This week's been full of cooking my favorite summer recipes, dreaming up new recipes, and improving old favorites. I love to cook, but only in spurts, so I make big batches and freeze or can when A) I'm in the mood; B) I'm home long enough to enjoy it; 3) the necessary ingredients are so fresh that they leap off the shelf at the market and wrestle me to the ground; Q) I need the practice to keep my skills up; Y) I feel like improvising and there's nobody around to play with; or Z) I need to make room in the freezer.
This recipe utilizes A-Z. Blueberries were looking particularly fetching (and organic and cheap!) last week, so I bought some to freeze. When I got them home I realized I already had plenty of frozen blueberries, so I thought I should figure out a way to use them. Out with the old, in with the new. Rotate the stock, etc. My dilemma was to figure out a way to use all those blueberries so that I didn't just sit down and eat a whole cobbler, or pie, or too much sugar. Then. It. Hit. Me: the first conserve I ever ate. I've dreamt about that conserve and have never had anything like it since.
Frank Turner loved to cook. He had about three hundred cook books, and every room in his house had built-in book shelves. He loved to can things. He sang tenor in the choir and acted in the Ithaca Players production of The Nutcracker every year for a million years. When I first met him, he invited me to lunch and served blueberry conserve. I never forgot it.
Digression: Frank was FUN. One night, a few of us were sprawled around the back parlor watching the movie Halloween. During a break in the action, Frank slipped out of his chair and quietly slipped back with two of the longest carving knives in the house. I saw him, but no one else did, and he had this impish look (his is the picture in the dictionary next to the word "imp"). He sat down in his wing chair and I waited. About ten minutes later, at a very tense point in the movies, I was startled by the sound of knives being sharpened. It took a few seconds for everyone else to notice that the noise was actually in the room WITH US, and the look on Frank's calmly murderous face as he sat in that chair drawing those knives expertly across one another with the most perfect motion, and the people screaming by the glow of the TV light is something else I'll never forget. I will also never forget the look of pure glee and the laughter and yelling that followed.
Back to the conserve. Once it snuck back into my brain, I couldn't get it out.
Enter self doubt: Could I do it? I haven't canned anything in a couple of years, and I've never made a conserve before. What if I cook it too long? What if I don't cook it long enough? Someone recently pointed out that it's always the same things that trip us up, or send us to the places where we entertain our self-defeating behaviors. We never look at them as the huge clues they are to finding the things we need to work on. We just get anxious. "God, why is it always the same issue? Couldn't we have a little variety?!"
Enter confidence: I dutifully moved all the equipment and jars with me in the last move, without a second thought. So, If it cooks too long, heat it up and use it as a glaze for meat. If it doesn't cook long enough, it's sauce for ice cream. Time for a list of ingredients: Blueberries, lemons, sugar, raisins, walnuts, cinnamon (I think).
Then I went surfing, to hunt up a recipe that might be adaptable. Got one on the first try on Cooks.com. I tweaked it a little bit and here it is. When I tasted it I was immediately transported to Frank's dining room with the navy blue and white flocked Japanese wallpaper and his three cats.
1/2 c. water
4 c. fresh or frozen blueberries
4 c. sugar
1/2 c. raisins or currants
1 lemon, seeded and cut into paper-thin slices
1/2 c. coarsely broken walnuts
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
Combine water and blueberries. Cook over low heat until berries are tender. Crush some, but not all. Add remaining ingredients. Cook while stirring until jam is thick. I use the frozen plate test: spoon a little bit of conserve onto a frozen plate, and draw your finger through it. If the two lines don't reconnect, you're ready to can it. Process the jars for fifteen minutes (from the time the water returns to a boil), and you're done. Makes about 6 half pints.
If you've never canned anything before, here's a website that can help you figure it out: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/fresh-strawberry-jam-recipe/index.html