Monday, July 14, 2014

week of jam, day five: alpine blackberry, two ways

Ah, alpine blackberries. So tiny, so sweet, so floral, so much harder to pick than those Himalayan monsters that run rampant everywhere in the northwest (I like those, too, though; those are the ones I grew up eating, and they will always be a quintessential flavor of summer, for me). They're ripening early this year, too; normally we don't pick them until August, but we went up to Index two weekends ago to pick the thimbleberries and found ripe blackberries (and huckleberries - also ahead of schedule!) and picked a couple pints. I made two kinds of blackberry jam: a plain one (with just a little dash of rosewater at the end, to play up the floral notes in the berries), and then blackberry-sage. I used to love blackberry-sage tea as a younger adult. I haven't had any in years, but I still think of the flavor combo fondly. So, I packed up a few jars of the blackberry jam and set them in the canner to process and then went out to the garden and picked some fresh sage, washed and chopped it, and stirred it into the remaining jam in the pot. This decision meant I had to run my hot water canner for an extra 10 minutes (on an 85-degree day, ugh!), but I think it was worth it. Now we have his-n-hers blackberry jam for late autumn - I always like to eat this in November! =)

And yes, I did get up at 6:15am on a Saturday morning to water the garden and take pictures of jam in early morning sunlight! I've been sleeping so little lately, it's kind of awful. I'm getting bags under my eyes from it - but it's so hot at night and so bright so early in the morning that I just can't get a good rest. I seem to wake up at 3am every night now, too. Sometimes I go drink a glass of water, sometimes I get up and go to the bathroom, sometimes I just pet the cat (who, for some reason, hasn't let the heat dissuade her from sneaking into bed sometime in the wee hours of morning and snuggling up into my hip ... I'm kind of glad of it, actually; knowing that we're reaching the end-of-life for her means I want every last little furry snuggle that I can get).

(Here she is enjoying the handwoven, 100% wool rug I picked up at a charity event and cleaned ... clearly, just so she could play with/on it. It's her favorite place to sleep, chase her tail, roll and loll, and of course...those fringes are fun to attack!)

Friday, July 11, 2014

week of jam, day four: blackcap raspberry

I just realized I hadn't posted yet. Seattle's experiencing a real heatwave right now and I am feeling the effects - lethargy, crabbiness, man! I do not like it when the temps are over 80 degrees! And yes, I know, I know: 80 degrees? That's ridiculous! It's so much hotter everywhere else in the world! But here's the thing: do you know what the standing record is for number of days (continuous) with temperatures over 80 degrees in Seattle? Fifteen. Fifteen is the RECORD. It just doesn't get that hot here - and after living more than a decade of my life in this city, I'm glad that it doesn't.

Incidentally, the meteorologists are saying we might be starting a hot streak to break that record right now. We're already at day six. Ugh. As the temps rise, I'm glad I finished making jam earlier this week (oh yes, I still have MORE to share with you), and won't have to fire up the stove and heat the canner anytime soon. Which brings us to today's batch o' jam: blackcap raspberries. We've been growing these berries for a couple of years now, and they are finally starting to settle in and really take off, which is exciting! Blackcaps are native to the northeastern United States, and the nice thing about them is that they can grow and fruit in part-shade. We have a lot of shade in our back garden, so it's exciting to see these guys thriving and their fruit harvest starting to really amp up, despite the lack of light. (But oh, that shady back yard is SO NICE in this heat. Yes, at this time of year, every year, I am thankful for the grove of doug fir that blocks the sun to the south, and the hemlock and stand of cedar which block the sun to the west. I don't have nearly the garden I'd like to have at this house because of  all the shade, but it is ever-so-nice in the summer - and lovely to look at any time of year, of course). Of course, unfortunately for me, one very round, very fluffy squirrel, has also discovered the blackcaps. Every morning, I have to chase him out of the thicket, the little rascal. Stop eating my raspberries!!

