Preserves in Practice

When Life Gives you Lemons

 Lemon Lavender Shrub on a  snow day

Lemon Lavender Shrub on a  snow day

We're pretty partial to San Juan Islands fruit - and love to labor with the good ol' stuff from island trees that have been producing fruit and sharing their bounty for over a century. But in the dark of winter, when the light tips beyond the solstice, we keep our hands busy with the citrus that accents all of our jams, organically sourced from California.

People often lament that we don't make a marmalade (we do, but not in the traditional sense -see Quince Marmalade.) It may sound silly to say it feels inauthentic to do so, in an era where local has multiple meanings (is the maker local? are the beans local?) but we count our blessings. We're blessed with legacy orchards, filled with luscious pears, apples, plums & quince. Not lemons. And yet what we do bring in to press for their perfect acidic antidote to sweet pomes, we want to make the most of. Enter our Lemon Lavender Shrub, hot off the copper pots. Island lavender meets bitter lemon oils from said lemon rinds & juice, organically sourced white wine vinegar, and fair trade organic cane sugar. The bitter/sweet/sourness is perfection for cocktails (French 75?) and refreshing spritzers. It captures winter in the south (lemons) & summer in the north (lavender), and reminds us that while we make throwback preserves and bow to the old dames, modern can be fun (and delicious) too! 

Just watching the late February snow melt away - I'm certain of it: cheers to spring! She's coming!

Eat Good Food: Girl Meets Dirt is now in Bi-Rite Markets

I've barely left the house in six weeks. Don't worry, this isn't a cry for help or an admittance to agoraphobia, I've got a newborn baby on my hands people! This semi self-imposed isolation has actually been quite lovely thanks to the generosity of our little island community* and the invention of two things: Netflix** and Ebooks. 

Like many new parents our evenings are now spent watching LOST. Six long seasons, high stakes drama, gorgeous island beaches, a cast of characters sporting tans and six-packs it is the perfect escape (..and a lot like life on Orcas, sans a giant smoke monster).  LOST may be cheesy and disjointed but who cares, it's entertaining. The show presents itself as pseudo-religious where everything seems to have hidden meaning or philosophical worth. Weirdly, like many of the storylines of the show, most of these themes never play out. I find myself constantly wondering, "But what does it all mean?!" Oh well, I'm still left with gems of wisdom like when John Locke's says to Mr. Eko, "Don't confuse coincidence for fate." 

In this episode I'm not exactly sure who is the skeptic and who the believer but in general, I tend to live on team fate. For example: Audra recently returned from the Good Food Awards, eager to share new retail prospects. I was at home with the baby spending most of my free-time downloading food related reads on my Kindle. (One of the only activities effectively performed one-handed while breastfeeding.) I had just discovered that by typing in 'food' and 'business' to our library's ebook collection only two books show up. Right as a text came through saying, "Check out Bi-Rite in San Francisco", I noticed that one of the two books happened to be Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food: A Grocer's Guide to Shopping, Cooking and Creating Community through Food. (Insert suspenseful LOST theme sound here.) This my friends is my definition of fate. So, with that little nudge from the universe, I quickly devoured the guide, fell in love with the story of Bi-Rite Market and came to understand why Girl Meets Dirt in Bi-Rite Market is better than a gratuitous shot of a shirtless and sweaty Sawyer.  

On the other end of the spectrum, it was pure coincidence that Bi-Rite Market re-opened under management of the Mogannam family in the same year that Bob Dylan famously sang, "the times, they are a-changing...". Dylan's folksy ballad became the anthem of the civil rights generation, a song designed to spark activism and inspire change. It's an anthem equally appropriate for the Mission District of San Francisco, home to Bi-Rite Market. The oldest area of the city, it has been the site of bear and bull fights, baseball stadiums, grazing lands, horse races and duels. For the last two-hundred years the district housed countless Irish, German, Polish, Mexican and Central American immigrants bringing with them a melting pot of food and culture. 

I would bet brothers Ned and Jack Mogannam were clueless to what would become of their neighborhood and the grocery store they opened in 1964. Did they have any inkling that fifty-two years later Bi-Rite Market would evolve into the empire of taste and quality we know today? Not just a grocery store but a forward thinking family of businesses dedicated to changing the world through their practices. Could they ever imagine The Mission as the vibrant food hub, the modern Agora it is today? (A neighborhood currently so hip billionaires are choosing it over the traditional high end real estate of the Bay Area...)

