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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White Cherries in Rasberry Syrup

Mostly this blog is about putting up; sometimes it's also about taking down. As I said in my initial post, the entire purpose of saving the season is to enjoy your efforts later on.

First thing this morning I went to the fridge and found the jam shelf pretty much depleted—just a smear of SMOOTH APRICOT JAM WITH MAPLE AND VANILLA in one jar and a small dab of DAMSON PASTE in another. Both struck me as pretty gutsy stuff for six a.m. on a soft morning. I wanted instead a taste of something delicate and—to openly pronounce the word—pretty.

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Mulberry-Plum Preserve

Persian mulberries are like fruit from a fairy tale: a familiar thing—the dark summer berry—transformed by preposterous imagination into something strange, enchanted and enchanting.

They grow not on brambles but in trees and are so fragile that they can hardly be picked without disintegrating. Their juice is an indelible dye of indescribable color, closest perhaps to the ancient Mediterraneans' Tyrian purple, the color Enobarbus had in mind when describing his queen Cleopatra's conveyance upon the Nile:

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed that
The winds were lovesick with them.
-Antony & Cleopatra (II, ii)

In the mouth, mulberries are contradictory. They are liquid reservoirs and yet, unlike watery and insipid grapes, they have an intensely concentrated flavor. At first the taste seems too sweet—innocent and flamboyant—until, in the blink of an eye, it contracts into a dark inner core and reemerges as something something winelike and poignant. Mulberries are almost too much, but as with the rose window at Chartres, some mysterious proportion—of acid to sugar, earth to perfume, black to red—exalts the excess.

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Rustic Peach jam for Akasha

I've put on the apron in a professional kitchen exactly three times in my life. The third was today, when I went to jam with Akasha at her eponymous resto in Culver City. Each time I learned something useful.

For the first two episodes, we have to go back almost 20 years, to when I was hanging out in Berkeley at the periphery of the food scene, sort of vaguely hoping to get inside. The benefactor of my ambitions, such as they were, was David Tanis, who at that time was chef upstairs at Chez Panisse Cafe and who today runs the restaurant's illustrious prix-fixe dining room downstairs. Twice David hooked me up with a stage, which is restaurant lingo (pronounced with the Gallic "a," like "stahj") for an unpaid internship.

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Speaking Our Language


My friend Michael Kucmeroski—aka Kuch—is a talented baker and an all-around adventurous eater. I like the way he talks about food, and I suspect he'd say the same about me. Today Kuch sent me this link to an article in the Washington Post about a jammer who's speaking our language.



Italian Plums

This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold



Don's Plum Sauce or Wedding Jam

Last spring my mother sold her house in suburban Greenville, South Carolina, and moved out to the country. How country? There's a grizzled old plum in the yard, a wild blackberry patch out back and—Heaven's blessing—half a dozen persimmon trees in the thicket.

My first visit there was last Fourth of July, when Mom told she was getting married again. I already knew something was up, because she hadn't been calling as much as usual, and when she did, she would kind of quickly mention that she had been away for the weekend with "a friend." She didn't say Rhonda, or Jane or anyone else I know—and I know all of them. It was just "a friend." I'm old enough to catch the meaning of that kind of friend.

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Lora's Crab Feed

No kitchen work today. I went to Lora Zarubin's cabin in Laurel Canyon for crabs and slaw, and it turned into an all-day affair.

Lunch was heaven: six of us, 10 fat dungeness crabs (brought by Valerie and Stan) and, oh, probably 10 bottles of wine, including Lora's selection of gorgeous California chardonnays (Heitz, Melville, Ramey, an amazing 1998 Stony Hill), that flew in the face of my every snobbish preconception about flabby, over-oaked California whites. I staggered home at five o'clock for a little siesta and woke up 3 hours later, just as the sun was setting. Happy Fifth of July.

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