Days of Fruit & Jelly

Though it’s easy to get the impression these days that virtually everyone has gone back to embracing the joys of canning and preserving, in truth the reality is that very few North Americans ever purchase produce of any kind, let alone go through the trouble of canning.  There are those that are tempted, though.  They’ve read the articles, seen the television programs, listened to the podcasts, bought the cookbooks, and are very much inclined to can and preserve.  One of the things that can hold a lot of potential canners back, however, has to do with quantity.  Most recipes for canning and preserving are high-quantity.  They’re geared toward stocking a pantry for a long winter, or for the apocalypse—whichever comes first.

Small-batch preserve recipes are what most novice canners need, though.  They want to give it a shot, but they’re looking for something that’s not a huge undertaking. Something that doesn’t require a large capital investment. Something that pays dividends.

We discovered the pleasures of small-batch canning years ago, back around the time that we first started experimenting with touristic preserving, or small-batch canning as DIY souvenirs. We didn’t rely on a single set of instructions at the time. We just based our experiments on what we already knew about canning. After all, Michelle was already a pretty expert canner, and had been for some time.  But we’ve always been struck by how little encouragement there is to can in small batches.

Recently, though, we discovered a particularly sublime small-batch jelly recipe, in Nigel Slater’s Tender, vol. 2. This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Slater is exactly the kind of food writer who you’d expect to have written such a treatise, given his devotion to fruits and vegetables and his fine-tuned attention to seasonality and to the pleasures of the garden.  He’s also someone who never expected to become a serious canner, which may partially explain his openness to all different approaches to preserving.  “I find it slightly amusing that I am now the sort of person who makes jellies and jams,” he writes.  “The process is relaxing and somehow good for my wellbeing.  Twenty years ago I would have laughed at the idea of ever pouring cottage garden fruit through a jelly bag, let alone labelling my own jars of jam.  Getting older isn’t all bad.”*

fig. a: high summer berries

fig. a: high summer berries

Michelle had picked a beautiful mix of berries from our garden—redcurrants, raspberries, and blueberries—and was looking for inspiration.  When she came across Slater’s recipe it struck her as especially well-suited for her needs, even if it was rather unconventional: he recommended virtually no liquid, and his cooking time was very, very short. But most importantly, Slater brought his berry mixture to gel stage before passing it through his jelly bag.  She had her doubts, but she decided to follow the instructions closely, and Slater’s recipe ended up putting her apprehensions to shame. The results were truly exceptional:  the finest, loveliest jelly she’d made in quite a while, and one that required a minimum of effort.

fig. b: still life with quivering jelly

fig. b: still life with quivering jelly

It did require a tiny bit of equipment, however:  a nice, deep stainless steel pan to cook the fruit in, a jelly bag, and some jars.

fig. c: Nigel’s jelly bag

fig. c: Nigel’s jelly bag

But with its simple method, the small amount of fruit it requires, and its easily adaptable equal-parts-fruit-and-sugar formula, this is a recipe that makes preserving high summer berries as easy and as satisfying as possible.  See a beautiful bunch of berries at the farmers’ market?  Pick them up.  Have some in your garden?   Gather a few handfuls.   Know some friends who happen to have a bumper crop? Unburden them.

Here are the essentials of Slater’s recipe, including its wonderful, somewhat poetic, but very appropriate title:

A Quivering Jelly

450 g redcurrants

A small handful of blackcurrants

450 g white sugar

Put the berries, still clinging to their stalks, into your nice, deep stainless steel pan.  Pour in the tiniest amount of water, barely enough to cover the bottom of the pot, then add the sugar.  Place on the stove over medium to medium-high heat, depending on the strength of your flame/element. Gently bring to a boil, stirring from time to time, and boil for eight minutes, and eight minutes only—“no longer or the flavour will spoil,” according to Slater. Pour the mixture through a jelly bag set over a wide jug or bowl.  Let it be until all the juice has dripped through.  Resist the urge to press the fruit in order to produce more juice.  Doing so “will cloud the jelly,” Slater points out, spoiling its breathtaking translucency.

