By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(This column originally appeared in the Denver Sensi Magazine 12/18)
As a kid I figured that everybody got condiments for Christmas. I expected to look among the gifts for the be-ribboned, bottle-shaped wrapping under the tree or in my stocking. I always had a major thing for wild blueberry preserves as a kid. To me they were like blueberry pie in a jar. Spread on cream cheese on cinnamon raisin toast was a blueberry cheesecake sandwich for lunch.
Knowing my predilection, my family gifted me with a jar of wild – not domesticated! – blueberry preserves or jam every December. It went well with my other pricey, sweet vice: Grade B dark Vermont maple syrup, a topping par excellence.
Other family members have their own condiment passions. My dad appreciated all sorts of mustards and pickles. My son has a devotion to Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread and certain friends are religious about hot sauce. I get happy when I can discover the secret cravings family and friends have for certain jellies, sauces, relishes, pickles, dressings and chutneys.
Colorado: Condiment Country
Colorado is now a rich source of not-shy condiments – sweet, savory, smoky, salty, fiery … and a few that are downright sexy and real tastes of this place we call home.
These artisan goodies always come with a personal tale. The recipe for the red bell pepper jelly bottled by Boulder’s nationally acclaimed Frasca Food and Wine was passed down by the grandmother of chef and co-founder, Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson. Karami Japanese Salsa was created by Japanese farmers in Colorado who substituted the seaweed in their favorite rice topper with a more available ingredient: roasted green chilies.
Lots of jarred substances are lumped together under the “condiment” family, but I focus on the ones you can spoon from the jar, crafted substances that transform plain ingredients into crave-able events. They don’t necessarily need to be “put” on something to be enjoyed, as is the case with bottled oils, cooking sauces, marinades, soy sauces and ketchup. (That said, Colorado makes a great ketchup: Elevation Organic Ketchup.)
Your table may be humbly appointed the rest of the year but come the end-of-year holidays, the special treats come out. From among the multitude of made-in-Colorado sauces, these are one I’m happy to recommend. Use them for gifts, on meat and cheese platters at family gatherings, and as an easy, memorable dish to bring to holiday gatherings, not to mention a treat for you.
Real Dill Caraway Garlic Dills
Bring genuine glee to the pickle lover on your list with these super-crunchy, handcrafted European-style beauties that taste like the very essence of a good Jewish deli sandwich. Cukes are brined with copious amounts of fresh garlic, toasted caraway seed and whole fresh dill sprigs for loads of flavor. This Denver company also bottles a profoundly good Bloody Mary mix. therealdill.com
Musso Farms Pueblo Chile Eggplant Caponata
One of Colorado’s best-known growers of the signature Mirasol or Pueblo green chile, also produces a fine example of caponata, the Sicilian-style relish/appetizer. This mouthful of umami and warmth comes from melding tomatoes, eggplant, and roasted Pueblo chilies grown on the farm with green olives, capers, olive oil and red wine vinegar. It is made to be spread on ciabatta bruschetta and served with a modest red wine. mussofarmschileroom.com
Picaflor Live Culture Srirawcha Hot Sauce
If you care about probiotics, local agriculture, bees and addictive condiments, Picaflor fills the bill, but don’t think of it as yet another hot sauce. This crimson liquid is available only in the refrigerator case with the other “alive” foods. Organic cayenne and Portugal peppers and garlic grown on the McCauley Family Farm near Longmont are blended with local honey and organic applesauce to make this smooth, balanced sauce. It’s certainly hot, but not threatening in terms of Scoville Units, and punches up the flavor of everything it touches. Since vinegar isn’t involved, Picaflor has none of that acidic Tabasco harshness. The farm also bottles pickled vegetables and probiotic items including Farm Kraut. picaflor.co
Muscat Fine Wine Jelly
Denver’s under-the-radar, family-owned Spero Winery produces Italian-style varietal wines including a sip-able muscat. Colorado Mountain Jams takes this fruity dessert wine and crafts it into a pure and simple jelly. This is not your grandfather’s grape, but a simple jelly that injects some oomph into the old PB&J. It’s perfect on a meat and cheese board – especially with soft cheeses like Mouco Camembert. For a good time, warm some muscat wine jelly and spoon it over vanilla bean gelato. plumdaisy.com
