Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Peach Pickles

Peach Pickles

Writing in The Flavor Thesaurus, Niki Segnit observes that, "As a society lady at the turn of the twentieth century, you were nobody until you'd had a peach-based dessert named after you."  She cites Sarah Bernhardt's peches aiglon, singer Blanche d'Antigny's coupe d'Antigny, and the peaches-and-kirsch concoction known as "Princess Alexandra".  

Around the same time but a world away, the women who settled the Pacific Northwest were also intent on peaches and posterity, making summer's bounty last a little longer with the help of peach pickles. Jacqueline B. Williams includes one 19th century recipe in The Way We Ate: Pacific Northwest Cooking, 1843-1900; since it called for nine pounds of peaches and some spices that I don't keep in the pantry, I made a few adjustments.

Peach Pickles

-Wash and dry 1 1/2 lbs of ripe but firm peaches; halve them and remove the pits. 
-Combine 1/2 lb sugar, 1/2c white vinegar, 2 sticks cinnamon, 12 cloves, and 1 Tbs cardamom seeds; bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and reduce the liquid to a syrup.  
-Remove the syrup from the heat and gently add the fruit, stirring to coat. 
-Follow your usual canning procedure or pack the cooled fruit and syrup in a jar and store in the fridge.  
-Eat as-is or with vanilla ice cream, and use the delicious syrup as a dessert topping or drink flavoring.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

St Demetrios Greek Festival

St Demetrios Greek Festival, $5

The organizers of the annual Greek Festival at Seattle's St Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church have clearly learned a few things since the festival was first held in 1960.  After fifty-two years, they have celebrating down to a science.  

Entering the festival is like arriving in a foreign country:  exchange some cash for festival tokens and pick up a helpful map.  Get the lay of the land by attending an informative sanctuary tour, then pick up some souvenirs at one of the shops or bookstores.  Having worked up an appetite, chose from sit-down meals in the dining room, beer and snacks at the adults-only tavernas, or coffee and sweets--available by the box from the Agora market or by the piece from the Kafenion

The bougatsa (above) is served warm from the oven, highlighting its great interplay of textures:  crinkly phyllo pastry, creamy custard, and crunchy walnuts.  Also available: 

Baklava:  a sweet sandwich of walnuts, cinnamon, and buttered phyllo, soaked in syrup
Bakalava sundae: a new spin on the old favorite, chopped baklava pastry with espresso, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream
Kourambiethes:  butter cookies coated in compacted powdered sugar
Kataifi:  shredded phyllo pastry with walnuts, cinnamon, and sugar
Pasteli: candy made from sesame seeds and honey
Galaktoboureko: semolina custard with crispy buttered phyllo, soaked in orange blossom syrup
Koulouraki: pretty braided butter cookies
Melomakarona:  olive oil cookies flavored with orange, brandy, honey, and walnuts
Loukoumades:  doughnuts with honey and cinnamon

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cherry Shrub and Shrubet


Acetic acid is powerful stuff, capable of clearing your sinuses, cleaning your bathroom, or transforming bland and perishable cucumbers into zingy pickles with a near-infinite shelf life.   

Along with water, acetic acid is the essential ingredient in vinegar--but it need not be the dominant flavor.  Brewing vinegar directly from tasty ingredients such as fruits and grains ("pure vinegars") or adding these ingredients to vinegar prior to a second, shorter fermentation process ("compound vinegars") can result in something more like a liqueur:  smooth, intense, aromatic, and even drinkable, usually as an apertif, digestif, or diluted into a kind of spritzer.  In many places, that mixture of fruit vinegar and water or soda water is known as "shrub". 

Home-brewed compound vinegars have a long history and after a quiet spell have seen a recent bump in prominence.   Making your own is easy (shrub is the jam of lazy DIYers) and relatively cheap if you use the fecund-est local fruit of the moment (in my case, cherries).  

Cherry Shrub

4 lbs cherries, washed, sorted, stemmed, and pitted
4 c vinegar (I used Bragg's apple cider; depending on your fruit you could use white, balsamic...)
1/2 c sugar (to taste)

-Put the fruit in a large non-reactive pot or several glass jars and add enough vinegar to cover.  
-Let the fruit sit, covered, at room temperature temperature for a week, stirring well each day. 
-On Day 7 or 8, stir in the sugar and heat the fruit to a low boil for about an hour.  
-Remove from the heat and when the mix is cool enough to handle, strain the liquid into clean jars.  Reserve the fruit solids (see below). 
-Mix chilled shrub with water or soda water to taste, or sip straight.  


Bonus:  Shrub-et!

