culinaria eugenius on the coast: intertidal zone

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Pacific Oyster Co., Bay City.
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Lincoln City clammer.
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Cliffhanging blackberries at Oswald West State Park
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Lincoln City historic district.
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Fisherwoman at Hug Point Beach.

Like nearly every other citizen of our great state of Oregon, I made my way to the coast over the weekend.  I know this is not hyperbole, because I couldn’t find a single vacant camp site from Seaside to Florence on Saturday night.

But for the one lame child who had to stay behind while the Pied Piper pulled the rest of us all out to the cliffs, here’s what went down.

I had my fill of creamy summer local oysters, supping them raw at Shucker’s Oyster Bar in Lincoln City; raw and sandy at Pacific Oyster in Bay City; and fried and not very good in Newport upon learning the film I had been envisioning, Steamed Ginger Oysters at the Noodle Café, would be delayed due to it being the restaurant’s night off.   Oh well.

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Seaside taffy shop and Icarus, prohibited.

IMG_5259I ate gross taffy at the human zoo they call Seaside, including flavors called Molasses Mint, Black Widow (licorice and redhots), and Ocean (which stained my tongue dark blue and freshened my breath with peppermint).  Also had a good bowl of pho, surprisingly, on The Prom.  Fleeing the floaters and the sinkers, I peered in the windows like a creeper at Seaside High School, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost of James Beard, who held cooking classes there back in the day.

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Ripe salmonberries, Oswald West State Park.

On hikes, I snacked on the first blackberries of the season; salmonberries, which are like many tender young things much prettier than they taste; and thimbleberries, who do redheads proud.  Hey, and I felt kind of pleased, too, that I am finally Oregonian enough to recognize many of the edible plants that hug the waterways.

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Peace Crops Farm girly girl potatoes, Manzanita farmers market.

Fate smiled upon me because I saved a beached anchovy’s life, tossing it back into the sea.  It presented me with a couple of days in Nehalem and Manzanita, exploring the coastal communities there.  We take for granted our extensive farmers market system in Eugene, so it’s invigorating to see the vibrant buzz of a new farmers market in a small community.  I chatted with the Master Gardeners and the crepe makers at the market, making off with a pint of boysenberries, and visited the folks who own and run R-evolution Gardens, who founded said farmers market a few years ago.

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Nehalem, which is so f#%$&^ gorgeous I can’t even stand it.

R-evolution Gardens is an organic, off-grid farm in Nehalem producing lovely sound vegetables and, from what it looks like, a future herbal medicine line.  An entire drying table of calendula reminded me of little petals of the sun being preserved for winter, and in a way, it was. On the lower parcel of the farm, nestled along a clear clean river, everyone’s summer fantasy of ratatouille was ready for harvest: already lush heavy peppers, fat sweet onions popping out of the soil, monster summer squash plants, long vined tomatoes, an impossible amount of humid nightblue eggplant.

I really try not to romanticize farming, but Jesus, it is hard with this place.  Co-owner and farmer Ginger Salkowski has appeared in the Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers’ Movement, and seems cut from the same tough cloth as Greenhorns founder Severine von Tscharner Fleming, as I recall from the panel we did together a few years ago at UO’s Food Justice conference.  Co-owner Brian Schulz builds foraged and sustainable structures powered by solar electricity, including a Japanese bath house where I would have gladly spent the entire weekend and a Japanesque A-frame covered in forest that the farm rents out on airbnb.com.

Also of note was an excellent meal at Dinner at the Nehalem River Inn, a recently revivified restaurant run by a young and talented chef, Lee Vance, who uses produce from R-evolution Gardens and other farms and gardens within 10 miles of the restaurant.  Yes, a farm-to-table restaurant 5 minutes from the coast!  Standouts included a silky sweet beet soup crowned by a nasturtium, simple roasted bone marrow over toast, a lamb ragú with ricotta gnudi, and rather hearty, plump, excellent house-made ravioli filled with pork and morels, served over creamed carrot purée with English peas.  A glass of lambrusco and a chèvre cheesecake in a warmly hued, cozy dining room certainly did not hurt matters, either.  From the few menus I browsed online, it appears they almost always have a local fish and a salted chocolate pot-de-crème that I’m sad I didn’t try.  The restaurant will reopen in a fab new building on the main drag in Manzanita, Laneda Avenue, right next to the farmers market, in fall, so check it out before the crowds figure out it’s the best thing going.  Seriously.

