Figs are a mysterious harvest. They sneak onto the farm, earlier than we expect each year, in August, just as summer is still broiling us all. But then, they linger, those figs. Sometimes for weeks, sometimes months. Anyone who has a fig tree knows that the harvest can be monumental. Here on the farm, we only have three fig trees. But from those few trees I can produce jars and jars of Fig + Chocolate Jam, if the stars align.
On January 20, James and I headed to San Francisco to receive a winning medal for Red Hen Cannery's Good Food Award. We drove through torrential rain, from the farm to San Francisco, passing through spilling creeks and ignoring flash food warnings from the National Weather Service, all with a car packed with jars of winning jam. We made it just in time and were treated to an amazing evening filled with inspiration from food and Native American rights activist, Winona La Duke, and California Seasonal Food Movement pioneer, Alice Waters.
This is what the Good Food organization people wrote about the event: "The winners harken from 36 states and 141 cities, having risen to the top amongst 2,095 entries in a Blind Tasting with 250 judges held in September. The highest scoring entries were submitted to a rigorous vetting process to verify they met the sustainability and social responsibility criteria to win a Good Food Awards – with over three dozen ultimately disqualified. This year’s winners represent the forefront of American craft food and drink, making products that are delicious, respectful of the environment, and connected to communities and cultural traditions."
Hooray for The Red Hen and thanks to all of you for your kindness, inspiration, flavor ideas, feedback and business over the years. Thanks, as well, to my amazing family and especially my grandfather, Lawrence Bailard, for planting and maintaining such amazing fruit and citrus and for allowing me to make my jam from it.
Story behind the recipe
I don't want to take too long to say, quickly, thanks to the dude from Orange County who bought my marmalade to use for his special marmalade burgers and who shared the general idea behind the recipe. (Random marmalade customer: if you're reading this please send me your name so I can thank you and re-name the sliders in your honor!) He bought the marmalade at Tuesday market in Santa Barbara and by Friday, feeling completely uninspired by our fridge offerings, I found the ground beef sitting sadly in the meat drawer and made a commitment to elevate my mood, through sliders. I bought the bacon and goat cheese and arugula at Trader Joe's and improvised the rest from what we already had. Voila! Dinner with a smile. My husband and I inhaled them, although my daughter (weirdly) claimed they were too spicy. Perhaps the garlic in the mayo sauce? Who cares. She ate the burger plain and the fruit and veggie "rainbow" I arranged for her (again leftover in the fridge) and we all munched happily. This should happen more often.
Last, I need to offer a massive thanks to my husband, too, for making dinner 99 percent of the evenings. His everyday enthusiasm allows me to indulge these Friday-night quirky moments of inspiration for meals and to focus all my chef energies into jam and marmalade. What a rock star.
Orange County Customer's M
Tick, tock. I'm waiting for the hours to pass until mid-March when the Dalemain Marmalade Award winners are made public. I don't want to jinx anything by announcing the flavors I've entered, but I just wanted to send a little universal head's up to the vast sea of marmalade-obsessed toast heads that I've thrown my orange-crusted marmalade cauldron into the ring. For those of you unaware of this amazing English marmalade contest and festival, read about it here.
I shipped out a box with six Mason jars of marmalade at the downtown post office the first week of February and I've been dying to know the results ever since. What do you do when you are trying to make time pass? I obsess over the lack of rain storms and the drought. I read ever news site over and over. I conjure new flavor ideas from food mags. Tick, tock!
One idea? Go for a food-focused stroll in Santa Barbara. My favorite stops? Some of the places that stock Red Hen, of course. First: I cruise over to the Flagstone Pantry in the Public Market. A scrawl on their public chalkboard (see photo above) and a chat with Flagstone's owner, Kristen, always cheers me up. Then, gossip with the two Amys at Isabella's Gourmet. Next, parenting commiseration with Carmen and Dom at Bookends. Pretty soon hours have passed and the inevitable work has not gotten done, but still, but still. Time is no longer the enemy.
The ultimate antidote to waiting? Cooking, of course. Tonight, I convinced my husband to try BA's Best Fried Chicken Sandwiches for dinner. He was game and he marinated the boneless, skinless chicken tenders just before picking my weekly Valencia orange, Meyer lemon, kumquat and Bearrs lime haul from the ranch. I walked the dog with the kiddo and got home first to heat up the peanut oil, make the garlic-lemon mayo and whip up the buttermilk and flour dredge. The only alteration I'd make to the original recipe? Add my Spicy OJ marmalade to the bottom half of the sandwich bun for extra oomph. Yum. I'd post photos of the sandwich but we ate them too fast to even think of it.
