Harvesting Grapes and Cabbage

Crushing grapes

My son and daughter-in-law brought eight friends from Portland last Saturday morning to help with the wine-grape harvest. By lunchtime, they had picked our whole little vineyard and crushed all the grapes. Right after lunch, they pressed the pinot gris and Müller-Thurgau.

Having planned to feed our helpers dinner as well as lunch, my husband and I now had to think of something else for them to do. Why not start a batch of kimchi? I had seven fat heads of Chinese cabbage waiting in the garden.

Cutting cabbage for kimchi

In short order the cabbages were trimmed, washed, and cut into squares. I mixed some brine, and we set the cabbage to soaking in three 4-gallon buckets, weighted with dinner plates.

“Is it time to bury the buckets now?” Ryan, who has lived in China and studied Asian cultures in college, knew about the old Korean custom of storing kimchi pots in the ground. But it wasn’t time for a burial. It was time to take the trimmings to the chickens, who excitedly tore the bug-eaten outer cabbage leaves to pieces.

Cabbage mixed with seasonings

None of our helpers spent the night, so I finished preparing the kimchi on my own the next morning. Because my scallions were sick with rust, I used garlic chives and leek tops instead. A food-processor-like attachment for my immersion blender quickly turned to paste a large ginger root and seven or eight heads of the juicy, sticky, fragrant garlic we harvested last July. I added paprika made from an assortment of sweet and hot peppers that I’d grown, dried, and ground last year. Finally, instead of adding salt to the drained cabbage, I used some Three Crabs fish sauce.

Here is my recipe for—

Big-Batch Cabbage Kimchi

24 pounds trimmed Chinese cabbage, cut into 2-inch squares
2 1/4 cups pickling salt
4 1/2 gallons water
1 1/2 pounds green onions, sliced thin
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 cups ground dried red pepper (not too hot)
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce

Put the cabbage into one or more nonreactive containers big enough to hold it all. In another container, dissolve the salt in the water (I did this in three parts in a stockpot). Pour the brine over the cabbage, and weight the cabbage in each container with a plate. Let the containers stand for about 12 hours.

Potted kimchi

Drain the cabbage, which will have considerably shrunk and softened; reserve the brine. With your hands, mix the cabbage with the remaining ingredients (I used my largest stockpot for this step). Pack the mixture into a crock with a capacity of at least 10 liters. Add enough of the reserved brine to cover the cabbage. Weight the cabbage, and cover the crock. Set the crock in a cool room.

Fermentation should begin within a day. If you have a Polish crock like mine, it will emit an occasional, audible burp. Start tasting the kimchi after two days. When it’s sour, put the crock into a refrigerator or other cool place.  (This is the time to bury the crock in the ground, if that’s what you want to do. I just set my crock outside the back door, on the deck.)

Scoop out some kimchi whenever you want any, and then replace the weights. For a quick meal, fry a little pork (my husband’s smoked pork shoulder was fantastic for this purpose), add kimchi with a little of its brine, and cook until the kimchi is hot. Serve the mixture over rice. For kimchi soup, add pork or chicken stock along with the kimchi.

Autumn Jelly from Heaven

It was Sheila of the unpickled pickles who first mentioned Paradise Jelly to me. What’s that? I wanted to know. It’s a jelly made from quinces, apples, and cranberries, Sheila explained, and it’s been in The Joy of Cooking through all the book’s editions. I was ashamed for never having noticed the JoC  recipe, and intrigued by its name. Quinces and apples surely did grow together in those walled Persian gardens from whose ancient name we derive the word paradise, but did those Persians grow cranberries or any sort of Vaccinium—bilberries, whortleberries, lingonberries, huckleberries, blueberries? These are northern plants, I thought. They had no place in Paradise.

Who came up with such a name? I tracked it to one Mrs. Sievers, whose recipe for Paradise Jelly appeared in the cookbook of the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lombard, Illinois, in 1917. (Whether she produced the first Paradise Jelly I don’t know; if you come upon an earlier recipe, please let me know.) I tried to imagine myself as Mrs. Sievers or her predecessor. Probably the woman’s mind wasn’t in ancient Persia. Did she feel she’d died and gone to heaven when she tasted her jelly?

