Kevin West's Damson Butter with Bay and Ginger

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After lunch on Saturday afternoon, we spontaneously decided to go apple-picking with friends. But when we got to the U-pick orchard just outside of Berlin, we discovered that the apple variety we'd set out to pick, Pinova, wasn't ready yet. Other varieties of apples, pears, and plums were ready, so we contented ourselves with those. Now I have several kilos of each in my kitchen; the pears still need a few weeks of ripening, the apples are delicious and crunchy out of hand, but the plums, well, those have already been turned into jam. Quick work!

I love making jam - apple butter in falll, Seville orange in winter, blueberry-lime (make sure to reduce the sugar a bit) in summer - but this year, the cookbook work kept me from any jam-making. I figured I wouldn't much miss my little pots and jars in the pantry that much and contented myself with store-bought jams instead, but they were always too sweet and insipid compared to the things I made myself. (The jam I most regret skipping was the Seville orange marmalade, which when homemade is so incredibly superior to anything you can buy - even fancy, high-quality brands - that I have sworn to myself that even though our baby is due right before Seville orange season, I'm not going to skip it again this year. Wish me luck! I'm pretty sure I will be cursing this resolution in early February when I'm knee-deep in nipple cream and sleep deprivation.) So I'm back at the jam-making station now, easing myself in with Damson plums, a supremely satisfying and easy fruit to preserve.

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Damson plums are high in pectin, which means that when cooked with sugar they thicken and gel beautifully without any added help. They're also easy to pit, which makes them very appealing to work with, especially when you're confronted with 4 kilos of them after not even half an hour spent in the plum orchard. I turned half of my Damsons into Pflaumenmus, a thick plum butter spiced with cinnamon and cloves that is also known as Powidl in Austria and is an essential element in the German and Austrian kitchen. An easy and reliable recipe for Pflaumenmus is in both My Berlin Kitchen and Classic German Baking. Traditional Pflaumenmus is actually made without any sugar at all, but your plums must be very ripe and sweet for it to turn out nicely. Since the ones I had were still quite firm and sweet-tart, I used my recipe, which contains sugar.

For the remaining of my Damsons, I turned to a recipe from Kevin West, the author of Saving the Season. West cooks his Damsons with bay leaves and ginger first, then forces them through a sieve (I used an immersion blender instead), adding the sugar and lemon juice only at this point before finishing the cooking. West is a genius with flavorings; he seems to have an uncanny sense of which herbs and spices pair best with fruit to bring out their best flavors. To my taste, his jams are often too sweet, so I reduced the sugar in the Damson butter, but you might find you prefer a sweeter jam, as he does. The ginger and bay give the plum butter a gentle fillip of spice and savoriness, but not too much of one. This is still a fruit butter that will do gloriously on a piece of morning buttered toast.

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As soon as the pears are ready to go, I'm going to be turning to this fantastic and inspiring little book for my next batch of fruit butter, a silky concoction of pears, apples and maple syrup. I'm trolling the markets for the season's very last plum tomatoes so I can make Kevin's savory tomato jam with smoked paprika (!). And like I said, I'm counting the weeks until Seville orange season. I can't wait to have a pantry full of homemade treats again.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Kevin West's Damson Butter
Adapted from Saving the Season
Note: If you would prefer to preserve your Damson butter the American way, once the jars are filled and tightly closed, process them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Marisa McLellan is an excellent resource on this subject. I do not process any of my jams in this way. The cooking time, the relatively high sugar levels, the high acidity of the fruit, the spotlessly clean jars, and the upside-down cooling method, which gives the jars an airtight seal, are enough for me and all European jam-makers I know.

4 pounds Damson plums, pitted
1/2 cup water
2 bay leaves
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled
2 cups sugar (the original recipe calls for 3 1/4 cups)
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Put the fruit, water, bay and ginger in a large, heavy pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Take the pot off the heat and remove the bay and ginger (discard). Using an immersion blender, purée the plums until smooth. Add the sugar and lemon juice and stir well.

3. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, then reduce to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring. Take the pot off the heat and ladle the hot butter into spotlessly clean or sterilized jars. Immediately cap the jars and turn them over upside-down to cool completely. The jars will keep, unopened, for a year. Once open, the Damson butter should be consumed within a few weeks.

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Marisa McClellan's Cherry Butter

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I came into a glut of cherries this week, picked by a friend from the tree in his mother's garden. He and his wife ate themselves silly while standing on ladders leaned against the tree for picking, then pitted and preserved a whole bunch more, and still had a bucket or two left over after that. Did I want some, they asked. DID I EVER, I replied.

We drove to their place to pick up our loot. Hugo's just learning how to eat around a cherry pit, so we gave him a handful to celebrate with in the backseat while we drove home. "Chays!" he calls them.

The rest I pitted with my thumb and forefinger. These were small cherries and already past their prime. They were easy to pit like this, though my nail beds now look like I've been dabbling in the dark art of butchery. If you have fresher, bigger cherries, you would probably do better by using a cherry pitter, as canning and preserving expert Marisa McClellan says.

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It's from Marisa's first book, Food in Jars, that I got the recipe for what I made with those cherries: dark and velvety cherry butter. Don't think of actual butter, though. Think of cherries and sugar cooked down into a thickish, wine-colored mixture, then puréed until as creamy and smooth as, well, butter.

Did you know that I have strong feelings for fruit butters? (Exhibit A: this apple butter, one of the best things on this here website. Exhibit B: the roasted plum butter recipe in My Berlin Kitchen.) I do. I love them: their smooth yet faintly nubby texture, how they manage to be simultaneously tangy and almost toasted in flavor, and the way the fruit used always ends up tasting so concentrated, so deeply of itself, if you know what I mean. I like fruit butters on buttered toast, I like they way they swoop through yogurt (especially if the yogurt is swoopy itself), and I like them spread in a crostata or layered with cream and rolled up in a jelly roll (recipe forthcoming in the German baking book!).

General wisdom around here is that sour cherries are the cherries you want for jam-making, while sweet cherries are the ones you want for eating out of hand. And, you know, if the sweet cherries you can find are so plump and fresh that they crunch when you bite into them, then you should definitely just buy them by the pound and eat them all out of hand, spitting the pits out if possible. That's one of life's great pleasures, full stop.

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But. If your sweet cherries are a little old and dented, or if you share my intensity of feeling for silky fruit butters that drop luxuriously from a spoon, then you should try this recipe.

Marisa McClellan's Cherry Butter
Adapted from Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round
Makes 3-4 8-ounce jars
Note: As the subtitle of Marisa's book says, this is small batch canning - the recipe yields just a few small jars of precious cherry butter, which seems like very little indeed until you consider how long it took you to pit three pounds of cherries. If you can rope someone into helping you, I suggest doubling the recipe below.

3 pounds (1.4 kilos) sweet cherries
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Pit the cherries. Wash four small jam jars and their lids in hot soapy water and rinse well. Set aside to air dry.

2. Place the cherries and 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) in a large pot. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat so that the mixture simmers and let the mixture cook for 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.

3. After an hour, the mixture will be reduced and a deep wine color. Take off the heat and purée thoroughly (taking care not to burn yourself with any splatters) with an immersion blender. When the mixture is velvety smooth, taste it - if it needs more sugar, add some of the reserved sugar and stir well. Then stir in the lemon juice.

4. Return the pot to the stove and place over medium heat. The butter will start sputtering pretty quickly. Let it cook for another minute or so, until the butter is thick and spreadable (remember that it will thicken and set more as it cools).

5. Pour the boiling hot butter into the prepared jars, filling them up as far as you can. Wipe the rims, if necessary, then screw on the lids and turn the jars upside down to cool completely. The jam will keep, unopened, for at least 6 months.


Saltie's Currant Pickle

Saltie's currant pickle

Sometimes you just want a chicken salad sandwich.

