Friday, October 10, 2014

Full of beans.

 I guess I really wasn't kidding that I am on the once-a-month blogging track.  It wouldn't pain me so much if there weren't so many things I wish I could write about, but my days are full not only of food but of little humans and plenty of learning.

Keeping a whole foods kitchen, preparing almost all we eat from scratch takes time - more time than I previously realized.  When you start out on such a journey and then just keep adding and building, towering ever upward, pretty soon you can start to feel like our ancestors likely did: spending most of your time and energy finding and preparing food.  While I've cut back on the ferments, there are still plenty of things to plan ahead for.  And while still on the path of economic recovery, humble things tend to take the center of our plates.

I treat meat like most other non-American cultures, as a condiment rather than a "deck-of cards" portion served alongside traditional side dish vegetables and starches.  Years ago I overdid it on the green salad making (having one a day sometimes 2 for more than a year...) and I can barely make a green salad now to save my soul.  If you make me a green salad, I'll happily eat it - but otherwise I get my greens sauteed or added to something baked.  What then to make for dinner?  So often I feel frustrated that my older son is still as picky as he is, and he recently added eggs to the list of things he doesn't currently like.  Sometimes I feel just plain worn out considering what to cook around here.

pintos & garbanzos.

Beans are usually my answer when I feel like the pantry is looking bare except for jars and jars of  miscellaneous grains, nuts, and seeds, and we don't feel like pulling a whole chicken from the freezer.  Beans are probably the one thing I can get every family member to eat simultaneously and without fuss.  Just about any bean makes my list too. Bulk Kidney, Navy, Pinto, Black, and Great Northern, rare stashed Tepary or meaty Good Mother Stellards or handfuls of long cooking legumes like garbanzo beans often push their way into my cooking life by default.

I justify the cost of eating less meat by buying mostly organic beans and legumes.  If I keep a sharp eye, my co-op will sell almost all of the standard varieties on sale 5 lbs. at a time, at some point during the year.  I collect my beans carefully, choosing them wisely, tenderly bringing them home, and housing them in quart canning jars.  Dried beans keep a remarkable long time.  I feel like I have an ace in the hole having a whole shelf of them to choose from.

pintos.

I have cooked beans all matter of ways.  I have soaked them 12 hours and then carefully cooked them in a barely simmering pot of water without salt.  I have taken them off the shelf, rinsed them, and pressure cooked them for 20 minutes which wasn't enough and then re-pressure cooked them for longer.  I've put them unsoaked in a pot of water and cooked them for hours and hours and still ended up with chalky insides.  I've put them in a crock-pot and hoped for the best, frustrated that it took the day and I still had mealy beans.

I now swear by brining beans.  Emma Christensen wrote the article that I most refer to based on and endlessly tested Cook's Illustrated method and some solid science by food scientist Harold McGee.  It's titled "Think Salt is the Enemy of Perfect Beans? Think Again."  I think again every single time I make any type of bean or garbanzo bean (which should be properly titled garbanzo legume).  I've referred so much to that article that it nearly comes up automatically when I begin to type brine into my search engine.  For some reason, I can't remember the ratio of salt to water, of water to bean quantity.  Oh well.  It's good to know the Internet exists - and good to know people like my Mom who say things to me like, "well, about how much salt?  I'm not going to measure, that's too much monkeying around."

The morning I want beans for dinner (and we're early risers over here), hopefully 7-8 hours before, I throw a half pound of dried beans with a spoonful of kosher salt in a half gallon canning jar and fill it with water enough to cover by several inches.  I'll stir it well with a chopstick.  And I'll admire it on my counter for the bulk of the day.  This works particularly well with pinto beans destined for refried beans.  After the brine, I rinse them well and add them to a pressure pot.  I add another small spoonful of kosher salt and just enough water to cover by about 1 inch and lock on the lid.  I bring it up to pressure over high heat, and when the gauge starts to rattle, I turn it down to medium and time it for exactly 4 minutes.  Then I remove it from the heat and let the pressure come back naturally (without the quick-release method of running the pressure pot under the faucet).  Perfect beans.  Every single time.  In 4 minutes. ...and 8 hours of beforehand thought.

