Monthly Archives: September 2011

Sungold Thyme Bam

Like everyone else, I love heirloom tomato season. But unlike everyone else, I get sick of the massive knotted juicy ones in about a week. I know. I construct a couple of BLTs, whip together a caprese or two, enjoy a panzanella salad with Farm to Hearth bread and then I’ve about had it. For a month or so. Then I usually go tomato crazy again right as the season ends, conveniently just before all of the seconds/bulk deals dwindle off.

It might have something to do with the fact that I am the sole tomato eater in the household. Its not that Jon doesn’t like them – like most guys his age he’s rarely met a tomato sauce/pasta combination he doesn’t inhale. However – raw tomatoes? Verboten due to allergies. So when I grab a couple of big beautiful heirlooms at our farmer’s market or from our CSA, its up to me to eat it all.

Photo Credit: Sue Muldoon/CRFM Market Roots Project (click for more info)

So I tend to reach for the cherry and grape-sized tomatoes when I can – they last longer! Its easier to have a few one day, then wait a little bit, and use them in something else a few days later. Our CSA operates as a fill your bag with your choices program, and I am 100% guilty of grabbing up to 6 quarts of small tomatoes. I eat them like candy at work. I slow roast them at 200° for 5 hours and then freeze them for winter soups. But I was looking for something new.

Enter, a bam. I believe it was Kaela at Local Kitchen who coined the term bam - not quite a butter, not quite a jam, something uniquely awesome unto itself. This recipe was particularly because it cooked in the background while I did about fifteen million other preserving projects and provided a snack when done. I am all about multitask preserving.

Sungold Thyme Bam
Inspired by Local Kitchen’s 10 Minute Sour Cherry Bam and Food in Jars’ Yellow Tomato and Basil Jam

4ish pints of small tomatoes – sungold, cherry, grape, pear
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1-2 tablespoons fresh if you have it)
1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 fresh red chile – diced finely (optional)

Throw the tomatoes into a saucepan. Cook down over medium/medium low heat for several hours – mashing and stirring occasionally. A lot of water has to cook out here – so its going to take some time. You could always roast them and strain them to speed up the process, but this way worked best when I had other things going on in the kitchen. Once they reach the consistency you like, add the rest of the ingredients and cook another few minutes. Your mileage may vary on the sugar – you can probably get away with less when using super sweet sungold tomatoes but I like the glossy consistency the sugar lends to the bam. It will keep for a week in the fridge, but you could also waterbath it: ladle hot bam into hot jars, top with hot wet lids and process for 10 minutes.

This bam/spread/condiment/whatever you want to call it is all over the place. Right up front you get sweetness of the tomatoes and a nice hit of thyme, and then a warming bit of heat comes in at the end from the chile. It would make a great compliment to a smoked gouda burger and sit equally well alongside some baked chicken. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to add to eggs of all kinds either – scrambled ones at breakfast or quiche/frittata at lunch or dinner. My favorite way, though is one of the simplest – crack open your beverage of choice and serve alongside some sharp cheddar and crackers.

Peach Jam for Peggy

Ok, I’ll admit it. I make a lot of fancy jam. Jameson Ginger Peach, Sour Cherry Lime Rickey and Apricot Pimentón to name a few. So I’m not surprised when I get requests for ”plain” jam from friends and family. Dad asked for “just strawberry” for father’s day. Though it may not be kicked up with other flavors, there’s still something great about “plain” old strawberry jam – especially when it’s made with first of the season local strawberries. I might have snuck some limoncello in Dad’s “just strawberry jam” though – don’t tell.

Jon’s grandmother is turning 90 this weekend, and the whole family is down in Florida to celebrate with her. 90 is a special milestone, and Peggy is a particularly special lady. She is full of fantastic stories and wont hesitate to share her wisdom even if she’s meeting you for the first time. Mariachi players always compete for her attention at our local Mexican restaurant. She is the only 90-year-old I know that will beat your pants off at Dr. Mario on Super Nintendo. And then ask you why you set your level so low. She will also unapologetically kick your ass at cards – and we love her for it.

We couldn’t make it down to Florida this time, but we did send some homemade jam in our stead. “Plain Peach” as requested. Happy Birthday Peggy – sending you lots of love from Connecticut.

