Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Marion Cunningham's Beet Marmalade

Last winter, when the blizzard hit and the radio told us to stay where we were, I was at home. On my lunch hour. And because the town closed the road due to the blizzard, I was forced to stay there. I made a mug of milky tea and set about to make Marion Cunningham's Cream Biscuits. They were deliciously easy to prepare, and abundantly warm and lovely. I have never more enjoyed a tundra blizzard.

In February, when the light was returning but doing so slowly (oh so slowly) and arm-in-arm with a bone-breaking cold, I made her Baked Rice Pudding. Such delicious anticipation. While the stove warmed up our home with heat and the perfume of rice pudding's humble goodness, we listened to the town council on the radio and tossed balls for our dogs. Forgive me for the lack of modesty, but I do believe our little hovel radiated with good living that cold February night of the Baked Rice Pudding.

In May, when the internet was literally chirping with pictures of daffodils and fresh asparagus but our river was still frozen solid and Winter lingered, I made her Lemon Curd. Literally skipping with the glee of a Spring to come, we took a jar of Marion Cunningham's bright, gold Lemon Curd to a friend's house. Our friend ate the lemon curd on Wheat-thins, and fed us her homemade salmon liver pate and shee-fish chowder. It was hard not to love our lives with such bounty.

On a leisurely Sunday morning in July, while J's mother was visiting but J. was at his office prepping for 9 trials in a row, I made us a breakfast featuring Marion Cunningham's Yellow Cornmeal Buttermilk Pancakes. I added some blueberries to celebrate the special occassion, and confessed to J's mom that cornmeal pancakes remind me of her father, R.C. I never actually ate cornmeal pancakes with R.C., but he was a cornseed farmer. And a tractor-pull champion. And a wit. A great wit. I have no doubt that eating cornmeal pancakes with R.C. would be a witty adventure of good living. And that July morning, we two ladies spent a few hours at the sticky table, eating Marion Cunningham's cornmeal pancakes with blueberries (which I have further personalized and named "R.C. Cakes") and chatting about R.C. We actually talked about many things. But I especially loved talking about R.C. and how he once drove a Model-T across the country, fed a pancake to a bear, and drove back. I don't know if there is a cookbook more appropriate for a leisurely Sunday morning in rural Alaska with one's visiting future mother-in-law than Marion Cunningham's cookbook, The Breakfast Book. I doubt that there is a finer breakfast than Marion Cunningham's R.C. Cakes.

Well, those Dutch Babies are pretty good too.....On August 5th, for Sunday breakfast with just J., I made Marion Cunningham's recipe for Dutch Babies. I baked them in two castiron skillets and served them with homemade blueberry lime syrup, powdered sugar and bacon. They were delicious. We were loving our life, though this shouldn't be too surprising. It is not hard to love one's life when one is looking at their own cast-iron skillet of dutch baby, and tarting it up with homemade blueberry-lime syrup. I made a silent shout of thanks to Marion Cunningham for, again, adding to the perfect meal moment.

And on August 28th, for no reason other than I had picked up two bunches of the Meyer family beets at the Saturday Market, I made her Beet Marmalade. I served it with slices of cold pot roast and hot, creamed mushrooms. It was delicious! We loved it so much, in fact, that I immediately went around distributing the remaining jars of this surprising treat to our neighbors. Life - can you see the pattern? - was loved.

Even though I have never met Marion Cunningham, she has certainly has made quite a contribution to the life we're building up here. I wish I could meet her in a person. I'm sure I'd stammer and stutter. Just how is one supposed to be cool and calm in front of someone to whom they owe such a grace of good living? But even with this likelihood that I'd make a complete and utter fool of myself, I still hope that someday, maybe, hopefully, I might bump into Marion Cunningham whilst perusing the new shipment of eggplants at the A.C. Who knows? Maybe it can happen...? In the meantime, I should probably be proactive and write her a letter, thanking her for all the moments of humble magnitude that her recipes and cookbooks have led us to. I should do that. Or maybe Marion Cunningham googles her name every now and then, and maybe up will pop up this little itemization of the "simple, easy, flexible meal[s] marked by the intimacy of family or friends" that she has inspired up here on this little tundra island. You just never know what can happen, aye?

In any event, here is Marion Cunningham's recipe for Beet Marmelade. I could lose my voice in an effort to describe its perfection. It's surprisingly easy to prepare, yet startingly beautiful. I gave a jar of it to Tom, who also thought it was pretty. "It looks like salmon eggs," he explained. It is also delicious. An intriguing burst of flavours. Refreshing, but complex. It is a bit like cranberry sauce, though it has the peppery bite of a chutney rather than a tang of a jelly. Partnered with pot roast, it is divine.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.


Beet Marmalade
(copied from Marion Cunningham's The Supper Book, page 168)

4 medium-large beets, boiled** and peeled
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 large lemon
2 tbsp chopped fresh ginger

Put the beets in a food processor and process until coarsely chopped, or mash the beets by hand. Transfer the beets to a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir in the sugar.

Cut, seed, and quarter the lemon. Put the pieces and the giner into the food processor and process until finely chopped, or chop by hand. Add the lemon and ginger to the beet mixture and stir to blend. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the marmalade has thickened a little. This takes about 2 minutes - remember that the marmalade will get even thicker as it cools.

Put the hot marmalade into clean jars, cover and refrigerate when cool. This will keep for a month. For longer preserving, fill sterilized jars with the hot mixture, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Put on the lids and tighten, and process in a boiling-water canner for 15 minutes.

** Instructions for boiling the beets are on page 11. They are pretty standard. But in the interest of sharing as much Marion Cunningham wisdom as I can, I'll summarize them here. Basically, she advises that you cut off all but an inch of the beet tops and drop the beetings into boiling water for 30 minutes to an hour. Don't trim, pare or otherwise remove the roots. When they are cooked, drain and cool them down in cold water. When you can, slip off the skins.

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