I’ve been watching a lot of Chef’s Table on Netflix lately. Not only is it visual food porn, but you get a fascinating look into what drives + inspires some of these movers and shakers in food. Of course there are so many variables and influences that make a person cook the way they cook, and a restaurant’s style is something that evolves over time, but I began to get a sense of one thing that ties a thread between them all – that they were all quite rooted in place. Not in the sense that they didn’t leave their restaurants, but that their culinary identity was something that was coloured, flavoured and nuanced by the history of the place where they’re from.
It leaves me thinking about where I am, the country/region/city I live in, and what are the flavours and nuances of this place. I also think about what food traditions we have in New Zealand – do we even have many, in comparison with some of the deep cultural and ritual ties to food other societies have around the globe? Big questions of course, and not something to be answered immediately, but it’s been on my mind more so lately. To say you cook seasonally is an achievement. When we live in a time of constant access to basically whatever foods we want, the idea of the seasons affecting our food supply almost seems outdated. Applying that restriction to the way you cook can seem like suddenly cutting off access to 90% of the ingredients that you use.
That restriction can sometimes be liberating, too. While there are many things in our diets that aren’t grown here, there’s a bounty of things that we do produce. Instead of feeling tied to what can’t be used (no more lentils! pineapple! chocolate!) I started to become excited about what we could grow here and how to celebrate it. If seasonality were a mission, I’d totally accept.
This recipe is based on two things that we have no trouble growing: pears and oats. Pears hit their peak about a month back, but they’re still showing their faces around the markets for a little while yet. This is a great jam to start with if you’ve never made jam before. Depending on what variety of fruit you’ll get different textures, but regardless of type you’ll make something sweet and delicious that’ll brighten breakfasts to come. The ginger is delightfully spicy and the vanilla lifts it to another level of luxury.
On a winter morning, when the kitchen windows are all fogged up, there’s nothing quite like a bowl of porridge. One of the best ways to coax flavour out of grains is by toasting them lightly before cooking. These nutty, gently tanned oats plus a wee handful of chopped dates makes this porridge a standout. Have a bowl of this and tell me you don’t feel content.
PEAR AND GINGER JAM
makes about two cups, or two peanut butter jars worth.
1kg pears, washed, cored and diced
2-3 lemons, juiced (about 1/4 cup)
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 vanilla pod (or two tsp vanilla essence at the end)
a pinch of salt
Fill a saucepan with all of the ingredients and put it over a medium-high heat. Stir frequently, until it begins to come to a boil.
While you wait, begin sterilising your jars. Place in the oven on a tray and turn on the oven to 150C. Leave them in for twenty minutes, then turn the oven off and leave the jars in there to stay hot. The jar lids can be sterilised by pouring boiling water over them then leaving to dry on a clean tea towel.
Once it’s boiling, turn it down a bit and leave it to simmer away for about half an hour. Basically we’re waiting for the stage when the pears can be pretty easily mashed against the side of the pot with a spoon.
You have two options from here on out: one) mash your jam with a potato masher and leave more texture in your finished jam, or two) use an immersion blender and get that baby nice and smooth. Either way, return it to the heat when you’ve finished and bring it to a low simmer. Keep stirring and simmering for about 10 minutes, then shut off the heat and get ready to pour. Now’s the time to remove the vanilla pod if you were using one, or add the essence if not.
Pour into the jars, leaving about 1/2cm air space at the top of the jar. Screw lids on tightly and put aside to cool.
Stores 2 months room temp, and one month refrigerated once opened.
TOASTED OAT AND DATE PORRIDGE
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup wholegrain oats (not the tiny porridge oats, we want the big ones)
1 cup water
small handful of chopped dates
1/4 cup milk, plus more to serve
Melt the butter in a small pot with a lid, then add the oats. Stir occasionally over a medium heat until the oats begin to go a golden colour and smell toasty and fragrant. This will take about 3-5 minutes.
Add the water (careful, steamy!) and bring it back to a boil. Once there, add the dates, turn the heat off and leave it to sit for about twenty minues, or however long it takes you to have a shower and wake up.
Once you’re ready bring it back to a boil then simmer for about 5 minutes, or until creamy enough for your liking. I tend to over cook mine so it looks a bit too dry, then top it up with milk and cook that down for a few minutes – makes it creamy but not too rich.
Serve with homemade jam and a splash of milk