It’s been exactly a year since I rescued Gem, our fancy red pigeon, from the side of the road. His right wing was both punctured and fractured, most likely from a hawk strike. He couldn’t fly and probably wouldn’t have lasted another day if I hadn’t happened by and scooped him up. (You can find that story here.)
As I was caring for Gem during those first few weeks, I told him that when he was well, we would build him a house and get him a girl. (It was obvious that Gem was a boy from the first time he saw his own reflection in a mirror. He puffed up as big as a small pigeon can, cooing deeply, spinning in circles, dragging his tail. He couldn’t stop his natural instinct to assert himself in the face of his own handsome image, no matter how poorly he was feeling at the time.)
Gem did get well. And we did build him a house . . .
Then we let him start interviewing girls. Here, he seems to be saying, “That white one looks a lot more interested in the seed than she is in me.” The little black pigeon (who also seems pretty interested in the seed) is Haiku, an Indian Fantail cross. Haiku (named “Eclipse” when we took her in) was such a delicate, gentle pigeon that we all fell for her right away.
Shortly after Haiku moved in, this pair’s story took a surprising turn. (Not to say that picking up a pigeon off the street and all the rest of it wouldn’t seem surprising enough to some folks.) Gem had started courting Haiku right away — but after a few weeks, he changed his mind. He stopped pursuing her and we had no idea why. Maybe it was like Match.com for pigeons: They went on a few dates and it just didn’t work out for him; the chemistry was off.
Poor Haiku! It was obvious that she loved Gem. She followed him around, seeking his attention, but he would peck her away when she got too close. He wasn’t a bully about it, but he was bossy. Haiku wasn’t allowed to get up on Gem’s special shelf, or to use the bath until Gem was finished. Still, this little girl was not deterred. She would come back to him again and again; sometimes she would even sneak up behind him while he was resting and tug at his tail feathers. She was like a schoolgirl with a crush on an older boy who ignored her or pushed her away.
This went on for the better part of a year. Then, just a couple weeks ago, I decided to start handling Haiku more often, to help her relax with people. She’s always been a skittery girl. Like Gem, she was caught by a predator as a very young bird, so she’s got a touch of PTSD. I started picking her up (she still hates it) to pet her and kiss her. And guess what happened?
Gem got jealous. He saw me kissing on Haiku and then he wanted to start kissing on Haiku. For real! It took less than 24 hours for Gem to start courting Haiku again.
Within a week, Haiku laid her first egg . . .
With all those mama pigeon hormones raging, tiny Haiku has become a fierce defender of the nest box. I try to take her very seriously in this role and not laugh at her too much. It’s hard, though. She puffs herself up with such enthusiasm and intensity that she almost knocks her little self over sideways.
Because of his history of indifference, I was concerned that Gem wouldn’t step up to his new role of papa pigeon. But on the morning after the first egg appeared, I awoke to find Gem engaged in a furious battle with the aviary whisk broom. He was trying to pull it apart to bring bits of straw to the nest. I made it easier by giving him a box of straw all his own.
Here he goes . . .
And look at him fly! That right wing is the one that was broken.
So we have another little family here at home. Of course, I am replacing their eggs with wooden ones, because four pigeons is plenty for us. Plus, if we wanted more pigeons there are many wonderful birds who are waiting for good homes. You can meet them and learn more at PigeonRescue.org, the website of MickaCoo Pigeon and Dove Rescue.
My neighbor Joanne got three new hens: Cairo, Dubai, and Pauline. Joanne is getting ready to move and had sworn off new chickens, but when she saw these three babies getting trampled in an enclosure of bigger pullets, she scooped them right up. They’re curious about everything, especially Dubai, pictured above: What’s in that basket? Can I eat it?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately: Can I eat that? Now that we’re heading into the fullness of fruit season and I’m having to refrain from making traditional jam, I’m more aware than ever of the ways in which giving up sugar (not to mention gluten, lactose, and caffeine) is changing my life. Mostly, the changes are good. I’m extra aware of this because, after more than three months of going without refined sugar, I recently experimented with adding a bit of it back into my diet. That turned out to be a big, flailing fail.
