Red, part one: Jam and Cobbler
In an undergraduate class at Portland State, straightforwardly titled Persuasion, I formally learned that scarcity makes things more desirable: eclipses of the sun and moon, real Love, Mason Jennings’ acoustic album, Simple Life. For me, more pressing than astronomical events eternally playing hard-to-get, however, are the Fruits of Summer: the berries, the stone fruits, the figs (oh, Lord, the figs). Remember how all of this wonderful produce we love to munch year-round actually has growing seasons? Maybe you can get overpriced, under-ripe strawberries in May, but they’re not worth it. They are only placeholders for summer strawberries. Those out-of-season imposters are white in the middle, unripe, and juiceless. They have no scent and do not yield to the teeth. They look enough like a strawberry to jog something in your brain, maybe fooling your palate into thinking that you’re ingesting the real thing, but you’re not. They are a sad waste of resources. Therefore, in my life as a cook and eater I have resolved to eat what’s in season – as best as I am able (I am powerless for the rest of the day without my apple in the morning, I’m afraid) – and then move on as the weeks roll by. Accordingly, lately I have been gorging myself on summer berries.
I’ve made two trips to Sauvie Island, where the nearest U-Pick farms are around here, and come home with around fifty-five pounds of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, marionberries and cherries. The night I brought my first batch home (which was followed by a flurry of processing, though I did not get through the whole lot right away) I had nightmares – proper nightmares with screaming and everything – about not getting to my loot fast enough and letting some of them go moldy. My concern in the dream wasn’t so much that I had lost money or missed out on eating those delicious gems, but more so that I had allowed something intrinsically valuable go to waste, that I was responsible for the mishandling of an important gift. In my dream I heard myself say, Oh, I was such a fool to have taken so many when there are others who would have used them up. This is really how I talk in my dreams sometimes.
I did not, in reality, lose a single berry to the Musty Fuzz. Rather, I have taken my treasure, washed and dried, chopped and mashed, boiled, dehydrated, canned, and bagged and turned my sixty-plus dollar investment into small jars and bottles of priceless, distilled Summer.
Project, First: Jam. I have some very strong feelings about jam, and these I shall presently share.
- Jam should taste like the fruit from which it is made.
- Jam should be strong enough to hang together on a piece of toast, but should not at all remind one of gelatinous substances such as flan or Jell-O.
- The purists use all sugar and no pectin when making jam, which requires a whole heck of a lot of sugar and a great deal of heat. Made this way, the jam’s more sugar than it is fruit. I prefer a little bit of pectin and a whole lot less sugar.
- Jam should not have too much junk in it. It is tempting, I know, to want to add ginger and vanilla and raisins and walnuts and wine and SweetTarts to give your jam a signature flair. Of course, there are exceptions to this persnickitiness (red wine with strawberries, for example; and toasted, ground walnuts with figs), but generally I very firmly believe the simple and plain is best. Go figure.
I have thus far made two batches of raspberry jam, blueberry, strawberry, drunken strawberry, blueberry, marionberry and a rasp-marion mix. The recipe, included in the Pomona’s Pectin box, is roughly four cups of mashed berries, between two and four teaspoons of pectin, some calcium water (to activate the pectin) and between three-quarters and two cups of white sugar. The pectin makes it easy to gel, and home canning isn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.
Project, Second: after the jam came a cobbler or two. I’m not sure what’s tastier than baked fruit topped with a sweet biscuit. As far as I can tell, the cobbler camp divides into those who would cook the biscuits separately, and those who would cook the biscuits with the fruit. I grew up in a house that believed in baking the biscuits with the fruit, spreading the eventual topping on the bottom of the baking dish, pouring the fruit mixture over, and letting the cakey biscuits rise to the top in the oven. The other method, with which I have only recently begun experimenting, is to par-cook the two components separately – fruit on the stove and biscuits in the oven – and unite them only in the dish’s final minutes in the oven.
Berry Cobbler, two ways
|sifted all-purpose flour||1 cup|
|baking powder||2 teaspoons|
|salted butter||4 tablespoons||2 ounces|
|granulated sugar||1 cup|
|whole milk||½ cup|
|stewed berries, with juice||2½ cups||Stewed berries = fresh or frozen berries + desired amount of sugar + flavorings (also as desired: vanilla, wine, ginger…). Heat until berries are just cooked. Simple as that.|
- Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
- Cream ½ cup sugar and butter until smooth and fluffy.
- Stir in sifted dry ingredients alternately with milk.
- Pour batter into prepared pie tin or casserole dish.
- Put drained berries over batter.
- Sprinkle remaining ½ cup sugar over.
- Pour 1 cup berry juice over all.
- Bake 45 minutes @ 375ºF, until topping is golden and edges are browned.
Separate Biscuit Method
Biscuit recipe borrowed from The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook
|all-purpose flour||2 cups|
|granulated sugar||6 tablespoons|
|baking powder||½ teaspoon|
|unsalted butter||6 tablespoons||cut into half-inch cubes|
Stewed berries, as in above recipe. Cook longer for this recipe, allowing the liquid to thicken a bit. You may choose to add some cornstarch.
- Preheat oven to 425ºF.
- Prepare baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat mat.
- In the workbowl of a food processor, fitted with the metal blade, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse to combine.
- Sprinkle butter cubes over and process until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
- Transfer to a medium-sized bowl, add buttermilk, and toss (with your fingers or a rubber spatula) to combine.
- Scoop batter (with a measuring cup, ice cream scoop, large spoon) onto baking sheet. The original recipe says 1 1/2″ ice cream scoop will yield 12 biscuits.
- Bake until lightly browned on tops and bottoms, about fifteen minutes. Do not turn the oven off.
- Put filling into your pie tin or casserole and arrange par-baked biscuits over.
- Bake the whole lot for about ten minutes, until the biscuits are a deep golden brown.
While I am not a convert over to the separate biscuit camp, I think my loyalty comes from time and conditioning rather than thinking that one method is intrinsically superior to the other. I have been an upside-downer all my life and to make such a drastic change in my cobbler consumption twenty-something years in might just be too big a shift for this old gal. Try both – goodness knows there’s enough fruit around – and tell me what you think.