The store's colorful history plays out in my mind in a Scorsese-like montage. I hear ole Bobby D belting it out in the background as I see the bright optimism of the art deco facade,  standing witness to the gradual decline of its surroundings. The famous neon 'Bi-Rite' sign from 1940, one of the only constants in the ever changing Mission District.  By the time the next generation of Mogannam brothers took over in 1997, there were bars on the window and frequent stabbings down the street in Dolores Park. Sam Mogannam, current owner of Bi-Rite, mentions casually in the book he co-authored, "By the time I was twelve, I had been mugged twice on my way to and from the store."

It's no wonder boys who spent their free time cleaning and stocking shelves after school had no interest in the grocery business. But, lucky for all of us, Sam Mogannam is a man of vision and entrepreneurial spirit. Tempted finally by the prospect of reforming the family store, he used his training as a chef and restauranteur to transform Bi-Rite Market. The first step, remove said bars from the windows.

Step two, replace cigarettes and malt 40's with produce and products worthy of his own kitchen. Quickly hopping aboard the locavore locomotive and by listening to their passionate employees, guests and community, Sam and Raph*** developed these guidelines for Bi-Rite: Would we eat this ourselves? Would we feed it to our children? How was this raised, grown or made? What was the impact on the environment? How are the workers treated? Can we feel good about that?   

Diving deeper into this idea, in the fantastic book mentioned above, each section of your average market is broken down, explained and explored. A how-to guide, if you will, for getting the best of the best. Not just what will taste the best but what is good for all of us, in a global sense. There is an emphasis on buying local, organic, fair-trade and authentic products. For example, check out Bi-Rite's buying guidelines for selecting fruit preserves (sound familiar?):

  • Fruit listed as the first ingredient
  • Organic fruit
  • Varietal-specific fruit
  • Limited - edition flavors
  • Farmer direct
  • Sugar as the only sweetener
  • No added pectin

 Ding, ding, ding! At Girl Meets Dirt we share the same principles of excellence and sustainability that are the Bi-Rite standard. As you can see, it is no coincidence that our preserves made their way onto their shelves. We are proud and pleased to be carried by a company that believes, "...that every grocery purchase affects the environment, the economy, and the well-being of the people who feed us." And that, "We all have the power to either contribute to the problem or be part of the solution. We all have the opportunity to make an impact every time we eat."

Well said. 

Ours is a rapidly changing world, especially the world of food. Now more than ever it is important to have standards and guidelines for our purchases.  

As Dylan so poetically put it: 
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

Some things will never change. At Girl Meets Dirt it is our commitment to quality, our love of the little island we call home, and the way that every year in these historic orchards bud turns to bloom, bloom to fruit, fruit to jam. 

I have plans to visit San Francisco in the spring and I can't wait to stop by Bi-Rite. If  I'm lucky maybe I'll sit down with the Mogannam family and listen to their stories. In my fantasy they'll wax poetically about their history, their legacy and speak reverently of the power of good food. In reality, we'll probably sit down to a cappuccino and compare notes on LOST.  (If I'm really, really lucky.) 


*If you're going to have a baby I highly suggest you try it on Orcas Island. I'm not exaggerating when I say that our family was fed for the entire first month of our son's life. In the process I admit I was shockingly wooed by Paula Deen's baked spaghetti  and I was nourished by the rich golden broth of a massive pot of peasant soup featuring collard greens, potatoes and chicken sausage. But in this onslaught of food it was Audra (of course) that brought over our favorite post baby feast. In the midst of packing up the Girl Meets Dirt booth to fly cross country and prepping her acceptance speech for the Good Food Awards she casually "whipped together" Pork Sugo with polenta and roasted vegetables. Foil covered the sheet pan of veggies ready for roasting that I admit I was indifferent to trying. Under the thin layer of tin I pictured lifeless broccoli trees, cauliflower turning brown around the edges and baby carrots bleached and molded into submission. (an understandable image of vegetables if you grew up with a mom like mine...) Oh how very wrong I was! In true Audra fashion the foil was peeled back to reveal chartreuse spiraling helixes of romanesco broccoli florets, the dark almost black purple spears of heirloom carrots, crescent moons of succulent orange acorn squash flesh (from the garden!), all topped with flaky sea salt and infused with the essence of fresh picked rosemary. In addition to all this she included homemade marshmallows dusted with a snowy coat of powdered sugar (um, who knew you could even make these at home? Marshmallows are like Pringles, they are delicious, they are only quasi food stuff and how they are made remains a mystery) and chocolate bars, mamma energy balls and tomato sauce from scratch. This is a woman who truly knows how to Eat Good Food. 
**My husband is constantly pointing out how lucky we are to live in the age of instant streaming. We would be missing so much of our favorite shows if we had to leave the room for every dirty diaper, every water-bottle refill, every baby meltdown. All-in-one clothe diapers with snaps and video on demand...we truly have it all!
***Raph is the buyer for Bi-Rite and was a judge for the preserves category at the Good Food Awards. He was the man we had the good fortune of meeting and sharing our mutual love of good food with.

