california in a jar

IMG_3406On my way back to Eugene, I was feeling a little bitter and sorry for myself because I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do in California thanks to the funeral side trip to Michigan.  I had planned to take a longer route down, a solo road trip, that would allow me to visit colleagues and friends and explore a bit of California’s Central Valley, America’s bread basket.

The Central Valley, according to an NPR story, is “the greatest garden in the world” and reports that it produces 25% of the nation’s food.  As someone who lives in America’s former bread basket, the Willamette Valley of central Oregon, I view it with an amateur historian’s eye — fascinated and horrified by commercial farming practices that turn a fertile crescent of land into monocultures ruled by pesticides.  In particular, I was thinking of investigating a little farm or two that might be growing unusual olives to spite those black marbles we see on the grocery story shelves or those awful huge pyramid-shaped flavorless strawberries that weren’t meant for shipping.

The funeral dashed my hopes and free time, but I got lucky anyway, and stopped at a few local produce stands along highway 505 at Winters and I-5 near Williams.  And found what I was not expecting, including a nut wall made of shipping containers that separated an auto business from a popular taco truck in Winters.  (I snapped this shot while waiting for my lengua tacos for my friend John Mariani, no relation, and told him his detractors were at it again.)

IMG_3409Most notably, Royal apricots were up and running at the Double R Ranch produce stand in Winters, so a picked up half a flat with some olive oil from Knabke Farms.  I only found out later that Heath Ranch Organics in Orland grows fantastic and wonderful varieties of citrus fruits as part of a 30-some-year relationship with experimental research scientists needing a demo farm.  (That’s their gas pump and sign, above.) If I had known Ron and Melanie Heath were so cool, I would have stayed longer and asked to tour the farm, but we did have a quick chat about blood oranges and Sevilles as we snacked on the absolutely best Valencia oranges I’ve ever tasted in my life.  I managed to leave with some of those oranges, a blue star thistle honey bear, a pound of pistachios grown and roasted down the road, and a pound of red wine-marinated kalamata olives.

IMG_4653Of course, I needed to rush right home and bottle it all up.

The Québécois make a conserve called nougabricot that famed jammière, the Alsatian pastry chef Christine Ferber, has made famous.  With all due respect to my French-Canadian ancestors, I think nougabricot sounds like a mouthful of marbles, and a conserve made of apricots, almonds, pistachios, oranges, lemons, and honey is really a California thing, so I have taken the liberty to rename it:

California in a Jar

A conserve of apricots, almonds, and pistachios.  Yield 6 half pints.

  • 2.75 lbs. ripe but not overripe apricots (choose an heirloom variety like Royals or Royal Blenheims if you can)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 oz. dark honey (Ferber suggests chestnut, I used avocado honey for the California theme)
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2/3 cup shelled pistachios (unsalted or rinsed if they are salted)
  • few dashes rose water (optional)

Wash, pit, and quarter apricots.  Very large apricots should be cut in pieces.  Wash and sterilize your jars and prepare two-piece lids.

In a large pot, bring all ingredients to a simmer, then pour into a glass or stainless bowl, cover with parchment paper, as any apricots left exposed will oxidize to brown, and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, strain the solids from the liquids and place liquids in your preserving pan.  Heat the liquids until they are syrupy and reach a temperature of 220 degrees, which will allow some thickening to occur (but it will still be a loose-set product).

Add the solids to the syrup and bring to a vigorous boil, then keep at a boil for five minutes. Let sit off heat for five minutes and skim foam. Add a few dashes of rosewater if you like, and ladle product into sterilized jars.

