Monday, March 31, 2008

Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

Sunday Dan and I made strawberry-rhubarb jam at the Cook Here and Now dinner. Dan is one of my market buddies; seeing him and his daughter Mia lugging their cooler-on-wheels makes even the foggiest Saturdays brighter and better. Dan has taken a couple of classes from June Taylor, the Bay Area's most skilled jam maker, and has made several types of jam on his own.

Our collaborative effort is, if I say so myself, exceptional. All credit due to Dan, who bought, hulled and macerated the berries, and gave a running commentary on what June Taylor would do. He even did the math, all logical-like!

Dan: How much sugar should we add?
Me: Uh...until it tastes and smells and looks good?
Dan: Let me get a pencil.

the math

I convinced him to add a bit less sugar and more lemon than he proposed, to allow the the tart flavor of the rhubarb to match the sweet berries.I even picked the lemons from the tree in my backyard. California!

The fruit boiled down fairly quickly, but it took a while to get the consistency we wanted. It started out pinkish-red, like the blood of a baby seal that had eaten too much cotton candy, and finished as a deep rose.

By the way, I just checked with my friend Sonya, and she said the baby seal blood comparison was not too weird, so I'm going with it.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

3 quarts strawberries, sliced and hulled
1 3/4 quarts rhubarb, sliced into chunks about 1"
3 cups sugar
3 lemons, juiced

Macerate the sliced berries overnight with a cup of sugar. Toss them in a non-reactive pot with the rhubarb, lemon juice, and sugar to taste. Boil until you reach 220 degrees and the mix passes the freezer plate test.

This yielded 12 jars of mixed sizes. To get a more accurate estimate than that, I'd have to inquire with Dan.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hello, My Name Is

Today was the day of conversation, introductions and asides at the market.

I went with Maria, who celebrated her birthday today. Halfway through our first lap, we ran into Dan and Mia and discussed the dishes we planned to make at the Cook Here and Now dinner tomorrow and what was on the menu for Maria's ginger-themed dinner tonight.

"Where are you eating all of this food?" a stranger asked. "And can I come?"

At the Capay stand, a woman buying kale announced that she raised laying hens in the city.

"The secret," she warned, "is that chickens are cannibals! Pecking order isn't just a phrase." Apparently her hens ganged up on a sadistic rooster and plucked out his feathers. Sounds like a reasonable strategy to me.

I marched up to a guy in a Prather Ranch sweatshirt and asked if he pronounced the name Prah-ther or Pray-ther. Luckily, he was an employee and gave me the scoop: up north where the ranch lies the locals have a distinct accent, so it's Pray-ther. But he says it Prah-ther. Apparently he'd been listening in to one of our conversations as well; he wished Maria a happy birthday.

The first organic strawberries of the seasons appeared today, and tomorrow with Dan and his wife Amy, I'm making strawberry-rhubarb jam at the Cook Here and Now meal. A post tomorrow with a recipe.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Marmalade at Marco's

Saturday started off fast: we skidded over to Marco's apartment on a motorcycle, which was a hairy undertaking for two reasons:

1. I had never ridden on on a motorcycle.
2. I had an awfully bad hangover, which didn't help matters.

After a year of chat and business, finally we resolved on simultaneous bread and marmalade lessons. I'd been excited about the prospect of strawberry jam, but still the fruits of the market were unimpressive. No organics were available, and the fat, punch-colored conventionals offered little to compel. Instead we went for Lisbon lemons and crafted a pretty straightforward marmalade.

Marco and Allison's kitchen is ideal, from the light filtering through the waxy leaves outside to the smell of fermentation within. Alternating between cappuccino and Advil as fuel, I sliced lemons into thin strips, removing the seeds.

"Aaaaaah!" I moaned, still, around 1 p.m.

"You can't mix gin with beer," said the Roman. "It's like mixing Parmesan with...with...I don't know. It doesn't even exist, it's that bad. It's just wrong."

To avoid bitterness with citrus, you can scrape out the white pith, but these lemons had little. I tossed them in a non-reactive pot, covered with water, and boiled the mess until the peels were transparent, which took less than an hour. Then I measured the fruit and added about one part sugar for four parts fruit.

Put everything (liquid, peel, sugar) back in the pot and boil down to make marmalade, tasting to see if your sugar ratio works.

Because Lisbon lemons are exceptionally tart, so is this marmalade. You can add lots more sugar to smooth out the flavor, but then why use Lisbons? Let them be as they are.

About eight sliced lemons called for one cup of sugar; after tasting I added about a third cup more. We tried and liked the finished product on wheat bread, with a bit of butter.

