Blueberries are my absolute favorite berry. As a kid I used to pick them off wild bushes on Nantucket with my brother and parents. We would get so many they were everywhere – blueberry pancakes, blueberry muffins, blueberry bread, fresh berries with cream, berries in our cereal, berries to snack on. Nothing is as delicious as a freshly picked, perfectly ripe blueberry.
The big problem though is out here in California the blueberries just don’t taste that good. First we tried growing a few varieties that are supposed to do well in this climate zone. Big disaster.
Then we tried to buy them at the farmers’ markets, but they were just too sour or the flavor wasn’t right. Who knew it was so hard to get a good blueberry!
Since we like to eat them every day as a compromise we buy them frozen and put them in our hot cereal in the morning. Even the frozen varieties are lackluster. Some are tiny and full of crunchy seeds. Terrible. These apparently are from Chile or Peru. We learned you have to look on the bag for the country of origin. If they aren’t from America don’t buy them.
Then there are big plump frozen ones, but they too can be hit or miss. For the past year we have been buying all sorts of frozen blueberries and finally found some half way decent ones.
Whole Foods had been selling organic frozen blueberries of the tiny crunchy kind that we stopped buying. Each bag was more seedy then the one before. Suddenly a new package with bigger blueberries. Not half bad. This is what we eat. But the range of ripeness is very wide. You get one nice ripe one that tastes pretty good. Then the next one is a little sour. Then one is dull. Then you get another half decent one. But they are so healthy we make do.
Then we read about the low bush vs. high bush blueberries. The low bush are wild and grow at ankle level. They have to be hand harvested with little rakes and are a fussy crop, but taste delicious. The high bush have higher yields and can be machine picked, but the flavor isn’t quite as good. We are sure what you buy just about anywhere, frozen or fresh are high bush and machine picked. And this explains the wide range of flavors since when they machine pick them they get all levels of ripeness mixed together.
Back in the mid-1980s I was getting into organic food and a friend told me about a summer internship program for high school kids where you could work on an organic farm. I forget the organization, but I applied and was given a list of farms that needed help. One was a blueberry farm in Maine that I instantly knew was just perfect. Then I called the farmer and she told me the farm was in the middle of nowhere and I would live all alone in a tiny cabin without any running water or a toilet in the middle of the blueberry field. She warned me my entire summer would be working on the farm and there was nothing else to do and no kids my age around. The idea of spending my summer alone in a cabin was not appealing so I never did the internship. Now I sort of regret it since working on an organic farm in 1985 would have been a good experience.
Anyhow, until I can travel back to New England and get my hands on some delicious wild berries I just have to make due with the frozen sort. Sometimes it is good to yearn for things. Even if it is for decades. Someday I will taste a perfect blueberry again. I know it.
We fell in love with all things Taylor & Ng many years ago after discovering their wonderful animal mugs. We started scouring Ebay for their other items no longer made such as trivets, pans, bacon presses etc. The mugs you can buy at their site above.
Spaulding Taylor and Win Ng were two San Francisco artists who founded the company in 1965 and it evolved into a store selling all types of products they designed or imported. We are trying to get more information on this seminal San Francisco company that still is in business selling a few products online, but the store closed in the 1980s.
They produced a series of books in the mid 1970s. Herbcraft, our favorite, is illustrated by Ng and written by Violet Schafer.
Other books they did include Wokcraft, Teacraft, Breadcraft and Coffee. Herbcraft has the most amazing illustrations by Ng and Schafer digs up the most fascinating history on the 26 herbs they highlight. The book includes recipes for a number of breads and crackers we have yet to try, but the cottage cheese herb bread sounds yummy. Schafer did a number of books with a Charles Schafter. We would love to know more about them; there is absolutely no information about them online.
Grab yourself a copy at any online used bookseller. They are pretty cheap and totally worth having in your library. We are excited to start growing borage just because of this book. The idea of candying the flowers sounds fantastic!
Who knows how long these wood scrubbing brushes will still be made. Lola is the company and it started back in 1968 selling wood-handled, natural bristle cleaning brushes made in Germany. The company has expanded to plastic products which we don’t like. Most plastic cleaning products are not stamped with what material they are made out of so it is impossible to know if they can be recycled. However, it seems a lot might be made out of the 5 Plastics
PP (polypropylene), but why they are not stamped is a mystery.