For processing, fill to 1/4 inch from top, pressing down apricots and nuts under syrup to combat oxidization problem, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.  Between you and me, I think this one really should be kept fresh and in the refrigerator, so I didn’t process the jars.  The hot conserve “sealed” the lids after I added the product, but it is a weak seal and I must stress a refrigerator is necessary if you don’t waterbath can the jars.

jam plans: our heroine dreams of a mobile future

I’m happy to report I bought the rest of my berries for Jam 2012 today: raspberries, Marionberries, and blueberries.  Everything’s going in the freezer so I can make jam when I’m able to stand on my own two feet. The raspberries will be mixed in a red fruit jam with my own gooseberries and currants, above.  The Marionberries will be augmented with a little Clear Creek Crème de Cassis, I think, and the blueberries will go into next year’s Haskapberry jam.

Probably not the best jam year in the world, since the fruit (other than the blueberries) is ending its season, and the very best time to jam, and when I usually jam, is when the fruit is new on the vine and the ripeness doesn’t lead to overly sweet, almost cooked flabbiness.  Not to mention, of course, the small alterations one finds in frozen fruit jam.  But that’s ok.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it at all.

I also bought cherries to make pickled cherries, which I should be able to do from the wheelchair, and apricots, which should make a quart of brandied apricots.  Barely enough, but I’m thinking small.

It killed me not to buy pickling cucumbers, as they’re up now at Thistledown Farm in 10# bags, the sweet little ones that make the best fermented pickles.  But apparently, there is no room in the refrigerator, and I’m out of energy anyway.

For those of you who are curious, my knee is doing well.  Still don’t know when I’ll be able to put my foot down (literally or figuratively) so it’s the wheelchair for a few more weeks.  Sad about this, but know it’s healing as it should.

mine! all mine!

We’ve read the glut of preservation blog posts about all the wonderful things an enterprising individual can put up to share with family and friends.  And yes, I’m pretty much on the sharing bandwagon.  I love the pleasure my food gifts bring to others, and knowing that it’s a continuing pleasure — that they open that jar of jam many mornings and feel the endorphin rush of deliciousness more than once — is honestly one of the greatest joys in my life.

But blah blah blah, summer of love is over, ya hippie.  This post is about the food I make that I DON’T share, the stuff that’s too good for others…or maybe too good for everyone except the one friend whom I deem might be able to sufficiently appreciate it. This is the selfish, food-hoarding side of the preservation movement, and I embrace that, too.

And it has a name in my house: brandied apricots.

These slightly tart, tangy, sugar and booze saturated little pillows of fiberous goo make even plain goat milk yogurt taste good.  On crepes, with similarly brandied cherries, they are divine.  When I eat them during the day, I feel naughty, as if I just slammed down a Manhattan in my kitchen at noon.  Just now, I was eating them, plotting to drive to eastern Washington as soon as the apricots hit the market, buying up a huge box and stuffing them in jars.  More jars!  More for me! Brandied apricots! All! Winter! Long!

I also, for the record, feel this way about my loganberry jam, my green tomato pickles, and my dill pickles.  So don’t even ask.

What do you make for yourself and hoard?

gifts from the kitchen class dec. 1 — don’t delay!

I’m very pleased to announce a fledgling non-profit organization, the Food Preservation Associates.  We’re a new group of former Lane County Extension Master Food Preservers working to (1) provide food safety and preservation education to our community, and (2) help the effort to bring Extension back.  And you can help by showing your support…and learning!  Our first class, Gifts from the Kitchen, is headed by talented craftswoman and baker Barbara Biggs and assisted by the FPAs, whom I am sure would be happy to answer your questions about food preservation and other holiday cooking.

  • What: Gifts from the Kitchen class
  • When:  Wednesday, December 1 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
  • Where:  First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive, Eugene
  • RSVP:  541-747-3915
  • Cost:  $20.

We’ll be doing baked goods, spiced nuts and brittle, gifts in a jar, and an impressive range of wrapping and packaging with cost-efficient materials.  This has been historically one of our most popular classes, so please join us!

Please call and reserve your spot.  Send your checks, made to Food Preservation Associates, to P.O. Box 370, Walterville, 97489.