I discovered that sugar sets me off on mood swings from elation to irritation. It makes me whirly, and not in a good way. My heart pounds, I don’t sleep well, and I’m lethargic the next day. After all that, I wouldn’t expect to want any more sugar, but the kicker is that eating sugar clearly causes me to crave more sugar. In the past, I’d read plenty of reports and articles pointing to these and other sugar-induced problems, but it seems that until I was forced to give it up, I’d had such a steady infusion of the stuff that I never noticed what a potent drug it is. I thought I was immune. Guess not.
Do you think Dubai looks a little suspicious in that photo? Maybe she doesn’t quite trust me to take home all those lemons and not use ten pounds of sugar to make marmalade out of them. (Those links go to five different Meyer lemon marmalade recipes on this blog.) I need to find another way.
I’ll juice some of the lemons for the freezer and probably try a Meyer lemon aigre-doux with honey — and then there’s this tiny batch of improvised jam with honey and mint.
When I make jam with citrus, the whole fruit goes into it, rind and all. I do cut away the pithy core and discard the seeds, but the rest of the fruit goes into the pot. (For me what makes it a jam is the method of preparation; it’s not rind suspended in jelly, like a marmalade.) It’s a simple technique: simmer the fruit until it’s soft enough to pierce with a skewer, strain it, break it down in a food processor, and add sweetener — sugar if you like or, in this case, honey. The details are explained below, but sometimes I think the details make things seem more complicated than they really are. This is easy. It would be great on a scone or with a lot of other baked goods that I’m not eating right now. I’ll enjoy it on my almond-flour pancakes in the morning or as a mix-in with yogurt for dessert.
Meyer Lemon Jam with Mint and Honey
Makes about 2 cups
1 1/2 pounds Meyer lemons
1 bunch fresh spearmint
1 cup wildflower honey
1. Wash the lemons, then prep as follows: Slice each lemon lengthwise along the stem. Notch out the pith from the centers of the fruit, retaining those pithy cores so you can squeeze juice from them later. Then, using a small bowl with a strainer suspended over it, run your thumbs along the insides of the notched fruit to remove any seeds while collecting the juice in the bowl. Squeeze the lemon cores over the strainer also. The goal is to collect as much juice as you can at the same time as you are preparing the lemon halves for cooking. Set the bowl of juice aside. (There’s a photo in my post on Rangpur Lime Jam that illustrates these steps, if you want a visual guide.)
2. Place the prepared lemon halves in a large, nonreactive pot or skillet, and cover with cold water so they float freely. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the lemons are soft, about 20 minutes. (When they are ready, it should be easy to pierce them with a skewer or fork.)
3. While the lemons are cooking, prepare a mint infusion. To do this, I loosely packed a pint jar with muddled spearmint leaves and covered the leaves with boiling water. I intended to let the leaves steep for 10 minutes but they went for about 30. No problem. After steeping, strain out the leaves and set aside 1/2 cup of the mint tea. (You’ll have extra tea. I mixed mine with some honey and lemon juice to make a bonus lemonade.)
4. Drain the lemons and combine them with the set-aside lemon juice and 1/2 cup mint tea in a food processor or VitaMix. Pulse the mixture until it is coarse; don’t liquify it. You’ll want chunks of rind in the mixture so your jam doesn’t have the look and texture of baby food.
5. Transfer the fruit mixture to a glass or ceramic bowl and stir in the honey. I covered mine tightly and let it rest in the fridge overnight, but I don’t think that’s strictly necessary. You should be able to go right ahead and cook the mixture if you prefer.
6. When you’re ready to cook the jam, put it into a 6-8 quart pot (not too big) and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook for about ten minutes. Add two sprigs of fresh spearmint and cook about ten minutes more. You’ll know the jam is done when the mixture has thickened and your spoon leaves a clear track across the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently and reduce the heat if necessary to prevent sticking or scorching near the end of the cooking process. When the jam is done, remove the spent spearmint leaves.
7. Process the jam as you like. This is such a small batch that you may want to simply store it in the fridge — or you might water-bath process it in little 4-ounce jars. If you do the latter, leave 1/4-inch head space and process for 1o minutes, adding time for your elevation if necessary.
