That perfect bowl of plump and sweet blackberries savored during the fleeting weeks of summertime -- when everything seems ripe and ready all at once -- cannot, unfortunately, be duplicated in February. However, a little foresight, some extra produce and a freezer can make for near-perfect wintertime memories.
For instance, pick or buy berries when they are plentiful, make pies and cobblers for consumption now, and then transform several flats into a smooth, sauce-like pure'e.
While cutting up chunks of red, ripe tomatoes for an uncooked pasta sauce, prepare even larger quantities for batches of fresh tomato pure'e, or sauce, for the freezer.
Haul a lug of onions from a farm or market, slice up the whole quantity and turn it into a savory marmalade.
Make a tangy chutney from plums instead of the regular jam or conserve.
Popping these, and others, directly into the freezer, packed into sturdy storage containers, is ever so much easier than canning the produce. Further, keeping many preparations in cold storage is kinder than canning to the taste of the raw ingredients over an extended period.
Home gardeners who tend tomato plants, or those who visit farm market stands and cannot resist buying a half or whole bushel of tomatoes, will appreciate the recipe for Fresh Tomato Pure'e that is the essence of summer and easily packed away for winter.
The Summer Tomato Sauce for Winter Enjoyment includes onions, carrots and celery and is sparked by chopped garlic and fresh oregano, chopped. The vegetables give a fine depth to the sauce while rounding out the flavor of the tomatoes; use it in baked vegetable dishes that are layered with cheese, or simmer browned chicken pieces or pork chops in it.
The Yellow Tomato Preserve is both sweet and savory, and rich all on its own, and is a handy condiment to have frozen in half-cup containers. Use it in small quantities to deglaze a saute' pan after chicken breasts or pork chops have been cooked, to spread over cornish hens before roasting, to combine in a stuffing destined for pork, chicken or veal, or to brush on large shrimp before grilling.
The Red Plum Chutney and Onion Marmalade blend well with many savory foods. Both have a vinegar-and-sugar base (bolstered by spices), making them tartly sweet adjuncts, or enhancers, to anything roasted or saute'ed.
The chutney, compote-like with its inclusion of spices and raisins, is good as a companion to pork as a relish, blended into the pan sauce at the final moments of cooking, or pure'ed and used as a glaze on a roast; the compote is delicious when used in conjunction with duck or chicken. Both the marmalade and chutney are easy, fast-cooking projects that needn't be canned to keep the flavor intact. In fact, storage of these in the freezer is the best way to hold the garden-fresh flavor of the produce.
The marmalade is silky and suave: spoonfuls can go into braised beef or veal, whisked into pan sauces or stirred into dressings, or can be blended into the batter for savory muffins. When making a main course tart that has cheese and eggs as its base, spread a couple of tablespoons of the marmalade on the bottom of the tart crust before filling it.
If you can't have your berries whole, glistening on the plate with a side of sweetened whipped cream, all the year round, then liquefy them as in the recipes for Liquid Rasperries and Liquid Blackberries. Liquefied fruit is both a sauce and light pure'e; the berries are cooked in nothing more than a simple sugar syrup, and the syrup keeps the flavor of the fruit alive.
Either mixture is delicious when whipped into a plain vanilla mousse, ice cream base or molded bavarian; blended with heavy cream, it makes a fine sauce for bread puddings or pound cake and, when a big splash is added to club soda or seltzer, produces a refreshing and cooling drink.
Herewith, some favorite and unusual ways to stock the freezer that are sure to glamorize your cooking throughout the year: FRESH TOMATO PUREE (Makes 1 quart for each 3 pounds of tomatoes)
When plum tomatoes are plentiful, the best way to preserve them for use throughout the fall and winter is by turning pounds of them into pure'e. This pure'e stores well in the freezer for many months and tastes as fresh on defrosting as the day you made it.
3 pounds of red, ripe plum tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse (kosher) salt
1/2 teaspoons sugar
Wash, dry, and cut the tomatoes into quarters. Place the tomatoes, salt and sugar in a large casserole (preferably of enameled cast iron or heavy stainless steel), cover, and cook slowly for about 15 minutes or until the tomatoes begin to give off some liquid. Stir occasionally.
Put the lid to the pot on a slight angle, leaving a 1/2-inch opening to allow some steam to escape, and continue cooking the tomatoes until just lightly cooked down and thickened up, about 20 minutes. A larger batch of tomatoes will take longer to cook down.
Pure'e the tomatoes, with all of the juices, through a food mill, leaving the skin and seeds behind. When cooled down, pack the pure'e in 1/2 cup or cup-sized containers, cover and freeze for future use. SUMMER TOMATO SAUCE FOR WINTER ENJOYMENT (Makes about 8 cups sauce)
This is a light, lovely sauce, all-purpose in nature and taste. Minced fresh herbs, such as oregano and parsley, enhance the flavor of the tomatoes and lend a heady fragrance to the sauce.
9 cups (firmly packed) quartered plum tomatoes
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
4 small garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Pure'e the plum tomatoes in a food processor, then put the batch of pure'e through a food mill or sieve to remove bits of peel and to smooth out the pure'e; set aside.