Now that I've finished writing this, I remember some details: the wheat pancakes we forgot to try with marmalade, the two Winesburg, Ohio poems I read. I wonder when I'll ride a motorcycle again. I wonder if I'll add more sugar next time.

Recipes are stories. You rewrite them a little every time.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Voila--A Practical Application

Usually I give away the jams I make, but I keep a few jars around the house. Last week I made a pizza with fig jam, today I was cooking for some friends and finally perfected it, with help from Marco.

Best-Ever Fig Pizza

  • garlic, chopped

  • rosemary, chopped
  • olive oil
  • dolcelatte gorgonzola cheese, chopped
  • arugula, washed and torn

Roll out pizza dough and spread a thin layer of fig jam--mine is pretty thick, so I spread it on the dough with my hands. Sprinkle chopped rosemary and garlic, then diced bits of dolcelatte (a sweet gorgonzola). Add a pinch of salt, then dose with a bit of good quality olive oil.

Toss in the 500 degree preheated oven for six to eight minutes, until the crust is nicely browned. While it's cooling on the rack, throw on some arugula leaves.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

I Made Marmalade

...because Mrs DeSantis told me to.

Not sure what to get, I questioned the matriach of the citrus stand while trying to snap her picture. She described how to candy the thick peels of blood oranges, then decided I should make marmalade from the exceptionally tart, orange-skinned rangpur limes, which are a cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon. You read that right: no lime involvement in this "lime."

Charming DeSantis naming conventions usually require a bit of research. The family is from northern Italy (Istria, I think?) and often letters in the names of their strange fruits are appended or discarded. The sign said "rangpure," so I google-tested for "rangpure" and "range pure" before landing on rangpur, apparently a fruit of Indian origins discovered by Sir Joseph Hooker in the foothills of the Himalayas and transported to Florida, where someone thought it was a lime.

Only appropriate then that we transform it to marmalade through another Floridian. Adapted from a recipe by Mrs Everette Rogers of The National Hotel in Leesburg, Florida:

Rangpur Lime Marmalade
6-8 rangpur limes

Wash the fruit and slice thin, discarding seeds and pith. Cover with water and boil, covered, 20 minutes. Measure the fruit and water mixture (I got 3 cups) and add 1/2 c sugar for each cup of mixture. Over medium heat, cook rapidly until the syrup gels. Seal in hot sterilized jars.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Alemany, the Best Market on Earth

Last week I tried to describe to a mysterious Southern gentleman the appeal of the Alemany market. Many components inform the mix, but, like good jam, the mess boils down to one idea, and to me it's the sense of community.

I grew up on my great-grandparents' farm, living cheek-to-jowl with aunts, an uncle, cousins, and my grandparents, in addition to my siblings. In fourth grade we were asked to describe our family, including their number. I said my family included 11 people, not understanding the concept of 'nuclear.' The teacher must have thought us part of some religious sect.

At the market I get a palpable sense of San Francisco as my community. Alemany feels like a real neighborhood market: representing San Francisco's diverse population in its buyers, sellers and (affordable) produce.

A couple months ago I forgot my wallet at home. The market rests flush against a highway, far from any ATM machine. I walked through the stalls to get a sense of what was available that week, and by the end of my visit I had carrots, oranges, apples and a cookie, all for free.

Of course, the best part is visiting with my market friends.

Here's Maria, my partner-in-crime, if food is a crime. Since I moved out to farther Mission, we usually head over together, which has made rainy winter shopping more enjoyable. As we saw a man binding together these pussy willows, I said "Oh, for whipping people? Is it that time already?" They looked at me as if I'd said "That Dick Cheney seems like a real decent fellow." But I am not crazy!

Marco, as you know if you've met him, is a force to behold. An amazing compendium of food knowledge, and entirely generous about sharing it, to boot. If you haven't been to one of his Cook Here and Now dinners, you should make that goal your life's work. I've been baking bread for the last few weeks, and frustrated by the results. "Don't worry," he said, "I've been baking for 12 years, and I still don't always get it right."

This is Mrs DeSantis, who sells me my citrus, including the rangpure limes I'm using this week for marmalade. "Mrs DeSantis, I don't know what to make this week!" I cry, brow furrowed. She makes it easy.

Guisell sells the best coffee in the market, and is the force behind Sabores del Sur, and creator of what is commonly regarded as the best cookie on earth. She works with La Cocina, a food nonprofit for which I volunteer, so sometimes I'm lucky enough to run into her outside of the market, too.

Chris from Capay swears he used to model. That fact is unconfirmed, but I can confirm that he sells the best kale in the market.

I didn't find Dan or his delightful daughter Mia this week; last week she was buying strawberries to dip in chocolate for her mom's Oscar party.

On the preserved fruit front this week: rangpure lime marmalade, from Mrs DeSantis.