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 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 


Peach Safari

Again this year, I got to go peach picking with Valerie & Stan and Akasha & Alan at Masumoto Farm near Fresno. While the tree itself was a disappointment—there was more fruit on ground than in the branches—the trip was a blast. Our repeat crew (including Gus, now 5) was joined for the first time by baby Lee, who last year was still riding shotgun with Valerie, and my friend Stephen Ringer, a director who is very generously shooting a commercial for the Saving the Season cookbook. (Watch it here closer to book publication next spring.)

The highlight of the trip was Friday night. Stan had found a house for us to rent, basically Granny's homestead among the orchard, and we all pitched in to cook dinner. Stan grilled the head-on shrimp and everyone passed around magnums of iced rosé, BELOW. (Thank you, Stephen.)

We must have gotten a little giddy, because after dinner Stephen, who was the one light drinker in the group, tore off to the local country market and returned with Klondike ice cream bars and a straw hat for Valerie—ever the gallant, he. When Stephen mentioned how pretty the moonlight was in the groves, strong enough to cast hard shadows, I asked if he would take me for a drive. We explored the transept-straight roads that grid the the Central Valley's vast, eerie agriculture. I suddenly realized how close we were to the mountains and their rivers, and I said "I want to get in the water," which is not a common thought with me, but the temperature had hit 108 degrees earlier in the day, and I still felt the swelter under my skin.

Stephen pointed us due east to where the geometrical orchards gave way to the undulating Sierra foothills. Up and up the twisty road to Three Rivers, and we parked near farmer James Birch's Flora Bella Farm on the North Fork. Sitting waist-deep in the current, at last I felt cool as a watermelon. Windows open on the drive home, Mississippi John Hurt on the stereo, creeping into the house so as not to wake up the others. A short night of sleep, but a restful one, the heedless sleep of summer vacation.

At 6:30 the next morning, the sun woke me, and I wandered outside to collect wild elderberries growing alongside an irrigation ditch. A breakfast of toast and apricot jam, off to pick peaches, a pretty picnic under the trees and then the long drive home with a cargo of fragrance and fuzz.

This morning I'm off to the kitchen to can peaches, the pleasantest of all summer chores.



Tomato Class at the Institute

Registration is now open for the Saving the Season: Tomatoes class at the Institute of Domestic Technology.


10 am - 4 pm

learn to make: canned crushed tomatoes, tomato powder, green tomato chutney and DIY bloody marys with fermented chili sauce and pickled greenbean swizzlers.

This one will sell out fast, so if you're interested, sign up early.

More info and registration here.

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