Tag Archives: cinnamon

A marmalade is born

I was starting to lose hope that I’d ever make a good jelly. All those loose and liquid results with fresh-from-the-orchard plums and cherries were getting me down. That is, until the Pilates Girls started to talk about marmalade – in the heat of summer, no less.  They started to swoon over tales of Seville marmalade, rolling their eyes in ecstasy remembering every slurp and mouthful, every stolen spoonful.

IMG_6465So very British of them, I thought in disdain, but their marmalade reverie was so very infectious, slipping deep into my flavour brain.

I took another look at the big fragrant box of Sungold cherry tomatoes I had ripening in the cellar under layers of paper bags. I’d harvested them on the vine – neon green – a good month ago. Now, their colour was like a pale sunrise, a little yellow, a little orange. They just weren’t their seductive, deep pumpkin orange selves, so sweet-as-sin in the heat of summer.

IMG_5723Here they were, half-ripened in my dark, unfinished basement and I could not ignore them. Nor could I forget that bag of organic lemons I’d bought recently…

I scanned the internet and was smitten with the cinnamon and saffron one author had added to her ridiculously difficult and multi-stepped recipe.  I stole the flavour combination and started to pluck the green stem ends clinging to every SunGold.

I had to make this easy. I reached for my  heavy, turquoise Cuisinart enamelled cast-iron pot that has braised heavenly concoctions all spring and summer in my oven, closed shut with the extra guarantee of a sheet of parchment paper.

I sensed this beast was up for the task. No lid. It had one hell of a thick base and a wide rim perfect for boiling off fruit into gelled perfection.

IMG_6274I had three and a half pounds of SunGolds the size of marbles. They looked so dainty and pretty  as they tumbled into the pot alongside cups of sliced lemons. I cranked the gas up high. In just a minute, liquid started to form in the base. After a short, five minutes the mixture was sloshing about. I dumped in the organic sugar and all that fruity sweetness shimmered to a gloss.

Promising, dared I hope.

I brought it to a boil and the skins made an orange line around the perimeter. I stirred occasionally, not continuously, and it wasn’t sticking or burning to the bottom. It made quick work of the liquid, reducing it down by a third. The orange line was a full inch above the liquid’s surface and it thickened and hardened.  I slid a knife under it and realized the line had gelled.

At first my wooden spoon dripped like fast falling rain when I tipped a maiden spoonful out and over the surface.  But in 20 minutes it was starting to cling, clump and sheet. All the little drops left in my spoon-resting dish started to sparkle and reflect.

IMG_6469I ventured into this recipe carrying the baggage of a failed gel-maker. After the first ten minutes, I pulled out the Pomona’s Universal Pectin. I even filled a small bowl with sugar, ready to mix with the pectin powder to prevent that nasty clumping and frothing. I started to calculate, figuring this batch would need four teaspoons each of Pomona’s calcium water and pectin.

But just as carrying an umbrella stops the rain from falling, so did the appearance of that pectin box. It started up the natural gelling – instantly. Turning the spoon through this golden elixir took the push of oatmeal porridge. It was thick.  It would gel.

And, it smelt exotic. The earthy tomatoes had collapsed into skins swirling in a shiny syrup littered with tomato seeds. Lemon skins turned translucent, limping seductively on the spoon.  The cinnamon stick I’d cracked in half was swelling up like a wine cork. I waited for the final moment to gingerly tap the saffron bottle and let a few strands fall into the mixture to bleed their gorgeous tint. A marmalade was born.

Whether you pair this with cheese or slather on toast, this savoury-sweet marmalade will dance on your tongue. The lemon cuts the sweetness and the saffron slightly perfumes. A dollop on grilled fish offers delicious contrast and just a smidgen is the right condiment for dhal and rice.  With any luck and lots of gelling, this marmalade will make you swoon just like those Pilates Girls.

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SunGold Tomato Saffron Marmalade

  • Servings: 7.5 250 ml jars
  • Print

3 ½ lbs green sungold cherry tomatoes, ripened in basement in paper to a yellow-orange OR ripe red grape tomatoes

2 lbs organic lemons, seeded, quartered and sliced thinly

4 ½ cups organic white sugar

1 stick cinnamon, broken in half

Pinch saffron

In large, very wide and heavy enamelled caste iron pot heat tomatoes and lemons (without any liquid) until they sweat and emit liquid.  Add sugar and cinnamon and cook on high, stirring for 40 min.  Add saffron, check for gelling point. Process in sterilized jars with ¼ inch headspace for 10 minutes.

