Wednesday, December 10, 2008

in a jam!

I miss my jam pot! Specifically, I miss my big, wide copper confiture pot, with its flared sides and brass handles. It was perfect for jam-making, since it was wide and shallow, allowing for rapid evaporation. The copper was nonreactive as well as heavy, which meant even sugary things cooked evenly, without hot spots or burning, and it cleaned up like a dream. The only drawback was its size--really big--which required making a pretty hefty amount of jam at any one time. (Where is it? Still in Brooklyn storage, with all the other large, fragile, or otherwise squirreled-away items of my life, mostly books, shoes, leopard lingerie, and china.)

I've been making jam throughout the year as fruit's been available, starting with the big box of organic Meyer lemons S. brought me last spring. And now, I'm beginning to pull out the contents of the jam kitchen, inspecting and wrapping for the holidays. Something I've learned this year is to unloose the screw-top rings after the jars have cooled and sealed. Why? First, to check that the seal is clean. I pulled out half a dozen jars of apricot jam earlier this week, only to find them cruddy with sticky jam trails down the sides. I'm not exactly sure where the gunk came from--the seals were tight, and the jam inside unspoiled--but just to be on the safe side, I opened them up, adding a little more sugar, and reboiled/recanned the contents. It's also wise to remove the screw-bands after sealing so that water (or condensed steam) doesn't get caught under the band and rust out the lid.

It's also very wise to label every jar as soon as it's cooled and sealed. I have a few jars of mystery marmalade--lemon? Seville orange? Mixed orange?--that will have to be labeled "California Citrus" since I can't pin them down any further than that. As far as I can remember, what should be in the jam cupboard this year is:

Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Seville Orange Marmalade
Mixed Citrus Mystery Marmalade
Strawberry Jam
Hedgerow/Brambleberry/Raspberry-Strawberry-Blackberry Jam
Bernal Hill Wild Blackberry Jam
Bread and butter pickles

And, if I can manage to come home with some pears after my meeting out at the orchard this Friday, the divine Vanilla Pear Butter.

I'd still like to make some more pickles, and maybe even Chez Pim's bourbon-vanilla-butternut squash butter, in a mashup with Helen Witty's Spiced Pumpkin Butter.

It's been a pumpkin sort of week, or month, really, given how many pumpkin/butternut squash/sweet potato pies have been made chez PQ lately. And last night at Orson was all orange, all the time: we got 2 shots of curried pumpkin and sweet potato soup, a pumpkin pizza with fennel sausage, sage, red onion and ricotta, scallops with a sweet-potato puree, and finally the piece de resistance: The Clock After Midnight, made of pumpkin custard topped with brown-sugar streusel and pierced with dehydrated carrot spears, all over a spatter of carrot emulsion and root-beer maple syrup.

It took me a minute to get the Cinderella reference, just as it took the waiter to explain the King's Dream: peanut-butter cheesecake, peanut ice cream, slices of chilled banana rolled in cocoa nibs, and toasted marshmallows. But my favorite was the Snowcap: squares of gianduja topped with a snowfall of powdered (but still icy-cold) white chocolate ice cream, just like the snowflakes that fall during the last part of Act I in the Nutcracker. Or the froth of ice chips off the back of the Zamboni clearing the skating rink! Anyway, witty and yummy, and the best part of the meal, not surprisingly, since owner/exec chef Elizabeth Faulkner is a pastry chef from way back, and has clearly found a smart kindred spirit in Orson's pastry chef, Luis Villavelasquez.

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