Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Preservation Windfall

As you may have noticed, I had no market report this weekend. That's because I ended up heading to the Farm with the Renaissance Man Friday evening and didn't get back until late last night.

I haven't been to the Farm for a good visit since the fish-filled farm gathering in early July, and I've missed it. But with so many construction and cleanup projects going on there, and so many food preservation projects going on here, I just had to be patient.

Still, it was good to get out this weekend and to enjoy wandering around the better part of 60 acres to see what's been going on in my absence. And, as I always do when I'm there, I kept my eyes open for wild edibles.

Though some of my favorites are still growing -- plenty of lamb's quarters and such, plus another good harvest of red clover blossoms for the taking -- I was especially thrilled to find that the crabapple trees in front of the house were not only loaded with fruit, but they had dropped many windfalls. And with the Renaissance Man's amused blessing, I grabbed a bag and went out to pick.

They're not pretty, given the bruises and wormy spots. But once I had a chance to sit down this afternoon, I washed and cut up the crabapples, getting rid of the nasty bits, and tossed them into a pot of water laced with lemon juice.

The point of that, of course, was to simmer the crabapples into softness before turning them into crabapple butter.

Just like when I make applesauce, I ran the simmered crabapples through my sturdy chinois, pressing out the pulp and leaving skins and seeds behind.

But to make a fruit butter, as with apple butter, you have to cook the fruit pulp a while longer to let it thicken and deepen in flavor. I decided to pour the crabapple puree into a casserole dish, added some maple sugar and spices, and let it continue to cook in the oven while I moved on to another project.

Once it had thickened enough to suit my tastes, I poured the crabapple butter into hot sterilized jars, added lids and rings, and processed them in a boiling water bath (for the same amount of time as applesauce).

And there you have it! Foraged fruit, cooked and civilized into glass jars for winter. What fun!

What could be butter?

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jar You Ready For Fall?

Another cool, grey, damp day greeted me as I left the house this morning, with a sweater tossed on top of the rest of my outfit. There's definitely more than a hint of fall in the air!

So when I arrived home today, I decided to heat things up in the kitchen just a little.

You may have been wondering what I hoped to do with the second eggplant I bought at yesterday's CSA pickup. When I made up my list of things to preserve this year, the memory of a rich and tangy pickled eggplant savored with the fair Titania at a Middle Eastern restaurant in Philadelphia last fall came to mind.

None of my books contained a pickled eggplant recipe that sounded quite like what I had tasted, but a Google search pulled up a Syrian recipe and an Indian one, both of which sounded a little closer to what I had enjoyed.

In the end, I decided to try the Madras pickled eggplant and pulled out a variety of vegetables from my CSA: eggplant, jalapeno peppers, and garlic, along with fresh ginger, a variety of spices, cider vinegar (not local -- I haven't been able to restock yet this season), and local honey.

I followed the recipe almost exactly to the letter (save that I didn't have cumin and fenugreek seeds and used the powdered version instead), sautéing the eggplant for a while before adding a spice paste, the chopped vegetables, and the rest. As it simmered, it gave off a nose-tingling aroma of a very spicy and tangy barbecue sauce from some distant shore: delicious!

Once the mixture had cooked, I packed the ingredients into sterilized jars, added lids and rings, and processed them in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes, ending up with just over two pints of an exciting new side dish or relish for my Indian meals this winter.

Since I had met with such success on that front, I decided to go ahead and can my new tomatoes a little early. Instead of saucing them, though, I simply skinned and crushed or chopped them, heating them before packing jars and processing the lot. I don't plan to make as many jars of canned tomatoes this year since I tend to use the sauce more, but I might as well get some done now.

And after all that, I decided that it was time to pull out the potato leek soup recipe from my CSA sheets again and actually follow through in making it! It made a lovely, comforting meal for a damp evening, especially topped with a few little croutons made with bread from the local bakery. Even the Renaissance Man, who joined me for the meal, approved.

I'm sure I'll be doing a lot more canning over the next month or so to finish filling the pantry for winter, so it's nice to take an evening to get a little done toward that goal.

I'm not ready yet, but I'm getting there.

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A Slice of Life

I don't usually make an elaborate breakfast on weekdays as I'm trying to get other things done before I head to work.

I made an exception this morning.

After a steady course of yogurt and peaches lately, I decided to make something more substantial and pulled out my steel cut oats and the new jug of whole milk to make a thick oatmeal. But while it simmered, I had to appease my stomach with something else:

Fresh cantaloupe. Isn't that a day brightener?

