Monday, August 30, 2010

Remebrances of a Friend

So it has been nine months already since my lovely friend Janet passed away. She was full of life, bubbly, warm and accepting of so many people. Two weeks ago we visited her mom, Joyce, and came away with three boxes of pinot blanc grapes. These little lovelies went into a grape press we rented from a local u-brew wine shop in Duncan.

Pressing hard overnight we got about 15l of grape juice and put it into a primary fermenter, with any skins that escaped the press, added a packet of champagne yeast and let sit for two week (oops, should have been a week but the health care we have been doing around here meant that we just didn't get to it). Yesterday evening, we siphoned it out of the primary into a 5us gal. carboy (secondary fermenter with a fermentation lock).

We tasted the juice as it siphoned into the secondary and found it quite tart. Forgot all about testing its specific gravity and hope it will be a forgiving little wine and ferment nicely without us adding any sugar.

It is now sitting quietly next to the fireplace now, starting to clear and bubble slowly. It reminds me of a lovely Victorian novel and think Janet would think so too. As the nights grow darker and we are sitting in front of the fire more, it will be lovely to have something that reminds me of her bubbly laughter.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

it's all about the pickles

I think in every stage of a person's life, there are lessons that you must learn. I am becoming aware that for me my stage lesson is patience. Patience in the rythmn of life is paramount as I sit with my mother through her end stage of life. It is a hard but fruitful lesson.

Now, I don't really think of myself as patient but I am more than willing to nurture a carboy of wine through its natural fermentation stage, not using chemicals to hurry things along. I love the nine-day pickle currently slowly ripening in crocks along my kitchen counter....there is nothing, and I mean nothing, commercially available that rivels these succulent pieces of cucumber, silverskin onion, and cauliflower.

The pickle begins like most. Wash and cut cukes, peel silverskins till you can't look another in the eye,and add just enough chunks of cauliflower to make a happy little family. Pile as many of them in a crock as you can (leaving room for weight to sit atop and the lid).

Boil up a pickle brine of water and salt (at a 2:1 ratio of water to salt) and pour over the unsuspecting raw veg and let the magic begin. Now this isn't overnight magic. This magic waits three days, then strain out the veg into a big bowl and pour the brine into a large pot. Bring it to the boil to kill off any wayward bacteria (straining any foam off the top). Once the crock is free of brine, put the wanna-be pickles back in, then after your brine has come to a full rollickingt boil, pour it overtop. Drape a cotton cloth over the top to let the steam out and the mixture to cool. Repeat this in three more days, then another three. On the tenth day drain the pickles into the sink, put them into a huge bowl and pour 1 gallon of water with 1 tbsp alum over the pickles. Let this sit for an hour then drain again. The alum water helps the pickles retain their crispness.

While you are waiting for the alum water to take effect (and have made a nice cup of tea), make up a pickle concotion of 6c vinegar, 8 c sugar, a spice bag with 1oz celery seed, 1 oz allspice, and one cinnamon stick, boiling these ingredients together and then pouring them over the pickles which have been put into quart sealer jars. No need to process in a water bath because the boiling pickle liquid will seal the jar as it cools. Your house will smell like an amazing delicatessan (when little, my sister and I referred to these as "stinky pickles" and would run around the house with teatowels around our faces to block the smell....)

Now I know this seems to be a lot of work for some pickles. In our immediate gratification world, it just might be. But the pleasure of opening a crisp jar of these mixed pickles and enjoying them with some cheese and crackers makes up for any length of time in creating them. But they just might make me a patient person after all, and able to withstand the difficult days ahead.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 goes on

It has been two weeks since my mom took to her bed for the final struggle with cancer. While she is still with us mentally, her body is increasingly saying "no" to the basics of life. The waiting, as the song says, is the hardest part....waiting for her to wake up, to see if she in at all interested in food, juice, water anything...trying not to think about the inevitable but realizing that it is the only thing we have now. It is hard on everyone and we try to find things, positive things, to do with our time.

Today I lucked out and found someone who was picking and selling blackberries. Normally I would love to go and pick them myself (we have purposely not pruned the ones in our yard into oblivion this year). The dusky smell of the summer forest, the heat of the sun, and the pricking of fingers while foraging are like old friends. But this year, with mom, it just doesn't seem possible so I bought some. Mashing them quickly and thoroughly, they now sit oozing their deep purple juice through a jelly bag into my big stock pot. I have another bucket to mash once this once has compressed itself enough to let more bulk into the bag.

Jelly, in its glorious jewel colours, is one of the most satisfying things I make every year. Looking at the tiny pots in the cellar swells the pride and tweaks the tastebuds. Jelly requirea patience. Squeeze the bag with the pulpy mess in it and your reward is a cloudy end product. So you have to let it sit...just sit there oozing. It can be agonizing this wait, but it is purposeful.

Jelly has the added advantage of being able to be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of their dental status, while jam hides little granules that wedge themselves perfectly and almost permanently underneath partials and dentures causing untold grief. So jelly amply rewards the patience of its creator.

On the way home from the blackberry transaction, I notice that a boy down the street is once again selling apples. Industrious lad, he has picked boxes of transparents and is selling them on the side of the street. I can't resist and now 10lbs of transparents are waiting their final assignment in either pies or sauce lodged safely in the freezer. Soon to come, he assures me, are Macs, spartans, gravensteins, and some yet to be identified variants.

I can wait for those apples. Dream about what they might become in our little kitchen. Apple chips, sauce, a snack, apple cake, the list is only as long as my imagination. This waiting might not make the waiting at the end of life easier on any of us. But it is a way to look forward, to remember that life inevitably goes on and that we can make that a bit easier, and definitely a bit sweeter.