separate two eggs: party of one mix

IMG_3796Separate Two Eggs is my new, very occasional, series about a lonely single woman eating sad meals alone. Or not. It’s really just a way to continue to queer food writing and add diversity to the Mommy-blogging and monogamous couple-oriented fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Inspired by Judith Jones, editrix extraordinaire of some of the best American food writers, a widow who continued cooking elegantly for herself after the death of her husband, I think I’m going to start writing about cooking for one, and call the series “Separate Two Eggs.” It won’t be elegant, I assure you, but instead I promise never to let a dog lick a single plate in my house (Ms. Jones, really?).  So let’s see how many ideas I can devise.

The problem is I don’t really like cooking for myself. I never got the hang of it. I cook meals for 4 or 6, figuring on guests or leftovers. There aren’t often leftovers, but there have always been plenty of guests, so it served me well. Not having kids and living in a place with decent-enough dining out options gave me the strength: no one ever killed dinner for me.  But then, when my husband started to diet, I had to learn how to cook alone, and I got used to cooking for 3, then 2, and maybe, on a good night, 1.5. Tiptoeing around the food restriction du jour filled me with despair and I finally just mostly gave up on the daily dinner slog. Instead, I ate out or made big pots of things I liked and froze them, or just ate popcorn for dinner.

Now I have to rethink things, because the frozen prepared food won’t last me forever and I suppose I should relearn how to amuse myself at dinnertime, forging more boldly across the bloody dinner battlefields of our Puritan land.  When I’m alone and have nothing scheduled, I work all afternoon and well into the night. I’m finding more and more I can multitask less and less, so with the blessed and rare (and surely transitory?) life I’ve been suddenly given — no children, no husband, no pets, no conferences, no research trips, no immediate deadlines, no events, no classes — if I don’t think about feeding myself I will spend hours concentrating on writing. So it’s got to be quick or half-prepped in the refrigerator or utterly fascinating.

And nothing healthy will do, given there’s nothing more depressing than eating a salad when one interrupts one’s work with a glass of wine. Popcorn is the food of the lonely, and quite frankly, as much as I loved that man and still consider him one of my closest friends, I’m less lonely at home than I have been for a long time. I know you hear me.  I’m never that hungry at night, and certainly not at the unfathomable Eugene dinner hour, so I find a snack is much more palatable than anything else in the evening.  Finally, throw off the remaining chains of dinner!

Imperative now, intrepid voyager, is to amuse your bouche. So what’s a girl to do? Party.

Party Mix for One

Serve with a glass of lively rosé or cava. Or two. Or all of the above.

The general idea is to mix the five flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, savory. The overriding principle is crunch. Use a tiny bowl; don’t be a piggy.  I suppose you could subsitute an aged gouda for the cured meat, but don’t use both so you don’t offend god.

  • 2 tablespoons tiny organic corn nuts (I have no idea what these are called without the trade name, sorry, but you can buy them in bulk at organicky markets)
  • 1 tablespoon chilled diced cured coppa or other dried sausage
  • 1 tablespoon dried cherries
  • 1 teaspoon Dutch “platte salmiakje” salmiak licorice drops, or substitute something weird like, hmm, fresh coriander buds? Diced sour gummy bears?  Fried sage? Chocolate chips? Just nothing moist or stupid.  Other than that, I’m not sure. You decide.

Dice everything as small as the corn nuts.  Blend.  Serve immediately: you’re waiting.

iron chef eugene 2013 is chef brad burnheimer!

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UPDATE 8/9:  Iron Chef Eugene Brad Burnheimer had an unavoidable catering commitment, so Chef Mandra will be filling in at Iron Chef Oregon this weekend.  If you’re in Portland, go and cheer on our two Eugene competitors, Mandra and Iron Chef Oregon 2012, Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro, who will be defending his title!

