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Stocking the Larder

Fig + vanilla confiture

Lovely figs from Madame Loichet's Saturday morning market table make the best fig and vanilla jam.


Fig and Vanilla Confiture

1 kg fresh figs
400 grams sugar
Juice of 1 small lemon
2 vanilla beans

Rinse the figs in cold water and dry them in a towel.  Remove the stems.  Quarter each fig lengthwise.

In a bowl, combine the fruit, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla beans, split lengthwise.  Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and let macerate 1 hour.

Pour this preparation into a preserving pan and bring to a simmer.   Pour back into the bowl.  Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, bring this preparation to a boil in a preserving pan.  Skim and continue cooking on high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring gently.  Remove the vanilla beans.  Return to a boil.  Check the set.  Put the jam into jars and seal.

Stocking the Larder

White peach confiture

White Peach and Vanilla Bean Confiture

2 3/4 pounds white peaches, or 2 1/4 pounds net
3 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
Juice of 1 lemon

Poach the peaches 1 minute in a pan of boiling water. Refresh them in ice water. Peel them and half them. Remove the stones and cut each half into six sections. Split the vanilla bean in half and remove the seeds.

In a preserving pan, combine the peach sections, sugar, vanilla bean and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, stirring gently. Skim. Continue cooking on high heat until the jam reaches 221 degrees F. Check the set. 

Put the jam into jars immediately and seal.

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Apricot Confiture

During the summer months at The Cook's Atelier, we get busy slicing, dicing and preserving the tastes of summer.  On the top of our list this time of year is our favorite apricot confiture.  Recipe below.


Jam-making equipment

Jam pan
Although you can prepare fruit in an ordinary large saucepan, a special jam pan will make the process easier.  Our favorite jam pans are copper and can be found on our online shop, The French Larder at The Cook's Atelier.  Jam pans are wider at the top than the bottom, which makes the evaporation process much quicker than a normal saucepan.  The key to making great jam is to cook the fruit quickly so the fruit retains its bright color.

Jars
You will need mason jars in suitable sizes.  We particularly love the sweet miniature versions of Weck confiture jars (also found on our online shop, The French Larder).  The jars and lids (but not the screw on bands or clips) must be sterilized before use - either in the dishwasher or submerged in a large saucepan full of water brought to a simmer.  Leave the jars and lids in the hot water until you are ready to fill them.

Water canner
You can use a large stock pot that will accommodate several mason jars.  It should have a lid and a rack for the jars to rest on.

Other equipment
A wide-mouth funnel is helpful for pouring preserves into the jars.  You will also need tongs, to remove the hot jars from the water canner.  Depending on the number of jars, it is also helpful to have dishtowels at the ready to slip between the jars while in the canner to prevent them from banging together while they process.

Processing
Remove the sterilized jar from the hot water and fill it with the preserves, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch space at the top.  Remove any air bubbles with a spatula.  Place a lid on top, and screw on the band (not too tightly).  Repeat with the other jams, and place them in the stock pot.  Fill the stock pot with water to cover the jars by at least 1 inch.  Cover the canner with the lid, bring the water to a full boil, and leave for 15 minutes.

Remove the jars from the water using the tongs, and place them on a folded towel.  Leave them for at least 12 hours and the test the seal by removing the band and attempting to lift the lid.  If you cannot lift the lid with your fingers, the seal is secure. Replace the bands, label the jars, and store them in a cool, dark, dry place.

Note: The canning jars in the states have a bubble in the center of the lid. When the jars are sealed properly, it will indent.


Small Batch Apricot Confiture

1 kg apricots, just ripe
700 g granulated sugar
1/4 cup of water
1 lemon, juiced

Place a few small saucers in the freezer to use to check the setting point.

Cut the apricots in half and remove the pits.  Reserve four or five pits, and discard the rest.  Cut the apricots into 1-inch pieces.  Wrap the pits in a kitchen towel, and hit them with a hammer to break the hard outer shell, but keeping the soft inner seed, which resembles an almond, in tack.

Note: In France, the apricot pits are used in confections and confiture for flavoring. Remove them from the jam before ladling them into the jars as they are poisonous if eaten.

In a large heavy-bottomed pot or jam pan, combine the apricots, sugar, soft inner seeds and water.  Stir to combine.

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cook, stirring occasionally with a long wooden spoon and skimming foam as necessary, until reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the lemon juice.  Test the jam when the juice has thickened and the bubbles are large.  The setting point has been reached when a drop placed on a chilled saucer forms a skin that is visible when lightly pushed.  Remove from the heat and ladle into dry, warm jars and process as normal. 

Stocking the Larder

Strawberry Confiture

You know it's spring with the arrival of the first strawberries at the market. We love to make strawberry jam using the Gariguette variety.  Gariguette strawberries are a French favorite. They are bright red and so fragrant that they perfume the market with the most heavenly scent. We've dubbed them "angel kisses" for that very reason.  The atelier kitchen smells like heaven! We make our jam in a vintage copper preserving pan that we picked up at a local brocante.  The strawberries are even sweeter when they are picked by little hands straight from our very own garden.


Gariguette Strawberry Confiture 

Makes about 8 cups 

 2 1/2 pounds Gariguette strawberries, or 2 1/4 pounds net 

2 cups granulated sugar 

 juice of 1 small lemon 

Rinse the strawberries in cold water. Dry them in a towel and remove their stems. Place the strawberries in a ceramic bowl and cover with the sugar and the juice of one lemon. Let the strawberries macerate overnight in the refrigerator, covered with a sheet of parchment paper.

