20 July 2008

can it!

the berry mania hasn't stopped around here. we went blueberry picking at a you-pick place outside of town. we all had a great time, and picked a lot in a short amount of time. cosmo was great at picking, but didn't end up with any in his bucket when we went to weigh them. luckily, they didn't weigh him going in and coming out.

i froze several bags, but we don't have much room in our freezer, so, after muffins, and a blueberry tart (with pastry cream, see below),

we still had enough berries to make jam. i've canned before, but it has been a while, and i have never made jam. i wanted something that would actually jell, that could be spread on toast. in my research, it seemed like the pectin sugar/ratio was crucial to get the jam to set, so i was afraid to alter the recipe. still though, i couldn't bring myself to add 7 cups of sugar to 8 cups of berries! so i reduced it by 2 cups, and it worked just fine. the finished product was very jam-like, but still way too sweet for me.

(jar turned upside down to demonstrate that it jelled)

we had so much fun making it, that i went back out the next day with a couple of friends and picked more berries. this time around, we got serious. we purchased a canner, with the thought that we might want to can other foods, like tomatoes, later in the season. i also looked into some low sugar options. i got some pectin that indicated it would make jam with less or no sugar, but i was slightly suspicious of it, since it had other ingredients besides pectin, and, unlike the pure pectin box, it did not say "all natural." i could not find the natural, low-sugar option i had read about...our co-op said they were having trouble keeping it in stock during berry season. so, i did two batches: one with the low sugar pectin, and 1.5 cups of sugar for 8 cups of berries. and i used evaporated-cane-juice-type sugar. it jelled beautifully. then i tried the regular pectin, and used 2.5 cups of sugar for 8 cups of berries. i used a little extra pectin, and it also jelled. i did cook these two batches a little longer than the recipe recommened, because i had read in mark bittman's book that all jam will jell at 224 degrees F. so, we kept checking the temperature, and tried to get the mixture that hot, but it never got there.

i don't think we needed to cook it so long, and it did reduce quite a bit, which means less jam. i learned an important thing (which is why i am going into all this detail), you don't have to follow the recipe exactly when it comes to making jam. at least that is how it worked for me. all of the jam i made jelled. some of it is too sweet, some probably not sweet enough, and some is just right!

(jars sterilizing in pot, before we got the canner)

carl and i really had a blast with canning. there is a point when the stuff goes into the hot sterilized jars, gets the lids put on, and then goes back into the boiling water bath, and you have to move very quickly (and carefully). we worked efficiently as a team, though i did freak out once when the small jars wouldn't stay standing on the canner's rack (which is designed for larger jars).

the best part is when the jars are all out, cooling on the counter, and as you're cleaning up, every now and then you hear a very satisfying "ting" as a lid snaps down and seals a jar. i am proud to say that all of our jars sealed, and it feels like money in the bank to have all that jam on our shelf.

the general recipe and instructions we used can be found at here.

11 July 2008

foraging fools

this post could also be called foraging fever, or foraging frenzy. we have been eagerly reaping the harvest of summer in bloomington. first i discovered watercress growing in the stream in our park. ewell gibbons recommends cooking it if you suspect the water is polluted. i suspect all water is polluted, so we sautèed it in a little olive oil, rather than serving it as a fluffy green bed, upon which a savory, filled pastry sits (i had served some from the farmer's market in this fashion and it was heavenly pictured below).

next we found a cherry tree in our neighborhood, laden with ripe, cherry-red pie cherries. we knocked on the door to ask if we could pick some. no one answered, so we just picked from the branches that were hanging over the fence, thinking it might be considered in the public easement.

cosmo helped pick from the low branches, and, to my surprise, liked them fresh off the tree (they are quite tart). we took those home, carl pitted while i prepared a pie crust. i made a few experimental turnover/tarts, and a large pie with a crisp type topping.

the rest we froze. the next day we returned, and this time found the owner home. he answered the door claiming to be right in the middle of something. we offered one of our turnovers (which he declined) and asked if we could pick some cherries. he told us to take all we wanted. and so we did. shawna joined us midway. i think we ended up with 4 or 5 quarts total. we have two and a half in the freezer, and carl made a beautiful sauce which we made into cherries jubilee. for that you take sweetened cherries, add a little brandy, light it on fire while it is still warm, and then drizzle it over vanilla ice cream. to die for, i tell ya!

next we harvested a couple of cups of raspberries from our next door neighbor jack's place.

from those we made what's known as a fool. it's purreed berries (with the seeds strained out) mixed with whip cream. i'd been wanting to try making cream puffs (at michelle's urging) since i'd seen the article about choux paste in the NYtimes magazine. it's a pastry dough that gets cooked on the stove and then beaten before baking. i found the process baffling, even with detailed instructions from various sources. one of them suggested i stop beating the mixture when it looked glossy. how glossy?

the first batch failed. sadly, so did the fool. seems carl and i both got carried away with the electric mixer. we tried again the next day (we had plenty of raspberry puree), with excellent results. these have to be eaten right away, so we handed them out to neighbors as a 4th of july treat.

the following day we headed out on our bikes to the nearby rails-to-trails (thanks to lara for the heads up) and harvested a couple of quarts of wild blackberries. picking berries is a fond memory from my childhood. i noticed that cosmo was eating them right off the vine (he learned quickly how to tell which ones were ripe) and that i hadn't even tasted them. i was just filling the container as quickly as i could, fretting about chiggers, and smacking mosquitos. as a child, i too would just pick and eat, but now i have the long range vision of the wonderful things we can make with berries, and so, i'm focussed on quantity. carl said the same was true for him.

a little sugar really brings out the flavor in these, so we made sauce before freezing it, and also tried a blackberry jubilee.

with the fresh berries i made what's called a blackberry gratin (from mark bittman). it was wonderful, though i was never sure if the consistancy was correct, having never had a berry gratin. should it have been more custardy? or was it supposed to be a sweet creamy sauce, browned on top in the broiler? i also made an elaborate frozen berry souffle (also from bittman) which was gorgeous and amusing to the mouth. this too was shared with neighbors, though, for some reason, cosmo and his little friend sylvan didn't like it. hey, that's okay, more for us. cosmo had kind of overdosed on blackberries already, and may have sensed that his digestive system could use a break.

prior to the cherry/berry fest, i had been on a savory pastry making kick. as a (mostly)vegetarian, i have longed for something equivalent to a pot pie. what i have been making is not really pie, but they use pie crust pastry. i've made galettes, tarts and quiche type dishes. i like the idea of getting so comfortable with making pie crust (which i have always enjoyed), that i don't hesitate to whip one up for dinner, anytime. i must admit that these experiments have been easy on the eyes, and the taste buds. i've found great recipes for savory pastry dishes in debra madison's vegetarian cooking for everyone.

i also made a rustic tart with bing cherries and peaches earlier in the summer, and a quiche with a potato crust. i included this picture of some eggplant rolls (filled with chesses and herbs) served with a tasty roasted red pepper sauce, because it's pretty.

for our friends in far places, consider visiting. we will feed you well.

08 July 2008

when he jumps, he almost flies...

a snapshot from our trip to the indiana dunes national lakeshore. it's the closest thing to going to the beach for this part of the country. it is strangely similar to the gulf coast, in that the national seashore (the protected land) is bracketed by various industrial plants, so we felt right at home.

this post's title is a line from a song by local composer, malcolm dalglish. he's the same person who wrote "summer dog days."