Work has been kicking my butt the last couple of months, likewise DPaul, and so we've not had quite as much time nor inspiration in the kitchen as normal. But it is summer, and with such gorgeous fruit exploding in a riot of color and fragrance all over the farmers market each week, I find myself repeatedly returning with armloads of the stuff. I cannot help myself. The season for perfectly ripe summer fruits is so fleeting and ephemeral, I am always compelled to capture that moment in time and preserve it.
Preserve. Preserves. The act of taking that impeccable piece of fruit and locking it in stasis, like an ant encased in amber. I'm obsessed.
Luscious blackish bing cherries in three-pound bags, the farmer drowning in their abundance. Sweetly perfumed strawberries from Ella Bella. Coral-blushing Goldensweet apricots from Frog Hollow. I had to muster every ounce of restraint to keep from purchasing hundreds of pounds of the stuff.
For the last couple of years I've had a fixation with canning,
and both that and making preserves are relatively new additions to my
kitchen repertoire. DPaul grew up in a rural setting, where summer
every year meant putting up preserves and pickles. No one in my family
-- on either side -- as far as I know has put more effort into
preserves than twisting off a stubborn lid.
It's not hard to see why. Last year's cavalcade of canning was exhausting, grueling work. But to this day, some nine months later, we are still enjoying the fruits of our labor, smearing luscious pear butter and fig jam on our morning toast. We even have one, lone remaining jar of precious pumpkin butter. And no, you can't have it.
Pitting three pounds of bing cherries turns your kitchen sink into a crime scene. Hulling and cutting a half-flat of strawberries is a task gleefully delegated to another set of hands in the kitchen. But prying apart the fuzzy, orange-pink cheeks of ripe apricots, as soft and tender as a baby's bottom, is hedonism incarnate.
I dabbled in recipes, following David Lebovitz's sage advice on a no-recipe cherry jam, and June Taylor's method of extracting pectin from orange rinds. In all cases I wanted to avoid adding pectin, desiring to use nature's own ingredients to their best effect.
Alas, I didn't manage to get my jewel-toned jams to set quite as I'd hoped -- in fact, the first batch of strawberry preserves is best considered a sauce (or, perhaps, foundation of a mostarda?) -- but I don't mind. In fact, as my eyes rolled back in my head as I swooned over a bowl of vanilla ice cream melding with strawberry goodness, I didn't mind at all.
One year ago today ... I unveiled a watermelon vodka infusion, but found it lacking. But it was not without its merits -- among the most common search terms that steer people to this site is "vodka watermelon infusion" or some permutation of those three words.