This is a blog about home canning—or "putting up" as one might say where I'm from—and it will cover jams and other fruit preserves, pickles and briny things, canned vegetables (above all tomatoes) and the complement of condiments that includes relishes, sauces, salsas and those related preparations that result when you chunk bits of seasonal produce and preserve them in a syrup either piquant or sweet.

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Jam Crostata

A crostata is the lazy man’s tart. You roll out the dough, put a filling in the middle and fold over the edges to form a partial crust. A jar of Low-Sugar White Peach Jam with Rosé makes the perfect filling.

Jam Crostata
Yields 8 servings

1 cup all purpose flour (4 ½ ounces)
½ cup unsalted butter, chilled (4 ounces)
1½  teaspoon sugar
1/8th teaspoon kosher salt
scant ¼ cup cold water
16 ounces (one pint) Low-Sugar White Peach Jam with Rosé

1)  Cut the butter into small pieces, and put it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Measure out the water, and place it in the freezer until ready.

2)  Mix the flour, ½ teaspoon sugar and salt in a bowl. Add half the butter. Using quick, light movements, work it in with your fingers until the texture resembles cornmeal. Work in the remaining butter, leaving pea-sized bits. Add most but not all of the ice water—you want just enough moisture to hold the dough together. Use the remaining water only if the dough won’t bind. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic. Flatten it into a disk and refrigerate for an hour. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

3)  Roll out the dough in a 12” circle and dust it well with flour. Wrap the dough around the rolling pin and transfer it to a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Generously sprinkle the dough with more flour. Starting at the center and moving toward the edge, spread the jam in a thick layer, leaving a 2-inch outside margin. Fold the edges back towards the center. Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the crust.

4)  Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the crust is golden and the jam lightly caramelized. Cool on a rack and serve at room temperature with crème fraiche.



Low-Sugar White Peach Jam with Rosé 

Here is another of the recipes I developed for SIMI Winery. I thought of it again today when Sunday afternoon put me in the mood for a glass of rosé.

Jam is the most familiar sweet preserve and perhaps the most satisfying to make. All it takes is fruit, a little sugar, and a wide cooking pot. Because the elements are so simple, quality matters—a lot. My motto in Saving the Season is “good fruit makes good jam.” For this recipe, choose the best white peaches you can find—the pick of the crop—and let them ripen on the counter for a day or two until they yield slightly to gentle pressure.

Just as peaches are the signature fruit of summer, chilled rosé is the signature wine. For this recipe, I’ve replaced jam's usual lemon juice with SIMI’s Sonoma County Dry Rosé, which has a bright, tangy acidity. My inspiration was the French-y summer dessert made from splashling wine over sliced peaches.

This jam's low sugar content makes it right for the sweetest fruit, but it also means you won’t get a firm set. Instead, aim for a thickened consistency that will mound in a spoon but slump off a fork. The dense, soft texture and fresh-fruit flavor reminds me of a gently stewed compote.

I have friends who eat this jam straight from of the jar, but my suggestion is to make a jam crostata (see next post). 

Low-Sugar White Peach Jam with SIMI Sonoma County Dry Rosé
Yields 3 pints

10 large white peaches, about 4 ½ pounds
½ cup SIMI Sonoma County Dry Rosé
3 cups sugar

1)  Cut a shallow X in the pointed end of each peach. Working in batches, blanch the peaches for 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water to loosen the skin. Remove the peaches with a slotted spoon and set aside. When cool enough to handle, slip off the skins. Slice the peaches into eighths, discarding the pit, then cut each slice crosswise into 5/8” chunks. As you work, place the prepped fruit in a large bowl with the wine and toss occasionally to coat it evenly. You should wind up with about 8 cups of sliced peaches, or about 3 ½ pounds.

2)  Add the sugar to the peaches, and stir to combine. Cover closely with parchment or cling wrap, and set aside to macerate for at least one hour, or as long as overnight in the refrigerator.

3)  Once the peaches have released their juices, turn them into the 6-quart enameled casserole and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce them at a steady boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and check the set by placing a teaspoon of hot jam on a chilled saucer and placing it in the freezer for one minute. If the chilled jam mounds and clings to the back of a spoon, you have a set. If not, cook for a minute longer and check again.

4)  Ladle the hot jam into clean half-pint jars that have been warmed in a 225-degree oven for 15 minutes. Leave ¼” headspace. Wipe the rim and seal. Allow the sealed jars to cool, then store the refrigerator and use within a month. If canning, process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, or follow the jar manufacturer’s instructions. 




Pickled Ramps

Before I left the Hudson Valley, where I hid out for the winter to work on a book, the ramps came in. I dug a few to eat and a few more to pickle—just enough for a single jar, ABOVE

I had given away my last copy of my book, so I didn't have my usual recipe at hand. Instead I freestyled a recipe using the universal ratio for pickling brine: one part 5% vinegar to one part water, plus whatever seasonngs you like. 

