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Fuyu Persimmon Chutney

December 12, 2011

To my knowledge there are no holiday songs written about persimmons, but there should be. Persimmons hang on months after most fruit.  They wait for the frost to come before dumping their leaves and gloriously displaying their sweet orange lanterns hanging from naked limbs.  The fruit, sweet and flavorful when ripe, has an unpleasant astringent quality when eaten before they fully develop.   So I wait for it, because I love this fruit. It may be the last truly seasonal fruit, in that there is not enough demand to cause our friends in the Southern Hemisphere to begin shipping it here in the off season.  (I imagine it would be tough to sell a persimmon during the height of peach season!)

This year a friend invited me over to pick Fuyu persimmons from her tree. (Thanks A!) Fuyus are the short, squat variety that are eaten while firm.  They are not often cooked, but rather eaten raw in salads or on their own.  My mother-in-law, a fellow persimmon fan, introduced me to a recipe for using Fuyu persimmons to make a chutney.  The dense flesh retains its shape and color when cooked.  The chutney is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds that pop in your mouth with each bite.  The raisins and sugar balance the acidity of the apple cider vinegar and the red pepper flakes add a subtle bite.  I often serve the chutney with a soft cheese on an appetizer tray.  It also shines as a side to roast pork.  Jars filled with persimmon chutney make a welcome holiday gift.

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Chunky Garden Salsa

September 27, 2011

This has been our best tomato year ever.  Quite a shocker given the cool summer, but in our tiny garden we have a bona fide bounty of tomatoes this year.  They spill from their bowls, piling up in every free space the kitchen counters can afford.  These tomatoes have been taunting me.  After a wait that tested every ounce of my patience, they began coming in heavy just at the time the other parts of my life asserted their own demands.  The kids, the family gatherings, and oh, my job that actually pays  the bills, all take their cut of my precious time before I get to the  satisfying job of canning.  But this weekend was made for me and the tomatoes.

Starting early in the morning, I prepared a “ketchup” that we all agreed is delicious, but not ketchup.  Luckily, instead of an outright rejection, my son suggested we rename it and came up with “Rojo Sauce”.  Perfect.  Another lug of tomatoes went into a basic tomato sauce, and the last load into Chunky Garden Salsa.

To be honest, I have not had great success with canned salsas in the past.  Each recipe I used seemed have one of two problems: the salsa was too watery and/ or the specified canned lemon juice gave the entire batch a foul artificial taste.  This recipe takes care of each of those issues and demonstrates some serious tasty flavors.  Instead of simply peeling the tomatoes, I grilled them to lend a bit of a charred flavor.  After skinning and removing the core, the tomatoes drain in a colander which removes most of the excess water and allows the salsa to easily thicken up on the stove.  In place of lemon juice, the recipe called for half white vinegar and half lime juice.  This gives it a perfect acidity and delicious flavor from the lime.  My only complaint is that I only ended up with five pints.  These are sure to go fast around our salsa-loving house.

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My mom taught me how to can.  In fact, she was full of useful instruction when I was a kid including: how to make my bed (hospital corners), the art of the thank you letter, and the ever-so-wise tip: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” (I seem to have forgotten this last one recently and so I am resurrecting it as my new mantra- I think it will serve me well.)  Though I do still try to do my best with thank you letters, I admit to having given up on the tightly made bed (duvees are the way to go!)  The canning skills I learned from her though,  are still extremely relevant and useful.  I took it for granted growing up that the pantry was always full of a variety of delicious jams.  It was not until I was older that I realized how few people my age knew about this practical art.  Gratefully, the art of preservation is experiencing a resurgence.  Just look at the popularity of sites such as Punk Domestics and Food in Jars.

My first canning projects were jams: apricot , raspberry, blueberry.  My mom showed me how to carefully sort the fruit, meticulously wash the jars, fill them leaving just the right amount of head-space, and secure them with clean lids and bands.  It was a fun activity to share and I of course loved to taste the fruits of our labors.  Over the years, I branched out in quantity (such as the 200 jars I made for our wedding favors out of our 20 square foot college kitchen) and variety by adding in pickles and relish, as well as applesauce and curds.This recipe is not one of my childhood.  It has become a family favorite none-the-less, born out of necessity as my parents’ garden expanded and they learned that three of four zucchini plants really are extreme plenty for a two-person household.

Sweet and Spicy Zucchini Pickles is the recipe that makes me yearn for our zucchini plants to over-produce.  No matter how many jars I make each year, it is never enough.  By February or March, I find myself rationing them so that we have enough to last until the next harvest.  Sweet, tangy, and crunchy with just a little bit of spice.  These are a staple on our weekend lunch table.  They are great on sandwiches or on their own.

What tips did your mother teach you that you still put to use?