Well, how could I resist? Every time I opened the refrigerator to get out items for my lunch, I smelled that rich, ripe fragrance.

So I cut into it, scooped out the seeds, and sliced it, enjoying two big slices for breakfast and tucking a few more in for my lunch (and perhaps even to share).

Oh, and is it ever good! Homegrown really does taste better, and this cantaloupe tops any I've ever eaten before: juicy but firm and full of good flavor.

That's sweet!

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? Week 13

Was it just last week I talked about the beautiful weather we always seem to get on CSA pickup day?

Well, shut my mouth. Today we had a distinct taste of fall, with lowering skies, drizzling rain, and chilly air. Brrr!

But that didn't stop me from tramping out to the fields to take a look at the farm:

Looks like the Lady Bountiful has planted plenty of lettuce to get us through fall, and though I couldn't tell how many varieties were planted, I definitely spotted Freckles (my new favorite).

We're definitely going to be seeing lots of peppers in our baskets from here on out, too. These plants in the former lettuce house are loaded with big green peppers, and I hope soon we'll start to see them turn to red.

I picked some lambs' quarters from the edge of another field as I headed back to the garage, and though I had expected a wait since we arrived after everyone else, the Lady Bountiful surprised me by having all the produce organized in individual share crates this week (instead of the usual overflowing baskets of individual vegetables).

This week's share, divided with My Dear Papa once again, included:

--two Walla Walla sweet onions (split)
--one eggplant (mine, plus I bought an extra)
--two green peppers (told you!; both to my folks)
--one green zucchini (mine)
--one summer squash (my folks)
--three bulbs garlic (one for them, two for me)
--one pint okra (split)
--one quart medium and hot peppers (split)
--four pounds tomatoes (split)
--one quart Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes (my folks)
--one pint tomatillos (most to me)
--three pounds Red Pontiac potatoes (split)
--one cucumber (my folks)

Whew! Guess I'll be doing some more preserving and cooking soon. (With all the peppers coming my way, I may even have to try pickled peppers or pepper relish this year. We'll see.)

Afterward, we headed back to my folks' place, and while the Chef Mother and I assembled grilled cheese sandwiches (I told you it was a chilly evening), My Dear Papa simmered tomatoes and okra (both from the CSA) together for a savory dish. It made for a simple but satisfying meal, made all the more enjoyable by giving thanks for the Lady Bountiful and all her hard work before we ate.

Though fall is definitely on the way, it's good to enjoy the taste of summer!

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Melon Dollar Baby

Things have been pretty quiet in the garden of late, which is why I haven't had much of an update in recent weeks.

After pulling the Tiger Eye bean plants, weeding, and sowing more kale seeds, not much new has happened. Surprisingly, I did end up harvesting some cannellini beans that the Mystery Muncher didn't take, but I think I'll save them to sow next year as there's not really a whole lot to cook.

The tomatoes continue to ripen slowly, and the Southern Belle reports that my younger nephew, Scooter, especially enjoys looking for and picking the little tomatoes that are ready to fall into his hands. She also notes that the whitefly population seems to be less noticeable since we dusted the tomato plants with (of all things!) all-purpose flour. (My Dear Papa suggested that, and it seems to be working. Not sure if it just confuses the white flies or if they appreciate whole grains more!)

And while the watermelon and cantaloupe vines have had fruit growing steadily on them, I've been getting more and more impatient to start harvesting them and enjoying my first melons of the year.

Well, as of this evening, I need wait no more.

The Southern Belle stopped by to deliver the very first cantaloupe from our garden, and it's a precious little beauty, about 5 1/2" in diameter and just big enough to cup in her hands. It's definitely ripe as it has a deliciously potent fragrance of truly good cantaloupe.

Now that's wealth for you: home-grown fruit at the peak of ripeness!

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Things That Go Slump In the Night

I was so excited about the little plums I found at the farmers' market on Saturday. They looked just like the juicy, sweet little morsels I found last year -- the ones that made such a glorious cake.

But unfortunately, they turned out to be a good bit shy of dead ripe, still having a good deal of firmness, a hint of green, and even a sour taste in selected specimens. (Let this be a lesson: feel the fruit before buying!)

So, after that initial mouth-puckering bite, I decided I'd probably be better off just baking with these plums and not eating them out of hand.

I sifted through my recipe books and found in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook a recipe for a pear-cherry slump that sounded like it could be easily adapted.

What's a slump, you ask? Good question!

