In case you’ve been wondering why I haven’t written in so long, I’ll explain: We’ve been moving. This has involved renovating a little old bungalow, cleaning out a big house, a two-story garage, and a large barn, selling or giving away half of what was left after burglars took a good share, and fitting everything we couldn’t part with into our new, cozy digs. The 2015 vintage alone, in carboys, filled the trailer. The canned goods from the garage barely fit into the bed of a large pickup; we moved the hundreds of jars from the pantry in separate trips. Happily, the basement of the bungalow came with an old preserving cupboard. It’s taken me months, but I finally have all the shelves filled, organized, and labeled.
What you don’t see in the picture are the dozens of older jars of jams, jellies, and syrups that wouldn’t fit in the cupboard. I’ll probably make them into wine–but we have plenty of that. Maybe I’ll just feed them to the ever-ravenous soldier fly larvae in my compost.
I feel ridiculous giving so much attention this time of year to a fruit of hot summer days, Citrullus lanatus—that is, the species that includes both watermelons and citron melons. After all, for nearly half a year I ignored the citron melons I’d harvested late last summer, though they lay in plain view on the tiled floor of our entry hall. But yesterday I noticed a brown area on one, like a bruise, and when I lifted the melon it spilled its guts and fell to pieces. Looking at the mushy melon chunks lying in a spreading puddle of clear liquid spotted with red seeds, I figured it was time to get cooking the remaining melons.
So I cut one in half, sliced it into slabs, cut off the rind, poked out the many seeds, and diced the flesh. This was a time-consuming job, believe me, but when I was done it was easy to pickle the melon. Here’s how I did it.
Sweet Pickled Citron Melon
I’ve based this recipe on one published in the New York Tribune in 1918, but I’ve omitted a treatment with pickling lime. Citron melon keeps its shape without liming, and, besides, I like the natural soft, chewy texture of the unlimed melon.
This pickle has a clear, lovely look and a pleasant bit of bitterness from the lime—and here, of course, I mean not the white powder but the round, green citrus fruit. Lemon, as called for by the Tribune recipe, is a perfectly good alternative to lime.
6 cups water 6 tablespoons salt 3 pounds peeled and seeded citron melon, cut into ½-inch cubes 1 cup cider vinegar ½ cup water 1 cup sugar ¼ cup honey 1 small lime, sliced very thin 2 quarter-size pieces fresh ginger 1 2½-inch cinnamon stick, broken ½ teaspoon cloves
Combine the water and salt in a pot, and bring the brine to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the citron melon, and simmer it for 15 minutes. Drain the citron melon, and drop it into a large bowl of ice water. When the melon has cooled, drain it again.
In a nonreactive pot, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, honey, and lime slices. Put the ginger, cinnamon, and cloves into a spice bag, and put the spice bag into the pot. Heat the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved, and then add the drained citron melon. Simmer the mixture for about an hour, until the melon is completely translucent and the syrup has thickened somewhat.
Ladle the melon and its liquid into pint or half-pint mason jars, including a lime slice in each jar. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath.
Blooming exactly in accordance with European folk tradition is this Angelica archangelica, whose flowers burst forth in my garden on May 8, the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. When you see flowering angelica you may have missed your chance to cut stems for preserving—unless you also find some first-year plants, which will wait until next year to blossom. Happily, I have a bed crowded with both first- and second-year angelica.
Upon seeing the blooms I hurried to cut a few young, all-green stems (the flowering ones turn red), because I remembered that I’d wanted to make a traditional northern European preserve that combines stalks of both angelica and rhubarb. I thank Laura Content, of Portland, for telling me about—
2/3 cup water 2 cups sugar 1 pound rhubarb stalks ½ pound angelica stalks
In a preserving pan, slowly dissolve the sugar in the water, and bring the syrup to a boil.
As the syrup heats, cut the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Peel the angelica stalks, and cut them it into slender rings. Add the angelica and rhubarb to the hot syrup, stir, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer it very gently for an hour or longer, stirring very little if at all, until the rhubarb is quite tender and the syrup is somewhat thickened. Keep in mind that the preserves will thicken more as they cool.
Ladle the preserves into four half-pint sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 5 minutes.
The recipe to which Laura referred me was actually one for rhubarb-angelica jam. If you want a jammy texture, you can simply stir the preserves during or after cooking. But I think that preserves are prettier, especially if your rhubarb is the red-skinned kind.
Angelica has a strong, medicinal aroma that mystifies and even scares people unfamiliar with it. If you’d prefer to tone down the angelica, at least the first time that you try this recipe, simply increase the weight of rhubarb in relation to the angelica. Try, say, 1¼ pounds rhubarb to ¼ pound angelica.
