LAST TIME WE CHECKED IN with expert gardener and baker Sarah Owens, at the start of 2016, it was just before her hit cookbook, “Sourdough,” won a prestigious James Beard Award. Well, no moss grows under Sarah, apparently, because she’s already got a new cookbook out. It’s modestly called “Toast & Jam,” but, inside, it’s much more of a feast, with gorgeous loaves and inspired flavor combinations of tartine and crostini toppers and jams and spreads and even pickles, all spiced in ways I hadn’t thought of, but that sound ingenious and delicious.
Sarah, the former rosarian at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, is about to embark on a nationwide fall and winter series of dinner events called By Hand, partnering with craft producers such as artists and food and spirit makers and farmers from each area she visits. Last time we spoke, she taught us to make sourdough starter, so let’s see what’s cooking today.
Read along as you listen to the September 10, 2107 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).
Also: at the bottom of the page, find her recipes for Herb Jam and for quick pickles, and be sure to comment to enter to win a copy of Sarah’s newest book, “Toast & Jam.”
q&a with sarah owens
Q. It sounds like you have an exciting fall and winter ahead.
A. I’m so excited. I leave very soon, and I’m very thrilled to be partnering with so many different people that really do what they do as well as I enjoy doing it myself.
A. So I think it’s a great tour planned ahead to celebrate the fruits of “Toast & Jam.”
Q. Well, I’ve heard a vicious rumor that you’ll be coming to my area, so I’ll try to get info on that—at the Hillsdale HGS Home Chef in the town next to me, I’m hearing, maybe.
A. Absolutely. Yeah.
Q. So it’s another book. And I don’t know how you did it so fast [laughter], but tell us how you describe this one. Just looking at and reading the recipes, you know, I’d sort of say the breads are these masterpieces. Like I’d almost hate to cut into them, and I don’t mean that …
Q. … they don’t look delicious. I mean they’re just so beautiful [laughter] and the flavors: like a seeded tahini loaf, a spiced carrot loaf, black bread, spelt English muffins, like a diversity. Tell us how you describe this book.
A. I think the underlying theme of the book is really not just to bake your way through the seasons, but to preserve as much of it as possible, whether that be the bounty of vegetables from your farmers’ market or the fruit trees in your backyard, and to really develop some breads that are beautiful canvases or vehicles for those preserved items.
A. It starts with sort of a tutorial about natural leavening and how to create your own starter and then it moves through what I call some core baking recipes. So these are just breads, but also crackers, cakes, scones—all of these different things that can really carry the pickles and the jams and the tartine toppers throughout the seasons.
Q. Well, they look delicious. [Laughter.]
A. Thank you. [Laughter.]
Q. Of course, I wanted immediately to get out all my canning jars and start, because, again, they were such sort of daring kinds of combinations, not crazy-sounding, but I was like, “Ooh, that would really be good with that,” you know, that I hadn’t thought about. Way beyond “add two tablespoons of pickling spice,” [laughter] you know …
A. [Laughter.] Exactly. No, I really try to encourage the reader to open up their mind to the different combinations, but also to be flexible about what that might be so that, if you say, “I don’t really like caraway,” you know, you can substitute dill seed or some other types of seed, like coriander, that might be more suited to your palate. So, I’m trying to get the reader to really understand the mechanics behind the process so that you can then adopt it to your needs.
Q. Well, speaking of process, you mentioned that these breads are leavened without yeast—without packaged yeast, yes?
A. There are some recipes in the book that use those, with the option of only using sourdough.
Q. You teach us, though, how to make the starter again.
Q. It was interesting because as you said at the beginning, you start the book by giving us the starter, but it’s a little different from the other starter [in the previous book, “Sourdough”], I think.
Q. The other starter [Above, from the “Sourdough” book] had raisins and water.
Q. Why is that?
A. Well, there are many ways to approach sourdough baking. And in the first book, I included that recipe, which starts with the raisin yeast water because when I first started baking, I found that to be the easiest, the most approachable, and a starter that really had a lot of vigor.
What I think I found throughout time is that what really makes a difference in your sourdough practice is the quality of flour that you’re using. And that can really help you to create an incredibly strong starter using just flour and water.
If you can source a really good stone-milled organic flour, which contains all of the properties of the grain—the germ, the endosperm, the bran—that’s going to provide an incredible amount of food for all of those microbes you’re trying to culture, both the yeast and the bacteria, as opposed to commercial flour, which a lot of people will start with when they are trying to create a starter, which does not have a lot of bioactivity. It doesn’t have a lot of the available food for the microbes.
