The tales of the traveling Tonic bottle… In checking out their photos online one could say that this little bottle gets around. Being that funny limbo time between fresh summer and early fall harvest, I’m always forced to get creative with my canning ideas. Thanks to my new friends over at Alley Twenty Six and Behind the Stick Provisions, LLC, this week I decided to put up a small batch of jelly using the Durham produced craft Tonic Syrup. Local, weird, and easily the prettiest colored jelly I’ve ever made. With hints of lemongrass and spice, I plan on serving this Tonic jelly with goat cheese and crackers.
What’s up with the burnt orange color? The color is caused by the bark of Peruvian cinchona trees that they use. Never heard of it? Neither had I. As the name suggests, the main use for this syrup is cocktails. Gin + Tonic syrup + soda water = close to the best gin and tonic I’ve ever tasted. Interested in trying or making this somewhat regionally specific jelly yourself? You can find Alley Twenty Six’s Tonic in many drinking establishments and bottle shops around the Triangle. For those of you who don’t live in the area, Tonic is currently being sold in store and online at Southern Season. Word on the street is that their website is going hit the interwebs any day now. In the meantime, for news, ideas, and a list of retailers, check out their Facebook page.
Rather than rambling on and on about how I didn’t (again) wear gloves while prepping these hot peppers, instead I’m going to talk about how the magic of homemade kefir saving my pepper oil burned hands. “I’m a badass, I don’t need to wear gloves…” fast forward 3 hours.. don’t worry I remembered not to touch any of my bits… and my hands were on fire. A few years back following a similar pepper situation, a friend suggested I try yogurt for heat relief. With no yogurt on hand, the only thing that I had that would suffice was my precious kefir. So picture this: 1am in the morning, buck naked, rubbing creamy kefir all over my hands. Sexy? NO! I swear, if only I was a bug on the wall observing my odd behaviors… But the point here is that it worked. So there ya’ have it, yet another awesome reason to make your own homemade kefir (see recipe link above).
Quite surprisingly, this is my first pepper jelly. Surprising because I use hot peppers in everything. Perhaps the fear of the prep. process, or perhaps because I felt it would be hard to create a hot sweet jelly comparable to the stuff other people make, but after 3 years of routine canning I decide to just go for it. To keep it weird, I added some fresh ginger acquired from Maple Spring Gardens and cilantro (really just for the touch of green) to the melange of hot peppers found at the Four Leaf Farm market stand. What makes this pepper jelly a bit different is in the use of a specific bastardly-hot pepper: the lemon drop pepper… “a hot, citrus-like, lemon-flavored pepper which is a popular seasoning pepper in Peru, where it is known askellu uchu.”
I call this my “happy 4th of July jam”. I get that today isn’t the 4th of July, but I made this Jam on the 4th, so that counts for something, right? If you recall from last summer, I’m pretty pumped about pick your own (PYO). My experience thus far in picking my own fruits and veggies is limited to apples, blueberries, raspberries, kale, herbs, and cauliflower. Picking your own veggies is so much cheaper and so much more fun. With the narrow picking window for strawberries, I had to get on it, as I’ve never picked strawberries nor made a strawberry jam before. Also, blueberry picking season just started!!
So what is it about picking my own? For me, it has to do with many things: saving money, keeping it local, helping out the smaller farms, etc. The one thing that I love the most though is the meditative aspect of it. Bare feet and a short skort I was looking for only the best berries at Applecrest Farm Orchards last week. The greatest feeling ever… Too small, too tart, too yellow… not for my jam.
Cherries wild!! Do you remember the days of everything cherry? When every bra, tablecloth, bathing suit, and rockabilly chick was a canvas for the iconic image of a cherry? I actually never went through the phase, and I think I’m more than OK with it. I instead went through the “put a Roxy sticker on it” phase. Cool kid status, huh?
As part of what I am deeming “cherry’palooza” this is the second recipe in a cherry series of three that employees cherries that I received as part of the Washington State Fruit Commission and Sweet Preservation Can’bassador program. This black pepper and cabernet cherry jam was adapted from The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar by Jennifer Megyesi as well as from Home & Farm Sense. A sweet and savory cherry jam recipe that pairs nicely with a mild cheese and cracker snack. To save your fingers, kitchen, and definitely a lot of time, I would highly recommend picking up a cherry stoner like the Westmark pictured below.
I’m going to be honest, my apartment smells like a night of bad life choices… Think what you will, and maybe you should… but, a solid night out for me typically includes a couple whiskey and gingers (commonly referred to as a bourbon highball). Last January during the doldrums of winter and thus the lack of fresh fruits for tasty jelly and jam making, I started experimenting with alcohol based canned goods. To my surprise, not only was everything I made pretty damn good, but also a huge hit on the blogosphere. The main risk of canning with alcohol is spending 20 plus dollars on the booze to have it fail or not set up correctly. Plus, following the typical jelly set tests is a crap shoot because the lack of “water” causes different boiling temperatures and consistencies. The inspiration for this whiskey ginger jelly came from my cinnamon whiskey jelly that I put up last winter. I suggest using a mid-range whiskey or bourbon here as you don’t want to spend the money and have it fail, but also you don’t want the flavor of cheap booze lingering in your sugary jelly goodness.
The flavor of this whiskey ginger jelly is perfect. Smooth, not overwhelmingly boozey, yet strong in ginger flavor which would work nicely as a pork glaze or simply on a biscuit. Yum, think about it, a hot homemade buttermilk biscuit topped with jelly and some local free-range bacon strips!! While cooking this jelly down does burn off most of the whiskey, only so much can be lost from 750ml. To that end, I may advice against using this jelly for little Johnny or Sally’s lunch time PB&J. 🙂
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