Maybe she felt that only in heaven could a jelly recipe produce such infallibly beautiful results. Quinces, apples, and cranberries are all rich in pectin, so when you combine them you know your jelly has to set. When you’re rendering quince juice for jelly you normally cook the quinces for a long time, to bring out their redness. With cranberries, though, you can cheat; the berries provide a strong pink color even if you cook all the fruit just until it’s soft. And what a heavenly mix of sweet, tart, spicy flavors you get from these three fruits.

Mrs. Sievers used twenty quinces, ten apples, and a quart of cranberries. Some later recipes, such as the one in JoC, call for more apples than quinces. I decided to try equal weights of each, but feel free to vary the proportion as you like.

Mrs. Sievers’s instructions are simple: “Boil the quinces, apples and cranberries and strain several times. Then measure a cup of sugar for each cup of juice and boil.” Following is my more detailed version of the recipe.

Paradise Jelly

2 1/2 pounds quinces (about 6), sliced thin without coring or peeling (see Note)
2 1/2 pounds apples (about 8), sliced thin without coring or peeling
½ pound (about 1 pint) cranberries
6 cups water
About 4 cups sugar

Put the quince and apple slices into a big kettle, and add the cranberries and the water. Cover the kettle, bring the contents to a boil, and then uncover the kettle and reduce the heat to a gentle boil. Stirring occasionally and crushing the cranberries with a potato masher halfway through, cook the fruits until they are tender, about 15 minutes.

Empty the kettle of fruit into a strainer or colander set over a bowl. When the juice has dripped through, strain it through a jelly bag set over a bowl. Be patient; don’t squeeze the bag.

Measure the juice; you should have about 4 cups. Put the juice into a preserving pan with a cup of sugar for each cup of juice. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring gently, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high, and boil the mixture until it “sheets” from a spoon (221 degrees F).

Remove the pan from the heat. Skim off the foam, and pour the mixture into sterilized half-pint mason jars. (As you can see, I used standard jelly jars, but you might choose short, wide jars instead if you’d like to turn the jelly out onto a plate for the Thanksgiving table or another occasion.) Add lids and rings, and process the jars in a boiling-water for 5 minutes.

Makes about 5 half-pints

Note: The easiest way to slice the quinces is to cut them in half lengthwise, lay each half on its cut face, and then cut the half vertically into thin slices. 

Kreibich: A Nectarine for Damp Places

This young Kreibich nectarine tree has never been sprayed.

It’s hard to grow peaches and nectarines in the Willamette Valley. Because of the eight months or so of nearly ceaseless rain, the trees have to be sprayed against the deadly peach-leaf curl, and the spraying must be done at times when you usually can’t spray, because it’s raining.

I generally fail to spray, and I’ve had trees die for that reason. So a few years ago I planted a nectarine variety that’s supposed to be resistant to leaf curl. Discovered by Roland Kreibich in western Washington and available from One Green World, this new variety produces nectarines that are both small and late but also white-fleshed and deliciously flavored–except for a distinct bitter note.

Here’s my first crop of Kreibich. See the chewed spots? The damage was done by cucumber beetles, who were all over the fruits at harvest time. I’d kept the bitter-loving beetles away from the cucumbers this year by interplanting the cukes with marigolds. So apparently the beetles found a new source of embitterment in my young Kreibich tree.

The fruit had to be used fast. The bitterness, I found, was mostly in the skins, which were ravaged anyway. So I’d peel the nectarines. Then they would be perfect for canning in syrup or, even better, for pickling.

But I went into town for a few hours, and when I got home I was too late. My daughter had turned the whole crop into a tart.

It was an excellent tart, actually. Although Becca hadn’t bothered to peel the nectarines, the sugar disguised their bitterness. And the spicy quince jelly with which she had glazed the tart complemented the smoothness and fragrance of the nectarines. After the first bite I stopped complaining that I couldn’t make nectarine pickles.

Little has yet been written on the Kreibich nectarine, but a grower on Vashon Island, Washington, writes that early rains cause the fruits to split. I haven’t had this problem, perhaps only because September has been dry this year. I can’t swear to the worthiness of this variety after just one year’s harvest, but I have high hopes for next year. After another year’s growth, maybe I’ll get a tart and a quart or two of nectarine pickles besides.

