Saturday, March 31, 2007

Blackberry Jam

The big difference between home canned jams and the stuff you buy from the store is the amount of fruit that you taste. Properly done home canned blackberry jam will taste a lot closer to the real thing. You can use just about any berry you can think of with this recipe. I got it right off the side of the Certo® pectin box. I'm making the blackberry jam today. Tomorrow's breakfast is buckwheat pancakes!


2 Quarts ripe blackberries
7 cups sugar measured into a separate bowl and kept on the side
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 pouch Certo® fruit pectin
1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt

Wash the berries well under lots of cold running water. Drain in a strainer lined with paper towels.

Bring canning pot half filled with water to a simmer. Wash screw lids and rubber rings very well in hot, soapy water, rinse and dry thoroughly. Pour boiling water over the flat lids in a saucepan off heat and let stand in the hot water until ready to use. Dry completely before using.

Crush the blackberries thoroughly. (i use my trusty old potato masher for this) You can, if you wish, run half the mashed pulp through a seive to remove some of the seeds. I don't, but that's just me. Measure exactly 4 cups of fruit, add the 1/4 teaspoon salt and put into a 4 to 6 qt heavy saucepan. Add the sugar one cup at a time while stirring constantly and bringing the fruit to a full rolling boil. This means that the mixture keeps boiling while being stirred. Use more, or less, sugar according to your own taste. Add the butter as you need to keep the foaming under control. Stir in the pectin and boil for a full minute. Remove from heat and take off any foam with a metal spoon.

Ladle this immediately into the canning jars, filling to within an 1/8" to the tops. Wipe the jar rims and threads. Cover with the 3 piece lids and screw down tightly. Place the jars into the canning rack and lower into the simmering water. (the boiling water should cover the jars by one to two inches) Cover canning pot and boil gently for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars from the water and cool them on a towel down to room temperature. When they are fully cooled test the seals by pressing your finger into the center of the lid. (if the lid springs back the seal is not secure and this must be refrigerated and eaten first) Those with good seals will keep on a dark pantry shelf for almost a full year.

Once you've done this a few times feel free to experiment with the recipe by adding things like grated lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, and more, or less, amounts of pectin.

You'll find that when you've mastered a skill as basic as home canned jams your courage levels and ambitions when you visit the farmer's markets will increase exponentially. You'll also find yourself damned close to unable to eat anything store bought except the most expensive imported stuff. (which, by the way, doesn't deviate from this basic recipe much at all)

(cue the 5 string banjo)

buckwheat cakes, your buckwheat cakes
along with crispy bacon
buckwheat cakes, your buckwheat cakes
are what set my heart
to achin'


Friday, March 30, 2007

This is So Wrong (and so funny)

Friday Random Ten

And a beautiful Friday morning it is. . .

Two More Bottles of Wine - - - Delbert McClinton
Handle Me With Care - - - Traveling Wilburys
Son of A Preacher Man - - - Etta James
Got My Mojo Working - - - Muddy Waters & Buddy Guy
After The Gold Rush - - - Neil Young
Key To The Highway - - - Jeff Beck (live bootleg)
Cry Me a River - - - Julie London
The Cool, Cool River - - - Paul Simon
Phonograph Blues - - - Robert Johnson
Everything Goes to Hell - - - Tom Waits


Never Been To Spain - - - Hoyt Axton (live bootleg)

work beckons - - - what ya'll listenin' too?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Advice To The Senate From Marcus Tullius Cicero

One of the cooler things about Cicero was that he had the great good fortune to have a slave named Tiro who was the inventor of shorthand. There are a great many surviving word or word transcriptions of the things that Cicero said.

This comes from his first great legal victory. Cicero prosecuted Gaius Verres for crimes he committed while governor of Scicly. Theft of artworks, unlawful dentention and execution of Roman citizens. The crimes were numerous and heinous. The biggest hurdle facing Cicero in his prosecution of Verres was that the ill gotten gains had been used quite liberally as bribes in the case. The jury was composed of Senators and the defense counsels were Hortensius and Metellus Pius who, at the time, were both consul-elect.

Knowing that there was a very limited time for the trial (if it progressed into the new administration there would be no chance at all of a conviction) Cicero rose on the first day of court and said this:

"Gentlemen of the court, at this great political crisis there has been offered to you, not through man's wisdom but almost as the direct gift of heaven, the very thing you most need---a thing that will help more than anything else to mitigate the unpopularity of your Order and the suspicion surrounding these courts. A belief has become established---as harmful to the republic as it is to yourselves---that these courts, with your senators as the jury, will never convict any man, however guilty, if he has sufficient money.