So you buy a plump little chicken and you boil it up with the usual trio of carrots and celery and onion. You add some peppercorns (which you end up skimming off with the muddy scum a few minutes later) and an old bay leaf from your grandfather's garden for flavor. (It is so old, in fact, it was picked before he died. Seven years ago, may he rest in peace. The bay leaves still work, though, even though they're brown and brittle.) When the chicken is good and cooked and the broth is flocked with golden gobs of molten chicken fat, you pull out the chicken and let it cool a little; how long depending on just how little feeling you have left in your fingertips.

You shred the chicken, mix it with mayonnaise (I use Maille's because I think it tastes the most like homemade and because it keeps in the fridge for ages, but no one is stopping you from making your own), and then pile it on bread. Ideally, you have good bread. Something holey and crusty, with a crumb that's cool to the touch. Homemade foccacia would be good too, if you have that kind of time. But toast isn't bad either. In fact, some think toast is precisely what you need with chicken salad. That nice crunch against the rich filling. Whatever, the point is, sometimes what's ideal isn't what's in the fridge and I hate how food has become so fetishized now that you can't even crave a stupid chicken salad sandwich without someone somewhere telling you that you're doing it wrong. So forget about the "ideally". Just put it on some bread, whatever you've got is fine.

But I also need a little something sharp in the sandwich, something to help all that rich and soothing meat and cream stand at attention a little. For me, that something is Saltie's red currant pickle, which I have mentioned a half dozen times and yet never blogged about and which I will remedy today. It is my favorite condiment in the fridge besides Heinz's ketchup and my Seville orange marmalade. It is, as the authors of Saltie: A Cookbook describe, "more of a chutney" than a traditional pickle. It's piercingly sour and sharp. It's delicious with cold meats, makes them taste richer and fuller, if you know what I mean. The book says it keeps for 2 months, but I am here to say that I made it 8 months ago and am still eating it with gusto. It is still delicious. The sugar and vinegar are pretty good preservatives.

I'm sorry that you can't make this pickle right now since red currants aren't in season at the moment. I hope you bookmark it for when you can get them. In my feeble defense, I wasn't really planning on writing about red currants today, I just wanted to write about craving a chicken salad sandwich and then somehow that pickle snuck in. You know how it is, right? Sort of like when you wake up thinking "today is going to be great!" and by 10:30 am, it's the worst day ever. Or the other way around, you drag yourself through the motions in the morning, dreading everything and hating everyone, and then you go outside and have some kind of human experience that makes you feel so grateful to be alive that your feet practically tingle.

(At the last minute, I added two slices of avocado to the sandwich, squishing them into the bread before layering on the shredded chicken. Not really sure what possessed me. The color, maybe? I'm pretty sure the sandwich would have been just as good without it.)

Anyway, I was craving a chicken salad sandwich today and so I made myself one and it was just as good as I hoped. Sometimes that's all there is and it is enough.

UPDATE: Caroline Fidanza, the author of Saltie: A Cookbook, has written in to say that the recipe was meant to be made with dried currants, not red currants, so hooray! Currant pickle for everyone!

Saltie's Currant Pickle
From Saltie: A Cookbook
Makes 2 cups

2 cups dried currants (or fresh red currants)
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 cup sherry vinegar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar

In a large saucepan, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring, for 30 minutes, until the pickle is thickened and reduced. Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a year.


Gwyneth Paltrow's Mexican Green Goddess Dressing

Mexican green goddess dressing

This aging thing is nuts. Why, just this past weekend, I had to take a six-hour train ride to southern Germany, sleep at a Holiday Inn Express (the sheets! so silky! the room! so quiet!) and then come back the next day, and all I could think about this adventure was: 12 WAKING HOURS ALL BY MYSELF I CAN READ EVERY BOOK UNDER THE SUN ALL BY MYSELF AND THEN I GET TO SLEEP ALONE AND BE WOKEN BY MY OWN SELF AND THEN READ SOME MORE IN BED BECAUSE NO ONE IS DEMANDING BREAKFAST OR A PLASTIC ELEPHANT OR THAT MAMA GET TO HIS SIDE RIGHT THIS MINUTE OH MY GAH WHAT BLISS IS THIS.

