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.)