But the character of the many I am prosecuting, is such that you may use him to restore your own good name. Gaius Verres has robbed the Treasury and behaved like a pirate and a destroying pestilence in his province of Sicily. You have only to find this man guilty, and respect in you will be rightly restored. But it you do not---if his immense wealth is sufficient to shatter your honesty---well then, I shall achieve one thing at least. The nation will not believe Verres to be right and me wrong---but they will certainly know all they need to know about a jury of Roman Senators!

Let me tell you of the impudent and insane plan that is now in Verres's mind. It is plain to him that I am approaching this case so well prepared that I shall be able to pin him down as a robber and a criminal, not merely in the hearing of this court but in the eyes of the whole world. But, in spite of this, he holds so low an opinion of the aristocracy, he believes the senatorial courts to be so utterly abandoned and corrupt, that he goes about boasting openly that he has bought the safest date for his trial, that he has bought the jury, and just to be on the safe side, he has also bought the consular election for his two titled friends who have tried to intimidate my witnesses! (at this point the consuls-elect as defense attorneys began to shout and disrupt the proceeding, Cicero wheeled on them and strode over to the defense table)

What? Did you count on my saying nothing of so serious a matter? On my caring for anything except my duty and my honor, when the country and my own reputation are in such danger? Metellus, (Metellus Pius, co-council for the defense, consul-elect, imperator of the 9th and 11th legions, triumphate for Spain, pontifex maximus, brother of the current governor in Sicily) I am amazed at you. To attempt to intimidate witnesses, especially these timorous and calamity-stricken Sicilians, by appealing to their awe of you as consul-elect, and the power of your two brothers---if this is not judicial corruption, I should be glad to know what it is! What would you not do for an innocent kinsman if you abandon duty and honor for an utter rascal who is no kin of yours at all? Because, I tell you this: Verres has been going around saying that you were only made consul because of his exertions, and that by January he will have the two consuls and a president of the court to suit him!
(Again, pandemonium erupted in the court. The defense was going apeshit, the gallery was screaming, Verres was shouting death threats and being physically restrained by the lictors of the court. When order was restored Cicero continued)

So, these are their tactics. Today the court did not start its business until the middle of the afternoon---they are already reckoning that today does not count at all. It is only ten days to the games of Pompeius Magnus. These will occupy fifteen days and will be immediately followed by the Roman Games. So it will not be until after an interval of nearly forty days that they expect to begin their reply. They count on being able then, with the help of long speeches and technical evasions, to prolong the trial until the Games of Victory begin. These games are followed without break by the Plebeian Games, after which there will be very few days, or none at all, on which the court can sit. In this way they reckon that all the impetus of the prosecution will be spent and exhausted, and that the whole case will come up afresh before Marcus Metellus, who is sitting there, on this jury.

So what am I to do? If I spend upon my speech the full time allotted me by law, there is the gravest danger that the man I am prosecuting will slip through my fingers. 'Make your speech shorter' is the obvious answer I was given a few days ago, (by Terentia his wife) and that is good advice. I shall go one better. Gentlemen, I shall make no speech at all!

That is right Hortensius, I am not going to play your game and spend the next ten days in the usual long address. I am not going to let the case drag on till January, when you and Metellus as consuls can use your lictors to drag my witnesses before you and frighten them into silence. I am not going to allow you gentlemen of the jury the luxury of forty days to forget my charges so that you can then lose yourselves and your consciences in the tangled thickets of Hortensius's rhetoric. I am not going to delay the settlement of this case until all these mutitudes who have come to Rome for the census and the games have dispersed to their homes in Italy. I am going to call my witnesses at once, beginning now, and this will be my procedure: I shall read out the individual charge. I shall comment and elaborate upon it. I shall bring forth the witness who supports it and question him, and then you, Hortensius, will have the same opportunity as I for comment and cross-examination,. I shall do all of this and I shall rest my case within the space of ten days.

Today, the eyes of the world are upon us, waiting to see how far the conduct of each man among us will be marked by obedience to his conscience and observance of the law. Even as you will pass your verdict upon the defendant, so the people of Rome will pass their verdict upon yourselves. The case of Verres will determine whether, in a court composed of Senators, the condemnation of a very guilty and very rich man can possibly occur. Because all the world knows that Verres is distinguished by nothing except his monsterous offenses and his immense wealth. Therefore if he is acquitted it will be impossible to imagine any explanation except the most shameful. So I advise you, gentlemen, for your own sakes, to see that this does not occur.

I call my first witness---Sthenius of Thermae."

The day before the guilty verdict was pronounced which would have stripped him of his citizenship and wealth Verres fled Rome for Africa. The final settlement of the things that he left behind barely covered the expenses Cicero incurred undertaking this prosecution. Cicero did, according to the laws of Lucius Cornielius Sulla, assume the Praetorian rank of Verres which assured his being allowed time to speak in the Senate.

I sent a copy of this speech to both John McCain and John Kyl. I don't think they will see the parallels to the situation of our government today that I do, but it doesn't matter. The White House is already talking about dragging the subpoena process along until they are out of office. The Senate, being mostly sheep, will probably let that happen.

Would that we had a Cicero.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lovliest of Trees, Blackberry Pie

The highlight for me on our trip to the produce farms was seeing row upon glorious row of cherry trees. They were in bloom. (spring came very early here, nature beat congress by weeks) I adore cherries. I absolutely go completely, totally apeshit for cherry pies. One of my favorite pies to make is a cherry/raspberry combo pie. I got the recipe off the food network. It was the overall winner on one of their pie challenge shows. But more on that later.

First, one of my favorite A.E. Houseman poems. From A Shropshire Lad (1896)

II. Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

I have far fewer than fifty springs left for walking among blooming rows of cherry trees. I was walking with the owner of the farm and produce stand. Talking about how I used to come to these farms as a kid. The young man I was walking with is the third generation of Japanese American folks to make their living on this patch of land. I told him how happy I was to see this splendor and artistry spring from one of the deeper crimes of American policy. He said that his grandparents talked about being forcibly moved from the Monterey peninsula. How one of his great uncles still volunteered for service in our army and was killed in the brutal assault on Monte Casino. Then we started talking food. The strawberries are beautiful this year. Huge, bright red and bursting with juice. The kids were walking carefully among the rows with their baskets, juice smeared over their faces. Then we moved to the blackberries. My neice came out of the blackberry rows with scratches all up and down her arms. She didn't care. She had a full basket of glorious, fat, glossy blackberries. Then we started singing "Who wants pie? Oh my, my. We're making pies tonight!" The strawberries are being dipped in chocolate, but that's another post. We'll talk about that when we take some chocolate dipped strawberries to our new farming friends.

This recipe comes from my grandmother. It is very close to the recipe that is in The Pie and Pastry Bible the difference is that Nana always kissed the berries in her pies with a little ground cloves and a sprinkle of nutmeg over the top. I'm going with Nana on this one.


Pie Crust for a 2 crust 9" Pie
1/2 cup baker's sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons fine grated lemon zest (using meyer lemons from the trees next door)
pinch kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cups blackberries (if you are still doing the through the snow trudge frozen works just fine here)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
freshly grated nutmeg to sprinkle over the top of the fruit right before you put the crust on top.
a little more baker's sugar mixed half and half with powdered sugar to sprinkle over the lattice crust

Roll out your bottom crust so there's enough to cut a 12" circle and put that in the pie pan. Trim to a slight overhang, cover with plastic wrap and put it back in the fridge.

In a large, non-reactive bowl mix the all the ingredients except for the nutmeg and hand toss them gently to mix them all well and thoroughly coat all the berries. Now, walk away from it and allow it to macerate (just sit there) for half an hour so that the berries will begin to release their juices and the dry ingredients get nice and sticky. Toss gently again and transfer to the bottom shell.

Grate about half of a nutmeg over the top of this.

Because of the tremendous amount of juice that tends to bubble out of this one, I like to use a lattice crust. To make this is very simple. Roll your pastry dough out until it is around 1/8" of an inch thick and then with a very sharp knife cut it into 1/2" strips. Lay a row of strips across the pie leaving enough room for a second row between strips. Put the first cross strip down, fold the bottom strips gently back over this, lay in your second row, lay down a cross strip. Now repeat that until the pie is covered. All you have to do is fold back the strips on the bottom of each cross strip that you lay down. Trim off the edges of the strips, moisten the ends with a little water (or lemon juice, doesn't matter) tuck them under the bottom shell and crimp. Cover the whole thing loosely and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the pastry to relax.

Right before you put this in the oven sprinkle the top crust very lightly with the half and half mix of baker's and powdered sugar. This will carmelize on the top of the crust and work as a clotting factor to help control bubbleovers. Preheat the oven to 425° with your rack and a lightly greased foil covered baking stone on the bottom rung. The foil is to protect the stone and the bottom of your oven from any bubbling spillover. It is especially going to happen if you are using fresh berries. You don't want to be faced with trying to blast this off your baking stone or the bottom of your oven. Small precautions taken now will save you tons of nasty work later.

Set the pie directly on top of the stone and bake for 30 minutes (45 minutes is what you'll need if using frozen berries but you'll need to check it after 30 anyway)
After 30 minutes put a foil ring around the edge of the pie to ensure even browning. Then, check every five or so minutes. What you want to see is a deep golden brown crust and a thickly bubbling filling. I must caution you when you take this out of the oven to not dip your finger in one of the little bubbleovers! It will stick and burn worse than napalm. (go ahead think about why I feel such a need to tell you this, then giggle at me and move on)

Cool on a rack at least 4 hours before serving with your favorite ice cream or dollops of freshly whipped cream.