Most anyone who cooks would agree that making meals from scratch is ideal but balks at the time and energy involved. I say, if dinner doesn’t take most of the day and multiple sinkloads of dirty dishes to prepare, then how good can it be?
It’s not that simply prepared foods can’t be good. One of the best things I’ve tasted so far this year has been a Greengage plum, which rarely shows up in the produce aisle. After a fast rinse the sweet juices filled my mouth, tripping gustatory alarm bells. This plum definitely deserves its “queen of all fruits” moniker. But as great a discovery as the plum was, my heart’s home isn’t in eating, rather, in cooking.
Growing up I was an ambitious cook. Too ambitious. My favorite cookbook—first to pore over, later to cook with—was a Better Homes & Gardens volume with “Celebrations” in the title. Anything I made had to look like the picture, or else it was a disaster. Nothing ever did of course. I can recall more than once stomping away from our electric range to my bedroom, leaving my mother to swoop in and salvage the meal. Measuring up to beautifully photographed food porn is no longer an issue. I’m burdened with perhaps a worse kitchen demon: an absolute aversion to “quick and easy!”
For cooking that matters, I believe in blood, sweat, tears, and even, as mentioned in the classic Alice B. Toklas Cookbook recipe for “Gigot de la Clinique,” in the utility of a hypodermic—to be filled with orange juice for twice daily injections into a leg of lamb for a week before roasting. There can be a nerdy aspect to this fussing. Is it worth the trouble to do couscous the “right way,” with the initial dampening, steaming, drying, resteaming? Kids at Oberlin College do just fine dumping hot water over the stuff, covering it and waiting five minutes. I’m reminded of a friend who delights in spending the better part of a weekend afternoon meticulously ironing his dress shirts and slacks for the coming workweek. The point being, labor is exalted for those who labor at what they love.
I’m an advocate for time-consuming and complicated cooking with all its attendant chores and tasks. Straining, for example. About the only pourable food I don’t strain is my morning protein shake. Soups, sauces, custards, braises, all the rest, I tire my shoulder joint with a wooden spoon and strainer to achieve proper smoothness. You’ll need a strainer for the drink recipe that in this column’s debut.
Bachelor’s Punch is an adaptation of Bachelor’s Jam, whose name may conjure a hootenanny for lonely hearts. It’s complicated insofar as diligence and patience are required. For me it was a guarded treasure last fall. If you were a guest over to dinner on a late Sunday evening, I seriously considered how worthy you were for a small glass of this nectary goodness made from white rum, fruit, and sugar.
You start by pouring a bottle of rum into a large glass jar or crock with a lid. Immediately begin tossing in summer fruits, large pits and stones removed. It’s an ideal way to use up overripe apricots, dodgy strawberries, mealy peaches, or disappointing cherries. I scored a basket of Italian plums at a farmers’ market, discounted because they were bruised (more like half-smashed). Into the punch they went. Stone fruits and berries are what most recipes call for. With each addition of fruit, throw in two tablespoons or so of sugar. No need to stir or babysit this concoction. Just keep adding fruit throughout the summer, say about four to five cups in total for a 750 ml bottle of rum (I used Barbancourt). When the weather cools—allow three months—strain the jammy brew. Serve just as it is.
Note: In glass the submerged fruits will lose their color, turning cadaver gray. By using a crock, the fruits lose less color and may be eaten with the liquid, or separately. Or toss out the fruit after straining if you were using imperfect leftovers. During the long maceration and afterward, keep the punch in a cool, dark place.