It’s great that Boulder-made Cholaca is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, sustainably-sourced and a nutrient-rich superfood. However, the reason you’ll try it is that it is incredibly tasty cacao sweetened with coconut sugar in liquid form – a chocolate bar with no unwrapping. If you’ve enjoyed a chocolate porter or stout at a local brewery, chances are it was brewed with Cholaca. Try it in your morning coffee, as hot sipping chocolate, in mole sauce for chicken, on waffles and in shakes. I have also been known to do shots for a modest theobromine buzz in the morning. cholaca.com
Frasca Red Pepper Jelly
You know about Frasca Food and Wine, currently Colorado’s most nationally acclaimed eatery? The award-winning Italian restaurant focuses on impeccably sourced and prepared ingredients matched with stellar wines and service. However, nearly from its launch Frasca has bottled a wonderfully simple red bell pepper jelly inspired by a recipe from chef/co-founder Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson grandmother. Spoon this sweet and sour elixir over a block of cream cheese and you’ve got yourself a party dip. It makes a stellar alternative to cranberry sauce with leftover roast turkey and is yum spread on leftover pizza crusts. frascafoodandwine.com
RedCamper Colorado Whiskey Peach Deliciousness
This product is beyond simply preserves or jam, so Denver’s Red Camper Picnic Supply justifiably labels it “Deliciousness.” Handmade in small batches using Coral Star, Zee Lady and other peach varieties from First Fruits Organic in Paonia, this kitchen add first class bourbon from Laws Whiskey House, lime juice, vanilla bean and sugar. You could top yogurt or use it as a hip cocktail ingredient, but I bet you’ll want to ingest this stuff directly from the container. redcamper.com
Farmhand Organics Organic Pear (Not Apple) Sauce
It is unfortunate that a wonderful condiment, pear sauce, has been largely reduced to a bland side dish/fruit for toddlers. Silky sauces like this one from Farmhand Organics (formerly MM Local) made almost entirely from ripe pear varietals is straight-from-the-jar classy with latkes, pancakes or as a sidekick for roast chicken or goose, Once you taste it you’ll never opt for the apple equivalent again. This sauce solves the dilemma for pear lovers voiced long ago by poet Ralph Waldo Emerson: “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” farmhandorganics.com
John Lehndorff is the former Dining Critic of the Rocky Mountain News. He hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles
Craft a Colorado tasting gift basket
Putting together an all-Colorado food gift is pretty easy given the wealth of first class treats available. Here are some suggestions for other foods you can add to favorite condiments:
- Start with a fine local cheese like Shepherd’s Halo from Larkspur’s Fruition Farms (fruitionfarmscreamery.com).
- Add a box of Denver-baked 34 Degrees Toasted Onion Crisps (34-degrees.com).
- For a meaty inclusion, try dry cured pepperoni from Denver’s Il Porcellino (ilporcellinodenver.com).
- For a beverage, choose two Colorado wines that won the Colorado Governor’s Cup 2018: A 2016 Cabernet Franc from Denver’s Infinite Monkey Theorem (theinfinitemonkeytheorem.com ) and a 2017 Riesling from Whitewater Hill Vineyards in Grand Junction (whitewaterhill.com).
- For a sweet finale, go with handmade, perfectly crunchy peanut brittle from Patsy’s Candies in Colorado Springs (patsyscandies.com) or intensely rich Helliemae’s Classic Espresso Caramels from Wheat Ridge (saltcaramels.com).
Caramelized Colorado Onion Relish
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 Colorado yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon thyme or sage
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat oil in a saucepan and add onions. Cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes until onions are browned. Add thyme, vinegar, sugar and pepper and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes. Taste and tweak seasonings. Serve room temperature or warm spread on sandwiches, served with cheese and spooned onto roast turkey.
Optional: Add 2 tablespoons roasted Colorado garlic
“I sometimes think the act of bringing food is one of the basic roots of all relationships.” – The Dalai Lama