Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!

Satsuma mandarins...the perfect winter snack, gift, everything!
peel, eat, repeat

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Plumb time for plums

August resides well in the Diablo Valley when big spacious, blue skies accompanied by blazing hot and dry days are part of your definition of the eighth month of our year. Conditions such as these bode very well for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons and stone fruits, thriving in loamy soil, occasionally drenched with some conserved, allotted water, creating an environment for them to be comfortably staking out real estate on the steamy side of the garden that they call home soaking up every sun bloated ray they can absorb creating amazingly big, fat, juicy fruits and vegetables for us to drunkenly consume at will, creating a conceptual whole, sweet life we live, nutritionally anyway.
As peaking produce overflows our yards and farmer’s market tables, canning and jamming take center stage in the kitchens of our summer life, acutely present in every nose for miles around your house. Plucking just picked cucumbers matched with astoundingly fragrant fresh dill heads and garlic, from the vine or market table, to be transformed in a matter of a few hours with the help of salt, vinegar and mystical alchemy to glistening jade jars of love. Tubs of peaches, nectarines and strawberries, washed and cut up, boiled in a sugar melted narcotic haze combined with whatever else heat flustered minds can imagine to mix in, become addicting, visions of fingers running along the sides and bottoms of almost empty, cooled jam pots, already beginning to gel as you gaze upon gem like colors, bedazzling eyes and minds with the promise of the perfect piece of toast come winter.
As my Satsuma plum tree encourages vast quantities of cascading fruit onto dry ground below I am fraught with sweet memories of my own Mom’s Satsuma plum which is why I have one growing in my yard today. Drupe in familial origin having a large stone pit encasing inner seed, plums are indeed a fruit engineered to provoke tender memories stemming from an age of earlier innocence in your life. Grandma’s always possessed a gnarly old tree to climb midsummer retrieving juicy fruits to stain anything on your body quenching a thirst only satisfied by that plum at that time. Plums date back centuries to milder climates of Asia, Eastern Europe and the Americas but Roman historian and scientist, Pliny the Elder, maintained plums originated in Armenia and were the first cultivated fruit known. Many cultures invest in the power of spring plum blossoms, all knowing at least half of those sweetly fragrant, showy blooms represent a plum to eat, juice dripping down chin. Over years many crosses of plums have appeared in markets probably none more identifiable than the San Rosa, another Luther Burbank discovery, tempting with creamy yellowish pink flesh, sugar sweet with a tart skin. Pretty much the epitome of what comes to mind for a plum when ears share the word with brains.  Satsuma plums have deep, dark richly mahogany red interiors, with a mysteriously herbal, tart - honeyed flesh perfect for retrieving childhood images. Plum wines play a major part in several cultures for simple enjoyment as well as medicinal purposes along with beautiful ceremonial displays.
Fortunately for us plums are still immensely popular with farmers continuing to grow and sell heirloom varieties along with any kind of cross imaginable, almost. Apriums are a 30-70 mix of an apricot and a plum as pluots are a 70 – 30 mix of plum and apricot. Softly orange inside and out with a scant fuzz, or deeply magenta, both perform due diligence to represent the plum family owning tastes that are sublime. Available only from your yard or farmers’ markets, they are summer stone fruit at its best. Before frankenfruit visions scare you off, these inter bred fruits are crossed, not genetically modified, as safe as a Blenheim to devour. Eaten slowly out of hand, eyes closed, juice popping as your teeth sink into tart skin, can be the best way to explore this fruit.
Fresh plum salsa with chopped plums, scallions, cilantro, jalapeño and garlic tossed with lime juice and a shot of fruity olive oil is incredible accompanying freshly grilled fish with a light shower of sea salt. Slice plums and toss with arugula, pine nuts, veiny blue and thick balsamic. Plums set the stage for an amazingly simple crisp, slurped hot with vanilla ice cream slowly melting on top.  Plums pureed and simmered with fresh ginger, garlic, honey, rice vinegar and soy sauce create a dip worthy of the most royal dumpling or skewer. Plum jam assures summer in the winter and looks so good in their jeweled jars they can be used for home décor year round. Beyond simple to prepare, all efforts pay supremely for months.
Plum Jam
8 cups chopped Satsuma plums
3 tablespoons fruit pectin
2 cups turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Peel and juice of 1 big, juicy lemon

Heat plums in a deep, heavy pan that won’t scorch.  Mix ½ cup sugar with the pectin and stir into plums. Bring to a complete rolling boil that you can’t stir down and add the rest of the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. Bring back to a rolling boil that you can’t stir down. When you reach that point, set your timer for 2 minutes and boil for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and place into sterilized half pint jars. Close lids tightly. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 half pints.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Summer jamming - Could get dangerous