Magic Seal
My pot is old and secondhand, I try not to worry that it's aluminum since my beans are barely in it.

The 4 minute pressure rule is my standard for most brined beans.  I've tried it with different types of white beans, black beans, and red beans.  Every once in a while, they will be too soft or need to be cooked some more - but those occurrences are pretty rare.

Garbanzos get a slightly different treatment.  I soak them 8-12 hours, actually I aim for 24 hours if I'm thinking that far ahead, and I give them the same brining as the other types of beans.  When I go to cook them, (I rinse them well and) I add in a 1 t. of baking soda per pound of beans.  If I pressure pot them, I start with 8 minutes, then let the pressure come down naturally and check them.  But this week, I decided with just a half pound to cook them on the stovetop.  It took barely an hour for perfect beans, creamy still composed pebbles that would work well in a salad (or getting picked up gingerly by a baby), mashed for felafel, or blended completely smooth for hummus.

Alton Brown is where I got the baking soda idea.  I make my hummus somewhat like he does, but I always like to add in cumin powder and some cayenne.  I also use my bean cooking water to help blend it.  Being thoroughly soaked and drained, I don't find any "digestive" issues from using the cooking water, and I figure there is more flavor.

I've come to think of most of my raw ingredients as good friends.  I'm not much of a meal planner, and I exploit their different attributes as I'm considering our dinner hours.  I'm getting better at thinking ahead for meals, especially since I'm not able to grocery shop on a whim anymore, and often I'll cook twice as many beans as I need and freeze a half pound in their cooking liquid to further help me swiftly pull supper out of my sleeve.  Even with dried beans, I feel like they make a quick meal.  I feel savvy that I don't shell out for canned beans which don't often taste the best and are really quite expensive by comparison... not to mention they don't often sit well in the belly either.

Do you have a pressure pot?  Do you use it to get quick dinners on the table?  Please share!


Saturday, September 6, 2014

The flying time. (Bigger Batch Ginger Granola)

I can't really believe that I've turned into one of those once-a-month bloggers, but here it is, almost a whole 4 weeks since I wrote about anything.  Life is a maze of homemade breakfasts, lunches, and dinners; at the end of the day I have no idea how food appears in a finished form and is completely cleaned up after.  As I slink into bed, I'm fast asleep before I can make it 2 pages into a book.

For the past several years, the first day of school coincided with my birthday.  I am actually never full of birthday dread, but I kind of started feeling a sense of dread that first year I had to drop my oldest son (now 8) off for school.  I hated the idea of him leaving home, but also knew it was time.  After the first pre-K and kindergarten years, I actually started looking forward to the first day of school and more free time to myself.  The time to make laborious Daring Baker challenges.  The time to make whatever struck me as I drank my morning joe and caught up on the Internet.  The time to take myself out for coffee once in awhile and actually read in peace and quiet.

This year on my birthday, instead of extra free time, I became his teacher.  I sat with him at the kitchen table after his first homeschool lesson at my counter, one on how to make ice cream base (and other egg based custards)... because when I am intrepid of starting something, I start by doing something I know.  And you know what?  I realized that I know more than I think I do, and that he wants to learn as eagerly I always have and had always hoped he would.

Untitled

He learned that eggs are really amazing things, that they can thicken things like ice cream when heated.  He learned the meaning of the word tempering, and got to see that happen.  It felt nice to see him barefooted and excited for the impending ice cream later that day as he took the first steps into learning at home.  Later, we spent the morning in the field nearby discovering insects and admiring the weather.  Something happened that I wasn't expecting: I went from that person happy to have all the time in the world to myself to the one who actually enjoyed spending time with her kid again.  It is so easy to drop him off somewhere and not take an active part in his life other than to be occasionally annoyed when he doesn't listen or doesn't pick up his Legos after the millionth time I've stepped on one.  It is a true pleasure to consider all of my actions as they affect him (and his little brother), to improve on my patience, and turn my daily life into a learning experience for him.  It's only been a week, but so far it's the best week I can remember in a long time.

079 :: 09.03.14
Hybrid sourdough, made with starter and a pinch of commercial yeast...

