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June 18, 2009

BACKYARD PLUM JAM




BACKYARD PLUM JAM

I know summer has finally arrived when the June gloom lifts and the branches of my plum trees are heavy with purple fruit. I am blessed to have a prolific Santa Rosa plum tree in my back yard, and consider its existence a serious argument for living in Southern California. The fruit is a dark ruby red with a tart purple skin. Every year I put up copious amounts of plum preserves, jams and sauces eagerly awaited by family and friends.

When working in large quantities, as one does from time to time, the rules are different but can apply to almost any fruit. Sometimes the amount of fruit one has is daunting. You don’t want it to go to waste, but you can’t imagine canning all of it at once. This method, employing the freezer, allows you to preserve the harvest and then can at your leisure.

You throw the fruit in the pot with water and a little bit of alcohol, rum or port are nice, and cook until the fruit is just cooked through, 15-20 minutes (depending on the quantity). This produces what I call the JAM JUICE or JAM STOCK. At this point you can either freeze some, or all of it to work with later, or you can continue preserving. I put up a number of different plum products, so I like to freeze the JAM STOCK in multiple containers, providing me the option of working in small batches. I usually freeze in 8-cup increments.

Next you measure out the JAM STOCK into a clean preserving pot and add 3/4-cup sugar for every cup of stock. At this point you can add any flavors to the jam, a few slices of ginger or some cardamom pods are nice(in a tea ball or cheese cloth).
I have used this method successfully with peaches and cherries. Here are the basic rules, but remember, no two harvests of fruit are ever the same, so trust your palate to adjust the sugar or liquid as needed.


BACKYARD PLUM JAM


4 lbs Santa Rosa plums

1 cup water

1 cup rum or port

Wash stem and pit the fruit. Place in a preserving pan and cook until the fruit is cooked through and the alcohol is cooked off, 15-20 minutes. If you are doing a larger quantity may need to need to adjust the time accordingly.
Freeze or continue canning.

Measure the JAM STOCK into a clean preserving pan adding ¾ cup sugar for every cup of stock.
Add any desired flavors to the pot at this point.

Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat stirring and skimming as needed. When the jam stops producing foam, and the boil slows a bit, start watching it more carefully. Check the set. Fill and process prepared sterilized jars.

June 14, 2009

CHERRY BOMBS spicy pickled cherries








CHERRY BOMBS

Pickled cherries are weird and wonderful and divinely simple to make (no pitting involved).

The classic pickled cherry has the clove, cinnamon, peppercorn trio, which doesn’t do much for me, and frankly doesn’t do much for the cherry either.
When I think cherry, I think vanilla, almond or anise to compliment its intense concentrated flavor.
Once you have the basic brine down you can play alchemist. Try red wine and balsamic vinegar with brown sugar. Or make the white wine brine and season each jar differently, try a sprig of mint, or basil and cardamom. I would love to hear what you tried, so please, let me know in comments at the bottom of the page.

I used tarragon and anise in some and chilies and vanilla in others. I am crazy about the vanilla-chili combo. It’s a flavor explosion, all right and all wrong at the same time, and completely modern. I am going to serve them with everything this summer, barbecued chicken, ribs, accompanying a charcuterie plate, and for sure in some crazy cocktail I have yet to devise.
The tarragon cherries are more refined and sophisticated. They taste like France and beg for fois gras or duck. Next fall, when you crack open a jar to serve alongside your roast duck, they will remind you of early summer and France.


Cherry Bombs
spicy pickled cherries


2 lbs cherries

2.5 cups white wine
2 cups white wine vinegar
1 ½ cups sugar
15-20 fresh Thai chilies
1 vanilla bean split open and cut into four pieces

• Wash cherries and cut stems down to about ½ inch. Discard any blemished cherries. Prick each cherry a few times with a pin or toothpick (this encourages them to absorb liquid and sink).

• Combine wine, vinegar and sugar, in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

• Pack cherries into hot sterilized jars. Add 3-5 chilies (depending on your spice-o-meter) and a 1-½ inch piece of vanilla bean to each jar.


• Pour the hot vinegar mix over the cherries leaving ½ - ¼ inch headroom. Seal and store in a cool dark place for 2-4 weeks. Refrigerate after opening.

Tarragon Cherries

2 lbs cherries
2.5 cups white wine

2 cups white wine vinegar

1 ½ cups sugar
8 peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh tarragon
4 star anise

• Wash cherries and cut stems down to about ½ inch. Discard any blemished cherries. Prick each cherry a few times with a pin or toothpick (this encourages them to absorb liquid and sink).


• Combine wine, vinegar, sugar, peppercorns, and star anise in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.

• Pack cherries into hot sterilized jars dividing spices evenly. Add a sprig of tarragon to each jar.


• Pour the hot vinegar mix over the cherries leaving ½ - ¼ inch headroom. Seal and store in a cool dark place for 2-4 weeks. Refrigerate after opening.

June 1, 2009

Hibiscus Tequila



HISBISCUS INFUSED TEQUILA



Summer is almost here and with it cocktail season. While I am an avid proponent of a classic G&T I realize that a girl's got to mix it up sometimes. And really, who doesn’t like a pink cocktail?
For all you sissies out there who say canning is too complicated (and you know who you are), this one's for you. It takes less than five minutes, has three ingredients, and its lot’s of fun.
The infusion produces a divine magenta hued liquor. The intense berry-like hibiscus juxtaposed with the peppery finish of good agave tequila yields a complex flavor, fruity without a trace of sweetness.
Dried hibiscus flowers, also called Flor de Jamaica, can be found at Latin and Caribbean markets. Tazo Teas makes a wonderful one called Passion Tea available at Whole Foods and the Candied Hibiscus Flowers are from Trader Joes. The candied hibiscus are decorative , so if you don’t have them, don’t fret, it will still be fabulous; although I love the way they look like a prehistoric squid suspended in the bottle.

I used Silver Patron Tequila because that’s what I had on hand but I also like 4 Copas Blanco or Corralejo Tequila Blanco and Milagro. Any high quality white tequila will do. Remember your finished product is only as good as your ingredients.

There are endless cocktails you can make with this including sublime margaritas. I like it best over ice with a splash soda, some lime and a squirt of agave nectar. My husband likes it chilled, neat, with a wedge of lime.

HIBISCUS INFUSED TEQUILA

1 liter high quality silver or white tequila

4 hibiscus tea bags

1 candied hibiscus flower


Combine tequila and tea bags in a wide mouth jar. Let sit at room temperature for three days. Remove tea bags and discard.

Squish one whole candied hibiscus flower into a clean sterilized bottle. Add tequila and seal. Drink!


Keep refrigerated.