August 29, 2009


Blackberry Hooch

Perhaps I got a little carried away with the blackberries at Underwood Family Farm and picked more than a reasonable amount. I fear my fingers are permanently stained. Life lesson number 234: when life gives you blackberries make blackberry hooch.

The variety of blackberry booze sitting on my kitchen counter at this moment is mesmerising, a vision of lavender, purple and magenta. All manner of experiments are under way: blackberry gin, blackberry-apple vodka, blackberry-lime vodka and other spirited concoctions. Come Christmas there will be no end of festive libations to drink and give away.

Making this is a cinch and it’s fun so be sure to wear your party hat. Experimentation is the name of the game. You’re part mad scientist, and part mixologist and there are no persnickety canning rules.

Once you start making flavored alcohols its hard to stop; the work is minimal and the rewards great. You don’t even have to turn the stove on. But patience helps. It can be hard to wait the requisite time before dipping into the blackberry juice for a tipple.


  • As you can see from the photos I label and date every jar, listing the ingredients on the tag (masking tape works well too). It's wonderful to have a record of your experiments.
  • The amount of sugar is up to you. Personally I don't like mine very sweet. I like about 4 tablespoons/ 1/2 gallon. You can always add more sugar, but can't take it away.
  • I use Ball wide mouth 1 gallon jars.
  • I think the flavors are optimal at three months, but this is a matter of taste. Some people let it steep for only two weeks and are thrilled with their results.
  • Further aging , after straining at 3 months, produces more of a liqueur/brandy product. Make enough so that you can squirrel away at least one bottle for holiday 2010.


1/2 gallon


  • 4 cups fruit
  • 8 cups alcohol (vodka or gin)
  • sugar to taste


  1. Combine ingredients in a large glass jar or jug. Cover and shake gently.
  2. Store in a cool dark place shaking lightly occasionally. Taste after four weeks. At this point you may want to add more sugar.
  3. At three months strain through cheesecloth, reserving the berries for another use. Strain a second time through a coffee filter.
  4. Decant into bottles with tight fitting lids . Be sure to label, especially if you have made more than one variety.
  5. At this point you have a delicious fruity flavored alcohol which you can choose to consume or further age for 3 months- 12 months. The aging process produces more of a liqueur. Hopefully you have made enough that you can do both.



  • 4 cups blackberries
  • no sugar


  • 4 cups blackberries
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • peeled zest of one lime


  • 4 cups blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar


  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 2 cups peeled cored chopped apple


  • 4 cups blackberries
  • 6 cardamom pods lightly crushed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

August 28, 2009



Growing up in New England I ate apples, a lot of apples. I didn’t taste a fig until well into my twenties. Figs were exotic, a mythical fruit I thought only existed in the pages of the Bible. I didn’t know it was a sacred tree in many religions. Buddha found enlightenment under The Bodhi Tree (a fig) and Hindus believe it is the tree of eternal life. Figs are the fruit of paradise.

When I tasted my first fig in Europe as a young woman, I was blown away (not unlike like Julia with the sole Meuniere). It’s ancient flavor of honey and hay with a touch of musk was revelatory for me.

Now I live in Southern California and have a fig tree in my back yard. I am still working on enlightenment. Sometimes I catch a glimmer of it in the kitchen.

Balsamic Pickled Figs while not exactly enlightened are delicious and a wonderful addition to your pantry. Serve them with anything salty or tangy, blue cheese, parmesan and prosciutto come to mind. They up the ante on any cheese plate and will be wonderful alongside braised and roasted meats come fall.



  • 3-4 lbs fresh figs
  • 3 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 6 cups water
  • 11/2 cup sage honey
  • 11/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup shelled halved walnuts
  • 16 peppercorns
  • 4 sprig thyme or rosemary
  • 4 strips of orange zest


  1. Prick each fig a couple of time with a skewer. Place figs in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Gently swish the figs around. Cool. Repeat if necessary to clean figs. Drain.
  2. Combine vinegar ,water, sugar and honey in a large nonreactive pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Carefully lower the figs into the simmering syrup. Simmer uncovered for twenty minutes, add the walnuts. Continue simmering for another 10-25 minutes depending on the size of your figs. The liquid should look slightly syrupy and the figs should be a little glossy .
  4. Arrange figs in jars, dividing the herbs and zest evenly between them. With a ladle pour the syrup over the figs leaving 1/2 inch of headroom.
  5. Close and seal the jars . Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.


  • I would like to replace some of the water with orange juice next time .
  • Try some different herbs remembering that the balsamic can be overpowering. I tried lemon verbena and didn't taste it at all.
  • You skewer the fruit so that it absorbs the liquid and sinks.
  • I used sage honey because I love its flavor but any honey will do.
  • Use your own judgment when cleaning the figs. Homegrown figs tend to be sticky and sometimes need two rinses.