Triple Crown Blackberry Jam

“Rip out those plants, Mom!” my daughter told me. “They’ll totally take over!”

She meant the alien-looking blackberry canes towering over one of my Marionberry rows. The monstrous canes don’t sprawl over the ground like the Marions but stand erect, as tall as fifteen feet. Each cane is as thick as a sapling, and thornless. The leaves aren’t blotched with rust like those of the Marions but solid green, the picture of health.

The fruit is different, too. Whereas Marionberries are long, slender, and soft, these other blackberries are big, round, firm, and glossy. They lack the sour, bitter, winy notes of Marionberry; their taste is frank Himalaya, with a little less acid. They ripen with the wild Himalaya, too, starting at the end of the Marions’ season.

It’s the resemblance to the Himalaya that scares my daughter. We love this most common wild blackberry, but it’s so invasive that we rip out every start except along the irrigation ditch and at the far edges of the wheat field. The new blackberry plants in the row with the Marions aren’t spreading, though, at least not yet. They stay in two tidy clumps, lightly attached to wires just to be sure the plants won’t topple over in the wind (they’re technically considered “semi-erect”).

These plants are the Triple Crown blackberry, a variety jointly developed by USDA breeders in Oregon and Maryland. Released for sale in 1996, the variety is starting to get popular both in and beyond the Pacific Northwest and the mid-Atlantic states. Triple Crown is named for its three “crowning attributes”: flavor, productivity, and vigor. But the variety has two other wonderful attributes, and they’re the ones that will keep me from ripping out the plants: disease-resistance and thornlessness. With western Oregon’s long, cool wet season, disease-resistance is all-important. And I never miss the pain of tiny blackberry thorns in my fingers.

Still, my daughter has a complaint unmentioned in the berry trial reports: “The seeds are too big. They stick in my teeth.” So I decide to make the Triple Crowns into one of her favorite jams, seedless blackberry.

Triple Crown Blackberry Jam
Makes about 3 pints

Although you could use a different blackberry variety in this recipe, I’ve written it especially for Triple Crowns. These berries are relatively low in acid, so I use a little more lemon juice than usual. And because the berries are so large and firm, I cook them before putting them through the food mill.

3 pounds Triple Crown blackberries
3 2/3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice

In a broad, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive pot, simmer the berries, covered, until they are tender and most of their juice is rendered, about 10 minutes. Then put the berries through the fine screen of a food mill.

In the pot, combine the berry purée with the sugar and lemon juice. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Turn the heat to medium-high, and boil the jam until a drop mounds in a chilled bowl. (The spoon test will work with this jam, too; when the jam is ready, two drops will run together off the side of a spoon.)

Remove the pot from the heat. Ladle the jam into sterilized jars, and process them in a boiling-water bath for 5 minutes.

Once my daughter has tasted this luscious, dark jam, I hope, she’ll never again complain about my monster blackberry plants. In the next year or two, I may be ripping out Marions to make room for more Triple Crowns.

Rhubarb Sauce with Strawberries

After Harriet scorned my pickled rhubarb (which I’ll write about later), I asked what she preferred to do with rhubarb.  I liked her answer: She macerates cut rhubarb in sugar overnight, she said, and cooks the mixture briefly in the morning. When the rhubarb starts to soften, she stirs in some strawberries and let’s them just heat through, so they color the sauce but keep their shape. That’s it–she then serves forth her strawberry-studded pink rhubarb sauce.

So I tried Harriet’s recipe for breakfast the next day. Here’s my interpretation:

1 pound rhubarb, cut crosswise about ¾ inch thick
1/3 cup sugar
1 pound strawberries, hulled

Mix the rhubarb and sugar in a bowl, cover the bowl, and let it stand at room temperature overnight.

In the morning, the sugar will have turned to syrup. Turn the rhubarb and syrup out into a saucepan, and simmer the rhubarb, uncovered, stirring it occasionally and gently, until it becomes tender (at which point it will begin falling apart), about 6 minutes.

While the rhubarb cooks, halve or quarter any of the strawberries that are large or not fully ripe. Leave small, ripe strawberries whole.

Add the strawberries to the pan of rhubarb. Simmer the mixture about 4 minutes, until the strawberries are just tender.

