“WHO’S NEVER CANNED BEFORE?” Marisa McClellan asked the packed room at the Book Larder cookbook store.
Only a few hands rose.
For the most part, this audience felt comfortable with tools and recipes for jams, pickles and other preserves. I think we’d moved on to the peculiar realization that preserving doesn’t follow the same linear graph of difficulty as most other cooking skills.
Once you’ve mastered, say (not naming names from anyone’s kitchen shelves), homemade strawberry-balsamic jam, marmalade, tomato sauce, applesauce, escabeche and pickles, the question isn’t how to develop more elaborate recipes or acquire another technique. The question is what to do with all those processed-and-sealed jars.
For a long time, despite my well-stocked pantry, I thought this was not one of my problems. I love giving (and receiving!) jam as gifts, and liberally use “the good stuff” for the children’s morning toast or lunchtime PB&Js. I’ve gotten more proficient over the years, though, at transforming large quantities of summer produce to fill half-pint Ball jars and wide-mouth Mason quarts. A century ago, my family would have proudly relied on my skills to take us through the long winter. Today, I’m starting to ask existential questions like, “This jar is labeled 2015; do you think it’s still safe to eat?”
Enter McClellan, a canning expert whose latest book, “The Food In Jars Kitchen: 140 Ways to Cook, Bake, Plate, and Share Your Homemade Pantry” (Running Press, $24), attacks the surprisingly common issue of using up those stockpiled jars.
The main idea is to use what you have, McClellan explains. That means not getting too fixated on whether a recipe calls for raspberry jam when all you have is blackberry. Or plum. Or tayberry. (I have a particular weakness for black currant, despite the nuisancy stems.)
Some of McClellan’s suggestions are what you’d expect once you think about preserves as an ingredient rather than an end product. Thumbprint cookies and linzer bars are always well-received. Others are clever substitutions for the sweet spots in other recipes, like using runny jam rather than maple syrup for batches of granola and glazed nuts. Jam is even a go-to ingredient in her cocktails.
McClellan also widens the field by looking beyond sweets. She mixes marmalade into compound butters, slips stone-fruit preserves into a marinade or on top of a pizza, and lacquers chicken wings with apricot jam. Possibilities for already-savory canned goods and pickles are even broader, from salsa-braised chicken to (seriously) chocolate sauerkraut cake.
My own two pantry shelves shrank to minor-league status learning that McClellan lives in an 1,000 square-foot apartment with her husband, twins on the way and every corner packed with supplies. She described stockpiling tomato sauces under the couch or finding different cabinets and cubbies to dedicate to pie fillings or jellies or chutneys.
“Yes, it is insane,” she acknowledges.
And yet, there’s a rare satisfaction to using and sharing those foods that we’ve made ourselves, whether it’s me sending a care package to my mother across the country or McClellan reworking a childhood raspberry dessert, or passing on the memories of her great-aunt Doris’ quick strudel with apricot jam.
For most urban homes, preserving foods isn’t the necessity it once was — but it’s still a path to continuity and connection. It’s almost like time travel, McClellan says, through family and through food.
This recipe is an homage to a dessert McClellan used to love as a teenager at the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House in an old Victorian mansion in southeast Portland.
Serves 6 to 8
1½ cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 cups fresh raspberries, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup raspberry jam
2 ounces dark chocolate for grating on top
1. Pour the cream into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or a large bowl, and sift in the powdered sugar. Turn on the mixer or use a hand mixer to whip until the cream reaches stiff peaks. This is firmer than you typically take whipped cream, so be brave, but cautious. (See Note.)
2. While the mixer runs, combine the raspberries with the sugar, and mash them together with a fork. Once the berries look juicy, stir in the jam.
3. When the cream is stiff, remove the bowl from the mixer, and fold in the berry mixture. I like to leave it streaky, rather than try to get a uniform mix.
4. To serve family-style, spoon the finished fool into a pretty glass bowl, and use a rasp-style zester to grate the chocolate over the top. It’s also fun to spoon the fool into individual ramekins or dessert cups, and sprinkle those with the grated chocolate. It can be made and kept in the fridge up to 24 hours in advance of serving.
Note: Make sure to be attentive to your cream as it whips so that you don’t overwhip it. However, if you get distracted and your cream breaks into butter and buttermilk, don’t get upset. Pour the butter curds into a fine-mesh strainer, rinse with cold water and squeeze out the buttermilk. Serve the sweetened butter at your next brunch gathering, and tell everyone you did it on purpose!