I recently discovered Victoria sponge cake thanks the PBS program The Great British Baking Show, where Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood serve up tasty challenges to a group of lovely home cooks and amateur bakers. The show is quite sweet as are the recipes, and the contestants a wonderful mix and colorful palette of Britain today.
“Sponge” is an indispensable word in the show’s lexicon. Every judgement seems chased by the line, “Oh, lovely Spooooooonge” or “Scrumptious sponge” which describes the rich, tender, buttery cake before them. I find myself walking around the farm spouting off “Sphooonge, spaaaaooooonge, spongggggge’ in my best (or is that worst) British accent. I can no longer bake anything without chiming in about its sponge whether it has one or not.
There is one recipe as iconically British as Apple Pie is to the American table: Victoria sponge cake. In the original recipe, jam and whipped cream are used, sandwiched between and oozing out of a two-layer cake. Quite the showstopper, but for my version, I wanted to bump up the freshness and richness of the cake by adding island-grown raspberries and cream-cheese-laden whipped cream, respectively. I must say these upgrades to the “spooooonge” elevated an already great dessert. Here’s the recipe:
This time of year, my morning ritual usually includes several cups of coffee, the reliable warmth of Buddy (my bulldog) laying at or on my feet under the kitchen table, and a walkabout to greet the day, the garden, greenhouse, chickens and orchard. Some days I meander, other days I peruse my weedy kingdom from the porch and quickly move onto the tasks, chores, duties and dalliances of the day.
A few days ago I was heading down to the orchard to check out fruit-set on my apple trees and to do a little watering. Buddy was unmoved (on so many levels) and chose to stay put and guard his bed and food bowl in the house. As I made my way to the water spigot, I dodged brambles, tall grass, and cottonwood saplings that had taken over the pathway in a few short weeks. I think Prince Phillip may have had an easier time finding Sleeping Beauty through a maze of thorns, than I did locating and accessing a mere orchard faucet. If only my apple trees grew as quickly.
Heading back to the orchard, I spied two reddish orbs poking up through an overgrown thicket. Upon closer inspection, I was amazed to find an abandoned potted rose bush fighting its way skyward through the blackberry canes, bracken ferns and lush undergrowth. I said, “Well, hello old friend. What a pleasant surprise.”
About seven years ago, I kept my potted treasures behind the deer fence in this area. Apparently I left an old garden rose behind when I moved things up to my greenhouse. And not just any old garden rose, but my friend Karin’s favorite rose, which she had originally planted near the house in an area unfortunately favored by grazing deer. She selected this rose for its pure rose fragrance, adding “A rose should really smell like a rose.” And this one did; so lush a fragrance it reminded me of hugging my grandmother and being enveloped in the warmth of her embrace and the rose scent of perfume and dusting powder.
In trying to protect this precious old rose, I had unwittingly abandoned it. The poor little tangle of twigs survived six or seven years without supplemental water in a plastic pot choked with weedy interlopers. The plucky little plant’s roots must have escaped the pot via drainage holes, which likely saved it. For now I will take cuttings, clear the area, keep it watered, and wait for the shrub to go dormant in the fall before moving it to a better place.
I’m not sure what cultivar the rose is, but I have two guesses, based on bloom, scent, color and thorniness: Mme Isaac Pereire or Rose de Rescht. What matters most to me is that this lovely souvenir of my friend, the former lady of the house, survives and even thrives in the wilds of a neglected swale. In taking time to smell the roses, this rose, I revisit a friend and am given a second chance to cultivate her memory and bring back her rose to her beloved gardens.
If you have a guess as to what rose it may be, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
What’s grand and glorious about the Pacific Northwest could not happen without the presence of rain, lots of rain—rain that sneaks in on a wind’s whisper or commands attention as a charging front headed toward the coast. Either way, I’ve grown to love the rain in all its forms. Whether sprinkles, mist, deluge or drizzle, there is still a comforting and hypnotic beauty during the region’s 9-month sodden sentence (as seen below in my chicken yard netting). Then again, by the end of winter, my mood is challenged daily by a combination of dark days and unrelenting rain.
Truth be told, I love sunshine, too. But on occasion, too many sunny days can faze me as an uncommon and unexpected anomaly that leaves me anxious and burning the candle at both ends. Every minute of dreamy blue-sky weather must be appropriately apportioned to the tasks at hand. It’s a nice problem to have.
