Steph Squared Cafe: Stephanie Rosenbaum and her wares at the InDIYpendent Culture Faire. Photo by Stephane von Stephane
Total strangers--pleasant people all, I'm sure, but still, to me completely unknown--are waking up this morning and starting their day with jam from my kitchen. Lemon Lady Marmalade on their scones, perhaps, or Citrus Commotion on their whole-wheat toast, perhaps a little Strawberry Beautiful stirred into their goat-milk yogurt.
Before, you had to know me pretty well to score a jar of jam. I made my jams and jellies in very small batches, often from backyard or foraged fruit (blackberries from China Beach were a particular favorite), and bestowed them on holidays and birthdays to family and a few select pals. I wasn't above snooping through the recipients' cabinets a few months later; if the jam was still there, dusty and unopened, they were off the list. There were too many other people (mostly my blood relations, but still) who inhaled the stuff and promptly returned the empty jars, nudging for a refill.
But what Moliere said about writing is just as true for jamming: First you do it for love, then for a few close friends, and then for money. After the second Underground Farmers' Market, I had to send a rather abashed note to my circuit of jam fans. "Remember that jam I gave you for Christmas? I hope you liked it, because there isn't any more. I sold all the rest to strangers. For money."
This week's foray into jam-commerce was a fun and funky one, the first-ever InDIYpendent Culture Faire up in Napa. Organized as a benefit for local arts organization Wandering Rose, the Faire is a two-day event continuing today from noon to sundown. On a small-town scale, it's part Burning Man, part Maker's Faire, part all-ages, hands-on, anything-goes art class.
Just look for the spray-painted signs and the skate park set up on one side of the parking lot, next to a taco truck (a real one, not a hipster-ironic one) doing a brisk business in tortas and carne asada burritos.
Along the walls of the old furniture warehouse there were murals being painted, a bike-repair workshop in progress, a local community garden demonstrating easy backyard composting with buckets of leaves and lawn clippings, a guy drawing an elaborately detailed eight-foot-tall Egyptian mummy in colored chalk, and loads of spray-paint, chalk, and markers to share. A girl in a top hat, looking like Emily the Strange, dreamily marked a pentagram in blue chalk by the entrance. Another pair of girls chalk-traced the outlines of their sneakers, writing "Have Fun!" with an arrow pointing inside, and "No Fun" with an arrow pointing away.
Inside, a dozen tables were loaded with art supplies from feathers and tissue paper to paints, markers, crayons, and ink stamps. A woman sat on the floor in one corner, gluing scraps of cardboard and colored paper onto a panel labeled "Garbage Art". Jewelry makers displayed their necklaces draped over old baby dolls and mannequin torsos. There were zines--zines!--and poetry chapbooks, and kids lying on the floor with their arms sleeved in sock puppets. Upstairs, in a warren of small rooms, was a more formal gallery show of paintings photographs, and video art. Of course, there were bands, and teens Dumpster-diving every aesthetic: 80s punk, 90's grunge, guys with Jesus-in-Godspell hair and superhero tights.
And among all this art was the Steph Squared Cafe, offering homemade jams, cool gypsy art furniture painted by Stephane von Stephane, and copies of my honey and astrology cookbooks. And yes, the jam did sell, and I hope everyone that bought some is a little happier this morning because of it.
But the real sleeper hit of the fair was our last-minute brainwave: bowls of whipped cream and organic strawberries, dished up for $3 a pop.
Who wouldn't like strawberries and cream? For such a punk event, there were a whole lot of regular moms and kids, and we were the only dessert in town, and an organic one one at that. The inspiration was a simple one: a kitchen full of too many berries, no room in the fridge and not enough time to turn them all into jam. Enter a half-gallon of cream, a handy whipped-cream dispenser, and sticky-sweet happiness for a whole lot of kids and their parents.
While it's hard to improve on the simple perfection of strawberries and cream (the folks at Wimbleton do know their stuff), adding a biscuit and turning the affair into strawberry shortcake is the way to do it. Now, first off: to me, a true strawberry shortcake is based on a biscuit, gentle and flaky and just barely sweetened. You may think that strawberry shortcake is rightly made with those puffy yellow spongecakes sold six to a package in the supermarket, but you'd be wrong. The biscuit's buttery sturdiness of the biscuit against the intense sweet-tartness of the berries, all under a sliding avalanche of real cream just barely whipped: that is what beckons in summer with a true flourish.
For Memorial Day, coming a couple of weeks, or the 4th of July, you can add a sprinkle of blueberries for the patriotic red-white-and-blue effect. Biscuit cutters shaped like stars or hearts can give the whole presentation a little whimsy with no more effort than cutting simple circles or triangles. As for the exact layering of the berries and cream, it's up to you. Berries first (to soak the fluffy split biscuit innards with juice), a dollop of cream, then the biscuit top precariously balanced and topped with more cream and berries would be my modus operandi, but really, there's no way of not to get it right.
Do go to the farmers' market for your berries, and taste around to find your favorite variety and grower. Right now, I'm in love with the organic Albion berries from Yerena Farms, a family operation that sells at the Ferry Plaza, Civic Center, and Alemany markets in San Francisco. But I wouldn't kick the flavorful organic Chandler and Seascape berries from Tomatero Farms out of bed either. You can find them at Oakland's Grand Lake, Marin's Civic Center, and San Francisco's Alemany Markets, among others.
Look for berries that are red from stalk to tip (white shoulders and white tips are sure signs of underripeness). And take a deep whiff before you buy: strawberries that smell good, taste good.
Assemble just before serving, so the biscuits don't get soggy. You can also pass the biscuits, cream, and berries separately and let each person divine their own perfect proportions of biscuit to cream to berries. If desired, you can play around with flavoring for the biscuits. Orange rind? Cardamom? Whatever you like.
Serves 6 to 8
For the biscuits:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 tablespoons butter, very cold, cut into cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup heavy cream or half-and-half, plus a little extra for brushing tops of biscuits
4 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced (2 to 3 pint baskets)
2 tablespoons sugar
For the cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 to 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, to taste, optional
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
1. Preheat oven to 425F. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
2. Using a pastry blender, a pair of butter knives, or your fingers, cut butter into flour mixture until the butter bits are pea-sized. (You can also pulse briefly in a food processor--faster, but more stuff to clean afterwards.)
3. Add egg and cream and stir lightly until mixture just holds together. Knead gently two or three times. On a floured countertop, pat out into a round about 1 inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter or a knife, cut out into rounds or other shapes. Place on a baking sheet and brush lightly with cream.
4. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until pale golden. Remove to a rack to cool.
5. While biscuits are baking, mix strawberries and sugar, crushing a few of the berries with a fork, and set aside. As the berries sit, the sugar will draw out the juices to form a garnet-colored puddle that you can dribble inside the biscuits as you go. Lovely.
6. Once biscuits are warm, not hot, to the touch, whip the cream until just thickened. If desired, add sugar and vanilla to taste.
7. Split each biscuit and place on a plate. Add a spoonful of berries, with juice. Dollop with cream. Top with the other half of the biscuit, some more berries, and more cream. Serve.