I once had a gig writing about Depression-era Americans - and how they got through it by canning and pickling summer's bounty. Today's farm-totable enthusiasts have revived this nearly lost art; here, local experts share their tips:
The opening of BAWK, a breakfast pop-up, came just as we were losing strawberry season - but not to worry. Jennifer Samuels (she and husband Will co-own BAWK and its host restaurant, Pizza Nola) has put up jar after jar of strawberry jam.
The jam's chunky, with precious bits of real berry, and a great texture so that it clings thickly to a BAWK buttery biscuit.
"This sunny jam tastes like a pure strawberry, and not some hyper-sweet version of the fruit. "I use low amounts of sugar, which lets the fruit shine," says Jennifer, who made "crazy amounts of jam" as a kid on her grandparents' Illinois farm.
Her biggest canning tip? Time. "I wait until fruit's in peak season, really ripe," she says, and then heats it gently.
Some upcoming flavors at BAWK will include a blueberry-strawberry-basil jam, citrus marmalade (this winter), and a Vidalia onion-peach jam at the request of BAWK's chef, Allan Fickling, who'll pair it with braised pork belly.
Matt Ribachonek learned to cook from his Ukrainian grandmother and great aunt, who taught him the value of canning: "In eastern Europe, it's so cold, you have to jar and pickle to keep vegetables," he says.
The size of his kitchen, though (at the back of live music joint Siberia), makes it almost impossible to reserve pickling or jam jars, so he makes applesauce and kapusta (vinegar-stewed cabbage) almost daily. His method stops short of canning: for the applesauce (mild, with a pleasing round texture) he stews down Gala apples with lemon juice, water, honey and cinnamon spices, then mashes and chills it.
The kapusta gets its roasted, nutty flavor from caraway seeds, which infuse the cabbage as it cooks down with vinegar and water. The versatile condiment is terrific in one of Matt's sandwiches (I'm partial to the Russki Reuben), and is more mellow than traditional sauerkraut.
That's not the only change in method - while Matt keeps the kapusta over heat until the liquids evaporate, "my grandmother would put it in a pillowcase and whip it to dry it out," Matt says.
The Company Burger.
Chef and owner Adam Biderman's brief foray into kimchi this summer took the Korean condiment to the brink of fermentation, and without the benefit of gochugaru (he made do with Thai chili powder).
Making the ginger-forward, deeply savory kimchi was a "powerful" experience, Adam says, because it "keeps [my staff] interested, and it's a chance for me to flex my chef's muscle."
Burger-ready condiments are more his focus, like a plummy tomato jam that blends the fruit with red wine vinegar, sugar and what tastes like a touch of cloves. It's sweetly complex and clean, brightening the turkey burger with which it's paired.
The Company Burger blows through about 80 pounds of bread and butter pickles a week, Adam says. They're tangy and sweet, with a terrific crunch (his secret: brining the cucumbers overnight, draining and cooking them the next day, then moving the cooked pickles hot into the fridge). He makes relish from this same pickle stock, and makes pickled jalapenos the same way.
"If I had a whole other building with a staff of three," Adam says, "I'd have 700 pounds of pickles in saltwater right now."
This Uptown restaurant has the feel of a country general store, with sparkling jars of canned fruits and veggies lining the walls, and the delicious product reaches deep into Dante's menu:
Try the charcuterie plate, which shows off pickled local peaches, and a mostarda that's figgy and thick, with a swift mustard kick.
The sweetened cheese plate (dappled with chocolate kisses) showcases the kitchen's brilliant strawberry-citrus marmalade.
The classic English pairing of oxtail and red wine gets a fresh makeover in a gently curried marmalade that's drizzled over Gulf flounder and coconut basmati rice. The marmalade - sweet golden grapes mashed with sugar and reduced, then paired with braised oxtail - adds complexity and warmth to the otherwise mild-mannered dish.
True to the eatery's World War II theme, the American Sector sprouted a Victory Garden (about a block along the restaurant's side wall) and continues to make its own jams and pickles (which come out in a mason jar as the restaurant's amuse-bouche). Chef de Cuisine Todd Pulsinelli shared the four different brines he uses:
Watermelon. Todd salts and rinses cubed watermelon rind, then makes a brine with star anise, cinnamon sticks and sugar. After boiling and cooling the brine, he pours it over the watermelon and immediately pops them in the cooler. On the menu, these watermelon pickles are paired with garlic fried chicken.
House pickles. Fresh tarragon and dill from the Victory Garden, and Covey Rise cucumbers, come together in this pepper-flaked brine.
Turmeric. Green tomatoes, mirlitons and squash get treated with turmeric-tinged brine, giving the Covey Rise vegetables a golden color and an earthy ginger taste.
Citrus. Chef Todd marinates lemon cucumbers (named for the color and shape) in brine brimming with orange and lemon zests, with a kick from red pepper flakes.
And jams. Be sure to check out the seasonal marmalade that come with the American Sector's Monte Cristo; these days, it's house-made peach and blueberry. PLACES TO JAM