Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Summer of Grandchildren

What’s cooking? Ham-Jam Sandwiches and Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam

It must be something in the water or the air, or maybe it’s just the age my friends and I have reached, but the bottom line is an explosion of grandchildren. Just this summer, my cousin and four of my friends have either become new grandmothers or have expanded their collections. Another friend has two of her three children bringing tiny people into the world this fall, and if I include last summer in the accounting, I can add a sister-in-law and three more friends into the club.

To the new Dee-Dees/Memaws/Nonas or whatever they’re calling themselves, I’ve passed along a copy of Anna Quindlen’s recently released book of essays, Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting (Random House 2019). As a writer, Quindlen has long been a favorite of mine, and this collection of inspiring thoughts has not disappointed me.

When that first grandchild arrived, I had only one issue: what will she call me? It will not surprise you that on this subject, I have fairly strong feelings. Many of my friends and family say they’ll let the little darlings come up with something on their own. And many of the resulting monikers are admittedly darling. (My brother’s children called their maternal grandfather “Honey” because that’s what they heard his wife call him.) I imagine that’s how my own grandmothers – “Mamo” and “Gam” – got their nicknames, as mishmashed versions of “Grandmother.”

But I prefer not to leave these things to chance. How do I know it’ll be something I like? And how will their mothers and fathers refer to me with the children if I don’t already have a name? These questions haunted me. It’s probably also the influence of my mother, who, once I became an adult, complained that she was tired of being “Mama,” and said my brother and I should call her something with more flair, like “Mumzy.” Which is what I called her ever after and what my children called her.

So I tested quite a few handles on my own before arriving at “Lita.” It’s short for “abuelita,” which in Spanish is an affectionate term for “grandmother.” Of course, my grandchildren couldn’t pronounce it early – a fact that my husband, who’s in the “whatever” camp, was kind enough to point out – but I was happy to be “Ita” until they could manage the “L.” I suggested they call him “Grumpy,” but he wouldn’t go along.

And now the mints I carry for them in my purse are known as “Lita mints,” and the cookies I send on Halloween, Christmas, etc. are “Lita cookies.” So everyone is happy.

* * *

One of my grandchildren’s favorite lunches is PB&J. And a few adults I know will occasionally indulge themselves in that. Now you can have the grown-up version of PB&J: the Ham-Jam Sandwich.

I spotted it in a recent issue of Food & Wine Magazine, and couldn’t wait to make it. Both the sandwich and the jam are from genius chef Gabriel Rucker, a two-time James Beard Award winner, a 2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef, and co-owner of Le Pigeon, Little Bird Bistro, and Canard in Portland, Oregon.

As in the classic PB&J, this sandwich is a perfect symphony of flavors – the high notes of sweet blueberry jam, the smoky, meaty low notes of the salty prosciutto, and the first two mellowed out with the cool creaminess of the goat cheese/butter combo. A truly sophisticated take on a truly simple treat. And you can play with the combo even more: serve thin slices as hors d’oeuvres, or pile the ingredients on crostini (goat cheese butter on bottom, prosciutto on next, dollop of jam on top).

I’ve included the recipe for the Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam because that’s what Chef Rucker uses; so, of course, that’s what the Kitchen Goddess used. But you can substitute whatever good blueberry jam you like best. I will say that if you aren’t averse to jam-making, this one is outstanding (note the full bottle of wine in the mix). If you don’t want to end up with 7 jars of the stuff, just cut the recipe in half and drink half of the wine.

Chef Rucker designed these sandwiches to be part of a summer picnic. The Kitchen Goddess served them to her prince, with a salad, for a light summer dinner, and he was mighty pleased.

Ham-Jam Sandwiches

Adapted from Chef Gabriel Rucker in Food & Wine, July 2019.

Serves: 4


3 ounces goat cheese, softened
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) of unsalted butter, softened
1 20-inch, good-quality baguette
5-6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
⅓-½ cup Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam (or any high-quality store-bought blueberry jam)


In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the goat cheese and butter until the mixture is smooth. (You can make this mixture earlier in the day, and refrigerate it; but be sure to set it out for at least a half-hour, to bring it to room temperature, before assembling the sandwiches. Alternatively, you can leave it out, covered, for up to 2 hours before serving.)

Slice the bread in half lengthwise, and spread the jam liberally on one side. On the other side, spread the goat cheese butter and drape the ribbons of prosciutto on top. Season with a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper if you like. Fold the baguette halves together and cut into even pieces to serve.

This jam is wonderfully fruity without being overly sweet. The Gamay-based wine adds a bright acidity to the fat, ripe summer blueberries. This sweet-tart jam also makes a fun addition to a cheese and charcuterie board.

Blueberry-Beaujolais Jam

Adapted from Chef Gabriel Rucker in Food & Wine, July 2019.

Yield: Makes 7 cups


1 (750-milliliter) bottle of Beaujolais wine
6 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
8 cups fresh blueberries (about 2½ pounds)
5 tablespoons (or 1 packet) powdered fruit pectin (I used RealFruit Classic Pectin)

Kitchen Goddess note on pectin: Pectin is a substance – a polysaccharide, if you must know, but the KG’s mind is already swimming with this tiny walk past a chemistry book – whose principal use is as a gelling agent, thickening agent, and stabilizer in food. Pears, apples, guavas, quince, plums, gooseberries, and citrus skins contain large amounts of pectin, though in declining levels as the fruit ripens. So if you’re making jam or jelly from any of these fruits, you don’t need to add pectin to get the mixture to gel.

Blueberries, on the other hand, have almost no pectin, so you must add commercial pectin to get your jam to set. (The tiny amount of zest in this recipe won’t do the trick.) Pectin is sold in liquid and powdered form, but they’re not exactly interchangeable, so if you’re making this jam, get some powdered pectin. I bought a plastic tub of it; it also comes in packets that weigh 1.6 ounces if you buy Ball RealFruit, or 1.75 ounces if you buy Sure-Jell. I don’t think the difference in weight can make a real difference in your jam. If you buy the tub, use 5 tablespoons, which is somewhere in between.


Using a large French oven (mine was a 5-quart Le Creuset) over medium-high heat, bring the wine, sugar, lemon zest, and cardamom to a boil. Maintain a low boil, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon for about 30 minutes. The mixture should reduce by about half.

Add the blueberries, and return the mixture to a boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the berries begin to burst, which will take 5-7 minutes. Stash a saucer or other small plate in your freezer, for testing the jam. Then stir the pectin into the mix and continue to cook, stirring often, for 20-25 minutes, at which point the jam should be thick and syrupy. When you think it’s about done, turn off the heat.

Spoon a teaspoon of jam onto the plate from the freezer and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Gently prod the puddle of jam with your finger. If you can see a sort of wrinkled skin on the puddle, and the jam on the plate seems to be no longer runny, it should be done. If not, return the pot of jam to a boil for a few more minutes.

Once the jam is done, add the lemon juice and move the pan off the burner.

Option 1: If you aren’t planning to preserve the jam, let it cool for about an hour, until it reaches room temperature. Ladle the jam into jars or other airtight containers and chill at least overnight.

Option 2: If you are planning to preserve the jam, don’t bother to let it cool. Just load it into your prepared jars and process it. If you don’t know processing for preserves, check out my link HERE. The best thing about preserving jams and chutneys and jellies and whatever is that they will last for months – well over a year, in fact, without refrigeration. It’s what the Kitchen Goddess gives her friends for Christmas or hostess gifts or just about any occasion.

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