Yesterday was a beautiful day at the Bite of Eugene.   We sampled all manner of goodies from local chefs, drank Kore Kombucha, wine from William Rose and Kandarian Cellars, and beers from Agrarian Ales and Claim 52. Take a look at my full photo set on Facebook.
IMG_5165IMG_5144 Most of all, we enjoyed the passionate battle for Iron Chef Eugene 2013 with competitors Chef Brad Burnheimer of Agrarian Ales/Burnheimer Meat Co., Chef Max Schwartz of The Old Pad, and Chef Nengah I Mandra of Lucky Noodle/Ring of Fire.  The competition had some setbacks, after Chef Brendan Mahaney from Belly fell ill, so he and Taco Belly Chef Justin Trent needed to bow out of the contest at the last minute. Luckily, Festival Organizer Steve Olivier was able to have a wonderful chef fill in, long-time Ring of Fire Executive Chef Mandra, who performed as a true pro would — without prep, a sous chef, his own ingredients or tools, and on the spur of the moment.  I was extremely impressed.  When are you going to open up your own place, chef?

IMG_5155IMG_3784IMG_3785 It was nice to see my Iron Chef pals Jeff Kandarian and Joel Pomerantz, judges for the first round, and meet the rep for the festival sponsor, American Family Insurance, Jonathan Nixon, who served as the remaining judge for Round 1.  I judged the finals with my radio show co-hosts, Boris Wiedenfeld and Ryan Stotz, and Lance Sparks handled the emcee gig with a little help from his wife, Artie Lieder, Steve Olivier, and the judges of the final round. It takes a village!

IMG_5175IMG_3777IMG_5194Many thanks are due to William Rose winemaker Mark Nicholl, who ceded his Round 2 judging duties and instead provided us with a couple of bottles of his wonderful Riesling (I think he must have heard me talking about it on the blog!) to enjoy with the finals dishes, and chalk artist Lester Mayer, who sketched the competitors. His work was auctioned off to audience members and presented as a thank you to Chef Max Schwartz, who has competed in Iron Chef for four years running, each time with a narrow miss for victory.

IMG_5152 IMG_5190After some unusual and lovely dishes for Battle Chinook Salmon and Battle Hazelnuts, including a gorgeous squash blossom stuffed with salmon saltimbocca and a chicken ballantine with hazelnut herb stuffing and hazelnut romesco by Chef Burnheimer; a salmon noodle curry with sauteed apples by Chef Mandra; and a surprising hazelnut flan with a nugget of chocolate-hazelnut spread inside by Chef Schwartz, we decided to crown Chef Burnheimer Iron Chef Eugene 2013.  May he reign supreme at Iron Chef Oregon!

And one more shout of huge appreciation to Steve Olivier, who has put on this festival for five years, often just breaking even, and the volunteers and vendors who make it a wonderful experience for all.  Sure, it’s for a great cause and the sponsors donate money to a range of food non-profits, but what matters most to me is the labor and effort we all extend to make our community better when we get together at these venues.  This is why I’m so proud to participate and would encourage more Eugeniuses to make the effort to attend and appreciate the folks who grow and make your meals.  For every weirdo who takes food from the Iron Chef judging table as the chefs are still making their deliberations (yes!!), there are 10 stories of a successful restaurateur giving advice to an up-and-comer about new city funding initiatives for business development, a sous chef impressing his boss with the popularity of a new recipe, farm secrets shared and giggled over, recipes debated, and new directions open to exploration.

appeasing summer meal and local rosé not to miss

IMG_3577To use up those remaining peas, there’s nothing — literally nothing — better than linguine with pancetta, peas, and mint.  Older peas and the robust flavors of mature mint marry better than the sprightly young things of spring with the aromatic, porculent, chewy bits of pancetta.

And literally nothing better to go with than William Rose Wines’ Prohibition Rose, the rosé hit of the summer around these parts.  First, if you haven’t yet spent half your summer salary on dry rosé, I urge you to do so.  It’s time to get with the program and stop drinking Pinot Gris. Period.

IMG_3578Second, you can’t go wrong with Prohibition Rose, if you can get your hands on it, and do ask for it at local stores.  It’s a blend of southern Oregon Merlot, Syrah, and Grenache, which mindbogglingly might make it harder to get on the shelves because of the Eugene consumer obsession with Pinot everything.  But you’ll be missing out if you spend your hard-earned cash on our popular, boneless WV whites.  And honestly, this year the shine is off even Provençal and Spanish rosés for me, which I love, with Prohibition Rose around.

