Saturday, May 24, 2008

So Cosmo Says You're Fat? Well, I Ain't Down With That.

Strawberry jam at Marco and Allison's apartment today. We ate squash blossom-anchovy pizza and listened to Cuban hip-hop and Marco's rap mix. Amusingly, the only time he loses his Roman accent is when he's quoting rap lyrics. OH. My God, Becky? Look at her butt.

"When I think of this country, I think of 'Baby Got Back,'" he opined. "How do you sit down at a table and write this song? I can't even imagine it."

I tried to follow Mrs RC Moneymaker's (real name, I swear--check page 189) "8 Minute Strawberry Jam" recipe from Pickles and Preserves, but there were some complications. First, the sugar to fruit ratio is insane: 4 parts sugar to 1 part fruit. Maybe this is why they had wooden teeth in ye olden days.

Then the wording tripped me up. The recipe requires the addition of "4 cups heated sugar." Heated? Is that...boiled? Liquid? Tossed in a saucepan and warmed up, but solid? No clue, and I didn't want to discover a hunk of hardened candy in the center of the boiling fruit, so we freestyled a straightforward recipe that did the trick.

Straightforward Strawberry Jam

6 cups of strawberries, hulled and mashed
2 cups of sugar
Juice of 2 lemons

Toss the mashed strawberries and their juices into a nonreactive pot. Bring to a slow, even boil, then add the sugar. Taste after 30 minutes, add lemon, and adjust sugar if necessary. Boil over low heat until the color deepens to a warm rose and the texture is as you prefer--ours was workable after about 1.5 hours, but we cooked a full 2 hours to get a tighter texture.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cherry-Sour Plum Jam

Sour cherries, a treat of Eastern European and Russian cuisine common in East Coast and Midwest markets, do not exist in San Francisco.

At least that's what I hear from two friends who tried to find them here and then reported that sour cherries aren't grown anywhere in California.

Sweet red cherries made a triumphant return last week. I tasted samples of wildly divergent quality at three or four stalls before I arrived at the DeSantis stand, where I noticed women in headscarves handing over $20 in exchange for covered boxes. If there's one thing I love at the market, it's the air of insider knowledge.

"What's in there?" I asked.

"Leaves," Mrs DeSantis answered. She pointed to the women in the scarves. "That culture likes them."

"It's the Mediterraneans: I'm one of them," one of her helpers said. "Grape leaves for dolmas. Try the sour plums. We like them, too."

I had noticed the plums: pale green and hard, with a waxy skin. The tart flavor hits your tongue like acid as you crunch through the skin, then fades a bit, as if your taste buds deciphered some code. I decided to try them with cherries as a mock 'sour cherry' jam.

The rub? Now I had to pit over 100 individual fruits, with a mild hangover on a Sunday morning. And I had to do it early because swing dancing lessons in the park started at noon.

The most efficient way to do this is probably with a cherry pitter, which I don't own. The plums I slit open and scraped around the pits. In contrast, the soft, pulpy cherries were easy to pit by hand, pressing the pit through the flesh.

Time-consuming, yes. First I was annoyed with my lack of foresight. Then I got into the rhythm and thought--wait, isn't this the best part of cooking? Up early on a foggy Sunday morning, drinking tea, listening to This American Life, and making headway on a mountain of fruit?

The jam was pretty good. Not as sour as a true sour cherry jam, but with a pleasant tartness and depth of flavor.

Cherry-Sour Plum Jam
3 cups cherries, washed and pitted
2 cups sour plums, washed and pitted
1 1/4 cups sugar
A bit of water

Pit fruit and toss in a nonreactive pot. I added about a tablespoon of water because the cherries weren't particularly juicy and I didn't want them to stick to the pan, but if your chopped fruit yields a decent amount of liquid you need add no water.

Heat slowly and bring up to boil, then add sugar. I tasted the fruit first and determined that 1 1/4 cups of sugar worked well. Cook gently until the fruit falls apart and pulls back together.

All in all, the pitting took over an hour and the cooking about an hour and a half.