Dinner Diary July 18, 1987
SEE! I can be restrained. Of course I can be restrained, and sometimes like it that way; Let me rephrase – I can act in a restrained manner in regards to the menu. Well, there’s that too. Nice menu! Good seasonal timing with all the food. I’m certain that the pasta portions were sized appropriately for their order in the courses. Nice use of the tomato coulis in parchment for the shrimp sauce. Alas, too many people don’t like bluefish (the same people that don’t like shad). Sure it really tastes like FISH. As I’ve stated previously, if you don’t like fish eat tilapia. Bluefish taste of the sea, you look at it and it looks like a classic fish. The fragrance is – FISH. How could you not love that! Get it on the grill, rubbed with salt and pepper, I’ve rubbed it with garlic on occasion. Get it nicely grilled, a little “crusty” and serve it sprinkled with chopped parsley and lemon wedges to drizzle over it as you eat it. Smoke it yourself, very easy to do on the grill. Low, low heat and a smoke box. Sublime, much of the oil goes, you don’t want too much going, leave enough so that it’s still got moistness. Eat it as the best appetizer you’ve ever had, put it in pasta with fresh tomatoes, mix it with cream cheese, sour cream and a little horseradish for spread. And for heaven’s sake don’t forget the’ blue fish en papilotte nicoise’. Another truly great fish.
Maida Heatter’s Lemon Mousse. Listen up! I’ve been told that this is so good that folks had the “BIG O” while eating it. Swear to God I’m not lying! Yes, it takes a little while to make, but not that long and it’s not that hard to make. Simple ingredients of course: lemon juice and zest, sugar, water, a little gelatin, egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and heavy cream. It is so light, so BOOMIN’ with flavor. A gift from a Goddess.
Eating it is like lying on your back in the soft green grass on a warm, but not hot, summer day. The sun isn’t blinding and hot, it’s lemon yellow, warm, and luminescent. Soft, soft breeze blowing. There are clouds in the sky, puffy and white, washed the lemon yellow of the sun in the folds and shadow edges. You reach up a hand, gently pull one of the clouds to you, bring it to your mouth and let it flow into you. It’s cool and sun lemon yellow at the same time. You glow. You are at absolute peace. You’ve been transformed by Maida Heatter’s Lemon Mousse. OK, Maida says, “it is like eating a sweet, lemon-flavored cloud”. I wax a little more rhapsodic. Maida Heatter and her creation deserve it.
Dinner Diary November 17, 1996
I really enjoy canning and preserving food. I like it so much that I’m trying to make a business out of it, but more on that later. Mom had a small garden behind our house and I remember her canning tomatoes in the 1950’s. As a matter of fact I got, and still use, her canning kettle. I don’t know how much that influenced me, but I certainly remember it. I didn’t have much interest in food at that time, with the exception of eating it. Hence the husky boy section at the clothing stores.
I don’t recall what got Bonnie and me going on canning. Maybe the fact that, when the corn is in season, tons of it can be had for little money. Maybe the fact that I love fresh corn. I have always cut the kernels from the cobs and frozen it for later times (like November!). And I have to scream to the heavens that New Jersey’s corn, along with its tomatoes are superb – top of the ladder – beats all comers. Good corn relish really hits the spot with me, so maybe it was one of those things that I had to do to satisfy myself. It’s wonderful when, months later, I get a jar of sweets or savories open it and all wonderful the memories of having made it come to mind. Maybe it’s a looking to the future kind of thing. It has never been a chore; so far, it has always been a lot of fun. And then there is ‘The Goddess of the Jams and Jellies’ on the Cape. We shall soon learn more about her.
ROSE HIP JELLY
Dinner Diary November 20, 1996
Canning, preserving food, is like so many things in that it’s easy enough to do but, to do it really well takes a lot of practice and work. Always finding the best, freshest, in season ingredients (yes, I know, I froze the corn – it’s still fresh) taking the time to bring the mixture to the point where it aches to set up, to gel. I love creating the new recipes and flavor combinations. Trying for the unique without being contrived.