It has the vivid color of sockeye salmon and all the delicious strawberries and raspberries and good acid structure of its southern French cousins, but a fuller and dare I say wilder body.  It’s a big girl and not at all sweet, and we like it that way.

Anyway, distracted there for a moment.  Back to the pasta.

Buy some of the freshest pancetta you can find, which very well might be the rolled specimens from Salumi in the cheese case at the 29th/Willamette Market of Choice.

Start a pot of boiling water for some fresh Pasta Plus (our local pasta company) linguine, and as that’s progressing, shell your peas and chop up a few handfuls of mint and chives from the garden.

Next, heat a little oil in a deep skillet and fry up as much pancetta as you dare over medium heat, being very careful not to burn it. Add lots of freshly ground black pepper.

When the water boils, throw in the pasta for a few minutes ’til al dente, then quickly add the peas to the pancetta, stir for about 30 seconds, and transfer the pasta from the pot directly into the skillet.

Add a good spoonful of pasta water, toss the pasta, and remove from the heat.

Last, add your torn mint and chives, plate, and garnish with a mound of pecorino cheese.

Oh, and one more thing about William Rose.  The newly released dry riesling.  It is no joke.  Buy it up immediately (but wait until after I get a case).  It’s one of winemaker Mark Nicholl’s absolute favorite wine varietals, and that shows.  Read up on William Rose here, or come to this Saturday’s Bite of Eugene, where he’ll be a judge for the Iron Chef competition, so you can bother him personally.  And what’s up with future plans for the label?  Will there be a home sweet home in its future?  Ask him!

iron chef at the bite of eugene 2013: allez cuisine!

284436_240790515945191_4018356_nIMG_7092IMG_7013Yes, it’s that time!  My favorite local competition at my favorite local festival: the Iron Chef Eugene competition at the 5th Annual Bite of Eugene.

What’s the Bite of Eugene?  Let the organizers tell you: “The 5th annual American Family Insurance Bite of Eugene is a celebration of our local food scene and culinary culture with a focus on sustainability. This year’s event will be held on July 20th from 11am-10pm at Alton Baker Park in Eugene.  Admission is $5 for adults, children 12 & under are free. Food and beverages at the event will be priced and sold by the various participating local vendors. Food booths will be offering “bites” of their locally created provisions. Local beer and wine will also be offered along with non-alcoholic beverages. A wide array of entertainment is also available, including cooking classes, foodie seminars, local music, family/children’s area, and a live local Iron Chef competition.”  See the full schedule of entertainers and other details here.

I’m thrilled to be back in action this year at the Iron Chef competition.  Last year, I was going to be the emcee again, but couldn’t even stand up in July thanks to a car accident that smashed my knee, so I had to cancel.  This year, I’ll be joining my co-hosts on Food for Thought on KLCC, Boris and Ryan, as not-so-distinguished judges for the final battle.  Check out this amazing line-up:

IRON CHEF EUGENE 2013

With Emcee Lance Sparks

3:00pm: Battle Chinook Salmon
Chef Brendan Mahaney (Belly)
vs. Chef Brad Burnheimer (Agrarian Ales/Burnheimer Meat Co.)

Judges: Jeff Kandarian (Kandarian Cellars), Joel Pomerantz (OR Restaurant & Lodging Assoc.) and Ray Walsh (Capitello Winery).

5:00pm: Battle White Elm Mushrooms
Chef Justin Trent (Belly Taqueria)
vs. Chef Max Schwartz (Old Pad)

Judges: Mark Nicholl (William Rose Wines), Clive Wanstall (LCC), and Artie Lieder (Restaurant Consultant).

7:00pm: Iron Chef Eugene Championship: Battle Hazelnuts
Winner Battle Chinook Salmon
vs. Winner Battle White Elm Mushrooms

Judges: KLCC’s Food for Thought’s Boris Wiedenfeld, Ryan Stotz, and Jennifer Burns Bright, aka Levin, aka Culinaria Eugenius, aka yours truly!