Serve the sauce immediately, or let it cool. If you must gild the lily, flavor the sauce with rosewater or perhaps some maraschino. For a formal dessert, the sauce goes well with ice cream, custard, or cake.

Maraschino Cherries: The Almost-Real Thing

Look what I found in the liquor store in Albany, Oregon, among the flavored vodkas and cheap tequilas! I wasn’t looking for maraschino (pronounced maraSKEEno), but finding it made my day. It’s cherry season in the Willamette Valley, a region once well-dotted with cherry orchards. Almost all have long since been cut down, but the birds continually replant the feral descendants of the Bings, Lamberts, and Royal Annes that once made our nurserymen and farmers so proud. The fruit of the cherry trees that manage to grow up, mostly along the edges of farmed fields, can be large or small, red or yellow or black, and sweet or sour or bitter. My favorite tree, which grew from a seedling beside our shed, annually produces hundreds of pounds of small, black, slightly bitter fruits.

Because these cherries are too small to pit, I’ve had to find uncommon ways to preserve them. This was the same quandary faced hundreds of years ago by the people of Dalmatia, a region of modern Croatia along the Adriatic Sea where thrived the marasca cherry, a small, dark, slightly bitter variant of the sour morello. Sixteenth-century Dominican monks in Zadar (or Zara, as the name is still spelled on the Luxardo label) crushed the cherries along with their pits and some of their leaves and probably added some honey before distilling the fermented mash. The product, aged in white ash and then sweetened with cane sugar, became known as rosolj, “sun dew.” In the eighteenth century, rosolj was renamed maraschino and relished by the wealthy all over Europe.

Girolamo Luxardo began making maraschino in 1821. Luxardo’s double-distilled clear liqueur is sweet, viscous, and mildly bitter, with a complex flavor and aroma that you probably wouldn’t recognize as cherry or almond. By the time of the U.S. Civil War, Luxardo maraschino was available in the United States, where bartenders put it in cocktails. By the late 1800s, marasca cherries soaked in maraschino had also become popular. They were the ultimate cocktail garnish.

Prohibition put an end to the importation of both maraschino and maraschino cherries. So in the 1920s Ernest Wiegand, a professor at Oregon Agricultural College, devised a cheap, nonalcoholic substitute for maraschino cherries, using Oregon’s big, fleshy, pale Royal Annes. He first soaked them in a salt-and-alum brine, and then he packed them in sugar syrup doctored with food coloring, acid, and almond extract. His shiny crimson knockoffs soon took the place of maraschino cherries in cocktails, in “fruit cocktails” (which had gradually lost their liquor but continued to be served in cocktail glasses), and atop sundaes.

At the request of readers, I included the home version of Wiegand’s recipe in The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. But I personally preferred to soak my cherries in brandy. I’d never tasted marascas, but they sounded quite similar to my own favorite cherries. I figured that my brandied cherries, with sugar and a little almond extract added, must be pretty close in taste to true maraschino cherries. A couple of years ago I tried my brandied cherries on a young woman from northern Italy. They did taste something like maraschinos, she said. But they weren’t the same.

This year I have what I need to make almost-true maraschino cherries—I have maraschino. So here’s my new recipe: Fill a jar with stemmed sour cherries (preferably small dark ones with a touch of bitterness). Cover the cherries with maraschino. For a pint jar, you’ll need about a cup of liqueur. Cover the jar, and put it in a cupboard. Wait a few weeks or months. Then eat your cherries and drink your now dark and frankly cherry-flavored liqueur, over ice, in a cocktail or fruit cocktail, or however else you like.

I’ll let you know come fall how I like my almost-maraschino cherries. In the meantime, let’s hope that one of our new little distilleries considers producing anOregonversion of maraschino liqueur.

Frozen Blueberries Love Fresh Rhubarb

In jams, pies, cobblers, and other sweet treats, rhubarb routinely gets paired with strawberries, for good reasons: Rhubarb and strawberries tend to reach the peak of their seasons together, and strawberries disguise the often lackluster color of rhubarb (although all-green rhubarb can be attractive on its own; see my recipe for Green Rhubarb Jam).

