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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Vote for Fruit Trees!

This just came over the transom:

My friend Janet Owen Driggs is in the running to produce a short documentary for KCET on California's first Fruit Park. Due to arcane legal doctrine, fruit trees are currently banned from public parks, but the LA artist collective Fallen Fruit is challenging the law with their dedicated fruit park, and Janet has written a piece, "Fallen Fruit and the Thin End of the Wedge," chronicling this radical experiment in democracy.

If Janet's story gets the most votes on the KCET website, the station will produce a documentary exploring why fruit and vegetables are banned from our public parks. She's currently ahead by a nose, and I'm calling on all fellow fruit lovers to help put her over the top.

Let's vote for Janet!

Vote here:

Here is a short extract from Janet's story. Read the rest by following the above link.

Fruit trees are neither sanctioned for planting in L.A.'s public parks and streets, nor for planting in public land in most cities in the United States. According to LACAC's due diligence and Fallen Fruit's eight-years of research, there is not a definitive law to which one can point here. Certainly there are California State and L.A. laws that regulate produce grown for sale, but public trees - which are by definition owned by us all, and which give of their fruit at no charge - are not specifically addressed.

The legal basis for the prohibition lies instead with the doctrine of attractive nuisance: a tort in common law by which a landowner may be liable for injuries inflicted on an "infant trespasser" by an object or condition appealing to a child, when the landowner could reasonably foresee the potential danger. Examples include: an unfenced swimming pool, a cute-looking dog with a propensity to bite, and, apparently, a fruit-laden tree.

It is beyond question that children must be protected from harm. But the question must also be asked: how much hazard is there, really, in a fruit tree?


Tools of the Trade

I slept 9 hours last night—an almost unimaginable luxury—and awoke with a new lease on life. This morning I got to work on some neglected priorties, like putting together the Saving the Season webstore. With help from my friend Alex, who designed this blog, I'll be building out a shop to carry everything a home canner might need: jars, labels, hang tags, jelly bags, aprons, notebooks, note cards, and the various implements and paraphernalia of the trade. Well, that's the long-term goal. The short-term goal is to be able to offer you the chance to source a few handy tools, as well as jars of my own Saving the Season sweet preserves. 

What kind of tools, you ask? Check out the ABOVE: a headspace measure handcrafted by a wood-worker I know using beautiful cherry wood. Coming soon...


Jam Class at the Institute


Can you guess what kind of jam we made yesterday at the Institute of Domestic Technology's Foodcrafting 101 class at Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills? Hint: look at the spoon.

And the correct answer is...blueberry jam, with my secret ingredient to restore the fugitive terpene flavor molecules that give fresh blueberries their delicate taste. It's good jam, if I do say so myself.

But, wait, you say, aren't blueberries a summer fruit? Well, this is California, and it's always blueberry season somewhere in the Golden State.

Today's project at the Jam Factory was more in keeping with the winter preserving season: 78 jars of Seville Orange Marmalade (see in the preserving pan). On the market soon.


Seville Orange Marmalade

Last week at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, I heard from several citrus growers that the season is running early this year. Why? Who knows. But I started to wonder if maybe perhaps possibly the Seville oranges, usually a February fruit, would be ready already. So I went out to the hinterlands to my secret source, and, lo and behold, there was a boatload of new Seville oranges, leaves still attached. I bought 10 pounds to tide me over and today got busy in the marmalade factory with help from my new preserving intern, Alyssa. Next week I'll go back for 50 pounds more fruit. Check out the results soon at Lindy & Grundy in LA and Bien Cuit in New York. The label reads Strong Marmalade, because that's what it is. I love it. 


Bergamot Marmalade


The secret to this marmalade is dilution: you have to thin out the potent bergamot flavor until it's palatable. The amount of water called for, 10 cups, is not a misprint. Even so, the finished marmalade is still potent. The faint-hearted may want to remove some portion of the peel in step 1.

Note that this is a three-day process, necessary to extract the maximum pectin from the pith and seeds.

Bergamot Marmalade

2 pounds fresh bergamot

10 cups water

3 1/2 pounds sugar (7 heaping cups)

1) Scrub the fruit well in cold water. Storebought citrus will likely be waxed, so wash it again in very hot water to remove the wax. Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, remove the outermost layer of fragrant zest in long strips. Finely cut the peels crosswise into the thinnest possible shred, ABOVE. Place the shredded peel in a large, non-reactive bowl. (If you want a less potent marmalade, discard 1/3 to 1/2 of the peel, or set it aside to use for bergamot syrup.)

2) Quarter the peeled fruit. Remove the seeds and reserve them in a small dish. Using your sharpest knife, slice the quarters cross-wise as thinly as possible, BELOW. Add the shredded pulp to the bowl with the peel. 

3) Add one cup of water to the dish with the seeds. Cover the shredded peel and pulp with the remaining 9 cups. Cover both containers and refrigerate overnight.