Next day, bring this preparation to a simmer in a preserving pan. Pour it into a ceramic bowl. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper and refrigerate overnight. 

On the third day, pour this preparation into a sieve. Bring the collected syrup to a boil in a preserving pan, skim, and continue cooking on high heat. The syrup will be sufficiently concentrated at 221 degrees F on a candy thermometer.  Add the partially cooked strawberries and return to a boil over high heat. Skim and return to a boil for 5 minutes, stirring gently. Check the set. The strawberries will be translucent, like preserves. Put the jam into jars immediately and seal.

Stocking the Larder

Mme Milbert's cassis liqueur

One of my very favorite things about my time working at La Varenne was the potager.  One of my favorite things about the potager was Monsieur Milbert.  Monsieur Milbert was somewhat of a cranky old Frenchman who oversaw the potager.  I remember the first day I arrived at La Varenne and I felt as though I had fallen through the rabbit hole, right smack into a French fairytale.

Last summer, at our garden at Clos de la Cozanne (aka Kendall and Laurent's house), we ended up with buckets full of currants. I called a chef-friend in Paris, who was a long-time resident at the chateau, to see if he had a copy of Madame Milbert's recipe for homemade cassis.  After days of picking and separating little jewel-like berries from their stems, we made confiture and began the process of making our very first homemade cassis.  After the currants were stemmed, we put them in French preserving jars and covered them with vodka to seep for the next few months in anticipation for bottling our cassis to enjoy during the holidays.


Madame Milbert's Cassis Liqueur
1 kg black currants
1 bottle 750 ml good quality vodka
400 grams sugar, or to taste

Remove the black currants from their stems by pulling them gently through the tines of a fork. Wash and drain the currants in a colander and put them in a 2 quart preserving jar. Pour over the vodka, adding more if needed to cover the currants completely.  Cover tightly and leave in a cool place for at least 4 and up to 6 months.  From time to time, open the jar and crush the currants with wooden spoon or potato masher.

After 4 to 6 months, put the currants and vodka in a saucepan and mash thoroughly again using the back of a ladle or a potato masher.  Heat gently without boiling, stirring often, until the currants soften and their juice is loosened, 10 to 15 minutes.  Work the mixture through a food mill to extract all the juice.

Return the juice to the pan.  Add the sugar and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved, 10 to 15 minutes.  Take care not to let the juice boil or it may flame. Remove the liqueur from the heat and taste it, adding more sugar if needed.  It should be rich and slightly tart or sweet, depending on your taste.  Let it cool, then bottle and seal tightly.  Store for at least 3 months so the flavor mellows.

Stocking the Larder

Pickled cornichons

During the summer months at The Cook's Atelier, we cook, entertain, and enjoy teaching our cooking classes. You will find us fermenting heirloom tomato seeds for next year's garden, canning, pickling and enjoying the never-ending task of making jam. The markets are in full swing and are bursting at the seams with the flavors of summer and it is difficult to control the urge to purchase one of everything. On our list for the market are ingredients for duck rillettes; one of the classics of French charcuterie, sweet tiny Gariguette strawberries for this week's jam, and a crate of organic peaches to make pickled peaches for my upcoming cooking class on charcuterie.

At the summer market, we are always on the lookout for Madame Petit's table. Madame Petit is one of our favorite market vendors at the Saturday market in Beaune and the best place for fresh eggs. Each week she brings a basket filled with eggs from the hens she keeps in her yard. You have to arrive early though, so you don't miss out, as they are usually gone by 9 am. In addition to her fresh eggs, she always has a few little baskets filled with things from her garden. You never know quite what to expect. Depending on the season, you might find blackberries, haricot verts, walnuts or a fresh rabbit from Monsieur Petit's morning hunt. One of our favorites are her tiny cornichons (for making little French pickles). She is always quick to spot our enthusiasm and saves some for us. She even scribbled down her recipe for pickled cornichons for us the first time we purchased them. .

Summer is ideal with its light dinners alfresco and chilled rosé. We make sure to carve out time to preserve these favors of summer by stocking our larder so we can be sure to savor summer during the cold winter months. Cornichons make the list every year.


Pickled Cornichons
Inspired by Madame Petit
Makes 2 quarts

2 pounds cornichons
1 cup coarse sea salt
several springs of fresh thyme and tarragon
6 garlic cloves, peeled
bay leaf, one per jar
whole peppercorns, a pinch per jar
2 quarts distilled white vinegar, preferably organic
1/2-inch slice of lemon, preferably organic, one per jar

Wash the cornichons in several changes of cold water while rubbing them to remove the dirt from the garden and the prickly part of their skin. Place them in a large colander and sprinkle them liberally with the course sea salt. Toss to distribute the salt evenly and let them stand in the colander, in the sink or over a bowl, for two hours to drain. The salt will help remove the moisture from the cornichons and allow them to soak up the brine.

Dry the cornichons with a clean, dry kitchen towel, leaving some of the salt. Transfer to clean jars. Arrange the cornichons, thyme, tarragon, garlic, bay leaf and whole peppercorns in each jar. Heat the vinegar and pour it over the cornichons making sure to cover them completely. Let cool completely, uncovered. Place a lemon on top of each jar and give it a shake or two. Refrigerate at least 10 days. You can give them a taste within the first few days, but keep in mind they will be quite tart at first but mellow as they absorb the brine. The cornichons will stay fresh for up to a month. Keep refrigerated.

Serve these lemon-scented, tart little pickles with homemade sausages and cheese or as an accompaniment to a slice of country-style pâté.

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