (non Asian? Continental?) pear and a butterscotch-like flavor. I bought two pounds and lugged them home.

So far I've made jams and marmalades but no butters, so I referenced an apple butter recipe by Mrs R D Lea of Chesterfield, VA.

Basically I boiled the peeled, sliced "yali" until about at soft as you'd want mashed potatoes, ran the fruit through a food mill, and then boiled it with sugar, some spices and a bit of vanilla until I liked the texture.

The resulting butter can be as spicy as you like--I used about 2 cups of pulped fruit, one half cup of sugar, and a quarter teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, which gave it a nice kick. I think I might try it warmed over ginger ice cream.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

And...we're back!

This morning I stood at the bus stop in front of the Glen Park BART station with an 80-something-year-old Chinese woman with an empty plaid suitcase. I had my big empty bag. The monitor for Monterey route, to Alemany Market, reported that the bus was coming in 7 minutes. Then 9. Then 34.

The Chinese woman looked at me and raised her eyebrows. I mirrored her gesture. We had enough of this particular brand of shenanigans. Some time between 9 and 34 minutes the bus arrived, and the crowd of market-goers climbed aboard.

Most of the people on the Monterey bus at this time are Asian women with empty vegetable receptacles: suitcases, metal carts, milk crates lashed to wheels. Some are chatty, others are silent during the ten minute ride.

The market is already much different than my last visit three weeks ago. At last sight, the first Asian pears were out. This time I saw four or five varieties. Pumpkin greens are out, and the summer stone fruit is still available, but not at its prime.

For the first time I noticed jujubes at the K+K Farm stand, out of Orange Cove, CA.

Actually, for the first time in my life I noticed jujubes, also called a red or Chinese date. The fruit is sweet, somewhat similar in texture to an apple and can be used, when dried, in soups or teas. I bought a pound and decided to make jujube butter, like apple butter. The jujube is certainly drier than an apple, so I may pair it with another fruit. See the results tomorrow.

Inspired by Sean Timberlake, I also bought plenty of figs to make fig jam. And I ran into my favorite market-goers, including a delightful saleswoman who introduced me to some husked yellow tomatoes.

Details and recipes tomorrow.


Friday, August 24, 2007

En Chine

Jam projects are on hold for two weeks while I'm in China, eating more pork products than a person ought. XLB, braised pork ribs and sesame BBQ pork puffs? Yes, yes and yes.

Back in September with fig jam, based on a recipe from the lovely Sean of Hedonia.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

How to gut a chicken

Some days shopping at the market is the best part of jam making. Other days it's the transit to and from, as was the case today.

The scene: the 23 Monterey bus stop behind the market, a few feet from a truck-full of caged chickens, pheasants and rabbits awaiting their doom. A woman waiting at the stop noticed me watching the stall owner grab a chicken by the feet and move toward the back of the truck, his other hand grasping a long metal implement.

"I don't even remember how to gut a chicken," the woman said.
"Mmm," I assented.
"It's been some time. Twelve years?"
"You could buy a book, probably," I offered.
"Or look it up on the web," she said. "My husband and brother hunt for turkeys in the fall. They looked up on the web how to clean 'em. I never ate that turkey, though. I said, 'If you had to look it up on the web, you probably did it wrong."

I got peak season O Henry peaches, $1/lb (organic), at the Ferrari stand. A recipe tomorrow...


Sunday, August 5, 2007

Blackberry-Plum Jam

I went early to Rainbow to load up on more half-pint jars (back in stock!) as well as some other supplies. In the bulk foods aisle, I tried to find a larger plastic bag to contain all the white sugar I needed, impervious to the flyers posted around the store advertising a food lecture:

Kick the sugar habit!

Are you tired of the sugar rollercoaster?
Do you want to reclaim control of your diet?

No and no. I picked up some "Flavor King" red plums to compliment the blackberries, which macerated in 1/2 c of sugar for about two hours.

Blackberry-Plum Jam

1 quart blackberries, rinsed and picked over

4 red plums

2 lemons, squeezed

1/2 c plus 1 1/2 c white sugar

After joining the peeled, sliced plums in a pot with the berries and accumulated juice, mix in the additional sugar and lemon juice. Bring the fruits to a slow boil, scraping off foam that rises to the top. Boil until fruits release liquid, then boil down and pass the freezer plate test for desired consistency.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Late-season berries

Clearly I've found the digital macro setting on my new camera. This morning I went to the farmer's market with a special guest non-jam-maker, where I picked out blackberries ($5/qt)and blueberries ($8/qt).

Tonight the blackberries will macerate; tomorrow I'll go to Rainbow to buy new jars and then cook down the fruits. I hope my half-pint Masons are back in stock...


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I love you, a bushel and a peck and a...

I wish "shitload" were an official measurement.

