The glorious fruit! (Click to enlarge.)

The glorious fruit! (Click to enlarge.)

I love strawberries!  But before this summer, I don’t think I’d had good ones since we used to have a big ol’ strawberry patch when I was growing up.  I had a love/hate relationship with it, as I despised the chore of picking, but, even in my crazy picky-eater childhood, I always liked strawberries!  Now, a blessing of living in Michigan, I can get them fresh in the beginning of summer.  My farm even grows them, so after sampling them in my weekly share, I had to dash off to the Royal Oak Farmers’ Market to buy myself a whole flat of them.  I made ice cream, a tart and a cobbler.  I ate them sliced and in yogurt and in salads.  I froze some for later.  And I made jam.

My flat of fresh, organic berries.

My flat of fresh, organic berries.

Ooh, strawberry jam on a scone with a cuppa…nothing finer.  Strawberry jam proved to be slightly trickier than I had imagined, though.  Ain’t no pectin in strawberries, see?  You know, the substance in fruit that makes jams and jellies gel?  One generally compensates for this by adding some other fruits that are high in pectin – lemon, apples.  My recipe called for lemon juice.  I followed it to the letter, except that I cut it in half (and thank goodness, because I don’t know anyone with a pot large enough to accommodate the whole recipe).  I dutifully measured my sugar (the other component that makes jams set) and added my lemon and I sliced and boiled and skimmed and sterilized and sealed and got…strawberry syrup.  I let it cool completely.  I waited a day.  Runny as a melted popsicle.

Juuuust fits in the pot.

Juuuust fits in the pot.

Grocery-store pectin to the rescue!  For emergencies such as these (or for starting out with a more foolproof recipe) pectin comes in powdered forms, derived by chemical processes from various citrus fruits.  I opened my eight jars of jam, poured their contents into a pot, cleaned and sterilized all the jars, boiled up my jam again with a bit of pectin, potted, sealed, reprocessed and waited for the moment of truth.  They set.  Not firmly, mind you, but enough to be spreadable and sit atop my bread, rather than soaking into it.  I lost a jarful in the process, but, nevertheless, I am the proud mother of seven half-pints of delicious, homemade, strawberry jam, and if you come visit me I’ll make scones and tea to accompany it!

Bubble, bubble.

Bubble, bubble.

The jars process in a water bath.

The jars process in a water bath.

A cobbler diversion

A cobbler diversion

The moment of truth.

The moment of truth.

Like summer in a jar.

Like summer in a jar.

Died and gone to heaven.

Died and gone to heaven.

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Oh, science  is fun.  I have been craving pretzel bread lately, but had yet to look for a recipe, when, lo, this recipe appeared in my Twittersphere.  The former journalist turned blogger-baker had done my work for me, researched recipes, and come up with one of her own she liked better! I had some smoked salt (brought back from Italy for me by John and Michael many moons ago) and the basic ingredients so I went to town.

Here’s the science bit.  The pretzel rolls are like bagels, you boil them and then bake them, to give them that chewy exterior.  Flour Girl’s recipe has you boil them in water with sugar and baking soda.  I suspected, but was unsure, that it was for color (something about acid levels and sugar means browning).  My accidental experiment proved the hypothesis.  I forgot the baking soda when I boiled the first two rolls.  Then added it after they came out, before I boiled the rest.  Presto!  Parti-colored pretzel rolls.

And they taste mighty good, too.

More photos with the new toy.  (Click to enlarge.)

Foodgeeks of the world take note: kitchen physics is fun!  So Laurel’s wee cooking blog features the versatile clafoutis – traditionally made as a dessert with cherries, it’s sort of like a Dutch Baby or German pancake with stuff in it.  Laurel makes savory ones (check out her Leek and Bacon version – delish!) and I have been following her lead.  The first two I made were radically different – one was undulating and Dutch Baby-esque, while the other was flat and flan-like – and I wondered at the cause.  Today I performed a wee experiment with different pans, and presto!

The clafoutis on the left was made in a slope-sided glass pie plate.  The one on the right in a straight-sided dark cake pan.  Formal versus rustic?  Convention versus drama?

This weekend I went to help out at my new CSA, Maple Creek Farm, during the absence of their crew due to a death in the family.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

It was great to meet my farmers, Danny and Michelle Lutz, and see sustainable organic farming in action.  I also learned why I don’t want to be a farmer myself.  Ow.  Just, ow.

But, Oh, the perks of volunteering!  Midday melon feasts on sun-warmed cantaloupes and watermelons; first pick of the slightly blemished heirloom tomatoes; all-I-could-pick gorgeous raspberries.  Of course the food is all divine and beautiful and I couldn’t be happier.  Especially now that I can walk upright again.

A pretty bean pest.

A pretty bean pest.

Share boxes being readied for packing.

Share boxes being readied for packing.

Maple Creek is organic and GMO-free – as long as they can keep it that way.  Danny waits to plant his feed corn, for example, until later in the season, to avoid the risk of cross-pollination with his neighbor’s genetically-modified corn.  “He goes to church on Sunday, but he thinks he can do better than the Almighty.”  Neither of them can stop the birds, bees or wind, though, so “genetic drift” is really only a matter of time.

Pickin beans.

Pickin' beans.

Of course, Danny and Michelle are familiar with my old CSA, Angelic Organics, and with the documentary film about its farmer.  When I rolled into their drive with my Illinois license plates, Danny immediately exclaimed, “You’re the one from John Peterson!  Angelic Organics!  I love that movie.  Tears were streaming down my face.  That man has…other talents.”  And Michelle was indebted to The Real Dirt on Farmer John for her conveyor belt epiphany.  “When I saw them packing the boxes with a conveyor belt, I didn’t sleep that night.  I had to have one.”  And have one she does!  We made pretty short work of the 240 shares we packed and loaded into the truck on Monday evening.

The first of two raspberry tarts I made this week.

The first of two raspberry tarts I made this week.

And I got to take home a leftover melon!