Preserve It Now for Autumn Entertaining

When summer's bounty is at its peak, the sheer volume of canning can begin to feel like drudgery. (Even the best-intentioned planning tends to go awry.) But remember: The hard work you put in now pays of many-fold in the months to come. 

We're big entertainers in the Punk Domestics household, and one of our greatest joys is cracking open jars of home-canned goodness when throwing dinner parties around the holidays, or anytime. 

If you're going to be laying out your house pickles, chutneys and jams, I recommend you make a trip to your local thrift store and find a relish tray or two. They're a handy way to serve up multiple things for easy nibbling. We've been collecting a mid-century pattern of dishes called Black Cockerel from Mancioli, but find one that suits your style. They've falled out of fashion, so they tend to be pretty cheap. 

At one of our parties, here's what graced our relish tray, served with bread or crackers: 

Relish tray

Left: Zucchine sott'olio. This Calabrian oil pickle is a good use of those late-season, oversized zucchini. The preservation method makes the zukes almost squeak when you bite into them. The Calabrian chiles give it a pleasing and not overly hot burn. 

Top: Five spice pickled cherries. Leena of Leena Eats gifted us a jar of these beauties. If you've never tried pickled cherries, you're in for a treat, and the addition of Chinese five spice takes these to a whole new level. Great on their own, they also make a nice alternative garnish for a Manhattan, and positively pop in salads like this frikeh, feta, cucumber and cherry salad

Center: Curried apple chutney. A classic, the warm aroma of curry complements apples beatifully. Like most chutneys, this one is best after it's had a few weeks to cure in the jar and allow the flavors to meld. Try this alongside pork or even the Thanksgiving turkey or ham.

Bottom: Tomato-meyer lemon chutney. When I organized the DIY food contest at Eat Real Fest two years ago, this was a prize-winning entry. The creator, Rany, graciously shared her recipe with me. If you don't have access to fresh meyers, I recommend ordering from Lemon Ladies here in the Bay Area. They are sublime. This chutney is great with everything, but makes a nice alternative to fresh tomatoes in a BLT when the maters are bland and styrofoamy. 

Right: AjvarThis is a Balkan dip made from eggplant and sweet red peppers, and it's a knockout. Catch the produce at its summer peak and stew up a batch of this. You'll have to freeze it, but it's worth the freezer space. You will eat this by the spoonful, I promise. 
 
That's plenty, but we also like to have cheese as an appetizer, and preserves and cheeses are like totally BFFs. 

Duck prosciutto, housemade preserves, local cheeses

Alongside some local favorites, Point Reyes Original Blue and Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk, we broke out two of my most favorite jars: 
 
Top: Apple habanero jelly. The sweetness of apples (and, uh, lots of sugar) tempers the volcanic heat of habanero peppers, resulting in a deliciously sweet-hot jelly, perfect with sharp blue cheese.
 
Bottom: Fig jam with fennel pollen. Fig loves fennel, or so I discovered by adding foraged fennel pollen to a straight-up fig jam. Good on its own, excellent with creamy cheese like the Red Hawk. It's also incredible in a PB&J, especially if you use almond butter.
 
Right: Duck prosciutto. Go ahead, impress your friends with a little housemade charcuterie. Duck prosciutto is dead simple, can be done in pretty much any home, and is absolutely safe for consumption. (More advanced forms of salumi require fussier conditions for safety.) 
 
And hey, if you want to go the extra mile and make your own cheese too, well, knock yourself right out. 
 
Each of these things took effort during the summer and early fall months, but when it came time to entertaining, it was as simple as opening jars, thawing one packet and slicing some meat. And the gratification you get from serving up a smorgasbord of home-preserved tastes is absolutely priceless.
 
See also: 

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