I am always inspired by the comments that accrue at the bottom of the Monday ingredients posts.
When I first began this little Monday project, to show a single ingredient, in season, and ask you how you like to eat that food, I had no idea how much you might like it. Some weeks, I still think, “Popcorn? Isn’t that pretty boring? How much will people have to say about popcorn?” And then, after a day or two, I realize, you really like popcorn. I mean, you really, really like popcorn! (Or Savoy cabbage or cherries.)
It’s not really a wonder. It’s food. Food is how we connect, with our hands and our stories. Sit over the table with someone and try not to know that person better by the end of the meal. Impossible. I adore the way you pour forth your ideas for meals and midnight snacks with each ingredient. I feel like I know the people who gather here just a bit better by the end of each week.
And the enthusiasm! I do hope that many of you have made dishes inspired by the lyrical descriptions that others have left of their pasta with anchovies and lemons, or picking strawberries with their grandmothers. Along with all these connections, the Monday comments compel me to make food.
This Monday, you were especially generous with your ideas about red currants. Red currant jelly with garlic and onions for pork. Red currant clafoutis. Vanilla custard with red currant syrup. And good old jam. Ah, my mind whirled and twirled with ideas.
But, being nine months pregnant and about to pop, I don’t have as much energy for hours in the kitchen as I did before. And, frankly, not enough red currants to make each of those suggestions turn into dishes.
I was, however, most intrigued by the several people who suggested I make rote grutze. Since I had never heard of it before, I wanted to try. Just like the frikadeller I made back in the spring, foods that I have never eaten, which loom as traditions in other places, make me want to enter the kitchen, singing.
Of course, spending some time online, researching and reading people’s thrilled accountings of eating this German summer berry pudding made me even more excited. Food as connection. Food as conversation. Food as conversion, from one culture to another.
So I entered the kitchen this afternoon, ready to cook. Long nap behind me? Check. Belly band in place to hold up my abdominal muscles? Yes. All the windows open so I could stand the place at the front of the stove? Essential.
I picked gorgeous red currants from their branches, sliced up strawberries, rescued the raspberries at the back of the fridge which were about to become blowsy. Good old potato masher in hand, I pureed them all together. And then set them in a pan on the stove.
Among the many recipes I had read, I noticed many mentioned a slurry made of cornstarch. Aha! This is gluten-free. I stirred up a liberal amount of cornstarch and some red wine and stirred. Whenever I work with cornstarch, I’m struck by how crunchy it is, how it thickens everything around it as it stiffens.
You’d think I’d know, then, to not put too much slurry in. But as the fruits (sugared and touched with a bit of lime juice) started to gather together, I couldn’t resist a few more drips, and then a tablespoon.
Soon, it had all become thick as jam. Delicious? Oh yes. Tart, with just enough sweetness, the red currants lending an unusual bloom to the usual fruits. I could have eaten many spoonfuls.
But was it rote grutze? I don’t know. Reading can only teach you so much. It seemed too thick to me. After I chilled it awhile, I realized it really had become jam. Should I take a picture of it and call it rote grutze for this site?
Nah. I remembered a suggestion someone had made on The New York Times, on Mark Bittman’s blog, about picnic ideas. She made little pie crusts in muffin tins, and filled them with jam. Another person’s story inspired me to stay in the kitchen.
And so there I was, nine months pregnant and ready to pop, making pie dough on a hot Seattle afternoon? Am I crazy? You bet. But it was worth it.
Within fifteen minutes, I had the little jam tarts you see above. After I took the photo, I made sure to save at least half of them for the Chef when he returns home tonight. It was an effort.
And the rest of the pudding/rote grutze/mistake with a lovely taste? I just thinned it down with some seltzer water, and settled some goat’s milk yogurt on top. Sweet, lovely berries of summer, with a tangy hit of milkiness. Little Bean kicked for half an hour after I stopped eating.
So I don’t have a real recipe for you today. Recipes are starting to feel too prescriptive to me anyway. It’s so much more rewarding to play in the kitchen, listening to my instincts, and creating something good even when what I expected did not transpire.
It feels like this process is what parenting might be like. Enthusiastic suggestions, references to recipes from people who have gone before, exuberance and listening, and then deciding for ourselves. We’re bound to make a hundred mistakes, a week. But are they really mistakes when we learn, and create new moments?
We’ll find out soon.