Tuesday, June 29, 2010

DINNER IN THE TREE HOUSE

We have a new screened porch attached to the house in the Berkshires. James calls it the "Tree house". I call it heaven. We dined al fresco (is it still al fresco when there's a roof over your head and screens on the walls?) with friends on Saturday and it was one of those gorgeous Berkshire nights where the air was cool and soft, ameliorating the heat of the day. Even better, no mosquitoes. Our friend Mary Ellen is a vegetarian so, since I'm always up to a culinary challenge, I made vegetables. My family have never really been heavy meat eaters, but neither are we that comfortable with veggie cookery, so I find myself learning new ways. Not just for Mary Ellen, but for ourselves as well. I'm enjoying it and, truth be told, I find it so much easier to digest my food when there's not a whole bunch of meat, poultry or fish on my plate. So, new challenges are fun....at least in this case. Getting me on a bicycle is quite another matter!

Dinner was roasted fennel with Parmesan and fennel fronds, Israeli couscous salad with sauteed English peas and asparagus served at room temperature, fresh yellow, orange, red and zebra striped heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced roasted and marinated eggplant, and chicken for the die hard protein eaters. Since I'm growing lettuce, Swiss chard, basil, oregano, thyme, mint, rosemary and chives, there was a snip of most of them in every dish. Fresh oregano is so different from the dried stuff that it might as well be on another planet. And the mint, which is in fact taking over the garden just as Natalie predicted, is so delicate that I munch on it like candy.

Not to be undone by the virtuous vegetables we had ice cream and sorbet for dessert with a drizzling (sizeable) of my Berkshire Preserves Mixed Berry sauce. That, good wine, great friends and the tree house made for a splendid night. The Mixed Berry sauce is nothing more than the Mixed Berry Jam thinned with a bit of juice or wine. Just a bit. Or let it sit at room temperature for a while and it will give up its juices and make it spoonable. Or, if you're lucky, you buy some from me that never quite "set" and is saucy all on its own.
THE NEWS

Berkshire Preserves Blood Orange Marmalade has been on the Sunday brunch tables at The Old Mill for the last couple of weeks and Terry called today to reorder. You know how there are some phone messages you love to get? This was one of them. oldmillberkshires.com

Berkshire Preserves is having a tasting on July 10th from 10:30 to 12:30 at Bizalion's in Great Barrington. This time we'll be serving my intensely flavored, thick and yummy, extraordinary summertime berry preserves. bizalions.com. Please join me there.

On July 25th "Egremont On Parade" will strutt its stuff at French Park from 11 AM to 4 PM. Berkshire Preserves will have a table there promoting our wares. Several local restaurants serve from their tasting menus; there are games for the children, crafts for all ages, neighbors whom you may not have seen since last year. It's a wonderful time to gather and I'm looking forward to manning my booth this year.

And, last, but not least...Jim Gop, the in-house chef at Guido's has a recipe published in the current edition of Rural Intelligence http://www.ruralintelligence.com/index.php/food_section/food_articles_recipes/ that uses Berkshire Preserves Blood Orange Marmalade. The recipe is posted on the site and it is easy and delicious.

Barbara

Saturday, June 12, 2010

WHY LIMIT LOVE?

I'm sitting in my Berkshire Preserves kitchen seeking warmth on a rainy, cold, almost-summer, Berkshire kinda day.  The blackberries and strawberries are in a strainer waiting to be made into my sensational Mixed Berry and Port Wine Jam.  Andy loves this one and says that I'm the "Queen of Preserves". Thank you, Andy, but you haven't yet tasted my Apricot Jam!  Although really, when it comes to love, why limit ourselves? 

With citrus season officially over, at least for the exotic varieties that go into my fabulous, on-the-way-to-being-famous Berkshire Preserves marmalades, I've turned my attention to the more seasonal berries and tree fruits. Let me first say this: you've never tasted jam as good as mine. Even little James can tell the difference between let's say, Smuckers, and grandma's Berkshire Preserves Strawberry Jam with Saba. When his mother tried to put one over on him recently (having run out of the good stuff)  James put down his bread and said "This IS NOT grandma's". Smart lad. 
My Mixed Berry Jams have nothing but berries, sugar, lemon and occasionally Port Wine. Although, often as not, I make it without the wine. The berry mixture depends on what's fresh in the market.  The Strawberry Jam sometimes has the addition of Saba, and sometimes not. Saba is the juice of the must of the grape, or the unfermented liquid from the first pressing, boiled down to make a syrup. It is not at all like balsamic vinegar which, for those of you who know me, know that I strongly dislike that stuff. Balsamic vinegar has become as common as those guys who wear their pants with their bums half showing crummy underwear, while Saba is smooth and elegant. 

Last week's experiment was Pineapple, Mango Lime Jam. I didn't chop the mango fine enough. I put in more lime than necessary and I probably need to add more pineapple. So, while it tastes divine - like a touch of the cool Caribbean breezes - it isn't quite a preserve. Neither is it a jam or even a salsa. It really is a "...whatever" and will be quite wonderful with the addition of a small amount of finely minced jalepeno served with grilled pork. Or as a jam on plain rye toast (no seeds and definitely no multi-grain bread). I don't think it'll work in yogurt because the pineapple will curdle it. It should be awesome on vanilla or ginger ice cream or any fruit flavored sorbet. So, it is definitely still a work in progress.

The Apricot Jam on the other hand is magnificent. It is everything an apricot jam should be: full of the apricot's tangy sweet goodness, thick with fruit, a splash of lemon for good luck and just enough sugar to hold it together. Nothing more than that.  The Apricot Jam ranks
up there with the marmalade in flavor, texture and pleasure. You should try some!

Life up here in the Berkshires is damn near perfect. Even with today's cockamamie weather. The book I was reading, Donna Leon's Death in A Strange Country, borrowed from my friend Mary Ellen, was outside and got so wet that I decided to just toss it into the compost heap. I'll buy her another copy. It is one of about 14 Leon books that I'll work my way through this summer. This is definitely not the time for heavy reading. 

Two weeks ago I planted lettuces, swiss chard, 3 kinds of basil, rosemary, chives, oregano and lemon thyme. Oh, and chocolate mint which my friend Natalie the gardener says I should rip out because it is an invasive plant and will soon be all over the garden. Last night I harvested the chives and basil to sprinkle on my room temperature pasta and sausage salad. And, I sprinkled some of the rosemary on a Castagnaccio that I'd made earlier in the day. Castagnaccio is a wonderful, very flat (one half inch), savory chestnut cake. It uses chestnut flour, milk, olive oil, walnuts, pine nuts and rosemary. Some recipes call for plumped raisins, but I don't use them.

We're heading off to a performance tonight of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers  which is a benefit for the Corridor Project, part of the Egremont and Sheffield Land Trusts. http://gailsez.org/2010/06/sheffield-egremont-land-trusts-bring-blue-hill-torupe-gondoliers-to-the-mahaiwe/. I love Gilbert and Sullivan, and this is a very worthy project, so tonight will be a success on both counts.

The really big news is that Berkshire Preserves is available for retail sales. Information will soon be posted on this site,(or on a website if I ever get around to creating one) but in the meanwhile, if you want to purchase directly from the factory, please contact me for price and availability. The phone number is 413-528-2824 and the email is berkshirepreserves@gmail.com


The available products are
Seville Orange
Blood Orange
Pink Grapefruit
Mixed Berry with Port Wine
Mixed Berry (thinner, can be used as a sauce)
Strawberry with Saba
Strawberry
Pineapple, Mango, Lime
Apricot

Barbara