Maybe this doesn't leave the free time to myself as I've had in the past.  I got behind on using milk kefir and popped my culture in the fridge for the week to rest.  My sourdough starter took on a perplexing ailment about a week and half ago and I patiently nursed it back, wondering all the while if I'd have to begin again from scratch.  I thought it had been infected by a wandering mold spore, or cross contaminated by the kefir.  It didn't look or act like itself until I decided to bake anyway using the insurance of a bit of commercial yeast.  The very next day, the starter looked better: active and bubbly, sweet smelling.  Like it just knew that I was going to get serious if it didn't behave.  Just like a real boy.

More than a week ago, I decided to make my new favorite granola - a gift to myself for my birthday.  Ever since I first had it, the Bojon Gourmet's Gingersnap Granola has been my absolute favorite indulgence.  I actually didn't make it for quite a long time because I can't stop eating it.  Some time ago, I saw America's Test Kitchen make an almond granola that had similar clumping power and I figured I could combine the two recipes and come out with a bigger batch of similarly addictive gingery granola.  It's been on my mental list of things to write about for a while now, and I guess this Saturday off inspires me to get it down before it is lost to time once again.

ginger granola.

Don't forget to line the sheet pan with parchment or you will not have attractive clumps after you chisel your way to the bottom of the pan.  I only forgot once, as you can imagine.  Ordinarily, I don't like to have sugar in granola, but this I consider dessert so the small amount doesn't bother me.  In fact, if you have some of this on fresh, homemade ice cream (maybe even this new buttermilk version that Alanna made?) it's about the best dessert ever. 

Ginger Granola (adapted from the Bojon Gourmet and America's Test Kitchen)
  • 5 c. rolled oats  
  • 4 t. ground ginger
  • ½ t. allspice
  • ¼ t. cloves
  • 1 c. almonds, chopped
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 1/3 c. packed (2 1/3 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 4 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • As much chopped crystallized ginger as you like
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, toss the oats with the spices and chopped almonds.  In a 2-cup measure or equivalent, whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until well blended, then whisk in oil. Pour the liquid mixture over the oats until thoroughly coated.

Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across sheet into thin, even layer (this amount makes one standard 18x13 or 17x12 sheet pan). Using a makeshift tamper (I like to use the Scottish potato masher my parents gave me, but a meat mallet or even a heavy glass would also work), compress oat mixture until very compact by tapping it into place on the pan. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. 

You can stir in chopped, crystallized ginger, or like me, store the broken chunks of granola separately and then add them when you are ready to eat it. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks they say, but I think it lasts longer – if you can keep your hands out of it.)

ginger granola.

It's maybe a little less decadent by using almonds instead of  pecans, but the more utilitarian nut makes it something I can make on a whim instead of only on occasion since I always have almonds in the pantry but not always pecans.

My kitchen life seems to be changing again for now.  Things get done in a more utilitarian way, with plenty of attention to detail (since there is no removing that from my being) but maybe with less flourish.  Most mornings I seem to prep my dinner before the breakfast dishes are even cleared which is a dramatic change for me.  I find myself thinking like my great-grandmother, Gram and no doubt my Mom did, planning the next meal (or even the next several) when the current one is still on my lips.  But that's what you do when you do it from scratch. I'm imagining when I have the time to write again, I'll probably have some helpful tips for quick scratch cooking 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Peach Sriracha Butter.

One of the surprising blessings that came along with having children was getting to know my neighbors.  I live in a small neighborhood of about 3 streets wide, a collection of maybe 100 homes that before kids I knew nothing about.  Introverted by nature, I politely went about my day coming to and fro without much interaction with the community around me, exchanging a few pleasantries maybe but not really knowing anyone personally.  Kids changed that.  Suddenly, you begin to run into the same people while running after a toddling youngster: you discover that your kids play well with their kids, you are on a first name basis with every dog on the block, and you find that the people around you are really interesting and creative and lend a huge impact to your daily life.