It turns out that the traditional cobbler has many close kin where baked fruit desserts are concerned. Cobblers have pieces of cut-out biscuit dough laid on top of the fruit, crisps and crumbles have (you guessed it) crumbly toppings that crisp up in the oven, and slumps and grunts (what wonderful names!) use a moist batter to top the fruit, which releases the steam to cook the batter. Slumps and grunts, according to my book, can also be cooked on top of the stove (and were especially well done on a woodstove, quietly humming to themselves all day), and as the dough steams and bubbles, it "grunts."

Being a bit of a lazy sort this evening -- having spent my energy in canning three more pints of tomato sauce -- I decided to make the slump, thinking that the batter would be quicker to make than the biscuit dough.

I washed, halved, and pitted the plums and arranged them in a greased square baking pan before drizzling them with some leftover ground cherry syrup (again, too lazy to mix a fresh syrup from scratch!). The batter came together easily, and though I had a bit too much, I slopped it on top of the plums (well, that's the gist of the recipe's instructions) and drizzled that with a little more ground cherry syrup to create the steamed effect.

Really, I didn't follow half the directions, but wouldn't you know it, forty minutes later I had a pretty good looking dessert!

The dough was tender and tasty, and the plums had absorbed enough sweetness to modify the tartness of the fruit. Just right!

I suppose I should try the recipe the right way next time -- or even make a proper cobbler, biscuits and all -- but I'm not going to lose sleep over this dish.

Plum Slump

I modified this recipe heavily from the one in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book, partly out of what ingredients I had on hand, but mostly out of laziness. If you have a simple syrup (flavored or not) on hand -- that's 1:1 sugar or honey to water, brought to a boil and cooked until sugar is dissolved -- you can use that as I did the ground cherry syrup. If not, splash the fruit with 1/4 c orange juice (or other fruit juice?) and 1/4 c sugar. Boil a similar syrup to drizzle over top.

1 c spelt flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
3 T unsalted butter
2 T maple sugar
1 large egg
1/2 c milk or half and half

4 c (or so) washed, halved, pitted plums
drizzle of simple syrup (roughly 1/4 c)

more simple syrup on top

Sift together flour, baking powder, ginger, and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in maple sugar. In small bowl, beat egg and milk together, then add to dry ingredients to make a lumpy batter.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a 9" square baking pan.

Arrange plums in bottom of pan and drizzle with syrup. Drop spoonfuls of batter on top of plums, leaving space in between dollops of batter. Drizzle a little more syrup over the batter.

Bake for 40 minutes, until batter is golden brown and fruit is bubbling. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 12

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: August, Week 4

As August winds down, I realize that thanks to all the canning and preserving I've done, I really haven't done much cooking for myself.

I've eaten, to be sure, but my home cooking has often been limited to one vegetable cooked quickly for most meals, unlike the more complex dishes cooked at the hands of others (whether by My Wonderful Parents or at the restaurants my family has patronized of late).

For a while there, it looked like my featured local meal for August might look like a dish of fried okra! But have no fear. Once in a while, I do find reason to cook something a little more colorful.

I ended up cooking dinner on my birthday and sharing it with the Renaissance Man and another friend. It seemed to me a more low-key way to celebrate, especially since I had been so lavishly treated by my family the weekend before.

I roasted a bunch of Fairy Tale eggplant, scraped out the pulp, and pureed it with a small amount of tomato pulp the day before my birthday and set it in the refrigerator. Then, when I was ready to throw dinner together, I sautéed some garlic, added the eggplant puree and more tomatoes, sprinkled it with fresh basil and drizzled it with balsamic vinegar, and let it simmer to deepen the flavors before serving it over whole wheat pasta.

Along with steamed broccoli, it was a delicious meal that featured all local vegetables -- except for the salad, but I'm not complaining about that because it, too, was good. And we enjoyed it with the remains of a bottle of blush wine from a local winery.

Alas, I have no photos of that meal, so you'll have to take my word for it.

The photo-featured local meal for this month, then, will have to be the dish of roasted vegetables I took to a potluck today: sweet corn, red and purple potatoes, leeks, and cherry tomatoes, all local, drizzled with olive oil and roasted at 400 F for about 40 minutes (with regular stirring).

Inspired by the tomatillo salsa I made Friday, I also pulled out this week's CSA recipe for roasted tomatillo sauce. I combined the last tomatillos with a small red onion and some garlic, drizzled them with olive oil and roasted them at 400 F for about 30 minutes (until very tender), and then pureed them with lime juice and oregano to make a pale yellow-green sauce to add to the roasted vegetables.