But back to the jam. (Sorry - the heat-addled brain is so easily distracted!) So, what do blackcaps taste like? Kind of like a mild raspberry, and kind of floral - in fact, I added a little rosewater to the mix when I made this jam, to play up that quality.

I've got a few more to share with you - I'll try and remember tomorrow, but the thermostat is going up to 90 (wah!), so I might be busy wilting!!

wait, that's not jam! (project 52:41)

oilbar and pencil on paper

We interrupt this week of jam for a project 52 post. Don't worry, the week of jam will return later this afternoon. YOU WOULD NOT BELIEVE HOW MUCH JAM THERE STILL IS - I did three more batches ( albeit tiny ones) yesterday. I thought I might even have another to do today, but a fat little squirrel has discovered my blackcaps, and I suspect that when I go out to pick the last of the fruit, I'm going to find a lot of empty vines.

I'm working on a very flowery summery portrait commission right now, and last week's postcard caught me with flowers on the brain; just a little silhouette of some apple blossoms. Soft, smudgy, out-of-focus stuff is difficult for me, with my penchant for prescision, so exercises in approximation (like this one) are always good practice. Nothing much else to say here, just a quick smudgy card that took ages and ages to dry, and which uses one of my favorite colors right now - that brilliant bold pink! (It's "permanent rose.") I love it! I'm trying to figure out if there's a way I can work some slim touches of it into the hair on this portrait...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

a summer libation (hold the booze)

Oh man. It's a hot summer night and I want something cool and interesting to drink. Something that comes over ice. Something that involves bitters, or maybe an herbal-infused simple syrup ... but then, it's so hot out and I've been feeling kind of on the verge of dehydration all day from the heat, you know? And I just know that if I have any alcohol at all tonight, it's going to leave me feeling fuzzy and limp, and I might even wake up with a tinge of a hangover - yuck, no thank you!

So, I give you: the Virgin Dark & Stormy. It's easy as pie to whip up: in a glass with three or four ice cubes, combine one bottle of strong ginger ale (I like Reed's Extra Ginger Brew), the juice of one lime, and - here's the neat part - about 1 Tablespoon of molasses, to simulate that deep sugarcane sweetness of rum. I recommend starting with less molasses (closer to 1/2 Tbl) and working up to 1 Tbl or more, adjusting the flavor to your taste.

When I'm making an alcoholic Dark & Stormy, my favorite rum to use is Cruzan's Blackstrap Molasses Rum; it's deep and dark and earthy and herbal. So, when I mix up one of these, I use blackstrap molasses - and a heavy hand with it. It gives that same earthy quality to the mix that I like. And if you're not abstaining entirely from alcohol, try adding a few drops of bitters (orange or lime bitters would be great), just to give it an extra interesting kick!

week of jam, day three: thimblequest 2014!

Now for my absolute favorite wild berry: the thimble berry. Growing in patchy sunlight, with big fuzzy maple-like leaves, thimbleberries might be the most delicate of all the wild berries up here. They're mostly seeds and fuzz, not much juice, fall apart almost as soon as you pick them, and crush each other in whatever particular vessel they're being gathered. As a result, I can't wash these berries before I cook them (the secret's out! Are you grossed out?); if I did, I'd wash away half of the juice. So, we pick them carefully, removing all debris as we go, and then we pick through the berries again as we put them in the pan. But no water is involved.

This jam is also incredibly seedy. It's basically a seed-compote! I suppose if I really wanted to make a beautiful jelly, I could put the mix through a food mill or pass it through a sieve and make maybe one jar of perfectly smooth preserve, but I don't. It took a lot of picking to gather enough berries just to make the eight tiny 4-oz jars (every year, we call our thimbleberry picking "thimblequest," for the hours involved!) of thimbleberry jam I have tucked away in my pantry to last me through this year.