The best part? At least 60 minutes with no thought of marmalade or contest entries. Perfect! And amazingly delicious. What could be better for a cool winter evening than a hot fried and spicy orange chicken sandwich. Perhaps a double-gold medal? We'll just have to wait and see.
This Thanksgiving, I refuse to make Pumpkin Pie. This is not a huge digression. My Irish husband (as in Irish-Irish, not Irish American, as in from Dublin) refuses all pumpkin. His taste is the anti-pumpkin-spice everything. Culturally, the Irish do not eat pumpkins. Rather, they admire them from afar, on a friend's front steps, perhaps at Halloween, but then forgotten and certainly never consumed.
That is all reason enough not to make pumpkin pie. But there's this other thing. My pie allergy. See the previous blog post for more details. So, although I'm volunteering to make a Thanksgiving dessert, it will be neither pie nor pumpkin.
It must reflect autumnal coolness and shortening days. It must, as well, contain jam or marmalade. This goes without saying. Jam and marmalade constantly need to be used up in my house. In fact, where most people have gallons of milk, lovely fresh produce, perhaps a whole 30-pound turkey in their fridge, I have jam and marmalade. Quarts of it. Gallons of it. Jars and jars and jars of it.
I will combine my need to dispose of jam with my deep desire to finally execute Suzanne Goin's Hazelnut-Brown Butter Cake but with jam instead of her sauteed pears (from her luscious cookbook Sunday Suppers at Lucques.) But that's not enough. I will take my friend and pastry chef Melissa's idea and make it a layer cake, in order to use the jam. The top may also include homemade toffee bark that I'll make with my cousin Jill, this Sunday. We'll see. With all the jam-making and wrapping this time of year, anything I present to the Thanksgiving feast will feel like a miracle. Let's hope it's a chocolate-hazelnut-jammy miracle this year. See below for the recipe and I'll post a nice photo if it turns out. Let me know how yours tastes.
Hazelnut-Brown Butter Layer Cake
This recipe is adapted from Suzanne Goin.
5 oz. blanched hazelnuts
1/2 pound unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean
1 1/3 c. confectioner's sugar
1/3 c. all purpose flour
5 extra-large egg whites
3 Tb. sugar
1 c. heavy cream
3 cups jam, marmalade or chocolate ganache
Homemade toffee for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two round cake pans. Melt butter and add vanilla pod, after slicing in half. Cook butter 6-8 minutes, until it smells nutty.
Grind hazelnuts with confectioner's sugar in a food processor until they're completely ground. Add flour and pulse to combine.
Add egg whites and sugar to a stand mixer and mix on high for 4-5 minutes, until they form stiff peaks. Fold in dry ingredients.
Pour into pans and cook for 1 hour. Cool for 30 minutes. Layer half of jam on bottom layer of cake and slide second on top. Top the whole cake with more jam, marmalade or ganache. Garnish with toffee, roasted hazelnuts, candied orange peel or persimmon leaves.
Last Thanksgiving, my Aunt Megan and Uncle Chuck invited us to their house in Lake Arrowhead, California, to enjoy an epic feast. We brought the kids and wound our way up to their perch in the hills. Before we could ask questions, my aunt formed us into a sugar cookie making assembly line. My stepson dumped the ingredients into the stand mixer and my daughter flipped the switch to high. Flour flew like snow. Then, my aunt rolled the giant dough ball between layers of cling film (an ingenious technique) to flatten it. We all took turns choosing cookie cutters, mashing the metal shapes into soft dough until our arms and wrists ached. The best reward was the simple, perfect pleasure of the warm cookie. Were they iced or decorated? I honestly can't remember. I do know that I ate probably 300 of those crispy, perfect nibbles over the next three days of feasting. My aunt set them out on an array of plates and set them anywhere that looked lonely and in need of a cookie. I never even strayed close to the profusion of pies. The cookies kept me going all through the mounds of dishes, prepping and packing.