Monday I spent part of the morning with a few lovely women as our children played hard together.  There seems to be an unstated rule that conversation can be quickly interrupted for any number of reasons, which is actually quite nice.  It frees you from the rigor of conducting yourself in a more proper manner; I've never felt like I've been very good at moderating the flow of conversation, so stopping one abruptly to run after a child and then starting up a new one suits me pretty well.

My friend Susan is a musician and we got to talking.  She was saying how she had material that had been on hold since before her son was born (5 years) and how she should never do that because it interrupts the process.  I immediately thought about my own creative processes.  If I don't take the time to document something that really inspires or excites me within a day or so of making it, I just let it go.  "Of the moment" is so much part of the thing that makes my writing mine, makes it relevant to me as I look back on it.

It's really not so unlike preservation as I capture that split second that the food goes in the jar, I also sieze the feeling around it - the light in the kitchen creating pictures that echo the weather outside and even the time of day I had the time to muster the thoughts to the page.  Making that time seems ever more difficult as the summer is in full swing and there are so many things that just pop up on a day to day basis.  Prioritizing my online life falls to the back of the line, even when there have been so many things worthy of sharing.

peach sriracha jam.
Food in Jars' Peach Sriracha Jam (Honey Sweetened Peach Chutney) I made last week.

The summer is the heaviest preserving season, and traditionally I think I've been much more creative than I've been this year.  Short both on time and money, I didn't overdo or overthink my pantry shelves.  I have smaller batches and just enough based on what was eaten most heavily last year.  Where I used to make the time to stand stirring the pot with excess, I now stirred it with just enough - thankful for it and happy I knew where to turn for solid recipes when I didn't have the wiggle room for experimentation.

I got peaches at two different times, and split both with  neighbors.  (You can read about the first peach adventure here.)  Quickly enamored of the honey-sweetened peach chutney that Marisa McClellan posted on her site Food in Jars, I turned to her latest book as the peaches softened and I felt guilty just eating them all standing alone over the sink.  I made the small batch last week and was totally addicted.  I had exactly 2 lbs. of precious peaches left, and got to thinking that making the recipe into a more homogenized butter might be a pretty swell idea.  It takes a little longer for the boiling butter to thicken and it spatters up the stove something terrible, but all in all I think it's worth it.  It's like a spicy peach ketchup, and I've been trying it on everything.  And, just as you'd suspect, it is good on everything.

peach sriracha butter.

Peach Sriracha Butter (adapted from Marisa McClellan's recipe in Preserving by the Pint)
yields about 2 half pints
  • 2 lbs. peaches, pitted and pureed (I used a Vitamix, but you could use a regular blender)
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 c. Sriracha sauce
Combine the peach puree, sugar, and lime juice in a preserving pot (I used a 3 quart shallow saute pan, despite the spattering issue).  Over medium high heat, cook and stir frequently until the butter reduced and thickens, 20-30 minutes.  You should be able to draw the spoon through the butter and the trail doesn't fill in quickly.  Just before hitting the right consistency (aim for a thick ketchup), stir in the Sriracha and bring back to a simmer until thickened.

Pour into sterilized jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace, and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

sriracha
Does anyone ever remember tossing out a bottle of Sriracha?  It seems to just last forever, and then disappear...

Peaches have now come and gone.  I really shouldn't dare make any more sweet preserves for the year,  but have enough extra for gifts and special occasions.  I have too many open jars of jam floating around the fridge in a never-ending tetris game of space.  I'll have to invite a lot of the neighbors over to help me polish them off!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Recent Preserving (Part 2)

It seems whenever Friday afternoon rolls around I become nostalgic in a way, for the way things were before I had my own family and the weekend loomed like a glittering jewel before me.  A good part of my single life, I held 2 jobs - and there were plenty of weekends spent working I'm sure, but in retrospect I had this miraculous thing called "free time" which seems to come with alarming infrequency lately.

Sunday afternoon, I got a couple of pounds of gooseberries from Klee's.  I made the time to work them into jam right away Monday morning since they were pink and soft.  They were mixed varieties, that when commingled with sugar transformed into a singular flavor that I still can't describe.  They are tropical I swear, a Midwestern answer to passionfruit.  My little tester jar of gooseberry jam the other week told me I should stop shy of the 220 degree gel point, so I boiled to 118 degrees and was rewarded with a softer set.  I'm going to write down the recipe, since it bears remembering my process. 

gooseberries.

