Friday, September 21, 2012

harvest 2012: tomato jam

This really has been a beautiful, gorgeous, endless summer here in the Pacific NW. While it took us a while to get warmed up, we had a 47-day stretch without a drop of rain which is almost an all-time record here. I feel for the rest of the country, which has been suffering from drought - even with our 47 days, we had such a cold and wet winter (snow days - plural! It's a big deal in Seattle) that we haven't felt the sting. After two cold summers (I remember wearing sweaters in July last year in the middle of the day, sitting out in the sun trying to get warm without turning on the heat indoors), it's been amazing to have something like a regular year. The tomatoes are actually ripening - though the "early girl" and my extra early "st sulpice" didn't start ripening until the first week of September. Now, if the we can just hold on for a few more weeks with some sun, I might see all my tomatoes ripen for the first time - ever? It has to have happened before, only I can't remember that it has.
My first black krim started to blush pink. I picked it and shoved it in the window to finish ripening, in order to let the plant focus on ripening the others. Fingers crossed! It'll be the first purplish tomato I ever managed to ripen in a NW summer. It feels pretty awesome.
Of course, the cherry tomatoes are pumping out fruit like nobody's business. I've been filling a basket with a pound or two at a time: sweet 100, matt's wild cherry, and snow white (which was a new experiment this year and one I'll grow again - it really performs here!). Even the yellow pears are getting going now.
So, with us actually getting a little tired of tomatoes (is such a thing possible?); I thought I'd at least use up the larger tomatoes in a little canning project. Behold, I give you:

my first ever batch of tomato jam! We're back to normal Seattle skies today - grey, misting - so the colour in this photo is a little softer than in real life. This turned a beautiful, rich tomato red. I'm making a second batch now, with my green zebra tomatoes - I didn't want to muddy the colours by mixing the two together. So, perhaps another post later today with a photo of the green!

I used David Leibowitz's recipe on epicurious. Boy is it good! It's thick and sticky, more like a tomato caramel than a jam -  and definitely meant for dessert. While the 2 pounds of tomatoes only made 3 little four-ounce jars of tomato jam, that's okay. It'd be easy to make any time of year using store-bought tomatoes, too. I think I'll devote one jar to a dinner party and pair it with the foie gras we brought back from L'isle St. Louis in Paris, on toasts - the tomato jam has a perfect sweet-piquant flavour and could easily stand in for the traditional gelee atop the foie. I think this would also be amazing paired with strong, sharp cheeses on a cracker: Oregon Smokey Blue, or a fresh chevre, an aged cheddar or maybe even a salty aged gouda. It would definitely stand up to double gloucester or cotswold. I also think it could be warmed and drizzled over a creme fraiche ice cream - not that I could eat it, but I bet it'd make a beautiful and unique dessert.

This has been a real eye-opener for me; I'd never tried tomato jam before. I think it's going to have to enter regular rotation around here, because, wow - what an excitingly bold, yet versatile flavour!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I'm big on candles. I always have a few scented candles about. I love to light them early in the evening and let the daylight die down around their glow. I like to light them before dinner parties even though the house is already filled with the smell of cooking.

But candles can get expensive. Beeswax candles, in particular, can get expensive. So I'd been meaning to pour my own. It's really not difficult. I started saving the glass cups from every little scented votive I'd burned (to clean out the glass base, place it in the freezer for an hour or two; the frozen wax is pretty easy to scrape/pop out of the base). Then I bought some unfiltered beeswax (cheaper than filtered) and wicks (with bases already attached - easy!) at Zenith Supplies here in Seattle. Dandelion Botanical Company (a natural apothecary) in Ballard also sells the stuff - probably a few other shops in town do, too.

To filter beeswax, just heat it over low heat in a metal saucepan on the stove, swirling the pan to keep it from darkening as it all melts down. Strain through pantyhose, and it's ready to go! Yes, the pan you use and whatever you strain the melted wax into should probably be vessels that are devoted to "beeswax usage only." I just went to Goodwill to find a pan, a metal bowl, and a pyrex glass measuring cup (the pour spout means I don't make a mess when trying to pour melted wax) to use. I added a few drops of bergamot essential oil to the melted wax to make a scented candle, but apparently it was not enough oil because these don't smell like anything but beeswax! Next time, I'll be a little more daring.

Affix wicking to a metal base if you haven't bought pre-assembled wicks (like lazy me), then tack metal base to the bottom of the candleholder. Pour wax, holding wick straight (you could wrap it around a pencil set across the top of the glass base. My wicks are all 6" long and needed to be trimmed, but the store was out of 4" wicks when I went to buy supplies and I figure these long wicks mean I can make bigger candles if I want. I made these three votives with about $8 of wax. Considering that the votives that were in these originally (granted, yes, I was paying for special scents) EACH cost more than that, I'm saving quite a bit of money here.

You could also buy a mold and build your own pillar candles - then you'll really enjoy the savings!

It's not going to absolutely end my scented candle purchases, but I do love the honey-scent of beeswax candles, so this is a great way to be able to enjoy candles whenever I want without having to worry quite so much about the cost.

Friday, September 7, 2012

harvest 2012: an illegal border crossing

my friend Natalie brought me a bag of Gravensteins from her family's orchard in Portland last weekend. Since she took the train, she probably didn't see the signs saying "do not transport homegrown fruit" which line our highways - but Cass remembered! He chided me for my lapse of memory and sang the "apple maggot quarantine area" song he learned in elementary school. Yes, Washington state guards its apple crop meticulously.

Well, the damage done, I still had to use up those apples (destroy the evidence!). About a third of them were useless, actually - totally brown through and squishy when I cut into them. I salvaged all the good bits, threw in some wild crabapples and some heritage crabs (Dolgo, I believe) and made my first-ever batch of apple butter. I used the recipe from the National Center for Home Food Preservation since it was my first time, though I reduced the sugar and played around with the spices. It took me two days to really slow-cook it down to the proper consistency, and I had to put it into little jars to have enough to go around for everyone at the holidays, but it totally worked!

I opened one today to treat myself to a tasty early-autumn breakfast of a toasted English muffin with apple butter. Perfection!

(ps. sorry it's been so quiet around here. I've got some things in the works, but they're taking a lot of time - more good stuff a'brewing to show you soon!)