True confession. I've always been a cookie monster. You can take your pies, your cakes, your tarts. I'll take cookies, but only good ones, please, and lots of them. So, my aunt found my perfect soft spot. Crisp, buttery, slightly salty cookies. As this year's Thanksgiving nears, my only change is to add a dollop of Red Hen Cannery jam or marmalade in the middle. I especially recommend using my Spiced Wine and Orange Marmalade, only available through the holidays, but the choice is really up to you. The recipe below is based on Martha Stewart's amazing "Basic Sugar Cookie" recipe. Enjoy and let me know how your baking goes! These cookies will take you from Thanksgiving through the holidays and all the way to sweet Valentine's Day. Hearts with Strawberry Vanilla Jam, perhaps? Whatever your occasion, I promise these cookies (plus my preserves) will get you through.
JAMMY BUTTER COOKIES
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. unsalted butter (or omit the salt above if you use salted butter)
1 c. granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 jar Red Hen Cannery Spice Wine and Orange Marmalade
1/2 c. powdered sugar (for rolling out dough)
Directions: Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Mix butter and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients. Roll out cookies between cling film and then move flattened dough to surface lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Use cookie cutters (or the lid of Mason jar) to cut out shapes or rounds. Transfer to a baking sheet. Gently indent them in the center with a spoon and dollop with marmalade. Bake at 350 degrees for 5-12 minutes.
I can't quite believe the great Holiday Season of 2014 is upon us. I feel like I was just sweating through another July marathon session of yellow peach picking and chopping and jamming. Instead, it's time to sweat in front of the fireplace from the burning logs of avocado and oak. So, even though I'm sure everyone is quite busy right now, wanted to make a few announcements.
First, Red Hen Cannery jams and marmalades are now wrapped in new packaging. Thanks to Tina at Graphic Traffic, my silly doodles and drawings have been transformed into a refined sticker that takes the Red Hen look and feel to a slightly more sophisticated level. The paper tops (which I considered changing, too, but resisted because people said they liked them so much), now feature the writing of myself and my fabulous husband, writer James Claffey. (I took excerpts from both of our books, also for sale at our respective writing web sites.)
Second, I've just started cranking out my annual holiday marmalade. This year, I chose a flavor inspired by my brother's wedding in Gothenberg, Sweden, 10 years ago this month. There, he and his wife were married in a gorgeous sunset wedding (at 3:30pm in the afternoon.) In addition to getting to see my brother wed a fantastic woman and share that beautiful event, I also got to visit the local holiday fair. There, I saw handblown glass ornaments, reindeer meat to snack on and kept warm by drinking glasses of the local holiday mulled wine drink, Glogg. My Holiday Wine and Orange Marmalade takes its cue from that Swedish holiday, with red wine, cardamom, allspice and more spices added to our family farm's sweet Valencia orange. Amazing. It was just featured in the Santa Barbara News Press' farmers market picks and I hope you'll stop by for a sample at the market soon. I'll only have this flavor through January 2015, so stock up now.
Last, I've been trying to stay on top of this whole social media/website/publicity madness, but a woman can only do so much. Still, I want to start adding recipes and flavor descriptions to the website. So, if you've found a great way to use Red Hen jam or marmalade, send me the recipe and I'll post it here and give you credit. A photo would be great, too.
Okay, deep breath. Only four more jamming days until Christmas. I can do it. Here I go.
We are in the midst of a serious drought, here in Southern California. I only have to look past my driveway, to the foothills beyond, to know this is true. The bluish-brown hills, usually a verdant landscape of green chaparral this time of year, illustrate the depth of dry ground below. Where are the fields of wild mustard, painting the March landscape into a frenzy of bright yellow? Nowhere to be seen. When even the weeds don't make their usual appearance, it's clear that something is terribly wrong. Also, the creek water nearby is nonexistent.
Here on the ranch, we've started reducing water even more and my mom and 90-something ranching grandfather have both declared they're not growing gardens this year, to save water. That's a first, in my lifetime. While planting and watering a garden is optional for a farmer, they have to continue to irrigate their crops or risk losing everything. So, we have continued to sprinkle water onto the avocados and lemons, oranges and berries, plums and apricots, hoping that rain will come and that abundant yields will compensate for rising water prices.
All this comes just as I'm trying to expand our supply of strawberries and I planted my first tiny field of strawberries. Today I picked my first 15 berries (not counting the five I ate earlier this week, unable to resist the temptation of a beautiful, warm strawberry straight from the ground.) Of course, they're sweet and delicious. But knowing that they're also the product of our precious water makes them that much more precious. Which brings me to my ultimate point: grow what you can eat!