Any local foodies will also be interested in the fantastic cooking seminars, featuring local talent and some of our best chefs, wildcrafters, fermenters, activists, and more. The headlining cooking classes will feature two past Iron Chef Eugene (and Oregon) winners.

See you there; can’t wait!

CULINARY CLASSES

With Host Mac Chase

  • 12:00-12:45 : Iron Chef Oregon 2012 Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro
  • 1:00-1:45 : Iron Chef Oregon 2010 Gabriel Gil of Soubise
  • 2:00-2:45 : Chef Emily Phillips of Red Wagon Creamery (making ice cream!)

SEMINARS

  • 12:00-12:45 : Food as Medicine with Sue Sierralupe (Occupy Medical)
  • 1:00-1:45 : Making Ravioli with Sarah O’Grady (Pasta Plus)
  • 2:00-3:00 : Fermenting Fun with Yaakov Levine (NTP)
  • 3:15-4:00 : Food Bill of Rights with Paul Cienfuegos (Support Local Food Rights)
  • 4:15-4:45 : 5 Pesky Weeds You Can Eat with Erin McIntosh (Mountain Rose Herbs)
  • 5:00-5:30 : Pairing Beer & Cheese & Wine with Jamie Floyd (Ninkasi)
  • 5:45-6:15 : Sustainable Food Systems and Preserving the Summer Bounty for Winter with Paul Fuller (Sweet Creek)
  • 6:30-7:00 : Foraging for Fungi (TBA)
  • 8:00-8:30 : Brewing Kombucha with Cutis Shimmin (Kore Kombucha)

from russia with love: zakuski party

IMG_3664When we think of Russia, we think frozen tundra, right?  Fur muffs, velvet, vodka to stay warm, mushrooms, ice fishing, big bearlike men with frost in their beards, hunkering down in a sleigh, etc.  But Russia in the summer flowers open and bloom, just as Oregon does, and Russians swiftly adjust to a lighter palate in the heat, just as we do.

Thus, it should be no surprise that there are wonderful specialties, all inflected with that particularly Russian kaleidoscope of assertive flavors.  One of these is okroshka, a mixed-vegetable cold soup based on the fermented rye beverage called kvass (pictured below).  There are as many version of okroshka as there are Russians; after making kvass earlier this month, I knew I’d have to try an adaptation of Sandor Katz’s recipe in Wild Fermentation, with apple, new potatoes, baby turnips, spring onion, cucumber, carrot and dill (above).

IMG_3596So what better way than to have a casual zakuski party?  Zakuski are small plates, served up as a buffet, usually as a prelude to a larger meal. Pickled and fermented foods are crucial: sweet-sour beets, sauerkraut salad, marinated herring, half-sour pickles, caviar.  And it’s not a Russian party if there isn’t sour cream — I made do with my homemade crème fraîche.  We suffer.  There are usually hot and cold dishes among the variety. But it was a summer night and time was short, so we went with cold salads, smoked fish, and the lovely okroshka.  Vodka cocktails and a dense chocolate cake with brandied cherries made by my fabulous neighbor bookended the meal.

IMG_3666IMG_3670And yes, my bowls do say “Hustle Cat.”  Translated in Russian, it means “Only The Finest China Used Here.”  I’ll drink to that.

Zakuski Party Menu

  • Black Cherry Vodka Shrub Spritzers
  • Half sour cucumber pickles and California wine-marinated kalamata olives
  • Okroshka cold kvass soup with apple
  • Dilled tiny new potato salad
  • Sweet-sour marinated beets
  • Sauerkraut and carrot salad
  • Creamy marinated herring
  • Lox
  • Crab and roe spread (thanks, Ikea!)
  • Bread from Noisette Pastry Kitchen
  • White Bordeaux, French rosé of some sort, Beaujolais, another bottle of red? It grows hazy at this point.
  • Chocolate cake with brandied cherries
  • Port

in which midsummer finds our heroine in her garden

IMG_3659As I struggle to finish two articles, work through the sudden loss of my beloved cat and a separation from my husband, and ponder a brave new world and perfect my Oregon tan* at the same time, my garden beckons, that heartbreaking seductress.  How did we get to mid-July? How did I get here?**

The raspberries are still producing, but slowly.  Blackcaps are done. I had no tayberries this year, and that’s probably for the best — the ones in the market were not terrific. Must have been a glitch in the weather, as the loganberries are fine, the boysenberries fanfuckingtastic. Also an almost complete failure of my ‘Poorman’ gooseberries, but the ‘Cherry Red’ currants were finally old enough for a great crop and the rhubarb didn’t wimp out this year.  My ‘Benton’ strawberries are throwing out sisters, rather rudely far from their nice contained bed, deep into my herbs and beans.