A Bittersweet Conference...

I had thought to jam this out quickly, snap a few photos, lick the plate, jot down a recipe and send it off into the abyss.  But for those who know me well, thinking, and thinking some more, and then thinking a little bit more, is more my speed.  I've been thinking even more than usual this week, after hearing some news that's been hard to process.  Today, New Year's Eve, keeping busy putting the final touches on an extra special batch of jam, I'm thinking back, and ahead, and about what it means to celebrate, all at the same time. 

I've celebrated a few times already with this recipe for Brie en Croute (Brie in a pastry crust), with our Bittersweet Chocolate Conference Pear preserves.  Made with Conference pears from one lone Orcas tree, we exuberantly celebrate them with a generous amount of 70% bittersweet chocolate and an extra squeeze of organic lemon.  It's sweet, yet not too much, just enough bitter, and balanced with a tart finish like a good orange stick (ala orangettes).  Spooned between a crosswise halved wedge of Brie, wrapped in puff pastry (the store-bought frozen stuff is genius and phyllo dough also works in a pinch), baked and dusted with Salish sea salt, it says celebrate, like only certain foods can.   I made it last on Christmas Eve, and we merrily ate every last morsel. 

You should make this.  You should make this now.  You have until midnight tonight to savor this year past with the revelers, or to bite slowly into the new year, and quietly step forward with a loved one.  That’s what I’ll be doing, sharing an intimate evening together with my husband and one-year old son, thinking back, and wishing forward to more celebrations, more living, more morsels of deliciousness that make us realize the good life stands right before us.

Celebrating.  For the past several years, we had the joy of celebrating with a much older and much wiser friend named Gary, who came to our little island every October with his beautiful and regal wife to celebrate the month away in a tiny cabin with a view.  Gary never missed a chance to celebrate, most memorably with food, which he prepared with gusto.  Together at his table, we celebrated a fresh catch of Dungeness, an extra special bottle of bourbon, homemade pates, shrimp flown in from the gulf, lobster fedexed from Maine, a perfect stir-less risotto, and one extra delicious mess of ice cream, home cured Rainier maraschino cherries, & bittersweet chocolate layered into one magnificent ball called “Jasper’s Tartufo”. 

I found out this week that he left this world on Christmas Eve, thousands of miles from me, as I was licking clean my plate.  Both circumstances seem fitting - that a man larger than life left his on Christmas Eve, and that I was deep in chocolate and cheese, butter & flour.  

I’m stirring this 'Belle Helene' inspired preserve, thick as the most indulgent chocolate sauce, rich with chunks of pears, and I keep thinking about Gary, a modern Escoffier in his own right.  As I dollop it over a triple crème (because why stop at double crème?), I see him smile.  He never settled, gave the world’s biggest hugs, and always found a reason to celebrate. 

Some people celebrate better than others, but let’s give this a shot together tonight.  Perhaps it is a bittersweet conference – the meeting of one year with the next, passing along its duties and baggage – but we all know how delicious bittersweet can be.  Happy New Year friends.  I’ll be at home, eating Brie en Croute, chocolate on my lips, toasting to Gary.   