Anyhow, I had a shitload of Terra Firma peaches at my house, as well as some lovely green gage plums from the farmers market. I shocked the skins off the plums and peaches, then dropped them into a pot with a bit of water, 3 cups of sugar and the juice of two organic lemons.

June Taylor was RIGHT. It took forever for the jam to hold together. About fifteen minutes into the slow boil, the plums suddenly disintegrated and left a watery, pinkish goo in the pot. It looked a lot like the slime that covered Carol Anne when she was rescued from The Beast in the original Poltergeist, but with a pleasant sugary smell.

After about 30 minutes of boiling, the fruit-sugar mixture finally held together and passed the freezer plate test. Hooray! Jam!


Saturday, July 28, 2007

I am not the jam queen

This morning I woke up and decided to head out to a different market for fruits. First I walked up the hill to Noe Valley, which has a perfectly lovely farmer's market, but was a bit too small for my purposes--all of the stone fruits on offer I had made before.

I grabbed the J Church and headed downtown to the Ferry Building Market, which I had thus far avoided. Locals have a number of complaints about this market: it's too expensive, it's too hard to park, it's crowded with tourists.

Because of the prime location and associated rent, the prices are higher. I don't care about parking, and tourists can be charming if you're in the mood. I was standing in the line snaking around Peet's when I overheard a visiting British family discussing breakfast. The son's foul mood threatened their day; he wanted something savory to eat and was lost in a sea of pastries and breads. I helped them find the Hayes Street Grill booth (note: stunning bacon sandwiches), then found myself at the June Taylor Jams booth.

In case you are unfamiliar, June Taylor is the gold standard for jams. They are jarred fruit bombs, explosively flavorful and beautifully packaged with letterpress labels.

And that's where our story begins. The booth was staffed by a woman I'd not seen there before, I poked around the marmalade, conserves and jams as she helped a couple of tourists.

Me: Who is June Taylor?
Clerk: I am.
Me: Oh.
(Uncomfortable pause as I sample every jam with a tiny white spoon)
Me: I-make-jam-every-weekend-for-this-project-and-strawberry-was-really-hard-and-expensive-and-I-really-like-your jams-and-I-don't-use-pectin-and-you're-my-hero.
June Taylor: Oh. Do you sell it?
Me: No. I bought some green gage plums.
June Taylor: It will be loose without pectin.

And that was that. Good night, and good luck.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Plew-ott? Plew-o?

Lately the colors of summer fruit hold the most sway over my choice at the market. Last week it was green plums, this week the waxy plum/green of Dapple Dandy pluots.

I was looking for stonefruit to make trifle for a Cook Here & Now dinner when I spied these guys. The helpful farmer helped me select ripe peaches, plums, pluots and nectarines to throw in; I glazed madeleines with tayberry jam and layered them between creme anglaise and sliced fruit.

Sounds good, doesn't it? It wasn't entirely successful, though. The jam was the star of the show, but the madeleines were a bit heavy and I suspect whipped cream would have been a better choice than creme anglaise.

Either way, the best thing to come out of it was Dapple Dandy pluot jam made with surplus fruit. It's a bit tart, a bit sweet and a lovely faded flower color.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Green is the new black

Few types of shopping appeal to me, but those that do (food shopping and book shopping) are an integral part of this experiment.

I work from recipes about 50% of the time I make jam, but I'm always reading recipes, trying to pick up proportions, processes and tricks that guide me when I'm working without formal instruction.

Sunday I went to Alemany to buy green plums for this week's jam, then it was off to Green Apple Books to check out their selection of new and used cookbooks.

Of cookbooks they offer many, from out-of-print editions of James Beard classics to $300 copies of El Bulli treatises with money shots of caramelized trout roe. They even have a little section on preserved/canned foods, which is where I find my jam books.


Sunday, July 8, 2007

Apricot jam

I used a modified version of Rosey Stasek's apricot jam recipe, which won third place at the Santa Clara County Fair.

First I shocked the apricots--dropped them into a pot of boiling water, then scooped them into a bowl of ice water--in order to loosen the skins. These apricots were very ripe and a bit soft, so the skin slipped off easily and the pits fell away.

I dropped the fruit (1.5 pounds, a bit less than 2 cups) into a pot with about a cup of sugar and the juice of one small lemon, then cooked it for around 35 minutes, until it reached the consistency I wanted. The mixture filled two small jars, which I processed in boiling water, as you can see in the picture posted above.


Saturday, July 7, 2007

Off to the market

Saturday is market day. I wake up early, walk out on Mission, and take the bus over Bernal Heights to the Alemany Farmer's Market. Usually there are a few other market-goers on the 24 Divisadero--they are the people carrying empty bags.

