Sweet perfume of soft-furred quince, tart burst of crimson cranberries. Bright leaf, dark cloud, simmered spices. As the weather shifts and the world spins dizzily through news cycles and weather patterns alike, the kitchen is an anchor, a place to combine a multitude of flavors in vibrant harmony. Stir gently in circles, mix well, prevent scorching. Taste and tailor and tinker and share. There is a story we tell ourselves, of a long-ago hunger, and a feast made possible by the compassion of The Other. Everything we know has been borrowed from the past, built on a foundation of fact, or belief, the way our mothers and fathers did things. The kitchen is insulated from the news of the world, but it is not apart from it. Every spice has a history, every vegetable has a native soil. This time of year, when we celebrate origins, beginnings, and foundations, it brings a kind of wonder to consider the twined and forked and frayed and woven stories of how each flavor comes to our kitchens. Through what long ago-trade routes, migrations, and memories, each has passed to come to our hand. So much of that story is lost, but the broad strokes remain. I stir with a wooden spoon, I recall the kindness of strangers and the life work of the invisible multitudes that have brought me such delicacies as the lemon tree out in the garden, the ripe figs in a bowl, the jars of spices that line the shelves. I stir round and round and travel back and back. The bowl, the spoon, the stove, the stories. The continual reinvention and recombination of history and agriculture, myth and migration, and memory. It needs salt. It needs a pinch of acid, the sharp tang of vinegar, a fresh bite to wake up the flavor, and make us remember, as we make time to do every year, how incredibly lucky we all are, reading this, how unbelievably, unbearably fortunate we are to be here, now, despite everything. How far we all have traveled. Where we might yet go.
That sharpness can cut right to the heart, sometimes. So we need a little sweetness, or softness, to temper it. Here is a jam to reflect to on the times, on flavors and origins, and seasons and spices, the sharp bite of vinegar and the sweetness of sugar and charred onion. In a jar, it makes a perfect gift. On the tongue, it tells stories, but holds some secrets back, as all good cooks and storytellers do.
Bite and savor, process and flavor. Here’s another do-si-do, the dance of tartness and sweetness dancing together. Tannins and citrus and lactobacillus, a gradual deepening of color and flavor. Old World bees and New World cranberries cavort a tart-sweet tango, a probiotic two-step, a lactic acid boogie.
And again, some vinegar to balance the sweetness. These vegetable pickles are crunchy and clean and green and pink.
The Brussels Sprout is tolerant of salt, stone, and alkalinity in the soil, making them equally at home in Southern Europe and the coastal fields of Northern California, among other places. Sliced, they resemble tiny, floral cabbages. Romanesco, hailing from southern Italy, look like the twisted towers of a spiraling fractal dream, In fact, both of these plants are technically the same species, Brassica oleracea. Extensive breeding and hybridization have given them wildly different forms, but they share at their dense, green hearts a common ancestry. Wherever they hail from, they are two of the prettiest little-pickled vegetables you’ll ever see, brining together with a hint of cool mint, a spoonful of fiery mustard seed. A jar of these enlivens discussions around the cheese plate while waiting for the main course to be served.
Quince comes from Turkey, or is it Iran, or Greece? They do quite well here in most parts of North America, finding their way into apple pies, fruit butter, and yes, ferments all of their own. Here is a way you might not have encountered them before, stuffed with lamb, simmered in broth, scattered with herbs and pomegranate seeds, fragrant with warming spices.
In the garden, white cabbage moths flit. The tomato vines droop and dry, the squash succumbs to cold and mildew. Arugula is springing into abundance, fresh as April and green as grass, unbothered by the moths or chilly dew. Amaranth sheds tiny black seeds, peas race the frost up their stakes. Lettuce waits for rain.
We are grateful for so many things, and you (yes, you, dear customer) are one of them. That's why we're holding a Customer Appreciation Day on Tuesday, November 27th. 15% off the entire store, excluding feed, for all your gift-giving and mountain-living needs. Our usual winter hospitality will be in effect soon, too, with complimentary gift-wrapping and free hot cider through December 24th.
If you're looking for a tree to decorate this year, we'll have our selection of holiday trees coming in the day after Thanksgiving. Shop early for the best selection, and don't forget to name a tree for next year! Live fresh wreaths are coming on November 8th.
And if DIY is more your style, keep your weather eye out for our wreath-making class, which will be held December 1st, from 11-2.
The days fly by. On December 8th, we'll be visited by Santa himself. He loves to listen to the Banana Slug String band, so we've engaged them once again to play for us on this day of celebration and wish fulfillment for the whole family. There will be free ice cream as well, from Mission Hill Creamery, and a good time to be had by young and old alike. Come on down, take some pictures with the Man In Red, and dance the day away.
This journal and the articles in it were written by Jessica Tunis, unless otherwise noted.