Homemade Grape Molasses

Quince preserved in grape molasses

Arrope, mostillo, mostarda, saba, vin cotto, vino cotto, pekmez, petimezi—these words from various lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea all mean the same thing: grape juice boiled down to a thick syrup. Before Arabs introduced cane sugar to Europe, molasses from grapes, figs, or pomegranates was the best substitute for honey, a product that was usually more costly—or painful—to obtain.*

Grape molasses is still fairly common around the Mediterranean. In Spain arrope is used to fortify wines, to transform them into liqueurs with rounded flavor and enhanced sweetness. In Italy vin cotto is sometimes be served with quince paste and cheese. In Turkey pekmez is used in preparing many desserts. Grape molasses is also dribbled on toast, salads, steak, yogurt, and ice cream, and used as a marinade for duck and other meats.

The typical way to begin making grape molasses is to save some of the must when you’re pressing grapes for wine. You need at least two quarts must, which you’ll get from about six pounds of grapes. If you don’t have a fruit press, you can separate the juice from the seeds and skins by putting stemmed grapes through a tomato strainer. Or you can heat the grapes in a covered kettle until they come to a boil and burst their skins, and then drain the juice through a colander. For a jammier texture, press the grapes through a fine strainer (or use a food mill, if the grapes are seedless).

The second and final step in making grape molasses is to gently boil the juice—in a wide, heavy, nonreactive pan—until you have a thick syrup (like hot honey), taking care that it doesn’t caramelize. The boiling requires at least an hour and a half, longer if you’re using more than two quarts must.

Store the hot molasses in tightly closed jars. You can process the jars in a boiling-water bath, if you like, just as you would jam—five minutes if you’ve sterilized the jars first, ten minutes if you haven’t.

The color, texture, and flavor of your grape molasses will depend on your grape variety. The juice will darken with boiling in any case, but dark grapes, to my mind, make the most visually attractive molasses. The molasses will be more or less tart, and notably astringent or not. If it’s made from an American grape variety, it may gel upon cooling, though slow cooking can prevent this.

To make preserves in a truly ancient style, add fruit to your grape molasses while it’s cooking. Dried fruit, such as figs, are added to the juice at the start of the cooking. A few weeks ago I added a cup of dried figs to the juice of eight pounds of seedless, blue Glenora grapes to make two pints of dark, rich preserves.

Even more interesting are my Glenora-quince preserves. Quinces conveniently ripen at about the same time as grapes, so combining the two seems natural. I used a pound of quinces—peeled, quartered, cored, and then cut into smaller pieces—for six pounds of grapes. I added the quinces to the juice after reducing it by half. Then I gently boiled the fruit in the syrup for about an hour, until the syrup was suitably thick.

Semi-reduced juice with quinces just added

Early in the cooking, my quinces looked almost like sliced beets in beet juice. Afterward, in jars, the quince pieces were invisible in the dark molasses.

Preserves made with grape or other fruit molasses are more complex in taste than preserves made with refined sugar. Deliciously tart, mildly astringent Glenora-quince preserves go just as well with smoked pork or roast poultry as with toast or yogurt.

Fat bunches of Canadice grapes, my favorite for fresh eating, still hang on the vines trellised over our back deck. Before the birds and wasps get them all, I think I’ll boil some down into molasses.

* I use the word molasses for these fruit products because it originally meant “honey-like.” The word syrup seems less suitable, from a historical perspective, because it comes from an Arabic word for a sugar-sweetened drink. 

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 nappa 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 nappa 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 Korean or 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.

Pickled Chanterelles

Eugenie with her take

At the start of mushroom season in western Oregon, I was lucky enough to take a gathering trip in the Willamette National Forest with employees of the Sweet Home Ranger District, who had scouted out a good site beforehand.

Yellow and white chanterelles (two distinct species that apparently differ only in color) grow at moderate elevations, to about three thousand feet, in partly sunny, recently logged spots full of prickly Oregon grape. Since the mushrooms were just beginning to emerge, most were hidden in the duff. My young friend Eugénie, a farm intern from an agricultural college in France, seemed to know just how to find them. When her head stayed down and her back up for minutes at a time, I knew I should keep close, preferably on all fours.

Thanks in part to another fellow gatherer who didn’t like mushrooms enough to keep them, I brought home about four pounds. Nobody else was home for dinner, so I pleased myself, by eating about a pound of chanterelles sautéed with home-cured bacon, onions, and arugula. Then I set to cleaning the rest of the mushrooms, a tedious job. Though cultivated mushrooms may need no more than a light brushing, wild ones won’t come clean without washing. I shot each mushroom quickly but carefully with the faucet sprayer and picked, scraped, or cut away sticking bits of dirt with a knife. Then I spread the chanterelles out to dry on a towel.