Pour into clean jars you have sterilized with boiling water from the kettle and dried, preferably in the oven.  Can using sterilized lids, or follow Slater’s instructions by cutting discs of greaseproof paper to fit over the preserve, then covering tightly with a screw-top lid, before storing the jars “in a cool, dry place.”

Of course one of the major advantages of small-batch preserving is that you don’t really have to go through the trouble of canning at all.  Put it in any kind of clean container you like.  Keep it the fridge.  Eat it now.  Enjoy it in the moment. 

This jelly is so utterly perfect, it won’t last long.


*Ain’t that the truth?

Out of the Archives 4: Eat Your Greens, pt. 2

Here's another must-read/must-see/must-try from the archives.  It first appeared 5 years ago to the day, on November 13, 2010.  As was the case in 2010, now's the time--there are plenty of green tomatoes around, and you can often get them for a song.

fig. a:  time to fry

fig. a:  time to fry

There are still some real green tomatoes kicking around. In fact, depending on where you live, there might still be loads of them. And, along with making your own chowchow, frying them is a pretty great way to make use of the last of the tomato harvest. But even if you find that the green tomatoes in your area have already disappeared, all is not lost. As the Lee Bros. point out, your standard supermarket tomato is effectively a green tomato--it certainly was picked green (generally, very green). So you may need to add a bit of lemon juice and some salt to your sliced supermarket tomatoes to coax out a little flavor and approximate the wonderful, citrusy tartness of a true green tomato, but fried green tomatoes are a classic Southern side that you can make pretty much all year long. If you want to make the real deal, however, and I strongly advise giving them a try, local green tomatoes were still available here in Montreal this week. And their bright, tangy flavor this late in the year made it feel like we were cheating the approach of winter somehow. If only for a moment.

Note: you also need some decent cornmeal to make these fried green tomatoes, and good cornmeal can be hard to find in the Montreal region. The best brand we've been able to locate around here is Indian Head Stone Ground Yellow from Maryland, available at Aubut

fig. b:  B Bros.

fig. b:  B Bros.

Even better is Beattie Bros., which is owned by the same parent company, but produced in North Carolina. Though, as far as we know, you can only get Beattie Bros. in the States.

Fried Green Tomatoes

3 lbs green tomatoes
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
3-4 cups peanut oil
3 batches fry dredge (recipe follows)
kosher salt, if needed
lemon juice, if needed

Core the stem ends of the tomatoes and slice them in 1/4-inch slices. Set aside. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a broad, shallow bowl.

Pour the oil in a 12-inch or 14-inch skillet (3 cups of oil will suffice for the 12-inch skillet; 4 cups should do for the 14-inch skillet, and the 14-inch skillet will make the task of frying 3 lbs of tomatoes much, much faster--ultimately, whatever size skillet you use, you need an oil depth of about 1/3 of an inch). Heat the oil over medium-high heat until the temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 350º-365º.

Heat the oven to 225 degrees. Set a baker's rack on a cookie sheet on the top rack.

Divide the dredge between two small bowls or shallow baking pans. Taste the tomatoes. "They should have a bright tartness like citrus fruit." If they don't, sprinkle the slices with salt and lemon juice (if you're using supermarket tomatoes, this additional lemon and salt will be necessary). Press 1 tomato slice into the first bowl of dredge on each side, shaking any excess loose. Dunk in the egg mixture, then place in the second bowl of dredge, coating both sides, and shaking any excess loose, before placing the slice on a clean plate. Repeat with more slices until you've dredged enough for a batch (roughly 8-10, if you're using the 14-inch skillet). With a spatula, gently transfer the first batch of slices into the hot oil, taking care not to create splatter, and making sure your temperature continues to hover between 350º-365º.

As the first batch cooks, dredge the second batch according to the directions above, while keeping a watchful eye on the first. Once the slices have fried to a rich golden brown on one side, roughly 2 minutes, flip them carefully and fry for another 2 minutes or so, or until golden brown. Transfer the fried tomatoes to a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels and leave them to drain for 1 minute.

