August 30, 2011
Perhaps you were not expecting such language at the beginning of a post entitled “Jelly and Ice Cream Day.” But, you see, as we come to the end of our Summer of Funner, Ariel’s song from The Tempest becomes more and more applicable to our affairs. Despite a glorious morning walk in which I helped Bea harvest Sumac for jelly, and despite our best attempts to prepare a precious load of Prickly Pears for jelly-making when the sumac brew turned bitter, we triumphed, at last, with a Fanciful and Fast Chai Jelly. Similarly, our Vanilla Tin Roof Ice Cream transformed into a Delightful and Decadent Chocolate Chocolate Peanut Ice Cream. Today was a day of sea changes, in which everything that first appeared to fade transformed into something rich and toothsome.
A Sumac Harvest, a Prickly Pear Fail, and a Chai Tea Jelly to Practically Inhale
Bea and I rose early this morning so that we could go on an excursion to the far west point of the boardwalk to harvest sumac. We were besotted by a recipe from Sarah Hood’s fabulous We Sure Can! : How Jams and Jellies are Reviving the Lure and Lore of Local Food (a recent gift!) in which she harvested sumac tines or “bobs,” brewed them, and, using her own homemade apple pectin, made a fantastic, magenta-coloured jelly. So, with the dog on leash, a large shoulder bag, and a pair of secateurs, we headed way down the hill and west along the boardwalk, over to the section of pedestrian walkways and finely honed paths that jut out into the lake. Here’s where the goldfinches shoot by at eye level, where a white egret roosts beside a pair of swans, and where the sounds of the crickets and the wind-flipped birch leaves cancel out the noise of the street-traffic north on Lakeshore Drive. A month ago, I’d even seen a scarlet tanager roosting on one of the tall sumacs by the water.
Bea proved to be a champion Staghorn Sumac harvester. She chose the rosiest sumac bobs, bending the branches toward herself and wielding her secateurs like she’d been doing this for years. (Of course, she does get a fair deal of practice raiding the backyard garden for her potions!)
We gathered a baker’s dozen tines, making sure to spread our net widely by gathering only a few bobs at a time from plants that were at a good distance from one another. Bea adopted a small bob and a long leaf just turning to its bright fall red as her own special playthings.
For me, this was a glorious walk, an ideal excursion with my daughter that I will always treasure, perhaps even more because of the comic outcome of our dream-like harvesting scheme.
When we got home, we rinsed the sumac well, placed it in a large pot, covered it in water, and set it to boil. We were hoping for a lively ruby red tea to use to make into jelly. We read that the jelly would have a “tart” taste, “reminiscent of rose-hips.” We couldn’t wait!
SIMMER AND JAMNATION! We must have done something (or a bunch of things) wrong! The liquid in the pot tasted, at first, like a Pinot noir, but it had such an entirely bitter aftertaste that I knew it would not make for good jelly. I mixed some of the tea with a small teaspoon of sugar and we tasted it again – blech! [It’s here I must insist that you consider this no fault of the recipe or the recipe writer. We absolutely adore Hood’s book! She has made and taste-tested each of her recipes with care! And her book eventually offered us our solution for the day!] In retrospect, I think we must have gathered too much sumac, and that we gathered tines that were too large. I also think that we must have over-steeped our potion. Hood calls for quick boiling and then gentle steeping. But, I think we must have over-boiled and then over-steeped. This happens to me with tea all the time — just too many leaves and too long on the stove. Ahh…our first jelly failure of the season!
After deciding to drain the brew and compost our spent sumac tines, Bea and I vowed that WE WOULD TRY THIS SUMAC RECIPE AGAIN, and someday soon, with much smaller quantities and a shorter steeping period. But, we had to move on!
Lucky for us, or so we thought, I had finally found a dozen prickly pears for my long-awaited Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly! I mentioned, in a previous post, that I wanted to replicate the jelly I had as a child on a visit to the Tanque Verde Ranch in Arizona. Well, my grocery store had finally restocked their supply, and we were ready to go! Since I had gotten several small and painful slivers in my hand just picking the cactus fruits out at the grocery, I wore rubber gloves to clean and scrub the pears thoroughly, running a knife over the sides of the fruit to do a final scrape or “shave.” Then, I sliced the fruits in half and placed them in our pot, covered in water, setting out to make another “tea.”
After we had brought our fruits to a boil and steeped them for a while, Bea spooned the hot fruits and a bit of the juice into my yogurt straining bag. We wore rubber, heat-proof kitchen mitts to squeeze the juice from the fruits into a measuring cup until we had about 3 cups of liquid. [We wanted to be sure that no remaining cactus prickles would get into our jelly!] Unfortunately, this liquid tasted nothing like the Prickly Pear Jelly I remembered. It reminded us of some sort of raw squash or unripe melon. Yuck!
We went as far as to add the juice of a lemon and about a cup of sugar to the mixture to see if the taste would improve. The liquid was certainly brilliant and beautiful there in the saucepan. But, SIMMER AND JAMNATION, we were foiled again! It tasted horrible! So, we decided to scrap this project, too.
