“Whiskful Thinking” is a weekly column that explores the very Southern concept of food as a vehicle for history and storytelling. When recipes are included, each ingredient is a snapshot of time gone by, and the finished product conveys the spirit of that moment. “Whiskful Thinking” is written by Le Cordon Bleu graduate Jeremy Green.
This time of year always makes me pleasantly nostalgic. Is there anything quite as full of promise as a Carolina summer? Generations of us share the same memories: the scent of fresh vegetables from the ground, walking dusty blacktops and popping peanuts in our cokes, and towns with gaudy painted water towers with names like “Hebron” and “North.”
Late summer in the palmetto state is full of bounty. Gardens all around my neighborhood are just bursting, and its not that uncommon to see a box of vegetables sitting on a neighbor’s steps. Southerners are plant people through and through, and it shows. Our porches offer coleus and sweet potato vine, and heirloom seeds are growing in our collective backyard. Those gardens are legacies, too: we keep plants to remember our loved ones. My momma has irises from her Nana’s yard and her momma’s as well. She greets them by name, “Hey Nana, hi Louise…”
A good growing season leaves everyone asking what they should do with the excess. Not, “what to do to keep it from wasting,” but what to do. Recipes pass hand to hand quickly this time of year, each formula for chow-chow or pickled okra a tiny benediction freely given. It’s not just our cherished antebellum put-ups either; we push the envelope! A couple of years ago my mom casually gave me a jar of her balsamic onion roasted garlic jam and my world has never been the same. Together, black-topped pots rattling with anxious energy, we have put up such oddities as: bloody Mary green beans, black pickled eggs, and one truly show stopping last harvest peach jam.
Of course, tradition is not overlooked. We are Southerners, after all. Plenty of us faithfully make those delicious old potions; the heavily spiced compotes with nuts and raisins and the ghostly white pickled watermelon rinds are visceral mementos of bygone days. This practice of putting up is about as Southern as it gets. At its core, putting up is about taking care of loved ones, of love. We are the kind of people who keep dinner on the stove-and in the pantry for leaner days. Putting up is both an expression of joy and a rationing of it.
Below, there are two recipes: my mom’s balsamic onion and roasted garlic jam and her ratatouille.
I. Roasted Garlic Jam
This elegant condiment is at home on cheese trays, pork loin, burgers…well, almost anything.
- 3 lbs of red onion, julienned
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 8 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 whole bulb roasted garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
- Put diced onions and brown sugar in a heavy pot over medium heat.
- Cook uncovered for 45-60 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions start to brown and caramelize and any liquid has evaporated
- Add wine, vinegar, roasted garlic cloves, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes until liquid has reduced and thickened.
- You could refrigerate the jam at this point. It should keep for about 2 weeks.
- If you chose to can it, spoon your jam into hot, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving a 1/2″ headspace.
- Process for 10 minutes in your hot water bath.
- Take pot lid off, let sit for 5 minutes then place on wire rack to sit undisturbed for 24 hours.
- Be sure that you understand home canning, as mistakes can be dangerous.
- *If it does not come together easily, you can use a pack of fruit pectin before you can it.
II. Mama’s Freezer Ratatouille
In the summer, this is “sauce” is on almost all of my mom’s tables. In the other months, they are a sizable blessing as the feature of an entire entrée. If my mama tells you to “take a bag of ratatouille on your way out,” that woman loves you. There is no real recipe for ratatouille, so take this as a simple guide.
Red pepper flakes
- Remove the skin of the eggplant, garlic, and onion.
- Large dice or roughly chop everything
- Heat up a pot that fits your needs, pour in some oil and add your vegetables.
- Cook until the vegetables start getting tender and picking up some flavor (the smell gives it away)
- At this point, add your liquids. This can be in any style you like. I use about half water and half wine or stock. Use mostly stock if you have a very light broth. If it is canned, up the water measurement to balance the salt. I keep the wine rather low (no more than a fourth of total volume of liquids)-it just adds a nice flavor.
- Cook until everything is tender, incorporated, and thick.
- Freeze in labeled bags (make sure to get the air out) or chill to use as needed.
Mom Says: “This recipe is good on toasted baguette, as a filling for lasagna a pizza topping, and any type of way on pasta.”