Transfer the slices to the baker's rack in the oven, arranging them in a single layer, so they remain warm and crisp. Repeat with the remaining slices until all the green tomatoes have been fried. Serve hot with Buttermilk-Lime Dressing (recipe follows).

All-Purpose Dredge

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp stone-ground cornmeal
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper together twice. Stir. Use as directed.

This is a great all-around frying dredge. The Lee Bros. use this very recipe for everything from chicken, to fish, to fried green tomatoes.

Buttermilk-Lime Dressing

3/4 cups whole or lowfat buttermilk (preferably the former)
5 tbsp freshly squeeze lime juice
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1/2 cup finely minced basil
1/4 cup finely minced green onions
1/4 cup finely minced parsley
1/2 tsp salt, plus more to taste

In a small bowl, whisk the ingredients together until thoroughly combined. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator not more than 2 days.

[these recipes are based very, very closely on ones that appeared in The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook]

These fried tomatoes make for a fantastic side with any number of dishes, Southern or otherwise. We love 'em with seafood, but then we've been known to have them with barbecue too, and I could easily imagine having them as part of a Thanksgiving dinner. Leftover fried green tomatoes taste pretty outrageous on top of a leftover pulled pork sandwich, too. Especially if you drizzle a little of that Buttermilk-Lime Dressing on top. Just take a look:

fig. c:  deluxe pulled pork sandwich

fig. c:  deluxe pulled pork sandwich

Oh, and speaking of Thanksgiving and the Lee Bros.: if you haven't had the pleasure of reading Matt and Ted's New York Times exposé on Marilyn Monroe's stuffing recipe from 1955-6 (as it appears in Fragments, a just-published collection of previously unreleased Monroe ephemera), you really should. Not only is it a great read, but Marilyn's recipe is both mysterious (ground beef? Parmesan? City Title Insurance Co.?) and tantalizing. Just look at that picture. Just look at that recipe


p.s. Looking for "eat your greens 1"? You can find it here.

Apple Season, pt. 2: "apple pie"

fig. a:  papa's got a brand-new bag

fig. a:  papa's got a brand-new bag

If Vermont has an apple obsession--and it most certainly does--it's also a state that's seriously crazy about pizza, so it's perhaps no surprise that "apple pie" takes many forms here.  Sure, Vermonters love their traditional apple pies--with a top-crust and open-faced, with a slice of cheddar or without, deep-dish or otherwise--but they're also not averse to adding apples to their pizza.  In fact, one of Vermont's great pizzas, Parker Pie Company's Green Mountain Special, features apples prominently.

Inspired by the local scene, and in thrall to a pizza obsession of our very own--a home-baked one--we started making our own "apple pies" last year.  

I'd start by whipping up a batch of Jim Lahey's basic pizza dough from My Bread (2009) a day in advance.  

Jim Lahey's Basic Pizza Dough

500 grams bread flour

10 grams instant yeast

10 grams table salt

3/4 tsp + a pinch (roughly 3 grams) sugar

300 grams water

6 grams olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams (about 1 cup) lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil, then pour it into flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.

Knead rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.)

To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into squares. Top and bake.

YIELD:  2 rectangular pizzas

If you need pointers, you can watch this video of Jim Lahey working his no-knead pizza magic in the Serious Eats test kitchen.

When the dough had been allowed for a full 18 hours or so, I'd shape it on an oiled 13" x 9" baking sheet.  And then I'd apply my toppings.

apple slices (thin!), preferably using something that bakes well like a Crispin

sautéed North Country Smokehouse bacon

sautéed onions

Cabot Creamery Alpine Cheddar

chopped flat-leaf parsley

freshly ground black pepper

Bake in the hottest oven conditions you can create, making sure to heat the oven a good 60-90 minutes in advance so that it's truly piping hot.  

And voilà!

fig. b:  apple pie

fig. b:  apple pie

If you can't find Cabot Creamery's Alpine Cheddar, I pity you, but any quality cheddar or Gruyère will do, although personally I don't think I'd go too sharp with the cheddar.  If you can't find North Country Smokehouse bacon, again, I feel sorry for you, but try to use the tastiest bacon you can get your hands on.