I packed away the cured garlic yesterday, big juicy heads of ‘Keith Red’ hardneck with mottled purple-brown skin (above), and a braided strand of a dozen or so pearl-white, mostly ‘Silver Rose’ softneck.  And the potatoes came out: a bit early, but nevertheless a terrific harvest of ‘Russian Banana’ fingerlings and an improved version of the Yukon Gold called Island something-or-another, I forgot.

Still need to thin my cute little round Dutch carrots and cut some kale, which rebounded beautifully from an aphid infestation. Poppies were a bust in partial shade.  Malabar spinach: you disappoint me.  But the frisée and celtuse? Big, perhaps bitter.  I understand.

My peas are finally through, or at least I finally got tired of them, so I pulled them out, gently extracting around the ‘La Vigneronne’ Swiss pole beans that are so pretty with maroon and green striations.  I trained a volunteer ‘Delicata’ squash (or maybe it’s a goddamn gourd) on the far side of the chickenwire fence and thought very hard about more properly netting up my cucumbers.  I bought a few rounds this year, and finally a few heirloom seeds and some hybrids took, and then I supplemented with late starts of ‘Mexican Sour Gherkins,’ ‘Salt and Pepper’ yellows, and ‘Poona Kheera’ whites.

Tomatoes are going like gangbusters; peppers are slow and small-leaved, but fruiting.  I think the early heat and time in the greenhouse produced leggy plants, so they are still recovering by throwing out leaves.

The squash is a mystery, quite frankly.  I planted little hills when garden space freed up: some Open Oak variety of ‘Delicata’ here, a ‘Costata Romanesco’ ribbed zucchini there, some yellow crooknecks over there.  A pumpkin volunteer sprang up in the tomato bed.  A gourd or two or four are scattered throughout.  I cast out seeds.  I take my chances.  Same as it ever was; same as it ever was; same as it ever was; same as it ever was.

*The slightly pinkish hue that comes from being outside with sunscreen and a hat whilst raspberry picking on a hot day.

**At least I’m no longer obsessively thinking about Dante’s hell in the middle of the road.

as american as roman honey pickled cherries with savory

IMG_3581Looking for a new locavore cherry recipe in anticipation of the sour cherry crop now ready to go in the Eugene area?  Go no farther than ancient Rome.

A fellow participant in the Cult of Pre-Pasteurian Preservation and Food Preparation Facebook group page, Justin Mansfield, wrote that one of his favorite Roman preservation recipes is this one, a pickled cherry concoction using honey, red wine vinegar, and savory. He provides some details for Classics geeks and historical recreators:

Since there’s some interest, here’s the original recipe, from the 10th century Roman agricultural collection Geoponica (Farm Work) 10.42: Περὶ διαμονῆς κερασίων· Τοῦ Αὐτοῦ. Κεράσια ἀφαιρεθέντα τοῦ δένδρου πρὸ ἀνατολῶν ἡλίου, καὶ εἰς σκεῦος ἐμβεβλημένα, προϋποβληθείσης εἰς τὸν πυθμένα θρύμβης, εἶτα κερασίων, καὶ πάλιν θρύμβης, καὶ ὀξυμέλιτος γλυκέος ἐπιβαλλομένου φυλάττεται· καὶ εἰς καλάμους δὲ ὡσαύτως φυλάττεται.On the preservation of cherries, by same {i.e. this recipe is excerpted from Florentius, a lost author of the Imperial era}. Cherries that are picked from the tree before sunrise and put into a container, with savory first strewn over the bottom, then cherries, then once again savory, and sweet oxymel added on top, will keep. They’ll also keep the same way with rushes.

