Watermelon Jam

“Necessity is the Mother of Invention”

The art of homemade pickling and jam making is a centuries old technique for preserving foods. Fresh vegetables and fruits have a short shelf life. Before the advent of refrigerators, our ancestors used these techniques to store vegetables and preserve something “sweet” for the cold winter months. In the south “Bread & Butter Pickles” is a condiment as common as ketchup at a Barbeque.  Each month, in the restaurant, we process about eight cases of cucumbers for “Bread & Butter Pickles “and two cases of okra for “Pickled Okra,” another popular condiment.

For the past month, my Sous Chef has been on a jam making and pickling binge. He has pickled and canned all the fruits and vegetables in our produce cooler. Give him credit, he’s really enthusiastic about this project and is constantly challenging us, to come up with new combinations to add to his growing collection.  On Tuesday night, we had a case of rhubarbs starting to go bad, (you guessed it) we made rhubarb and ginger jam with it. We have a large writing easel in the kitchen and on Wednesday, we all jotted down interesting jam combinations for us to make.  Not wanting to be left out, I suggested  watermelon jam.

Laughter……… “Who wants to eat watermelon jam?” a cook asked. On the defensive, I said “I’ve never heard of, or seen watermelon jam in the supermarket, so why couldn’t we make some.” Sounds plausible right? Still didn’t make it on the board. Fine! It looked and tasted good in my mind. I was not going to let this go.  Instead, my idea would come home with me. This would be my personal project. If it worked, I’d bring a small Tupperware container of watermelon jam to my restaurant and rub it in their faces. Hey you! There’s jam on your face………….. yea that’s right,watermelon jam.

Fortuitously a few days before, I had purchased a small watermelon at the farmers market. It had been sitting on the kitchen counter because I had been too lazy to cut it up; but not for much longer. I love a challenge.  Thursday, my day-off, I began planning for what I hoped would be a sweet reward and if nothing else the restoration of my ruffled pride.

My mental plan for the Watermelon Jam Project

I already had the watermelon, measuring cups, granulated sugar and plastic Tupperware.  I was about half way there.  I needed to make a quick run to Kroger supermarket for pectin and some lemons.

 Watermelon Jam

Ingredients:

4 cups of diced watermelon ( seeds removed)

¼ cup lemon juice

3 ½ ozs of Pectin

2 cups granulated sugar

 Method:

  1. Blend ¾ of  the diced watermelon to make a puree
  2. Combine diced watermelon and puree in a saucepot
  3. Add lemon juice and 1 cup sugar to mixture
  4. Combine pectin and 1 cup sugar and set aside
  5. Bring mixture to a rolling boil ( about 6 min) stirring constantly
  6. Add rest of sugar and pectin , continue stirring for another minute
  7. Remove from heat and spoon into a clean container

 

 

4th & Swift

“We nourish, inspire and entice the adventurous palate, but chefs rarely savor the dining experience in its entirety” Jomo Morris 

Thursday Night

I was having a rough time of it; a real tough turkey day. Reflecting on those few hours behind the line, ashamed for what I did and what I failed to do. Some memories are best forgotten, but that night has been etched as permanently as the char marks on a New York strip. In deep winter’s night, no matter how I fought to extricate myself from its embrace, I was cooking in a daze. Small things add up, I forgot to remove the hard fibrous tips from a serving of snap peas; a rookie mistake. Misery, it became an unsettling premonition, the work of a malicious elf?  The first dish sent out, came back. “Shrimp & Grits,” such an easy pick-up, sent back because the deep fried grit cake was still cold in the middle. “Would she care for anything else” the chef asked, “no chef” the server replied. I could only stand embarrassed and silent as the offensive plate was pushed towards me through the pass. This wasn’t my first rodeo, but it was as if natural instinct, sense of judgment and experience had fled in terror to hide, deep in the dark crevices of the dish pits’ drain pipe. At the end of my shift, grateful for the anonymity of the ride home; I pictured myself mimicking the trains’ mindless automation as the doors whispered open and shut at each station.