In a large casserole (preferably of enameled cast iron or heavy stainless steel, not aluminum), pour in the olive oil and scatter over the onions. Cook over low heat to soften the onions, about 10 minutes. Add the chopped carrots and celery, cook over low heat for 10 minutes longer. Raise the heat to moderate and stir in the garlic; cook for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Slowly pour in the tomato pure'e, stir well, and bring to a gentle boil over moderate heat. As the sauce is heating up, stir it well, scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking and scorching. Partially cover the pot and simmer the sauce for 30 minutes. Stir in the oregano and parsley. Cook for 10 minutes longer, or until the sauce just thickens slightly.
Cool the sauce, uncovered, then parcel it out into manageable portions in freezer containers. Cover and freeze. YELLOW TOMATO PRESERVE (Makes about 8 cups)
This preserve is sweet-sharp, making it an excellent glaze for duck, pork or chicken; a few tablespoons are delicious when stirred into the pan juices of almost anything that is saute'ed, or when stirred into any number of cold soups to enhance the flavor.
5 pounds ripe yellow tomatoes, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped
3 cups sugar blended with 1 teaspoon turmeric
3 cinnamon sticks
Juice of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
Place all ingredients in a large kettle or casserole, preferably of heavy stainless steel or enameled cast iron. Stir everything together, then let the mixture stand for 2 hours to dissolve the sugar, soften the tomato pulp, and release the flavor of the cinnamon sticks.
After 2 hours, bring the contents of the kettle to a boil, stirring frequently; simmer for about 50 minutes, or until thick enough to coat a spoon lightly. The preserve should not turn into a very thick, sticky mass, but should have a little body to it. Remember to stir often to avoid sticking.
Cool the preserve, then portion out into small containers; cover and freeze. RED PLUM CHUTNEY (Makes about 3 quarts)
This chutney is like bottling summer in a rich, savory compote-like way.
2 1/3 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt, preferably coarse (kosher) salt
1 tablespoon whole yellow mustard seed
1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
6 pounds firm but ripe, fresh plums, halved, pitted and quartered
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups dark raisins
4 cinnamon sticks
Pour the vinegar and water in a large casserole (preferably enameled cast iron or heavy stainless steel). Stir in the sugar, salt, mustard seed and allspice berries. Cover and cook over moderately low heat to melt down the sugar completely. Uncover the pot, raise the heat to moderately high and bring the sugar syrup to a boil; boil for 5 minutes.
Add the plum quarters, pepper, ginger, cinnamon, raisins and cinnamon sticks. Stir gently. Reduce the heat so that the liquid simmers and slowly poach the fruit in the syrup for about 3 minutes or until just cooked (the fruit should lose its firm texture, soften up slightly, but not turn to mush). Remove the fruit with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.
Boil down the liquid until it is no longer watery, about 6 minutes, until it has just thickened up a bit and looks syrupy. Pour the syrup over the fruit. Discard the cinnamon sticks.
When the fruit mixture has cooled completely, pack the compote with the syrup into freezer containers; cover and freeze. ONION MARMALADE (Makes about 1 1/2 quarts)
This is a savory jam of onions, vinegar, raisins and a bit of red currant jelly. It freezes nicely so that you can pull it out midwinter to stir into a casserole of pork chops (to make an unusual sauce), or to swirl into a pan where chicken breasts have been saute'ed to make an "instant" sauce.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 1/2 pounds large white onions or sweet Bermuda onions, cut into slices
2 teaspoons coarse (kosher) salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or to taste
1 cup sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup red currant jelly
1/2 cup red vermouth
1/2 cup black raisins
Heat the butter and oil in a heavy saucepan or casserole over moderate heat. Add the onions, salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cook for 5 minutes. Add the red wine vinegar, bring to the boil, then cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Uncover the pot, add the jelly and red vermouth, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly thickened. Add the raisins and cook for 3 minutes longer. Cool the marmalade in the pot, then pack up in freezer containers, cover and freeze. LIQUID RASPBERRIES (Makes about 3 cups)
Somewhere between a syrup and fruit pure'e, Liquid Raspberries is the best way to enjoy the garden-fresh flavor of summer raspberries throughout the year. The next recipe, for Liquid Blackberries, is a simple variation on the treatment of raspberries.
6 cups fresh raspberries, picked over
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pure'e the raspberries in a food processor; strain the pure'e through a fine-meshed stainless steel sieve or pass the pure'e through a food mill equipped with the fine disk in place; set aside.
Place the sugar, water and lemon juice in a large saucepan or casserole (preferably of enameled cast iron or heavy stainless steel). Cover and cook over low heat until the sugar has dissolved completely. Uncover the pot, bring the contents to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Add the pure'ed raspberries, bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.
Cool the raspberry mixture, then pour it into small containers; cover and freeze. LIQUID BLACKBERRIES (Makes about 3 cups)
Blackberries, pure'ed, sweetened and cooked into a light syrup, are a good thing to have on hand in the freezer. This pure'e is good as a sauce for a hot pudding, fruit mousse or rice pudding.
6 cups fresh blackberries, picked over
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
Pure'e the blackberries in a food processor; strain the pure'e through the fine disk of a food mill or through a fine-meshed stainless steel sieve; set aside.
Place the sugar, water and cinnamon stick in a large enameled cast iron or stainless steel saucepan (not aluminum); cover the saucepan and cook over low heat until the sugar has melted down completely. Uncover the pot, raise the heat to high, and boil the sugar water for 3 minutes. Add the blackberries, bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes or until very lightly thickened. Cool the pure'e mixture, discard the cinnamon stick and pour into containers; cover and freeze.