Jam making has always been an extremely sensual experience for me in every sense of the word. Taste, beauty, smell, touch, inspiration inevitably hits at about 98 degrees F when fruit starts to drip off of trees in fertility inducing heat. As if from a dream, as nature intended, you immediately wake to craving an addiction not felt for about 10 months. Capturing lightning in a bottle is heady stuff indeed. Sparks of permanence shoot out of every jar, until it is consumed, leaving nothing behind but the jar begging to be refilled. I am spurred my some interior fire, adding to the heat that usually spends me but on jam and canning days excites me. I have been known to close all window shades, turn on the fans and make jam naked under my apron. Unless there are people around.
 I have made jam only once with a date and it was probably the sexiest experience I have ever had. He was a much younger guy, the executive chef at a local golf club, who had never made jam before and asked me to teach him. We had been dancing around each other for a few months, having dinner, taking hikes, but never anything solidly sexual yet, not even a real kiss.  Being a single guy, barely 30, he had nothing we needed for jam making at his house, younger chefs are notorious for this, and I had a 7 year old at mine.
So I went to the farmers market choosing just ripe enough peaches and nectarines, strawberries whose fragrance I could detect before I had a bead on them and picked the herbs from my garden almost whispering incantations of passion as I went along. l gathered everything we needed, enticing him with combinations of white nectarines and rose geranium and peach with lavender as I unloaded pots, strainers, tongs and sun swollen fruits, ready for the jar from my van at his house.  Cooking equipment always excites chefs and food adds immensely to the fire while a new process learned to be tried out on clients or customers is intoxicating with possibilities. At first it was all business. Getting the canner boiling, sterilizing jars, cleaning and cutting up fruit in preparation for boiling with sugar and pectin and making sure all mise en place was in order.  Having a smallish kitchen, it was inevitable that our arms and thighs brushed one another at times during the lesson. He was a beautiful student and beyond willing to learn and I kept thinking, “I cannot be the only one this turned on”.  
As his counter filled up with glistening jars of brilliantly gemstone colored jars of jam, as the evening wore on, he suggested something to eat. I loved hearing him say that because I loved watching him eat. It was endless the amount of food he could consume with such reverence and curiosity, speaking the same language I do as I eat, especially at a new restaurant with new culinary experiences. He suggested a little Italian place around the corner from his house and we settled in at a little table for two. He ordered several items off the menu as we are wont to do without regard for what we will finish, taste being the goal of the dining event. Kicking off my sandals under the table to cool off came as naturally as wiping a bead of sweat from my brow. As we sipped wine, after a hot afternoon and evening of jam making, it hit hard and fast. Eating garden warm tomatoes with Burratta and balsamic, torn basil acidic sweet on the tongue, fat, juicy prawns sautéed in olive oil and lemon, prosciutto silky alongside dripping melon, we slowly became so  inflamed with food passion that when out feet touched under the table accidently, we both jumped. He had kicked his sandals off as well and he reached for my hand. Imploring with his eyes, “Is this ok?” Feeling allure, carnality and innocence all at once, covered with goose bumps, still smelling caramelized sugar and boiling fruit in my head, I almost fainted. It took everything we had to finish eating and make it out to his truck before we started devouring each other in kisses unlike previously shared.
Ending up at his house, as we walked into the back kitchen door, engulfed with olfactory overload,  scents of lavender, rose geranium and fruits, he looked at me and silently, actually picked me up, that does not happen much in my 5 foot eleven life, and that was the beginning of my jam passion summer with the chef. It is somewhat of a surprise to me that there are no soft core porn movies involving jam making or even cooking together for that matter. I mean Babettes Feast is pretty sexy and Eat, Drink, Man and Woman is crazy but a jam making stand alone, I have not seen that one.

I won’t even get into pickles in this one. For another time. Suffice to say, if you have not made jam, in the heat of summer, fruit luminous, begging to be boiled and slathered on bread, it is time. Better yet shared with a special someone.

Strawberry and Basil Jam
2 cups sugar
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
2 large or 4 small basil leave
2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
Combine the sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Add the strawberries and continue to cook over very low heat for 35 minutes, until the strawberries release some of their juices and the mixture boils slowly. Cook until a small amount of the juice gels on a very cold plate, about 30 minute more. (I keep one in the freezer.) Pour carefully into 2, sterile pint canning jars and place either 1 big or 2 small basil leaves in each jar. Either process in a water bath for 10 minutes or keep refrigerated. Refrigerated jam will keep for a couple of weeks.