When Hestia Goes Astray
Over the past decade or so,I’ve gotten very fond of Hestia. For those who are not up to date on their Greek Pantheon, Hestia is the goddess of the hearth and home. She is in charge of homely things like cooking and all the domestic arts. The well being of the family is in her care, which is intriguing since she flatly refused to marry and bear children. Hestia’s also the inspirational spirit for architecture, and as the keeper of the flame, is also responsible for the State. That being so, I’m thinking she has her hands too full trying to straighten out the state of the State to spare me any kitchen time just now and let me tell you, I miss her!
Now, I love cooking, especially if I’m making something to share with others. Thinking of their pleasure in lovely food and working with beautiful, fresh ingredients puts me right in the zone. Creativity flows, ideas follow each other seamlessly, seasonings sing out happily to be included. I’m a process gal, and I enjoy chopping and slicing and mixing and blending and all the fussy little bits. Even when I’m making something fairly complicated, the process feels enticing and effortless. Usually. However, we all have days when we should really stick to tea and toast. If we don’t respect those natural down times, the result is apt to be memorable, and not in a good way. For example, here’s my latest recipe that I wouldn’t actually encourage any one else to try:
How To Make Raspberry Jam
Pick a day when you are tired, distracted, and already busy. Search large kitchen of rental house for all needed tools which you put away with creative imagination several months ago. Measure out sugar and mashed fruit, heat not quite enough jars and lids, dust off rather elderly packet of pectin. Umm, pectin doesn’t go bad, does it? Surely not. Bring fruit to boil, stir in pectin and boil as directed, get ready to fill jars. Discover sugar still sitting in it’s measuring cup on the counter. Oops. Add sugar in wrong order, cooling off the boiling mass instantly. Oops. Bring jam (possibly?) back to a boil, despite probably over-cooking the pectin. Result definitely looks odd.
Decide what the hell, and proceed with filling and sealing jars, discovering that you are short several lids. And jars. Find more of both and put in hot water as jam cools. Reheat jam (tastes fine, looks funny). Discover large lump of something (sugar? Pectin?) on bottom of jam pan. Stir it in anyway. What can possibly go wrong? Spill a good deal of hot jam when you drop ladle. Process filled jars in hot bath for ten minutes. Put jars on cooling rack, scalding yourself several times. Listen with satisfaction as they all seal promptly. Decide who amongst your acquaintance would be kindest about the result and make gift labels.
Don’t Stop Believing
Amazingly enough, after all this wrong doing, the jam came out better than good. Even the last jarful, the one that got the extra dollop of something, tastes great, lively and a little tart, with a pure, strong raspberry flavor. The odd look was apparently all about the foam, of which there was more than usual, but the finished product looks fine. If the set isn’t super firm, at least it’s not pourable syrup, as sometimes happens when bad things happen to fairly good people. If there is a point to all this, I guess it’s that perfection is not really a realistic goal, and thank goodness for that. If we don’t have to try to be perfect, we can focus instead of producing pleasurable, wholesome, healthy food that tastes great, for ourselves and others.
Before I go on to offer some reliable recipes I do want to point out that some commercial pectins do in fact expire, especially if stored in hot or damp conditions. Fortunately for me, I use Pomona, a vegan, gluten-free, no-GMO and citrus-based pectin that stays good indefinitely if the packet is intact. You can use it with cane sugar or maple syrup, stevia or concentrated fruit-based sweeteners with equally good results. Thus that aging packet still gave good results despite improper technique and lots of floundering. I like that in a food product, because no matter how fabulous a cook you might be, some floundering is bound to occur, and how pleasant it is to know that your family and friends won’t necessarily need to know about.
Peach Picking Time
Some fabulous peaches are available right now, with more on the way. Here are some delicious things to do with them that don’t require much fussing. To make things easier on yourself, remember that you can peel peaches easily if you dip them in boiling water for 20-30 seconds. Fish them out with a deep ladle and carefully peel them when cool enough to handle; the skin will slide off easily. You can also use nectarines, which don’t need peeling if you put them in chutney.
Peach & Pepper Chutney
2 large peaches, peeled and chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup dried pitted tart cherries
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
(Braeburn, Gala, or Jonathan are good)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons candied ginger, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon each: cinnamon, salt, and cardamon
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika or cayenne pepper
4 hot 8-ounce canning jars, with rings and lids
In a large pot, combine first 9 ingredients with 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer over low heat until slightly thickened (20-30 minutes). Add spices and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Spoon into hot jars, leaving at least 1/2 inch head room. Seal jars, then process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Let cure for 2-3 weeks and refrigerate after opening. Cooked chutneys keep for a long time when processed in canning jars, but should be refrigerated and used within 2 months after opening.
Preserve Or Conserve
Back in the day, chopped fruit put up in syrup was called preserves, while conserves usually involved whole or halved fruit. Conserves are generally less sweet than jam and feature larger pieces of fruit, often mixed with dried fruit and nuts. Often spicy or sweet-hot, they are used like chutney, as a condiment or partnered with soft cheese as an appetizer. Conserves are also lovely spooned over plain cake or ice cream or served in a baked pie shell.
Lemony Peach Preserves
4-5 ripe peaches, peeled, stone kernels reserved (optional)
3-4 cups sugar
2 organic lemons, juiced, rind grated, seeds saved
Chop peaches and measure. Crack the stones and reserve the inner kernels (optional). For each cup of peaches, measure into a saucepan:
3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons water, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon lemon rind (and seeds).
Boil and stir this syrup for 5 minutes, then stir in fruit and cook at a low boil until almost transparent (6-8 minutes). If fruit is very juicy, add juice to syrup and boil hard for 3-5 minutes to reduce volume, then fish out any noticeable seeds (little ones vanish), add fruit, and proceed as above. Ladle into hot jars, adding a peach kernel to each jar for a lovely flavor. Allow flavors to meld for a week before serving (if you can resist).