Summer’s arrived at the ranch!
We sleep under the whirl of the ceiling fan, the cool air blowing on the sheets. I’d forgotten all this long winter how much I loved listening to the purr of the fans in the middle of the night. Soon the creeks will dry up and the coyotes will visit the pond, bringing their haunting cries. But right now, evening surrounds us with the croaks of frogs and crickets. On black, moonless nights, there are a million stars above us.
Dawn comes early and cool. I pad into the kitchen, make coffee and drink it under the shade of the porch in my favorite rocking chair, watching the birds splash in the birdbath and the horses grazing in the tall grass. Then I get to work—I deadhead the flowers and water the plants. Dave goes up the vegetable garden and checks that the soaker hoses are on.
That pretty much does it. By then, the heat’s ramped up to the nineties, and we’re done until evening. What, then, do you do when you’re lucky enough to be able to be “idle and blessed” as the poet Mary Oliver writes?
Well, today I made apricot jam. A friend brought me a flat of the wonderful Royal Blenheims they grow in the valley. They’re only available for about two weeks. Here’s a picture of the first few jars. No pectin—just fruit, sugar and lemon juice. While the Royal Blenheims are wonderful, apricot jam is splendid no matter what. Get a hold of some at the farmer’s market and here’s my recipe:
Jane’s Sweet and Tart Apricot Jam (Summer in a Jar)
8 cups of apricots cut into quarters
3 cups of sugar
juice of 3 lemons
1/4 cup water
I use the largest, round (not oval) Le Creuset Pot there is. I add the fruit and the water and turn on the heat. I put in the sugar and lemon juice and stir frequently as it comes to a boil. I turn the fruit mixture to a simmer, and remember–keep stirring every few minutes. You don’t want the jam to scorch ever! It’s a good time to clean out your cutlery drawers or organize your spices, because you’re going to be in the kitchen for an hour.
After an hour, the jam will have jelled. I pour it into sterilized jars, turn them upside down on the counter for about fifteen minutes. Turn them right side up and listen for the pop that tells me they’ve sealed. They are like sunshine in the cupboard.
There’s always some jam left over that doesn’t fit into the jars. I use that as an excuse to make a crostata. Dave and I use to have jam crostata with our espressos at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar shop and cafe in North Beach in San Francisco. No reason to change that little treat, since we bought ourselves a fancy espresso maker for up here.
Here’s my version of Marcella Hazan’s recipe for Crostata di Mama:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cooking time about 30 minutes.
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of kosher salt
grated rind of 1/4 of a lemon
2 egg yolks beaten
8 oz( one stick) melted butter (cooled)
2 TBS. milk
Blend dry ingredients in a big ceramic bowl. ( I use my old yellow-ware for this). Make a well, add the liquid ingredients and lemon rind and fold the dry ingredients into the liquid middle with your hands. Blend until you have a soft dough and knead a few times. At this point, I roll half the dough out into a 1/2 thick square on a silicone mat and put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes. I roll the other half out onto wax paper and pop it in the freezer, too.
When the dough is cold, I turn it onto a greased and floured baking sheet and spread 1/2 cup of jam on it. I cut lattice strips from the other half of the dough and lay them in a diamond pattern on top of the crostata. I brush the tops of the lattice with an egg wash, pop it the oven and bake for about a half an hour.
Here it is! The lattice top isn’t perfect, but then I don’t live on planet perfect. Do you?
So good, so easy, and you don’t even have to go to Italy or San Francisco!