If you really love angelica, you might use proportionally more than called for here. One reader of this blog wrote that Icelanders use equal parts rhubarb and angelica in their preserves. That might take some getting used to, but I already like angelica in this more modest role.
. . . or, actually, a beautiful corner of a garage, at the home of Julie Barnett of Salem, Oregon. Her mom, Andrea, who sent me this photo, says that Julie is “always on the quest for the perfect pickle.” The picture of Julie’s bounty was too good to keep to myself. Thanks, Julie and Andrea, for letting me share it here.
A couple of weeks ago I gazed out my back door at a Washington hawthorn, its fruit beginning to drop following a cold snap, and considered the comment that Jan Grover made in this blog in October: “A friend who teaches told me about an abandoned orchard behind her school building, and I went there, intent on foraging the apples she described—and I discovered haws! There were two small, gnarled hawthorns smothered in bright-red haws, and I picked several pounds, brought them home, and turned them into what proved to be a Kool-Aid-red/pink jelly. . . . The taste is slightly, ummmm, feral, and goes beautifully with autumn braises. Sugar, lemon juice, water—that was all it took: Haws are evidently crammed with pectin.”
If I wanted to try making haw jelly this year, I had to act fast. So I fetched an orchard ladder and sampled a haw. The tiny, orange-red fruit had only a bit of mealy flesh wrapped around five seeds.* The fruit was neither tart nor bitter but had a sweet, spicy flavor similar to that of rosehips and medlar fruits. This was no surprise, since the hawthorn is cousin to the rose and the medlar both. The haws ought to make good jelly indeed, I figured.
As I picked them, most of the fruits came free of their stems. In fifteen minutes I had enough haws, I figured, to make a small batch of jelly. I rinsed them, shook them in the strainer to separate the remaining stems, and picked out the stems before cooking the haws in enough water to cover them.
The juice turned out a cloudy pink but clarified when I combined it with sugar. I added plenty of lemon juice, since the haws seemed low in acid. The syrup jelled quickly and firmly.
The finished jelly looks much like quince jelly—almost as clear and bright, in fact, as red currant jelly. You must put your nose close to to catch the warm, spicy aroma, but the flavor blooms in the mouth. It reminds Robert of tropical fruit—passion fruit, he thinks, or guava. But I think haw jelly puts guava jelly to shame. In flavor, only rosehip jelly compares.
Here’s my recipe for—
2 ½ pounds stemmed haws 2 cups sugar ½ cup strained lemon juice
Put the haws into a pot, and barely cover them with water (you’ll need about 6 cups). Simmer the haws, uncovered, for about an hour, mashing them with a potato masher or spoon every 20 minutes or so.
Drain off the haw juice through a coarse strainer, and then let it drip through a jelly bag for at least several hours or as long as overnight. Don’t worry if the juice looks cloudy. You should end up with 2¼ cups.
In a preserving pan, combine the haw juice with the sugar and lemon juice. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. Raise the heat to high, and boil the syrup until it sheets from a spoon or reaches 221 degrees F. Pour the hot syrup into two sterilized half-pint jars, and add lids and rings. Process the jars for 5 minutes in a boiling-water bath.
Makes 2 half-pints
* The fruits of the Washington hawthorn, Crataegus phaenopyrum, have three to five seeds; the haws of other species come in red, yellow, black, or purple and have as few as one seed per fruit. C. phaenopyrum is a native of the Eastern states that’s widely planted elsewhere in landscapes, though I don’t know why; its thorny branches shoot randomly in every direction. But the many other species of hawthorn grow in a similar fashion, and for that reason they are most appreciated as the stuff of impenetrable hedges; the word haw, in fact,means “hedge.” The genus has other virtues besides: The wood is very hard and therefore useful for making tools, and the leaves, flowers, and fruits have been used since ancient times in treating heart disease (recent medical studies are proving their efficacy). The hawthorn species most used in jelly making is C. monogyna, a native of Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia that has become an invasive weed in Oregon and elsewhere. Native here is the Douglas hawthorn, C.douglasii. Next year I’ll have to try making jelly from the little black Douglas haws.
I first learned about watermelon’s pale-fleshed, seedy ancestor while studying traditional ways of preserving modern watermelon. Why, I wondered, do people bother to make the watermelon’s narrow inner white rind into pickles and sweet preserves when the red flesh and the seeds have much more nutritional value and flavor? Was the white layer proportionally bigger in watermelons of the past? And what is a pie melon? Did Southerners actually make pies out of a sort of watermelon?