This pizza is a dream come true--a Green Mountain dream.  And it's even dreamier when you make it with the freshest apples you can find, right in the midst of the apple harvest.  In other words, right about now.


Apple Season, pt. 1: apples & chorizo

fig. a:  autumn still life, Vermont

fig. a:  autumn still life, Vermont

It may be better known for its dairy and its maple syrup, but if you're an apple lover--and I most definitely am*--Vermont stands out as a true Apple Paradise even in a region that's famed for its prodigious apple harvests (think Quebec, think New York, think Ontario).  

For a relatively small state, with a very small population, Vermont produces a lot of apples.  But even more impressive is the sheer variety of apples that are on offer at your local orchards, at your local farmers markets, and at your local co-ops.  Check out the Onion River Co-op (a.k.a., City Market) in Burlington, or the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier if you really want to see an astounding selection of apples.  Look for apples from Champlain Orchards or, better yet, Scott Farm, whose orchards are managed by a legendary orchardist named Zeke Goodband who hosts an annual Heirloom Apple Day every October over Columbus Day Weekend, drawing generously from the 110+ varieties (!) they produce.**

 Hunger Mountain Co-op alone carries upwards of 20 different varieties of Scott Farm heirlooms at this time of year, in addition to a wide selection of non-heirlooms, like McIntoshes, Macouns, and Paulareds.  Some of our favourites include Cox's Orange Pippin, Esopus Spitzenburg, Fameuse (the "famous" heirloom varietal of Quebec, and one that happens to be notoriously difficult to actually find in Quebec), Ashmead's Kernel, Northern Spy, and Belle de Boskoop, which may just be the ultimate apple for strudel and apple pie (Michelle certainly seems to think so these days).

fig. b:  apples of uncommon character

fig. b:  apples of uncommon character

And if you'd like some help making sense of this cornucopia (we certainly did), there's no better guide than Rowan Jacobsen's Apples of Uncommon Character:  123 Heirlooms, Modern Classics, and Little-Known Wonders (Bloomsbury, 2014).  As it turns out, Jacobsen lives in Washington County, Vermont, not far from our place, but we fell in love with his book before we knew that, and months before we actually got to know him and his family.  

On some level, Jacobsen is a product of Vermont's apple obsession, as is his book.  Jacobsen is an authority on the subject, and an amateur orchardist himself.  But he also had access to a wide range of local and regional expert (including Goodband) when he was researching this book, and he didn't have to venture far to find most of the 123 varieties that Apples of Uncommon Character features.  

In any case, Jacobsens's book is both fascinating and incredibly informative, and its categorizations (which varieties appear early?  which are the best for baking?  which make the tastiest cider?  which keep the best in your cellar? etc.) are terribly useful for people like us who use apples in a wide variety of preparations (pies and desserts, soups and savoury dishes, preserves and pickles, salads, etc.).  It's also beautifully written for a book that's essentially a field guide, not to mention lushly illustrated.  And if all that wasn't enough, it ends with 20 sweet and savoury recipes, many of which are of an uncommon character themselves.

fig. c:  the spy that came in from the cold

fig. c:  the spy that came in from the cold

One of our absolute favourites from this book is a recipe that works particularly well with a somewhat tart apple, like a Northern Spy.  It's Jacobsen's take on a classic dish from Asturia--Spain's famed cider-producing region--and one that is testament to the ages-old, but still passionate love affair between apples and pork:  Chorizo with Apples.  It only takes minutes to make, and it's insanely delicious.  The addition of apple cider, makes the end result "more apple than apple."  The combination of the warmth of the paprika, the sweetness of the apples and onions, the olive oil, and the pork fat makes for an utterly seductive sauce that you'll want to sop up every last drop of.

fig. d:  apple hearts sausage

fig. d:  apple hearts sausage

Chorizo with Apples

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 lb chorizo (preferably a high-quality Spanish version), cut into half-inch slices

1/2 onion, sliced

1 cup dry hard cider

1 apple (preferably something a little on the tart side, like a Northern Spy), cored and sliced

parsley for garnish

Heat oil in a skillet, add chorizo and sauté until brown. Turn and brown the other side.