The species referenced are probably Prunus cerasus, and Satureja thymbra respectively. (No idea what kind of rush is referred to here… the name refers to several species. Dalby also points out that it’s unclear if the meaning is “laid out on rush mats” or “with rush-leaves used in place of savory.”)

He also notes that other sources indicate the honey:vinegar ratio should be between 6-8:1 parts by volume, not weight.  I opted for less sweet, and may just regret it, since I chose a very full-flavor, acidic Italian cabernet vinegar.

The cherries should be sour pie cherries, not sweet ones (but I’m willing to look the other way if you can’t get sour).  The recipe reads as if the Romans didn’t pit the cherries, but you may opt to do so.  I usually buy my sour cherries at Hentze Farm in Junction City, already bagged and pitted because I’m so lazy.  Pros: no sticky pitting on a hot day; easier to eat final product; and you get a quart or so of the most glorious juice in the world.  Cons: not nearly as pretty as intact cherries; you’ll need to pick through the cherries for bruised ones, as the machine handles them roughly; and you don’t get the nice almond flavor from the pits when pickling them.  In either case, you must use sour cherries almost immediately or freeze them, as they are exceedingly fragile.

Romans didn’t cook with sugar; honey was a basic sweetener.  For locavores, you already likely rely heavily on honey and even might have a hive or two to help mitigate the bee crisis.  As for me, I made this recipe with a wild star thistle honey I bought on the road in California, since it seems vaguely Mediterranean and has the scent of almonds from nearby groves (or so I fantasize).  But if you’re in the market, there’s some local thistle honey that’s being sold at Sundance, distributed with other wonderful varieties like pennyroyal, snowberry, meadowfoam, buckwheat, and coriander. (The coriander is grown in fields north of Eugene, Hummingbird Wholesale tells me, and the pennyroyal tastes a little like mint.)  Also in honey news, I hope you caught the interview with new Eugenius and prolific cookbook author Marie Simmons on Food for Thought on KLCC last weekend.  She has just published a book on honey, with history and recipes.  Marie was our last interview before our summer hiatus, so check out the archive if you missed it and you miss us! :-)

Anyway, the Roman pickled cherry recipe is wonderful with homemade duck rillettes, which I had for breakfast in a moment of sheer decadence.  Life’s too short for Cheerios.  As Epicurus would have said, had he known the phrase, carpe diem!  The savory brings out a, well, savory quality of the cherries.

Honey Pickled Cherries with Savory

Makes one quart.

  • 4 cups sour cherries, either pitted or not
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup wine vinegar
  • 12 two-inch sprigs of savory (either winter or summer; I used winter, which is stronger)

Wash and sterilize a quart jar.  If you are using fresh sour cherries, rinse and sort out the bad ones.  If you are using pitted cherries, strain cherries and sort for badly bruised ones.  Reserve the juice unless you are completely nuts.  Pour yourself a shot of pure sour cherry nectar and knock it back.  Ah, there.  OK, now proceed.

Heat the honey and wine vinegar in a medium saucepan, then take off heat and let the cherries soak in the mixture for a few minutes.

Rinse savory.  Place 3-4 sprigs at the bottom of the jar, then add another layer in the middle, then add some on top to help keep the cherries immersed in the liquid.

Using a jar funnel, carefully ladle the cherries into your jar, pressing down gently to fill gaps, and adding savory in the middle and on top.  Fill with 2 inches head space.  You may have more cherries than necessary; if so, enjoy over ice cream with more honey.  If there is not enough liquid, either add back the juice you removed or press down a little harder on whole cherries to encourage them to exude juice.

Place on a plate, and cover jar with cheesecloth.  If you used unpitted cherries, it is especially important that you have enough overflow capacity. Let sit on counter for 48 hours minimum.  At this point, taste and decide if you want to ferment longer for a fizzier, deeper, sweet-sour flavor, or otherwise refrigerate.  Pitted cherries will ferment faster.

Enjoy as a condiment with any roast meat or sausage, as a special side on a cheese plate, or, as I just did, with duck rillettes.

berries with frothy custard clouds

IMG_3571I have my repertoire of berry recipes indexed, if you’re interested, but my new obsession is berries with frothy custard clouds…or as the Italians call it, zabaglione.  The first time I had it, I was a teenager, and thought it was the most exquisite dessert in the world.  I’m not sure if I’ve been disabused of that notion.