Unlike the pristine and pricey Ferry Building, beloved by tourists who gawk much and buy little, the Alemany is definitely a market for locals. There are fewer organic options, but prices are much lower. You'll see little Asian ladies picking through piles of greens, old men with denim backpacks full of long beans, couples eating pork mole tamales at the All Star table.

I typically browse both aisles before committing to a purchase so that I can get a sense of price, quality and seasonality. If only one stall has strawberries, cherries, or artichokes, it is not a good sign.

Berries and stone fruit have been promising for the last few weeks. Today I bought apricots (conventional, $1/lb) for this week's jam. Next week I might pick up some of these Emerald Beauty plums.

Then I'm off to Rainbow to buy bulk Mason jars and sugar. The exotic life of a jam-maker.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

What berry?


For the last two weeks, I've had my eye on a newcomer at Alemany Farmer's Market: the tayberry. Named after the river Tay in Scotland, this is a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. Picture, if you will (and you'll have to, because my camera is broken and I've yet to buy another) a shorter, slightly redder loganberry, and you've got the tayberry.

I bought three quarts at $2.50 each. As I wanted to preserve the tart-sweet balance of the fruit, I didn't add as much sugar as usual: only a 1 1/4 cup per cup of juice and pulp. I ran the cooked fruit through a food mill to grind the seeds, which was recommended by a Chowhound contributor as a way to stiffen the pectin-free final product. As (almost) always, I added a bit of lemon to brighten the color and hold the jam together.

At the market, I noticed a guy running around taking photos of the produce. He was Marco of Marco's Farmer's Market Watch, a blog that I follow about San Francisco markets. It's a delight to live in a city with so many people interested in cooking with local, seasonal ingredients.

(Thanks to the lovely Sonya of People Reading, who supplied the above photo.)


Friday, May 18, 2007

I can has strawberreeez?

It has been a while--blame Dell.

Finally the farmers markets in San Francisco have lovely (non citrus) fruit. Last week I made "Mrs. Holt's Strawberry Preserves," a recipe from Mrs. Don S. Holt of Concord, N.C., published in Pickles and Preserves (1955).

The recipe calls for layering the berries and sugar in a kettle, then bringing to a boil. I wasn't careful enough in heeding the note that the first layer should be sugar--with a thick layer of sugar on the bottom of the pot, the sweet stuff cooks down to a liquid into which the berries sink. If any berry touches the bottom of the pan, the fruit burns before the sugar comes up to temperature.

Live and learn--in the end, I had to make two batches. The satisfying pop of the finished jars was worth it.

My camera is also broken, so here's a picture of Liz's pig.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Marmalade, take one

This is not my first attempt at jammish endeavors. Last weekend I bought early strawberries at the Alemany Farmer's Market and attempted to make a batch. The strawberries themselves were pretty unimpressive, as perhaps should be expected in March. I didn't add enough lemon to account for the lack of pectin in the berries and made an ill-considered grab for a metal sieve that had been too close to the stove, resulting in a pretty track of blisters across my palm.

However, I found canning supplies in my neighborhoodish (thank you, Rainbow) and was delighted with my first visit to Alemany. I disembarked the Bernal Heights bus under a freeway and couldn't remember the Google Map path to the action. Luckily, one of my fellow passengers was headed in that direction and tipped me on the best approach to the narrow aisle setup of this particular market.

So this weekend: marmalade. I've given up on berries until the season strikes. At one vendor I found excellent Oro Blanco grapefruits, which led me to a recipe for orange-lemon-grapefruit marmalade from Marion Brown's 1955 Pickles and Preserves.

First I peeled thin strips from the skins with a potato peeler, discarding seeds and pith, of which there was a disturbing amount on that grapefruit. After letting the juice and fruit stew overnight on the counter, I boiled the concoction for ten minutes and set it aside to rest. Then...then nothing, because it's still Sunday. But it looks like I'm waking up early tomorrow to process some marmalade.


Monday, March 19, 2007

So this is my very first post about jam

Why jam you ask?

A valid question.

Over the weekend I went to the Vivienne Westwood exhibit at the DeYoung with my friend Belen. After ogling at the profane t-shirts and shredded ballgowns, we stopped at the museum cafe for a glass of wine.

I told her that I was exhausted by the cycle of working late on spreadsheets, drinking $14 cocktails at Financial District bars, and collapsing into bed, only to wake the next day and do it again. One day I had a tough time figuring out an Excel formula, and when I finally nailed it I said, "Take that, bitch!" To the spreadsheet. Out loud.

So I needed something else, I told her.

"And that sometheeng...eees jam?" she asked. Spanish accents make pointed questions more charming, somehow.

Yeah, I guess, so that something is jam. I'm making jam in my little studio apartment in the Mission district of San Francisco. On Saturday morning I buy the fruit at the Alemany farmer's market, prepare it on Saturday afternoon, and bottle it on Sunday. At least that's the plan.