But in a spring as cool the one we’re experiencing in thePacific Northwestnow, local strawberries lag behind the rhubarb. There’s hardly a spot of red in the berry patches yet, and nobody wants to substitute hard, green-centered strawberries from California for sweet, tender red fruits from the garden or farm stand. This is a good time, though, to clean out the freezer, to make room for the abundance that will come (it will, really). And amid the pork chops and pesto may lurk bags and bags of last year’s fruit. My friend Sally hauls all out all her frozen fruit this time of year to make a batch of mixed-fruit wine. I make jam.

I decided to make jam from the last of last summer’s blueberries combined with the first of this year’s rhubarb. The pairing worked: The rhubarb took on the deep-blue color of the berries, lent an interesting texture, and balanced the berries’ high pectin content so I could use minimal sugar and yet avoid a tough jell. To eliminate the unpleasant fibrousness of cooked blueberries, I first heated the berries separately and then pressed them through a food mill. The result is a lusciously soft, dark jam that seems the essence of blueberry until you notice the tart yet subtle background note of rhubarb.

Supposing no blueberries turn up in your freezer, wait a few weeks. With adequate watering, your rhubarb will still be going strong when the first blueberries ripen. Then you can mix the two deliciously in jam—or in a pie, a tart. a crisp, or a cobbler.

Blueberry-Rhubarb Jam

1 1/2 pounds blueberries
1 pound trimmed rhubarb (leaves and tough bases cut off), cut into small pieces
3 1/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

If the berries are frozen, let them thaw.

In a broad, heavy-bottomed pan, simmer the blueberries, covered, for about 5 minutes. Press them though the fine disk of a food mill.

Combine the berry puree in the pan with the rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high, and boil the mixture, while still stirring frequently, until the rhubarb breaks down and a bit of the jam mounds in a chilled bowl, or until the temperature of the mixture reaches 221 degrees F. This should take no more than 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

Skim the foam from the jam, and ladle the jam into sterilized half-pint mason jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Close the jars, and process them for 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

Remove the jars to a rack or pad, and let them stand undisturbed for 24 hours, after which time the jam should be well set. Store the jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Makes about 6 half-pints

Quince in Bloom

Before the blossoms have all fallen, I want to share these pictures of my Pineapple quince trees. Like other quince varieties, they grow no more than fifteen feet high, and each forms an umbrella-like canopy. The trees blossom profusely, with pale pink flowers that are bigger than the blooms of all my apples and pears. The quince trees’ springtime appearance is outdone only by their glory of autumn, when their hundreds of big, golden, pear-shaped fruits perfume the garden with their tart fragrance.

Prior to the invention of packaged pectin, nearly every American farmstead or garden had a tree like this, if the climate allowed, because quince is an excellent source of pectin. The tart, light-colored juice combines well with other fruits and juices and with spices such as ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The fruit is hard and mildly astringent, but when cooked it mellows and softens, without losing its shape, and with long cooking it turns from white to a startling ruby red. You can poach quinces in wine and honey, stew them with meat (as do cooks in the quince’s Caucasian homeland), and add them to apple pies and applesauce. You can make quinces into jelly, preserves, wine, syrup, membrillo, and liqueur. And you can probably do all this with the harvest of one mature tree.

Even if you’re not sure you like the fruit, consider planting a quince tree. You need only one, because it will self-pollinate. You won’t have to spray it; the hard fruit resists both apple maggots and coddling moths. You can think of your quince tree, if you like, as an easy-care ornamental.

But do try using the fruits. Here’s a very simple recipe for an aromatic syrup that’s delicious in either hot tea or iced water.

Raw Quince-Honey Syrup

Use a sturdy knife to slice the quinces. For coring, a tool that looks like a thick, sharpened little spoon works best.

1 pound peeled and cored quinces, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

2 cups honey

Layer the quince cubes and honey in a quart jar. Cap the jar tightly, and let it stand at room temperature for two weeks.

After two weeks, drain off the syrup and pour it into sterilized jars. Cap the jars, and store them in the refrigerator or another cool place. The syrup should keep well for months.

Eat the shriveled quince cubes as candy, if you like, or simmer them in white or rosé wine and serve them with roast poultry or pork.