And then one April day it happens, the sun finally makes an appearance on the westside of the house, for just enough time for me to smile on the reality that the pendulum is swinging back toward a more equitable amount light.
I used to think of myself as more of a summer/autumn guy—eager for long days, deep shade and buckets of flowers on my tables. Now I welcome spring in a new way, one that took a decade of living in this house to appreciate. The slow process of putting one’s stamp on a place reveals itself in surprising ways and for me that has been my need to plant spring bulbs and flowers throughout my property.
There was never a grand plan to have my garden show off the riches of spring, but time unveiled such intention in my action. Every fall I’d plant a smattering of bulbs and flowers as a ritual of putting the garden to bed for the winter. (Deer-proof daffodils and narcissus played heavily in the rotation.) Each spring I’d be surprised and delighted by what a little effort in autumn could provide. And even better, sometimes nature would step in with her own devices, and paint a swale or meadow with the ease of a artist’s brushstroke (as seen in my back-porch bluebells). I never argue with Mother Nature; she seems to know what she’s doing (with the exception of brambles, nettles, knotweed, English ivy, moss and Scot’s broom, said the bitter gardener).
I’d like to share some of the beauty with you; it’s wild and fraught with interlopers of the aforementioned ilk: weeds and brambles, but that just reminds me of who’s really in control of this palette and canvas. I may think I have the upper hand in this collaboration, but spring just smiles and presses on.
The title Bulldog Confidential may be misleading, because nothing about my bulldog Buddy is hush-hush. He is a larger than life presence who lives and loves with his heart on his sleeve, make that paw. What you see is what you get. When Buddy’s sad, he’s the Pagliacci of pooches. When he’s happy, Robin Williams seems subdued by comparison. When he’s pondering a situation, he has the focus and determination of Steve Jobs. When he’s decided upon his approach to a situation, Buddy channels the unwavering ethos of Churchill (resemblance notwithstanding). When Buddy sleeps, the term hibernation comes to mind.
When Buddy loves you, he does so unconditionally, more as a response then a consideration. He makes Pepe Le Pew look like an amateur. And when he demands a butt rub or belly scratch, all bets are off to saying “no” so multitasking ensues with one hand on the laptop and one hand on said tuchus (like now, as I type).
Buddy treats various inanimate objects as sentient beings. Every night, he plods up a flight of stairs to present me with a gift as cherished and beloved to him as a bone wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with cheese and basted in butter. My boots are his favorite tribute, though it’s a tough ascent when the toes or boot shaft get caught on every tread. When all my footwear has risen to a pile of soleful love on the landing, Buddy turns to his dog dish, not as a mere food vessel but as his second most revered treasure and objet d’art. When he climbs the stairs with stainless saucer locked in his jaws, it clips every riser, and the house awakens to a musical sampling of bangs, clangs, and pings usually reserved for fledgling marimba bands. It would not be a normal day at my house if I did not have to search for matching pairs of shoes, boots, slippers or flip flops should I wish to leave the house clad in footwear.
Buddy also likes to see eye-to-eye. No, I really mean eye-to-eye, pupil-to-pupil, so we are at the same elevation head-to-head. Buddy likes to watch me work from the vantage point of the kitchen table. He lifts his heft onto a captains chair with a lower rung, turns around to face the table and completes his ascent. He then sidles up to my laptop screen, dutifully surveying the grounds through a bay of windows only to pause, turn and half mask the screen by peering over it with a very moist muzzle. (Out come the screen wipes.) Some of my friends are mortified that he hangs out on my kitchen table, but others just laugh over it. Me, well I’m a total patsy and enjoy his editorial skills and good company. Needless to say, bipeds in the house dine on the dogless perch known as the dining-room table. My kitchen table has been relegated to a more appropriate use, that of a workspace.
As a watchdog, Buddy is more like a visiting dignitary or governor. Based on where I’m working—the greenhouse, orchard or front field—Buddy holds court either on the back stoop, roundabout, or front porch. He tends to his duty as if knighted by the queen, extracting a ear-scratch or butt-rub toll from each visitor as a proper and diplomatic introduction. If you ignore him, he will bark with an incredulous whimper that in dog talk is undeniably translated as “Did you not see me? Do you have no manners?”