Since there were so many dishes on the potluck table, people only took a spoonful of the vegetables, and I took the remains home for later meals. But by evening, as I was thinking about making a quiche, I decided that instead of whipping up a sauté of other vegetables, I'd just dump the roasted vegetables into the tart shell, cover them with beaten eggs, and bake the lot.

That worked very well! I know it seems odd to have potatoes in a quiche, but it worked out more like a fritatta, and with a little of that tomatillo sauce on top, it turned out to be a tasty dinner dish (and likely a good breakfast or lunch, too!).

Yes, August is quickly slipping away, but at least I know that in a month, I should be about done with canning and most other forms of food preservation. There's still much to do -- more tomatoes to sauce and can, applesauce to make, possibly a last jam, some liqueur, and some fruit butter -- but the end is in sight.

If you've been playing along with this preservation game, you'll be glad to know that soon you'll be able to sit back, breathe a sigh of relief, and rest on your laurels.

Fall is coming, and the hard work will end soon. I promise!

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Market Report: 8/23/08

After last week's late arrival at the farmers' market, I knew two things: first, I wanted to get to the market earlier, but second, I knew I didn't have to get there extremely early because anything would be an improvement (and a relief to my favorite farmers!)!

So the Renaissance Man and I strolled down to the market in the morning light, arriving shortly after the market opened, and wandered around to see what everyone had for sale. Though I'd had a lot of vegetables after this week's CSA pickup, yesterday's canning session left me with little to make meals for the next few days, so I knew I needed to restock to a certain extent.

Added to that mission was a call from My Dear Papa to find him another batch of elderberries since what he had gotten in our CSA share this week wasn't quite enough to make his favorite elderberry pie recipe.

Not a problem!

I started by picking up four ears of corn (for one dollar!) from a booth of eager young folks. I haven't eaten much corn fresh this summer as I've either frozen or dried the bulk of it, but I thought a side of corn might go nicely with fried okra, with the okra coming from the Lady Bountiful, of course!

The Lady Bountiful had also held back two bags of elderberries since she thought she had remembered me expressing an interest in them on Wednesday, so I gladly relieved her of one in order to fulfill My Dear Papa's wish. Easy enough!

Across the way, I spotted some luscious little plums and more Reliance grapes at the local orchard's tent, so I decided to splurge on plenty of good fruit for the week. I might even get around to baking something with either item. Who knows?

Back across the parking lot, we visited with the Spelt Farmer who, among many other items, had the first small pears of the season. I bought a basket of six pears, not sure if I would bake with them, eat them, or turn them into liqueur.

The Cheerful Lady had stopped me along the way to let me know she had brought plenty of paste tomato "seconds" (bruised, split, or otherwise unattractive) following my request last week for canning tomatoes, so I headed over to her table and enjoyed a friendly bit of harassment from her husband, Handyman Joe. I ended up buying half a peck of the seconds as well as half a peck of Transparent apples for the first applesauce of the season.

And before we headed back up the road, the Renaissance Man and I chatted with the Fiddlin' Farmer (a fellow contra dancer), and I walked away from his tent with a pint of his organic cherry tomatoes.

Dropping most of the produce at my place, we picked up my canning equipment, a flat of jars, and some of the fruit to deliver to My Wonderful Parents. My Dear Papa was tickled with his elderberries, and the Chef Mother raised an eyebrow but chuckled when I said I was leaving the Transparent apples with her to make sauce for me. (Hey, she wanted to make applesauce but hadn't bought her own apples yet. Why not start on mine? I'm such a thoughtful daughter, I know.)

Mission accomplished!

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Kids Say the Gardenest Things!

I'm not the biggest fan of kids in general, but I do think My Adorable Nephews are pretty neat. And when their birthdays roll around, I like to give them something special.

A few months ago
I found a wonderful children's cookbook by Mollie Katzen (of Moosewood fame) called Pretend Soup, and as I flipped through the pages, reading the simple but healthy recipes and delighting in the colorful drawings that outlined each step, I knew I'd found the perfect birthday gift for Beaker, my elder nephew.

So, for his seventh birthday last month, I wrapped it up and gave it to him. And the response was overwhelmingly positive. When I called him the day after his birthday, he thanked me and, at my prompting, said he first wanted to try the quesadilla recipe in the book. (His mother, the Southern Belle, then reported that Beaker had been grinning from ear to ear as we spoke and that he was very excited to try all the recipes with me.)

Success! I thought. Another young person converted to the joy of cooking -- I love it!

