Saturday, July 31, 2010

Canbassadorship to the Nation

(The cache)
(Apricot & Nutmeg Preserves)
(Poached Apricots & Cherries with Cinnamon)
(Pickled Cherries with Chinese 5-Spice Blend)
(Poached Apricots & Cherries with Cloves)

Those of you that know me personally are all too well aware that I've been engaged in a love affair with the state of Washington for some time. From its snow-capped peaks to its rugged coastline, from its temperate rain forests to its profusion of islands, the state has long called to me with its siren song.

Imagine, then, my profound joy at receiving an e-mail from Annie, a representative for the Washington State Fruit Commission, asking if I'd be interested in serving as a "Can-basssador" for the state's soft fruits. Would I like to receive free, ripe, fresh, delicious, succulent fruits to render into jars of preserved bliss? Is the pope catholic? You bet I'd like to enjoy a bit of Washington's finest!

And so, within a week, I was the proud recipient of a box containing 30 apricots and 7 1/2 pounds of sweet Rainier cherries. With fresh fruit, in the summer, in an un-airconditioned house, you've got to shake a leg. No dilly-dallying, waiting around for a day when you "feel" like canning; you make that feeling happen. As such, I set about on several marathon early morning canning sessions this week. The above delicacies are the end result of my sweaty labor of love.

In the final analysis, the fine fruits of Washington state offered to me resulted in: 4 pints of pickled cherries with homemade Chinese 5-spice (I used Leena's recipe, but made my own Chinese 5-spice blend, the information for which can be found in the "Kumquat 5-Spice Marmalade" in my "Canning & Preserving" book), 4 pints of poached apricots & cherries with whole spices (including cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves), and 6 half-pints of apricot preserves with freshly ground nutmeg. I've got a large, pitted and stemmed bag of cherries waiting in the freezer at home (couldn't get to them before leaving for vacation on Friday and I'm still not yet certain if I'll turn them into homemade maraschino cherries, make them into cherry marmalade, or just dump them into a big cherry pie). I'm SO looking forward to pairing up these delicious delicacies during the approaching cooler months with the likes of baked brie, orange polenta cake, and hot buttered toast.

I invite you to take a peek at Sweet Preservation, the website developed by the organization. Not only is it rife with helpful canning tips, it's got a number of gorgeous downloadable canning labels. All of the labels were created by Etsy crafters, each designed with a fresh, modern feel for today's canning enthusiast (I especially love the yearly calender label-genius idea!).

So, if you love to can, and you love summer stone fruits, and you come upon a bounty of Washington's cherries, apricots, peaches, or plums, I highly encourage you to grab them up and put time in a bottle, made possible through the gentle alchemy of canning. I promise you, it's worth the hot-kitchen-in-the-summertime effort, offering up the sweetest reward.


EcoGrrl said...

hey there...congrats! while you are canbassador :), just curious don't they have all that produce in your area of the country as well for those who want to shop local? i'm sure the washington folks love hearing that (especially from an oregonian) but just curious :)

ashley english said...

we don't have all of those fruits here, actually. peaches grow in abundance in s.c., just across the state line, and you can find a profusion of berries, and even apples, right now, but apricots and cherries don't grow in abundance around here at all.

so, while i'm a decided devotee of buying local, i'm also a strong advocate of purchasing seasonal produce. as such, come winter, i purchase a good bit of seasonally available produce (or just have my pop ship me some from his neighbor's trees in florida!) and consume and can it then.

Renai said...

I'm spending all day today making raspberry jam with a few of my girlfriends! We picked heaps and heaps yesterday just outside of Seattle :)

Rosanne said...

Oh! I LOVE apricots!! I wish they were native around here. But your apricot jam makes my mouth water just looking at it! Can't think of a better person for the job!

Summer said...

Ohhh, looks so yummy!

Mary said...

What should i do with leftover canned peaches from last season?

love the blog!

meg said...

Wow, the apricot preserves look fantastic! Yum! We planted an apricot tree this year and I'm waiting for my first 2 babies to ripen. =) Big hopes for a real harvest next year!

ashley english said...

mary-i'd bake up a big peach crisp! or warm them with ground spices and use as a topper over french toast or pancakes. alternately, you could drain and freeze them, and blend them later into smoothies!

nicole said...

congrats on the gig. what a treat for you and for them!

lusting over the apricot and nutmeg preserves. sigh.

Sacha Joy said...

Congratulations on becoming the canbassador of the WA state fruit commission. I'm a fan of your blog which has prompted me to check out your canning book from the library. Nice work! Funny to read about someone dreaming about my home. I'm fifth generation in the verdant mountainous region of northwest Washington. I drive down highway corridors that wind through tall trees to get to work in the morning, down the Skagit Valley. The South Skagit Highway stays close to the river, a big river that is milky green from glacial melt this time of year, and sometimes the car seems pinned between the steep river bank and the toe slope of a Cascade foothill. It is beautiful. But the scenery you are describing in your post is western WAshington. This is cool and rainy, as the majority of the precipitation gets dumped in west of the mountains for the air to flow east over the Cascades. This is not where fruit trees grow. This area is mainly clogged with urban and suburban populations that commute to Seattle (and retired people who make money in urban areas and then buy fancy retirement homes in scenic outlying places like the San Juan Islands or the Methow Valley, thus driving the property prices up for locals just trying to make a humble living in their home). The cherries, apples, peaches, apricots, pears, plums of WAshington State come from central WAshington (east of the cascade Mts. This area is arid sagebrush country. The majority of fruit orchards are possible thanks to irrigation out of the Columbia River by FDR and the Columbia dam building projects of the 1930s. Prior to the dam building, western WAshington was a major agricultural area with the San Juan Islands producing most of the apples. Now property prices are too expensive in wetern WAshington for new farmers to get started. Farmers in western WAshington are usually idealistic and have a non-agricultural money source. 20 acres in the Skagit Valley farmland will cost over $500,000. I am a horticulture grad student at the Washington State University and they have just discontinued their western Washington fruit horticulture program. Oh, I'm definitely raining on your parade. Washington is a beautiful place and I am thankful that I have access to such great fruit from over the mountains. I guess it's just that I want others to understand the complexity of the land use in this place I love and live in. Forgive me.

OurSoundHome said...

I just found your blog and I am working my way through your posts. I am a new homeowner in Bremerton, and I ride the ferry to work in Seattle daily ( I am actually on my ferry ride home was we speak!). I just puchased you book on Keeping Chickens for my dad- Bremerton just started allowing chickens. I am also excited to read your canning book- I started canning just a few months ago with pickles. Thanks for the great info & inspiration!

P.S. Can't wait to look into some of your book recommendations- I loved Blackberry Wine, Garden Spells & Sugar Queen. Thanks!