Sunday, August 28, 2011

Confiture de Vieux Garcon

"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is the sign of perfection."~ Curnonsky
My Confiture de Vieux Garcon.

It is not too late to get your confiture de vieux garcon ready for the holidays.  What, you may ask, exactly is a confiture de vieux garcon?  Well, it is literally "old boy's jam" and is an ancient recipe that is measured in generalities rather than exact measurements.  It is a delicious mix of alcohol, we are gonna use Brandy, and luscious fruit of the summer season.  It will take 3-6 months to ferment into deliciousness, just in time for the Christmas holidays if you get your groove on and run to the market.

Now bear in mind that this is not a traditional "jam", but rather a melange of the freshest of summer or fall fruits soaked in sugar and alcohol.  This is not a tea and toast kind of jam for breakfast that we're making in this recipe.  Rather, it is an after dinner dessert of the heady fruit and alcohol concoction to be served with a strong coffee.  When your serving this novel dessert this Christmas, know that it is being served across Provence, France, as a traditional Christmas and New Year's Eve delicacy.  Who says us Americans cannot show a little culture during the holidays?!?

Instructions:

1.  Decide what fruit you would like to include in your confiture de vieux garcon.  It is important to pick the freshest, organic fruit you can find in your area.   Please make sure your fruit is blemish free.  The best fruits to include are our traditional summer fruits of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, apricots, peaches, cherries, currents, gooseberries, grapes, and very-very small plums.  Do not overdo your strawberries as they can overcome the delicate taste of the fruit.  Do not use any fruit that is exotic, think kiwi or mango, or citrus, like lemon or lime or an orange. ( Be sure to know the weight of your fruit as you will want the same weight in sugar to add to the alcohol.  Now no worries on calories here.  Christmas dessert is a calorie free sort of meal.)

2.  If you are using peaches or apricots, be sure to peel and stone them, then cut in quarters.  All other fruits are to be washed and dried gently to prevent spoilage in the alcohol.


3.  Now, the container that will hold our little summer jewels is of the utmost importance.  You will need either a fermenting crock like this one:Harsch Gairtopf Fermenting Crock Pot - 7.5 Liter - ME7428.  I have this crock, but am not using it for my confiture as I am going to try my hand at sauerkraut next month.










You could also use a Le Parfait French Glass Canning Jar with 85mm Gasket and Lid - 2 Liter, which is what I am using for my confiture.  The lid fits the jar perfectly, not allowing any air in when used with the gasket.












Or you can use something like this Jarden 68100 6 Count Wide Mouth Canning Jars


Again, the most important part of your decision as to which jar to use is to find something that is pretty much airtight, but will allow for the venting of fermentation gases.  Size is important as you will want to gauge how much fruit you will be fermenting along with the sugar and alcohol.  Somewhere around 1/2 gallon container should be good for a first confiture venture.







3.  Now you have your container and your fruit is ready.  Measure your sugar to equal in weight the fruit.  So if you are putting up 3 pounds of fruit in your confiture, then you will need three pounds of sugar.

4.  In a large, heavy saucepan, mix the sugar with 3 cups of your favorite brandy.  Heat, stirring constantly, to dissolve the sugar.

5. Layer your fruit in your jar in the following order:  strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, peach, and pear.  Remember, you can use any combination of fruit.  Then pour your sugar laden brandy over the fruit, leaving a 3/4 inch headspace.   Check to see that all the fruit is covered with the brandy and none is peaking above the level of the brandy to prevent spoilage.  Your headspace allows for the slight expansion of the fruit as it ferments.

6.  Place the lid on the container, sealing it.  Then place your confiture in a cool, dark place in your pantry. Let it macerate for 3-6 months.  Every week or so turn the jar upside down to help the sugar distribute  and permeate among the fruit if using the European canning jar or the Jarden wide mouth canning jar.

7.  Now the fun part.  When you are ready to serve this delicious concoction of fruit and alcohol, serve it as a dessert in small glasses being sure to distribute the alcohol among the glasses.  You can also serve your confiture de vieux garcon over ice cream, topped with whipped cream or yogurt, eaten with cheese, and over waffles. It would taste wonderful spooned over a pound cake or scones.  The liquid makes a lovely cordial to be sipped not chugged.

