Well, pickling really.
Everyone once in a while I need some serious galley time; Steve calls it my therapy. Something about the methodical actions of slicing and dicing, of stirring and waiting somehow calms me, brings me back to centre. I have to admit, a small boat in the tropics is really not the smartest place to choose an activity that involves standing next to a stove for hours on end. But I can’t resist.
Over the years when fruit is in season and crazy cheap I’ll make a batch of jam or chutney, squirreling it away for a day when we are at a deserted anchorage and we haven’t seen a real store in weeks. Nothing boosts morale like a dollop of homemade Mango Chutney on leftover curry or spruces up breakfast like Passion fruit Pineapple Jam.
Having broken almost a whole tray of mason jars way back in Costa Rica one night (a sad lesson in the thermodynamic differences between solids and liquids let me tell you) I was running low on proper canning jars. So last visit to Aus I ordered a case, carefully packed them in my checked luggage and hoped they would survive the plane ride. Amazingly all 12 jars made it to the boat intact and they sat on the table taunting me until recently.
I started off by making a batch of Tomato Relish when tomatoes went down to $2/kg. Even if it failed miserably I would only be a couple bucks out of pocket- less than if I bought a jar of relish in the supermarket here. I headed straight for the book shelf and pulled two dog-eared and much loved volumes off the shelf for guidance.
Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens is a compendium of old recipes from back home that was given to me by my Mom. The Presbyterian Woman’s Missionary Union of Victoria Cookery Book was Steven’s Mother’s go to guide when she was a young woman. Both were originally published at the turn of the last century and are chocked full of time honoured recipes, with a whole chapters devoted to preserves.
My experiment was a success, although not completely like the relish I tasted in Aus that was made by a little old church lady. Who’d have guessed! All the same, I not only wrote down the recipe but I was encouraged to tackle a recipe I had been wanting to make for years.
Last time I was home I discovered my Grampy’s Sweet Mustard Pickle recipe written in an old journal of his that my Mother had inherited. He was an avid gardener and an incredible pickle maker and just reading his recipe made me both hungry and nostalgic. I went to the market to buy cucumbers, cauliflower and onions. I needed lots of them if I was going to follow his instructions to the letter.
The morning of Mustard Pickles was a trip down memory lane, one that ended in happily several beautiful jars of “just like Grampy’s” pickles, and a cheese and Mustard Pickle sandwich for lunch. Delish!
Then I had a notion to make some Hot Pepper Jelly…again. This time of year there are habaneros on sale in the market, lots of them. Last year I bought a rather large bag and not particularly following the directions, which I am want to do, ended up with a batch of what I dubbed Guatemalan Insanity Pepper Jelly (see old school Simpsons episode for consequences of eating said jelly). Needless to say there is still some in the fridge. But the morning I was going to try again I also discovered two mangoes that needed to be used. So I Googled “hot sauce recipe” and taking what I liked from several entries concocted with three jars of a very tasty, pleasantly spicy sauce that I call “Kate’s Killer Mango Habanero Hot Sauce”. That I managed not to burn the skin off my hand or rub pepper oil in my eye was a complete bonus.
The week this was all happening someone gave me a bag of Kumquats. They are a bitter little citrus fruit that are a nice addition to a gin and tonic but not particularly edible on their own. Feeling obliged to do something with them and lacking a bottle of gin I thought I would try my hand at making marmalade.
Marmalade and I have a bittersweet relationship; I love the stuff but have never been successful making it. No matter which method or recipe I use (and by now I have done them all), or which citrus fruits or country I have made it in, it never works. And this time it was no different. After reboiling it twice I ended up resorting to a package of pectin, which helped enough that the end result will now stay on top of my toast and not just pool on the plate. I guess you could say that marmalade and I just don’t gel. And next time someone gives me a bag of kumquats I think I’ll just buy that bottle of gin.
I have given the galley, and Steve, a break for a bit but I have plans to make a batch of Mango/Pineapple Chutney before Christmas, maybe adding some dried cranberries (if I can find some) to make it festive.And I have an on going Indian Mango Pickle experiment happening that I am looking forward to telling you all about soon.
Months from now, when we open a bottle pickles or relish or marmalade, we won’t just be opening a jar of condiments. Like a photo each jar preserves a moment and creates a memory. Flipping through well worn cookbooks or reading a hand written recipe is like sharing a small piece of someones life story. Taste and smell are as evocative a reminder of an experience or a place as an image caught on film.
I gave a jar of my Grampy’s Mustard Pickles to the husband of a local lady that makes delicious preserves she sells in the marina store. Although I think he prefers his wife’s spicier version ( we’ve bought several jars, and I must admit they are tasty) he said they took him right back to his English childhood and the cheese and pickle sandwiches he had for lunch.
He couldn’t have given me a better compliment if he tried.