Flash in the Pan 

Out of a pickle and into a jam

I walk the Farmers’ Market in a daze, overwhelmed by the potent atmosphere of the growing season opened up at full throttle. I make observations, scribble in my notepad, discuss important matters with passersby. I am dizzy with the possibilities and manifestations of sun and water and earth.

It’s time to take stock of where we are this season, and make my goals for the grand finale of Growing Season, 2K2. Let’s see... Gotta buy some huckleberries to freeze so I can mix them with wild currants and raspberries to make three-way jam. Gotta take stock of the pepper situation, because in the coming weeks peppers are going to start coming in, and I need to be prepared to pickle me some peppers. And I gotta pickle me some cucumbers, too, teeny-tiny ones that you can buy for $10 a box and pickle whole, or get larger cucumbers for bread-n-butter slices.

Beyond the Farmers’ Market, Flathead cherries are in, and they can be jammed and sauced and canned whole. I must admit, I got blindsided by how early the apricots came in this year. One morning, Canning Whore called me and said she had a box of apricots, from an undisclosed tree, did I want to get busy? (I should point out that I suggested “Chutney” to be Canning Whore’s Flash in the Pan name, but she insisted on “Canning Whore.”)

Anyway, I said, “Yeah, bring them succulent morsels on by and let’s jam.” Pretty soon we were elbow deep in a sea of apricots, separating them into two piles: fruits without blemish, to be canned whole in sugar syrup; and the rest, the much larger pile of non-airbrushed fruits, to be converted into chutney and syrup.

Actually, the recipe we used for apricot chutney was really a recipe for plum chutney, but we figured, “Shoot, lets live a little, and use apricots in a plum chutney recipe!!! Yee haw! For 10 cups of pitted apricots, we got 2.25 cups of cider vinegar heating in a pot. We added three cups of white sugar and three cups of brown sugar, mixed it up, and added the fruit. We stirred in a head of chopped garlic, a bunch of small onions and shallots, six teaspoons of mustard seed, a cup of chopped fresh ginger, six teaspoons of salt, and six teaspoons of crushed red pepper. We cooked this until the apricots dissolved, and all of the flavors combined into something greater than the sum of its parts. Much greater. Wow. We canned it in a water bath for 10 minutes in 1/2 pint jars.

Meanwhile, we packed whole apricots into wide-mouth pint jars, and poured a boiling syrup of 1:1 sugar and water over them. We processed those unblemished fruits for 10 minutes in a water bath. There is no music sweeter than the sound of lids sealing. Ping..........ping. Ping. Ping. Better than raindrops on a metal roof. Better even than bagpipes at 5:30 a.m.

By the way, if you are new at canning, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you do it correctly. Improper canning technique can lead to a disgusting product, a wasting of time and food, horrible sickness, and even death. Therefore, it’s always good to learn the ways by apprenticing with an experienced canner. Go buy a book on canning, and then GO BY THE BOOK, i.e., follow the directions explicitly, using the specified equipment, such as canning jars, rings, lids, pressure canner if applicable, etc. Use the specified ratios for salt, vinegar, sugar, etc., and don’t skip steps like sterilizing jars and whatnot. My favorite book is Stocking Up, by Carol Hupping, but there are lots of good ones out there. As you progress, you will learn which parts of the recipe can be adjusted—such as adding more chili peppers to the chutney, or green coriander, or extra mustard seeds for flavoring—or adding a fresh grape leaf to make pickles crispy, verses the tinkering with the ratios of important elements that determine the correct curing of the contents.

Finally, we decided it was time to set a new standard in pancake-ology. So we put about 10 cups of whole apricots—pits and all—into a pot , and cooked them down, ever so slowly on low, low, low heat stirring constantly to avoid scalding the bottom. I squeezed a few drops of lime into it, too. At this point, Canning Whore had to leave. After a few more hours I strained out the pits and skin fibers, added two or three cups of maple syrup, and cooked down the remaining smooth elixir until it was thick and sweet enough for me, and canned it in tall 3/4 pint jars for 10 minutes. The next day, Canning Whore calls me from Bigfoot’s house, where they’re pickling string beans, asking about her share of the loot. I tell her to come and get it. And so continues Chef Boy Ari’s adventures in food season. If you’re looking for a little sabor of your own, check out the PEAS/Garden City Harvest “Farm-Warming Party” on Thursday, Aug. 22, at the new Rattlesnake Farm. Live tunes, brewed libations, charcoal grilled fat-of-the-land.

E-mail Chef Boy Ari: Flash@missoulanews.com

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