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Friday, July 27, 2007

Simple Food

Don’t be fooled into thinking I’m an expert on Appalachian cuisine.

No...I’m an expert on Big Macs, sweet and sour pork, and pepperoni pizzas. Appalachian cuisine is something I’ve had to learn about in adulthood, and in San Francisco, despite having grown up where I did and having grandparents born and raised in the deep, dark hollers that blanket the region like a patchwork quilt of red brick churches, apple orchards, and moonshine stills.

The few carry-over foods from my grandparents to my mother to me, I abhorred. Pinto beans and string beans were about as bland and uninteresting as you could get to a young boy use to plates of meatball-topped spaghetti and “barbecued” cheeseburgers. So, I’ve had a lot of learning and unlearning to do, especially about foods I eschewed in favor of Generican (generic American) food. Why I do so is complicated and conflicted; I am a motherlode of neuroses for any therapist or preacher to mine.

Have you heard of shucky beans? Or leather britches? Well, me neither until recently. String beans I have heard of. In fact, I spent many summer afternoons stringing them only so my mother could throw them in a big, dangerous pressure cooker and have them ready for Sunday supper.

Well, shucky beans or leather britches are string beans – what most people out here call green beans – that have been dried. Actually, string beans are hard to come by in California. Most of what we get are those ubiquitous Blue Lake beans; a stringless variety developed in Oregon in the early 20th century and once only popular amongst canners. Nowadays, Blue Lake beans are the de facto green bean of both the supermarket and farmers’ market shelves and, frankly, the lack of variety annoys the hell out of me.

Oh sure, sometimes you’ll find Romano or Kentucky Wonder beans for sale at the farmers’ market. I saw some last Tuesday at the Ferry Building for $5 a pound. You’ll also see the yellow wax bean and haricot verts on occasion, which I’m sure are lovely in their own way.

Other than what I’ve mentioned, you will not see in California any bush or pole bean that is a heirloom variety or even a common Southern variety, like the creasy (or greasy) bean. Heirloom tomatoes we have out the wazoo, but don’t expect to see heirloom green beans – even at the food porn palace.

I’ve decided to experiment and make my own shucky beans using that lowly and common Blue Lake bean; a gentle $1 per pound. I’m not really dogging it; I do enjoy the flavor of Blue Lake beans. It’s just that I still have the urge to pull off a string and the fact that these are stringless makes me feel as though I’ve been robbed of an important culinary tradition.

Is this really progress? That these stringless, uniform beans dominate the market stalls?

Anyway, shucky beans are made by first washing the beans to remove any residual dirt or whathaveyou and then riffling through them, picking out the misfits and snapping off the ends simultaneously. It helps to have animal oversight available while you do this in order to catch your misses and offer up advice on when the cat box needs changing.

Then you take a needle and thread (I double up the thread) and “string” the beans by pushing the needle through the center of each bean and collecting them towards the end of the string. I find that having a horizontal work surface, like a cookie sheet, to work on is helpful. As far as what kind of string to use: I used both dental floss and polyester sewing thread and didn’t experience a problem with either.

After about 2 or 3 feet of this green bean garland, tie off the strings at the end and then tie the whole thing to form a loop. It’s now ready to hang and dry.

If I had a shady front porch that was screened in, I’d hang them there. As it is, I live the dirtiest part of town by a bridge with no protected porch to sit on, string beans on, sing an old ballad on, or even pet my old coonhounds on.

Instead, I have a whale rib hanging from my ceiling and a small fan plugged into the wall adjacent to it. This is where I will hang the beans to dry for the next month. A small desk fan I’ve set up near the beans is turned on to circulate the air around the beans so that they don’t mold, especially since I have them drying out of the sunlight.

My cats are fascinated by the hanging beans at first. And then, like with all things (excluding shoelaces and paper bags), they grow bored and ease back into the jaded, lazy bums that I love so much.

After a couple of weeks, the beans are dry enough so that I can turn off the fan and let them dry for another week or two. Now’s the time to decide whether to put them in storage (a paper bag works well) or to cook some up. Of course I’ve decided to do both!

Most people will say to soak the beans overnight after you’ve washed them. They also will tell you to add salt after you’ve cooked them and both of these ideas I don’t necessarily disagree with. However, I sometimes suck at following instructions.

What I did, instead, was take about 2 cups of dried shucky beans (or 1 string of them) and rinsed them off. Next, I brought 2 quarts of water to a boil and then added 2 teaspoons of salt. Next, I added the shucky beans and let that boil for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the shucky beans were boiling, I heated a slow cooker (or Crock pot, or whatever you want to call it) on high with half a cup of water already in it. After boiling the beans for 10 minutes, I removed them from the heat, let it cool for a few minutes, and then added everything, plus a country ham hock, to the Crock pot.

Once covered, I left it alone to cook on high for 6 hours.

After 6 hours of cooking, the beans were tender and rich. They, along with the meat on the ham hock, were soft, tender and rich, as was the broth they cooked in. Perhaps it was the cured flavor of the ham coming through, but everything had a strong umami flavor. Drying the beans really does concentrate the bean flavor while also allowing the slow cooking process to work its magic.

Using a slotted spoon, I removed the beans from the broth onto a plate. The broth I ended up taking to work the next day for lunch. I flaked off the meat from the hock to garnish the beans and that was it – no seasoning necessary.

Of course, what better to go with a side of shucky beans than a sliced fried Country Ham and a freshly made buttermilk biscuit?

I’m not one to toot my own horn (or am I?), but I’m pretty sure Bruce and I were the only two souls in this city of 750,000 to have a plate of shucky beans, country ham, and biscuits that night. That’s pretty presumptuous - sure - but I also know this town pretty well, and this type of cuisine and the people who'd serve it aren’t very common here.

And there’s a certain mix of feeling both special and lonely while enjoying a meal like this – a conflicted feeling.

But perhaps I’m just complicating things again.

It’s not that complicated.


Friday, July 20, 2007


It's funny what a little bit of water between us will do.

Everywhere I've been, such has been the case. In Tampa, we joked that St. Pete was home of the newly wed and nearly dead. San Franciscans have some weird hang up about traveling to the East Bay for any reason, but think nothing of traveling 3 hours to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. Jersey isn't really Manhattan and Manhattan isn't anything at all like Brooklyn – just ask your neighborhood Hasid.

And I'm sure you can go to Charleston and have a great Charleston experience, but I'm really glad we made it over to Mount Pleasant. Unlike Charleston, Mt. Pleasant is smaller, greener, and once off the main highway – actually pleasant. Imagine huge oak trees with Spanish moss swaying in the breeze, large historic homes, friendly locals, and breathtaking views of Charleston, the Charleston Harbor, and the coastal wetlands that surround it.

Back on the highway, Highway 17, one encounters a unique phenomenon – unusual even for the South. Scores upon scores of sweetgrass basketmakers and their makeshift shacks line the highway for miles; most shacks are empty, but a few basketmakers are out selling their wares – or at least trying to.

I imagine prices for sweetgrass baskets aren't as high as what I paid in the Old Market in Charleston, but then again I find it hard to complain. Whether you spend a little or a lot, your money goes to keeping this community of folk artists and their craft alive, so whatever they charge and whatever you spend – it's worth it.

Also worth it: Gullah Cuisine.

Like Hominy Grill, we had planned on eating here and I'm glad we did. Our dinner at Gullah Cuisine is what dragged us over that great suspension bridge and got us to explore Mount Pleasant. Perhaps Gullah Cuisine should get some kind of recognition from the local Chamber of Commerce, because we patronized at least 3 additional local businesses simply because we were there – foodie tourists that we were.

Despite what you may have heard or read, the Gullah/Geechee culture and language is very much alive and flourishing. While the culture is strongest and most prevalent in such places at the Sea Islands or in smaller coastal towns between Charleston and Savannah, its presence in the Charleston/Mount Pleasant area is palpable.

And palatable.

The cuisine of the Gullah community maximizes use of regional food resources, namely rice, corn, legumes, okra, and especially seafood. Classic lowcountry dishes like Purloo (a rice casserole), Hoppin' John (black-eyed peas and rice), and Shrimp and Grits are indicative of the culinary creations developed out of the African American experience in the lowcountry.

While you can't throw a stick down Meeting Street without hitting a plate of Shrimp and Grits, finding Gullah food cooked by Gullah people for non-Gullah customers is slightly more difficult. Lucky then for two white boys from Frisco there is one well-known restaurant right off Highway 17.

Gullah Cuisine, the restaurant, is housed in a modest, one-story brick building just a few miles down from those basket sellers I mentioned earlier. An awning stretches out over the front entrance and hanging plants dangle from around the periphery of it. Across the dark green canvas are the words "Gullah Cuisine – A Lowcountry Restaurant".

The interior is tastefully done in shades of beige and tan with framed paintings hanging on the wall and ceiling fans turning slowly overhead. White curtains and blinds struggle to beat back the late afternoon sun and heat that washes over the front of the building.

Our waiter is a tall young man dressed in a casual white button up shirt and black slacks. He has the longest eyelashes I've ever seen and for a moment I'm transfixed by them. We're here at a weird hour on a weekend and besides us there is only one couple in the entire restaurant. Eyelashes man and a cook are running the show and our waiter juggles several jobs all at once. Back in the kitchen you can hear plates and pots clash and clang, water shooting out of faucets into metal sinks, and the faint sounds of a garbled radio. The waiter occasionally swings open the rear kitchen door and shouts back questions and order changes to the cook. The cook's response is patient and final.

Our appetizer arrived not long after he took our order, along with a small plate of corn muffins. In hindsight, I guess Bruce and I ate a lot of fried green tomatoes on our trip. This didn't occur to me until now, but I reckon we were pretty eager to stay on course in picking what we thought were the most easily recognizable Southern specialties. So, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Gullah-style fried green tomatoes with ranch dressing.

While Hominy Grill takes a contemporary approach to traditional lowcountry dishes, Gullah Cuisine keeps itself squarely rooted in traditional soul food and the cuisine of the Gullah people. Here, green tomatoes are dipped in a thin batter containing various spices common to Gullah cuisine and fried until they are soft and a light yellow-green in color. The tanginess of the tomatoes and spiciness of the batter contrasts well with the cool and creamy dressing. The crisp crust of the batter gives way to a hot and tender green tomato.

A tall, cold glass of sweet tea doesn't hurt neither.

When our entrées arrive, I wondered why anybody would even bother to eat at those big box restaurants. Why, indeed, when fresh, hot, and authentic food can be found at a locally-owned business such as this.

Bruce's plate came with two large crab cakes, Gullah rice, and fried okra (came out after the picture was taken). Blue crab is the specialty in this region and 2 weeks after we were there Mount Pleasant was having a blue crab festival. His crab cakes were chock full of crab; more crab than him or I have ever seen in a crab cake. In addition, the Gullah rice was quite tasty, somewhat spicy with the odd shrimp thrown in, and smoky from the sausage added to it.

My two deep-fried whole soft-shell blue crab were battered and spiced with the Gullah spice, which gave them a little bit of a zip. Ummm, can I just say these crabs rocked my tiny, little, insignificant world? Just thinking about them now gives me shivers up my spine. Cooking soft-shell crab is no easy feat: these were cooked perfectly. Along with my soft-shell crab, I had a side of succotash (good, but nothing spectacular) and Hoppin' John, spiced with the same smoky sausage used in Bruce's Gullah rice. I've made Hoppin' John before, but mine always had a more black-eyed pea-to-rice ratio. I liked the fact that this Hoppin' John was more rice-heavy, but mostly because I regretted not ordering the Gullah rice (I think we have a house specialty here).

This being our second fabulous meal of the day (the first being lunch at Hominy Grill), I began to wonder if this day could get any better. After we paid our tab and said our goodbyes, we got in the car and headed up towards that shopping center we saw earlier – the one with the movie theater.

We were just in time to catch Spider Man 3.

Stuffed, we reclined in our highback movie theater seats; the theater was mostly empty. I propped up my feet on the seat in front of me and waited for the movie to begin.

This is what vacation looks like.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Roundtrip Ticket to Hominy Grill, Please

To know the lowcountry, one must see the lowcountry.

So, for Tammy Faye's sake, get off of those interstate freeways and get straight onto one of South Carolina's Heritage Corridors – it's the only way you'll ever see those Beautiful Places and Smiling Faces you keep hearing about.

We took Highway 78 into Charleston from Augusta, which sent us through some great little towns with fabulous old homes and commerical districts, past swamps and rivers and old graveyards accessible only by dirt country roads.

This is the country white European settlers thought they could tame, but was too wild, too tough, and too malaria-ridden. The people most suited to this environment were Africans brought over in the slave trade, and everywhere in the lowcountry one feels and sees hundreds of years of black American history.

The crown-jewel of the lowcountry - "arguably" would say Savannahians - is Charleston, a city graced (at least for white folks) by a strong, mosquito-hatin' breeze, cool summer temperatures, and a top-notch port and – conversely – cursed with earthquakes, draconian preservation laws, and the world's worst sidewalks (hope you're feeling better, Aunt Patty!)

To be sure, Charleston is a tourist town and summer abode for the rich. Grand old homes stretch for many city blocks in the southern part of town and provide for hours upon hours of green-eyed, house-gawking by married women and gay couples. Tourists flock to this area and the areas surrounding the old town, centered on the Old Market, with its numerous vendors – the most interesting and authentic of whom are the sweetgrass basket makers/sellers.

But Charleston is also home to many students, military families, and other working class folks – some of whom live in dilapidated 150-year-old homes in the northern section; homes which are too old to tear down and too expensive (and mired in bureaucratic red tape) to improve. This, actually, was one of the most interesting sections of Charleston which we found driving into town by way of Highway 78/King Street.

It was in this part of Charleston where we found perhaps one of the most exciting and distinctive of all restaurants in the New South. That restaurant is called, simply, Hominy Grill.

Hominy Grill is located in an old, stand-alone building that formerly was a barber shop. Separated by distance from the tourist area, it survives and thrives on reputation alone. Judging from the quality of their food – at least from our experience – that reputation is well-deserved, and then some.

It wasn't by accident that we came across Hominy Grill. Even before we left the tarmac at SFO, I had known this restaurant was a must-eats destination in the city of Charleston. However, I did not expect it to be as good as it was.

On our visit, we lucked out and missed the lunch rush literally by a few minutes. It had just finished clearing out when we were seated at the window box seat next to the front entrance. Bright difused light from the tall plate glass windows flooded the main dining room with its high ceilings, flat white vertical wood slat walls, and decorative tin ceiling tiles. Dark exposed wooden floors and tan-stained wooden furniture offset the stark brightness of the walls and centered the gravity of the room towards a comfortable middle. Bluegrass music played quitely in the background, perhaps a wink and a nod to those who would define "classical" music another way.

Right away we were casually greeted by a hostess and then seated. Soon after, a young waitress with the most charming Southern accent – and perhaps being a college student herself – introduced herself, informed us of the specials of the day, and took our drink orders. I guess I should mention that, at this part of the trip, anything other than sweet tea for me was out of the question. Bruce, being a true Californian, insists on drinking his tea unsweetened – partially out of taste, partially out of regional chauvanism (I kid).

Despite many of the wonderful things on the menu to choose from, I had made up my mind ahead of time to try the Country Captain, a "sauteed chicken breast in a tomato-curry sauce with currants and toasted almonds over jasmine rice." I had made country captain before (remember?) and wanted to see what the competition was serving. Plus, Hominy Grill was the only lowcountry restaurant I could find serving this classic lowcountry dish (yeah, I know – what the ???)

Another classic lowcountry specialty was the Shrimp Purloo, which is what Bruce decided to order. This dish is a sort of a gullah rice casserole with chicken, andouille sausage, and jumbo shrimp.

Before we got to the main courses, however, we've gotta talk She Crab soup, which is a wonderfully rich, buttery and creamy soup pureed with fresh blue crab meat and (what some call) the crab butter blended in, plus with a noticeable little dab of sherry eased in. Now, for some of you who don't drink and are terrified (as I often am) of consuming anything with alcohol, let me put your minds at ease. This soup is safe – but then, we all have our tolerances, so if having soup with a touch of sherry is going to psyche you out, it's better to go without.

But you should see what you're missing.

The other appetizer we enjoyed were the fried green tomatoes, which were fat slices that were uniformly breaded and quickly fried in oil, hot enough to brown the outside while just warming the tomato without overcooking.

Tradionally, fried green tomatoes are cooked at lower temperatures and they develop that tangy, almost citrusy, cooked flavor. These were left as close to their natural state as possible and is exactly what "putting a twist" on traditional Southern cuisine is all about.

To some of the purists, this might have seemed as odd as the homemade ranch dressing that accompanied the slices, but I'd like to think of Hominy Grill as a place were the old and the new are allowed to interact – while also creating some wonderfully good food.

Don’t' think Bruce and I held back – there's one more appetizer I need to mention, and this one really takes the cake! The shrimp and okra beignets with salsa and cilantro-lime sour cream were, literally, to die for. No, seriously, I felt my nipples harden as I took one bite of these hot, rich morsels. The combination of cool and warm, of savory and sweet, of heavy and light, of tangy and rich: it was all represented in just a few bites.

Let me show you what a bite of one of these can make one do:

Scary, isn't it?

Emotionally, I was just warming up to the main course. Our plates arrived quickly from the kitchen and it was one of those times where arriving at the tail end of the lunch rush really pays off. Hominy Grill's Country Captain, I'm proud to say, kicked my country captain in the ass – and I'm still taking lessons. The chicken pieces were tender, but it was the sauce which really stood out. Dark and rich, it was sweeter and less spicier than your typical curry house dish, while the almonds and currants seemed to drive this dish down a road nowhere near Brick Lane.

The shrimp purloo was hearty and satisfying; the smokiness of the sausage, combined with the chicken, shrimp and rice, spells out in flavor the wonderful mix of cultures and ethnicities that makes the lowcountry such a unique place in America. Surround that powerful concoction in a bright and spicy tomato-pepper sauce and you have the foundation of what makes a restaurant, like Hominy Grill, so important and so necessary.

Enjoy this food. Enjoy it with every bite. Don't worry about making room for pie. YOU WILL make room for pie, cake, or whatever you damn well like.

Generally, I look down upon dessert. Too often, dessert attempts to be the piece de resistance of a spectacular meal, only to be the Hershey's kiss of death. For me, I want my meal to culminate in a fireworks-exploding climax centered around the main course.

But y'all (lower chin quivering – eyes watering), you have got to try this damn pie. This is how I want dessert. This slice of buttermilk pie takes all of the love, all of those days spent walking together on the beach, and wraps it in its cool, soft but solid arms and holds you steady - giving sweet kisses on your lips. And then getting kind of freaky with the whip cream, but it's all good.

Equally as tender, loving, and a sheer joy to behold is the excellent coconut cake. I will say this: I grew up eating some of the best coconut cake in the world and this is definitely up there. Everything that should be in a cake is here: moist, rich, not too sweet, not too overpowering with just enough coconut flavor, you have to wonder which came first – the nut or the cake?

It would be a shame to spoil this moment by bringing up the subject of cost, but I think you'll be happy to know that this moment of dining pleasure and enlightenment won't enlighten your wallet or purse. Hominy Grill, for the quality and service, was so affordable Bruce and I seriously discussed flying back to Charleston in 6 months just to eat at Hominy again.

It was that good.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Rambling 'Round

I think I've found my calling.

Frankly, the idea of pickling peaches sounded weird. However, I was unprepared for how good these weird sounding peaches actually were! While I didn't grow up eating pickled peaches, I became interested when I started to learn more about Southern cuisine and saw several mentions of them - along with recipes.

I have to say: it's highly unusual for me to can sweet things, or even can at all. I've canned cucumber pickles and sauerkraut, but never really sweet things like jam, preserves or fruit packed in syrup. However, after my first try with pickled peaches, I think I may be on to something.

If you are preserving or pickling peaches, you better do so while they last. Right now we're in full swing of the season and peaches can be found in abundant supply at low, low prices - especially here in California, where we actually grow more peaches than the state of Georgia does.

For my first attempt at pickling peaches, I used the common round, yellow-flesh, clingstone variety you can find almost anywhere. While these peaches are visually more appealing, I decided the second time around to use the white-flesh Saturn or Donut peach one can find in Asian markets, mostly since they are flat and can fit more easily into a quart jar without having to cut in half.

Right now, you can find these peaches from anywhere between 79 cents to one dollar per pound – if you know where to look. It should be noted that the peach is native to China and didn't really become popularized in America until the late 19th century.

It should also be noted that I would like to now burst into song:

"The peach trees they are loaded,
The limbs are bending down.
I pick 'em all day for a dollar, boys
As I go ramblin' 'round."
As I go rambling 'round."

"Sometimes the fruit gets rotten,
Falls down on the ground,
There's a hungry mouth for every peach
As I go rambling 'round, boys
As I go rambling 'round."

That was two verses from an excellent Woody Guthrie song written from the perspective of a migrant farmworker. Peaches are a big business in California and the work of harvesting them is grueling, hard work.

Bruce worked picking peaches one summer when he was in high school. First, you had to be at work in the field by 5AM in order to work during the coolest part of the day (in the Central Valley it can get well above 100 on an average summer day). Next, you have to wear layers upon layers of clothing, not because of the weather, but because the peach fuzz - if it were to get on your skin - would cause such irritation it would drive you insane.

We can never overstate the sheer endurance and strength it must take for farm workers to do their job, day in and day out. Every time I eat a strawberry, a peach, or an apple, I try to think of the agricultural worker and thank them for doing the tough work so I don’t have to.

Not that canning peaches is a piece of cake, mind you.

It’s time consuming and requires that you concentrate on the work at hand, but thankfully it’s easy enough that anyone can do it. First you start off with the peaches.

By the way, the recipe I used for my pickled peaches came from the Lee Bros Southern Cookbook, which I recommend not only for this recipe but for so many essential down-home recipes either in their pure form or, to the tsk-tsk of a few, kicked up a notch. So they put cream cheese in their pimento cheese spread – big deal!

I started with 10 pounds of washed Donut peaches and they filled 5 quart jars. By the way, you want to make sure your canning jars and lids have all been washed in hot, soapy water and thoroughly dried before you begin. That way they are ready to go when you are.

We begin by skinning our washed and cleaned peaches in a pot of boiling water. By the way, you want your peaches to be uniformly firm and without a lot of soft spots. You can skin a group of peaches all at once in a large pot, but I prefer to work with one peach at a time. If I had help and we were doing a lot, I’d do multiple peaches in boiling water at once.

When the water is at full boil, dunk the peach (or peaches) in and boil for 1 minute. Have ready a bowl of ice water and a large enough container to hold the skinned peaches in when you’re done. After 1 minute in boiling water, dunk the peach in the ice water and then remove. The skin should slide off, but if it doesn’t go ahead and use a knife to peel the rest of the skin off. Reserve the skinned peach to a container.

By the way the peaches I used didn’t brown after they had been skinned and sat a while, but if you are worried I’ve heard you can add salt to the boiling water bath and that minimizes the browning on peaches (or you could rub them in a mixture of lemon juice and water).

Once you’ve skinned your peaches, start the syrup in a large pot. The syrup consists of 6 pounds of sugar, 6 cups of apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons of cloves, 3 tablespoon of chopped crystallized ginger, and 6 – 10 sticks of cinnamon. By the way, you’ll have plenty of syrup left over after canning your peaches. If you want, you could save it and use later in sparkling water drinks – like you would using Torani syrup.

Stir the syrup ingredients together and turn the burner up to medium-high. When the syrup comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low and continue to cook on a low boil for 20 minutes.

Next, add peaches in batches large enough to just fill the surface of the pot and cook for 8 minutes over medium-high, making sure to roll them so that they cook evenly on all sides. When they are done, reserve them to the quart jars you will use to can them in. Grab some of the cinnamon sticks and put those in the jars as well.

While you are cooking the peaches, you will notice that the peaches you have reserved in the jars have sunk down and have released some of their juice. Keep that in mind since you will be able to add more peaches to the jars. Try to minimize free space in the jar as much as you can while keeping the peaches whole and not completely smashed down. You may also cut some of the peaches in half to fit more in.

Once you have filled the jars, ladle in the syrup and cover – leaving 1/2 inch of air space at the top. Wipe the edges of the jars with a clean, damp papertowel, then seal and screw on the rings, but do not tighten. In a large enough pot that has very hot (but not boiling water) in it, carefully add the jars of peaches and then cover with more water so that there's at least a half-inch to an inch of water above the top of the jars. Bring this to a boil (it could take some time). Once it is boiling, be careful to watch that it doesn't over boil and process for 15 minutes.

After time's up, remove the jars with a jar-lifter by pulling straight up and gripping the middle of the jar rather than the top. Always lift straight up and down. Let the jars cool on wire racks and carefully wipe off the water from the tops of the jars.

As you'll see, if you haven't really packed the jar with fruit you'll have a big gap at the bottom that's just syrup while all of the fruit is sucked up near the top. You'll have that gap anyway, but if you've done a good job packing the fruit in, it shouldn't be too wide.

After the jars are cooled, you can make labels for them – or not. What I did was I took leftover paper fake money Bruce bought in Chinatown a long time ago and, using a spare lid, traced around the lid and cut out the shape.

Then I unscrewed the rings, placed the round pieces of paper on the lid, and then screwed back down the rings. Pretty cool, heh?!

This is about as fancy as I get, y'all.