Sunday, June 24, 2012

Confluence and Contemplation

In this week of summer’s solstice, Papa’s garden is rolling along precisely according to his plan - like an avalanche.   I spend an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen in the summertime preparing meals with the freshest ingredients we’ll enjoy all year and preserving our garden’s bounty for the coming winter.  At this point I am having an unhealthy degree of difficulty conjuring something innovative to do with produce despite having loads of recipes and years of thinking outside the box to nudge my elusive kitchen muse into action.  Maybe she evaporated right along with the heavy steam coming off of that last cauldron of boiling vinegar on my stovetop.  It’s possible she abandoned me somewhere after the mountains of spinach gave way to endless heaps of broccoli which then, Lord help me, gave way to a seemingly constant stream of zucchini and yellow squash.  She might have fallen into either of the two 6-gallon earthenware crocks of pickles sitting in their brine baths in a corner of my kitchen.  And now the banana peppers have decided to ripen all at once?

Yes, being able to enjoy such an overabundance of good food first requires one heck of a lot of work and some imagination, but I actually enjoy it.  My mind finds ample opportunities to wander when I’ve committed to slicing several gallons of cucumbers, making the same repetitive motions for a few hours straight.  And though my mind can traipse some entirely pointless paths at times, I sometimes find a few things on such mental walk-abouts.  For instance, while sorting and washing a colossal cache of banana peppers I mulled over two words - confluence and contemplation.  I first thought of the two terms as existing independently of each other entirely but pretty quickly decided that they provide balance when considered cohesively.  Confluence describes a coming together of two or more things and, at least for me, prompts a mental image of tension before an eventual peaceful and productive coexistence (two rivers colliding to become one).  I regard contemplation as requiring focus but also as providing a certain serenity for going to the trouble (sitting just a bit downriver of the confluence).  And it was precisely at this epiphanous moment that my muse reappeared, thumping my skull with her knuckle and chiding  “Are you still trying to figure out what to do with all those peppers? Make mustard.  You’ve already pickled everything that ain’t nailed down in this kitchen.” 

And just like that, she was back!  My muse and I butt heads often; our union is frequently a tug of war.  But I’ve learned that she plays by her own rules...and usually wins.

Muse Mustard

40 banana peppers, stems removed
4 cups prepared yellow mustard
3 cups white sugar
1 cup honey
*5 jalapeno peppers, seeded
1 cup water
4 cups apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons salt
2 cups brown sugar
1 bulb garlic, cloves peeled and minced
*5 jalapeno peppers, unseeded
1 cup all-purpose flour

*Note:  Add more jalapeno peppers if you like your mustard like Curtis likes his women - hot and spicy!

Remove the seeds from the banana peppers and place them into a blender or food processor.  Add seeded and unseeded jalapeno peppers and minced garlic.  Process until smooth.  Pour into a large heavy pot and stir in the mustard, sugars, vinegar, honey and salt.  Bring to a hard boil which cannot be stirred down.

Whisk together the flour and water until smooth in a medium-sized bowl.  Whisk in one cup of the boiling mustard mixture, whisking until completely smooth and add it back to the pot of boiling mustard.  Continue to boil, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.  Pour into sterile pint jars and seal with new lids and rings.  Process in a boiling water bath for 5-10 minutes. 

And finally, a poem gifted to me by my muse while watching my daughters in kayaks last weekend. 

oars in tandem
water lapping
at their differences


  1. Dabburnit, sensei Susan. You forgot to mention that they (women I like) should be intelligent, witty, fun-loving and clean! :)

  2. Really enjoyable post! I have to tell my neighbor about the mustard. She always has more beautiful peppers (of all kinds) than she knows what to do with. Bet she hasn't thought to jar up some mustard with them.

    1. The mustard is really awesome, Angie. And what a way to use-up peppers!

      I ate half a jar's worth the first night. :)

  3. I like how "water lapping" sounds like "water laughing"...if it knows the two of us, you bet your hiney it's laughing its hiney off, too...I wanna raid your mustard and peppers...sounds like it would go with the best wursts; however, encased meat is not on my diet...

    1. It's a heck of a poem, Lindsay. A fine, fine haiku.

      The mustard is great on pretzels and cheese too. :)

      You take care. Holler if there's anything I can cook for you.

      Give my best to the Fritzenator.