Tuesday, September 2, 2014

At My Local County Fair

Three years since I ventured into making preserves and pickles to sell, I have encountered various venues in which to expose my talents to the public; a shop on Etsy, homemade food markets, craft fairs and a couple of local Bay Area shops. As with any form of creativity or finished work, when one puts their efforts forth one hopes to be received with acceptance and praise. Although the palette is subjective, to date I have done very well with creating pleasing products yet I had never set out to be judged nor even considered it.

Best in Show: Spicy Pickle Chips.

When one of our neighbors suggested that I enter some of my wares into the Solano County Fair I  thought it would be a fun and unbiased critique of my abilities so I entered. I felt a little excited to enter into a fair. I have always loved the small town & country fairs of Massachusetts, when I used to live there with my father, and, on the west coast, I have always found myself more interested in the animal and craft exhibits than the rides and games. After years of strolling through displays of aging fruit, soggy pies and unassuming jars filled with sacred family recipes, I would now be more than just a spectator.

Although I was classically trained in the culinary arts it was not until I had worked my way to being a chef that I began to study the history of preserving foods and making my own jams and pickles (unfortunately this was not a tradition practiced in my family). With a solid working knowledge of contemporary cuisine I was captivated by the origins and traditions of such unassuming jars of food. As my studies led to creating, it became clearer to me that I had developed a huge amount of respect for the practices and knowledge of the unprofessional "chef"; the homemaker, grandmother, grandfather who make family recipes handed down so thoroughly understood that the recipe is almost innate in their DNA, while I would find myself fumbling for a measuring spoon. As I waited for the day the fair would open and the judging results would be revealed, it dawned on me the competition would be serious. I would be up against some true preserving pure bloods.

Accompanied by my wife, stepdaughter and son I was a little nervous upon entering the exhibit hall. I believe I could live with not placing among the other entries but it would be embarrassing to have someone else know and especially awkward to be in their presence as we both found out. It was difficult to find my jars scattered among the others but soon enough we found them. Out of several entries I received four ribbons; two second place, one first and one best in show. I was pleasantly suppressed and very grateful. I consider it an honor to have done so well for my first time.

Looking at all the other shiny ribbons and mysterious jars I wanted to know the secrets and meet the people behind the recipes. Maybe someday I will be able to work and study alongside a second or third generation jammer or pickler to pick up the "english" of the craft.

Too Much Jam....

As an enthusiastic jam maker, when I have too much jam on my hands I will trade with it or simply give it away. My family loves my jam but there is only so many slices of toast slathered with jam one can eat. In a response to friends and family whom I have gifted large amounts of jam and have asked what they can do with it I have collected some ideas below for using your favorite fruit preserves.

What do you do with jam?

  • Jam cocktails and Champagne

  • Fill a layer cake
Use with or without straining. Your choice. If jam is a firm set simply microwave for short periods in a microwave to loosen consistency, stirring between heating times. Jam will be easier to strain when warm.

  • Glaze a fresh fruit tart for that appealing shine
I suggest straining the jam for this purpose. This way the fruit on the tart has a clean, clear shine. I also recommend using a light colored jam such as apricot or peach.

 If jam is a firm set simply microwave for short periods in a microwave to loosen consistency, stirring between heating times. Jam will be easier to strain when warm.

  • Thumbprint cookies

  • Top ice cream & sundaes

  • Sweeten tea
Hot or Iced, try adding some natural fruit flavor while sweetening your tea.

I would suggest straining your jam before adding it to your tea and heating the jam briefly in a microwave helps with the process. Once you have some strained jam simply add desired amount to your hot or sun brewed iced tea!

  • Glaze for roasting chicken, duck and pork
Chicken: http://www.savvyeat.com/jam-glazed-chicken-wings/
Duck: http://thefoodinista.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/stuck-up-duck/
Pork: http://noshmyway.com/2014/06/22/grilled-pork-tenderloin-red-pepper-jelly-glaze-recipe/

  • Simple BBQ sauce for grilling

1 cup jam
1/2 cup chili sauce
1 tbsp. chopped onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce 
1/2 tsp. mustard powder
1 tbsp. olive oil
Red chili flakes or cayenne pepper to taste if desired

You can simply put all of the ingredients into a bowl, combine and use right away but I prefer to take the following extra steps to develop more flavor.

Heat olive oil over med heat in a small pot and add onion and garlic cooking until onions are translucent. Add everything else, stir to combine and allow the mixture to get hot and lightly bubble for at least 10 minuets.

You can use the sauce hot right out of the pot or cool and reserve it when needed. Keep it in your refrigerator when you are not using.

  • Add to vinaigrette
Makes 3/4 Cup
4 tbsp. favorite fruit jam
2 tbsp. Balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Add all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until combined or you can use a blender or shake in a jar.

Store in your refrigerator.

  • Stir into yogurt & oatmeal

  • Top your pancakes & waffles

  • Stuffed French Toast

Simply smear some of your favorite jam (maybe in combination with cream cheese or peanut butter) on as many pieces of bread as you like- Think of it as if you were going to make a sandwich. Place another slice of bread on top of each jammed piece of bread and gently press around the edges to seal.

Dip your stuffed bread in your egg batter as usual, grill and serve with syrup, fruit or any of your traditional favorite additions.

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