On Saturday, my friend MS and I had a jam making party. It wasn't really a party by most people's definitions, because only two people were invited--MS and myself, but we did listen to good music, laugh, and have a great time. But the best part of the party, two-person or otherwise, was the final product: sunny orange half-pint jars of apricot jam. It's pretty exciting to turn fruit, sugar, and lemon juice into something that will last for a long time and taste good just about everywhere one spreads it, serving as a reminder of how perfect a ripe apricot tastes.
If you haven't picked one off your own tree or purchased one just-picked at a farmers' market in the last, oh I don't know, decade or so, when was the last time you had an apricot that tasted good? What grocery stores sells are not apricots: they are apricots' sour-hard evil twins, deceptively beautiful but mean on the inside. I know people complain about grocery store fruit all the time, but back when I used to shop at grocery stores for produce, I would be able to get good apples and pears, sometimes even good peaches, but never good apricots. They are the worst kind of fruit to ship, for apricots are as fragile as a summer memory.
When I was between the ages of ten and fifteen, my family lived on a small ranch in the San Joaquin Valley. We had cattle and goats, even a horse for me to love madly. We also had a huge vegetable garden and a fruit tree orchard. In the orchard grew two apricot trees, probably the most beautiful trees in the field with their heart-shaped leaves and Asian-inspired architecture, but those trees, no matter how well-loved by my family, rarely produced much fruit. Every year we'd get only a few larger-than-average fruit from each tree. Each fruit was near peach-sized and anticipated with uplifted eyes and occasional prodding for just the right give of a perfectly-ripe apricot. Finally, one would be ready to pick, and whoever found it ready for the picking would get to eat it.
A ripe apricot is soft on the inside, firm out the outside, overall tender and melting with sweet-sharp juice. It won't taste like any other fruit. It will taste like the start of hot days and no school. It will taste like something you've been waiting for for a long time.
Since our crop of apricots was always so sparse, Mom would supplement it with trips to Takahashi's Fruit Stand, where she would purchase flats of apricots to bring home and turn into jam. After washing and pitting the fruit, she'd toss it with sugar, bring it to a boil for just a couple of minutes, then pour the whole mess into large glass casserole dishes which she'd set out in the hot sun for a full day. To protect the fruit from bugs while still allowing the sun to hit the fruit, she'd place "fly-umbrellas," the kind one uses for picnicking, over them. The sun would suck out the water for from the fruit, and we'd be left with the best jam, full of the most concentrated fruit flavor in one tablespoon that any tastebud could handle. She'd pour the sun-warmed jam into Ball jars and place the jars in the garage freezer so we could taste ripe apricots all year long.
Saturday's jam, the simple stove-top, water-bath-sealed jam that MS and I made, doesn't quite taste like early summer concentrate, but it's close. It's enough to make me feel like I'm eleven and I have almost three months of long outdoor days ahead of me.
Last night, I took another walk down memory lane and made a quiche for dinner. I'd never made a quiche for ECG before--I don't know why not--and I was excited to bake one that my mom used to make for us frequently when we lived at that little ranch. It's a simple meal, one that you can build by raiding your pantry, refrigerator, and herb garden without any extra shopping. All you need to bake it are basic items: butter, flour, eggs, cream, and your filling ingredients, in the case of my mom's quiche, canned clams, olives, and chives.
When I told ECG that I was going to make a quiche for dinner last night, we spent a long time making fun of all the different silly ways to mispronounce the word. Right now, our favorite, for obvious reasons, is "quicky." Now that I've made this "quicky" at this golden point of our relationship--for really, it is the best point in our relationship so far, and it keeps getting better and better--I'll always try to remember the two as being attached. This quiche is a touchstone for a new kind of summer memory.
Clam, Olive, and Chive Quiche
You will need:
Your favorite single pie-crust
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
healthy grindings of black pepper
2 6.5 ounce cans of clams
1/2 cup chopped mixed good quality pitted olives (I used a mix of picholine and kalamata)
1/2 cup finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon butter, cut into pea-sized pieces
To make the quiche:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the oven shelf in the top third of the oven.
Roll out the pastry dough, line the pie pan with the dough, and crimp the edges. Weight the bottom of the pie crust with pie-weights or beans (to keep the bottom from bubbling up), place a rim-protector over the edges, and place the pie pan in the oven. Bake the empty crust for 10 minutes to firm it up for the filling, helping to ensure a crisp crust.
While the crust is baking, beat the eggs together with the milk and cream in a medium-sized bowl. Stir in all other ingredients, except the butter.
When the crust has pre-baked, remove it from the oven, carefully remove the pie-weights, and pour the filling gently into the crust. Sprinkle the little pieces of butter on top of the filling. Readjust the rim-protector, and place the pie pan back in the oven. Bake the quiche for 30-35 minutes, or until the center of the filling has set and the top has puffed slightly and browned in spots.