Thursday, October 13, 2011

Making Jam at Happy Girl Kitchen

There are many benefits to living in Northern California. There's the fabulous weather, stunning scenery, lively food scene, numerous farmers markets, and countless small businesses that use the abundant produce that is grown here, much of it organic.

I enjoyed a muesli with maple yogurt and a Blue Bottle Coffee latte before the workshop

I discovered one of these businesses when I went to Pacific Grove last month. Happy Girl Kitchen is a cafe with a difference: the business is focused on sustainable practices and is single-handedly trying to revive the art of preserving the harvest. Jordan and Todd partner with local family farms, connecting the harvest with home preservation advocates. To further their efforts, they offer canning workshops. Five hours long, attendees learn several recipes hands-on, and get to take home a couple of jars of each recipe they make. They throw in a delicious lunch to boot.

Jordan uses the oven to make the apple butter, eliminating hours of stirring

Happy Girl recently opened a store in San Francisco's Ferry Building, yet all of the products they sell there, in Pacific Grove, and the farmers markets they sell at are made in a relatively small kitchen in their Pacific Grove location. It was here that I recently attended a workshop on apples, quince and pears. We learned how to make apple butter, apple chutney, quince jelly and can pears in a honey syrup.

Many hands make light work - ten of us were able to cut up pounds of quince in minutes

One of the reasons I've never canned is I'm afraid I'd do it wrong and kill someone. It turns out I'm not alone in that fear, but there's not too much danger of that if you follow some simple rules. We learned the importance of having a perfectly clean rim on the jar (a tiny bit of fruit or an herb interferes with the sealing of the lid), of processing the filled jars in a hot water bath for a long enough time to heat the center of the jar to a safe temperature.

Even the quince cores are used for their pectin. Wrapped in a cloth, they boil with the fruit.

Quince were new for me, and although they have a lovely aroma, they are tough to love. They're a bit wooly on the outside, and taste a bit too tangy. They're best when cooked and they are ideal for jelly. Jordan told us how to make membrillo with the quince pulp after we cooked it down and strained the juice for the jelly. She even let us take it home so we could make membrillo ourselves.

Straining the pulp to extract all the juice to for the quince jelly

That was something I enjoyed about my day at Happy Girl. When Jordan grabbed a jar of pickled beets to serve with lunch, she poured out the pickling liquid, ditto with the bread and butter pickled zucchini. The mixture smelled amazing, and Jordan explained that she'd save it for making a vinaigrette. At Happy Girl, they strive to use, and reuse, everything they can. Food scraps and paper products are composted so very little goes to waste.

The whole time we were there, Jordan was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable ambassador for canning. She encouraged us to experiment with herbs and spices by dividing a batch in several parts so that if something wasn't successful, you haven't spoiled the whole batch.

We've already sampled the pears (preserved in a bath of honey syrup with a cinnamon stick) and the quince jelly, and both were fabulous. Even the quince pulp (for the membrillo) was delicious. If the byproducts of the canning process are delicious, what's stopping me from taking up this almost lost art? Not a thing now that I know how to do it without victims.

I plan to make the trek to Pacific Grove in a few weeks for another canning workshop. Jordan and Todd will be doing one more tomato workshop and I plan to be there to learn to make their fabulous salsa.


Torviewtoronto said...

this looks fabulous seems like lots of fun

Cindy said...

Home canning is a very rewarding activity. I made a batch of raspberry/blackberry jam. I savor each bite!
Glad you had a chance to do this.

Jessica said...

What I would give to have such a cool place near me! How fun to learn canning from the pros. I've done it here and there, but I'm always nervous about killing people with my creations.

You're right - there's no place like Northern California. As a native, I miss it every day. (My family is up in Sonoma County, but my grandmother lived in Pacific Grove for years.)

TeaLady said...

Sounds like a wonderful way to spend a day. Wish I could go to the next one with you. Nothing like that around here!!