Q. I see.
A. I think that’s why I decided to try a little different route [above] because I really also want to encourage people to use good flour. If you’re going to go through the trouble of creating a bread that takes two, sometimes, three days, you might as well go ahead and use a creative, beautiful starter using good flour and then use that beautiful flour for your breads as well.
Q. Talk about whole food, huh? [Laughter.]
Q. And from scratch.
- recipe for Sarah’s raisin yeast water and flour starter
- recipe for Sarah’s starter from just flour and water
Q. So with this sort of daring flavor, as I said, or at least kind of unexpected ones, I was intrigued by what you call Herb Jam.
A. Oh, yes.
A. That’s one of my favorites. [Laughter.]
Q. Just tell us sort of briefly what sort of jam. [Laughter.]
A. Herb jam—well, it’s not a sweet jam like most people would consider jam to be. It’s more of what I would call a savory condiment. And it’s a wonderful recipe for this time of the year because it makes use of the bounty of greens that you may be needing to use before the first frost comes, which seems to be coming sooner than they typically do [laughter].
So we use a lot of leafy greens as well as fresh herbs. And, again, those can be very versatile, but you just have to understand that you’re using sort of a bulk leafy green. It could be like the body of the herb jam, and then you’re using the herbs to flavor the herb jam.
Then basically kind of just wilt it down with some garlic and olive oil and salt and pepper, and also some smoked paprika, cumin. You can add a little coriander if you like, and then you chop it up with capers and preserved lemons. And I also include a recipe for the preserved lemons…
Q. Right. I saw that. Yes. Yes.
A. …which you can also buy, but they always taste better if you make them yourself, especially if you let them age for a long time. And then you just cover that. You pack it into a jar and you cover it with olive oil, and it will last for a good long while. And it’s wonderful spread on toasts. It’s beautiful with fried eggs. [Laughter.]
It’s amazing, you know, on a sandwich. It can be used in so many different ways. And it’s just so packed full of fresh flavor even not cooked.
Q. At this time of year, one of the most popular things on my website is a series of posts I’ve done over the years about how to freeze your herbs or how to put up your herbs, to have your herbs for later—you know, for February, when you want some herbs, some zing.
Q. Whereas that jam’s probably just packed in oil, you don’t want to leave it for six months or a years sitting, I mean, even in the fridge.
Q. I would even think you could probably freeze that the way you can freeze a pesto…
Q. …even if it’s kind of loose and oil-rich. You know what I mean?
Q. It doesn’t freeze like an ice cube rock hard necessarily; it’s a little bit different. It struck me as like, wow, this is another way to do that, and this is a complex thing that I’d be delighted to taste in February.
A. And it ends up kind of having a little bit of an exotic flavor because of the smoked paprika. You can also use regular paprika, but the smokiness really is sort of warming especially during those colder months, so it would be beautiful for that.
Q. Yes. Well, there are so many other flavors in here. I mean, you know, I’ve heard of making apple butter and pear butter, but you have Gingered Sweet Potato Butter.
Q. It’s like wow.
Q. Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite things, so that caught my attention. Just tell us quickly what are some of the other ingredients in that, if you know them off the top of your head?
A. [Laughter.] I may have to go back and look at it.
Q. Oh, that’s okay.
A. But that one is also a little bit of a flexible recipe. I really loved to include the ginger in that one. I think that’s sort of an ingredient that you should not leave out because it really brightens up the flavor of the starchiness, of what could, otherwise be a little more baby-food-like. [Laughter.]
A. But if you include the ginger, it really kind of brightens it up quite a bit. And, again, it’s just sort of a foil for so many other things. You can use that as condiment to either go sweet or savory. And I think, in the book, I have it sort of slathered over buckwheat milk break, which is a very soft sort of white and pillowy bread that’s wonderful with the texture of that sweet potato butter.
But you could also use it on a sandwich with something more savory, like a piece of salty ham or that sort of thing. So it really can kind of go both ways.
A. But there’s a little bit of grapefruit juice in there, so that brightens it up as well.
Q. That was a surprise.
A. With a little bit of lemon juice. And I use sorghum, which is a very southern ingredient. Um, I’m from the South originally. And I love sorghum as opposed to molasses because it still has a richness and sort of a caramelized flavor, but it’s not quite as sharp or bitter as molasses can be sometimes.