I can guarantee you that ten years ago (or even five? three? anytime before June 2012?), I would not have been this easily pleased. (My reading list, in case you're wondering, was the latest two New Yorker issues in full, the latest Vogue, The Book of Negroes and 35% of The Fault in Our Stars. No, I don't think I looked outside the window once?)

Also, with age, I have learned that the things I used to detest no longer repulse me! Let's make another list, shall we?

Things I used to hate:
cilantro
scallions
creamy salad dressings

Things I now love:
cilantro
scallions
creamy salad dressings

Well, not all creamy salad dressings, to be totally honest. In fact, let's just say only this creamy salad dressing. After arriving in southern Germany on Sunday and before going to sleep in the soft and silky Holiday Inn Express bed, I had an encounter with a creamy salad dressing that I would only describe as  unfortunate. (In case you're wondering what I was doing in Baden-Baden, click here and look for the show from May 12th.)

ANYWAY. This creamy salad dressing, to get to the point already, is from Gwyneth Paltrow's second cookbook, It's All Good. And while opinions differ on the book, the chapter on salads and salad dressings is pretty great. This dressing, in fact, called Mexican Green Goddess Dressing, is worth the price of the book and not to sound like a broken record or anything, but my philosophy is that if you get just one great recipe out of a cookbook, that cookbook's a keeper.

Gwyneth's Mexican green goddess is made up of sheep's milk yogurt, olive oil, cilantro, scallions, lime juice, salt, a touch of honey and a jalapeño (it's tough to find jalapeños in Berlin, though, so I used a drizzle of this terrifyingly spicy hot sauce instead - thank you, Liana!). You blend everything up in a blender or with an immersion blender that has a turbo setting and then you use it on a salad consisting of chopped romaine, avocado, tomatoes, canned black beans, corn (fresh if you've got it, and canned if you don't), more scallions and more cilantro. And you know what, it truly does taste of Mexico - all of those wild, bright flavors blended up and threaded together. It's fantastic.

Mexican chopped salad

You are by no means constrained to only use this dressing on this particular salad, though. I used it on cold boiled broccoli the next day to fantastic effect, for example, and on a bowl of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes a few days after that and could imagine it on a bowl of simple arugula, too, or steamed fennel or any vegetable really, that needs a bit of a creamy, spicy, zingy zhuzh.

I still haven't come around to dill, though. Maybe check in with me when I'm 40.

Gwyneth Paltrow's Mexican Green Goddess Dressing
Adapted from It's All Good
Makes 1 1/2 cups

2/3 cup sheep's milk yogurt
¼ cup cilantro
2 scallions, roughly chopped
¼ cup lime juice (2-3 limes)
½ jalapeno, roughly chopped, or a drizzle of hot sauce
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar

Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Blend until completely smooth. The dressing can be kept in a jar in the fridge for up to a week.


How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Homemade vanilla extract

New Year's resolutions! Do you make them? I do. I know, I know, yawn, but I can't help it. I do feel like there is something about turning the page from one year to the next that gives you the glorious sensation of having a clean slate in front of you to fill with all your wonderful scribblings. Like every year, I put down "exercise more" and "eat less sugar", but now I've started adding "be more patient", because oooh that little child of mine, and "get more organized" and "email less" and other exhortations that sort of kill me with their mundanity but are increasingly integral to my peace of mind. Once we get all those self-improvement things out the way, though, we get to the really fun stuff - like "make your own vanilla extract" and behold, it is only January 15th and I have already knocked this one off the list! ROAR!

Though to be fair and honest, there could be nothing less challenging about making your own vanilla extract. In fact, it is so easy, so ridiculously nothing that I'm almost sort of appalled that we've all been keeping Nielsen-Massey and McCormick in business all these years. (And that us expats have been wasting precious suitcase space on meticulously wrapped bottles of extract.) No more!