Why waste all that yummy fruit mush?  If shrub makes for a refreshing drink, it's off-the-charts invigorating as a frozen treat.  

leftover shrub fruit (of course this is best done with fruits such as pitted cherries that are entirely edible)
sugar to taste
spices and flavorings to taste
approx. 2 T vodka (depending on the volume of fruit)

-If your fruit is chunkier that you like in a frozen dessert, whizz it in a food processor.  
-Add just enough water to dissolve about 1/2 c of sugar; stir, shake in a jar, or heat gently until the sugar grains completely melt.  
-Mix the fruit and syrup.  
-Add any desired spices or flavorings (to my cherry mush I added a little cinnamon, ground cardamom, and black pepper, plus about 1 T of almond extract).  
-Stir in a little neutrally-flavored alcohol to keep the mush from freezing rock-solid. 
-Pour into a plastic tub or bowl and place in the freezer.  To create a softer texture, break up the ice crystals by raking the shrubet with a fork every hour or so as it freezes, then give it a final fluff about 15 minutes before serving. 

For more on shrub's history and resurgence in popularity, check out this NYT article

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Festival of Fruit


Apple Pie
Tillie's Cafe, $3

A local politician, newspaper cartoonist, and professional baker, Andrew "A.W." Piper sounds like the kind of guy I'd welcome getting stuck next to on a long flight.  In 1889 the "Great Fire" that destroyed much of Seattle leveled his bakery.  The Piper family moved further out of town, to a small group of abandoned loggers' cabins, where they planted a large garden and a fruit orchard.  Piper's heirs later sold the land to the Carkeek family, who donated the area now known as Carkeek Park to the city of Seattle in 1927.  

In 1983 the remains of the overgrown orchard were identified on a slope running along Piper's creek.  A team of volunteers have slowly coaxed the apple, quince, and nut trees back to productivity, preserving a juicy slice of Seattle's horticultural past.  

The park now hosts a "Festival of Fruit" each fall, featuring live music, a cider press, fruit tasting and identification, expert lectures, and an apple pie contest.  Additional apple pies are available by the slice from "Tillie's Cafe", a folding table named in honor of the Pipers' daughter.  The Festival also offers the perfect opportunity to walk off some of that pie; hike around the steep slopes of the Pipers' verdant orchard, take in the boozy perfume of the windfall apples, and think about how much has changed in the last 100 years--and how much hasn't. 


Friday, September 7, 2012

Port Gamble Tea Room

Kahlua truffle
For the Love of Chocolate, $2.60

Port Gamble is a 19th century company town that grew up to house and serve the employees of a single dominant industry, the local sawmill.  When that mill finally closed in 1995, after 142 years of continuous operation, the town was able to capitalize on its "frozen in time" appeal.  Although there are less that a thousand full-time residents, tourists regularly fill the parking areas and swarm the sidewalks for special events or fairs, or just for the pleasure of visiting the little shops and restaurants that now occupy the preserved wooden buildings.  

Taste Port Gamble is the superhero of these businesses, a single tidy front that conceals three distinct identities.  By day it's the Tea Room at Port Gamble, offering English-style formal tea options, including chocolate high tea, cream tea, and tea sandwiches; loaner picture hats and feather boas are available for any guests who arrive under-accessorized.  On Friday and Saturday evenings it transforms into Bistro by Night, featuring tapas, schnitzel, salmon, and stroganoff.  And night or day, guests can choose from a variety of flavorful chocolate truffles, made in-house under the For the Love of Chocolate label

Taste Port Gamble
32279 Rainier Street 
Port Gamble WA 
360 / 297-4225

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Blackberry Cafe


Wild Blackberry Crumble
Blackberry Cafe, $6.95

Joyce is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it highway town with one attraction that tempts travelers to pull over:  the deliciously invasivore Blackberry Cafe. 

Although Washington state does have indigenous blackberries, those timid natives faded into the background with the introduction of Himalayan and Evergreen varieties in the late 19th century.  The aggressive interlopers were first grown as food crops, but quickly jumped the fence to spread unchecked across the state.  

There are ongoing efforts to eradicate invasive blackberries, but in the meantime they're a dependable source of fat, juicy fruit for the Blackberry Cafe.  The Cafe buys blackberries from the local foragers throughout the summer, stockpiling enough to make it through the winter. 

4-year-old establishment isn't shy about its specialty.  The menu features blackberry BBQ sauce, blackberry salad, blackberry vinagrette, blackberry shakes, blackberry lemonade,  and blackberry creme crepes (reminding me of that scene in "Better Off Dead" when the host mother reels of the menu for her French-themed feast:  "French fries, French toast, French dressing...").  The "Fresh from the Oven" baked goods aren't even on the menu; look instead for an up-to-the-minute white board. 

With summer edging into fall, the blackberry crumble is a perfect match for the transitional weather:  warm berries oozing juice as if they'd just come in from the sun, blanketed with comfortingly crispy, buttery oats. 

Blackberry Cafe
50530 Hwy 112 W
Joyce, WA
360 / 928-0141