I'll report back as we get closer to the holidays as to how my confiture is getting along.  I know it is going to be good.  I mean really, can you ever have too much fruit in alcohol sitting around waiting to become the ultimate dessert?  I think not.....


 "Nous allons donc la fete commence."




Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cherries: The Classics

"Cherry, ripe, ripe, ripe I cry.
Full and fair ones come and buy."  Robert Herrick

Cherries, sweet or sour, are delicious each in their own way.  The sweet cherry is a dense little nugget of explosive sweetness.  On the other hand, the sour cherry is a puckering mouthful of goodness.  Either way, you cannot go wrong when it comes to cherries.  When winter arrives and you head to your pantry in your woolen socks and thermal long johns looking for something full of flavor  with a remembrance of summer dancing in your head, you are gonna thank yourself for taking the time to put up these two classic cherry preserves.  They are gonna "do cartwheels in your mouth" (Tigress in a Jam) and you are gonna remember that "hope springs eternal" and summer will shine its lovely warmth all over us again.  All this from one little cherry.....

As an aside, both recipes can be made from either sour or sweet cherries.  Two totally different tastes, yet both filled with the glory of summer days...
Simple Suspended Sour Cherry

Ingredients:
1 pound of cherries for each pint jar you are making (I used 4 pounds)
6 cups water
1 cup sugar

Instructions:
1.  Rinse and pit the cherries.  If you have never heard of a cherry pitter, now is the time to meet its acquaintance.  It will definitely be your best friend if you are making these two lovely recipes.  The cherry pitter will save you untold time in getting those pesky little pits out of your lovely cherries.  You can check out the OXO Good Grips Cherry Pitter, which is the one that I use.

2.  Heat water in a small saucepan.  Add sugar and stir in hot water til dissolved. Bring the water to a boil for one minute.  Return heat to low and allow simple sugar syrup to simmer until time to put into your jars.

3.  Fill each jar with cherries to the rim.  While filling, tap jar on a towel covered counter to help cherries settle, then add more cherries to fill the jar completely.  Be sure to leave a 1/2 inch headspace.

4.  Place 2 cherry pits into each jar.  If there is any remaining cherry juice in the bottom of the bowl, pour it into the simple sugar syrup.  Pour simple sugar syrup into the jars over the cherries, leaving a 1/2 inch headspace.

5.  Seal jars with lids and rings.  Process in a hot water bath canner, (Granite Ware 11-1/2 Quart Covered Preserving Canner with Rack) for 25 minutes beginning your timer when the water comes to a full boil.


Simple Cherry Preserves

Ingredients:
For every three pounds of cherries, you will need:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 pint mason jars

(Each pound of cherries makes approximately 1 cup of cherry preserves.)

Instructions:

1.  Prepare jars for hot water bath processing.

2.  Rinse and pit cherries (OXO Good Grips Cherry Pitter).

3.  Place cherries in a stainless steel or enameled iron pot.  Crush about 1/2 of cherries to release their juice using a potato masher or just your fingers.

4.  Add sugar and lemon juice.  Heat on low until the sugar has dissolved stirring gently.  Bring cherries to a boil for approximately 25 minutes until desired set has been achieved.

(To test for set:  Place a teaspoon of preserve on a frozen plate.  Place plate into freezer for one minute.  Take plate out of freezer.  Push fingertip through preserve and look to see if the preserve wrinkles.  If it wrinkles at all, it is ready to put into the jars.  If your fingertip slides through easily, boil the preserves for one minute more and repeat test.)

5.  Seal jars with lids and rings.  Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  Allow to rest on counter for 24 hours before storing in a cool, dark pantry.

These two recipes are adapted from tigress in a jam at www.tigressinajam.blogspot.com.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Garnet Beet Pickles

"The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious."  Tom Robbins 




Beets were not a favorite of mine as a child.  Growing up in the 70's in the Midwest, my mom would regularly serve beets out of a tin can as a side for dinner.  Just plain ole' yuck.  I don't think I could eat those beets today, no matter what.  However, I came across this delicious beet pickle recipe that I decided to give a try as an homage to my mom several years ago.  They were delicious!  I got the garnet beets at our Good Neighbor farmers store.   Small, firm, and round with the most beautiful deep purple color, I could not resist putting up a couple of quarts.  These pickled beets are nothing like what comes out of a tin can;   no mushy, bland, bitterness to these beets.  They are perky with a bite of spice and a beautiful garnet red color.   If you think you don't like beets, I am tellin' ya to give these a try.  You will be a convert.  Beets now, borscht later?!?