Add onion and cider, cook 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add apple and cook another 6 minutes, stirring, until sauce is thick.

Garnish with parsley and serve with a crusty loaf of bread, the better to sop up all that beautiful sauce with.  

This dish is a perfect fall appetizer, especially served with a crisp hard apple cider or a crisp white wine on a crisp autumn evening.  Lay it out with some sliced sourdough bread, a plate of mixed olives, and a small cheese plate, and your meal will be off to a fantastic start.



* At this time of year, when the apples are particularly fresh and crispy, it's not uncommon for me to eat 4 or 5 in a row after dinner, in addition to the 2 or 3 apples I might have at other times over the course of the day.  

** We were so blown away by the Scott Farm apples we tried last fall, that this spring we took a pruning and grafting workshop with Mr. Goodband in the very early spring, when southeastern Vermont was still blanketed in snow.  This being Vermont, not only was our workshop leader named Ezekiel "Zeke" Goodband, not only did he sport a beard worthy of the Old Testament, but his pruning and grafting lessons were delivered in the form of anti-capitalist parables.

fig. e:  Grafting by Goodband

fig. e:  Grafting by Goodband

Lo and behold, a few months later, our apple trees blossomed in a way they hadn't in years.

fig. f:  spring blossoms

fig. f:  spring blossoms

From Apple Jam to Crabapple Jelly

We've been listening to George Harrison's All Things Must Pass a lot recently, including its largely improvisatory Apple Jam sides ("Out of the Blue"!).

fig. a:  apple jam

fig. a:  apple jam

But, when it comes to making tasty jams (or jellies, as the case may be) of our own, we've been focused on crabapples.

   fig. b:  crabapples

 fig. b:  crabapples

In part, that's because there's nothing quite like crabapple jelly:  that colour, that tartness, that natural set.  Most other jellies are either notoriously finicky, or they're just not as gorgeous.

But, mainly, it's because we've had access to a particularly fruitful crabapple tree--when the wild turkeys haven't been shaking it down, we've been free to harvest this tree to our hearts' delight.

   fig. c:  crabapple tree

 fig. c:  crabapple tree

   fig. d:  freshly picked crabapples

 fig. d:  freshly picked crabapples

At work, Michelle makes large quantities of crabapple jelly to serve with terrines, mousses, and pâtés.  With these crabapples, she makes small batches of jelly to spread on our toast.  Either way, the method is essentially the same.

Crabapple Jelly à la Michelle

Stem, clean and sort through the crabapples, removing any that are rotten.

Place in a medium/large pot, depending on how many apples you have.

Just barely cover with water.  You should be able to press down on them, getting the water to cover them when you do.

Cook for 20-25 minutes at a simmer until your crabapples are falling apart and fragrant.

Pour through a chinois and let drip.*

For every 10 parts juice, add 6-7 parts sugar, depending on the tartness of your crabapples.

Place the juice and sugar in an appropiately sized pot, bring to a simmer, and cook at a simmer until you reach the gel stage.

A drop of liquid should come off the spoon in a sheet rather than a droplet.

Place in sterilized jars and seal according to proper canning procedures. Or simply pour into any clean glass container and let set, then store in the fridge.   


* You can also use a jelly bag for this step, but Michelle prefers to use a chinois because it speeds up the process.

And, either way, the results are beautiful--to the eye, and to the palate.

fig. e:  crabapple jelly for breakfast 1

fig. e:  crabapple jelly for breakfast 1

fig. f:  crabapple jelly for breakfast 2

fig. f:  crabapple jelly for breakfast 2

Of course, it pays to have homemade bread on hand to enjoy your jelly with,

fig. g:   pain de campagne

fig. g:  pain de campagne

but that's another story.

Act fast:  crabapple season is already in full swing.