I have more news and will be providing an update after the class with everything I’m allowed to say…but I’ll just tell you know that I’m thrilled by the efforts of Laura Hindrichs and all the amazing MFP volunteers I’ve grown to love over the past few years, and the community backing we’ve already been receiving from supporters like Adam Bernstein of Adam’s Sustainable Table.

hazelnut millet granola, with variations

In my pre-Thanksgiving pantry investigation, I discovered I had two big containers of oats.  In an ongoing effort to break my morning bagel habit, it seemed I had no choice but to make granola.  We did a double batch of Nigella Lawson’s ridiculously simple nut granola recipe that several bloggers have adapted for their own, including Orangette and David Lebovitz.  I was interested in the recipe because it uses non-sweetened applesauce to moisten and flavor the oats, and I am particularly loath to eat anything sweet most mornings.  Plus, I just so happen to have a few low-sugar homemade applesauces stashed away in my canning cupboard.

The three cookie sheets full of baking granola took almost twice the time to dry and roast as the recipe states (I should have used four sheets, but I didn’t have oven space for four!).  The double batch I made ate up most of this year’s hazelnut crop, too.  Must go to OSU Extension office to buy more.  I used agave syrup instead of rice syrup, and only hazelnuts, adding a handful of millet for a bit of contrast instead of the sunflower seeds.

When the granola came out of the oven, I tossed one tray with currants, the second with crystallized ginger, and the third with home-dried sour cherries and cocoa nibs.  All three are delicious.  The applesauce makes the granola crispy and full of flavor, and the proportions are just right.

The granola is delicious mixed into yogurt or with milk.  I may try it with a flaked grain cereal if I can find one, as David Lebovitz suggests.  My favorite commercial granola, a German brand with a bewilderingly wondeful range of flavors, uses an oat that seems to be processed a bit differently than our rolled oats — almost as if the roller smashed the oat down even more.  It makes the oats less chewy and more pleasant when raw (or basically raw).  Anyone have a source for these cereals?

Try making it for gifts in a jar this holiday season.  Your family and friends will thank you!

Hazelnut Millet Granola with Fruit

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast and Orangette’s variation (see link above)

5 cups rolled oats (not instant)
2 cups coarsely chopped new crop Oregon hazelnuts (or almonds), roasted*
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup millet
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. kosher salt (less if using regular salt)

3/4 cup low sugar apple sauce
1/3 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup full-flavored honey (meadowfoam is particularly good)
2 T. vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F.  In a small bowl, combine the applesauce, agave syrup, honey, and oil.   In a very large bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones, and stir well.

Spread the mixture evenly on two large rimmed baking sheets as thinly as possible.

Bake sheets on top and bottom racks of oven for 45 minutes, or until evenly golden brown (watch for burning around the edges).  Every 15 minutes, carefully stir and re-spread out granola on the sheets, switching positions in the oven so the granola will bake as evenly as possible.

When it turns golden brown, remove the pans from the oven and stir once more.  Orangette says “this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet” and “The finished granola may still feel slightly soft when it comes out of the oven, but it will crisp as it cools.”

Let cool for about 15 minutes before adding the dried fruit of your choice.  Dried currants, raisins, cranberries, blueberries, sour cherries are all good choices; stickier fruit, such as mangos or apricot pieces, are not because of storage issues.  You may also add crystalized ginger pieces (tiny), cocoa nibs for a chocolatey taste and/or toasted coconut shreds.  The amount of fruit is up to you — I found about a half-cup of sour cherries was good for one tray, and two teaspoons of ginger or cocoa nibs was just right for one tray.

Store in the refrigerator for no longer than three months, if it lasts that long, in a sealed container or ziploc bag.

Yield: about 10 cups.

* To roast hazelnuts, place on rimmed baking sheet in 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  When the nuts smell fragrant and the flesh turns creamy from white, they are finished.  It isn’t an exact science, so it’s better to undercook them than overcook them.