Soon I was reading about the citron melon, the native African watermelon from which our garden varieties were developed. Citron melons grow wild in many hot places today, including the southern United States. Green Deane describes them growing in Florida citrus groves, though the melon wasn’t named for this preferred habitat.* Wild citron melons are said to be usually bland-tasting, but sometimes they’re sweet or bitter. Cultivated varieties are always bland. “Pie melons” can be citron melons or crosses between citron melons and sweet watermelons.
That much I learned from other writers, but I wanted to experience this fruit for myself. So when, in 2011, I found a listing for red-seeded citron melon in the Seed Savers Exchange catalog, I had to send for some seeds.
I couldn’t grow melons of any sort in the cool, short summer of 2011, but in 2012 I did better. My single citron melon vine produced several round fruits, each no more than 7 inches in diameter and striped dark green on a pale green background. I picked the melons at the first frost of the year, in early October, and hoped that they would keep well on the cool tile floor of our entry hall while I spent the next several weeks canning and drying tomatoes, peppers, apples, and pears. Later I would try making some citron melon preserves, which are just like watermelon rind preserves except that you use all of the melon apart from the hard outer rind and the seeds.
In early November one of my readers, Val, suggested that I have a look at a blog post by a writer in southern France concerning “jamming melons,” or melons d’Espagne. In Médoc, writes Mimi Thorisson, everybody makes confiture with these melons just after harvest, in early November. She suggests two variations on the basic confiture, one with vanilla and one with mandarin orange and ginger. Her recipe, I noticed, closely resembles American recipes for citron melon preserves. In her photos, the melons d’Espagne look just like my citron melons.
I consulted other French sources. Some French writers say the melons are harvested in late fall and kept in a cool place until just after Christmas, when they are made into the last preserves of the year. All the French recipes I found are much like both Mimi’s and the American recipes. If melons d’Espagne and red-seeded citron melon aren’t exactly the same variety, they must be very close.
I cut into one of the melons. Inside, it fit the French descriptions. The flesh was pale green and bland tasting. It felt slimy, like aloe. The red seeds were many, large, and hard in comparison with seeds of the sweet watermelon cultivars I know.
I worked out a recipe to suit myself. I didn’t add an apple or chop the melon in a food processor, as one French recipe specifies. This would give a jammy result, and I wanted to make preserves, that is, bite-size pieces of fruit in heavy syrup. I didn’t use the alum called for in some Southern recipes, to give the melon a brittle (and, to me, odd) texture. Instead of choosing either vanilla or orange, as Mimi suggests, I combined the two, as in other recipes.
I used half of a vanilla bean, and the flavor was overwhelming. So in the recipe that follows I call for only a quarter of a bean and offer the option of using ginger instead, as I’ll do next time. If you prefer vanilla to ginger, you might also follow another French tradition: Add a splash of dark rum at the end of cooking.
Citron Melon Preserves
For this recipe you’ll need a melon about 6 inches in diameter or else a piece of a larger melon. Cut the melon in half, and cut each half into narrow wedges. Poke or pry out all of the seeds. Peel each wedge with a knife, and then cut the wedge into ½- to ¾-inch pieces.
3 pounds prepared citron melon pieces 2 clementines 3 tablespoons lemon juice 3 cups sugar ¼ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and slivered crosswise, or 1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled, sliced thin, and slivered
Put the melon pieces into a preserving pan. Halve the clementines, squeeze out their juice, and add the clementine juice and the lemon juice to the pan. Scrape out any membranes and stringy white bits from the clementine peels, slice the peels into thin strips, and add them to the pan. Add the sugar and the vanilla bean or ginger pieces. Stir gently, cover the pan, and let the mixture rest overnight.
Set the pan over medium heat, and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high, and boil the mixture, uncovered, for about 40 minutes, stirring only occasionally and gently. When the preserves are ready, there will appear to be more fruit than liquid in the pan. The fruit will be partially translucent, and the syrup will form a thread when dropped into a glass of cold water.
Remove the pan from the heat. Ladle the preserves into sterilized half-pint mason jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Add lids and rings, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 5 minutes.
Note that the syrup will probably jell, but slowly, over a period of days.
Serve the preserves on toast, biscuits, pancakes, or ice cream.
Makes about 4 half-pints
*Nor does the melon taste like citron; it isn’t tart at all. Instead, its English name derives from its generic name, Citrullus, which was first applied to its cousin colocynth, or Citrullus colocynthis, a plant that loves very dry as well as hot conditions. Ripe colocynth fruits on the vine look like oranges scattered about on the ground, as if somebody’s shopping bag had ripped in the middle of the desert. Citrullus colocynthis was once a highly valued medicine, traded throughout the Old World for its purgative effect, despite its horribly bitter taste.