Given the ramp's boisterous nature, I let the brine be quiet, a minimalist background of apple cider vinegar softened with sourwod honey, then rounded out with a bay leaf, a stem of dried wild thyme that I had brought back from Spain, a clove, and a half-dozen peppercorns.

This is a cold-pack pickle and I didn't bother to process the jar in a boiling water bath. The project took maybe 15 minutes, and now that I'm back in Los Angeles—far, far from the rampy woods—I wish I'd made a few more. 

Freestyle Pickled Ramps 

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much fine sea salt)
a small bay leaf
a stem of dried thyme or a pinch of dried leaves
1 clove
a half-dozen whole peppercorns
30-40 fat ramps, trimmed (save the tops to cook as you would any other greens) 

1  Combine all the ingredients except the ramps in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Set aside for 15 minutes while you trim the ramps.

2  Pack the ramps in a clean wide-mouth pint jar. Bring the pickling brine back to a boil, and pour it over the ramps to cover. Seal, and allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator and use within a month.

 Yields 1 pint


Raspberry Jam with Rose + Rosé

I wanted to let you know that I'm really excited about a collaboration I'm doing this year with SIMI Winery from Sonoma County. SIMI asked if I'd like develop recipes incorporating their wines, and of course I jumped at the chance. This is the first of a series of recipes I'll be sharing in the months ahead. We'll start with raspberry jam using the signature wine of summer: rosé. Enjoy!

Growing up in the South, I loved picking wild blackberries every summer, and my grandmother always made batches of blackberry jam, which she sealed with paraffin and stored in her cool basement. As a teenager, I spent summers with friends in Vermont and raided their backyard raspberry patch with the satisfaction of a petty thief. Years later, when I moved to California, I fell for boysenberries, an heirloom blackberry-raspberry hybrid with a high-strung flavor that is impossible to duplicate outside of its too-short season. For me, summer means wading into brambles and returning with buckets of berries.

What I discovered while developing recipes for Saving the Season is that all bramble berries pair beautifully with wine. This recipe uses SIMI Sonoma County Dry Rosé with raspberries, and it gets additional flavor from rose geranium—a tribute to Isabelle Simi’s rose gardens. You can sometimes find rose geranium, one of my favorite kitchen herbs, at farmers’ markets, or you can order a plant for your garden from in Maine—it grows like a weed. But don’t be discouraged if you can’t find any. It’s an optional ingredient, and good raspberries really don’t require anything more than the elegant acidity of a splash of rosé.

Raspberry Jam with Rose Geranium and SIMI Sonoma County Dry Rosé
Yields 1 ½ pints

8 cups fresh raspberries, lightly pressed to measure (2 ¼ pounds)
2 scant cups sugar
3 Tablespoons SIMI Sonoma County Dry Rosé
optional: 4 to 6 rose geranium leaves

1)  Pick over the raspberries to remove any overripe fruit or debris. Place the fruit in a mixing bowl, and add the sugar and wine. Crush thoroughly with a potato masher or your own clean hand.

2)  Turn the fruit-sugar mixture into a 4-quart enameled casserole and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce at a steady boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 12-14 minutes. Turn off the heat and check the set by placing a teaspoon of hot jam on a chilled saucer and placing it in the freezer for one minute. If the chilled jam forms a light skin that wrinkles when you push your finger through it, you have a set. If not, cook for a minute longer and check again. [Compare the two samples below: the top one is still bright-colored and runny. The bottom, darker sample shows a good set.]

3)  At the gel set, turn off the heat. Lightly bruise the rose geranium leaves, and press them into the hot jam. Stir the leaves through the jam for one minute, then pick them out and discard.

4)  Ladle the hot jam into clean half-pint jars that have been warmed in a 225-degree oven for 15 minutes. Leave ¼” headspace. Wipe the rim and seal. Allow the sealed jars to cool, then store the refrigerator and use within a month. If canning, process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, or follow the jar manufacturer’s instructions.

NOTE: As a variation, you can use blackberries instead of raspberries in the recipe above, also replacing the rosé wine with SIMI Landslide Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.



Originally posted at Los Angeles Magazine's booze blog, Liquid LA

Today is San Giovanni day—also known as the holy feast day of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist—and it falls right after the summer solstice, a day on the pagan calendar that throbs with spiritual energy. Tradition has it that today is also the day to harvest walnuts for nocino, a delicious coffee-brown walnut liqueur. Superstitious souls and lusty drinkers might say that summer magic from both traditions infuses this dark, complex booze redolent of spice, chocolate, and coffee.