Okay, so here's what you do: First, get yourself some vanilla beans. Nowadays you can get amazing deals on vanilla on this here internet. For example:

Shipping to the US:

Vanilla Products

Vanilla Saffron

Beanilla

Shipping to Europe:

Madavanille or Madavanilla

Cap d'Ambre Vanille

Vanilla Mart

Next, get yourself a bottle of alcohol. Vodka's a pretty great choice, since it's available everywhere and doesn't have much of its own flavor. I suggest getting a 500 ml bottle. (You can certainly use bourbon or rum, but for a neutral vanilla extract, vodka is good. If you happen to live in Italy or another country where pure alcohol is cheap and plentiful, you can buy that instead. Then use only 250 ml of alcohol and 250 ml of water.)

Now for the hard work. Select eight plump vanilla beans. Open the bottle of alcohol. Split the beans lengthwise and carefully scrape out all the seeds. Put the seeds in the bottle of alcohol and then the split beans. Close the bottle. Shake. Store. DONE. See what I mean? Stupid easy.

The recipe is easily doubled or halved or quadrupled or whatever. You can make many little bottles as gifts or one big bottle that you share with no one. It's up to you! Now, the longer you let the extract sit, the more flavorful it gets - but it's pretty much ready to use after a week or so of sitting. The best thing about this stuff is that every time you use some of your glorious homemade vanilla extract, you can top up the bottle with a bit more alcohol. Vanilla beans are so intense that they can handle being used a few times over.

And with that, I'm off to work on my other resolutions. Like meal planning! On that list thanks to you helpful folks.


Seville Orange Marmalade

Sour orange marmalade
I have made many a jar of jam in my life - I really like making jam, you guys - but nothing, not strawberries almost candied with lemon grass, not rhubarb and grapefruit preserves, not even the oven-baked, spiced plum butter from my book has ever come close to the experience that making that little cluster of Seville orange marmalade jars up there was. It was transcendental and I know that that might sound like it's bordering on the absurd, but what can I say? Perhaps it takes very little to transport me these days.

Or perhaps, Seville orange marmalade is like the Mount Everest of marmalades - the zenith of jam-making, if you will. And I climbed it at a point in my life when I sort of assumed that nothing of the sort was going to happen any time soon. I mean, you have a baby and then your kitchen priorities shift. You know? I don't want to beat a dead horse, but I just figured that if I could barely make myself a hot dinner the other day, then jam-making, multi-day jam-making, was a far-off glimmer in the future.

But the other day, on one of my market walks, I came across a stand selling Seville oranges (also known as sour or bitter oranges, depending on where you live). This is not a common occurence. In fact, I don't think I'd ever seen them in the flesh before. Over the years, I'd hear now and again in February of someone finding a few knocking about in a bin at some market. But I personally had never had the privilege. In fact, I'd long ago resigned myself to buying orange marmalade, having it be the only store-bought jam in my pantry. Once, on a trip to London a few years ago, I bought a big can of Mamade thin-cut Seville oranges and I made marmalade that I liked very much, but I couldn't help but think, each time I opened a fresh jar, that it was a little pathetic to be eating jam made from canned fruit. There was something so Soviet about it or something.

So there I was, standing in front of this bin of Seville oranges in the biting cold, with my mouth agape and the baby in the stroller next to me. You can imagine that it took me about three seconds flat to buy two kilos.

But then, after I got home with my haul, I got scared. I let the oranges sit on the kitchen table for three whole days while I worked up my courage to deal with them. I knew it was going to take a lot of elbow grease and time - two things I'm really short on these days. When, on the fourth day, I saw a telltale spot of white mold blooming on the peel of one of the oranges, I shook myself out of my stupor. It was time to make orange marmalade, come hell, high water OR a screaming baby. There was no time like the present.

Peeling sour oranges

I consulted The Kitchen Diaries II and a bunch of recipes online (like this one and this one) to figure out just how get started. I liked that Nigel Slater has you score the peel off the fruit without puncturing the orange flesh, so that you start by slicing up the peel before doing anything else, rather than slicing the oranges whole. I put the baby to bed, turned on the radio and got to work.

