Mourning the End of a Jar

empty jam jar

One of the most powerful taste memories I have from my childhood years in Southern California is of freshly picked plums. My family’s home in Eagle Rock wasn’t particularly big on the inside, but sat on the flattest part of a extensive, terraced yard. We had three purple plum trees in the side and back yards, and every other year, they produced bumper crops of the most juicy, tender-fleshed plums I’ve ever eaten.

Several of the fruit-producing branches hung low enough for my seven year old self to pick the plums without parental aid and so during their season, I would entertain myself underneath the plum trees. I would pretend that I was Laura Ingalls, helping “Ma” by picking wild fruit into my little bent wood basket. My own mom would sometimes make runny jam with the plums I brought her, or just tuck one into our lunches.

This morning I reluctantly finished a jar of jam I made back in August. I’ve so enjoyed this particular batch, because it tasted so much like our LA plums. The tart flavor of the skin wasn’t obscured by the sugar and the clean, gentle flavor of the plum’s interior was perfectly present as well. Each bite was balanced, fresh and so, so summery.

I wish I had more of this batch, but the rest was given out as favors at our wedding. The only reason this jar stayed with me was that it didn’t seal (darn Quattro Stagioni jars) and so ended up in my fridge instead in the gift stash. I don’t regret that though. I’m actually delighted that so many of our friends and family ended up with jam from such a good batch.

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It seems that we’re finally heading into the waning days of winter. For those of you who spent some time canning last summer, what have been your favorite things to eat from your home canned stash? For me it has been this jam and all the tomatoes I did in those frantic spare moments before the wedding. Leave a comment, I’d love to hear about your winners!

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Dark Days: Breakfast

dark days breakfast

Typically, Sunday nights are my fall-back position for these Dark Days meals. Waiting until then means that I have Saturday to hit the Rittenhouse Square farmers’ market and the Fairfood Farmstand and restock my week-ravaged pantry as well as most of the day to cook (if I decide to do something time-intensive).

However, I knew heading into this weekend that I wouldn’t be around on Sunday night to cook dinner (I’ll be in New York, having dinner with these two lovely ladies instead). And having sprinted through the week cooking several dinners that all included some local ingredients but weren’t all local, that left Saturday morning.

So I did what I’ve seen a lot of lately (at least on the Dark Days circuit). I made a local breakfast. And lo, it was good. I peeled and cubed some elderly potatoes (Winter Harvest) and tossed them with bacon grease (Meadow Run Farms), salt and pepper in a cast iron skillet. While they roasted, I gently scrambled six eggs (Winter Harvest) and made toast (baked with my own two hands, from a combination of local and non-local flours).

Scott immediately squirted ketchup on his eggs (Heinz Organic, which is at least headquartered, if not made, in the state) and I ate my toast with a few dabs of plum jam I made last summer (six months in the jar, it tastes so bright and summery). Then we went off to do a cooking demo at Foster’s Homewares, well-fed.

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Jam-filled Hamantaschen

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I am always looking for ways to use jam beyond spreading it on toast/pancakes/scones. Particularly the three jars of blackberry jam I’ve had in the back of the fridge since September 2008. They’re in the refrigerator, as opposed to on my shelf, because I didn’t process them and figured I’d use them quickly in a recipe. But being in the way back, I never did use them. Then I started to believe that they weren’t good anymore.

Finally, I pulled them out recently, only to discover that they had, in fact, sealed when I first made them (via the open kettle method) and were fine and totally delicious. Who knew!

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Hamantaschen are fruit or jam-filled cooked that are traditionally made around Purim. Their triangle shape is said to mimic Haman’s hat (although, in Israel, they call them Haman’s ears). Haman was an enemy of the Jews, who was defeated by Queen Ester. Purim (a fun, celebratory holiday that combines aspects of Independence Day and Halloween) has already come and gone for this year, but there’s no need to wait for next year before making these cookies.

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I’ve learned a few things about Hamantaschen, as I’ve made at least three batches in the last week, trying to get them right. The first is that I’m nearly incapable of getting the proportions perfect. You want plenty of cookie, in order to have enough dough to create a sufficient well for the spoonful of jam you heap in their center.

I can’t quite manage this (I cut too little cookie and add too much jam). Also, I somehow can’t catch the dough at the perfect point of chilled by yet still workable. However, I’ve discovered that even when I screw them up, they are still delicious. So maybe I’ll just keep making them until I get them right.

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If you do any recipe searching, you’ll find that there are some recipes that call for yeast and some that don’t. I find that in terms of flavor, I like the the unyeasted dough better (they’re more like a sugar cookie). However, the texture of the yeasted cookie was more in keeping with the Hamantaschen I’ve eaten in the past (it was flaky and reminded me slightly of shortbread). I’ve included both recipes so that you can determine which style you prefer.

For another take on Hamantaschen, see Deena’s post on Mostly Foodstuffs. She used a recipe that incorporates cream cheese, and I imagine that it lends a really yummy richness that goes really well with jam.

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Special Delivery Food in Jars

pickles and jam from Cathy

Look! A gift of pickles and marmalade, straight from New York. So often I’m the one handing out jars of food, but today the tables were turned and I was handed a couple jars of lovely, handmade goodies (delicious McClure’s Pickles and jam from Anarchy in a Jar).

This gift of canned goods occurred over lunch at Reading Terminal Market’s Dutch Eating Place with Cathy Erway, of the blog Not Eating Out in New York. I’ve been reading her site for years now, so when she tweeted a couple of days ago that she was going to be in Philly and was interested in meeting up with a food blogger or two, I got in touch. Meeting fellow food bloggers is always a such pleasure, because so often there’s a shared language and ease of connection in the encounter (even when shouting over the din of Reading Terminal at the height of the lunch hour). This was certainly no exception.

Cathy was in town promoting her beautiful new book The Art of Eating In, a memoir drawn from her experiences cooking for herself (as well as friends) and avoiding restaurants. After our lunch, she was heading to WHYY to record an interview with A Chef’s Table (Philadelphians, I don’t know if she’ll be on this Saturday or next, so keep your ears peeled).

In other news, I’ll have a jam-filled hamantaschen recipe for you tomorrow, as well as a recipe for orange jelly coming sometime over the weekend.

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Nominated in the Saveur Best Food Blog Awards!

fun with cooking

Holy smokes kids, it’s a red-letter day in my food blogging career.

A little after 12 noon today, I was sitting at work, responding to an email and contemplating lunch, when I saw that people were tweeting about the Saveur Best Food Blog Awards. I followed a link over to that site, logged in and began placing my votes. I was methodically working my way through the categories when my universe shifted every so slightly. I clicked on the page for the Best Special Interest Blog, scrolled down and spotted a familiar site (sight).

This site. My site. Food in Jars.

I think I incoherently chortled first. Then I mumbled a few choice words that my grandma Bunny would have called “work language.” There was a tweet too.

Earlier today, a co-worker asked me if it was true what they always say. Is it really good just to be nominated? So far, my answer is an unequivocal yes. I am delighted. Honored, in fact, that those arbiters of delectability at Saveur think that this blog is worth their attention.

However, as much fun as I’m having being nominated, I can’t help think that it might also be nice to win. If you’re interested in helping me find out what winning might feel like, you can go here to cast your vote (yes, you do have to sign up for a Saveur membership, but it’s fairly quick and quite painless). While you’re there, make sure to vote for the other categories as well. Some of my favorite blogs are up for awards as well, like Homesick Texan, Ezra Pound Cake and The Kitchn.

Oh, one more thing. So many thanks to all of you who come back day after day and read about my canning projects, Dark Days meals and sundry baking endeavors. I couldn’t do it without every one of you.

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Season to Taste

pickles waiting for processing

Earlier today, I got an email from a reader. After many months of anticipation, she had finally opened a jar of garlic dill pickles she made last summer, using the recipe I posted in August. Only they were far, far too spicy for her. She was afraid that she was going to have to throw out the entire batch.

Upon reading her email, I felt terrible. I never post a recipe that I haven’t tried, tested and truly appreciated. So to hear that someone has made something according to my instructions, only to find it inedible, deflates me. It also got me thinking about the way I approach the creation of the recipe. I write for my taste buds, using the ingredients I have in my kitchen. Thing is, no two palates are exactly alike, so there’s no absolute guarantee that what worked for me will be as delicious for another.

As we head into another canning season (I know so many of you are planning your gardens and signing up for CSA shares with your summer canning in mind), I’d like to encourage a bit more herb and spice exploration. This doesn’t mean that I endorse wild experimentation or grand recipe deviations, as we all know that to keep our canned goods safe, it’s important to keep our acid and sugar levels steady and adhere to the basics of the recipe.

But I do want you to know that it’s okay to gently tweak the spices. If you know that you can’t handle a great deal of heat in your food, please, please reduce the amount of chili or cayenne that the recipe calls for. If you’re a cinnamon fiend, feel free to increase the amount you include in your blueberry jam. Also, keep in mind that a small amount of spice can increase in flavor over time, so if you’re making something in July that you don’t plan on eating until February or March, adjust accordingly. Most of all, remember that you’re making those pickles or that chutney for you, and so the way it tastes should always, always please you.

Additionally, get to know your particular spice rack (they are all different). Sniff and taste your way through the bottles, making sure that you’re familiar with their potency. Toss the things that smell like dirt or nothing at all and replenish the stash before embarking on a big cooking project.

Going forward, I am going to try to write my recipes with this “season to taste” mindset. I will continue to tell you what I did, but I will also include notes at recipe points where variation and adjustments are okay. Because really and truly, my goal here is to show you all that canning is accessible and enjoyable. And if you end up with something you can’t eat, that defeats me.

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