Peach Jam for Peggy
4 cups peaches
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon low sugar pectin
Juice & zest of one lemon

Combine mashed peaches and sugar over medium heat. Skim off any foam, cooking for approximately 25 minutes. Stir frequently so it doesn’t burn When it reaches your desired consistency, add the pectin and cook for 5 more minutes at a rolling boil. Ladle into hot jars, top with hot wet lids and process for 10 minutes.

Jameson Ginger Peach Jam

This weekend, Kaela commented that all preserving blogs are sporadic this time of year because we’re all in the kitchen. Well… she’s half right in my case. It does seem like my canner hasn’t left the stove. I’ve put up mixed squash and onion pickles with saffron and thyme, pickled hot peppers, marinated poblanos, and roasted red bell peppers with garlic. This week at the market I picked up 20 lbs of canning tomatoes and 10 lbs of tomatillos. Next week, it looks like a flat of fall raspberries, Italian prune plums and more plum tomatoes. We haven’t even gotten to apples, pears and quince yet. Sigh.

Clearly, it’s the perfect time to get in a rut. Irene took a lot out of me. More than I want to admit, I think. I remain financially and emotionally exhausted even though we’ve had power back for over a week now. At the end of the day, I’m cranky. I just don’t want to come home and stand over the canner for hours. I worked a 9+ hour day with a long commute – I just want to put my feet up and (usually) have a drink. That very exhaustion made this weekend’s visit from Kate and Kaela (and Tai) not only fun but also surprisingly restorative. It’s because these people are the kind of like-minded friends who make you feel at home even though you’ve never actually met them in real life. I mean, we hadn’t met each other, but we did know each other. In a 21st century kind of way.

And man, are these good friends to have.  They come bearing gingery watermelon rind pickles, smoked paprika peach jam, sugar plum crumble preserves, and the most addictive seedy brittle that makes you swear the future diabetes will be worth it. Not to mention the great conversations we had. Oh, and wine. These are damn talented, damn inspiring folks, that for some crazy reason came from very, very far away to hang out with me.

But truly, the best part about this weekend is that I actually enjoyed this weekend’s preserving for the first time in a while. I wasn’t just going through the motions. Maybe it was because this recipe was one of my favorites from last year, and for good reason. Inspired by a Jameson & Ginger at your favorite Irish pub, but with double the ginger and a peach base. In this year’s batch I added a bit of lime zest, which I think added a nice twist. Make sure to add it at the end. And then share it with all of your friends.

Jameson Ginger Peach Jam
4 cups peaches
1.5-2 cups cane sugar
1/4 cup Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 tsp powdered ginger
2 tbsp candied ginger
pinch of salt
zest and juice of one lime

Combine chopped/smashed peaches and sugar in your favorite jam pot and bring to a boil. Let cook down for about 20 minutes, scooping off the foam until most of the water evaporates and it becomes glossy and thick. Add half the whiskey, ginger(s), salt and lime juice. Bring to a rolling boil for another 5ish minutes or until it reaches 220°. If you want to add a teaspoon of pectin, you are welcome to, but this jam does just fine without. The set is loose, but still structurally sound enough for toast or scones. And hey, if it doesn’t set up, you can always throw a few spoonfuls in a glass with some seltzer, ice and more whiskey. Just before taking it off the heat, stir in the lime zest and rest of the whiskey. Pack in hot, wet jars with 1/2″ headspace and process for 10 minutes.

Reflections on Irene

Going on 84 hours without power. Well, that’s not exactly true – 84 hours minus 20 minutes to be exact. We had power briefly on Monday night. They turned on the power in town and apparently we are part of the same grid. Which was great. Except when they turned on the power, they hadn’t yet cleared the massive oak tree still using our power lines as a hammock. So the police and utility trucks rolled in only to shut the power off, put up some cones and leave. That was two days ago. Tonight I came home to find a tree crew working on it. Their mere presence was uplifting. I should have known better, though, because once the tree crew was done we were left in semi-darkness awaiting the line crew.

First off, Connecticut was incredibly lucky. Irene was progressively downgraded and hit us as a Category 1. We only had a small amount of storm-related deaths. PSA: it is a bad idea to take your canoe out on a raging flooded river in the middle of a hurricane. There were some areas of massive damage (Cosey Beach in East Haven) but statewide it could have been much worse if Irene arrived as a Category 3 as initially advertised. We are much less flooded than New York, Vermont or Maine.