How does it taste, though? Like the brightest, tangiest raspberry you've ever had in your life. Delicious, and so worth that extra effort!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

week of jam, day ... two?

whoops! Sorry about that; I got the photo taken before dark, but I didn't manage to stay awake long enough to post last night - in fact, it was still light out when I fell asleep (sometime around 8:30pm). Such a long and productive day yesterday - garden work, painting, etc.

Welp, we'll just have to extend Week of Jam by one day then, won't we? Today we have an apricot preserve, an easy way to put up and save some apricots that most definitely would have gone bad before we got around to eating them. This is another simple one: just wash apricots, pit them, and cut into quarters. I used about a pound and a half of fruit (maybe two pounds?). I placed the quarters into a pan with the zest of one lemon and about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice - apricots are so tart and zingy anyway, I didn't want this preserve to be too tart! I added the seeds from one vanilla bean and a couple Tablespoons of sugar. I cooked all of this together over medium heat until the apricots had mostly broken down (be careful! The apricots break down into a creamy mash that can stick and burn very easily - you need to stir this one frequently as you make it). I left some chunks because, well, why not?

Then I added another 3/8 cup of sugar, with about 1 1/2 Tablespoons of low-sugar pectin, whisking it in rapidly to incorporate into the hot mass - and cooked for a few more minutes before checking the set and canning/processing.

We like to combine apricot preserves with dijon mustard to make a tangy sauce/glaze that we brush over pork tenderloin before roasting the meat in the oven, a recipe picked up from one of Martha Stewart's "Everyday Food" mini-mags years ago. Any leftover glaze is used as a dipping sauce for the sliced tenderloin. Paired with some roasted asparagus, wilted spinach, or steamed green beans, it's a quick and easy weeknight dinner - in short, I know exactly how we'll be using these preserves!

Monday, July 7, 2014

week of jam, day one: strawberry

Yeah, I think I may have enough jam made (and to make) to do an entire week of jam posts. I might also be getting a little sick of jam, as a concept, already - ha! This was the first batch, the batch that kicked it off: our little strawberry patch is really taking off this year. It's nice to see our little garden investments start to pay off, and the back yard start to function like an old-fashioned homesteading garden, with gooseberries, currants, elderberries, strawberries, raspberries, and huckleberries - in addition to veggie beds, kitchen herbs, and the [floral] cutting garden! I already made another batch since this one, and have another bowl of strawberries in the fridge just waiting to be made into a couple more tiny jars.

I don't really have a recipe for this: I wash and halve the strawberries (if they're large), put 'em in the pot with some lemon zest, lemon juice, and the seeds of one half of a vanilla bean. I add a little bit of sugar (for this batch, which only comprised about 2 cups of fruit, less than 1/4 cup of sugar) and cook the fruit gently until it all breaks down. Once that happens, I add a bit more sugar with some pectin stirred into it, cook and check for gel set, and then process in my water bath. The proportions are pretty loose: I use less sugar than recipes call for, and a bit more pectin, and it all works out somehow. I think jam is kind of like pie crusts and biscuits and other things - eventually, you just kind of have a feel for them and you kind of lose track of precise measurements.

I like using lemon zest, lemon juice, and a bit of vanilla bean with fresh strawberry jam; there's something about this combination that really screams, "fair food" (as in, "state fair food" - slap it on a warm, fresh scone and my husband swears it is just like getting a scone from the Fisher Scones stand at the Evergreen State Fair). I'll tuck some of these jars away and they will be forgotten, just you wait and see. He never keeps track of what I put up, and doesn't bother pawing through the cupboard. Then, one morning in early autumn, on a week when we're tired and he's frustrated with something at work and wishing he could just stay home and sleep in, I'll get up early and make a batch of scones and pop them in the oven before I hop in the shower. I'll jump out and catch them just as they finish baking. He'll wonder what the timer is for and what smells so good - and I'll bring him a piping hot scone, slathered with sweet summery strawberry jam, and it'll make everything better.