How to Titrate Wine, Vinegar, Verjuice, or Lemon Juice

Although I’m providing these instructions now because I promised to do so in my recent discussion of lemon juice (“Real Lemon versus ReaLemon,” April 19, 2011), I took most of the pictures you see here more than a year ago, after someone asked me for advice in using the strong cider vinegar from her boyfriend’s orchard. The vinegar had tested at 10-percent acid. I checked with an Extension agent I know: “To use 10-percent vinegar in a pickle recipe calling for 5-percent vinegar, you cut the vinegar with an equal amount of water, right?” No, said the agent. She would never tell anyone that it was okay to use any vinegar not commercially labeled as 5-percent acid. How could the woman know her boyfriend’s vinegar was 10-percent acid? I pressed, but the agent was firm. People should always get their pickling vinegar from a store. You just can’t trust regular people to know how to titrate vinegar. Well, my husband does titration, as do a lot of home winemakers. The process is simple, and the equipment and supplies—a graduated 100- or 250-milliliter cylinder, a graduated 10-millilter pipette, a 250-millimeter buret and stand, a 250-millimeter flask, distilled water, phenolphthalein indicator, and .2N or .1N sodium hydroxide—together cost only about $120, or less if you choose plastic instead of glassware. The chemicals are available at brewing- and winemaking-supply shops, and the glassware from science suppliers.

Here are the steps in titration:

1. Bring some distilled water to a boil to drive off any carbon dioxide. You’ll need a little less than ½ cup water per test. Measure 100 milliliters water in a graduated cylinder. Then pour the water into a small flask.

2. Draw 5 milliliters wine, vinegar, or juice into a pipette—a glass tube with a very narrow opening at the bottom and a wider one at the top. You can draw up the fluid either by putting the top of the tube in your mouth and sucking or by using a rubber bulb made for the purpose. Then put your finger firmly over the top opening, and check the fluid level. Do you have a little more than 5 millimeters? If so, lift your finger to drain a bit out. Because the pipette is so skinny, this is a very precise way of measuring.

                                      3. Hold the pipette over the flask of water, and lift your finger to let the wine, vinegar, or juice drain out. Add three drops of phenolphthalein indicator solution. Phenolphathalein is the ingredient that made Ex-Lax useful for acid-base experiments when you were a child.


4. Now you’re going to use the buret. It’s a graduated glass tube, on a stand, with a small lower aperture and a stopcock. Pour .2N sodium hydroxide into the buret to near the top of the numbered scale. (Scientists read the N as “normal.” If you’re using .1N sodium hydroxide instead of .2N, see the paragraph following this. Also, keep in mind that sodium hydroxide, however normal, is very corrosive. You don’t want to suck it up with a pipette.)

5. See how the surface of the fluid in the buret curves, like a contact lens? This curve is called a meniscus. Record the number at the bottom of the meniscus. 

6. Now turn the stopcock so the base solution in the buret slowly drips into the indicator solution while, with your other hand, you swirl the flask. As each drop of base solution falls into the flask, a spot of pink may briefly appear. As you continue adding the base solution, the pinkness will take a little longer to dissipate. Add the drops slowly, and keep swirling. As soon as the liquid in the flask turns a uniform pale pink, stop adding drops. If you wait for the fluid to turn hot pink you’ll have gone too far, and your results won’t be accurate.                                                                                          

7. Record the level of the fluid remaining in the buret. Then record the difference between this number and the one you recorded in step 5.                                                                                                                   

8. If you’re measuring acetic acid (in vinegar), divide the difference by 4.16. If you’re measuring citric acid (in lemon or other citrus juice), divide the difference by 3.90. If you’re measuring tartaric acid (in wine or verjuice), divide the difference by 3.33. The result is the percentage of acid in your sample.

I could give you formulas for figuring out the percentage of acid regardless of the size of your sample or the normality of your sodium hydroxide, but the formulas might confuse you as much as they confuse me. If you can’t find .2N sodium hydroxide, you’re likely to find .1N instead. In this case, just double the divisor in step 8. If you start with a 10-milliliter sample instead of a 5-millimeter sample, do the same: Double the divisor. If you use .1N sodium hydroxide and a 10-millimeter sample, multiply the divisor by 4.

See, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Now, for practice and to ensure accuracy, repeat the titration, preferably twice. If you have any trouble, watch the very detailed video on titration technique at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DkB82xLvNE.