When I first adopted Buddy, I had to convince him of one thing if our relationship was going to work; that the hammock was not a suspended chew toy. My other bulldogs, Maggie, Buddy and Gracie, took to the hammock like Popeye to spinach, but Buddy thought it was the fabric form of tetherball. I would splay out on the hammock for my well-deserved break and Buddy would go full-on bombastic, not understanding that this swinging cot was a tool for relaxation. He would growl, attack and tug on the hammock relentlessly. I have to say, with a modicum of training and treat bribery, Buddy came to realize the hammock was more about repose than roughhousing and rumble. We are now at one with hammocks and swaying.
All in all my two years with Buddy have been the best, and for clarification he is my landlord. Hopefully he won’t raise my rent or kick me out should the butt rubs stop or the treats go missing. As a sidekick, he’s very patient with me, knowing with a little time, a few whimpers and a couple barks, I can be trained.
I started writing my blog about ten years ago at the prodding of my former boss and current friend, Nicholas. He would chide me regularly, “When are you going to start writing your blog?” One cold March day in 2008, I sat at my kitchen table, dispensed a shrug and answered to myself, “Perhaps, now.”
The nature and purpose of a blog can certainly reveal itself as a sticky wicket. Do I want to promulgate a fairy tale, an over-the-top perfect life, or do I wish to connect and share some honest moments, a couple laughs, and a few snapshots of beauty in the everyday (which would include multiple images of beefy bulldogs, pies and flowers, no doubt). Hopefully, it’s evident that the latter option was my obvious choice.
Over the years, I’ve come to recognize and avoid blogs that seem to make me feel bad about myself, where each entry is an amalgamation of accomplishments shy of curing cancer, building a suspension bridge, and hosting a UN delegation for brunch. Some days I just want to get one thing done—just one thing. I want to look back on the last 24 hours and say, “I put in a good day.” That has been my goal with Tall Clover Farm both online and off. Some days there are road blocks and roundabouts, but never rumble strips of doubt that I made the right decision about leaving the city and relocating on Vashon.
Though in the last year, I’ve slowed down a bit. My get-up-and-go, kind of got-up-and-went. And managing and working a rural property weighs heavily on shoulders as they age. For the first time in my life, I’ve felt a little geezerly. Granted, my mind is that of an anxious 28-year-old, but my body is quick to chime in, “not so fast.” My voluntarily long day is fueled by a brief nap, or a coffee break or checking in with a friend who undoubtedly rues the day I finally acquired a cellphone.
In essence, I have gone from hare to tortoise, but if the parable proves anything, slow-and-steady is the way to win the race, which in my case includes just finishing the race without regard to how I placed.
Things do take longer now, as much in execution as in actually getting started. Pondering plays a big part of my new reality. For instance, it’s taken me about six months to consider repairing a plumbing problem in my old farmhouse. I quit using my upstairs bathroom and opted to trundle down stairs nightly to use the guest bathroom rather than to address the issue before me, under me and around me: leaky pipes.
I am now in the middle of opening up walls and ceilings, and repairing that plumbing problem, one brought on by a rodent that chewed rigid drain pipes with the ease of shaving milk chocolate. And now that the pipes have been replaced, the reattached vintage toilet has decided it’s not happy with the new arrangement. Time for a new flusher!
So I guess what I’m saying is, I’m still here, happy, and plugging away (toilets notwithstanding), and I’m still loving my life at Tall Clover Farm. And while my blog posts may be less frequent, I have confidence that I will get back to my regularly scheduled writing, eventually. And besides, I’ll try to spare you from the minutia or regularity of my day: i.e., Buddy farted at 8, 10, 2 and 4; I weeded for 6 minutes; cursed a nettle patch; picked out a paint chip; and had a tuna melt for lunch (riveting stuff).
When the day seems worth sharing, I will do my best to put pen to paper, or in this case, finger to keypad. So for now, time marches on with me bringing up the rear, and I do my best to put in a good day. And please know that the connections I’ve made here are indeed one of the best parts of that good day.
The day I met Sam and Dom, I was incurably smitten. Call it a twinkle or spark with a bit of fairy dust and star alignment thrown in, our initial neighborly encounter caught me by surprise and captured my heart.
