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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A YARD TO TABLE STORY

 

 Chances are slim that you will someday buy a house with its own cherry tree. How many of us have even asked a realtor to find us a house with a fruit tree in the front yard?  I guess we were just lucky.  

To be honest, I had mixed feelings when I first appraised our unexpected bonus last August.  This cherry tree had grown up as wild as an unrestrained child.  Branches sprouted at odd angles and tangled in the electric lines.  I was relieved to see an abundance of last season’s shrunken, unpicked cherries on all these willful boughs.  This hopeful sign dimmed when the tree unexpectedly shed its leaves well ahead of the others leaving a bristling silhouette in an otherwise green landscape.  I was embarrassed for it.

To my relief our cherry tree came to life early this spring in a profusion of leaves and blossoms.  Nature cleverly saw to it that each delicate blossom quietly and efficiently pollinated itself.  It was only when the small green peas that replaced the flowers matured two weeks later into bright red fruit did everyone suddenly notice the bountiful cherry tree in our front yard. 

 I had no trouble recruiting a team of underage cherry pickers in the form of our granddaughters for whom this sort of labor is fun.   I’m guessing they ate as many of the sweet fruits as they picked.  I didn’t complain, and neither did they when it came time to pit the cherries by hand for their individual cherry tarts. (That recipe is still classified.  Another time.)

This is the point where I direct you to a cherry jam recipe in my newly reprinted cookbook Artisanal Preserves.  Except there are only recipes for sour cherries in the book not sweet ones.  Never mind.  I went ahead and created a new recipe.  I will walk you through the process.

All cherries have very little pectin, the component in fruit that creates a gel when sugar is added.  Rather than add a high pectin fruit to the cherry puree as I did in the sour cherry recipes, I took a simpler route.  I made a jam of thicken cherry pulp and sugar.

There still is the question of how much sugar to add and how long to cook the jam.   I knew that if I were making a fruit gel, I would add the same volume sugar as fruit.  Since these cherries are already sweet, I guesstimated they would need only half that much sugar.  It's also true that appearance and consistency of jam determines the cooking time.  It’s differs slightly each time. Instead of giving an exact length of time, I describe how to test the jam’s thickness in the recipe.  

My first batch of cherry jam was tasty but not quite as interesting as I had hoped.  I added a small amount of almond extract the second time and was very satisfied.  Click on the title under the photo for the link to the recipe.  Cherries are still in the grocery and reasonably priced at the end of the season.  Enjoy!

 Sweet Cherry Jam with whipped cream and a Cornmeal Muffin (Artisanal Preserves, pg. 164)

Sweet Cherry Jam Recipe

Purchase your copy of Artisanal Preserves

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

Jamming on Rhubarb

Spring arrives in my kitchen with the first batch of rhubarb jam.  I know the recipe by heart: simmer rhubarb chunks, sliced ginger root and lemon strips for ten minutes, then add sugar.  I stop at this point, cool a spoonful of the hot jam, and taste for just the right balance of sweet, sour and spicy flavors.  Am I finished? Not quite....

This year I let two stems of fresh mint steep in the hot jam for a few minutes.  They just happened to be in the kitchen that morning, a gift from my daughter-in-law’s garden.  The result was pure serendipity (one of my favorite words).  The mint oil’s cooling fragrance added a new refreshing finish to the preserve.  It felt like a real discovery.

 

The art of fruit preserving offers the cook a number of private pleasures.   First is the enjoyable flow that comes from working with ones’ hands, then there’s that elation of discovering a new flavor combination, and finally the smug satisfaction of having jars of jam to share with family and friends. 

 You can try your hand at making jam and jelly with me on July 29 at the Alliance Francaise de Chicago (810 N. Dearborn Pkwy).  We will prepare recipes from my newly reissued cookbook Artisan Preserves, formerly entitled, Gourmet Preserves, Chez Madelaine.  

 The book’s official launch is on the preceding Sunday, July 23, at Read It And Eat (2142 N. Halsted).  Stop by for afternoon tea, a discussion of the book and your signed copy of Artisan Preserves. 

The contents of  Artisan Preserves are as timely as they were in 1984 when the book was first published.  Only the title is new.   It remains a guide to the chemistry, basic techniques and the creative potential of fruit preserving. There is a also a section devoted to the breads, pastries and desserts that will showcase your delicious homemade preserves. 

 

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

An Aha Moment

 

 

Few things are more exciting than the discovery of a new dish.  It’s especially gratifying to find you can do it by simply opening the refrigerator and pulling out a jar.  Wait!  This is not an advertisement.  I want to tell you about my recent culinary leap of faith.  

It happened when I realized that mashed potatoes and preserved lemons are meant for each other.  Now I want to spread the word. Am I making too much of this discovery?  Not if you are a fan, as I am, of renowned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin*: “The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity, than the discovery of a new star.”   

It’s common knowledge that lemons confer a refreshing sour, brightness and fresh aroma to all manner of dishes, but less well-known is the intense, super-charged flavor of lemons after they have fermented in their briny juice.  Preserved lemon is an easy to assemble, low-maintenance condiment.  There’s also romantic appeal in the knowledge that preserving lemons is an ancient practice in countries along the route of the spice trade from Asia to North Africa.  

 

 

Now for a confession.  I have kept preserved lemon in my refrigerator for years without recognizing their full potential.  After demonstrating the process in a Moroccan cooking class, I’d let a jar ripen at room temperature for a month and then put it in the refrigerator as I moved on to another cooking subject.  I never stopped long enough to explore ways to integrate this amazing condiment into my daily cooking routine.

That pattern abruptly changed a few days ago after I read an email from a recent class member.  She had gone home and repeated the process of blanching, quartering, salting and packing lemons in a jar with juice. She was now waiting impatiently for them to ripen and wanted ideas on how and when to use them.

With no response readily at hand, I went on to the next email, one from The New York Times containing a weekly list of recipe suggestions.  And there it was, a recipe for Lemon Mashed Potatoes.  As I said, it was serendipity.

 

  

 

The Times recipe was an elaborate rendition of mashed potatoes from a New York celebrity chef.   The potatoes were dressed in a Meyer lemon and mustard vinaigrette with lemon zest, creme fraiche and three herbs.  It seemed like too many ingredients for mashed potatoes.  That’s when my aha moment kicked in. 

I stripped the recipe of all ingredients except the potatoes and replaced them with diced preserved lemon peel, some of its juices, a little olive oil and a cilantro garnish.  The Yukon gold potatoes were the perfect, neutral foil for the briny lemons.   Not only were the flavors addictive, it made a exceptionally good side dish for the hanger steak I had prepared.  Last evening I added brined lemon juice to braised kale.  I’m on a roll.  You’re welcome to join me.   

* Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century lawyer, politician and gastronome is best know for having written: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

Recipe Links: 

Half-Mashed Lemon Potatoes 

Recipe for Preserved Lemons 

Blogs: 

Loving Lemons