Gooseberries are naturally high in acid.  Green gooseberries higher of course than those that are picked and allowed to blush - but with the blush their tartness mellows just a bit and makes a "prettier" finished preserve.  There really aren't a whole lot of gooseberry jam recipes out there I noticed in my digging.  Even the county extension website was vague (and why don't those conventional sources use weights?? This plagues me:  I am a scaling addict.).  To be extra "safe", I added the juice of a half lemon.  There is definitely enough natural pectin that you should never dream of using a box of liquid or powder.

Gooseberry Jam 
yields about 4 half pints (I got 3 jars and one mostly full to eat now)
  • 2 lbs. gooseberries, tops and tails trimmed
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
Combine the gooseberries and water in a large preserving pot and smash casually with a masher to crush most of the gooseberries.  Heat over medium heat and cook until the gooseberries break down a little, about 10 minutes.  Then add the sugar and lemon juice, increase the heat to medium high and continue cooking, stirring regularly, until you reach your desired firmness - about 118 degrees as I mentioned above.  You'll feel the thickness of the jam increase as you stir, and the jam should sheet nicely off the spoon you are stirring with.

When the jam is ready, pour into sterilized jars, top with lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

gooseberry jam.
This week, I also did pickles.  My mother-in-law wanted a dozen jars and bought me a half bushel of cucumbers at the farmer's market on Tuesday.  By Tuesday evening, I had done 22 quarts (losing one to a broken jar).  I used my Gram's pickle recipe, misjudging the amount of brine I'd need two times, causing me to pause and make more.  That worked out all right, especially with a new baby walker anxious to try out his new skills at my feet in the kitchen.  Maybe I'll always associate his first steps with a mountain of pickles; that's kind of a nice thing.

pickles.
This recipe is the only pickle that tastes like a real dill pickle to me.  The recipe is in my book

By late evening, I had the pickles mostly done.  I had about 5 pounds of cucumbers remaining and I was too tired to think about more pickles.  They sat for 2 days in the fridge before I put them to their final rest in jars.  I tried two kinds of refrigerator pickles that I'd not made before.  The first were these turmeric spiked whole dills that Ivy recommended.  I used the recipe as a template, since I was low on fresh dill.  I used Spice House pickling spice and extra dill seed.  I used Bragg's cider vinegar even though I "killed" it by heating it to a boil.  I love the taste of Bragg's so much that any other vinegar doesn't taste like vinegar to me.  A half recipe of the brine filled two quart sized jars just fine.

refrigerator pickle
This Weck jar is slightly bigger than a quart though, I think... 

I sliced the remaining pickles to 1/8 inch on my mandoline and made a big jar of refrigerator pickles.  I got the recipe from my Parents, who had gotten it from someone in the '90's.  I remember the plastic pail of bread and butter pickles as being too sweet and kind of flabby, not really my favorite things 20 years ago.  But I modified the recipe and so far I think they are one of my favorite pickles ever!  In part, because I left out all traces of celery seed.  There aren't many things I dislike, but I've come to the realization that celery seed is kind of one of them. 

I can't seem to keep my fork out of this jar.  After 2 days, the cukes are still pretty crisp.  I kind of winged the recipe, making just 1/4 of the brine (which was simply equal parts sugar and white vinegar, with the addition of 1 tablespoon of kosher salt), and adding a  half onion and extra brown mustard seed.  This recipe is so quick, just mix everything and pack it into a jar.  I'll give the proportions for a whole batch - but keep in mind it's pretty forgiving.  The cukes give off their own liquid when allowed to rest in the salted vinegar brine, so after a few more hours the jar above was completely filled with liquid.

