Saturday, August 21, 2010

How Friendship Sweetens Everything

As we ate the yummy omelette at Janet's, we talked about canning. Janet does all kinds of pickles, olives and her plum jam is legendary. She gave me a jar last year from small yellow plums that I opened in February, and it got me through the hardest part of winter. Serena had taken Janet and I to a roadside stand in Watsonville that had organic stone fruit. The day we went we found peaches and Black Amber plums. We were all very excited to do a batch of peach and basil preserve, the Patience Gray recipe.

One evening shortly after we had all canned our peaches and basil, Janet called with an idea: nectarine and lemon basil preserve. Janet, an exceptional landscape architect, had some lemon basil in her garden, and nectarines were just coming in to season.

Canning day was bright and sunny with a cool wind rising up off the ocean. We washed our jars, rims and lids, stood side by side and cut up the nectarines, measured out the sugar, and left the sugar and fruit to sit. I went into Janet's garden to take photographs in the late afternoon light. The light was caught in little puddles in the wild rose bush, sifting through the large fig leaves, illuminating arranged still lifes of beach rocks and low round bowls of succulents. Janet called through the kitchen window, "Come look at this!"

Inside, she was transferring the nectarines and sugar into a larger bowl. The bowl was upturned in her hands and the sun through the window illuminated a pool of pink, glistening sugar. Her smile, her rapt attention to this color, this moment, the beautiful confluence of ingredients: this is the presence Janet brings to her life that makes knowing her such a joy.

And this time together will be what I think of when I am home again in my new home, New York. I will recall this memory of California, of the place and the people that I miss so steadily. I will feel my love for my friends, family, place, and the love will fill my heart, like so much glistening, pink sugar in the bottom of the bowl.

Janet's Nectarine and Lemon Basil Preserve:
Use a combination of ripe and slightly under ripe (harder) nectarines. Cut into chunks and put in bowl big enough to mix in sugar. Most canning recipes call for about equal parts sugar to fruit, we used less than that. For each cup of fruit, as 1/3-1/2 cup sugar. For each cup fruit, add two tablespoons lemon juice. Stir this mixture together and let sit overnight in fridge. The next day, cook at a simmer. Gently mash with potato masher. Do not boil or overcook. Leave some nectarine texture. Cook until you see it start to glisten and the fruit is starting to dissolve. You will see the "glisten" moment. It is like the difference between water and frozen water, obvious to the eye. It is then that the fruit and sugar have thoroughly united, or jelled. Swirl in lemon basil, one nice stalk for about four cups of fruit. Place a few leaves in bottom of each jar. Ladle fruit into sterile jars and water bath can for 10 minutes.
Good on toast and with yogurt. And very good with cheese, use it as you would a quince or fig jam with cheese.

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