4) On day 2: The seeds will have released a clear pectin jelly. Collect it by straining the contents of the dish through a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, rubbing the pectin jelly through the sieve. Discard the seeds. Put the peels, pulp, and their soaking liquid into a large pot, and add the pectin stock. Bring to a boil over high heat, and boil hard for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Once cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

5) One day 3: Spread the sugar on a baking sheet and warm it for 15 minutes in a 250-degree oven. Pour the peels and their soaking liquid in a wide preserving pan. (The mixture should be no more than 1 1/2 inches deep in the preserving pan.) Bring to a boil over high heat and boil hard for 5 minutes, then stir in the warm sugar to dissolve. Reduce the fruit-sugar mixture over high heat, stirring regularly, to the gel set, about 20-25 minutes. You know you're getting close when mats of large bubbles, which I call "frog eyes," cover the surface of the hot marmalade and threaten to boil over. To test for a gel set: put 1 teaspoon of hot marmalade on a chilled saucer and place in the freezer for 1 minute. If the puddle of marmalade has formed a "skin" that wrinkles when you push your finger through it, then you have a gel set. If not, if the puddle is still syrup, then bring the preserving pan back to a boil and cook for another minute or two. Don't overcook the marmalade. 

6) At the gel set, ladle the hot marmalade into 10 prepared half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Stir the cooling marmalade frequently as you fill the jars, and take care that the peels and jelly are distributed equally. Seal the jars, and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

Yields 5 pints


A Bergamot Christmas

Happy holidays from Saving the Season!

I got a terrific Christmas present last week when blog reader Lauren Kaufman emailed me to ask what to do with bergamot. The first thing you should do is dance a little jig to celebrate getting your hands on this rare, wonderful citrus that is best known for adding its haunting fragrance to Earl Grey tea. 

The bergamot, Citrus bergamia, possibly originated as a natural hybrid between the sour orange, C. aurantium, and the sweet lime, C. limettioides, but no one really knows for sure. The citrus clan is a racy, promiscuous bunch and they have cross-bred rampantly across the ages. Genetic mapping may someday unlock the secrets of citrus genealogy, but for now the distant branches of the family tree are obscured by time. We are left with speculation.

But wherever it came from, the bergamot is special. It's mainly grown around the Mediterranean for use by the cosmetics industry and tea purveyors. Very few growers in California bother with them, although Mud Creek Ranch will bring a few to the market every year. Lauren got hers from Pearson Ranch in Porterville.

Lauren, an serious amateur baker, wondered how to use her haul of 30 bergamot, and I suggested making syrup or drying the peels. I also told her that I've heard that bergamot marmalade is delicious, but when I tried to make it several years ago, my version was a bust. The bergamot flavor was so overwhelming that it practically leapt out of the jar and punched you in the face. Inedible. But, I told Lauren, I have more experience under my belt now, and I've been thinking about how to gentle the potent peels, how to create a suave and delicious preserve. 

Then came the holiday gift: Lauren offered me half her fruit in the name of further bergamot research. That, my friends, is generosity. We met and she handed me a basket of perfect bergamots, see ABOVE with a navel orange for comparison. I headed to the kitchen. 

Bergamot marmalade requires a multi-day process of heating and soaking the peels, so I wasn't able to cook it off until yesterday. This morning I tasted the results, and the marmalade is...delicious.

Check back soon for the recipe.




Mirabelle Plum Conserve

It's been hotter than Hades this month in LA, and I have to admit that the heat has put a damper on my enthusiasm for the kitchen. My "cooking" has been largely confined to cutting up tomatoes and melons, opening bottles of chilled rosé, stirring up gin and tonics. Canning, if you can bear it at all, requires a strong tolerance for standing over a hot stove. My recommendation is to loose yourself in the "romance" of sweat and swelter—think of it as an old-fashioned summer.

Be all that as it may, this week some fruit came down the pike that was too rare—and too good—to pass up, whatever the temperature. The Fruit Detective, David Karp, generously shared some of his exceptional mirabelles, ABOVE, and green gages, BELOW. Both are varieties of European plums, and both are rightly celebrated for their eating qualities.

The green gage, in particular, establishes the standard for plum flavor and is without doubt among the best stone fruit in the world, on par with the Blenheim apricot and the Snow Queen nectarine. Rich, dense, sweet, mysterious—they put the more familiar Japanese plums to shame. The smaller mirabelle is also nearly candied in flavor, and is coveted in Europe for preserves. Thomas Jefferson made room for European plums in his orchard at Monticello, but today they are almost completely ignored by commercial orchardists.

I'm happy to report that David has planted green gages and mirabelles in collaboration with Andy Mariani of Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill, California. I won't forget my first taste of each, standing on the sidewalk by his truck in Santa Monica. 

The handful of green gages I ate fresh, using all my self-restraint to space them out over an afternoon and the next morning. There were enough mirabelles to preserve, so I cooked them with a modicum of sugar, a little sharp white wine and a sprinkle of toasted walnuts. 

The mirabelle conserve with walnuts looks a bit drab, sort of khaki-yellow, but the flavor is mellow, almost buttery. It tastes like an elaborate dessert, but the recipe couldn't be simpler.

I may eat the entire taster jar this afternoon...

Mirabelle Plum Conserve

2 pounds mirabelles, pitted and quartered

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

a few gratings of lemon zest

1 tablespoon gruner veltliner or sauvignon blanc

1/4 cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted


1) Combine the mirabelles, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a mixing bowl and allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Turn the fruit-sugar mixture into a small preserving pan and gently bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour back into the mixing bowl. Press parchment paper onto the surface and refrigerate overnight.

2) The next day, turn the fruit-sugar mixture in a small preserving pan. Add the wine. Bring to a boil over high heat, and reduce quickly for four minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the walnuts, and continue cooking to the gel point, another two to four minutes.

3) Ladle the hot preserve into prepared half-pint jars. Run a skewer around the inside edge of the jar to release any air pockets. Seal the jars and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

Yields 1 1/2 pints 

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