A Use For Berries

Cooking, lately, has been less about meal planning and more about improvisation.  Our butcher offers a monthly “meat club” and the farmers markets are in full swing, which means I tend to collect a random assortment of meat and vegetables without any real idea of what to do with them.  I’ve decided to start keeping track of the meals I make with the ingredient grab bag – partly to share with you, dear reader, but mostly because I can’t remember what I did ten minutes ago without writing it down.

This past weekend, we embarked on our annual SufferFest up at Russell Orchards.  SufferFest occurs in late July when, if the weather cooperates and the stars align, the blueberries are beginning to ripen, the raspberries are in full swing, the currants are just winding down, and the blackberries are just barely reaching maturity.  The last week of July is also usually the hottest week of the year in New England, and the farm is conveniently sited right next to a small creek and marsh (a perfect habitat for mosquitoes) and the beach (where the greenhead flies wander in from).  SufferFest is a full day out in the blazing heat and sun, being eaten by bugs, in order to pick as many berries as possible before dying of heat stroke or blood loss.

Thankfully, this year the weather stayed a wonderfully moderate mid-70s with a breeze and some cloud cover, which only left the flies to do their damage to my exposed skin.  We picked about five pounds each of raspberries and blueberries, plus a pint each of red currants, black currants, and jostaberries.  The jostaberry is a black currant/gooseberry hybrid, producing a fruit similar in shape and color to a black currant but about twice as large.  While the currants were spoken for to make desserts and baked goods, the jostaberries were a bit of a wild card.

Sweet fruit sauces go well with heartier meats, but being summer I didn’t really want a very heavy meal.  Instead, I chose a boneless pork loin roast – lean on the inside but with a decent fat cap, the cut takes on a good sear but also benefits from some saucy enhancement.  Here, I took the basic idea of a Cumberland sauce and modified it for fresh jostaberries.

Cumberland sauce begins with port and is flavored with spices, sugar, citrus, and (traditionally) currant jelly with the addition of some fresh berries.  It’s very similar to American cranberry sauce (the whole berry kind, not the smooth canned stuff), and should be tart to offset the heaviness of the game or red meat it’s traditionally served with.  Here, I attempt to make the jelly in situ by cooking down the berries in a mixture of port and red wine, along with some extra sugar to cut the intense tartness of the jostaberries (some of them may have been a bit underripe).  I also wanted the sauce to flow a bit more than would be traditional, so it was served chilled but not fully set.

The choice of sides here was entirely influenced by what we had lying around in the kitchen.  I had just harvested some haricot verts from the garden, and while thinking about a starch I discovered a couple of red potatoes hiding in the produce basket.  With some time to kill and plenty of rendered fat from the pork, the choice seemed clear – fry these suckers.  Shallow frying potato chips is time consuming but entirely doable; red potatoes don’t seem to really color at all until they transition from crispy to burned, so be warned.  A more traditional frying potato would be a better choice if planning ahead.

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Roast loin of pork with jostaberry Cumberland sauce, haricot vert, and potato chips

1 boneless pork loin roast, 2 lbs or so
1/2 lb haricot vert (give or take, I harvested them from the garden)
2 red potatoes (or, you know, a good potato for frying)
1 pint of jostaberries (or currants, or cranberries…)
1/2 cup ruby port
1/2 cup red wine
1 lemon
dark brown sugar (I did not measure this)
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
pinch of ground clove
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper

To make the sauce:
Rinse the berries. Peel the skin off of the lemon and then juice it. Mix the port and red wine in a saucepan, add the spices and lemon peel, and simmer for about five minutes. Remove the lemon peel. Add in the berries and brown sugar (maybe… 1/4 cup?) and lightly simmer for about 15 minutes, until the berries pop and the sauce thickens a bit. The sauce should be tart but not overwhelmingly so; add a bit more brown sugar if it’s really puckering. Add salt to taste, then chill in the fridge.

Take the lemon juice, add 3 oz. gin, 1/4 oz. Maraschino, and 1/4 oz. creme de violette. Shake with ice and strain in to a cocktail glass garnished with a Maraschino cherry. Drink.

Everything else:
Preheat oven to 350. Rub the meat all over with salt and pepper. Sear the outside in a cast iron skillet over high heat, starting with the fat cap. Remove to a roasting pan, then put that in the oven until the meat reaches 135-140.

Stare at the skillet that is now full of pork fat. Run your gaze across the kitchen until you find two lonely red potatoes hiding in the produce basket. Decide that you have some time to kill until your wife gets home. Slice the potatoes 1/8″ thick with a mandoline, then cook in batches in the pork fat over medium-high heat until crispy but not burned; they probably won’t color much. Drain on a cooling rack set in a sheet pan, and sprinkle salt over them while still warm.

Reach for the pot to steam the haricot vert. Think forward to after the meal when there will be yet another pan to clean if you pull it out of the cupboard. See the pork fat shimmering on the stove top, beckoning. Close the cupboard and toss the beans in the hot oil instead. Cook 2-3 minutes until tender and just barely browned in spots.

Cut the pork into about 1/2″ slices, fan on the plate, and arrange the beans and chips artfully around it. Spoon sauce over the pork.

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