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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Smooth Apricot Jam with Maple and Vanilla

More flavor research with Blenheim apricots.

The other day Bettina of Bee Green Farm told me she makes apricot jam with maple syrup, lemon verbena and brandy. I loved the idea at first blush, but then started to second-guess it.

The scent of lemon verbena takes me directly to the Rive Gauche. When I lived in Paris I concluded many a late supper with a cup of lemon verbena tea—it's called verveine over there—to sober me up before walking back to my flat on Quai Voltaire. The reason I probably needed sobering in the first place was that I'd drunk too much cognac, France's most famous brandy, after dessert.

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Apricot Jam with Bitter Almond

The other day when I bought Blenheim apricots from Bee Green Farm, the proprietress, Bettina, asked me if I used the pits in my jam. I haven't up to now, but I've been meaning to try it. You don't actually use the entire pit, just the internal kernel that you get to by cracking open the pit. The kernel pops out of its shell, moist and neat, and has a powerful taste of bitter almond—the flavor of marzipan.

But here's the thing: apricot pits, like apple seeds, are potentially poisonous. According to internet sources of unproven reliability, apricot pits contain trace quantities of a compound called laetrile or amygdalin that turns into cyanide as it breaks down in the body. The bitter flavor, in other words, is a potent toxin, and it can kill you dead if you eat enough pits. How many is enough? Forty to fifty, if you believe the Web warnings.

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Apricot Jam with Honey and Lemon Verbena

Beauty in a work of art entails not just what is included, but what is left out. That is not to say, however, that all ornament is excess, as some Modernists in the last century believed. While nature is perfect in itself, art is nature acted upon by imagination. Art is the result of a will that strives alternately towards purity or towards adornment, and adornment properly bestowed becomes beautiful. Dvorak is said to have taken birdsong as the source for certain melodies in his "American" string quartet but only the composer's efforts are magnificently and enduringly beautiful—are art.

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Fig Preserves with Honey and Wild Aromatics

I had dinner Saturday night with Akasha and her friend Mani Niall. They used to work together as Michael Jackson's private chefs—more on that later, as you can imagine—and now Akasha has a great restaurant in Culver City, while Mani, a master baker, is the head of product development at Just Desserts. When Mani mentioned that he's also written a cookbook on sugar and other natural sweeteners, I nearly jumped into his lap to ask about the properties of different sugars and to learn what besides sugar I could use to sweeten jam. Honey was his first suggestion, and he advised searching out sage honey for its mild, clean flavor. That's part one of this story.

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Morning in the Canyon


Alternate Blog Title

I got an email from Dana, who suggests calling the blog Put Up or Shut Up. She clearly has perfect pitch for these things, cf. ABOVE.


Golden Beets Pickled with Ginger

Today's new favorite thing is golden beets.

The word "beets" is so humble that it puts me in mind of downtrodden peasants in a cold hut. Pairing it with the regal adjective "golden" sounds preposterous. But these wonderful root vegetables rise above their name. They are sheer pleasure to work with—just look at the color, ABOVE —and they have an unexpectedly refined flavor.

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