Cleaned chanterelles

The next morning I could have packed the mushrooms into a paper bag and stored them in the refrigerator, where they would have kept well, slowly drying, for several days. Or I could have cooked them (mushroom connoisseurs recommend sautéing them dry, to better evaporate their water and concentrate their flavor) and stored them either in the refrigerator or freezer for later inclusion in soups, stews, omelets, and other dishes. But I am the Pickle Lady, so guess what I did?

I’d never pickled chanterelles before, and I wanted to try something different from the recipes in The Joy of Pickling (although the one I call Polish Pickled Mushrooms would work well for these delicately fruity mushrooms). I decided to try a variation on an Italian recipe. Here it is, modified to just fill a quart jar:

Pickled Chanterelles

Juice of 1 lemon
3 teaspoons pickling salt
2 pounds cleaned chanterelles, cut into pieces if they’re very large
1 2/3 cups white wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 sprig tarragon
3 allspice berries
6 black peppercorns

Put the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the pickling salt into a large pot of water, and bring the water to a full boil. Add the mushrooms, preferably in a blanching basket, and bring the water back to a boil. Immediately drain the mushrooms; they will have shrunk by about two-thirds. Let them cool, covered with a cloth. (You can boil down the blanching water, if you like, to make a tart, mildly mushroomy stock.)

While the mushrooms cool, combine the vinegar, the wine, the garlic, the herbs and spices, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt in a saucepan. Cover the pan, bring the liquid to a boil, and reduce the heat. Simmer the liquid for 5 minutes, and then let it cool.

Pack the mushrooms in a quart jar, tucking the herbs around the edge. Pour the vinegar with the herbs and spices over. Store the jar in the refrigerator.

Wait at least a day or two before starting to eat the mushrooms. Then serve them as an appetizer or relish, sprinkled with olive oil, or add them to sandwiches. They are wonderful with melted cheese.

 

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.

How to Make Thick, Tasty Canned Salsa

To can salsa cruda—literally, “raw sauce”—requires cooking it, but cooked tomato salsa just isn’t the same. Usually, it turns out runny. Commercial salsa makers compensate for this by adding tomato paste, which tastes, well, like tomato paste. To really ruin the texture, some add gums. Home canners often minimize runniness by using paste tomatoes, such as the oblong variety known as Roma. Low in both acid and sugar, these firm, fleshy tomatoes taste bland and boring.

To make canned tomato salsa with both a thick texture and an excellent flavor, I decided to bake some of the water out of assorted tasty tomatoes before mixing them with onions and peppers. Here’s how I did it:

Thick Tomato Salsa

5 pounds tomatoes, preferably no larger than 2 inches wide or long
2 pounds green or ripe peppers, hot or mild, stemmed
1 pound onions
1 cup lime juice
1 ½ tablespoons pickling salt

Heat the oven to 250 degrees F. Halve the tomatoes, and cut out any thick cores. Lay the tomato halves cut-side up in a single layer in two or three low-sided baking or roasting pans—glass, ceramic, or enameled pans will do. Don’t add any oil; you want the tomatoes to dry out. Bake them for about 3 hours, until they have noticeably shriveled but haven’t browned.

Drop the tomato pieces into a large nonreactive pot, halving any large ones with shears as you do so. Seed the peppers or not, depending on your heat tolerance. Then either mince the peppers and onions or chop them briefly in a food processor; be careful not to liquefy them. Add them to the pot along with the lime juice and salt. Stir.

Bring the salsa to a simmer, and simmer it for 10 minutes. Ladle the salsa into pint or half-pint mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Close the jars with two-piece caps, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.

Store the cooled jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Makes about 6 pints

 

 

East Coast New Pickles

My son was bewildered by the cucumber “pickles” he was served all through his freshman year at his small college on Long Island, New York. “They aren’t sour at all,” he complained last summer. “There’s no taste of fermentation, no vinegar. I think they’re just cucumbers in salt water!”

I was puzzled, too. New Yorkers I know love to brag about their city’s traditional fermented pickles. How could a Long Island college serve unfermented cucumbers in salt water and call them pickles?

I forgot about this discussion until a few weeks later, when I got an email message from a woman named Sheila. Sheila told me about a small restaurant chain in Rhode Island, named Gregg’s, that for twenty years has served something “that’s not quite a pickle”—a cucumber that’s salty and dilly but not noticeably tart. Sheila’s husband wanted her to make some of these near-pickles, so in The Providence Journal she found a recipe, submitted by a reader, for “Taste Like Gregg’s Pickles.”

The recipe starts out like one for a small batch of traditionally brined pickles: You combine cucumbers, salt, spices, garlic, and water in a two-quart jar. But then you leave the jar out at room temperature for only an hour before refrigerating it for a week. At the end of the week the cucumbers aren’t fermented, but they’re ready to eat.

Ready to eat?  Could they be pickled at all, after just a week in the fridge?