We struck up a conversation while I was gardening and they were walking by. Minutes into our shared laughs and easy introductions, I had an inkling—make that very strong understanding—that we would become good friends. Fifteen years later, tea leaves and a crystal ball could not have foreseen a more accurate memoir of my first impression.
I’ve never quite met another couple like Sam and Dom, which for clarification is a good thing. It’s as if a happy couple escaped the pages of a book and brought their love story to life just four doors down from me.
Of the many things I love about this wholehearted duo, their love tops my list; and how they love their daughters is a close second. Over the years, Sam would share her latest Dom-designed Valentine, birthday and anniversary cards, and every year I would be gobsmacked over how clever and fun and wonderful they each were. So this year I asked my friends if I could share their love story with you through the joy of their art, humor and friendship.
I’ll let Dom explain,
Tom, Here are a few cards. These were never meant for public viewing, I just loved Sam’s reaction every time I would give her one; she would laugh for a good few minutes and they meant a lot to her. Then social media became a thing and she just loved sharing the joy. I was a bit embarrassed about people seeing them, until a friend described them as a clear declaration of love and adoration for Sam. None of us feel like movie stars in day to day life, but people like Sam should – and I want her to know that.
Valentine’s Day and Anniversary Cards
Mother’s Day and Birthday Cards
Fast forward to now…
Sam and Dom sittin’ in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.
I don’t hide my love of bulldogs. I gush, dote, kowtow, and cater to the charismatic clowns and heart melters wherever and whenever they cross my path (or back in for a butt rub, as the case may be). In my house that can be minute-to-minute. My mother shared that I was drawn to this lovable breed at an early age. As a toddler, I was infatuated with “Sister” the bulldog next door. Apparently her substantial mass, reluctance to move, and good nature made for the perfect combo of playmate and jungle gym.
Decades later, I still hold the bulldog in high esteem, just shy of calling the breed a deity. I’ve owned four, wait, make that four bulldogs have owned me: Maggie, Boz, Gracie and Buddy. More accurately, I rescued them and they rescued me. I have served at their pleasure and had my buttons pushed to accommodate most if not all of their whims, grunts, whines and standoffs.
If pets are any indication, it’s probably a good thing that I never had children; they would have ridden roughshod over me. “Dad, can we have cake for breakfast? Pretty please.” little Harper implored. “Well, I guess so; there are eggs and milk in it.”
While Boz and Gracie have graced the pages of this blog, Buddy is the new kid on the block and it’s time you got to know him. And what better way to do that then with photos of the top dog “in action” at Tall Clover Farm.
So long from Buddy and Tom, and here’s to good friends, whether two-legged or four-legged, feathered or furred.
My farm house was built in 1888, when Washington was a territory and a year away from statehood. Just five years prior, the Northern Pacific Railroad had been completed, linking the Great Lakes to the Pacific Northwest. Across the Sound, Seattle was only eight years away from being put on the map as the main embarkation port for the Yukon gold fields.
I try to imagine what life on Vashon was like at the time, a 37-square-mile wilderness in the middle of Puget Sound, an island of dense old-growth forests and a sparse number of settlers.
Oliver Scott Van Olinda (1868 – 1954) came to Vashon in 1891 and remarked on his first arrival, recalling his walk from Langill’s Landing up to Center, which is less than a mile from my farm.
“I came from the great prairies of Nebraska and, as I walked up to Center in the gathering dusk of a mid-August evening, giant fir trees towering three hundred feet above me on either side of the trail in an almost impenetrable wall and flanked by great banks of ferns, the beauty of the scene was overshadowed by the thought that such environment must harbor great hoards of bears and catamounts. I marveled at the folly of man, in thinking he could ever convert such material into a farm, a garden, or even a home. It was truly a stupendous task to contemplate.”
A mere (and astounding) thirty years later (approximately 1919), the island had been mostly cleared of timber and farmland began to dominate the landscape. And it was that year, in 1919 that my farm was offered for sale. Surprisingly, a copy of the property’s sale brochure has survived, replete with telling details of farming on Vashon Island, and really, what had been accomplished in a very short time.
The following is a direct transcript of that pamphlet, which the previous owners Karin and Buzz, so kindly left with me and the house.
Within this transcript, I will highlight UPDATES with personal insights for a bit of then-versus-now perspective, based on 100 years of change (or not).
