Stuff & Nonsense


22 June 2019

Strawberry Jam

My Dad and I used to go strawberry picking every June, returning home with large baskets full of strawberries Mom would turn into jam, shortcake, and bread. I had a love-hate relationship with strawberry picking. I loved strawberries and all the things my mother would make from them, but I hated being out in the fields at the crack of dawn when they were still a bit misty and the mosquitoes were waiting. However, there was usually a sweet spot when the mist and mosquitoes left, but it had not gotten so warm my sweat attracted the horseflies. Then I loved picking and raced to see it I could fill my basket faster than Dad could fill his.


Once I went away to college I wasn't home for strawberry picking and it was all up to Dad. My parents found other things to do on June weekends and, eventually, strawberry picking stopped altogether. My mother put up fewer and fewer preserves and pickles and, while she still had all her canning accoutrements when she died, aside from a batch of pickled green tomatoes, she hadn't put up anything in a decade or more.

And yet when I think about my mom lately, my heart is full of memories of preserving and pickling. The humid kitchen heavy with the scent of hot jam which no amount of window-opening or fan use would shift. The kitchen counter covered with towels and quilted glass canning jars glowing like gems. The taste of still-warm strawberry jam on a slice of buttered white bread. And much later, in the autumn, the top shelf of the fridge door lined with a row of half-pint jam jars and quarts of pickles.


As I can't seem to stop thinking about jam making, I visited Lyman Orchards last week and, after an hour or so, picked almost thirteen pounds of strawberries. I could have picked faster, but the field was full of excited young families and adorable elderly ladies and it was pleasant to pick slowly among them.

Thirteen pounds of berries is quite a lot of berries and, as I'd picked the reddest, ripest fruit I could see, I was quite anxious to get them home once I filled cardboard flat. I was quite concerned about jam making, because it had always struck me as such a huge production that could so easily run amok. The jam might not set. The lids might not seal. I could bollocks the whole thing up.


But I didn't. I made two batches of strawberry jam -- one a traditional high sugar recipe and the other a reduced-sugar vanilla bean infused one -- from the instruction materials that came with the Ball freshTECH Automatic Home Canning System I'd purchased on clearance from BJ's Wholesale Club back in January at a delightful discount. Everything came together flawlessly with minimal fuss. The jam set. The lids sealed. I am now filled with confidence and want to jam all the things.

I used Mom's half pint jars and when I look at my jams, glowing ruby in the light from the kitchen window, I feel pride of accomplishment as well as a sense of continuity and permanence. While these are not my mother's jams, I imagine her twenties teaching herself to can and preserve, worrying about whether her jam would set or the lids would seal, and I think we share this.

19 June 2019

16 June 2019

My Best Banana Bread


I had a bunch of brown bananas in the freezer and felt like baking banana bread, but wanted to mix it up a bit so I turned to King Arthur Flour's Banana Bread Interactive Recipe Generator. I'd used the generator before, with good results, and expected the same again.

I was wrong. Instead of good bread, the generated recipe yield the best banana bread I have ever baked.

After I ate three slices with sweet creamery butter and tea for supper, I sliced the rest and took it to work the next day. My coworkers fell upon it like wolves upon a wee, tender lambie and it was gone by the end of my shift. Even those who told me they disliked many of the ingredients I'd used or just hated banana bread in general, found this bread to be very moreish.


It's a sturdy loaf with tender crumb and a perfect balance of flavors. The banana and spices complement each other well, the cranberries add a bit of tartness to counteract all the sweet, the nuts add body, and the crystallized ginger bits are a little spicy flavor bombs. I have zero regrets about eating three slices for supper and I'm thinking it might make excellent french toast ...


My Best Banana Bread

Yield: 1 loaf

Ingredients

  • 2 cups mashed banana
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ⅓ cup chopped toasted pecans
  • ⅓ cup sweetened dried cranberries
  • ⅓ cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp coarse-grained, sparkling white sugar
  • ⅓ cup chopped toasted pecans

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center position. Lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the mashed banana with all of the remaining ingredients except any mix-ins (chips, nuts, seeds, etc.) Beat the batter thoroughly, until everything is well combined. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat briefly to incorporate any sticky residue. Stir in the mix-ins.
  3. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle over the remaining teaspoon cinnamon, two tablespoons sparkling sugar, and third cup pecans over the batter.
  4. Bake the bread for about 60 to 75 minutes, until the bread feels set on the top, and a thin sharp knife inserted into the center comes out clean. If the bread appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil for the final 15 to 20 minutes of baking.
  5. Remove the bread from the oven. Cool it in the pan for 15 minutes, then loosen the edges, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool completely.
  6. Store leftover bread, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.