Grape and Fig Mostarda


There’s something about preparing for guests that’s truly in my blood. Was it all the years I worked in restaurants and catering? Or digging even deeper, transferred from my parent’s love of throwing elaborate dinner parties? I recall very early on in life, waking up while my parents still slept, to find the table covered with dishes and wine glasses, and being utterly entranced by this adult otherworld that I was not privy to. It was like an archeological dig–trying to place what conspired by piecing together artifacts I had very little information about.

I love placing silverware down on napkins, I love letting cheese sit out all day to get soft, I love shining wine glasses with a cloth. I know there is this romantic notion of the host cooking while everyone watches, laughing and drinking wine, but frankly that makes me a bit nervous– although I’m always impressed by people who can do it. I prefer having everything ready so when the guests come I can pour myself a glass of wine and sit down and talk.

Last week, I had some friends over to celebrate recent nuptials, the season, and general friendship and camaraderie, and although I wanted it to be special (and I worked the two days before) I still relied on my preserving know-how to carry me through. To start we had burrata with an heirloom tomato confit that I had made the week prior. Some duck liver paté was paired with pickled figs. Bread and bubbly was all that was needed to while away the afternoon while we sat outside in the unseasonably warm weather.

For dinner, I had a roasting pan filled with some winter savory chicken and lamb sausages, onions, shallots, and potatoes. On another tray I had thin slices of Japanese kuri squash drizzled with olive oil, rosemary and sea salt. Both went in the oven at the same time, and all I had to do was pop them in. They looked great on a large platter in the middle of the table with serving utensils. On the side were some leeks with vinaigrette. A full dinner for six with a modicum of work.

Dessert was an apple frangipane tart I bought (gasp!) and which we didn’t even dent. I served it with a few cheeses, and a platter of grapes and figs. We finished the cake for breakfast the next morning, and the fruit sat for a day or two until I turned them into this mostarda, which came out amazingly delicious. A few days later, I served it with some blu mauri, an Italian goat and cow gorgonzola when a new batch of friends stopped by. And so it goes: preserving saves the day! Make some mostarda this fall, and make sure to have friends by to enjoy it.


Mostardas are great on meats, go well with cheese, and are happy just on a piece of bread. Be creative and don’t worry if your fruit isn’t perfect. This recipe is a guide–use your taste to figure out what you like best. The mostarda will also mellow a bit after a few days in the fridge, so keep that in mind.

Grape and Fig Mostarda

1 pound fruit, mixed grapes (Concord and Niagara) and fresh black mission figs

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup sugar (although 1/4 cup of honey would be great)

1 cup fruity white wine, like an off-dry riesling

2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard

Cook the grapes in a pan with the vinegar until soft. Pass through food mill to remove the seeds and break down the skin. Return grape puree to pot, add quartered figs, the wine and mustard. Boil down till you reach a jammy consistency, about 30-45 minutes because it’s a nice small batch (some recipes will have the time at a few hours). Store in the fridge. Serve with savory items–a bold cheese, cured meats, etc.

The End of the Tomatoes

IMG_8572There are so many fall preserving projects on the horizon–all the fall goodies: apples, pears, quinces, winter squash, jerusalem artichokes–but I still need to finish up summer! There are still tomatoes to be dealt with, and it’s grueling, but everybody knows it will be worthwhile in the winter. So, without further ado, this is what I’m doing to get those long-awaited tomatoes out of my kitchen! I’m sure I will be pining for them once again in the not too distant future.

Fermented Tomato Conserve – I have never tried this but as soon as I saw this I was completely intrigued. See this post also, which is slightly different, and uses a recipe from (obviously) Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. The author discusses how he used the excess liquid in a Bloody Mary. I am choosing to use this liquid for a soup stock, but I love the cocktail mix idea! I’m not sure I squeezed as much liquid out of my pulp as I could have. I started with 10 pounds of tomatoes, and ended up with 12 ounces of pulp to which I added 2 ounces of kosher salt. It is quite salty!  The seeds and skins were tossed, and the liquid is now in the fridge waiting to be used up. How does one use this, you may ask? I see it as a tomato paste that can be added to soups, stews and sauces for a salty, umami jolt.