We were lucky too. A massive tree hit another massive tree during the height of the storm, and like dominoes they came crashing down only inches from the house. Yes, it landed in our pool and yes, it pretty much landed smack on my container garden. Combing through twisted tomato cages today I see nothing is salvageable. But you have to put things in perspective: I harvested all I could the night before the storm and no one was hurt. More luck came our way when we scored a $50 broken generator off of Craigslist. These things were going like hotcakes – less than 5 minutes and the ad would be gone. It was no small miracle that we were first on the list for this one.

We are also fortunate in that we have power at work. We can use the running water, the bathrooms and lights without worrying about generator capacity. I’m hoarding eight Chobani, two bricks of cheddar and a dozen eggs in the office fridge. This morning I brought my grinder, beans, and french press for coffee. Hartford has been largely spared so I can buy lunch. So while we have power and takeout and all the comforts of modern life at work, at the end of the day we have to go back home. Driving back toward home is like going into a war zone full of emergency vehicles and caution tape. Going back and forth between those two worlds in the same day is very, very strange.

Human Nature
Though New Englanders consider ourselves a hardy bunch, its becoming readily apparent that we’re not. Day 1 was fun. Day 2 it got a little old. Day 3 meant we were stinkier and crankier. But Day 4? Straight up surly. This is no longer fun. Entire contents of refrigerators are now dangerous. Our Governor told us to be without power for a week, but I don’t think everyone believed it.

People straight up suck. The price gouging going on around here? Incredible. Most of our local gas stations managed to spike their prices before the hurricane hit. We put our names on lists at several chain hardware stores trying to secure a generator. We got a call on Saturday morning telling us they had only one left… for $1800. Actual retail price is more like $900. There are no words for these people. When ice is in short supply, I bet the markup on frozen water is similarly nauseating. That said, some people do not suck. The UConn Women’s Basketball team is hosting a spaghetti dinner at our local high school/emergency shelter. You can have a hot shower, fill up with some fresh water, have a hot meal and meet the team (and Coach Geno Auriemma). My local breakfast spot bought me coffee when they found out how long I was without power. It really is all about the little things.

I’ve never had to consider wattage in our kitchen before. Come on – have you? Our stove takes too many watts for the generator, so it is out of comission. Same thing with our nifty induction burner. So we continue to cook on the Coleman stove. We use the generator for the upstairs fridge/freezer, chest freezer, kitchen lights and water pump (note not the water heater). We even got to watch a bit of news last night. It felt like cheating.

Thank god for Twitter. I never thought I’d say it. I’ve been getting more local updates via tweets than our town’s emergency alert system or NPR. I owe most of our info to a local Hartford Courant reporter. Who would have thought?

On Saturday I was #hurricanning like a lot of folks. I put up mixed squash pickles, pickled Italian hot peppers and marinated poblanos. I froze my chicken stock to act as extra insulation in the chest freezer. I prepped the last of the pickling cukes to ferment a la Well Preserved as well as my fresh picked green tomatoes a la Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking. I left watermelon and peaches whole instead of beginning pickles and jam. I discovered peaches keep for quite a long time at room temperature under a tea towel. The quickest to ripen are macerating on my counter with sugar and whiskey.

I really, REALLY regret not having pressure canned. I bought a used canner months ago, but have been lazy about getting it calibrated. Had we been stocked with ready to go jars of chili verde and shredded bbq beef I think I would have been far less stressed out. If we could live on pickles and jam alone, though we would be set.

Many people put water away and filled up their bathtubs. But we’re on Day 4 of life without power. People are running out. At this point, it largely depends where you are. Rural Salem and Sterling are still 100% out. We joke that eastern CT is forsaken, even though its not funny at all. As I finish typing this on the morning of Day 5 – now approaching 96 hours without power – our generator is keeping my chest freezer solid. Our dishes are piling up. Our house looks – surprise – like its been camped in. And I’m finishing typing this post on my smartphone. Though I am becoming increasingly bipolar – swinging from “I’m fine, I don’t know why everyone is whining” to “I swear if those m-fers don’t turn on the power tonight I am going to murder someone.” I am more and more aware of the shortcomings in my preparedness and I am going to make changes for the next one. So bring it on, zombie apocalypse. I’ll be ready.