Brie en Croute with Girl Meets Dirt Bittersweet Chocolate Conference Pear Preserves

Ingredients
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, pre-packaged

1/2 jar pear preserves (we recommend our Bittersweet Conference or Orcas Pear with Bay)
1 (8-ounce) wheel Brie or wedge of triple creme
1 egg, beaten
Crackers & extra jam, for serving

Directions
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Defrost puff pastry or phyllo dough for approximately 15 to 20 minutes and unfold.

If you're using a wheel of brie, cut it crosswise and spoon in half a jar of pear preserves (this is also wonderful with our Orcas Pear with Bay), and place the remaining piece of brie on top like a sandwich.  If you're using a triple creme like St. Andre or Delice de Bougogne, cut it crosswise and lay each piece side by side- spoon the jam on top without sandwiching.  Lay the puff pastry out on a flat surface. Place the brie in the center of the pastry. Gather up the edges of the pastry, pressing around the brie and gather at the top. Gently squeeze together the excess dough.  Tie together with a piece of kitchen twine if necessary, but I usually just bring it together with my hands.. Brush the beaten egg over top and side of pastry.  Dust with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.  Place the pastry wrapped brie on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes until pastry is golden brown.

Serve with crackers, and extra jam.

 

Marmalade Matrons: How to stay cozy this winter with quince

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There is no fruit growing in this Land that is of so many excellent uses as this, serving as well to make many dishes of meate for the table, as for banquets, and much more for the Physicall vertues
— 1629, John Parkinson, the Covent Garden based herbarist to James I
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As the rainy season descends upon us, and the darkness begins to outweigh the light, what could be more important on our sweet island than to stay cozy?  We can think of two enticing ways to enjoy these newly chilled evenings, and they both involve quince.

Originating in the birthplace of humanity, the fertile crescent, quince is an ancient fruit.  Spreading in popularity from Asia Minor to the balmy Mediterranean, it quickly became a favorite of the Greeks and the Romans. 

quince on platter

In the same family as apples and pears (genus Cydonia), and predating these popular cousins, quince was likely the fruit tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden and the gift Paris gave to the goddess of love herself, Aphrodite.  The Greek wedding gift of choice, young brides were said to have nibbled the fruit before they entered their marriage chamber to sweeten their kisses.

It's no wonder with its plump form and succulent smell that quince became associated with love and sensuality.  Or perhaps it is the soft down fuzz that covers its ripe flesh -- begging for petting and caressing.  Virtually inedible raw, Nigel Slater calls it, "the cooks fruit: one for the kitchen rather than the fruit bowl...".  (Ripe, p, 436)  And what a beautiful cook it can be, the golden ripe skin breaking down under heat and transforming into magnificent crimson -- like a blushing bride flushed with excitement. 

But why stop there? Ever heard of the Marmalade Madames?  If you've ever found yourself wandering through the red light district of seventeenth century London, you'll know that these ladies of the night were aptly named by the aphrodisiac fruit itself.  Where do you think Christina and “Lady Marmalade” got their know how?  "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?" anyone?  From the Portuguese word for quince, "marmello", marmalade was originally made from the juice, skins and fruit of quince.  Working with its high levels of naturally occurring pectin, the ancients cleverly noticed that drenching whole quince in honey and applying heat would develop a delicious and firm 'set'.  Viola, the birth of marmalade - long before the California orange.

Continuing the tradition, this year's batch of Girl Meet's Dirt's handmade, island grown, Quince Marmalade is juicier than ever and beautifully bright red to boot!  Sweetened within its own juices and packed with vitamin C, it's the perfect remedy for the winter blues.  It is positively delightful as a topping on toast or folded into a buttery tart shell.  But we love it on Manchego, Cheddar, Idiazabal, or any triple-creme for a guest worthy spread (delice de Bourgogne for a special treat).

All those fans of our Quince Cutting Preserve will be thrilled to see it back in stock and ready for spreading on your holiday cheese boards.  Hello holiday entertaining season!  We recommend quince with aged Manchego (quince love’s sheep’s milk!), Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, or Glendale Shepherd's Woodsman aged hard sheep's milk cheese (on Whidbey Island).

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Whatever way you choose to stay cozy this winter, may we recommend enjoying it with a side of quince?  It will leave you blushing with delight.

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Each tree

Laden with fairest fruit, that hung to th’ eye

Tempting, stirr’d in me sudden appetite

To pluck and eat.
— John Milton, Paradise Lost (bk. VIII, l. 30)
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