Bread & Butter Pickles
  • 3/4 of an ice cream pail of thinly sliced cucumbers (remember when everyone ate ice cream from a gallon pail??) (I'd slice about 1/8 inch thick) 
  • 4 c. granulated sugar
  • 4 c. white vinegar
  • 1/4 c. salt
  • 1 1/2 t. turmeric (I added extra)
  • 1 1/2 t. mustard seed (I added extra)
  • 1 1/2 t. celery seed (I omitted it)
Combine everything in a large bowl (the ice cream pail if you are following the '90's approach) and mix well.  Place in the fridge and let sit for 4-5 days before eating if you can.  The pickles will last at least 6 months under refrigeration.  (I prefer to store in glass of course, I just mixed everything in a bowl and packed into the more-than-quart glass jar seen below.  I love that jar, my Mom gave me some honey in it once and I can't bring myself to give it back to her...)

bread & butter pickle

Part of the reason I might have a new-found love for these bread & butters is that I've been making single cucumber batches of James Peterson's Thai Cucumber Salad with Peanuts from his Kitchen Simple cookbook.  I am a voracious reader of cookbooks, and I think one of my favorite authors is James Peterson.  His books seem like friends to me, and the Kitchen Simple book in particular has become my trusted ally in quick summery eating.  His salad has equal parts sugar and rice wine vinegar (the unseasoned kind), some chile peppers and plenty of cilantro.  It's so good.  I'd imagine I could do up a quart similar to the bread and butters and munch on them for a month or so and I might just have to get more cukes to do that.

So what do I, "unemployed" for some 8 years already, do on a Friday evening now?  Afternoon has come and gone since I started writing this, and a spanakopita of sorts is just about to come from the oven, concocted of fresh chard and kale and some frozen spinach unearthed from the freezer.  The new baby walker opted out of a nap to practice his craft and is already asleep at 6 pm.  The window are flung wide open with the coolness of our most excellent summer weather ever.  I don't feel the pangs of sadness I once did that I don't do anything exciting come Friday night, instead I take pleasure in the hard work of the week and get ready for a country visit so I can hopefully bring some more work home with me.  It's really the best kind of life.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Recent Preserving.

I use the term "recent" loosely.  It was Monday when I finally got the jars I had my imagination set on completing, and it was Monday when I made the decision to ditch the second little batch of delicious honey-sweetened strawberry-thyme jam (from Food in Jars' latest book, Preserving by the Pint)  that had been waiting for me in my covered red leCreuset pot for 4 days.  (It smelled fermented, and sadly the berries did not have a pleasant flavor.)  Time with two little boys and summer and birthdays got the better of me; I remind myself that it's okay to let things go back to the Earth when time slips like that.  That's my Mom's quote, and I think of her each time I forget about some precious leftovers, or get too ambitious and forget to mind my real-life timing.

red & whitecurrants

Last Saturday, we went to Klee's Out on a Limb.  I discovered them last year, and make no qualms about calling them my personal orchard now.  It's maybe a 20 minute drive, but feels more rural than that.  This was the second time I've gotten currants, and not being within days of giving birth as I was last year, I was able to pick them myself (with Candy's help).  I tried every variety and since the blackcurrants weren't quite ready, I got red and white.  White currants.  I think I mentioned 50 times how beautiful those things are, making up for the flavor I felt wasn't quite as good as the red seeing as they weren't as tart.  After 5 lbs. in my bucket, I tried some pink currants too - and those had quite a lovely flavor.  I have to rein myself in from a currant only preserving season.  I think I love them that much.

white currants
Transluscent, they look like pearls or fish eggs.  My eager baby-eater liked them very much.   

Last year, I made cordials out of them.  Both were great, though I probably preferred the shrub that turned viscous and thick, a mouth-coating thickness from all the pectin.  I actually just finished off the bottle, only tippling tiny cupfuls here and there because it was so sweet.  Aged a year, it was still wonderful.  I agonize over investing in good rum to make more, and as I do, the extracted red currant juice ages in my fridge.  I should decide to can it or freeze it before typing any more, so it doesn't succumb to going back to the Earth too.

I also have a small amount of non-juiced currants left which I need to get into vinegar.  Red currant drinking vinegar was my favorite flavored vinegar last year, it barely lasted me a month!  I might try it with the white currants and see how I like it.  (Note to self: must also invest in another SodaStream seltzer cartridge.)

floating white currants

currant jam
Seedy currant jam.