Sliced sour orange peel

Once all the peel was thinly sliced (you can cut it thicker, if that's what you prefer) and resting in my big cast-iron pot, I juiced the oranges into the pot and then extracted every single last sticky seed from the flesh. Seville oranges aren't like regular oranges - they're drier and have more nooks and crannies for the seeds to hide out in. The best way to ferret out those seeds is to push the squeezed orange flesh around on the cutting board - eventually the remaining seeds will squirt out the sides. The de-seeded flesh got chopped up and added to the peel and the seeds went into a mesh metal spice ball that my mother-in-law gave me a few Christmases ago. (I could never really figure out what to use it for, but now that it has redeemed itself as a VIKU, a Very Important Kitchen Utensil, I am considering having it gilded.) I put the mesh seed ball into the pot with the peel and the juice and flesh, filled it up with water and then went straight to bed, my fingers all pruney from having been sunk into sour oranges for two hours.

The next night I brought the pot to a boil and let it cook for a good long while until the peel was translucent and the liquid level in the pot was much reduced. (All of this, the overnight soaking and the long boil, helps get the harsh bitter edge off the oranges, leaving behind a rounded, more agreeable bitterness, if that makes any sense.) Only then did I add the sugar.

Now. Every recipe I consulted has you add twice as much sugar - in weight - as there is fruit. This seems to be somewhat of a rule in orange-marmalade-making. But I could not put that much sugar into the pot. I couldn't! I wanted to, I really did! I like following the rules! But in this case, it hurt my teeth just to look at it (I usually do a ratio of 50%-50% fruit to sugar with regular jams). Since Nigel's original numbers were the following: 1.3 kilos of fruit (he uses Seville oranges and some lemons) and 2.6 kilos of sugar, I decided to do 1.3 kilos of fruit (only oranges) and 2 kilos of sugar. And you know what? My marmalade turned out plenty sweet. In fact, I think I could probably have pushed it even a little lower. Not much, but a little.

You let the sugar dissolve in the hot liquid and then you bring the whole thing to the boil again and let it cook until a little dish of jam stuck in the freezer for a few minutes develops a skin. It took my jam an hour to get to that point. One long, glorious, orange-scented hour. Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I've found my new favorite cooking smell. Bread? Brownies? Roast chicken? Scram, pals.

While the marmalade cooks, you have to skim it a bit, so that your marmalade is sure to be translucent and beautiful when it's done, but I spent most of that hour on the couch watching this, thinking deep thoughts about what Berlin could have been, what Germany could have become, what it squandered and destroyed instead. So the marmalade doesn't really require too much of you.

When it's done, you need your clean jars and lids at the ready, and then you just have to be quick, filling the jars to the brim, wiping off the rims, closing the lids tightly and turning them upside-down. (Letting them cool upside-down overnight gives you a vacuum seal on the jar. And readers: there is absolutely, positively no danger of this jam going bad - the amount of sugar, even the reduced amount that I used, will keep the marmalade safe and delicious for at least a year.)

Seville orange marmalade on toast

The next morning, in the cold, blue, early morning light of wintertime Berlin, I toasted a piece of bread, spread it with salted butter (ever since reading this and then trying it, I have to put salted butter under my orange marmalade - only one example of the many ways Amanda Hesser has given me an education in food over the years) and then put a thin layer of my fresh Seville orange marmalade on top. And. Well. You know.

It was beyond.

It put all those store-bought marmalades and canned-fruit marmalades to shame. This orange marmalade, folks, it tasted alive, for lack of a better word. It was so fresh, I could almost faintly pick out orange blossoms and sunshine in my mouth. I'm not even kidding! The flavor was out of this world. Life-changing. Transcendental.

(Hugo stared at me with such outrage on his little face while I was eating my toast and he was stuck with baby Bircher müsli that I put a corner of my buttered, bitter-oranged toast in his mouth, figuring he'd recoil at the grown-up flavor. HA. He licked his chops and opened his mouth up for more.)

And you know, it was such a thrill. The best part, besides my little arsenal of bitter sunshine in a jar, was really the doing of it all. I'm already excited for next February and that is saying a lot. BERLIN.