Country Home and Farm
PROPERTY – 32 acres, all in cultivation except about 3 acres. About 10 acres under lease until Sept. 1, 1920, now in strawberries and producing good crops. About 7 acres in winter wheat, which usually produces 20 to 25 bushels per acre, or good wheat hay if cut early. Once acre in loganberries, which have given splendid returns per acres, on Vashon Island.
About 3 acres seeded to permanent pasture. Balance in small mixed orchard of apples, cherries, pears, crab apples, peaches and prunes; also a few strawberries , raspberries, blackberries, currants, etc.; garden, chicken yards and buildings. All fenced and cross-fenced.
UPDATE – The property now has been whittled down to less than five acres. I’ve planted a new orchard, established a chicken yard and built a small coop, and fenced the front fields to deter the island’s hungry deer population. I’ve built a 30′ x 70′ high tunnel greenhouse and cleared a great percentage of the wild brambles once covering the property’s former pastures.
SOIL – Sandy loam, especially suited for berries and small fruits.
BUILDINGS – Good 9-room house, including bath and sleeping porches; cement foundation, and in good repair throughout. Hot and cold water upstairs and down. Large barn, would accommodate 10 to 20 cows; good hay mow and feed bins; large fruit or storage house, milk house, hog houses, chicken houses, tool and implement sheds.
UPDATE – The house still stands proudly and with a welcoming presence that defies explanation. I’ve been working to fix her up and keep her around for another 100 years. It’s a slow, expensive, but deeply gratifying process. Most of the tall windows are original, with the exception of the south side of the house where storms yield no mercy to the exterior. The large barn collapsed decades ago, as did the substantial chicken house. There’s no trace of the other out buildings or water tower, but the tool and equipment barn still stands and thankfully enjoys a new roof and needed structural support.
EQUIPMENT – Farm is fully equipped with tools and implements, plows, harrows, grain drill, mower, disk, hay rake, wagons, everything needed which go with place.
WATER AND ELECTRICITY – Good, deep well, inexhaustible supply of splendid water, tower and 1000-gallon tank which supplies water under pressure to all parts of the house and buildings. There is also a never-failing spring for pasture use. House and buildings are all wired and electric light and power available throughout. Two H.P. electric motor pumps water, cuts hay and furnishes power for any machinery needed. Telephone with long distance service, daily mail at door.
UPDATE – The well is gone, but the house is supplied with Water District 19 water.
SURROUNDINGS – There are a very large number of Madrona, Maple, Locust and Cedar trees about the yard, which make it very attractive and homelike. A good view of the water, Mount Rainier and the Olympics is obtained.
UPDATE – The large trees remain, though some of the ancient madronas have fallen to earth like old soldiers with bad knees and brittle bones. The Black Locust trees and giant maple have few rivals on the island in regard to stature. I love them like members of the family. The enviable view has been swallowed up by forest.
LOCATION – One-quarter mile south of Beall Greenhouses (largest in the northwest; five acres under glass), Vashon Island; 1 1/2 miles from Vashon dock, 1 1/2 miles from Vashon Bank, bank, post office, stores, churches; high and grade schools in easy reach and transportation free; 2 miles from ferry dock, where ferry to Des Moines makes six round trips daily, giving automobile service to Seattle and Tacoma over splendid paved and gravel roads. Also good boat service to both Seattle and Tacoma direct. This will soon be added to by installation of ferry service direct to Seattle and Kitsap County from north end of island, all of which gives most excellent transportation facilities.
UPDATE –The Beall Greenhouses remain but are in complete disrepair and now overgrown with brambles, weeds and trees. The site and sights are surreal, like a monumental greenhouse ghost town consumed by nature, ignored by man. All the ferry routes mentioned are currently in operation, with the exception of the Vashon – Des Moines run.
VASHON ISLAND – Lies between Seattle and Tacoma, giving unsurpassed markets for all products. The island has always been notd for its berries and small fruits, and is now coming to the front on egg production, many large and electrically equipped plants being in operation, and on account of markets, climate, soil, etc., seems particularly adapted for this business.
The island has always been noted for its berries and small fruits, and is now coming to the front on egg production, many large and electrically equipped plants being in operation, and on account of markets, climate, soil, etc., seems particularly adapted for this business.