It wasn’t just the taste of the custard. I said the word to myself repeatedly, slowly, sensually: zah-BAG-lee-OHN. As a word, it was a marriage between other things I loved to say: zamboni and linguine and Sierra Lione.  It was much nicer, indeed, than the French word sabayon, a similar custard, the cookbooks told me, but one that seemed vastly different to me — almost smug in that way the French can be. No, zabaglione was what I wanted to float away upon if I could choose any liquid for Lethe.  Zabaglione, take me away…

And as a young adult who reads more about the world than circles it soon discovers, I realized I had been saying it incorrectly.  ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay.  Makes sense, no?  Much closer to sabayon, much further away from my version of linguistic heaven where custard canoodles on the perfectly shaven-smooth clouds of West Africa.

Nevertheless, it’s still good, the perfect summer evening dessert.  With three ingredients: farm fresh egg yolks, sugar, and marsala wine (the sweet, fortified wine you can find in better supermarkets, but for godsake don’t buy the cheap stuff), it’s easy to count on it.  Use the best eggs you can. Ones straight from the chicken will yield a lemon yellow custard; supermarket eggs, even good quality, will give you more of a pale froth.

You’ll need a strong arm.  It’s a thin custard, sometimes served like a soup, but you’ll need to froth it to triple its volume.  I’ve long loved the small drama of walking around a dinner party whipping cream by hand with a big whisk.  Whipping the zabaglione takes just as long, anywhere from 10-15 minutes, and you really want a full volume.  Pour it into long, skinny glasses over your favorite fresh berries, either macerated with a bit of sugar and marsala or just left nude as the way you found ’em.

And don’t skimp, you frugal American, as I did in the photo.  I saw a version at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco a couple of months ago that was served absolutely overflowing a tall pilsner (?) glass, frothing down over the sides of the glass and piled up a little on the charger plate.  It was a disaster and fabulous and a showstopper.

If you’re interested in stabilizing the custard and serving it cold, see Elise Bauer’s recipe or others for the incorporation of whipped cream.  You might also try Marcella Hazan’s cold red wine version, reprinted here.  Just don’t put any extra flavoring crap in it, like vanilla.  It’s perfect the way it is.

I was charmed by Giovanna Zivny’s history of the recipe, which reports the old fashioned way was to make the custard using the egg shell as a measurement, with a 1:1:2 ratio (egg yolk: sugar: marsala), so that’s how I eyeball it when I add the sugar and wine.  Egg shells, however, differ in size and it’s an utterly bad way to measure things, not to mention the recontamination issues when handling egg shells in a dish that’s already suspect because the eggs aren’t completely cooked.

Also notable is that Zivny never uses a double boiler, so it’s not essential, but if you don’t your custard won’t be as frothy and will surely curdle on the bottom. Also, you might need to worry about the higher level of heat if using fragile glasses.  Does that stop me?  No.  But you might be more particular, or have nicer glasses.

Zabaglione

Serves two, preferably lovers, and preferably on a warm summer night.  Whisper it to your partner in a husky voice: ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay is served!

  • 3 eggs, as fresh as possible
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Marsala or another fortified or sweet wine
  • 2 cups or more fresh berries of your choice

Separate the eggs, place the yolks in a small bowl, and reserve the whites for another use.

Clean and slice berries, if necessary, and place in tall glasses or wine glasses.

Prepare the double boiler by placing 1-2 inches of water in a medium saucepan, then place a stainless bowl on top of the pan. Note you’ll need a large bowl to accommodate the whisking and triple-volume of the final product.

Bring water to a gentle boil on medium-low heat.

Whisk together the wine and sugar in the heated bowl until sugar dissolves.  Add eggs, whisking constantly, and whisk them for 10-15 minutes, until the custard has thickened slightly, tripled in volume, and is very foamy and pale in color.  If the eggs start to cook, turn the heat down to low and remove the bowl for a few seconds.  Be careful, as this custard, like all custards, will break if overcooked.

Serve immediately, pouring the custard over the berries until barely overflowing.