Seville Orange Marmalade
Makes about 9 jam jars
Inspired by Nigel Slater's recipe in Kitchen Diaries II

1.3 kilos Seville oranges
2 kilos granulated sugar

1. Wash the oranges. Score the peel of each orange with a sharp knife in quarters and remove without damaging the fruit. Slice the peel thinly or thickly, depending on your taste, and put into a very large cast-iron pot. Squeeze the peeled oranges into the pot, taking care to put any seeds aside. Deseed the remaining flesh. Chop the flesh and add it to the peel. Put the seeds into a mesh tea ball or a muslin bag and put in the pot. Fill the pot with 2.5 liters of cold water. Cover the pot and let sit for 24 hours (I left mine on the stove.)

2. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil. Uncover the pot and let simmer for 45 minutes or until your peel is, as Nigel says, "soft and translucent."

3. Remove the bag or ball of seeds from the pot, squeezing or scraping it for every last bit of pectin. Add the sugar to the fruit mixture and stir well. Raise the heat and bring the marmalade to boil. Let cook for anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the marmalade, when spooned onto a little plate that you put in the freezer, forms a thin skin. Ladle the marmalade into clean jars, close them tightly and turn them upside-down to cool overnight. You can wipe any remnants of sticky jam off them in the morning (freshly filled, they'll be too hot to clean up).


Capuliata

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Okay. Let's say you've recently come into some sun-dried tomatoes. And not just a few, but a good couple of handfuls, maybe even an entire paper bag full. What on earth am I going to do with all these sun-dried tomatoes?, I can hear you asking yourself. Aren't they so 1998? Aren't we all so over them?

Why, yes, dear reader, I do believe you have a point. I personally think the sun-dried tomato shark was jumped at the precise moment when people started putting sundried tomatoes in their bagel dough. With slivers of them already polluting every pasta sauce and sandwich spread I came across, it was at the bagel store that I decided I never wanted to see another sun-dried tomato again. And so, over the next decade, I did my very best to avoid them at all costs.

Until my Sicilian uncle (of course it was him) introduced me to something called capuliata.

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Capuliata is nothing more than sun-dried tomatoes whizzed to little bits, put in a glass and topped with olive oil. You can add a dried chile to the mix or dried oregano or garlic, if you like, or you can keep it plan. What's important is that the capuliata always be covered with olive oil (which keeps it from spoiling). It's intense, this stuff, but it totally rehabilitates the sun-dried tomato. Capuliata is so good, you'll find yourself hoarding it. Max and I once finished a whole jar in less than a week. I do believe some competitive eating might have been involved.

But what do you do with capuliata, I can hear you asking. Well, you can use it as a crostino topping, or dollop it alongside some cured meats for an antipasto. You can use a few spoonfuls to dress pasta, along with copious amounts of chopped parsley and grated pecorino. You can spread a dollop of it on a nice crusty sandwich along with something smooth and cool to calm down the flavors, like ricotta (I'd add some arugula, too). Or you can, like my husband does, eat it from the jar with a spoon. (Only recommended for the diehards, though - my mouth would explode if I tried this.)

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As you can probably already guess, it makes for a really nice present, especially when jarred in a pretty Weck glass. As long as there's always a thin film of oil on top, capuliata will keep for up to a year, though I very much doubt it would ever languish in anyone's pantry that long.

You hardly need a recipe, but here's how I do things:

Capuliata

Find yourself some sun-dried tomatoes. My most recent batch of capuliata came from 8 1/2 ounces of sun-dried tomatoes (240 grams). Put them in a food processor and pulse them until they are finely chopped. According to taste, add a healthy pinch of dried oregano and/or a dried chile to the processor before pulsing.

Wash and dry some jam jars (I was able to fill two). Fill the jars with the chopped tomatoes. You may have to push them down a little, but do not stuff the tomatoes into the jar too hard. Pour good-quality olive oil into each jar, pausing halfway through for the oil to slither into all the nooks and crannies, until the capuliata is covered with a thin film of oil. Close the jars. Store in a cupboard for up to a year (no need to refrigerate after it's been opened, as long as there's always some oil on top).