Last year, I only made currant jelly - which is so easy I'm not sure there is an easier preserve to tackle.  Only slightly more work was currant jam, which uses mostly currant juice (I used red) and a pound of whole, stemmed currants.  For juice, you don't need to remove the stems so the process is truly efforless.  The 20 minutes spent gingerly plucking the white currants from their tiny green stems was worth it - and I thought the color contrast was beautiful even though I knew it would fade with the cooking.

The jam itself is nicely seedy, tasting tart like the currant jelly, but more interesting and maybe kind of nutty with the seeds.  I read that currant seeds are quite healthful too (especially in the blackcurrants, but I figure the other colors must be as well), so it seems like a worthy offset for a sugary preserve.

peach chutney

Nearly a week before the currants, I split a case of peaches with a neighbor.  It's the 3rd year I've had "peach truck" peaches, which come from Georgia and are dropped nearby at a number of locations locally.  (The service is Tree-Ripe.)  I feel like we hit the jackpot, since they harvested Berta peaches for the first trucks of the season.  They were some of the best peaches I've had in years, true "drip-down-your-wrist" fruits, with excellent flavor and color.  I made a half batch of Marisa's Honey Sweetened Peach Chutney, which I altered slightly to account for my extra spice addiction.  A friend gave me a jar of dried Piri Piri chiles last year, and I hadn't used too many of them.  I added 15 to the pot - which turned out to be pretty spicy.  I fished 4 of them out as I was tasting, but boy those have some good flavor.    I also added extra brown mustard seed, and probably more fresh ginger.

Another great thing about this recipe is Marisa's trick of removing peach skins.  Simply cut the peaches in quarters, remove the pit of course, and cover with boiling water for 3 minutes.  Drain, and the skins slip right off.  Amazing!  I used the same method to make some fresh peach salsa for our tacos last night, I don't think I'll ever blanch a peach traditionally ever again.

peach chutney, toast.
This stuff is so good that I might use the last of the peaches to make another batch - maybe less spicy for gift giving.  I'm definitely hoarding the 4 jars for myself.

In with my currants from Klee's, I had a handful (literally, 58 g.) of gooseberry.  I have never tried gooseberry.  I can't describe how excited I get to try new things, and at the orchard, I nibbled a bunch of different varities.  (I need to remember to bring a notepad and pen there, I can only remember choice things: like that the Newtown Pippen apple was Thomas Jefferson's favorite, and which tree was the mammoth Wolf River variety...)  The gooseberries will be on more by this weekend, so I made the tiniest batch of jam ever to see what I could expect.

handful of gooseberry
I used a 6 inch stainless saucepan for this jam.

On some reading, I let them sit around until they were pretty soft and had turned from their bright green to a more rosy color.  Then I topped and tailed them (that's a Linda Ziedrich term that seems to really stick in my brain), and weighed them in at a mere 56 g.  I added a tablespoon or so of water and steamed them a minute or two to get them softened before adding the same amount of sugar and cooking them down.  It was such a small batch that the whole process took less than 10 minutes.  The color and flavor were incredible.  I'll have to make time to get down there for more!

gooseberry jam

I really just couldn't get over the color, which I figured was about as close to watermelon-colored as I could describe.  The tiny seeds even look like melon seeds too - which I thought was interesting.  The flavor of gooseberry jam was different than I expected, though I'm not sure at all what I was expecting.  It has a tropical nuance to it, nicely tart but not as tart as the currant it seemed.  It feels pectin rich, and has a very firm set - I could have probably simmered it a little less.  My tiny batch filled half of a 4 oz. pimento jar, more than I expected, but definitely not enough to satisfy my new gooseberry obsession.

It's a good start to the season, which I have to remind myself is actually here.  It's a pleasantly cool summer,  with only a handful of 80 degree days so far.  It's filled with walks and bike rides (my older son just discovered how fun his first bike can be, and has developed an obsession of his own), fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants meal planning, and yet another year of a struggling garden.  I remind myself that it's not important right now to be cataloging what I do.  But, still I love the photographing, and if I seem quiet here, there are still notable things going up on my Facebook page and Flickr.  If you have some gooseberry ideas for me, shoot them my way.  We'll see what comes of them!