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.