Memoir of a muffin

When I tasted my first bran muffin at the corner of College and Bathurst at The Mars, it was a revelation. I was 19, wore a peasant skirt over Kodiak boots and rolled my own cigarettes with Drum tobacco. I thought myself street-wise but was anything but … Just incredibly curious and always, always hungry. Thus, that first ravenous bite into a Mars bran muffin – dark with molasses and dense like black forest cake – is pure gold in my food memory bank.

My boyfriend Bob was also a revelation. Nothing about him resembled where I came from. He hadn’t grown up in North Toronto or gone to Upper Canada College (like my brother, father or grandfather) but he sure knew enough about betting to pique my father’s gambling instincts  and instill a gin rummy playing camaraderie between them.

One summer evening at a family cottage dinner, my stately grandmother innocently asked “And what is it that you do, my dear?” while passing Bob the gravy boat.

“I’m a bookie,” chirped Bob grinning like a cherub, thrilled to make this reveal. Nonnie promptly cleared her throat and my grandfather mumbled “Holy sailor” but no one else asked another word, quickly sweeping this unpleasant news under the nearest carpet.

IMG_2896But back to the muffin. The Mars muffin. It was big, filling and dotted with plump, fat raisins. They were served hot from the oven, sliced in half with a large pat of cold butter wedged inside and fully melted in seconds. Diners, breakfast eggs, take-out baklava and percolated coffee played large in my coming of culinary age. These gigantic muffins were new to diners in the 70s and customers would line up in front of the cash register hoping to leave with half a dozen of these towering –no, glistening – babies stuffed inside a Mars embossed, white cardboard box.

Near that same cash register, along the long, white Formica diner bar, were stools occupied by inner-city characters of dubious distinction. Bob seemed to know them all. They had nicknames like Baldy, Joe the Dipper or Car Fare. Some came “packing” and others had Mafia affiliations following them like shadows.

Bob, being Bob, liked to break away pieces of my W.A.S.P. veneer by unexpectedly pushing me in front of one of these cigar smoking men at the Mars saying, “Hey Dukey, meet my girlfriend Lynn.  She’s a Haver-girl.” I seethed at these embarrassments…  but they didn’t stop me from moving to New York with Bob a year later and attending an Ivy League college while he worked as a bouncer at Studio 54.

IMG_2898But back to the muffins.  I made some today in my West coast kitchen as the rain pelted across a gray, foggy horizon in a day-long deluge. I searched through my baking boxes and pulled out a bag of wheat bran, which now looks oddly old school next to newer fibrous fads like chia, flax or hemp. I found some spelt which adds such friendly nuttiness to any baking equation.

I mixed the dry and wet ingredients in two separate bowls. Quick breads and muffins all like this preparatory segregation with just minimal combining prior to the bake. Crosby’s molasses is a necessary must if you want real tasting bran muffins. And remember to measure the oil in the measuring cup first as prep for the molasses, which will slide out of the measuring cup effortlessly if you do.

Unlike the Mars bran muffin, these ones are good for you: moist, satisfying and rich. I’m willing to place a double-or-nothing bet on Crisco as the trans-fat source of those yesteryear muffins. Yet still, I savour that muffin’s nostalgia and happily munched on all these memories when creating, baking and eating my latest version.

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Banana Bran Muffins

Healthy, fibre-full muffins with a rich, moist texture and just a hint of banana or apple flavour.

Dry Ingredients:

1 ½ cups          wheat bran

¾ cup               all purpose flour

¾ cup               spelt

¾ cup               raisins or chopped dates

1 tsp                 cinnamon

1 tsp                 baking soda

1 tsp                 baking powder

½ tsp                salt

Wet ingredients

2 eggs              mixed

1 cup               mashed, really ripe bananas (about 2 ½) OR unsweetened apple sauce

¾ cup              plain yogurt

½ cup              milk

1/3 cup            molasses

¼ cup              vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 F

Mix dry and wet ingredients separately in large bowl.  Combine until just mixed. Use a ¼ cup measure to dollop into large paper muffin cups. Bake 20 minutes.  Makes 12 large muffins.

 

Bear plum jam

We had been painting the white picket fence for hours in the afternoon shade. Big, black crows screeched incessantly, punctuated by the soft, nasal bleats of nuthatches echoing through the forest trees. David wore a black shirt and shorts that were splattered with white splashes of our 1-2-3 primer.  We had been working for hours in the hot, BC summer sun.  With only two sections of finished fence behind us, it was time to stop.

David took the paint brushes inside the house to wash up.