Friday Evening

My friend Jodi called; she wanted to go out for dinner and asked if I was interested.  Small things add up, I should have turned my phone off. I should have told her the truth, but decided to go anyway.The name of the restaurant was 4th&  Swift. We agreed to meet there at 6 pm, “fine” I said, and hung up. It was still bright and hot outside but inside, the mood was cool and subdued. We were their first reservation for the evening and the hostess greeted us with a warm smile, then steered us towards a cozy nook for two. I liked the look and feel of this space. It had the comfortable feeling of a favorite pair of worn jeans, given a contemporary facelift. The walls were exposed brick, thinly veiled by a layer of white paint. Exposed pipes running the length of the ceiling, along with a few visible steel girders left as is, helped accentuate the feel of the room. Despite the rustic look of the building, the tables, chairs, wine glasses and flatware added an air of restrained elegance that hinted at better things to come.

Our server, Sarah was extremely pleasant and proceeded to take our orders for drinks before moving onto the menu. She explained that we were looking at two menus, a market menu and a seasonal menu. The market menu changed daily or as often as possible according to the availability of produce and the whim of the chef. The seasonal menu as the name suggests follows spring, summer, fall, winter and changes as they change. Both Jodi and I were intrigued and we decided to try several courses from both menus.  I asked the server to decide on the coursing and to bring whatever was ready first. With a glass of “Naia Verdejo” in hand, I was ready to taste and enjoy what I hoped would be a meal prepared with skill and care.  I was in good cheer – and Jodi’s warmth and charm, helped to assuage my own uneasy thoughts of the night before.

Our first two courses, a cold soup of tomato and melon along with a shared plate of shrimp ceviche.

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As the evening slipped into its’ twilight, what was once our private space, began to take on the life and breath of a busy restaurant. We had eaten until sated and after, for a few moments sat at the table, unwilling to spoil the others’ reverie. As a cook I was inspired and as a person, content. A day had gone and my mistakes were now past. I felt as if  my mind and soul had been washed clean and replenished with a new found sense of purpose. As we walked through the doors giddy from the experience of our meal, we parted ways with hugs and kisses, already assured that tomorrow would be a better and brighter day for both of us.

A Prayer for Bees

“When I add a spoon of honey to my tea, I give thanks to a dozen bees for the work of their whole lives.  When my finger sweeps the final drop of sweetness from the jar, I know we’ve enjoyed the nectar from over a million flowers.  This is what honey is: the souls of flowers, a food to please the gods.  Honeyeaters know that to have a joyful heart one must live life like the bees, sipping the sweet nectar from each moment as it blooms.  And Life, like the world of honey, has its enchantments and stings….”~Ingrid Goff-Maidoff  “The Honey Sutras”

My kitchen is situated in an imposing brownstone building in Midtown Atlanta. The entire space has no external windows and is lit by a battery of florescent lights so bright there is no concept of night and day. The elements – cold, sunshine, rain, wind – are kept safely at bay by steel, concrete, electrical wiring, pipes, polished glass and automatic doors.  The architectural design of my workplace even extends to the trees, shrubs and flowers that dot the entrance, all securely ensconced in concrete planters and miniature paved islands.

But Midtown has a secret and as all secrets should, this one is hidden from public view.  Not many people know, tucked away in the middle of this bustling business district, high above the sidewalk and pedestrian view is a small terrace on my building. This in itself is inconsequential, more important; this terrace is home to a small chef’s garden and four honey bee hives.  It’s a breath of fresh air for us cooks, a sign of our determination to connect with what’s fresh and growing outside.  It’s also a statement that as cooks we understand the importance of bees for sustaining agriculture. There would be no fruits or vegetables without the hard work of the honeybee – the great pollinator.

Ever heard of Colony Collapse Disorder? Honeybees are disappearing, and it is a serious issue.  This disease is responsible for the deaths of 30% of our honeybee colonies every year. The plight of the honey bee rose to national prominence in late 2006 when the disease was at its worst. Since then media coverage has shifted in tandem with the short attention span of its audience to cover more sensational news. Bees may no longer be newsworthy but it doesn’t mean we have forgotten about them.  The opposite has occurred, people are more aware than ever about bees. The crisis has helped us understand the importance of pollinators to our diet and environment.  We can all help by planting more flowers for bees to feed on and keeping pesticide use to a minimum. If we all actively participate, these two actions will help in restoring a healthy, vibrant, honey bee population. It’s as simple as that.

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