Our 2006 vacation on the Cape really kicked the canning and preserving into high gear for Bonnie and me. Beach plums grow on the Cape. The crop, yes, a small plumish fruit with something of a distinct flavor – the salt air and huge light filled sky – like much of the local produce has bountiful seasons and thin seasons. 2006 was bountiful and, as Bonnie and I love beach plum jelly, we decided that we’d make ‘some’. We aren’t always lucky enough to find a good crop. 2006 was a bumper crop, but none were to found in 2009 – I’ll have to depend on the wisdom of Al Gore for an answer to that puzzle. The crafting of the jelly was a magic time for us, perfect huge blue sky, cooling breezes and walking along the roadsides and through hidden groves gathering the fruit. Then back to the house and start canning. You don’t need much in the way of implements to do this: big pot for the hot water bath, canning jars, cooking pot, sugar, pectin, fruit, colander, canning funnel, cheesecloth.
The resulting beach plum jelly was very, very good. It took some time; a few batches had to be redone before they set up. But the end result approached the perfection of my jams and jelly goddess. Its flavor was just beyond delicate, clean; the texture was absolutely smooth and did melt in your mouth and the color – a wonderful dark purple almost touching black that you could just see the light through. We were very pleased.
But, there was a problem. The problem being that we had a few canning jars unfilled. The solution was simple enough, more time outside on a beautiful day to pick more beach plums. Another batch of superb jelly was made.
But, there was another problem. The problem being that we still had an abundance of beach plums and no canning jars. The solution was simple enough, a ride in to the local hardware store to pick up more canning jars. The problem of this imbalance continued until we had put up 3 dozen jars of beach plum jellies and we finally decided to call it quits. But we had really been hooked, got a heavy Jones for this whole canning thing. But look! Lo and behold as they say. The hillside around the Cape house that we had rented was a dense jumble of ‘Rosa Rugosa’. This is a wonderfully hardy ‘wild’ rose that is a classic Cape Cod flower. Not only does the plant produce a flower, but also, of course, a seed pod as well- the ‘rose hips’ of the plant. These are large berry- like fruits containing lots seeds and lots of juice. As thorny as the plants are, they are not as thorny as a bramble, they’re pickable, and so Bonnie and I picked and picked and picked. Actually, Bonnie did most of the picking. We again dealt with the ongoing imbalance of canning jars to rose hips, eventually ending up with 4 dozen jars of rose hip jelly. A jelly the color of orange/red/yellow autumn leaves, clear enough to see through, melting in your mouth with a taste of citrus, hint of tomato, honey, salt breezes and sun. What did you do on your summer vacation? Oh, we went to the Cape and spent several days putting up 7 dozen jars of beach plum and rose hip jellies. A perfect vacation.
BEACH PLUM JELLY
My Goddess Of Jams And Jellies
One of my great joys and constants has been the existence of a woman who sells jams, jellies and chutneys from what is literally a wooden shack alongside the two lane highway. My Goddess of Jams and Jellies. The fruits (no pun intended) of her labors are in fact the nectar of the Gods. They are full of pure flavor. The texture of each is absolutely perfect, her jellies are so clear that, if you dare, you can see the depths of your soul through them. The combinations are inspired and the singular flavors of such ones as blueberry, strawberry and peach are unmatched by anything that I have ever tasted on heaven and earth. The jars of jellies, jams and chutneys are set on wood planks that form the outside walls of a shack by the road. The shack is painted white, fading, looking old and weather beaten; it’s been there as long as I can remember, as has my Jam and Jelly Goddess. She is in much better shape than the shack, but has been around long enough for her face to show her Cape character: wrinkles darkened by the sun, a picture of life lived, she’s beautiful. The shack does have a wonderful up to date kitchen – I want it. Aside from the kitchen there’s not much else to it. Usually, in season, it’s open. Sometimes the shutters are down, covering the shelves and she’s gone somewhere to do whatever needs to be done. She has been kind enough, and I have been bold enough, that she accepted my offering of one of my preserves, giving me one from her ‘special stock’ in return. I sometimes think on the fact that, on her passing, I will cry as I have for few others, because she is truly unique, absolutely wonderful and her talent raises her craft to the level of sublime perfection.