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Grilled Corn Relish

August 17, 2011

Great corn is finally here. Though tomatoes top my list of most lusted after summer food, corn is a close second.  This summer it seems everything is a bit late, so the wait for these iconic summer foods is all the more tortuous.  Corn though, is now at its peak. The other day I loaded up on fresh corn at the local market. To my husband’s credit, he did not flinch when I presented him with an extra 18 ears of corn to grill alongside our dinner items for the night.

Grilled Corn Relish is a staple in our pantry.  Each year I make a big batch and still end up having to meter it out over the course of the winter so that we do not run out.   Grilling the corn adds a bit of nice charred flavor and some color to this sweet and tangy relish.   You may also boil the corn if that is more convenient for you.  Bag up any extra cooked corn you have and toss it in the freezer.  It is a great addition to lots of other foods like these Cheesy Onion Corn Muffins or Chicken Tortilla Soup.  If you do not want to process your jars, you can also keep the jars for months in the refrigerator.

Serve it with grilled meats, toss it with shredded cabbage for a quick and colorful salad, or use it to top soft tacos (our favorite).

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The peaches have been calling me this summer.  On my last trip to the farmers’ market, I gleefully strode away with a huge box mounded high with beautiful peaches and nectarines.  Fortunately, this coincided with an almost unprecedented two free days without the kiddos.  Oh, how productive this mama can be when the children are away!

There were enough peaches to make a few different types of products.  It was hard to resist making the Perfect Peach Cake (it really is soooo good), but I did.  Instead a made a batch of pie filling inspired by this recipe from Mrs. Wheelbarrow.  A few pounds went to making a puree for peach ice cream (still working out the kinks on that recipe).  With the bulk of the peaches I made one of my favorite pantry items, Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam.

This jam is special.  Sweet white peaches, earthy rosemary, and just a hint of spice from the cracked pepper, the combination is delightful.  I serve it with cheese such as brie or chevre.  It is a definite crowd pleaser and an excellent hostess or holiday gift.

Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam

adapted from Martha Stewart

makes 5 half-pints

3 pounds white peaches (you can use yellow, but I prefer the white varieties for this jam)

1/3 cup lemon juice

3 cups sugar

4 large sprigs rosemary

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Peel and pit the peaches. (Very ripe peaches are very easy to peel with a knife.  If your peaches do not peel easily, they are probably not ripe enough.  If you must make the jam without allowing them to ripen further, you can boil them for one minute, then plunge into cold water to loosen the skin.)

Slice the peaches into 1/2 inch slices.  Place peaches in a large bowl, add lemon juice, sugar, rosemary, and pepper.  Cover and let stand for 4 hours.  Stir every hour to incorporate the sugar.

Transfer peach mixture to a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Cook for 15 minutes, until mixture is syrupy.  Lightly mash the mixture to break down peach slices, leave 1/3 of wedges intact.  Discard rosemary sprigs (you can fish out the individual rosemary leaves if you want, but I leave some in for color and interest.)

Ladle jam into hot sterile jars.  Leave a 1/2 inch head-space. Top with a new lid and band. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes for half-pint jars.  See Home Canning Basics for more information about the canning process.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe:  Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam

You may also like:

Perfect Peach Cake

Mango Cranberry Chutney

Caramelized Onion Relish

Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam on Punk Domestics

Mixed Berry Syrup

July 28, 2011

I did not intend to share this recipe.  It seemed too simple, and maybe, just maybe, you are tired of reading about all the flats of berries my family is consuming.  Oh, but then the syrup began to heat and give off the most luscious smell.  By the time I was ready to ladle it in the jar, I was entertaining thoughts of bathing in this gorgeous liquid. That is when I knew I had to spread the word.   The next morning I awoke and made up a batch of the best pancakes ever (my humble opinion) to showcase this delicious syrup.

And so, simple as it may be, here is the recipe for the syrup that you should by all means make.   Sometimes it is the simplest of recipes that create the most delicious products.  It takes a little longer to make syrup than jam.  The sugar needs to heat to 230 degrees which takes time.  Do not be tempted to add the strained berries before the temperature is reached.  You will end up with a runny product.

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Three Berry Jam

July 6, 2011

My family and I just returned from a delightful escape from reality in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  Without the modern distractions of cars, phones, and computers, our days were peacefully filled with banana slug hunts, star gazing,  and swimming until we pruned.  It was a much needed pause in an otherwise busy life, a centering of sorts.  But alas, there are other responsibilities to which we must tend.  Some are grudgingly attended- bill paying, laundry folding, car repairing. Other responsibilities are the important rituals of life that help to make meaning and define some of the rhythms of our family life.  At the top of the list during this time of year is preserving the glorious bounty of summer.

Berry season is short, so we rely on the craft of jam making to preserve these flavors for the dark days.  On our way home, we stopped into Gizdich Ranch and picked up a flat each of raspberries and ollalie berries. I combined these two berries with some strawberries I froze last month to create a mixed berry jam.

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