Friday, May 27, 2011

How to Cover Preserves or "A Jam-ity Calamity!"

I love making jam. Fruit, water, sugar, and maybe a little lemon thyme or rosemary to pique the taste-buds while they savour a little toast and jam brekkie. Since I tend to have a problem with restraint at the farmer's market, bringing home four pounds of apricots when one would have done just nicely for after dinner treats and lunches, a love of jam making is a good thing.  I made the first batch of the season yesterday, in fact, using David Lebovitz's easy to follow instructions.   It's not hard to make jam, you just need to keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn, and you can't get impatient and take it off the heat to early or it won't gel.

What I am not a fan of is canning. This is the process of making sure that all the air and micro-organisms are out of the jars so that you can put the jars on a shelf in your pantry and not be afraid of contracting botulism with your breakfast 6 months down the road. It isn't hard, it's just hot and sweaty work, involving giant vats of boiling water and a hyper aware, operating room level of cleanliness (boiling and sterilizing all tools, etc). The good news is that sugar is a great preservative, and if you are able to give your jam real estate in the refrigerator, you can keep it there for at least six months (if it lasts that long!).

But what about back in Mrs. Black's day, when your average house keeper didn't have a fridge? She is an ardent believer in the ability of sugar to block spoilage, but still recommends putting a lid on it - albiet one of paper...

"As this is the season for making preserves, it may be useful to young housekeepers to tell them what I consider the best way of covering jelly. First of all make a little common paste, then have the papers cut the size necessary, and the names written upon them. Proceed to put the paste over the inside of the paper near the edge. Do all this while the preserve is boiling; then fill a can and instantly put the paper on, sticking it securely all round, and so on till all are finished. With a damp cloth wipe the outside of the cans, and they are ready for storing in a dry place. Unless you put the paper on the very moment the jam is put into the jar you must allow it to get quite cold. This will be found an effectual plan to prevent mouldiness, if the preserves are properly boiled with enough sugar."

I am assuming that "common paste" is just a little flour and water combination mixed together based on the recipes I found here. So, a little paper label glued in with some flour paste to keep out the flies and "mouldiness." Blurg. I suppose it did an admirable job, but I'm just happy we've worked out better ways of keeping bacteria at bay.

In the meantime, I'll be enjoying my mould free apricot jam on toast!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Savoury Rice

Hint number 27 from Mrs. Black is for the sensible people. Really. Unlike all of her other completely frivolous dishes calling for boiled ox liver. I kid. In fact, I continue to be impressed by Mrs. Black's modern philosophy of food (Organic, local ingredients, etc. Everything old is new again, etc. Luckily, we now have modern refrigeration, which helps considerably.)  Among other things, Mrs. Black doesn't believe you need to eat gobs of meat in order to survive, which is good for both your heart and your pocketbook.  Without further ado...No. 27. - Savoury Rice.

"I am going to give you a recipe for a dish or two suitable for those very sensible people who use little or no butcher meat, hoping that it will induce all my friends at least to diminish the quantity of butcher meat used, and supply its place with an increased vegetable diet.

"Chop up a good-sized onion, pour boiling water over it, and let it stand for about ten minutes, after that drain it dry. Put into a pot one teacupful of well-washed rice, a good dessert-spoonful of butter (or sweet dripping, which does quite well), a pinch of salt and a little pepper, the chopped onion, and two breakfast-cupfuls of water; let it boil slowly for nearly half an hour without touching it, and with the lid quite close. Then mix in 1 small table-spoonful of corn-flour, or common flour, 1 teacupful of milk, and one egg beaten up, add enough pepper and salt to season it, and stir it over the fire for a minute or two, turn it out on a dish, and brown the top either in the oven or front of the fire. For a change, two table-spoonfuls of grated cheese may be added to this, along with the other things at the last, or two table-spoonfuls of any kinds of cooked meat or ham chopped up. The dish will be found excellent either way, and most suitable for a summer diet."

I thought I'd actually try this one out since I was curious about what the final texture would be. Instead of boiling the onion, I sauteed it in a little olive oil, just like I would for a risotto. I used jasmine rice, which does cook in 30 minutes, otherwise I would have ignored the timing instruction and simply cooked the rice till al dente. After cooking the rice, I turned the heat up to high and added the other ingredients, stirring constantly. The flour, milk and egg bound the rice up very nicely. If I had added cheese, it would have been just like a macaroni and cheese texture, but with rice. It wasn't as creamy as I had hoped. Maybe a little more milk would have helped. It was very comfort food-y, though, and a great conduit for butter and salt. I oiled a casserole, put in the mixture and stuck it under the broiler to get it a little crunchy on top. I had some beautiful leeks and fava beans in the house, so sauteed them up and added a little proscuitto to add a little "butcher meat." Very tasty, comfort food dinner. Nothing fancy, but filling and a great use for leftovers. Perfect for a new housekeeper looking to feed a family on a budget.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Good Dish of Cabbage?

credit: La Grande Farmers' Market
I love cabbage. I will never turn down a new cole slaw recipe. Sauerkraut is delicious. So is kim chi. Cabbage is very tasty with sausages and/or mashed potato, and also provides a satisfying crunch to a fish taco. It is low in calories, and high in fiber, which makes it a dieter's dream! It's also full of antioxidants and vitamins! Delicious. Unless you boil it too long, allowing all those vitamins to go up in steam, and noxious fumes to fill your kitchen.  Mrs. Black was mostly concerned with easy digestion though, so I'm sure this recipe would not bother the eater with any "wind" related issues.

"Take a good firm cabbage and wash it thoroughly, removing any decayed leaves from the outside: cut it across the stalk twice, about two inches deep, to let the water penetrate to the thick part. Let it soak in salt and water for about half-an-hour. Then put it on in plenty of boiling water with some salt in it, and a small pinch of carbonate of soda, and let it boil with the lid off for ten minutes. Then pour all the water away and fill it up again with boiling water from the kettle, add a little salt and let it boil for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes longer till it is cooked. Take it up on a strainer and squeeze all the water from it with a spoon or saucer, when it may be turned out on a plate or dish for use. Or chop it up finely, put it in a basin and mix with it a good large teaspoonful of butter, a little pepper and salt, 2 large table-spoonfuls of milk and egg well beaten, stir it all with a fork and put it in a pudding-dish, sprinkle a few bread-crumbs over the top, and put it in the oven or before the fire to become firm and brown the top. This is a delightful way to use cabbage. Very digestible and nourishing."

Pretty simple, right? I'm marginally interested in trying the cabbage "gratin" recipe. Did you notice that she is cooking the cabbage whole? Modern instruction generally encourages you to cut out the hard core and cut up the cabbage - slices, shreds or wedges, before attempting to cook. If cut up, contemporary recipes for boiled cabbage recommend 8-10 minutes cooking tops. Though I recommend braising it - saute some garlic and onion in olive oil with salt and pepper. When soft, add sliced cabbage and a cup of wine (or beer - a nice choice if you are serving with sausages). Pop the lid on your pan and let it cook on medium low heat till soft. About 8-10 minutes. You can add some caraway seeds to the mix if you want to tart it up a little. Serve with sausages or corned beef. Yum!