Right now in California our walnuts are green—both in color and in the sense of being “unripe”—and smooth as eggs. Their inner shells haven’t yet hardened, and they can be cut as easily as a Granny Smith apple. I make nocino with English walnuts (sometimes called Persian walnuts), although local cocktail wizard Matthew Biancaniello forages wild black walnuts for his nocino after having learned about the native variety from master forager Pascal Baudar. (The one caveat is that our local black walnuts mature earlier and needed to be harvested in late May.)

The origins of nocino are unclear, although as the name suggests the Italians claim it as their own. Other European countries from France to Scandinavia that make green walnut liqueur might dispute that, but in every case the basic technique remains the same. You chop the raw walnuts, cover them with strong booze (vodka or any neutral spirit will work), add a few spices to taste and...wait. The soaking liquid will first turn sinister green then the tea-brown of bayou swamp water. After 40 days, you strain off the liquid and...wait some more. The nocino will be ready when our first fall rain arrives, or on All Saints Day/Halloween—a fitting date, it turns out, because the late Sicilian author Ana Tasca Lanza tells us that nocino was invented by a congress of witches. The flavor improves with more aging: my 2012 vintage, now black as cowboy coffee, is superb and will continue to mellow for a decade or longer.

The basic nocino recipe can be adjusted with any flavors you like. I suggest adding a teaspoon of whole coffee beans. Biancaniello started his nocino back in citrus season, when he infused high-proof vodka with kumquat, bergamot, and tangerines. Using that as the base spirit, he also added wild bay leaves and fir tips to the soaking walnut. “I just dipped in my finger and could not believe the flavor,” Biancaniello told me. “It tastes like citrus, the forest, and vanilla.”And what to do with this magic elixir? Biancaniello’s suggestions include dribbling it over ice cream, mixing it in a Cynar cocktail, or using it to replace sweet vermouth in a Manhattan. For myself, there’s nothing I like more than to drink nocino Italian style—served in tiny glasses as a digestif. 

Incidentally, the ancient nocino tradition also holds that green walnuts need to be gathered by barefoot virgins, so in this case perhaps tradition isn’t everything. You can buy green walnuts over the next few weeks at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesday and the Sunday Hollywood Market.

yields about 5 cups

2 pounds green walnuts (30 count)
750 ml of 80-proof vodka
3 ½ cups sugar
Zest of 1 lemon, in strips
Zest of 1 orange, in strips
5 cloves
¼ whole nutmeg
1 heaping teaspoon whole dark-roast coffee beans

1  Quarter the walnuts and place them in a large glass jar. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Don’t worry that the sugar won’t dissolve immediately. Seal the jar, and place in a sunny place for 40 days. Once every ten days, agitate the jar by inverting it a time or two.

2  After 40 days, strain the contents of the jar through a damp jelly bag, and funnel the liqueur into scalded bottled. Store in a cool, dark place for several months—or up to a year or longer. The liqueur will keep indefinitely without refrigeration.


Where do recipes come from?

A while back, Laura Avery of the Santa Monica Farmers Market asked if I'd like to moderate the last panel discussion of 2013 at the Santa Monica Public Library. I jumped at the chance, and we put our heads together to think of a timely subject.

Our starting point, holiday cooking, led us to think about family recipes, and that led us pretty quickly into a whole bunch of questions that first appear almost childishly simple but become more complex as you consider them. For instance:

What is a recipe?
Where do recipes come from?
How do you come up with a recipe?
What makes a recipe yours?
Can someone own a recipe? 

So that's where the conversation will begin at the SMPL on November 21, as a FREE panel discussion titled Where Do Recipes Come from?: Culinary tradition, creativity, family recipes, and holiday cooking.

My co-panelists are an amazing line-up of culinary and literary talent:

Lauryn Chun, founder of Mother In Law Kimchi and author of The Kimchi Cookbook
Valerie Gordon, founder of Valerie Confections and author of Sweet
Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times food editor and author of How to Pick a Peach
Anne Willan, founder of La Varenne cooking school and most recently author of One Souffle at a Time
and I'll be there of course with Saving the Season 

I'm currently reading Anne's captivating memoir and Russ's indispensible guide to selecting and preparing fresh produce. Valerie and Lauryn are both friends and I admire their cookbooks enormously.

The panel discussion begins at 7 pm, but plan to come early for a book signing (everyone's books will be on sale) and also plan to stay late for a tasting of Valerie's snacks and my preserves. 

This is going to be a top-flight event, and I hope you all can make it.

Thursday, November 21
7 to 8:30 pm
Santa Monica Public Library
601 Santa Monica Boulevard 




STS on Amazon's Best Of 2013

Breaking news hit my inbox this morning: Saving the Season has been selected as one of Amazon's Best Cookbooks of 2013. Hooray! It's a special treat to be on the list alongside my great friends David Tanis (One Good Dish) and Valerie Gordon (Sweet). Another close friend, Dana Goodyear, won the top prize for Best Food Writing of 2013 for her deeply reported and insightful survey of radical foodie culture, Anything That Moves. Congratulations to them all!