Process pieces: Smoked Cherry Jam + Bitters, plus Dried Smoked Peaches
I bought a new smoker and filled it with fruit, truly the greatest late summer activity
Process pieces is a series for paid subscribers that explores my writing and cooking processes, and I encourage you to comment with your own processes if you feel so called. I hope you enjoy!
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During my PhD program, I lived (for all but a year at least) in the bottom floor of a duplex at the back of a circle driveway. A few months into living there, my next door neighbor set their bullet smoker out on the curb for trash collection.
This smoker was one of the two gifts the apartment gods left me at this place (the other being a bicycle that I still don't know how to ride), and wow what a wonderful gift it was.
The smoker was a little worse for wear, sure, but it still functioned well enough, and the circle driveway became a gathering place for occasional cookouts, some featuring my blow up kiddie pool or even truck pool.
For those of you uninitiated into this magic, a large tarp is put inside a pickup truck bed and the bed is filled with water.
Thus, truck pool. Easier to empty than a kiddie pool too.
That little smoker, then, has always held fond memories, and when I left it behind with my old neighbor, I promised myself that someday I would get another, and perhaps even recreate the driveway cookouts from years past.
Fast forward to today: I'm writing recipes for The Essential Preserving Handbook (my new, big undertaking that will come out in a couple years), and see an opportunity to replace that little smoker and give smoking food another whirl.
Smoking, as a form of drying and preserving food, has been around for many, many millennia, but I decided to start out these experiments with smoking for flavor and see where the mood took me.
I love being planful about developing recipes, but I also love building in space for spontaneity, and the magic that comes from improvisation with what's on hand. That's very much the case here.
Presented with a new smoker and a huge haul of fruits and veg that needed to be used up before I head to Alaska on Wednesday, I got to work and let my imagination run wild (P.S. have you gotten your tickets for our Culinary Wild dinner in McCarthy this weekend?)
Hours later, I emerged from the flurry of cooking with some new favorites: smoked cherry jam, smoked cherry pit bitters, and dried smoked peaches among them.
In Summer Kitchens, Olia Hercules shares a recipe for dried, smoked pears, which are preserved at the height of the season and added to soups and other savory dishes throughout the year.
I decided to work up a Georgia peach version, which I think will be a lot of fun to play with in my wintertime sauces and stews (especially borsch, a longtime family favorite).
For the cherries, I really just let myself go in whatever direction I felt called to, and I'm really enjoying the results. As of this writing, I've already eaten several servings of the jam, which smells smoky and tastes it too, but not overwhelmingly so, and I'm eagerly eyeing those bitters for my future cocktails.
I started with an old fashioned cocktail flavor profile for both, but I'm planning to make other versions (like five spice).
Of course, with any smoker but with these little bullet smokers in particular, it's critical to keep an eye on temperature and to strike that balance between getting a good smoky flavor without making your food taste like an ashtray.
Here’s how I struck that balance, and the recipes that resulted: