My mother will tell you, I couldn't boil an egg until after college. Food just wasn't that important to me. It wasn't until after I graduated from college, I moved to Florence, Italy to study art and learn Italian that I learned to appreciate and love food. I had this small apartment one block from the Duomo, an 82 step climb up to my front door. I loved everything Italian, and so much of their culture revolves around food and art.
When I returned to the states I brought a few handwritten recipes from my Florentine friend Silvia, there were no amounts of anything written down just a little of this and a little of that. I was not successful with them. I remember making Pasta Fagioli for my friend Nathalie in Florida and she was correct when she said "it tastes good but it's not presentable." Fast forward a few years, I moved out west to Southern California, worked, got married and had 2 children. When I became a mom I was determined to teach myself how to cook, how to prepare not only fresh food for my family, but food that was also presentable. In 1995 right after my daughter was born I subscribed to Gourmet magazine and I had Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." That's how I began to teach myself. There was no internet yet so it was books, magazines and recipes in the newspaper. I found baking beautiful desserts easy because baking recipes are precise, there's a science to it. If I had a recipe I could make it. Cooking has been a more challenging but gratifying journey for me. Our family life is very much centered around the kitchen and I have had many years of practice, failures and ultimately successes. The journey continues, tastes change.
When my kids were in high school my friend Kathy, a professional chef told me she was going to be canning one day. I didn't know what "canning" was, I had images of her stuffing tuna in a can and couldn't imagine how she would seal that can! I believe the first thing we made was apple chutney from apples she had grown. First time and I was hooked. "How beautiful", I thought, when you have an abundance of fruit, you can preserve it in beautiful ways and share it with many. Being in Southern California we are fortunate to have so much variety in produce all year round.
At the time I was the President of a non profit organization that raised money for the Orthopaedic Institute for Children and we would have a large fundraising event every fall. I went ahead and obtained my Cottage License and with the help of other members we began to make preserves (some from the fruit I grew myself) and donate them to be sold at the fundraiser. The first event like this had a cowboy theme to it and we needed a name that worked thus the beginning of "Wildhorse" and my love of food in jars.
Some photos of how it began:
Fresh picked, homegrown, organic Valnecia oranges and Meyer lemons, juiced, mixed with organic cane sugar and water. Jars sterilized and packed!
Fresh picked, homegrown, organic Santa Barbara and Red Baron peaches, some because preserves, others were frozen for the winter.
Fresh picked, homegrown, organic blueberry, raspberry and blackberry aka "mixed berry" jam.
I do have some small apple trees but they don't produce enough yet for me to can them. Instead of apple preserves, I made apple pie/crisp filling. This is seriously good! The first time I did it I used Granny Smiths, the next time I came across an apple called Sweet Tango (my new favorite). If you ever want to know how I did this email me and I'll share the recipe, maybe I'll make it again soon and put the process in the blog.
Some other fun things we did in jars were S'mores mixes, Campfire Bars and really delicious, oatmeal, chocolate chip cookie mixes. When I finally get some time back in the kitchen, I'm going to create a few new ones that look beautiful on display but are equally as delicious.