The last time my parents came to visit, my mom brought a small cookbook that belonged to my great grandmother, published on December 14, 1940. It was compiled by the King's Daughter's Class of the First Methodist Church in Las Animas, Colorado, and from the description looks to have been a gathering of young women, some newly married and others recently graduated from high school, who met on Sundays. There's even a sonnet inside, making clear that the virtue of this book is not in its looks, but in its usefulness.
"My pages will be stained and written o'er
With careless pencil or pens.
My leaves will be ragged, my back bent,
And I will never look the same again.
But, oh the dainties I helped to make,
In the busy summer morning..."
As I flipped the pages, I found the preserves section. The timing was right since I was looking to make a little cheese platter for a dinner with friends, and warm brie slathered with jam sounded perfect. The only problem was, there were hardly any instructions. Case in point: The instructions for the Grape Conserve recipe totaled six words: Blend and cook down as marmalade. No tips about how long to cook it, no notes about whether or not to strain the sauce (I didn't), or visual cues to tell you how it should look. It harkens back to a time when cooking acumen was handed down and recipes assumed the cook already has an understanding of the fundamentals.
I got to work. But first, poetry.
by David Bubell
Our neighbor's home-cured, applewood-smoked, slab bacon
I've sliced myself. Mary Jo's cage-free organic eggs "the girls"
Have made for us. Two for each of us, one for Lu Shan, our dog.
And sometimes my own homegrown potatoes parboiled and fried
in oil with onions, green pepper, celery, herb salt, and black pepper.
A little stack of toast from bread baked locally and spread with local
butter. Three or four kinds of jam, one of which I made myself from
my own grapes. A pot of tea—Keemun or Assam, a little golden Yunnan
tossed in. Then sit down at the table as the early morning sun
comes streaming through the windows.
From Happy Life by David Bubell (Copper Canyon Press, 2011). Reprinted with permission from Copper Canyon Press.
This is how I like to eat on the weekends, and I imagine many of you appreciate a leisurely morning as well. There are slabs of bacon, eggs, homemade jam, and bread. It's an idyllic scene, made better because it's actually attainable. It's about friendship and sharing, too, and that's exactly what I did with my jam. I spread it over a hunk of warm brie, and shared it with friends in their backyard while our kids played in the grass.
We need more of these meals, where we're not checking Instagram, carrying stresses from the work week, or worrying about needing to get out the door at a certain time. Meals where we're laughing, filling our plates (two or three times), and sipping on a summer wine. Poetry and food have always been an antidote to stress, chaos, and uncertainty, and what I'm always surprised by (though I shouldn't be), is how they're always available to us. It doesn't matter if it's Monday morning or Saturday night. We can always nourish ourselves and read a little poetry.
This book of poems was one of the first I've read in a while, and I devoured it cover to cover in bed one night. It did my soul some good, and reminded me (although I should never be surprised anymore), of how a beautiful line of verse can go straight to the heart. And in this space, we bring poetry straight to the stomach, too.
BAKED BRIE WITH EASY GRAPE JAM
You might be skeptical when you read the instructions. The walnuts threw me off, especially when I pureed everything in the blender and the ingredients turned pale brown and soupy. Was I actually making jam? I wasn't convinced. I was mentally preparing to stop by the store on the way to our dinner party for a jarred option, but then everything started warming on the stove and as I tasted it after it thickened and bubbled, my fears melted away. It tastes like the inside of a fig newton.
This is a very unfussy jam. I don't boil my jars and save them for winter. Instead, I make a batch and eat it within a couple of weeks. It pairs beautifully with cheese, and after the dinner party, I added a big spoonful to my oatmeal the next morning.
Makes about 2 cups
2 pounds grapes, washed and stemmed
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup granulated sugar
A round of brie
Crackers, for serving
Add the grapes, citrus juice and zest, walnuts, and raisins to a Vitamix. Blend on medium high speed for 1 minute, until smooth and pale in color. Add to a 4-quart stock pot and bring to a boil; reduce and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour, until reduced and slightly thickened. Let cool slightly, then transfer to glass jars. Use within a week, or freeze for later.
For the baked brie, heat oven to 350 degrees. Place brie on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cook for 5 minutes, until warmed through. Drizzle thickly with jam and serve with crackers.