Salt added to the finished pulp.

The easiest thing I do to tomatoes? Fill my crock pot with tomatoes–I even leave them whole, in the case of tiny plum tomatoes–and just put them on the 12 hour low mode. They will break down and release their water. Then, when cool, I puree them in my Vitamix. (This is how I fell in love with my Vitamix, processing tomatoes.) I return them to the crock pot to become ketchup or tomato paste. The very last of the tomatoes are in there right now because I just couldn’t bear to keep them on the counter any longer.

Some more ideas:

How about oven-dried tomatoes in oil? Tip of the hat to Sean Timberlake, new head honcho at the’s preserving page, for bringing attention to this method from UC Davis.

 Or this TOMATO sauce from Raisin & A Porpoise?

Is this really goodbye?

Hard to turn down an opportunity to glean!

Plum Kuchen Jam


Here on the east coast it’s high season for preserving the harvest. I have piles of tomatoes still to be tended to, lots of jam to make, and I haven’t even touched the fall fruit yet except for a batch of applesauce. My son’s sixth birthday was this week, and amidst all this preserving, there were sprinkles and frosting an an abundance of Legos. It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least! It makes one have an appreciation for the quiet of February. Sort of.

Meanwhile, the nights are becoming chilly and I wonder: flannel sheets yet? The leaves are turning that faint yellow around the edges, and there are reds and oranges starting to show. The shorts and t-shirts are giving way to sweaters and boots. You can tell that people are invigorated by the autumnal weather! Why is it that right before the winter is the most exciting time? Even though we know the long cold months are ahead, we can’t help but to feel a high note singing out right now.

Have you ever had plum kuchen? I love this German cake that celebrates the late season prune plum, oval purple-blue freestone plum cultivars, like Italian, Earliglow, or Stanleys. Something about these plums with cinnamon, sugar and almond flavors sends me reeling. As a plum kuchen baked recently, and the smells wafted through the house, I thought why not make this into a jam? It is super easy and full of tempting flavors, great over vanilla ice cream or in a gallette.

Plum Kuchen Jam

yields 4-5 half pint jars

2 pounds of prune plums, stones removed, coarsely chopped

1 pound of sugar

1 teaspoon of lemon juice

1″ stick of cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon powdered cinnamon

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (or better, an inch of vanilla bean)

1/4 cup of almond liqueur (your own homemade noyaux perhaps? Or Amaretto.)

Chop the plums, then add the sugar and lemon to sit overnight. This should be covered, and at room temperature. The next day, add the macerated mixture to a pot and bring to a boil. Add the stick and powdered cinnamon. When you it is close to being done–the water has boiled off, the mixture is thick, it is getting glossy and jam-like, add the vanilla. Once you feel the jam is done, turn off the heat and pour in the liqueur, stirring gently. Let the jam sit and stop bubbling. Ladle into warm jars, and process the way you prefer. Boiling water bath time should be 10 minutes.


Raspberry Plum Jam


It used to be that I would look longingly upon raspberries at farmers markets and u-pick farms. I might be tempted to buy a small half-pint, but there was certainly never a glut of raspberries. Which was sad for me because simple raspberry jam is one of my favorite treats. Funny how life works (was it creative visualization?) because now I am dealing with large quantities of raspberries. This year I started working as the jam maker for a local organic farm, Westwind Orchard. They grow a lot of gorgeous raspberries, a lot of which I make into jam. I’ve learned so much more about how raspberries act in preserves!

For personal stashes of jam, my friend’s father, who is also my neighbor, invited me to start picking from his small raspberry patch. Never one to turn down fruit, this year’s yield has allowed me to start experimenting. Their were some tart Italian prune plums in the house the other day, so I gave it a go. This pairing is such a natural, time wise—the raspberries and Italian prune plums are both in season at the same time in September. But it didn’t immediately feel simpatico–delicate raspberries with more earthy prune plums? Actually, yes!

One should note that however soft and yielding raspberries seem, their taste can actually be quite powerful! A small amount of raspberries can go a long way. What’s nice about the plums is that they meld with the raspberries’ flavor, amping them up with their acidity, stepping away to give the raspberry flavor center stage. The plums also add a pectin boost which offers a very nice set. The result is a lovely textured jam that tastes mostly like raspberries. A nice way to extend your raspberry purchases!

Raspberry Plum Jam

Yields six half pint jars

1 pound Italian prune plums, chopped into coarse dice

1 pound raspberries

1 pound sugar

Note: I did not use lemon in this jam because the plums were so tart. If you have a sweeter plum, please use a two teaspoons.

Mix all the ingredients together, and let them sit overnight (or about 8 hours) and macerate. Add to a heavy-bottomed jam pot and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling, give it between ten and twenty minutes of boiling for it to set. It will look glossy and shine. You may water bath this for ten minutes, following proper canning procedures.

See Food In Jars’ post on ensuring the set of your jam. More questions? Consult her amazing Canning 101 page.


Exciting New Pickles!


After years of gardening and putting food up, things start to get a little predictable. There are certain things you require for the larder, and they get made every year. It’s usually basic stuff: your tomatoes, the pickles you like, your favorite jams. But the harvest gives you a goose every year to keep you from falling into a rut: more green tomatoes, some starchy peas you don’t really like, or you just get a hankering for something new. Here are a few of my more interesting pickles of this summer, to add along with last week’s pickled figs.

Quick Green Tomato Pickle: I made this super easy recipe from Linda Ziedrich’s Joy of Pickling. I must have a simpatico tastebud with the Mennonites because I like these strong-tasting pickles. They remind me of a similar tasting Mennonite recipe for Dutch Spears that I like from the same book. I like the super sour and sweet aspect of it, along with the onions which add a savory component. These do need to sit for the flavors to meld—a friend asked for the recipe on Instagram, and I needed to think about it before recommending the recipe. Now I’m all thumbs up.

Dill Pickle Kraut: Oh my goodness, this is so good. One day I had a lightening bolt idea of adding cucumbers and dill to my sauerkraut. Of course, many folks had already had the same brilliant idea. And brilliant it is, if not original. Basically, you are thinly slicing a cucumber into your kraut, and adding dill. It’s killer on a sandwich! Try this recipe.

A funny thing happened to this batch of sauerkraut: the brine ended up being thick, and a little viscous. I wasn’t terribly concerned because the vegetables were crisp and not soft or slimy which is an indication your ferment is off, but to make sure I googled it and found this post about this sauerkraut condition. Have you ever had a thick brine? Gosh, I love the internet.

Pickled Peas: So, I have been growing these purple podded peas. They are very pretty, easy to grow and prolific. But, actually? They don’t taste great. I find them a bit starchy and not very sweet. I wondered if pickling might help. I made them according to a pickled nasturtium pod recipe (try this one) and they are actually quite good! Maybe I’ll grow them again. I got the seeds initially from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, but they don’t have them anymore. Maybe they didn’t like the taste either?

Cold Fermented Pickled Tomatoes: I saw this posted on a Facebook group I’m in that Ken Albala leads (The Cult of Pre-Pasteurian Preservation and Food Preparation) and I knew right away I had to make them. I wasn’t the only one. They are very good, slightly fizzy. I wonder if mine are firm enough? I’ve never had the real deal in Russia, so I will have to feel satisfied with it.

I must say, in conclusion, that I’m a bit pickled out. Our joke these days is this:

Q: What’s for dinner?

A: Well, we have tomatoes or pickles…

What were your exciting pickles this year?