I wrapped my hands around the bars of our trusty wheelbarrow and started to amble towards the driveway. Full of dried-up blackberry bush, the wheelbarrow’s contents slid and scratched against the metal sides, the wheel rumbling against the dry, clay earth.

No crows, no nuthatches, but a sudden loud crashing of branches broke out.

I looked towards the orchard and watched a massive, black bear come falling out of our plum tree, some 100 feet away.

When I say massive, I mean the size of a Smart car. Black and furry. Yet ominously silent.

My jaw slack in awe, I watched him land on all four paws and hurry off. Bears don’t gallop, or race. They truck mysteriously fast like an ambling thunder cloud, a sheet of dark light that thankfully went away, not towards me.

“David!” I yelped at the top of my voice.

Worried the bear would hear me, I toned it down to a whisper-shout with, “There’s, there’s a bear!”

“Whaaaaaat?” David emerged, hands still wet from washing the brushes. “Where?”

“He ran that way,” I said, pointing towards the orchard. “Don’t follow him.”

But of course, David did, thrilled and happy, calling back gaily, “It’s the wild west, baby.”

Minutes later, we stood beside our bear-mangled plum tree. A large, deep gash from his claws streaked down the trunk. A large heap of black, seed-studded scat lay nearby.  Up above, broken branches hung in disarray. Half-eaten plums littered the ground.

I reached up and pulled down a plum and popped it in my mouth.

Soft, and deliriously sweet and sour, this orange-yellow plum was perfectly ripe.  Time for harvest. Thank you hungry bear for finding the ripest plums in the orchard. This was a wild, but timely alert.

David walked back to the garage and carried out the ten-foot ladder. He propped it beneath the tree and I climbed up into the branches. Balancing a bucket on the top rung, I started to pluck plum after tiny plum from the tree.

Novice fruit farmers, we thought the ladder, the bucket and all these plums would just come together effortlessly but it’s an awkward balance:  Reach too far, and the ladder topples; grab too many, and some fall. There are always more to be harvested that are too high, too far, too out of reach.

Still, in no time, our bucket is full and we carry our cache back to the farm house.

Star Anise Plum Jam

With so many plums, my jam creativity has blossomed. I’d rather spice up a jam than leave it plain. This jam can go on toast, pair beside pork or chicken or make a dramatic debut on your next cheese plate. The licorice notes of star anise are strong in this jam, so feel free to cut in half if you want just a whisper. But don’t mess with any of the other ingredients.

6 cups plum puree (use yellow, orange and red plums) about 6 lbs whole fruit

5 cups sugar

2 inches ginger, finely grated

4 star anise

1 stick cinnamon

1 dried red hot pepper, cut in half

To pit plums, put in a large pot and fill with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook just a minute or until skins start to peel off the plums. Carefully drain out and discard all the hot water. Transfer plums to a large bowl and leave at room temperature to cool enough to handle or refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 3 days. Using a sieve, remove pits, taking care to reserve as much plum puree and skins as possible. Wrap the pits in cheesecloth, knotted with kitchen string.

Put sugar in a microwave-safe glass bowl and heat for 3 min on high.

In a large pot, combine plum puree, heated sugar, pits (tied in cheesecloth), grated ginger, star anise, cinnamon and hot dried red pepper. Bring to a strong, rolling boil, and cook for 10 minutes stirring constantly or until jelling point is reached. (Jelling point can be determined by placing a spoon into the mixture and watching how the jam falls off.  When the drops start to drip in long strands or sheet together, jelling has been reached.)

Using sterilized jars (boiled for 5 minutes), fill jam mixture into jars ½ inch from the top, run a thin spatula around the inside of the jar to remove air bubbles, wipe off tops of jars with a clean cloth, top with softened lid (placed in a bowl of boiling hot water for 5 minutes) and closed with ring, finger-tight.

Process for 5 minutes (covered with at least 3 inches of boiling water).

Yields  8 1/2   250 mL jars

Reasons to love Red Fife

I bought my first bag of Red Fife flour in Picton, Ontario two years ago.  I’d never heard of it before and was intrigued to find cloth bags filled with a locally grown, organic whole wheat flour that had a name! Besides, it was one of the more practical items on the shelves at Pinch (a store where it’s difficult not to empty your wallet, pour out the contents and walk out with a bag full of Michael Potters’ charcuterie, logs of Fifth Town cheese and fancy schmancy salts from all corners of the earth.)

But back to Red Fife: here is a flour that any respectable foodie must get to know – especially if that foodie calls herself a Canuck. Continue reading