Look, if everyone either stopped irrigating their landscaping or only planted (and watered) things they could eat, imagine how things would change! Water could translate into food. Food could be shared with neighbors who didn't have lawns. People would see the direct affect of water and its use on their food supply. I know this won't happen, but we can all start by planting a few more strawberries, right? After all, I can assure you that there's nothing in this world more amazing than a March strawberry, picked and eaten in the perfect late afternoon California sunshine. Drought or no drought, nothing tastes as sweet.
Folks, here on the farm we have two problems: coyotes and oranges. What I mean is that we recently started seeing a coyote in our backyard on the avocado ranch, stealing and then gingerly prying apart the last of our gigantic Macarthur avocados. And we have an abundance of all things orange (and a serious lack of other fruit.)
Let's start with the coyote, first. We named it Skinny because that perfectly described the pathetic emaciated (and perhaps vegetarian) predator slinking through the ranch. Sightings of Skinny became daily occurrences that thrilled us but also caused alarm. Usually coyotes around our ranch don't venture that close and we were afraid it might be sick or unafraid of people. But when it saw me through the window, off it ran.
I think hunger is Skinny's biggest issue, based on its fearlessness and lack of bulk. We developed a cautious acceptance of the coyote, but still worried about the kids in the neighborhood, cats and other small pets. Then, my dad reported that there were actually two coyotes (both lured out by the smell of the turkey grilling on the barbecue on Thanksgiving.) That made sense based on how many times we sometimes saw the animal in one day.
For now, the two Skinnys and our family have struck a peace accord. We will leave them alone, as long as they don't bother us. And on the upside, I saw signs that the coyotes have been digging into gopher holes on the ranch. Based on my extensive Google research, "voles" (or gophers) are their favorite food. Well, I say, "Dig in my Skinnys! Eat away. My gophers are your gophers and besides, you need to earn your keep!"
As for oranges, we're positively swimming in them, which gives me the beautiful opportunity to be creative and to invent more orange marmalades. Spicy! Irish Whiskey! I want to try to add champagne for a Mimosa flavor. I can't really complain. I just today completed the extensive preparations for a beautiful first batch of Candied Valencia Orange Peel, dipped in dark chocolate. The abundant but funky and small crop all come from my grandfather's ranch, five trees leftover from when we grew them commercially. I don't have an exact number but my mom seems to think the trees are around 70 years old.
The mini orchard is gigantic and covered with orange globes and it is my self-appointed duty to transform them into marmalade. After all, what is a jam maker supposed to do in December? Cry about my waning stock? Howl with the coyotes from sadness, as holiday customers pound at my empty jam cupboard doors? Oh, no. Folks, when life gives you coyotes and oranges, you must make marmalade. (And make it good, while you're at it!) All my recipes for marmalade are based on my grandmother, Mame's, simplified master recipe and I just hope she's looking down at me from the ether and smiling, proud of my handiwork.
Sometimes the shoes make the woman. Oh, yes. You know what I mean. I may be a salt-of-the-earth farm girl, but I still have my self-esteem in the form of footwear moments. Enter Bryr Clogs. Ah-mazing. Can I gush? Of course I can. These shoes are made by Isobel, my forever fabulous friend from those heady post-college San Francisco days (oh, the nineties). So, of course I'm proud of her. I mean, just look at these boots. (Just in case you want more inspiration, here's her full website.)
She swung through town over the weekend, stayed long enough to catch a market, and left me in her dust with a pair of her clogs glued to my feet. Why glued? Because they haven't come off since then. I love these shoes. I know this week's jam is going to be off the charts, just by virtue of my feeling just a little tiny bit cooler this week.
Besides the shoes, she's even plugged my humble jam wares on her flashy blog. Check it out! And even though I like being photographed about as much as I love scrubbing my jam pot at the end of cooking day, I think she did a great job of capturing me mid-Saturday market. We had to pause between catching up over lattes and handing out samples of the latest flavors.
So, thanks Isobel and here's a lifetime supply of jam to my favorite ex-wing woman/amazing cobbler/incredible friend. You rock! I guess I might have to finally take off my new boots to pick figs tomorrow. Otherwise, the soles could be wrecked for good.
Owner of Red Hen Cannery, farmer's daughter, writer and artist, Maureen Foley lives in Carpinteria, California, on an avocado ranch tended by her family. For more information on her art and writing, visit www.maureenfoley.com.