Pickled Figs


Hello! I am back from the deep with renewed energy. Today is the first day of school in our parts, and it is a lucky thing because my porch is groaning with fruits and vegetables. Canning with a six-year old only goes so far. It’s much easier doing it solo. Unless I want to can some Legos in a light syrup.

I have lots of experiments to bring to the table, but this one stands out. It felt important to share right away because for some people, it is fig season. If, like me, all of your fig trees tragically died last winter, maybe you need to buy some figs. Lots of New York fig growers had problems last winter, says this article from the NY Times. So sad!


I was lucky enough to find these organic figs for sale at my local grocery store. I riffed off of a recipe from Linda Ziedrich for spiced cherries (see link for one of my favorite books). I think these figs are wonderful with a soft, creamy, nutty cheese–like Kunik from Nettle Meadow. These are also incredible in a salad, all you need is a drizzle of olive oil. The syrup the figs make an amazing drink added to some seltzer.

Pickled Figs

Yield: One Pint

This is a refrigerator pickle–no canning required.

Black Mission Figs (I think any fig will do, but the color they made the syrup is gorgeous)

About 1 cup of white wine vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup rosé wine (or white or red)

a goodly slice of lemon peel

half a bay leaf, crumbled a little

a good pinch of fennel seeds, about 1/4 teaspoon or less

Stuff your figs in a jar, whole. Cover them with the vinegar–you may have to use more or less than specified above. Screw on a lid, and let sit at room temperature overnight (8 to 12 hours).

The next day, drain the vinegar from the figs into a pan. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Let the syrup simmer for fifteen minutes so the flavors meld. Turn off the heat and let the syrup cool.

When cool, pour the syrup over the figs (still in the jar) and screw on the lid. Let them stand at room temperature, in a cool dark spot, for 2 to 3 days. Then return to the fridge to sit, for a few weeks, up to a month before eating.


Summer Loving


We are in deep summer over here, and I find it’s somewhat like deep winter. There is a lull, a quietness, as if all the wheels that were grinding have come to a halt. It’s like being underwater. The days are hot and long, the constant rattle of the cicadas is only interrupted by the shrill meow of the catbird. We take car rides to find fruit to make into jam, out winding roads called Butterville, alongside mountain ridges, passing wide fields of green lined with tall, old trees.

The summer is dotted with bursts of fun in the quiet, like butter on a fruit crisp these bits of fat are savored greedily. Like the fair, driving out on Libertyville Road, past the corn fields, high and waving. I am forever enamored of the iconic beauty of a country fair–the lights, the dusky sunset, the wildness seeping through as night falls. And then there’s the days at the river beach, the sand, the slow river with barges chugging by, the white clouds rising above. It’s summer, and I’m letting myself sink into it.

Despite all this slow motion, there’s a frenetic note too: the preserver’s frenzy. I’m a little more paced about it this year as I’ve gotten out of control in years past with my need to stick everything in a jar. There’s been a lot of jam-making, as usual, and lots of fermenting. The cucumbers are prodigiously producing fruit, and each ten pounds gets pickled: sandwich stuffers, Dutch spears, half-sours. The tomatoes aren’t so good this year, looks like there’s some fusarium wilt unfortunately. But no matter, there’s lots of good tomatoes to buy for canning. The kitchen, dining, and porch tables are constantly groaning with revolving loads of produce.

There is a side table in my dining room that I have found is perfect for fermentation, and it’s been bubbling with activity all summer. There’s a red wine vinegar that forms a strong mother when I feed it some red wine, a fruit vinegar that is young and vibrant, and a newly started apple vinegar.  The fermenting padron peppers smell smoky and spicy. Their promise is palpable in the room’s air.

I think I’m going to sink a little deeper into this summer soup. I’ll be back in another week or two, ready and revived to share more recipes. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you are preserving this summer. Won’t you tell me what you’re up to?


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