August 14, 2009


Kick-Ass Westport River Barrel Cukes

Since I am staying on the Westport River, floating literally on a houseboat , I thought it appropriate to include my friend the Pickle Man,
Dan George’s Kick-Ass Westport River Barrel Cukes. That’s a mouthful and so are these pickles. These babies are everything you want in a pickle, puckery, tangy, crunchy and bursting with flavor. They take you right back to the barrel pickles you had as a kid (if you were so lucky). I haven't seen barrel pickles in years, I'm sure some board of health zealot banned them. So....make your own.

If you eat a pickle in Westport, odds are Dan made it. He makes all the pickles at my favorite Westport restaurant, The Back Eddy. When they seat you at The Back Eddy they bring you a bowl of bread and butter pickles instead of a basket of bread and butter. That’s my kind of restaurant.

This is from Dan’s’ book Quick Pickles Easy Recipes with Big Flavor published by Chronicle Books.


  • These are fermented pickles so no hot or cold baths required.
  • Grape leaves (or sour cherry or oak) are added for their tannins which help keep the pickles crisp.
  • Cutting the blossom end of the cucumber also adds crunch.

  • 4 QUARTS


  • 4 ½ lbs pickling cucumbers, 3-5 inches long, blossom end removed
  • 1 or 2 handfuls small fresh chilies, stabbed or slit twice
  • 1 large head garlic, cloves peeled and minced
  • 1 cup peeled, grated fresh horseradish
  • 1 large onion, peeled and sliced into 1 ½ inch disks
  • 1 handful dill heads or fronds (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds, cracked
  • 4 bay leaves, in crumbles
  • 1 handful grape, sour cherry or oak leaves, washed
  • 8 cups water
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt

  1. In a giant bowl combine cukes, chilies, garlic, horseradish, onion, dill mustard seed, coriander, peppercorns, bay leaf and grape leaves. Pack this mixture into a one gallon crock or wide mouth jar.
  2. Cover the cukes with a plate and weight the plate with a clean stone, a brick or whatever you have available; the idea is to keep the cukes submerged as they pickle. Add enough of the brine to cover the cukes by two inches or more.
  3. Cover with a clean cloth and store at room temp for 4-7 days, taking care to keep the contents submerged at all times. Skim any foam that may form on the brine's surface.
  4. The pickles are done when their pale green color is mostly the same inside and out -or when they taste so good your discipline fails.

  5. They will keep covered and refrigerated for a month. The grape leaves help them stay crisp.

August 7, 2009



There are many things I love about canning: the satisfaction I get from seeing a row of jars perched on the counter, the sense of pride when someone incredulously asks, “you made this?” and the constant pleasure of being connected to the earth through things I make. Working with
wild products is even more satisfying. I get a rush from canning with found fruit, the more elusive the better. I’m not talking about a pick-your-own stand, I am talking foraging.

Determined to make something in honor of my sister’s recently christened boat “The Rugosa”, I set out with my parents in tow, in search of rugosa rose petals. Also known as the beach rose, its dense thorny thickets grow in sandy soil. With its lush delicate petals, it seems a marvel that it thrives by the ocean.

We found the roses and in the process were bloodied by thorns, brushed with poison ivy, chased by flocks of mosquitoes, never mind the ticks. Aaahhh success!

Here is my recipe for Rugosa Rose Syrup. Unlike rose products made with cultivated roses, this has a wild, slightly green flavor that’s fresh and not a bit cloying.

  • Drizzle it it over fruit,cake or ice cream, or all three if your feeling wild.
  • Fold it into whipped cream or frosting.
  • Add it to champagne, proseco or sparkling water.
  • I'm thinking gin,something with gin.


  • Harvest the pink and the red varieties for their wonderful color.
  • The rose petals are measured by weight because it’s hard to determine their density.
  • If you need to store your petals overnight, do so in the refrigerator in a paper bag (less condensation than plastic).
  • Once you bring the syrup to a boil watch it carefully as it can easily be overcooked which diminishes its fresh green flavor.


  • 6oz fresh wild rose petals, preferably rugosa.
  • 4 cups water
  • 3-4 cups sugar (1 cup per cup of rose liquid)


1. Pick over rose petals removing any bugs, leaves and ticks. Do not wash.

2. Combine rose petals and water in a large non-reactive pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

3. Strain through a damp jelly bag. Measure the liquid and an equal amount of sugar into a clean saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer 3-5 minutes.

4. Remove from heat. Cool. Bottle and refrigerate. Keeps 3-4 weeks.