26 January 2009

Fine Preserving

Today's cookbook is a twofer, two different editions of Fine Preserving by Catherine Plagemann. In the late 60’s Plagemann’s slim book on preserving featured both sweet and savory recipes for chutneys, sauces, jellies and condiments. Today’s more adventurous audience would probably embrace Plagemann’s book, but it went out of print not long after it was published.

The book might have fallen into obscurity, but it had a great champion, M. F. K. Fisher. Though they never met, Fisher was instrumental in getting the book re-issued but with a twist.

While sitting around talking about books with a group of people, including small publisher, John Harris, the subject of lost classics came up. Fisher stated that the one book she would have reprinted was Fine Preserving. Intrigued by that choice, John Harris said he would look at a copy but several days later he called Fisher to say he could not find one in any library. (It was the olden days before Amazon.) Fisher offered to send him her copy, but when he received it, he found the pages annotated with personal notes. Instead of simply re-publishing the book, Harris wanted to publish it with M.F. K. Fisher’s annotations. Mrs. Plagemann died several years before the annotated version, so she never knew of the great influence the book had on Fisher.

The second incarnation of Fine Preserving, nearly 20 years after the first combines the original with cryptic and biting marginalia from Fisher.

This is one of Fisher’s favorite recipes and one of mine, too.

Pickled Seedless Grapes

Wash and stem enough grapes to make 3 cups. Place them in 3 very clean half-pint canning jars.
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup white wine vinegar or white vinegar
3 3-inch cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon minced onions
Bring these ingredients to a boil, stirring well to distribute the sugar; simmer mixture for five minutes. Pour the syrup over the grape, putting 1 cinnamon stick in each jar. Stir and let stand overnight. Next day the grapes will be ready to serve.
If you want to keep the relish for future use, it is a good idea to put the jars in brown-paper bags before putting them on the shelf, as the light tends to darken the top layer of grapes, and this is not a pretty site. Plan to use this pickle soon, or at least before the year is out, as the grape skins toughen as well as darken if they are kept too long.
Serve this relish with meat, fish, poultry or game.
It also makes a delicious and unusual condiment as an accompaniment to curry.

M.F. K Fisher’s Commentary

And so now we come to one of my favorite recipes in the whole book! (There are two of them. The other is for Chermoula.) I make these pickled grapes very often, Winter and Summer, now that in California we can get good seedless grapes fro South America to add to our own crops. People are astonished and pleased by them.
The pickle should be served cold, drained of juices, and without the cinnamon stick. My version is somewhat different from Mrs. Plagemann’s: I’ve cut out the minced onions. I don’t think it adds anything. (Perhaps cherries, pitted or not, might be good this way?)
Mrs. Plagemann uses little jars filled with grapes, washed and dried, and with one cinnamon stick in each jar. The hot syrup (really a kind of bar-mix, called “simple syrup,” I think) is poured in immediately and they are sealed.
The cinnamon stick I find essential. I tried once without it and it didn’t “feel” right. White seedless grapes will turn brown, as she says, so they should be put in a dark place. Myself, I think the seedless “flame” grapes, the red Peruvians, are the most delicious. They last a couple of years, but I feel that after one month they are at their best, rather crisp and fresh tasting. (But they are fine in one day!) They are delicious with any sandwiches, or cold meats, or fowl hot or cold, fish hot or cold, veal smoked or not, lamb…all most anything except maybe vanilla ice cream.

I agree with Fisher, the onions are not necessary, but I think they would be quite lovely heated and poured over vanilla ice cream! These grapes are a perfect hostess gift. Face it, everyone brings a bottle of wine, so why not mix it up a bit with these lovely pickled grapes.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Widget by LinkWithin