This week, I got to drive down to the central coast of California to spend a couple of days in Big Sur. That meant passing through some of the best fruit and veggie growing regions in the state. More particularly, it meant bringing home four pounds of early variety Brooks cherries from a roadside stand in Gilroy.
I already had an idea of what I wanted to do with these cherries. A couple months ago, Kate at Snowflake Kitchen had been talking about a cherry ginger jam that I bookmarked in my brain. It’s also time for rhubarb and– gah! — I’m still trying to use up my frozen supply of over-enthusiasm from last year. Because I’m off refined sugar, I wanted to see whether I could put all these things together in a honey-sweetened jam using Pomona’s Pectin.
I’ve used Pomona’s a lot (it was how I first learned to make jam), but it’s always been with either a small amount of white sugar or with no sugar and concentrated fruit juice for sweetener. (My recipes for blackberry lime jam and cherry blueberry jam are examples of those two methods, respectively.) This is the first time I’ve used only honey as a sweetener with Pomona’s, so I followed the directions pretty close to the letter.
I like this jam a lot. Here’s a quick list of the best things about it, followed by a few things to consider before you try it yourself:
- Neither the fruit nor the honey are cooked for a long time, so the flavor is fresh.
- It’s nicely tart and plenty sweet enough, and the honey flavor doesn’t overpower.
- It doesn’t require a lot of honey — just one cup — so the cost of using good honey won’t break you.
- The set is good — not too loose, not too firm.
- There’s no refined sugar!
- Commercial pectin always has a slightly gummy consistency, so there’s a little of that here.
- Because there’s no sugar, this jam will lose color quickly. Rhubarb, especially, tends to brown out. You’ll want to eat it all within a few months.
- There’s no refined sugar!
Finally, I should say that, if you don’t believe in heating honey, this recipe’s not for you. I’ve recently learned that most folks who follow an Ayurvedic diet claim that heated honey becomes toxic. Other sources say that’s a myth with no science to support it. Science does seem to support the idea that heat destroys some of the nutritional benefits of honey. A lot of tested recipes use honey for baking and preserving, however, so I’ll leave it to you to decide what works best in your book.
I’m very happy to have jams like this one on my restricted diet!
Cherry Rhubarb Jam with Ginger and Honey
Makes 5-6 half-pint jars
1 cup stewed, mashed rhubarb (about 1/2 pound)
3 cups pitted, mashed cherries (about 2 1/4 pounds)
2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 cup wildflower honey (room temperature)
4 teaspoons calcium water*
3 teaspoons pectin powder
* The calcium is in the Pomona’s box with the pectin powder, along with instructions about how to prepare the calcium water; it’s easy. I mix mine in advance and store it in the fridge for a few months.
1. Prepare your jars and lids. (You’ll process the jars for 10 minutes, so they don’t need to be sterilized but they do need to be clean and hot. I prepare my lids by placing them in a small bowl and pouring boiling water over them. The hot jars and lids can sit until you’re ready to use them.)
2. Wash the rhubarb and chop it into 1″ pieces. Put the rhubarb in a small saucepot with a little bit of water (no more than 1/2 cup) and simmer until just soft enough to pierce with a fork. (If your rhubarb happens to be frozen, like mine was, don’t add any water to the pot. Just place the frozen fruit in a covered pot over very low heat and let it soften.)
3. While the rhubarb is simmering, wash and pit the cherries and smush them well with a potato masher. Add the minced ginger and smush some more. When the rhubarb is soft, add it to the cherries and ginger and do a little more smushing. You want to end up with a total of 4 cups of mashed fruit mixture.
4. Put the fruit in a 6- or 8-quart nonreactive, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the lime juice and calcium water.
5. Measure the honey into a small bowl and stir in the pectin powder. Mix well.
6. Bring the fruit mixture to a boil for a couple of minutes, add the honey-pectin mixture, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes more. Bring the mixture back to a boil, then remove it from the heat.
7. Pour the jam into jars, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe the rims clean before adding lids, and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. (Add 1 minute to the processing time for every 1,000 feet above sea level.)