Because I have been cooking since I was a teenager (the legend goes: my mom caught chicken pox from me, when I was thirteen, and dictated recipes from her sickbed. The first thing I cooked was short ribs braised in red wine with bayleaves and juniper berries; the second, roast chicken - bird-bread is another story and belongs to my childhood: it involved bent beaks and derisive laughter from my brothers) and because my mother was a wonderful teacher - very much inspired by Elizabeth David - example and mentor, along with Señor Christie, written about in these posts; because I read copiously the introductions to many recipe books by Michelin-starred chefs (Troisgros, Vergé, Raymond Blanc, Georges Blanc, brothers Roux) brought back by my parents from their travels - always the best parts of the books because they spoke of childhood and philosophy and principle - and then worked my way right through the books; and because I was privileged enough to have eaten (a handful of times) at seriously serious, Michelin-starred restaurants and had a good taste memory...; and because my reading and eating expanded beyond the French influence, later, and Marcella Hazan, Ruth Grey and Rose Rogers (Italian), Dianna Kennedy, Rick Bayless (South O' the Border), Paula Wolfert and Claudia Roden (Middle East and North Africa), Charmaine Solomon, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Southern Asia) were significant early influences and teachers, from their pages and in some cases, restaurants...(phew): there is not that much that I have not cooked.
I mean, that's relative. Of course. But generally, mousses, soufflés, terrines and pâtés and torchons of foie gras (well, once), daubes, stews, casseroles, moles (the dish not the animal), roasts, confits, cassoulets, consommés, sauces, crusts and bread, jellies and syllabubs, ice creams, tartes tatins, and crême brulée, are to me as intimidating as breathing (although more concentration is required...), and a lot better tasting.
But jam. This year has taught me about jam. I have made jam before, but for the first time I started early in the season and have been jam making solidly as the next fruits ripen. So I now know what I had forgotten: that the best teacher is repetition. Don't fret if your first and second and third roast chickens are not quite right. The next one may be. You will learn every time you make one, what works, what doesn't, what it looks like, smells like, sounds like. Cooking is as much about listening as it is about watching and tasting. And shopping, and choosing.
Today I made plum jam, my first, and it is very pretty. I haven't tasted it yet, but I will for breakfast tomorrow. But this, the fifth batch of jam this summer, is really the first time I felt quite comfortable with the process, and not overly anxious. I recognized signs and waited and relaxed, but not too much, and knew when it sounded right, beyond the hallowed two drips that must form on the side of a spoon before it is ready.
What I now call First Foam and Second Foam...to be skimmed.