When we were talking with her last summer, she told us that her husband had died. We knew that he had been ill on and off for a long while and we expressed our condolences. But in telling this story she did bring a big grin to my face by saying, “You brought me the spicy tomato chutney last year, right? Well, my husband got to that before I did and ate the whole jar – said to me that it was one of the best things that he ever tasted, he loved it!” Yeah, and I asked, it was long before he passed away.
I also love her, because, as she told Bonnie and me, “this damn woman from NEW YORK was here the other day. Kept asking if all of this (Marge’s jams, jellies and chutneys) was fresh and complaining that the jars were dirty. She was picking jars off the shelf and putting them back out of order. ASKED FOR A PAPER TOWEL TO WASH HER HANDS! KEPT asking if my stuff were fresh and KEPT saying that the jars were dirty. So when she finally picked up a jar to buy I grabbed it back from her and said, I’m not selling this to you, you get the hell out of here!”
I want to be the equal of my Goddess of Jams and Jellies. Hell, I’m unemployed, why don’t I try to make a living out canning? And so Dave’s Sweets & Savories was born. To say that the enterprise is up and running would not be correct. At present I am fighting my way through the State of New Jersey regulations that make it impossible for anyone to make and sell preserved foods such as jams, jellies and chutneys unless they are a company on the scale of Archer Daniels Midland or General Foods. In addition to the ‘certified kitchen’, no cooking in an inspected home kitchen and selling the products made there, they’ve got you jumping through more hopes than a circus tiger and expecting you to spend money on the kitchen equipment and administrative fees that are beyond the reach of normal, or unemployed folks, such as myself. Well, I ain’t giving up on this and will continue to work to get the delicious results of Dave’s Sweets & Savories into your hands.
Back at home from the Cape I went through a variety of recipes, some old, some new. The list of comestibles, to date, is shown below.
Beach Plum Jelly Rose Hip Jelly
Peach Syrup Yellow Peach Jam
White Peach Jam Cranberry Apple & Pear Chutney
Apple & Pear Chutney Grape Jelly
Grape & Thyme Jelly New Jersey Blueberry Jam
Pear Butter Apple Butter
Corn Relish Mango & Lime Jam
Tangerine Lemon Lime Marmalade Earl Grey Jelly
Mango Tea Jelly Spicy Tomato Chutney
Port Wine with Bay Leaf Jelly Peach & Raspberry Jam
Meyer’s Lemon & Vanilla Bean Marmalade
Cranberry Chutney with Pear &Ginger Spicy Cranberry & Dried Fruit Chutney
Pickled Watermelon Rinds
Hang On To Your Seats – I’m Just Getting Started!
I worked throughout the fall and eventually put up more than 140 jars of wonderment. My goal is to craft something more than just the jelly to accompany the peanut butter. I want these used as an ingredient or accompaniment to dishes that are their equal. I want them to be indispensable as the cake filling, the glaze on the pork tenderloin, replacing the tomato coulis in the Bluefish en Papilotte and, yes, spread on the scone or muffin at breakfast.
Which am I most proud of, or partial to? That’s easy to answer. That would be the Beach Plum and Rose Hip Jellies that Bonnie and I put up while we’re vacationing on the Cape.
It’s been our custom to give presents to our guests at our Christmas Brunches and in 2006 we gave out gift boxes of 3 or 4 jars each to our guests. I asked for honest criticism of my efforts and got it. Primarily suggestions, I’ve found that I’m my own toughest critic. But all absolutely loved the efforts of Dave’s Sweets & Savories. The comment that made me the happiest, and I heard it from several folks, was.
“IT WAS SO GOOD THAT I JUST STOOD THERE EATING IT WITH A SPOON UNTIL IT WAS ALL GONE!”
To that I say, “My most humble thanks.”