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Honey from a Watermelon

I didn’t invent watermelon molasses, Sara Bir informed me. At least I wasn’t the first to invent it.

I’d cooked twenty pounds of watermelon into a cup of syrup because I and the rest of the family were tired of eating watermelon and the melon was overripe anyway. Besides, I’d had grape molasses (arrope, mostillo, mostarda, saba, pekmez) on my mind. I’d been thinking about life before cheap cane sugar, especially in Europe. Honey was a cherished sweetener then, but it wasn’t always available. Before the word molasses and its cognates referred to cane syrup, they were applied to honey-like fruit or vegetable syrups. Molasses derives from the Latin word for “must”—grape juice—and the word for “must” comes from the Latin word for “honey.” The oldest reference to molasses in the Oxford English Dictionary, from 1582, defines it as “a certeine kinde of Sugar made of Palmes or Date trees”; the second, from 1588, calls it “Sirrope of sugar, beanes [etc.].” When you had more fruit—even beans!—than you could eat, you might preserve its essence by boiling down the juice.

Fruit molasses hasn’t gone entirely out of style. Grape molasses, fig molasses, and pomegranate molasses are still imported to the United States from the Mediterranean region and sold at high prices in specialty stores. These products provide a mellow sweetening in sauces, dressings, and desserts, and grape molasses is the sweetener in cheaper kinds of balsamic vinegar.

Why not make molasses from watermelon? I’d decided to try it. The result, as I described in The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, was remarkably like grape molasses. With so much boiling, fruit juice darkens and loses its volatile flavors. In the finished syrup, you taste mostly sweetness and minerals.

When Sara came upon my recipe for watermelon molasses, she’d already made a version herself—an experience she describes in entertaining detail at www.metroactive.com/papers/sonoma/09.04.03/dining-0336.html. Sara had come upon a little cookbook, Our Favorite Recipes, compiled by the Friendly Aid Society of Free Evangelical Lutheran Cross Church of Fresno, California, and published in 1979. In the book were some distinctly American dishes, such as Jello salads, but there were also foods with exotic-sounding names, like grebbles and berrocks. What interested Sara most were the three coffeecake recipes calling for watermelon molasses, and the recipe for watermelon molasses itself.

Sara wrote me to ask what I knew about watermelon molasses. I didn’t know much; I certainly didn’t know it was a popular ingredient in the kitchens of Fresno Lutherans. I wondered where these people had come from. I pondered the word berrocks, which didn’t sound as if it had ever been German.

On the Web, I found numerous recipes for bierocks—yeast buns stuffed with ground beef and cabbage—and at least one was attributed to the Volga Germans. These were people from southwest Germany, mostly, who at the invitation of Catherine the Great in 1763 settled along the Volga River in Russia, where they were allowed to maintain their language, culture, and various religious traditions (Lutheran, Catholic, Reformed, and Mennonite; Jews weren’t welcome). Although the Volga Germans mainly kept to themselves, they must have learned a few things from the locals. Their bierocks or berrocks—the accent is on the second syllable—were pirogi.

A century after the Germans began migrating to Russia, they lost some of their special privileges, including exemption from military service. When other countries beckoned new settlers, whole Volga villages moved themselves to North and South America. In 1886 and 1887, I discovered, Evangelical Lutherans from several villages on the eastern side of the Volga, near Saratov, settled in Fresno County.

Fresno is a good place to grow watermelons. So is the Lower Volga, a Russian culinary dictionary assured me. Watermelons grow so abundantly from Kamyshin to Astrakhan, on the Caspian Sea, that until recently much of the crop was either brined or boiled into nardek—watermelon molasses! Modern transport allows the shipping of fresh watermelon today, so nardek is produced in only small amounts. It’s a lot of trouble to make, after all, and refined sugar is cheap. For Fresno Lutherans, however, the tradition lives on, or at least it was still alive in 1979. Nearly a century after their ancestors had come to Fresno from Russia, the Friendly Aid Society members still required watermelon molasses to make a proper coffeecake.

The Friendly Aid Society members called their watermelon molasses by the English name, the same one I used. But I thank Sara for sending me on the trail of an old word—nardek—for my invention that truly wasn’t new at all.