UPDATE – Farming and self-sufficiency no longer play major roles in Vashon’s economy, instead the island is intrinsically tied to wealth and well-being of Seattle and Tacoma. Still stunningly rural, Vashon’s growth is also tied to water resources and unincorporated King County zoning regulations. That and the inconvenience (for some) of a ferry commute, make Vashon a rarified place. Small farms are making a resurgence and finding ways to earn income, from the farm-to-table culture to the making of local cheese, cider, wine and specialty products for customers interested in locally-source and delicious food. In my case, I grow flowers and fruits, teach classes, and host visitors at my farm’s Airbnb: Little Gemma, oh yes, and I write a blog.
UTILITY – This place can be utilized for general farming, dairy, or hogs, but is more particularly suited for berries, small fruits and chickens, or as a country home place. Also it has good possibilities for cutting into small tracts later on, as its location and view is good, and will prove a good investment from any standpoint. As a home place there is no more pleasant or satisfactory location on Puget Sound. Pure salt water air, picturesque view, strategic location, fine roads and excellent transportation, with freedom from tramps and shifting and shiftless population make it an ideal home spot.
UPDATE –The only animals I keep are some cheeky chickens and an even cheekier bulldog. Berries are still the star performers for me, from loganberries, to raspberries to tayberries. The sandy loam soil suits their natures and habits well. In the orchard, my heirloom apples shine a little brighter each year, both in presence and taste. I built a large greenhouse to extend the season for growing mammoth and exceptional dahlias, zinnias, marigolds, and scented geranium for the floral trade and summer weddings.
I delight in knowing the farm once had territorial and Puget Sound views. A century later, reforestation has screened my Mt. Rainier view to the South and the Olympic Mountains to the west. I could not agree more with the following line, and I am happy to report it stands true a century after written, “As a home place there is no more pleasant or satisfactory location on Puget Sound.”
Thankfully, some things never change.
PRICE – $16,500.00; terms can be arranged, or might accept properly located live property of lesser value as part payment.
Call on or address owner at 201 Boston Block, Seattle or on premises. Ferry leaves Des Moines 7:55. 9:45, 11:30, 2:55 week days, and 8:30, 11:30, 3:00 Sundays. Stage to Des Moines leaves from First and Union Streets.
W. S. DANNER, Owner,
201 Boston Block, Seattle, or Vashon, Wash.
Tall Clover Farm
Originally known as the Danner Place and then Callaway Corner, the seventies manifested a new name, The Peach Palace, thanks to a jarring, and later beloved paint color that has now faded to a laid-back beige. Notoriety also came in the common knowledge that The Peach Palace was a party house, once occupied by members of Vashon’s most popular and notorious rock band, the Doily Brothers. Fifty years later and I would bet you dollars to donuts that I could walk in any direction with a gardening spade and dig up a beer bottle.
The name Tall Clover Farm is my own invention, one that manifested itself through quirks, coincidences and conversation (but that’s a story for another day).
Buddy would send his love, but he’s a little preoccupied with that beautiful view.
Growing up in the South, I harbor many colorful recollections, though sometimes I fear my imagination may have muddied the archival waters and created my own Glass Menagerie meets Fried Green Tomatoes meets Forrest Gump. It’s a reflective pastiche I have little inclination to correct.
As a nosey little nipper in Montgomery, Alabama, I remember the time a neighbor lady pronounced the status of a man she seemed deeply intrigued by. As she leaned in, drawing her cardigan tighter over her shoulders, she arched a barely discernable eyebrow, and feigned propriety to her friend by whispering with an inflection more deliberate than her own natural cadence, “Well you do know he’s a baaaaaaaaaaaa-chlar?” There was more “baa” in that first syllable then in the wane of a lost lamb. I knew by the way she said it, something was up. Maybe he was a criminal, or spy, or who knows what, but something extraordinary for sure. Not the first time I had heard the term, but certainly the first time I had heard it used with such indulgent disfavor.
As a married Air Force fighter pilot, my Dad was beyond reproach, a family man and a tough act to follow. He loved structure, rules and integrity. Every once in awhile I would hear my parents talking about the wild antics of the bachelors in the squadron. Even as a schoolkid, I could tell, those said bachelors were all about fun. Most of them had sports cars; we drove a station wagon. Most of them drank a lot; my Dad never touched the stuff.
