Dish of the Week
Gravenstein Apple Pepper Relish
Jammin’ is all about hanging out in the kitchen with people you like. Sure, your goal is filling the larder for Winter with the best of what you've grown or sourced from Summer to Fall, but to get the stuff in the jars you will spend an inordinate amount of time peeling, cooking, and waiting for those jars to boil. The better the company, the sweeter the ride; the more love in the jar, the better the product.
So I was particularly lucky when Daniel Carlson graciously offered to help me turn the last of our Gravenstein’s into Chef’s Apple Pepper Relish this past week. Dan is the lovely young man helping Lukka expand the gardens at the farm, where we are at the crucial stage of ordering ground cover and setting out a new and greatly expanded planting schedule for next year. It wasn't lost on either of us that the gabfest that ensued was all about what we'd be stirring in these very same pots next year.
While canning and jamming is not a solitary art, mindful it most certainly is. There came a moment with each batch when we stopped talking, looked deep into the cauldron, and asked in timorous voices the question only masters of the form ever have an easy answer for...'are we there yet?' Knowing the answer takes more than practice. No matter how rigorously you stick to Grandma’s recipe, if she's still around Grandma would be the first to tell you that each particular batch of fruit is bound to react differently when it hits the pan. This recipe is a case in point: it only calls for four ingredients ~ sugar and vinegar, heirloom apples and peppers ~ but the flavor of the final product is all about developing a talent to play the alchemist when it comes to heat and timing.
You start by making a gastrique ~ but where a normal gastrique only uses vinegar to cut sugar that's been caramelized in water, in this case you eliminate water and use vinegar to caramelize the sugar. This intensifies the flavors of the syrup in a way that downplays the sweetness of the sugar, allowing the apples and the peppers to shine. Chef uses Champagne vinegar because it's bright yet mild enough not to step all over the fragrant subtleties you hope to get from the apple-pepper combo.
Apples have a good percentage of pectin, a natural thickening agent, but they also throw off a lot of juice. Success is all about keeping a vigilant eye, knowing what you are looking for ~ that brief moment when a wooden spoon pulled slowly across the bottom of the pan moves easily through the golden amber syrup, but takes a second longer than it just did to roll back and cover its tracks. If you put the apples and peppers in before you reach this point, when the apples release their juice you'll have to wait for the syrup to thicken again, during which time you risk overcooking the apples. Lose that soft crunch and you lose a key element in what makes this deceptively simply relish so special.
This relish is meant to star our dry farmed Gravenstein's, but any good quality cooking apple will make a nice relish. You can also use any variety of pepper so long as you stay on the sweet side ~ the bite from this relish comes from the vinegar. This is NOT a pepper jam, it’s an apple relish that’s danced in the pan a bit with heirloom peppers. Big difference.
How you cut the fruit is also crucial in the way it affects cooking time and the final look of the relish. We peel the peppers, cutting them into a perfect brunoise. We grate the apples with their pectin rich skin on, before crosscutting them into the same size as the peppers. Invest in a good mandolin ~ Ryan prefers Japanese to French ~ no kitchen should be without one. Yes, they take a bit of getting used to and yes, you will probably shred some skin along with the apples if you take your eyes off the prize for even a second. (They come with a guard, but it's pretty useless). A mandolin, as opposed to a grater, will give you uniformity and a cleaner edge to the cut fruit. Work quickly once you start cutting the apples so you can add them to the syrup before they oxidize and discolor.
Simple Apple Pepper Relish one sweet red pepper five large (or six smaller) apples 320 grams champagne vinegar 320 grams fine baking sugar
In a large sauce pan, add the sugar to the vinegar and stir until it dissolves, then let the syrup simmer until you reach the moment described above. Add the brunoise of apples and pepper and bring them to a soft crunch stage which should occur right about the time the gastrique has thickened again. Pour into sterilized jars and follow directions using the standard hot water bath process for hot packing hi-acid fruit. Cool and check to see the tops have sealed.
If you plan to refrigerate the relish and use it within a few weeks, you can back off to 300 grams each of sugar and vinegar which results in a relish on the drier side, the better to quenelle and serve with lamb or fish.
In the Gallery
Ferdinand Thieriout, the former Yorkville glassblower who has supplied us with a distinctive range of bowls and vases for the past two years, stopped by the Gallery this week with his beautiful family and two boxes full of his coveted 'bubble' bowls which we'd completely sold out of. In a style that references 60's Mad Men glamor with a spare Swedish approach to color, these are functional pieces of art, equally stunning displayed on their own or filled with salad and veg.
The large salad bowls come in two shapes; both have the distinctive red radish lip, while the smaller fruit bowls are edged in a variety of beautiful colors: Saffron, Forest, Ruby, Denim & Ivory. Prices range from $85. FYI: Due to his move to Little River this month, Ferd informs us this will be our only shipment before Christmas. He should have a new Studio up and running (there's talk of it being mobile!) early next year.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted)