Thursday, July 28, 2011

Blueberry Mint Jam

I got a great cookbook for Christmas last year, called The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, by Rachel Saunders.  I have learned so much about jam from this book! Saunders doesn't use any pectin, just fruit, lemon juice and sugar, and somewhat longer cooking times in some cases. I learned a great way to judge the set of jam--whether it's done or not--from her book:  you put four or five spoons on a plate in the freezer.  When you think the jam is about done, you put some of it in one of the spoons, freeze it for four minutes, take it out, and look at it.  If it's the consistency you want, not too runny and not too stiff, the jam is done. My jam is a lot better now as a result of learning this test.

The other thing I've learned from this book is that it's ok to flavor jam with "unusual" flavorings. For example, she suggests steeping a few mint sprigs in your blueberry jam after it is done, before putting it in the jars. I did this with my last batch of blueberry jam, and I think it made the jam more interesting.

There are a lot of interesting marmalade recipes in the book, and a great lemon-peach marmalade that I made earlier in the summer. Saunders has access to lots of varieties of gourmet fruit on the West Coast that we can't always get here in the Southeast, but if I ever find any Seville oranges, for example, I sure will make her Seville orange marmalade.

Saunders processes her jam in the oven, but the Ball Blue Book says not to do that, so I process them in boiling water as per usual with canning, for about ten minutes.

Here's the recipe for blueberry jam with mint:

3 (8 inch) sprigs mint
2 lbs 10 oz blueberries
1 lb 10 oz sugar
6 oz strained freshly squeezed lemon juice

Put the five spoons on a plate in the freezer.

Combine the blueberries, sugar and lemon juice in a wide kettle. Place over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until the juice begins to run. Then increase the heat to high. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture boils. Cook it for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, decreasing the heat slightly if it starts to stick. Begin testing after 10 minutes (with the frozen spoons).

Turn off the heat and skim the foam off the surface of the jam. {This is the stuff I used to make the ice cream the other day.}  Steep the mint in the jam for two minutes off the heat. Taste the jam and see if it's minty enough.  When it is, take out the mint with tongs and discard. Pour the jam into sterilized jars and process.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Blueberry Mint Creme Fraiche Ice Cream

The name of this recipe may sound pretentious, depending on your relationship to creme fraiche. If it does, consider what creme fraiche really is.

Creme fraiche sounds fancy and French.  In fact it is French, but it's country cooking, French-style. Just think of it as something that the Cracker Barrel would have if it was in France. All you have to do to make creme fraiche is: put a little buttermilk in some heavy cream. Put it on the counter overnight.  The next morning, voila:  creme fraiche, good on everything from breakfast to dessert.

For example, ice cream. Creme fraiche gives a sort of subtle tartness to ice cream that offsets its sweetness.  Yesterday I made some blueberry ice cream, sort of unexpectedly. I was skimming the foam off the blueberry jam I was making, and I ended up with a big bowl of foam and a few berries. Why waste that?  I blended it in a blender with half and half, and a little creme fraiche.  The mint was left over from flavoring the jam:  I had steeped a few mint sprigs in the jam for a few minutes after it was finished cooking, so I steeped those mint sprigs again in  the mixture of cream, milk, and blueberries.  This gave a subtle minty taste to the ice cream.  I chilled the blend in the refrigerator for a couple of hours and then made ice cream in my low-tech Donvier ice cream maker.  This is a really simple ice cream maker:  you just keep the freezer bowl in your freezer until you want to make ice cream; then you put it in its outer case, put the paddle in it, pour the ice cream blend in, put a lid on it, and put the crank on. You turn the crank periodically while you're cooking supper, and in 20 minutes, you have ice cream.

There are a lot of ice cream recipes out there, and the Donvier thing comes with some, but it turns out that it's not hard at all to make up recipes once you've done it a few times. I made up the one for blueberry mint creme fraiche ice cream, based on another blueberry ice cream recipe, and it was really good.  Maybe I should tell La Madeleine about it.  After all, they're the Cracker Barrel of France.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Slow-Cooked Beans

I used to cook beans for about ten minutes and then put some butter on them. This still works fine for the new-fangled, tender, stringless, round bush beans, but for old-fashioned pole beans, a longer cooking time is sometimes in order. I like Mark Bittman's recipe for slow-cooked beans in How to Cook Everything.  You put a pound and a half of trimmed beans, a cup of tomatoes, an onion, 1/4 cup of olive oil,  maybe some ham, and a half cup of water in a pot and you just boil it for an hour. These are the beans of your childhood.  They will smell and taste like they did in 1959. Ok, maybe we didn't have olive oil in 1959; there would have been bacon grease in there instead. And you can put bacon grease in there now too! But if you don't have a grease can on your stove and don't have any bacon grease on hand, I guess you'll just be forced to use extra-virgin California olive oil, or something. It will still be pretty good.

I grow a kind of pole bean called Louisiana Purple Pod.  It makes pods even when the weather is very hot, whereas other kinds of pole beans sometimes fail to make pods in hot weather. The pods are a beautiful purple color when you pick them, but they turn green when they are being cooked.

Here they are in the pot with the tomatoes and a few pods of Zee Best okra:

When they were done, Tom sniffed them for a while and said they smelled like the beans of his childhood.  Good: that was the effect I was going for.  He was raised by a soul food cook in New Orleans, and if I can make the beans taste like hers, I am happy.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Blueberry Cobbler experiments

I have a lot of organically grown blueberries, because I went to Hidden Springs Orchard near Cookeville, TN, and picked about 12 pounds. I froze them, and I've been thawing out one package a day lately to make cobbler.  The first recipe I tried was from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.  His recipe calls for 4 cups of blueberries,  a cup of sugar, and a batter made out of flour and egg.  There is no butter in the "biscuit" topping, and I thought the topping was sort of dry and flavorless.  (I reduced the amount of sugar in this recipe and substituted honey for some of it, so that could have been part of the problem.)  Also, the fruit part was kind of runny; there was no thickener such as cornstarch or tapioca.  Maybe if I had added more sugar it would have been better.

So today I went back to my old recipe, which I got in an unusual place: a novel/memoir called Bastard Out of Carolina.  In that great book by Dorothy Allison, she describes how her mother made a blackberry cobbler in an iron skillet.  I have a lot of blackberries every summer too, so I tried that recipe and loved it.  You cook the blackberries with some butter and sugar in the iron skillet until they get juicy, then you put biscuit batter on top and put the skillet in the oven to finish cooking it. Couldn't be simpler.

Today I tried that same method with blueberries, with a few tweaks. First I cooked the blueberries in the skillet with some butter, honey, and a small amount of minute tapioca, until the blueberries had cooked down slightly. Then I made a thick cornbread batter, half way between biscuit dough consistency and cornbread batter.  The cornmeal came from my own crop of field corn two years ago. I dried the kernels in the oven and then ground them into meal in my electric grinder.  I had some great local buttermilk to put in the batter. In fact, almost all the ingredients in this cobbler were local except for the pasture butter from Wisconsin. Here it is:

I thought that this version was superior to the first cobbler.  The blueberries were slightly thickened by the stovetop cooking and the minute tapioca granules. The cornbread topping was the perfect consistency, and the whole thing was not too sweet.