Sunday, September 6, 2009

Plum Jam

I would like to share with you, in as few words as possible, the joy of September plums.
The stone fruits are fleeting - once that plum or peach tree's fruit is ripe, the fruit falls and the tree goes bare in a matter of days. Out on my daily jog, I noticed our neighbor's apricot tree held precious, rosy-orange fruit. They were starting to fall in piles of delicate mush on the lawn below. By the third day, the tree was bare, and I knew it would be an entire year until our neighborhood would watch the tiny spectacle again.

We just aren't used to food being here and gone in a moment. Now, when we want a peach we go to the store and get it. No matter that it's January. Grapes? Well, it's summer somewhere on the planet. Being a fan of local food, I realize how spoiled we've become. But oh, what a beautiful lesson in the fragility of abundance, to see the plum tree turn red or purple, and to know that the tree will be done in a week's time.

So, with too many plums and a bit more time to devote to the kitchen this September, I've begun to preserve.

As I cut open each fruit, removing each stone, I tried to take my time. It is tedious work, but I wanted to enjoy the repetition, to understand that I won't be feeling the soft flesh and their rough little stones against my fingertips until one more year from now.

As September creeps into our summer, and the rains begin to fall again here in Seattle, let's take a few moments and enjoy the soft fruits at the markets and in our backyards. Take two extra minutes in the morning, and feel the moist air that is returning to us. This morning over my cup of black tea with milk, I cupped the hot mug in my hands, and looked out toward the city. The dark clouds were there, the fog was creeping up the hillside, and Seattle was once again returning to it's deep, brooding self.

There's just a bit of sunshine left, at least in my kitchen.

Simple Plum Preserves

2 pounds plums
3 - 5 cups sugar (or 2-3 of honey, or a mixture of both)

Pit the plums, and place them in a large saucepan. Bring them very slowly to a boil, adding 3 cups of sugar or 2 cups of honey. Turn down to a simmer and continue cooking until the mixture is well reduced. It should be fairly thick. Cool a small portion and taste, observing the consistency. Add more sweetener to taste, and cook until the final product is thick enough with your desired level of sweetness. Jar and give away to everyone you love.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tangential Tuesday - Conscious Cocoa

It's not nice to enjoy yourself at the expense of others, at least that's what my Sunday School teacher always said. So if you knew that your morning cup of coffee was making certain green-logo'ed coffee companies rich while their coffee bean farmers, toiling in the fields, didn't have enough earnings to feed their families... how would you feel? I'm sure the morning java would turn from an innocent and routine pleasure into a morning cup of guilt.

That's what happens when we begin to learn where our food really comes from. It's a double-edged sword, knowing so much about how our choices affect people all over the world. I can no longer grocery shop in complete peace, as my every purchase is now plagued with a thousand questions - could I possibly buy this with less packaging, from bulk? Where was this apple grown? New Zealand? How much CO2 did that ship emit making it's way through the Pacific? Is that chocolate grown at the expense of rainforest land? Sigh. The more I know, the more my shopping companions begin to notice my hesitation in the dairy aisle, along with my raised eyebrows in the cereal aisle, and then my forlorn looks over the bananas and kumquats. I never thought that the delectable things I put in my mouth would somehow qualify as instruments of oppression. Sheesh.

But then, I go to the farmer's market. (Almost) no plastic. Everything bright and raw and sitting before the people who grow the spinach and feed the chickens bugs and grass. This food grows within 25-40 miles of where I stand, and is sustainably fished from boats that refuse to deplete fish populations and throw wide nets that annihilate anything in its way. This place feels right, and I know others can feel it too. Everybody loves the farmer's market in the summer. There are no ethical qualms about packaging, no bananas from Ecuador where workers are paid barely enough to live.

At these markets, of course you won't find olive oil, tea... and usually you won't find coffee or cocoa either, except now. This time, at the market I saw a small card table set up near the entrance, a tiny table with a few bags of whole bean coffee, and next to them
several silver packages of cocoa powder. The bags said Fair Trade and Organic, and there was a short, tanned, rough-skinned man standing there. He had on a similarly worn straw hat and light-colored, linen clothes. He was from Costa Rica, and with excellent English he was explaining to someone how Alianza and Sol Colibri was bringing farmers out of poverty.

He was so passionate about his coffee and cocoa, he was stumbling over his words, trying to get them out fast enough so that his customers wouldn't lose attention. He was excited, trying to explain how this Fair Trade Organic Co-op was already selling its cocoa to local Theo Chocolate, but trying to get its products into more local stores. He smiled, and his warm, genuine energy flowed through his gesticulating hands, as he exalted his cause, and told how much more money these farmers could fetch for their products once they left the country. He sold me an entire pound of this cocoa for five dollars. I have never seen cocoa of this quality go for less than sixteen per pound at any other market. Incredible. And I know that these five dollars will go directly to these farmers, and it is more than they could ever make by selling it to some other international entity that doesn't support Fair Trade practices.

Fair Trade guarantees that a farmer gets a fair price for his or her product, enough to make it profitable to continue the business. Seems simple, right? It's amazing that expensive, coveted products that are sold for big dollars here in the US (such as coffee and cocoa) are the same products that run farmers into extreme poverty in Latin America. Cooperatives in Costa Rica, such as Alianza which is Sol Colibri's umbrella organization, benefit from banding together their small farmers into an entity which can do business with larger organizations that support Fair Trade Organic practices.

As I made my homemade chocolate mocha ice cream today, it felt great to use this cocoa. No guilt here, folks (except for the guilt that ice cream normally gives me... but I was making it for Mark, I swear!) This cocoa was amazing, and made an awesome dessert (I stole a few bites, of course.) I thought about the gentleman who sold it to me, with all of his smiling and gusto, his excitement about doing something for his people. Here was a man who knew he had something beautiful, and he wanted to share it with me. Next time I'll try the coffee, which I'm sure will be equally good.

If you're at your Seattle market this week, look for the guy in the floppy straw hat. Buy his cocoa, buy his story, and please pass it on.

Sol Colibri Chocolate Mocha Ice Cream

1 cup organic milk
2 cups organic cream
1/2 cup Sol Colibri cocoa powder
1/4 cup Pero coffee substitute, soluble coffee powder, or brewed coffee
3/4 cup Evaporated cane juice (may sub regular sugar, or agave nectar)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, mix all ingredients and whisk until sugar is dissolved and mixture is completely homogenous and smooth. Chill the mixture completely, and then make ice cream according to ice cream maker's instructions.