Ingredients:


Enough small beets to pack 6-8 quart jars, trimmed
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon allspice
2 cups sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups beet juice saved from when you cook the beets


Instructions:


Begin, by washing the beets really well.  Do not peel them at this point, as the skin adds to the taste of the beet juice we will be making from them to add to the recipe later.


Put all the beets in a large, heavy kettle with enough water to cover and cook for 30-40 minutes, until tender.  Remove the beets from the juice.  Put them in a colander in your sink and begin to slip the skins off.  I like to cut the root end of the beet off at this point as it makes slipping the skins off a bit easier.  Warning, your hands will turn the most beautiful purplish red color.  No worries, pretend its a henna tattoo.  It will wash off fairly quickly.  You can to go to work the next day with tattoo free hands.  Or you might try wearing rubber gloves to do this step.  I've tried both ways and prefer to just get it done sans gloves.


Put the cloves, cinnamon stick, and allspice in a small cheesecloth bag with the string tied or on a piece of clean white cloth folded and tied at the top.  


Place the spice bag, sugar, vinegar, and beet juice into a kettle and boil 5 minutes.


Add the beets and simmer another 5 minutes.  


Remove the spice bag.  Pack your clean, hot, sterilized jars with the beets, then pour the beet juice over the beets to a 1/2 inch headspace in the jars.  Place new lids and clean rings onto your jars.


Process your beets in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes, but begin the timer as soon as you put the jars into your canner.


Enjoy!  These beets are so delicious they can stand alone as a side dish, be part of a chef salad, snacked on from the jar with a spoon....


Original recipe is from Farm Recipes and Food Secrets from the Norske Nook, Helen Myhre and Mona Vold.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Packed a Peck of Peach Pickles

"Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring, and because it has fresh peaches in it."  Alice Walker

When my children were little ones, many years ago, I would wait and wait, sometimes not so patiently, for peaches to come down in price to $0.38 per pound.  As soon as King Soopers, in Denver where we lived at the time, advertised peaches from Grand Junction at this price, I would gather up the three bambinos and head to the grocers to stock up on peaches to last for as long as possible.  We had peach cobbler and peach pie and frozen peaches and canned peaches for winter.  Most deliciously, I would make peach pickles, spicier than canned pickles with a cinnamon kick.  These peach delicacies would not last long in our household.


I had forgotten about peach pickles until I came across my old recipe this summer when I was clearing out my recipe file from days gone by.  My little ones have all grown and flew the coup.  I am no longer under the budget constraints to have to wait for peaches to reach an all time low price.  Besides, I seriously doubt that I would ever find peaches from anywhere for as low as $0.38 per pound.  Currently settled in the Midwest, our peaches hale from South Carolina, rather than Grand Junction, Colorado.  Nonetheless, I headed myself out this week to purchase a lug of peaches and set about making this gem of a pickle.

Taking my first bite brought me right back to little ones clambering under my feet for a bowl of peach pickles back in the day.  An "old school" recipe that is dear to my heart.  Try it, I think it will be a favorite of yours as well.
"An apple is an excellent thing, until you've tried a peach."  George Du Maurier

Ingredients:


7 cups sugar
1 pint cider vinegar
2/3 lug of peaches, skinned, cut in half, stone removed
1 pint water
18 whole cloves
6 small cinnamon sticks

Instructions:

1.) Boil the sugar, vinegar, and water together for 10 minutes in a large kettle.

2.)  Add the fruit.  Boil until tender.

3.)  To each sterilized, hot jar, add 3 whole cloves and 1 small cinnamon stick.  Put the fruit into the jars, cover the fruit with syrup, leaving 1/2 inch headspace, and seal with rings and lids.

4,)  Process 20 minutes in a boiling-water canner, but start counting the time as soon as you get the jars into the canner.

*Any leftover juice is wonderful as a seasoning for ham.  You can save leftover juice once the pickles have been enjoyed.

"The ripest peach is the one highest in the tree."  James Whitcomb Riley

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Joan's Sour Boozy Cherries

Sour cherry in Italy
Sour Cherry Tree




This summer, after 49 years on this planet, I came across for the first time the sour, tart cherry.  Now being a good Midwest of the USA type of gal, I thought cherries only came as a maraschino cherry.  You know the one, the sickeningly sweet, rubbery thing they called a cherry and used to put in our Shirley Temple drink on New Year's Eve when we were ten years old.  Yeah, those little babies definitely left a lot to be desired as a cherry.  So this summer, I found the sour cherry and have a new love.  I got to thinking about how in the heck could that Shirley Temple cherry grow up for the coming New Year's celebration and voila, Joan's Sour Boozy Cherries were born!  Now run, I tell you, to your nearest farmers market and grab yourselves at least 4 cups of sour cherries to put these babies up.  (Well, you might wanna grab 5 cups, cause you're gonna eat a few while you are pitting them.  Come on, you know you will..... )  You are gonna thank me come New Year's Eve when you have an explosion of boozy cherry in your all grown up Shirley Temple drink!  






Ingredients:
1 and 1/2 cups raw sugar
1 cup water
4 whole cloves, slightly crushed
1 vanilla pod, sliced open
4 cups  fresh sour cherries, pitted
2 cups vanilla vodka
"A cherry a year, a merry year."  Proverb


Instructions:


1.)  Mix sugar, water, cloves, and vanilla in a heavy pan.  Heat over medium heat until boiling.


2.)  Add sour cherries and a couple of their pits gathered in a small cheesecloth bag.  Boil 5 minutes.  Remove cheesecloth bag of pits.


3.)  Turn off the heat and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.  Pour in vodka.


4.)  Ladle cherries into sterilized jars.  Cover with some of the steeping liquid to 1/4 inch headspace.


5.)  Top with a lid and ring.  Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.  


6.)  If excess syrup remains, strain and use for cocktails or dessert topping.  Store the excess syrup in refrigerator.


"If life is a bowl of cherries, then what am I doing in the pits?"  Erma Bombeck

Chocolate-Blackberry Bit O' Heaven Syrup

"Nine out of ten people like chocolate.  The tenth person always lies."  John Q Tullius


This delicious concoction is just what I call it, a little bit of heaven in a syrup.  Although, categorically speaking, it is a little thick for syrup and a little thin for jam.  Nonetheless it is delicious with lots of different uses not the least of which is tasting it straight from the jar on a spoon.  (Please don't tell my Weight Watcher's leader about that last statement!)  It is wonderful in yogurt, warmed over ice cream, topping a cream cheese cinnamon bagel.....  You just cannot go wrong with this syrup, it adds a chocolate, berry flavor to what ever it is added to.  Simply divine.

"Make a list of important things to do today.  At the top of your list put, 'eat chocolate.'   Now you'll at least get one thing done today."    Gina Hayes

Ingredients:
6 cups blackberries
3 cups sugar
Juice of one lemon
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine

Instructions:

1.)  In a large heavy pan, heat the blackberries and sugar until the sugar has dissolved.






2.)  Run the blackberry mixture through a food mill's smallest disc to rid the syrup of most of the seeds.

3.)  Put the strained mixtures back into the heavy pan, add the lemon juice, and heat it to almost boiling.

4.)  Add the chopped chocolate and stir well until the chocolate is melted.  Allow the mixture to cool for an hour or two or six.

5.)  Bring the mixture back to a boil.  Boil hard for five minutes.  Stir constantly.  Do not stop stirring or it will easily scorch.

6.)  Turn off the heat.  Wait 2-3 minutes.  Push the chocolate-blackberry gently and see if the surface wrinkles.  If it does not wrinkle, turn the heat on again and boil hard another two minutes and let rest two minutes.  Check for wrinkling again.  Continue to reheat and rest until it wrinkles when gently pushed.

7.)  Ladle into sterilized jars.  Place lids and rings on jars.  Water bath process for ten minutes.

"Chocolate, the poor man's champagne." Daniel Woroma

  The above recipe can be used with sweet cherries to make a chocolate cherry syrup which is absolutely sublime. Please use the following ingredients with the aforementioned instructions:
3 cups sweet cherries, pitted; 2 cups sugar, juice of 1 lemon, and 5 ounces of chocolate chopped.

Inspired by Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Kitchen blog on chocolate, raspberry whatever.
 Enjoy!