I first learned of this traditional preserve of Brittany from a travel guide. In our subsequent trip to Brittany, last spring, my family and I searched the grocery stores and gift shops for pommé. Some people we talked with mentioned a traditional bread or pastry called pommé, but none had heard of the confiture. We thought we’d found what we were looking for at a festival in Dol-de-Bretagne, but the pommé there turned out to be bread with apple filling.
Though apparently once very popular in the eastern, traditionally Gallo-speaking part of Brittany, pommé the preserve is little known today. It rarely appears in shops catering to tourists. As I learned with further research from home, pommé is now prepared, sold, and consumed mainly in the countryside.
Pommé is none other than apple butter, usually made without spices or added sugar, so that a spoonful offers a full taste of the caramelization that occurs with long cooking along with concentrated natural fruit sugars and acids. For farmers in the pays Gallo, making pommé was an excuse for a party. Each autumn, they would empty a barrel of fresh cider into a copper cauldron and add peeled, cored, and cut apples. Family members and neighbors would take turns stirring for twelve hours or longer until the apples had broken down and the cider had condensed to make a thick, brick-red, glossy jam. Once the apples were in the pot, everyone but the person stirring would sing and dance to the music of an accordion player or fiddler.
Pommé was sometimes called le beurre du pauvre, the butter of the poor, because when you couldn’t afford to buy butter, or needed to sell all your homemade butter for cash, you could spread your bread with pommé instead. This made pommé especially popular during the world wars. After World War II, though, butter was more affordable, and so was the refined sugar for making modern jams. Pommé was nearly forgotten.
In the 1970s, residents of the villages of Bazouges-la-Pérouse and Tremblay began to revive the custom of the ramaougerie (“stirring”) de pommé as a public event, complete with live music, sales of artisanal goods, and cider pressings. The finished pommé is packed into jars and sold to the crowd.
Making pommé in a small batch at home is a less festive but also less time-consuming affair. Constant stirring isn’t actually necessary until the cooking is mostly done. This is how I’ve made pommé:
1 gallon sweet cider 5 pounds cored, peeled, and quartered apples
In a big, wide, heavy-bottomed pot (mine holds 7.5 liters), begin heating the cider. Add the quartered apples—you can do this gradually, if you like—and simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally. When the apples have broken down and the pommé starts to spatter, stir it constantly for about 10 minutes, until it has thickened and darkened. The finished pommé will be glossy and a warm red-brown. The total cooking time should be about 4 hours.
Ladle the pommé into pint or half-pint mason jars. Add lids and rings, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.
Thanks to yet another cool, damp June—the new normal for our region?—the moss rose outside my kitchen window has been putting on a lovely show for the past several weeks. I’m never satisfied just looking at the pillowy pink flowers, burst from inconceivably slender mossy buds, and inhaling their delicious scent. I have to eat them, too.
So a couple of weeks ago I put up several pints of strawberry-rose jam and thought, What next? My rhubarb plants had been drinking up the rain and growing monstrous. Last year I combined roses and rhubarb with strawberries in a heavenly jam. Now I wondered how rhubarb and roses would work as a duo.
I considered a recipe I’d jotted down from Margaret Rudkin’s old Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. All my life I’ve been eating rhubarb sauce made on the stovetop. Sauce is the right word for the stuff, because rhubarb breaks down with brief boiling to a greenish, reddish, fibrous mush. As a child I loved this springtime alternative to applesauce. But rhubarb sauce, as I’d always known it, was ugly.
Margaret cooked her rhubarb in the oven, she wrote, and the pieces stayed handsomely intact. With the addition of pink or red roses, maybe I could both improve the color of the rhubarb and make the flavor more interesting. And why not can the result to enjoy months later?
So I created the recipe that follows. The roses intensify the red of the rhubarb without disguising the green, and the rosy scent balances the sour and sweet tastes. Served on pound cake or sponge cake, baked rhubarb with rose petals looks nearly as elegant as it tastes and smells.
Baked Rhubarb-Rose Preserves
2 pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch lengths 1 cup sugar 2 ounces pink or red fragrant rose petals, their bases clipped, if they’re thick
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the rhubarb pieces and sugar in a baking dish, and put the dish into the hot oven.
After 30 minutes, add the rose petals, and turn the mixture gently. Bake about 15 minutes more, until the rhubarb is tender but still intact. Spoon the mixture into hot mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Be sure to run a chopstick or plastic stick around the inner surface of the jar to free trapped air. Process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.