If you are in a jam, just go for the preserves

December 27, 2006|By ROB KASPER

Sometimes the way to spruce up supper is hiding in the fridge, in the form of preserves sitting in a jelly jar.

That proved to be the case the other night, an instance when supper sneaked up on me. I had been immersed in the usual late-December duties - decking the halls, stringing the lights, watching televised football - when mealtime appeared on the horizon.

I pulled open the freezer and considered various possibilities - a block of chicken breasts, a string of Italian sausages, a slab of something unidentifiable - then my eyes settled on pork tenderloin. That, I decided, would be dinner.

After it thawed, I could cook it in the backyard kettle cooker. Yet even with the help of smoke from hickory wood, the bland tenderloin would need a flavor boost.

So I grabbed a jar of homemade fruit preserves from the jelly shelf and a bottle of store-bought barbecue sauce. I mixed contents of the two and painted the pork with it.

The work of two women had inspired me to pick up the jelly jar. One was Karen Adler, author of The Best Little Barbecue Sauces Book, a 96-page treasure published in 2000 by Celestial Arts of Berkeley, Calif. Adler is a Kansas City, Kan., girl who grew up eating barbecue every Friday night and is a member of the BBQ Queens, a noted Kansas City-area barbecue team.

I have used her book so often to whip up concoctions that some of the pages are stuck together with sauce drippings. But page 83 was free of stains. It had an illustration of a hog and a very simple recipe for a fruit glaze.

Just mix a cup of your favorite bottled barbecue sauce with 1/4 cup of fruit preserves, the recipe read. In a note, Adler said blueberry, raspberry, cherry and apricot preserves were her favorites.

"I only use preserves," Adler told me in a telephone interview, "not jellies. Maybe in a pinch you could use a jam." Preserves are thicker than jellies or jam, she said. They also could be less sweet depending, Adler said, on who made them. Preserves made in Europe are generally more tart than the mass-market product made in the United States, she said.

My preserves were made with blackberries by Janie Hibler, a friend and cookbook author who lives in Portland, Ore. Her latest book, The Berry Bible, extols the many virtues of berries, including blackberries.

The blackberries were housed in a small Mason jar that Hibler had sent me. Hibler's now-smudged handwritten label reminded me that the jar had been in my fridge a while. Yet when I tasted the contents, the dark berries still had that distinctive, sought-after tang.

The store-bought barbecue sauce I had on hand was Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce. I often use it as a base sauce. Straight from the bottle, it is too sweet for me. But when doctored up with chopped garlic, onions or a squirt or two of lemon juice, it is a serviceable sauce.

At first taste, the mixture of blackberries and barbecue sauce was cloying. I was able to tone down the sugary notes with some shots of fresh lemon juice.

When the mixture had that right blend of fruit and sweetness I put it on the pork, twice.

The first time I used the mixture as a side sauce, spooning it on my plate next to slices of cooked pork. It brought lively, citrus flavor to what, admittedly, was a pretty bland piece of pork. The next night I used it as a glaze, painting the leftover tenderloin, then heating it up in the oven. It gave the leftover new life.

Cooking anything with a glaze is tricky because the sugar in it tends to burn before the meat is done. That is why when I am cooking something on the grill, I wait until it is almost done before I add a glaze. Adler said when using a glaze, she cooks meat over an indirect fire and adds the glaze during the last five minutes.

Many times I have surveyed the contents of the fridge, asking myself what can I grab that will help perk up supper. In the past I have reached for mustard, garlic, onions, lemons and limes. Now I won't be afraid to reach for the preserves in the jelly jars.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

Podcasts featuring Rob Kasper are available at baltimoresun.com/kasper.

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