Contraband Jam


When I was in Ireland, specifically on Inchydoney Island in West Cork, my friend Karen urged me to buy some preserves.

“You have to,” she said. “It’s the best raspberry jam ever.”

She was right. It was criminally good. The smell? Rich and pure raspberry. It tasted heavenly sweet.

Apparently, berries thrive in locales with cool temperatures and lots of light, and Ireland has that in spades in summer. (Similar conditions exist elsewhere. Years ago I ate the best strawberries ever on the island of Askøy, Norway. But I digress.)

In February I left Ireland with a jar of Inchydoney jam in my suitcase. But foolishly, I stowed it in my carry-on, and airport security spied it through x-ray. “Sorry, miss,” the security officer said. Like a surgeon extracting an organ, he reached into the belly of my bag and plucked out the jar.

Damn, I thought. Well, at least he called me miss, not ma’am.

Never mind. Karen successfully mailed me another jar, buffered by clothing. I cherished it, eating the jam sparingly. When it was all gone, I kept the jar in the fridge.

And sniffed it periodically. Like an exotic perfume.

Karen thought my jar-sniffing was weird, so on her next trip to West Cork, she bought me two more jars. This time, she mailed them wrapped in a dish towel. Later, she mentioned that the postman told her she was crazy — the postal service camera would catch the jam and confiscate the whole package.

But he was wrong. The contraband jam slipped the system. Two pristine jars of goodness.

So I’m back to eating — not sniffing — for now.



Crack Cream

In my post last week, I suggested that I’d soon be churning homemade ice cream.

I didn’t mean it.

It just sounded nice at the end of that blog post.

But over the weekend I got inspired.

Last year I bought an old hand-crank ice cream tub, spurred by a romanticized notion of making dessert the old fashioned way.

But electric ice cream makers were invented for a reason. Old fashioned is a pain in the butt.

First there’s the ingredient prep (I use the “custard based” recipe. Translation: eggs included.)  After cooking the mixture, it’s got to chill overnight.

Then there’s the rock salt acquisition. In search of salt, Martin visited a couple of hardware stores this weekend. At each one he was told, “We don’t carry rock salt for ice cream, just water softening salt.”

One guy directed me to a grocery store; I phoned three places. No luck. The last store told me to try WalMart.

Finally I realized that these people thought the salt was going in the ice cream.

Stupid people.

Even stoopider me — I kept hunting for mythical ice cream salt.

Just get me the water softening salt, I asked Martin. (It looks like the same stuff we used last year.)

So Sunday night we had the mix prepped, the rock salt readied, the berries picked and a few bags of ice on hand.

That was the easy part. We still had to churn it.

Martin offered to help but I hovered over him barking advice. “Turn it faster! Add more salt! More ice! Don’t be so rough, that ice cream maker’s an antique!” He walked off the job. I knelt down and got cranking. 

And maybe it was the water softening salt, or all the trips to the gym. Churning was a breeze.

I whipped up a batch of strawberry ice cream, followed by a second batch of raspberry/black raspberry ice cream. I packed samples in tupperware and doled them out to friends.

“Your ice cream’s got me hooked like crack…I need more!” one friend proclaimed in a text message.

It is seriously good.

If my freelance writing career every belly-flops, maybe I’ll peddle crack cream.

Fruit Census

Martin and I care for kids and fruit trees in much the same fashion:

We get them started, monitor them for a few weeks, and then leave them to fend for themselves.

We subscribe to a hands-off approach.

We planted apple trees in April ’09 and since then, I’ve probably checked them three times. Maybe that’s why they haven’t been fruitful. Wicked weather and wildlife haven’t helped, either.

In their first full year, summer of 2010, they were stunted by droughty weather. (We planted them beyond the reaches of our longest garden hose.)

And in 2011 Martin pulled down their protective chicken wire to mow the high grass. Apparently that signaled every deer in 10 miles; they chewed off any shred of green. What they left were knobby, naked branches.

This year is different. Most days I roar up the driveway, spitting gravel and raising a cloudy plume that mars a view of the orchard. But the other day I was nearly out of gas so I crept along, telling the car to sip fuel. And while I was killing time at this glacial pace, I glanced out the window. Was that a glint of red in those trees? That night I ventured out. Yes, them’s apples growing.

We should prune the trees and spray against insects but let’s be real: those apples are on their own.

The berries and grapevines grow by the barn and a convenient water source, so we treat them better than the trees banished in the sheep field.

In 2011 the black raspberries shriveled in a stretch of hot, dry days but this year, they’re flourishing. Darkening up and soon ready to pick.

The blueberries would be doing well, except the damn kids keep picking them before they’re ripe. “We like them tart!” they say.

The raspberries did wonderfully last year — they earn the drought-tolerant award — but this season they’re struggling. Perhaps it’s too much rain, or else they’re suffering from fallout from the grapevine spray. We’ve been at war against blackrot — it claimed the grapes two years in a row. As a result, Martin’s been dousing the vines and it’s possible that the neighboring raspberries got caught in the crossfire.

There’s only one other plant to acknowledge and that’s our teacher’s pet: the strawberries. They’re the newest addition and so far they’re impervious to wacky weather, neglect and constant trampling of kids and cats. Gold star for you guys.

I see hand-churned ice cream in the future….