Gregg’s wouldn’t talk about its recipe, so I consulted Mike, the sales guy at Pickle Guys, a business started by former employees of the famous Guss’ Pickles when, in 2002, Guss’ left its old site on Essex Street, on the once mostly Jewish Lower East Side of Manhattan. Pickle Guys—which makes truly kosher pickles, under the supervision of a rabbi—sells a product like Gregg’s, Mike said, as “new pickles.” Mike explained that new pickles “are pretty much the least pickled, more like a salty cucumber, pickled anywhere from one to ten days. After that they will become a half-sour pickle.” Pickle Guys sells a lot of new pickles, some of them heavily seasoned with chile.

I’d already started my own batch of new pickles, adapted from the “Taste Like Gregg’s” recipe. Here is my version of—

East Coast “New Pickles”

 2 quarts 3- to 5-inch pickling cucumbers, blossom ends trimmed
8 garlic cloves
1½ tablespoon mixed pickling spices
¼ teaspoon hot pepper flakes
2 tablespoons pickling salt
4 cups water

Pack a two-quart jar tightly with the cucumbers, interspersing among them the garlic, spices, and pepper flakes. Stir the salt into the water until the water clears. Cover the cucumbers with the brine. Tightly cap the jar, let it sit at room temperature for an hour, and then store it in the refrigerator for at least a day and preferably a week.

After their first few days in the refrigerator, my son and I started tasting the new pickles. I found I actually liked these garlicky, salty, dilly cukes, despite their lack of acidity. My son liked them, too, much more than the ones he’d been served at college. They were a refreshing change from either fermented or vinegar dills. Over time they got stronger in flavor, but even after two months in the refrigerator the cucumbers showed no signs of fermentation—no graying of the skins, no bubbling or clouding of the brine. They neither soured nor spoiled before we ate them all.

While gardeners throughout the rest of the country drown in cucumbers, I wait for the first of mine to grow past cornichon stage. Never before this weirdly cool summer have I felt such a hunger for cucumbers. In a week or so, when I start bringing in cukes by the armload, I think I’ll make some new pickles. I doubt they’ll get as old as a week before we devour them all.

 

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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 become 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.

Sauerkraut with Whey

For years people have been asking me to try fermenting sauerkraut with whey. I procrastinated for a long time, partially because I don’t keep dairy animals and so seldom have whey on hand, and partially because I saw no good reason to introduce an animal product to my vegetable crock (although I do like fishy kimchi).

But lately my daughter has been making a lot of cheese, and we’ve had a lot of whey to find uses for. So I consulted Klaus Kaufmann and Annelies Schöneck’s little book Making Sauerkraut and Pickled Vegetables at Home. The authors explain that “because it contains lactose and several vitamins and minerals, whey is an excellent aid to start the fermentation process.”

I was still in the dark. Whey comes from fermented milk; the lactose that was in the fresh milk has already been converted to lactic acid. The microbes that naturally ferment cabbage also produce lactic acid. In what way could adding lactic acid before fermentation help?

In spite of my doubts, I went ahead and made a small batch of sauerkraut with whey, using approximately one-fifth the quantities in Kaufmann and Schöneck’s recipe for–

Low-Salt Sauerkraut

2½ pounds slivered cabbage
1 teaspoon pickling salt
1/3 cup chopped onion
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
2 juniper berries
1 cup whey
Brine: 1 teaspoon pickling salt dissolved in 2 cups water

Toss together all the ingredients except the whey. The vegetables will take longer to wilt than they would with more salt, so wait about 15 minutes. Then pack the vegetables firmly into a 2-quart jar. Pour the whey over (the amount here is proportionally a bit more than Kaufmann and Schöneck call for; I needed this much to cover the vegetables).

Push a freezer-weigh quart plastic bag into the top of the jar, pour in the brine, and seal the bag.

If liquid doesn’t cover the sauerkraut by the next day, add a little of the brine from the bag.

Let the cabbage ferment for two weeks, say Kaufmann and Schöneck, or eat the cabbage as soon as it’s as tart as you like. It will keep for a long time in the refrigerator.

The fermentation proceeded normally, with no slime or mold or other nasty developments. I decided to serve the kraut early, after just a week, because I sometimes prefer it when it’s still crisp. I liked the seasonings; the caraway came through strong. I also liked that the kraut was less salty than usual. And if I hadn’t added the whey myself I wouldn’t have noticed it.

So, what was the purpose of adding whey? The same, I suspect, as adding salt and sometimes a little vinegar at the beginning of lactic-acid fermentation: These ingredients help keep bad microbes, like mold, from growing while fermentation gets under way, and they also slow the fermentation, thus allowing full flavors to develop. The whey took the place of additional salt.

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:

Harriet’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Sauce

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.

UPDATE 2022: What were those rhubarb pickles that Harriet scorned? Apparently I never wrote up a recipe at all. Maybe I will, some day.

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 an Oregon version of maraschino liqueur.

UPDATE 2022: The almost-maraschino cherries were heavenly. My currant black cherry tree, grown from a scion of the seedling tree on our farm, produced a sizeable crop here in town last year. Although I greedily ate every one of those cherries out of hand, this year I hope to make almost-maraschino cherries once again.