Needless to say, our compost heap was growing, but we had five jam jars fresh and hot from soaking in the canner and ready to be filled! We could not give up!
Finally, flipping through Hood’s book again, we found a recipe for Masala Chai-Tea Jelly that seemed quick and easy and looked dazzling! (There it was, in a beautiful shot glass on the page opposite the recipe, glimmering alongside of the deep-red sumac and so many other glorious jellies!) So, we brewed some bags of chai tea, adding, to this mix, a few cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks for extra oomph. Then, we juiced a large lemon into a measuring cup and strained our tea into the juice until we had about 3 cups of liquid. We heated this mixture with about 4 cups of sugar, finally adding a pouch of liquid pectin and boiling it hard for 2 minutes. Bea decided that she wanted to add a few drops of pink food colouring, as well, to make the jewel tone even more “jewely,” as she said. I consented. When our jelly was ready, we filled, sealed, and processed four half-pint jars for 10 minutes. We also had a nice amount remaining to put into our chipped “cook’s treat” jar.
Later that afternoon, B and I had several handsome spoonfuls of one of the best jellies we’ve ever tasted! Cha-Cha-Cha-Chai!
UPDATE! UPDATE!: Be sure to check out the labels we made for these Chai Tea jelly jars (and our perfected Sumac Jelly – Yes! We did it!) over at our sister site, The Lunchbox Season.
Tin Roof goes Chocolate Chocolate Peanut
Today was also Ice Cream Day! And, the kids were excited to try out a recipe from yet another newly gifted cookbook, David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. We wanted to go “whole hog,” not only making ice cream, but also some of the mix-ins, toppings, or vessels in the book. At last, we settled on Tin Roof Ice Cream, because the recipe called for a lovely vanilla ice cream base as well as two mix-ins: chocolate covered peanuts, and fudge ripple. This, we thought, would provide the perfect challenge, and, we hoped, the “perfect scoop” for our day.
We stared with our mixins. The Chocolate Covered Peanuts were first on our agenda. Bea stirred a bowl with 4 ounces of microwave-melted semi-sweet chocolate. Then, Tobes added a cup of roasted peanuts to Bea’s bowl, and she stirred until coated. We laid the covered nuts onto a tray lined with plastic wrap and set them in the refrigerator to cool. Later, we finished making this mixin by chopping the chocolate covered nuts into smaller pieces using a large knife.
Then, we tackled the fudge ripple. The kids poured 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of light corn syrup into a small saucepan. Then, adding 1/2 cup water and 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder, they whisked their mixture over medium heat until it began to bubble. They continued to cook their ripple at a low boil for about a minute longer, adding a teaspoon of vanilla (double the recipe’s suggestion) before removing the fudge from the stove. They poured the ripple into a large glass container and put it into the fridge to cool for several hours.
Next, we had to make the “custard” base for our ice cream. First, we began to warm 3/4 cup of whole milk and the same amount of sugar on the stove. To this, we added 1/2 cup of heavy cream as well as a pinch of salt. While this started to warm, Bea sliced open 1/2 of a vanilla bean pod, scraping the seeds into our liquid and dropping in the bean itself. Once heated, we covered the mixture and let it stand for 30 minutes.
Next, we poured 1 cup of cream into a large glass mixing bowl and placed a strainer on top. Then we placed this mixing bowl/strainer combo into a larger bowl filled with ice. Separately, we whisked 4 egg yolks and slowly added the warm vanilla mixture to the yolks. (This vanilla cream was still warm after 30 minutes, so there was no need to reheat the brew!) Once the yolks and vanilla cream were combined, we heated them in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring CONSTANTLY and scraping the bottom of the pan CONSTANTLY until the mixture became a beautifully golden custard, reaching 170F on our thermometer. Immediately, we poured the custard through our strainer into the cold cup of cream. We stirred this ice-cream base until it cooled. Then, we placed the mixing bowl, still resting on its bowl of ice, into the refrigerator to chill!
After our base, ripple, and nuts had chilled for several hours in the refrigerator, we were ready to make our late-afternoon ice cream treat! We placed our ice cream base in the frozen canister of our ice cream maker and operated the machine for about 10 minutes. Once the golden ice cream was formed, we transferred it from the frozen canister to a bowl.
Unfortunately, because of the heat, (I blame this, in part, on our prolonged bout of jelly-making in the kitchen!), our ice cream was melty by the time we had incorporated the mixins. Bea opted to eat hers anyway as a “perfect soup” – her joke, not mine – while Tobes and I decided to put the rest of the ice cream back into the frozen canister and re-process it for about five minutes. The result was a lovely Chocolate Chocolate Peanut Ice Cream that was as delicious as it looked.
The amount we reserved for Papa in a small freezer container was even more decadent, confirming the spirit’s song:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea change
Into something rich and strange