And so with that memory, I bring you an extraordinary jam named after the extraordinary rogues, rakes and rascals it was no likely named for; ah yes, say hello to Bachelor’s Jam. Now, as I pointed out in the title, this recipe is more about the bachelor and less about the jam, for it is a boozy concoction worthy of the brazen brotherhood who thwart convention on many a southern cul de sac.
Bachelor’s jam is also known as Old Officer’s Jam, or Rumtopf, which is German for rum pot. And leave it to the French to provide a name as appealing as the drink: Confiture de Vieux Garçon.
Most recipes call for rum as the main, uh, preservative, but I prefer to use brandy. The choice is yours, experiment using your favorite liquor, just stick with high-proof libations like rum or brandy, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
So what is Bachelor’s Jam? The jarred liquid gem is liquor-infused, sugar-soaked fruit cordial, plain and simple. What makes it exceptional is how and what you choose to prepare. For the most part, Bachelor’s Jam is meant to capture the best of orchard fruit at its peak. As fruits and berries become available, you add them to a crock of brandy (or rum) with sugar. And you continue to add more fruit, spirits and sugar as the harvest dates progress and until the vessel is full and topped with a lid for gentle aging and maceration.
So let’s say you start your Bachelor’s Jam in May by placing a layer of sweetened strawberries in the crock. After covering the fruit with brandy, cover the jar and wait until the next seasonal sweetiepie is ripe and ready to join the crock. Next up raspberries, and then cherries and then plums, and so on. You’ll end up with a delicious visual record of summer’s bounty and two offerings: a very drinkable sippable liqueur of sorts and a fruit compote that packs a punch. And there is an actual recipe, simple and to the point, here it is:
Bachelor’s Jam | Rumtopf | Confiture de Vieux Garçon
Bachelor's Jam (aka Officer's Jam, aka Rumtopf, aka Confiture de Vieux Garcon) is a wonderful layered mix of summer fruits, soaking up a blend o sugar and brandy (or rum). Makes for a delicious cordial.
Brandy or Rum
Seasonal fruit as it ripens
I'd stay away from some fruits that may overpower the mix making things bitter, sour, or overly diluted, such as gooseberries, rhubarb and melons, respectively.
Use a large crock or preserving jar with lid to hold and store Bachelor's Jam.
In a separate bowl, add seasonal fruit and sugar in a ratio of 2:1, e.g., 1 cup of fruit for every half cup of sugar. Let it rest overnight.
Gently mix the the fruit and sugar slurry until combined and add to the crock one layer at a time. Pour in enough brandy or rum to keep the liquid one inch above the fruit. You may need to add a weight like a small plate to keep the fruit from floating up to the surface.
Cover with lid and set in a dark place until the next fruit type becomes available.
Say you started with 2 cups of strawberries than two weeks later raspberries are in season. Just repeat Step 3 using raspberries, and continue in the following weeks to add more fruit, say cherries, as they become available.
Always add more brandy or rum to cover the sugared fruit.
Add more sugared fruit and liquor in the weeks to come until you reach the top of the jar.
If using a clear glass jar, cover it with paper bag to keep light out. The longer you let the "jam" sit, the better it will be. Wait at least three months before using.
Sip the liquid like a cordial and use the booze-infused fruit as a compote, or ice cream topping, or in cakes, breads, or with cheeses and roasted meats.
I would also like to point out that the fruit does not retain its vibrant color, but loses structure slowly takes on the predominant hue of the darkest fruit. The spirited drink is delicious, and while not much to look at, the stewed fruit is just that — stewed. Drink too much and you’ll soon be sharing the same condition.
Not much to report on the farm this morning. The fall breeze is wending its way through every leaf and fern frond. Buddy paces the porch in search of the stingiest slice of sunshine. And I’m trying to prep the place for seven months of droplets, drizzle and downpours.
My greenhouse remains woefully optimistic, gloating over the fact that its tenants are protected until the first severe frost. Dahlias respond to cooler nights, blooming like the finale of a fireworks show, one last blast of color and exuberance before the show ends for the season.
Over the last several weeks, a flush of operatic songbirds have coopted my greenhouse as their performance hall. Every day is an ovation when song sparrows provide the curtain call. I thought you might enjoy shutting out some worldly noise, and letting in a simple song of joy.