Anyhow, we like to use these for cleaning up pots and dishes since you can just toss them when they are worn out in the compost. They are just wood and tampico bristle which is made from a plant grown in Mexico.
Pääsiäisleipä is a Finnish triple risen sweet bread made this time of year to celebrate the birth of calves and the abundance of dairy products. As a kid my mom used to make this and it is simply delicious. The dough is similar to panettone and is studded with golden raisins, almond slivers, citrus and best and most surprising of all – ground cardamom. This takes a few hours of risings, but you will be justly rewarded with one of the most delicious breads ever. The recipe is from the Sunset Cook Book of Breads 1973.
The recipe makes a big loaf the size of panettone, but you can also cook the dough in muffin tins, adding the dough so it fills half of the tin and rising so it comes to the lip. There is enough dough to fill about three muffin tins. The cooking times will be shorter for the muffins. The most important thing is not to open the oven door until the dough has risen and the top is golden brown. If you open it too early it can fall. Even if it does fall as just happened to me because I opened the oven door too early (yes I forgot) it is still addictively delicious – just not as airy but denser in crumb.
And speaking of baking, if you like to bake we suggest you join the Baker’s Dozen. Membership is cheap and they have all kinds of fun classes, field trips and guest speakers with a catered lunch. They are known for their wonderful cookbook The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook.
Now back to the Pääsiäisleipä!
1 package of yeast
¼ cup warm water (105-115 F)
¾ cup light cream
1 cup all purpose unsifted flour
3 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
½ (1/2 lb) cup melted and cooled butter
½ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1 ts of lemon zest
1 TB of orange zest
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup milk scalded and cooled
1 cup rye flour
2 cups unsifted all purpose flour
Dissolve yeast in the warm water in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a mixer or food processor with a dough kneading attachment
Stir in the cream and 1 cup of the flour and beat until smooth. Turn out into a bowl or keep in the mixing bowl, cover and let rise until it doubles in size about 40 minutes. Mix in the egg, sugar, butter, salt cardamom, lemon and orange zests, raisins, almonds and beat until combined. Stir in the milk and rye flour and the 2 cups of all purpose flour and mix or knead for 5 minutes with a machine or 10 minutes by hand.
Butter a bowl and place dough in it and turn around to grease the top of it. Let it rise covered with a cloth until it has doubled in size.
Punch the dough down and work into a smooth ball. Place the dough in a well buttered 2 quart straight sided pot and let it rise until it is just about as high as the lip of the pot.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for around 40 minutes. Do not open the oven door until after it has risen and the top is a golden brown or it might fall. If it browns too much, put some foil over it and cook until a chopstick or knife comes out clean. Be careful not to overcook.
Allow to cook 20 minutes before removing from the pan.
Long before Michael Pollan wrote the The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Raymond A. Sokolov penned Fading Feast: A Compendium of Disappearing American Regional Foods in 1983. The book is a collection of articles he wrote as a columnist for the Natural History magazine starting in 1979 that stemmed from his concern for the disappearance of regional foods across the U.S.
The book has been reprinted and updated, but the original gist was groundbreaking – commercialization of foods was destroying regional foods and practices. This is the tune Slow Food and Slow Food USA have played along with a chorus of concerned people across the country who have embraced and tried to hold onto local agriculture and food production.
We recommend you get yourself a copy because you will learn a lot. For example we had no idea Indiana is home to some amazing local persimmons, or that wild rice in Minnesota used to be collected in a canoe with two sticks (now most wild rice is machine harvested) or that Michigan is famous for their morel mushrooms.
To keep this brief and to explain the title, we are in the midst of reading about the moonshine tradition in Virgina. Each chapter ends with recipes so as marmalade makers we just had to share with you the recipe for the Plantation Special cocktail.
Of course you are supposed to use illegal home-made hooch from corn cooked up in the deep woods, but bourbon, the sophisticated younger brother of white lightening will do. You can also buy legal moonshine from Ole Smokey or Troy and Sons. Keeping in mind nutmeg is a hallucinogen, we don’t recommend you knock too many of these back unless you feel like tripping.
1/2 heaping teaspoon of marmalade
2 oz of white lightening
1. Dissolve the marmalade and a dash of nutmeg in a little water
2. Add the booze, more nutmeg and ice and shake well
3 Serve in an old fashioned glass with another dash of nutmeg on top
We enjoy our bubbly. It can be the real thing or from other regions or countries, but if it has bubbles and tastes great we are happy campers. Sparkling wine also is a fantastic companion to a wide range of foods. Most people when shopping for wine reach for a red or white, but we encourage you to venture out and try the wide selection of sparklers out there since they pair so well with all kinds of foods. Even the cheap domestic stuff like the organic Korbel for $15 we buy at Safeway is pretty good for everyday drinking. For some reason Whole Foods doesn’t sell this though.
But then what to drink it out of? Now stemware for sparkling wine is divided into three categories: flute, tulip and coupe. The flute is the long thin triangle-shaped glasses like this:
The tulip is pretty self explanatory. Here is a nice set by Orrefors:
The last style will be familiar if you have ever watched an old movie since they usually drank out of the shallow bowl coupe glasses that were in vogue in the first half the the century.
In preparation for the past New Years, during which time we had to work unfortunately, Eric became obsessed with getting some coupe glasses. Maybe it was the childhood memories of sipping ginger ale out of plastic disposable ones when he was a kid and his family would attend the Newport Music Festival or maybe it was all those vintage movies he grew up watching, but he could think of nothing else for weeks on end until he found the perfect coupe.
And then reality struck. All the places online that sell coupe glasses are in Europe or in Australia. For some reason this style is more popular abroad. It was with great luck he finally secured the style he liked dirt cheap and for sale here in the states.
The agony of waiting for them to arrive in the mail was torture, but when they did and we poured some bubbly in them we were instantly disappointed. First, the smell from the wine isn’t as strong since it is not concentrated by the thin neck of the glass, and thus when drinking it (smell is a powerful component of taste) nothing tasted as good as in a tulip which is what we were used to. Also, like drinking out of a martini glass spills are much more likely. You just have to nudge the glass and tidal wave will jump out!
However, when it comes to visual impact the coupe really looks classy in a vintage glam way. So there you have it. Choose a style you like the best, but if you are a serious connoisseur stick to the narrow neck versions. And if you want to dress up in black tie with Anything Goes as background music, bust out the coupes!
A long time customer of ours who buys $500 dollars of our bread and butter pickles at a time gave us a jar of these Spanish marinated garlic cloves as a present. She told us they are a special variety of garlic that isn’t as strong and you don’t get garlic breath from them and they taste amazing. She was right! You can use them as you normally would use garlic. They have a wonderful delicate taste and are a perfect snack on their own. She orders hers from La Tienda which is where we buy our favorite Manchego cheese – the Villajos young and less aged variety we highly recommend. We got a wheel for our parents who are very fussy cheese eaters and they couldn’t stop raving about it. You can also buy both on Amazon.
Yes it is obvious we love cheese! I would say perhaps our all time favorite cheese is Winnimere. This is a wonderful washed rind cheese that to quote from Jasper Hill Farm’s website is wrapped “in cambium cut from the spruce trees on the farm and washed in a beer from our friends and neighbors at Hill Farmstead Brewery.” What is so terrific about this cheese is the super earthy flavors. Imagine a runny brie with mushroomy earthy notes. If you are a cheese lover like us do yourself a favor and give this stuff a try. You can order online with other tasty cheeses at their site.
If you like the super dense chewy moist type of European bread you will love Anna’s Daughter’s Rye. This is small batch stuff made in the Bay Area by one woman of Danish descent, Marianne Weiner, and we love the stuff. Not only is it full of whole grains and full of flavor, but if you keep it in the refrigerator it will stay fresh for almost two weeks. We don’t eat tons of bread so half of what we buy goes stale and you can only make so much bread crumbs! You can order it online along with her chocolate bark. I met Marianne one afternoon while I was doing a farmers’ market in Sausalito and she gave me a bit of the bark saying it was a new product. It is delicious!
While wandering Whole Foods we spotted this almost glowing orange cheese and snapped it up. What is it? A Red Leicester! We simply love cheddar and this is a more mild yet similar type cheese. The one we got is by Thomas Hoe Stevenson and has an almost chewy texture it is so soft. After some research we know why. These cheeses are around 40 percent fat so be careful! Quoting from Wikipedia, “the cheese was originally made on farms in Leicestershire with milk that was surplus once all the Stilton desired was made. It was originally coloured with carrot or beet juice.” I certainly hope they still use the vegetable color, but I highly doubt it. Also ours was pasteurized, but I bet if we were in Leicester we could get some really good unpasteurized stuff.