But if you can’t source sorghum syrup—which is if you’re located in the North, sometimes, it’s hard or an obscure ingredient to find— you can absolutely substitute with molasses if you want a darker flavor, or even maple syrup. And it really adds a nice flavor besides just being sweet.
Q. I was surprised to see not one, but two watermelon ideas in here. And I thought, wow, now, there is something that I don’t think about. I eat it fresh, but I don’t think to put it up, so to speak. Is there a jam in one recipe and then there’s a pickle in the other?
A. Yes, so there’s a jelly, the watermelon jelly.
Q. Jelly, right.
A. And that’s a really good one to do now before the end of melon season [laughter], which seems like it’s quickly approaching. So it’s really important to get a good watermelon, that really nicely flavored watermelon, and you basically end up pureeing it and cooking it down. It’s one of the few recipes that I used pectin. It’s pretty important to use a good-quality pectin, and it’s always important to read the instructions on the pectin package.
Q. Oh, they’re not all the same.
A. Exactly. So that’s where the recipe can get a little tricky, but if the pectin is doing its proper thing in setting well. The jelly ends up being just a slathering of summer on a piece of toast. I mean, you can pop that jar open in January or February when you’re freezing your toes off and it will immediately bring you back to the hottest days of summer.
Q. That just seems so unexpected. And then you can, of course, not waste the rinds, because you can pickle them. Right?
A. Exactly. And pickled watermelon rind is another very Southern sort of thing to do. But I include the use of cardamom to kind of kick it up a little bit and make it a little bit more flavorful, which ends up sort of reminding you a little bit of a chutney, but it’s a pickle. And you can slice them any way you please, or you can end up using like some cookie cutters if you want to make like some fun shapes, but they end up being a fairly crunchy pickle.
And they’re sort of like a sweet-and-sour kind of pickle, so there’s definitely like a sweetness there, almost like a bread-and-butter pickle would be. And then that nice spice of the cardamom, so it’s a really wonderful condiment as well.
Q. Watermelons are around still, and it’s ephemeral; it isn’t lasting forever, so grab one and try it. But speaking of pickles, let’s talk about the quick pickles. And you cleverly call them…
A. Quickles. [Laughter.]
Q. You know, she’s such a funny girl, that Sarah Owens. She is a funny girl. Quickles.
A. Well, I think that that’s probably been used before, but… [laughter].
Q. Well, I love it. It cracked me up. [Laughter.] It was very funny. Quickles.
So there are pictures in the book of these jars—it’s almost from overhead, a shot of a bunch of jars. The lids are off, and I don’t think the brine’s even been poured in, and each one has a different sort of assortment of goodies. One has like radishes. I think you even put strawberries in one—whatever, beans, I don’t know, all kinds of different things. And it’s like you don’t have to make 20 jars of “X.”
A. [Laughter.] Exactly. Yeah.
Q. Quickles. Tell us about them. [Laughter.]
A. I do a lot of Quickles when I’m about to go out of town or if it’s at the end of the season or if I just have a whole bunch of produce on hand that I really need to quickly either get rid of or preserve.
And so you basically sort of make a warm brine and you dissolve the sugar or honey and the salt, and then you can use whatever spices you prefer to flavor the brine or the Quickle [detailed recipe below, along with flavor combination suggestions].
A. And I gave a few suggestions. You can use simply black pepper. You can use ginger, turmeric root, coriander. You can forage for a spruce or juniper tips. It’s really just kind of limited by your own imagination. And I think, you know, there’s a few things that really lend themselves well that most people would think about to make up a Quickle or a pickle like cucumbers or beets or carrots, but you can also use other things like tomatoes or softer fruits like strawberries or blackberries.
The thing with the strawberries and blackberries is you have to completely cool the brine first before you pour it over, or you’ll end up just kind of with a mushy mess.
A. But it’s wonderful if you have those all-season strawberries, and they’re still kicking out some fruit toward the end of summer or will start producing more in the fall. It’s a really wonderful way to brighten up a salad, so I’ll make a bunch of pickled strawberries and then just toss it with a nice, light vinaigrette and maybe some toasted nuts, like some toasted almonds. And it can really lbe that ingredient that your dinner guests will be like, “What is this? This is so…”
Q. And you say, “It’s my Quickles.”
A. It’s my Quickles. [Laughter.]
Q. And they think, “Oh, she’s drunk.”
Q. Is that what happens?
A. And you just pour them another glass of wine. [Laughter.]
Q. She’s slurring her words. [Laughter.]
A. [Laughter.] Exactly.
Q. The brine is, as you say, a warm brine and it’s vinegar, water, maybe some mild honey or sugar, sea salt. And do we make sure we have some garlic on hand to put in the appropriate ones, maybe?
A. I think garlic is always a good choice for vegetables, especially if you’re doing green beans or kohlrabi, I think it just adds another depth of flavor to radishes. It’s really nice to include some of the radishes. And when they’re in season, you can substitute the garlic for ramps, either the ramp greens or the bulbs. That’ll kind of also add a little bit of the Allium flavor, which is so nice for most vegetables.
Q. With some of them—I think it was the daikon radish, maybe—you add some turmeric, some of the fresh root I think. A little piece, and that would really change it up. And you put juniper berries in some or something?
A. You can use juniper berries or juniper, like the tips with juniper, especially in the spring when they’re pushing that new growth.
Q. Right, they’re like candles. They’re fresh little candles.
A. And that both adds wonderful flavor, but also a strong punch of vitamin C, which is really nice especially in the spring when we’re coming right out of winter and we need that kind of vitamin injection. [Laughter.]
Q. So I’ve made my Quickles. And how long do they stand before I eat them? You’re putting a warm brine over your choice of ingredients, and there’s lot of great suggested ones in the book—so how long before you eat it? Do you put it in the fridge? You close it, but you’re not hot-water bathing it; you’re just closing it and putting it in the fridge?
Q. Leave it out for a day or two, or what’s the deal?
A. I go ahead and let it cool down at room temperature and then put the lid on it and put it in the refrigerator. Now, if you’re doing it for like a dinner party and you’re prepping it that morning, usually by that evening, it’s completely fine. For some things, it only takes a couple of hours.
A. For other vegetables that are a little more dense or, um, crunchy like, especially if you cut them more thickly, then it’s going to take a little bit longer. So it depends kind of on what the vegetable is, how thickly you slice it. And if you think you are crunched on time, if you’re prepping it for a dinner, then you can always alter the ratio of water and vinegar and just include a little bit more vinegar. But that also means if you have leftovers the next day they might be a little bit sour. [Laughter.]
Q. Right. Before we run out of time: Just checking how people are going to be able to find out about the grand tour. [Laughter.]
A. [Laughter.] I have an events page, with all the listings, and then I also keep a mailing list, and you can email me your email. And that email is info [at] bk17bakery [dot] com.
Q. Okay, so people can get alerted in this way if you’re going to be in their area and join in one of the By Hand dinner events, these sort of artisanal, locavore-ish—I know that word’s probably out fashion, but I’ll just keep saying it anyway because I’m out of fashion.
Q. If you could see my outfit, you’d know I was out of fashion, Sarah. [Laughter.]
A. Oh, some things are timeless. [Laughter.]
Q. [Laughter.] Well, as always, it’s really good to speak to you. Oh, and toward the end of the book, I was so glad you included those roast cherry tomatoes with herbs and stuff, almost like a confit. Is that what you call it? Oh, boy.
A. Yeah, you can’t, can’t go wrong with that one, especially at this time of the year.
sarah’s herb jam recipe, from ‘toast & jam’
Makes 3 cups or 1½ pints
HERB ‘JAM’ is a traditional recipe that is prepared in Morocco and was introduced to American kitchens by Paula Wolfert, the great cookbook author who inspired a new generation of Mediterranean cooking. This particular recipe’s full-bodied, savory, herbal notes are balanced with the luminous contributions of Preserved Lemons and vivid salty capers.
The herb proportions are adaptable, and be sure to make use of any number of greens otherwise often neglected. My favorites to use are amaranth greens or radish tops! If using beneficial liver-cleansing bitter greens such as dandelion or chicory, taste for bitterness and mellow it out with another milder selection such as spinach.
