I lived in Alaska for 18 years and, with this August, have now lived in California for 18 years. I have been thinking about this because of the recent writing class I took with Molly Wizenberg (!) on the craft of memoir writing through the lens of place. In July, I spent two weeks in Alaska: a week in Sitka at the Sitka Arts and Science Festival and then traveled to Haines for a week with my family. It was an amazing experience and I am still processing through it all. I met incredible people who I now consider dear friends. I plan to share more in a future post, but for now, I am reveling in post-glow of Alaskan vacation. I have also been thinking about the color magenta.
When I was around 7 or 8, I fell for magenta. I don’t think I was ever a light pink fan. I liked the deep dark saturated pink. It is the color of fireweed that grows rapidly in the summer in long Alaskan daylight. It is such a lovely shock to see swaths of it framing the edges of beaches and roads, a contrast to all the green and blue. When it reaches the top of the stalk, it’s seed-pods split open to reveal downy feathers and we know summer is almost up.
For me, the California equivalent of this deep pink is found in bougainvillea. Their brightly colored papery blooms are seemingly present year-round. There is scale to their shade- some can be almost apricot in tone- but I like the pink that fairly pulses against the eyes. In growing, it seems to take over: draping over chain link fences and climbing up pergolas, wrapping around sides of homes. It transforms even the most mundane scenes with it’s gorgeousness- like a charming person livening up a boring cocktail hour.
As much as I love it, I do not wear this deep magenta shade. But looking at my kitchen shelf, I think I have been trying to preserve it: jars of jams, jellies, butters all tend towards that dark hue.
The box of jam arrived from Alaska on a Friday afternoon. Miraculously, only one jar broke. It was shipped priority mail and somewhere in route got a bit beat beat up. When it was delivered to our doorstep it was set inside a thin plastic USPS mail tote. This was to contain the deep pink stickiness seeping through the upper left corner edge. It must have been dumped upside down at some point for it to leak through like that.
I took the box into the kitchen and cut it open. The other jars were covered in a mixture of raspberry jam and glass shards. Josh carried the tote over to the kitchen sink and carefully pulled each jar out. I gingerly rinsed them off, gently turning and brushing so I didn’t cut myself. What remained of the delivery were 5 raspberry jam, 2 high bush cranberry jelly and 3 apple butter.
I made the raspberry jam about a week earlier, at my parents stove. While I was in Sitka, Josh and my mom had picked the wild raspberries from a couple of spots around Haines. They froze the berries overnight on cookie sheets and then bagged them up. The last day of our vacation, I made a double batch of raspberry jam. It turned the most beautiful deep color and puckery sweet as only wild raspberries can really deliver. I used a recipe from Martha Stewart online and scrolled through it on my phone while skimming pink foam from the bubbling mixture on the stove. My mom and I did consult a few of her vintage cookbooks for recipes. One of my favorites was “Farm Journal’s Country Cookbook” and on the page opposite the title, my mom had signed her name and dated it “1/21/74 – A present to myself.” I love that. The final result was 10 sealed half pint jars plus one large mason jar of extra that my mom put in her fridge. They packed up six of the sealed raspberry jars, along with some of my mom’s preserves, to send to us.
I put the jam jars on my kitchen shelf, along with the other home canned items: brandied cherries with red wine, strawberry butter, strawberry lavender jam, strawberry chamomile syrup. It stirs my heart to look at those shades of red and deep pink, the caramel brown of the apple butter.
My Dad says my great grandma Helen used to take people on tours out to her cold cellar/shed to show the rows of shelving with jars of preserves and canned goods, savory and sweet. All of it made by her.
I get a similar sense of pride with my own little kitchen shelf. I displaying the wares out in the open so I can see them and others can too. Preserving or "putting up" may be a one of those kitchen skills we're losing, I think. In my little slice of southern California, it also feels a bit like a privileged one: fresh fruit in quantities enough for jam or jelly can be expensive. Two years ago I closed my eyes and handed over $75 to a berry vendor at the Claremont farmers market for a flat of jewel-like raspberries. The berries were gorgeous but I was fully aware that the cost of the fruit and my labor pushed the expense of a jar of the resulting jam into the area of “luxury”.
I do it anyway because I like the connection to the history of women in my family, who lived on farms in Washington, Colorado and South Dakota and worked tirelessly every day of their lives. I do it anyway because, no matter where I live, towards the end of summer, there is a grasshopper voice in my head that says I need to prepare for the winter. I like knowing that my family and I can enjoy the same jam on our toast for breakfast, even though we are in different states.
I lead this little life, between the pink of the Alaskan fireweed and the magenta of the California bougainvillea, between the ditch-side raspberries free for picking and the stalls of organic produce at the year-round farmers market. Sometimes I love the other most when I am away from it. I feel very lucky to know both.
While I would not hazard to provide a recipe for canning, I will share my favorite book on the subject: “Canning for a New Generation” by Liana Krissoff. The Amazon link is here. The book is arranged by seasons and a wonderful mix of classic preserves alongside other recipes with a modern twist. One of my favorites is strawberry lavender jam. The flavors complement each other so nicely, that I also pair them for a quick dessert: roasted strawberries with lavender. Sliced strawberries are roasted with a little sugar, butter, and a 1/2 teaspoon of dried lavender. In the heat of the oven, the berries give up their juices and results in a more concentrated brightness, I feel, than if the sauce were cooked on the stovetop. Also, doesn’t it just sound romantic? I mean romantic in the broad sense of the term: as in the quiet of an evening kitchen, the clip of a knife on the cutting board as it slices through the petit fruit, the fragrant rustle as I dip a teaspoon into my stash of dried lavender, the scrape of spoon across the roasting pan reaching for every puddle of syrup, the wordless way I hand my husband a bowl where the dark heat of the roasted strawberries is softening the edges of a scoop of pale vanilla ice cream. I can still find strawberries at my local grocery stores and if you can too, I recommend trying out this treat.
As in so many things, I owe a debt of gratitude to Molly Wizenberg for her writing on roasting fruit. I adopt her method here. If you are unfamiliar with Molly’s writing, I am thrilled to introduce you to her blog, Orangette. Her books stand out among my favorites, here and here. If you’re in the Seattle area, a visit to one of the restaurants she and her husband own is a must (Delancey, Essex, and Dino's Tomato Pie).
Roasted strawberries with lavender
1 lb. strawberries, trimmed and thickly sliced. I cut each strawberry into about 4-5 vertical slices.
¼ cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon dried culinary lavender
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
1) Preheat oven to 400.
2) In an 8 x 13 baking dish, combine sliced strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and lavender. Give a big stir to evenly distribute sugar. Dot the top with unsalted butter cubes.
3) Roast uncovered for 12 minutes. Stir. Bake uncovered for 12 minutes, stir. I usually go another 5 minutes after this, but up to you.
4) Once pulled from the oven, let cool ever so slightly. If serving warm, enjoy with ice cream. Otherwise refrigerate, covered. When consuming from the fridge, warm in the microwave (10 second bursts) to melt the butter and stir to reincorporate. This is also great on a slice of toast spread with cream cheese or mascarpone.