Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Au Pavillion de la Pomme

WOW...this summer is speeding by! And between teaching two sessions of summer school and working at the farmers' market, I feel like I've barely seen any of it, except from the window of my classroom (see the previous post) or my kitchen. But--praise be--this is the last full week of school for the summer, and I will have darn near a month to recuperate before it all starts again!

As Cyd is working something like a swing shift these days and doesn't get off until 7, and because I have to prepare things for the market during the week, doing stuff on weeknights is practically impossible. Then, of course, most of my day on Saturday is consumed with the market. So that leaves just Sunday for us to do something fun. We try to get out of the house and go on little road trips here and there, usually somewhere in Quebec because we love it so. One of my favorite blogs, An Endless Banquet, always gives great ideas for places to go, like restaurants and markets and farms (oh my!).

Last year, they wrote about a great U-pick place about a half hour east of Montreal called Le Pavillion de la Pomme (that's The Apple Pavillion to non-Frenchies). But at this time of year, not only do they have every variety of the most gorgeous blueberries you've ever seen (bleuets), but also gooseberries (groseilles), red currants (gadelles), and the amazingly hard-to-find black currants (cassis) as well! Now, you know I'm not talking about miniature raisins, right? This a whole different animal...er, vegetable...fruit! Anyway, I made a mental note to check the place out this year when the berries were ready. And we were not disappointed! Le Pavillion de la Pomme is located in a beautiful rural area at the foot of Mont-Saint-Hilaire. And although they have already-picked fruit for sale, the fun is getting out there and picking your own! Well...under certain circumstances. I would have been thrilled to let them pick my fruit for me on such a hot summer afternoon, but when I got there, they told me that there were no black currants left--that they had been picked over the weekend before, and there would only be a few more of them but not until the next weekend. I nearly cried and explained that I only needed a pint, a quart at the most, for a recipe I wanted to make, and that I had come ALL THE WAY from another country! They finally took pity on me, gave me my little basket, and told me to search--possibly in vain--at the bottom and back of each bush. So the picking wasn't easy, but by the hardest, I got my quart of cassis! And it was fun, I have to admit. I particularly enjoyed listening to the Russian visitors boisterously laughing and talking together as they picked blueberries, and also the young French-speaking mother and her little (maybe four-year-old?) daughter who were singing sweet little songs together as they picked. It was a little League of Nations right there in the berry patch! And picking under the bird netting was kind of like being in one of those forts that you build as a kid, with blankets thrown over the furniture in the living room. Tee hee.

So heat-stricken, red-faced and huffing-and-puffing, we took our precious treasure back to the little store to purchase both the black currants and two pails of red. Then we motored on a bit further down the road until I managed to procure both raspberries (framboises), and even some of the last of this season's strawberries (fraises).
With that, I finally had all the ingredients I need to make a jam that I had been dreaming about. Awhile back, when I visited Saratoga Springs on my way back from an airport run to Albany, I stopped by Mrs. London's Bakery. In their shop, they sell these beautiful imported jams from a company called Tea Together. And one of the jams had the most enchanting name, Summer Pudding with Vanilla Pod. What could it mean? Well, the British call all desserts pudding, but a summer pudding is usually comprised of fresh macerated berries layered in a deep bowl or other kind of mold with slices of soft, white bread that absorb all of the lovely juices. In the case of this particular jam, the fruits included black and red currants, raspberries and strawberries, along with vanilla beans. Yum! I adapted a recipe for red currant and raspberry jam from the Ball Blue Book, and it turned out sweet, tangy and DEEE-LICIOUS! However, I will warn you, it is the most expensive, labor-intensive, time-consuming, and downright exasperating jam that I have ever made, and it took me three frustrating attempts to finally get it right.

First of all, you must remove all of the stems from the currants which takes, roughly, forever. (I amused myself by watching Season 5 of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Don't you just love Spike?) Then, as I quickly discovered after the first unfortunate batch, currants have dreadful seeds in them, resulting in this inedible shrapnel floating around in your jam. So you must cook the currants in a little water for about ten minutes and then push them through a sieve or food mill (you do this for both the black and the red). Since you're sieving anyway and your carpal tunnel is already exacerbated, you might as well go ahead and do the raspberries, too, and get most of those seeds out of the way. And finally, of course, you need to hull and slice the strawberries (whose seeds are too tiny to bother with). And all of this is BEFORE you even make the jam itself! AARRGH!

The other fatal flaw I committed on the first couple of batches was cooking the jam too long. When I make jam without pectin, I usually use one of three testing methods (or a combination)--using a candy thermometer to take it to 221, the sheet-off-a-spoon test, and the cold-plate-in-the-freezer test. Plus, I usually have a pretty good feel and eye for the set. Not with this jam! If you take it to the traditional jelling temperature, it sets up way too thick. And it's still going to look runny from the spoon and on the cold plate when it's done. This is a tricky one, this jam. It must have lots of natural pectin at play. So my advice to you, if you are brave and longsuffering enough to attempt it, is to stop cooking it quite a bit before you think you should. And if you err as I did and it sets up too much, oh well. It will still taste amazing, and it'll melt on your warm toast anyway! Here's my recipe:

Summer Pudding with Vanilla Beans
(adapted from The Ball Blue Book of Preserving)

1 cup black currant pulp
1 cup red currant pulp
1 cup crushed raspberries (seeded or not, as you like)
1 cup hulled and cut strawberries
3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split

To prepare pulp, cook currants until soft with just enough water to keep them from sticking (about 1/4 cup). Press through a sieve or food mill.

Combine currant purees, raspberries and strawberries in a large saucepot. Add sugar, stirring until dissolved. Add the split vanilla bean. Cook rapidly to the gelling point. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to avoid sticking/scorching. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Remove vanilla pod. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Makes about 4 half-pint jars.

I managed to use up all of the black currants in my summer pudding jam trials, but I still had the other quart of red currants. So I decided to try my hand at making red currant jelly. You know, they say (whoever they are) that red currant jelly is as common on European breakfast tables as Concord grape jelly is here. But for decades, it was illegal to grow anything in the gooseberry family (including black, red or white currants and jostaberries, a black currant/gooseberry cross) because they are hosts for white pine blister rust, which is potentially fatal to white pine trees. In fact, some states still have laws against it, so that's why fresh currants are not common here in our country. (Don'tcha just love Wikipedia?) Nevertheless, I had never made any kind of jelly before as I generally prefer jam, and you would think I might not want to attempt something new and potentially difficult after my nerves had been so frazzled with the other project. But Michelle at An Endless Banquet made it sound easy, and indeed, it was! The hardest part was figuring out what to do for a jelly bag. I was going to go buy one (if I could find one in my little 'burgh), but some wise old canners over at the Harvest Forum on GardenWeb had nothing but disdain for the jelly bag, saying it is way too small and the metal frame that comes with it is far too flimsy. Instead, they recommended at least four layers of cheesecloth lining a colander, an old cotton pillowcase, or a flour sack towel hung from a kitchen cabinet handle. I opted for the latter, except my cabinets don't have handles, so I used a curtain hook (I put the metal racks behind it just to keep the wet bag from resting against the wood finish of the window frame). This worked great and produced gorgeous, crystal clear, garnet-colored currant jelly. We've been eating it with some of the organic cheeses that I buy weekly at the market from the vendor right next to me (score!), and it is nothing short of a magnificent pairing. But you'll have to make your own, as I'm being stingy and NOT selling any of it at the market. ;-)

How To Make Red Currant Jelly in 14 Easy Steps, According to Michelle of An Endless Banquet

1. Place berries in a pot.
2. Add just enough [water?] to cover the bottom of the pot (Michelle recommends about 1/4").
3. Bring to a boil.
4. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
5. Pour the entire mixture in a jelly bag.
6. Let the contents drip into another pot overnight.
7. Measure the juice by volume.
8. Pour the same volume of sugar in a baking pan and place in a preheated oven at 200ยบ F for 30 minutes.
9. For every cup of juice, have 1 teaspoon of lemon juice ready.
10. Bring your juice to a boil.
11. Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir.
12. Let it simmer until it comes to a gel, about 1 minute.
13. Carefully skim the foam and discard.
14. Ladle into jars and seal using either a wet or dry canning method.

Excellent on buttered toast, divine with a nice cheese.


Randi said...

Wow, I was exhausted just reading about it. Lucky you that you get to make regular trips to QC. Did you buy your sugar in Canada too? I recognize the brand. There is a farm in my town that sells pick your own black currants. I've never picked them before because I never knew what to make with them. I might have to try this one.

JoyBugaloo said...

I knew you would comment on the Canadian sugar, Randi! Good eye!

If you have unlimited access to black currants (lucky!), you might try making your own homemade cassis! I would have, if I had had enough of them leftover. Boo hiss. Oh well...maybe next year. Here's the recipe:

Homemade Cassis
Martha Stewart Living, July 2003

2 cups (10 oz) fresh black currants, stems removed
1 cup sugar
2 cups Brandy or Cognac

1. Using potato masher, mash currants in a medium saucepan. Add sugar and 1 cup water; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until sugar is dissolved and fruit has released all juices, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

2. Remove pan from heat; stir in Brandy or Cognac. Transfer to a glass jar. Seal tightly, and refrigerate 1 week.

3. Strain mixture through a sieve into a medium bowl. Pour again through sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean jar. Refrigerate at least 1 week before using, to allow flavours to develop.

You can also make straight black currant jam. Here's a recipe from a farm somewhat near your hood called Fox Moor Farm in Vittoria, ON. That's not the one you're going to, is it?

Fox Moor Black Currant Jam

5 cups of black currants (1 quart)
4 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice

Wash and remove currant stems.
Place fruit in heavy saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring slowly to boil, uncovered, stirring to break down fruit into a pulp.

Cook for 10 minutes or until soft. (I would sieve them at this point myself.) Add sugar and lemon juice over low heat, stir until sugar is dissolved. Raise heat; bring to full rolling boil, stirring often. Boil hard, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, test for jam stage. Cook longer if needed and test again.

Let stand 5 minutes, skimming off any foam with large metal spoon and stirring occasionally to prevent floating fruit. Pour into hot sterilized jars and heat seal.

Randi said...

No, the farm in my town is called Dougall's. You would probably laugh if you saw how much sugar I have. For a few weeks, sugar was on sale for 1.27(4kg) bag. It was limit 2. Everytime I'd go to the store, I'd pick up 2. I probably have 20 or more. I thought I'd be making a lot of jam but that hasnt come to fruition yet. Maybe when the Ontario peaches arrive.....