After you open the box, put the raisins in an airtight bag that seals, a plastic bin that locks, or a glass jar with a rubber ring in a heavy lid that clamps. Refrigerate, or store in a cool pantry, or deep in a cellar, so long as the cellar is dry. If the cellar is gloomy, or the stair is steep, or you quail at the prospect of going down there, send a young child who is naughty and deserves to be punished.
Raisins will retain their flavor, color, and nutritive value up to two years, if properly stored. They will keep even longer if frozen. You will be reassured to know that frozen raisins thaw quickly at room temperature. Still, if you have not used the raisins for over two years, why did you buy them in the first place?
Leaving aside the troublesome question of genetic engineering implied by the seedless variety, raisins are a delicious snack any time of the day or night. Shake a few into the palm of your hand, and clap the hand to your mouth as though you heard a piece of shocking news. Sweet and chewy, raisins contain no added sugar, no preservatives, no chemicals, no bleach, and no petroleum distillates. Raisins, after all, are sun-dried grapes.
Add raisins to bland and unpalatable foods like oatmeal, bran muffins, and hominy grits. Their dark, fruity taste provides a much-needed accent. Cinnamon and nutmeg help, too.
To declump raisins that have hardened into a brick the shape of the box they came in, use a spoon or a spatula to pry them apart. To chop them, toss one cup raisins with one teaspoon oil, and rapidly cut with a French knife. Also called a chef’s knife, this is a steel blade about eight inches long, straight and slightly curved at the tip. Surely you have one of these.
To plump them, cover raisins with very hot tap water, and soak for two to five minutes. They will transform from wrinkled brown specks to purple globes, like bugs swollen with sap that you pick off plants in the garden, or ticks engorged with blood that you find on the dog. Longer soaking will result in loss of flavor and nutritive value. Use a timer.
Made from unpasteurized whole milk, these lumps of pure goodness, known in the Midwest as cheese curds, are so light and fluffy that we prefer to call them cheese clouds. Of all shapes and sizes, no two are exactly the same, so you can imagine that they represent all kinds of things, like the clouds that pass overhead in the sky. Unlike masses of water vapor, however, cheese clouds never turn dark and threaten to spoil your day. They stay white.
We are proud to offer this all-natural product to the public from our beautiful farm in the Shenandoah Valley. Our family has owned and operated this farm for over a century—four generations of living and working on land that sustains a traditional lifestyle of rising with the sun and going to bed at dusk. Carefully bred for the quality of their milk, our herd of Guernseys grazes peacefully in lush pastures. In no small measure, the beauty and greenness of the valley result from its temperate climate and abundant rainfall, the gift of clouds. Brought down to earth, these clouds come to you in the guise of cheese.
An excellent source of calcium and protein, to build strong bones and muscles, the solid flesh that sustains our earthly frame, cheese clouds have a delicate flavor, almost as though you were feeding on air. What a dietary paradox! You can dollop them on crackers, substitute them in recipes that call for mozzarella or mascarpone, garnish them in salads, and serve them with cocktails as a finger food. You can eat them from a bowl, like a healthy snack. Lift them gently on a teaspoon, but be careful not to let them float away.
The Marquis de Chastellux wrote of a meal he had at the Bullion Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey: “Our supper was very good. Only bread was lacking, but inquiring of us what sort we wanted, in an hour’s time they served us what we asked for. This speed will appear less extraordinary if one knows that in America biscuits, which are easily kneaded and baked in half an hour, often take the place of bread. Possibly one might tire of them, but I always found them to my taste.”
In the 1780s, when Chastellux wrote, biscuits achieved lightness through labor, by beating air into dough with a mallet, or by adding quick yeast. In the 1790s, refined potash was introduced. Potassium carbonate, called pearlash, and sodium bicarbonate, called saleratus, transformed baking. Amelia Simmons published recipes that called for pearlash in 1796 her book American Cookery.
In the 1850s, commercial baking powder first appeared from Preston and Merrill of Boston. In 1857, Professor E. N. Horsford of Harvard University developed a formula for phosphate powder. “Horsford’s Bread Preparation” saved time and effort. It also reduced the chance of failure in the kitchen. Biscuits, pancakes, tea cakes, and breakfast rolls all derived lightness from this chemical reaction of acid and alkali, which releases carbon dioxide in dough.
Advances in milling wheat flour removed impurities and yielded a smooth texture. Like a Platonic idea or a geometrical asymptote, white bread achieved transcendence in the early 1900s. An indispensable item on American menus, biscuits became the bread of heaven.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
For the most part, we read in silence, like someone half asleep. We part our lips in fear, smile at a happy outcome, weep for the heroine, or snarl in disgust at the villain. Yet without our consent, the words we read resound in our heads. A moment comes when that inner sound—rhythm, cadence, alliteration, long and short vowels—rings perfectly true and wrings meaning from the words. Then the book feels light in our hands. We rise on an incoming tide. We hold on to the book for dear life. We never think of calling for help, content to float in the beauty of literature.
Robert Boucheron is an architect in Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in Fiction International, London Journal of Fiction, New Haven Review, Poydras Review, Short Fiction (UK) and The Short Story (UK). His plays were performed in 2016 in Concord, NC and Detroit, MI. More at: robertboucheron.com.