- 60 to 75 g / 4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 40 g / 5 plump garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 g / ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 455 g / 1 pound leafy greens (spinach, amaranth, arugula, beet, kale, dandelion, chicory, or radish greens work well)
- 25 g / 1 packed cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 25 g / 1 packed cup fresh parsley leaves
- 25 g / 1 packed cup fresh dill leaves
- 10 g / ½ cup fresh mint leaves
- 85 g / ½ cup rinsed and diced Preserved Lemon (page 189)
- 30 g / 2 tablespoons drained capers
In a large stock or preserving pot, toss 2 tablespoons of the oil with the spices, salt, garlic, and leafy greens. Place the pot over medium heat and cook about 10 minutes or until the greens are completely wilted, stirring occasionally to encourage even cooking. Stir in the fresh herbs, preserved lemon, and capers and continue cooking until fragrant, about 5 more minutes.
Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a chopping board, reserving the liquid for another use. Allow to cool slightly, then finely chop the mixture and transfer it to a lidded glass container. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the mixture, adding more to cover if needed. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Serve at room temperature.
Try it with: Herb Jam is a wonderfully versatile condiment and can be stuffed into Lavash with hunks of Feta, oil-cured olives, and fresh tomatoes, or smeared on Garlic Crostini as an appetizer.–Sarah Owens
sarah’s quickles, from ‘toast & jam’
Makes 4 cups, 1 quart, or 2 pints
QUICK PICKLING (or quickling, if you want to say it as speedily as you make it) is an easy way to use a glut of produce, and it doesn’t require any special canning equipment. An array of vegetables can be used by themselves or in colorful combination. The spices may also be adjusted according to which fruits and vegetables you choose: just be mindful of how their flavors may influence each other. The amount of liquid needed will fluctuate according to how you slice, dice, or julienne your choices, but the following is a general guide for a 1-quart jar.
- 455 g / 1 pound mixed vegetables
- 225 g / 1 cup white vinegar
- 225 g / 1 cup water
- 20 g / 1 tablespoon mild honey or granulated sugar
- 10 g / 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 8 to 15 g / 1 to 2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- Spices and seasonings of your choice (see below)
Optional (choose your preferred combination, inspired by the following):
- Beets and/or purple carrots with 1 cinnamon stick; 4 or 5 whole cloves; 1 teaspoon cumin, caraway, and/or coriander seeds; and a fresh or dried chili, halved
- Green beans or sliced cucumbers with 1 to 3 sprigs fresh dill and a handful of garlic scapes
- Peeled broccoli stems and/or kohlrabi with 1½ teaspoons black peppercorns crushed with a mortar and pestle
- Daikon radish with a 1-inch piece sliced fresh ginger and/or galangal and ½ of a small shaved turmeric root
- Breakfast radishes with cilantro and/or coriander seeds
- Wild spring onion bulbs with spruce or juniper tips
- Ripe white or slightly under-ripe red strawberries with a few cardamom pods
Slice, julienne, or mandoline the veggies to uniform thickness. Place the spices in the bottom of one sterilized quart-size jar or two sterilized pint-size jars. Make a slit in the side of the hot pepper, if using. Pack the veggies and garlic in the jar.
Place the vinegar, water, sweetener, and salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium low, stirring occasionally to create a brine. When the sweetener and salt have fully dissolved, pour the hot liquid over the packed veggies. Allow the pickles to brine for at least 2 hours before serving. The longer they brine, the more saturated and intense the seasonings will be. Keep the pickles in their tightly sealed jars for up to 3 months in the refrigerator.
Kitchen Note: If you eat your pickles within a few weeks, you can reuse the brine in a cold pickling process, adding more vegetables or tender fruits, such as blackberries, to the jar. The brine is also wonderful mixed into salad dressings.
Try it with: Excellent on sandwiches, chopped into savory chicken or egg salads, or served alongside a cheese or charcuterie plate, these pickles add a punch of flavor to any meal.–Sarah Owens
more from sarah owens
- Sarah’s books at Amazon
- Our interview when the James Beard Award-winning “Sourdough” came out
- Sarah’s BK17 Bakery website
enter to win ‘toast & jam’
I’ll BUY A COPY of Sarah Owens’s “Toast & Jam” for one lucky reader. All you have to do to enter is comment in the box below, answering this question:
Do you do any pickling or “putting up” of vegetables or herbs in any manner? Tell us.
I’ll pick a winner at random after entries close at midnight Tuesday, Sept. 19; good luck to all. U.S. and Canada only.
(Photos from Toast and Jam by Sarah Owens © 2017 by Sarah Owens. Photographs © 2017 by Ngoc Minh Ngo. Recipes and photos reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. Disclosure: Purchases from Amazon affiliate links yield a small commission.)
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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its seventh year in March 2016. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the Sept. 10, 2017 show right here. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).