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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Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

June 16, 2011

Two weeks into my summer vacation, I had a serious itch to make some strawberry jam.  The problem was everywhere I looked the strawberries were either over-sized and under-flavored or ridiculously expensive.  On a tip from a friend, I headed out Highway 12 just outside Sebastopol to Lao’s Strawberry Stand.  It took three tries: first time he sold out, second time simply closed, but the third time is a charm.  It was well worth the trouble.  These strawberries bear very little resemblance to the strawberries sold year-round at the supermarket.  They are super small, bright red all the way through, and absolutely bursting with flavor.  They literally made me swoon.  It is such a pleasure to take the time to put up food when it is the best quality.  I was giddy with the thought that we would be able to enjoy these beautiful strawberries all winter.

The last few years, I have made strawberry rhubarb jam using low-sugar pectin and a standard process of heating the fruit and sugar to a boil, adding the pectin, and canning in sterile jars.  It has always turned out good, but not great.  Two problems I had were the strawberry and rhubarb both cooking down to a mushy pulp and the rhubarb turning a slightly greyish color.  After reading Eugenia Bone’s method of slow roasting the fruit in a low oven, I had to try it.

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I often speak to people who have never canned food and they express their concerns. Some people discuss worries about the safety of home canning, others suffer from a lack of confidence about how to successfully can food , and still others think they do not have time in their busy lives to preserve the bounty of the seasons.  It is to all of those skeptics that I dedicate this recipe.  It is a perfect entry-level canning project: almost zero safety concerns, easy to do if you follow the basic instructions, and very quick to put together.  And so here is my challenge to all those who have meant to can, but have not:  Try this recipe now, while the asparagus is fresh and inexpensive.  Fill your shelf with these beautiful jars.  Feel the satisfaction of putting up your own food.  Let your experience bolster your confidence for more canning projects through the summer. Heed the call of the jar!

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This month’s Charcutepalooza Challenge was meat grinding.  Oh, I really became excited about this one.  I recently picked up a meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen aide and have been tapping into the meat lover within making loads of sausage and meatballs.  You see, my grandfather was a butcher and though my father chose another career, he is a meat enthusiast.  I come from the kind of family that doesn’t consider a meal complete without some form of meat. (That would explain why I was nearly disowned during my 6 years exploring vegetarian and veganism.)  But back to meat grinding, it is so easy and the product is sensational!

Last year, we began purchasing pork by the half-hog from our fabulous young cousin who raises them for 4H.  There are so many reasons to buy fresh, local, conscientiously-raised meat, not least of which is that the quality is superb.  For this challenge, I ground a pork shoulder and made chorizo following Michael Ruhlman’s guidance in Charcuterie.  Though I have made a number of different types of sausage, chorizo is one of the most satisfying.  I think that is because I generally have a difficult time finding a chorizo that I can still put in my cart after I read the ingredient label.  The concept of using an entire animal is a good one, though it seems factory-based sausage companies have a different idea of what is suitable for consumption than most home cooks do.  This chorizo is  deeply flavored, full of completely recognizable fresh ingredients including lovingly raised meat, and is super lean.

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