But I didn't realize until today just how much an impact the cookbook has had on my nephew already:

I received a handwritten thank you note from Beaker, surely prompted by his mother but no less meaningful for that. And though his words of thanks were simple, he covered the back side of the page with additional thoughts:

Clearly the quesadillas are still on his mind! But he also depicted the tomatoes (or "tomdos") from the garden, the eggshells (upper right) we sprinkle around some of the plants to keep away the creepy crawlies, and -- most flattering of all -- the inclusion of his beloved "Auntie Jen" (yes, that's me) in his family of four (with his little brother off to the left). Though I find it funny how he perceives me, the tallest of the adults, to be in the middle size-wise, I'm thrilled that he put me smack dab in the midst of the people he loves most.

This year's garden has been a wonderful way for us to spend more time together and for the boys -- Beaker especially -- to get more interested in vegetables through learning their life cycles, and I think it has made them both a little more open to trying new foods in the kitchen.

And now, I can hardly wait to get into the kitchen and cook with them again!

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It Takes Tomato to Tango


The color of intensity, of passion, of love, of fire and of the spark and heat of life, red turns out to be one of the most abundant colors at the market this time of year. Brimming with juiciness and zest, red shows up in mature sweet and hot peppers, grapes, the depth of a plum's or a peach's blush, the grainy succulence of watermelon, and -- let's not ever forget -- the glorious variety of tomatoes.

It's enough to make a diehard market fan like me swoon with desire for all that delicious food. Is it any wonder, then, that I needed a day off today to put up more tomatoes for the winter?

I started off with two different batches of salsa (because, of course, I can't settle for one when there's new produce and recipes to be tried). Looking at the bowl of tomatillos that had piled up between last week's market visit and this week's CSA share, I decided to begin with a green salsa recipe.

The tart and tangy tomatillos (related both to tomatoes and to ground cherries) mingled with sweet onion, garlic, hot peppers, lemon juice, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper to make a pale green stew of heat and flavor. It definitely has a little pucker power!

For the second batch, I turned to the salsa recipe I used last year (found in the USDA Guide to canning tomatoes and tomato products, the same source for my tomatillo salsa recipe), which followed a similar recipe save for the replacement of the lemon juice with vinegar.

Both turned out to be small batches -- one jar of green and two of red -- but since I still have two jars of last year's salsa begging to be used, I think this will prove sufficient for my needs this winter.

After a quick run downtown to restock my lemon juice and other goods, I returned to make this year's first batch of tomato sauce.

I decided to liven the steady but repetitive pace of skinning and pureeing tomatoes with a little tango music on my iPod, and I soon found myself swirling the tomatoes around the chinois as I might myself be swirled in tempo across the dance floor. And before I knew it, I had a pot of tomato puree ready to cook down on the stove -- a pot that later yielded nearly five pints of sauce.

But I didn't clean out my tomato stash for all this work. The tomatoes that the Southern Belle and I had picked from the garden earlier in the week seemed a little small for me to want to use them in sauce, so I saved a few for lunch.

Sliced and spread on a bed of peppery nasturtium leaves, this light lunch offered a perfect, easily savored complement to all the tomatoes cooked and canned earlier in the day.

As I survey the growing number of red jars on my pantry shelves, I'm intensely proud of all the work I've done so far, even though I know I have more to can. (I'm also thrilled at the prospect of being able to throw together good dinners with the contents of those jars come winter, leaving me more time to go dancing.)

And I love seeing them there!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? Week 12

Every week, it seems like the best weather accompanies us on the drive to pick up our CSA share. I don't know how it works out that way, but it's fitting.

Maybe that's because every week's basket includes a collection of sun-ripened, juicy, flavorful produce that seems to have soaked up the best of what the world has to offer.

Take the tomatoes, for instance. My tomatoes are currently struggling on the vine, tormented by white flies and tempered by a lack of warm nights to ripen them. But the Lady Bountiful's tomatoes, protected by the high tunnel, are large and abundantly ripe and gorgeous.

Her varieties this week included the usual array of Lemon Boy, Goliath, Better Boy, and a handful of heirlooms, and she also offered us pints of cherry tomatoes and tomatillos as well.

But that's not all!

This week's collection of produce included:

--one Superstar white sweet onion (mine)
--one quart green or yellow beans (yellow, for my folks)
--one Purple Beauty eggplant (mine)
--two green peppers (for my folks)
--two medium Multipik summer squash (split)
--two bulbs garlic (mine)
--one pint okra (for my folks)
--one quart medium and hot pepper medley, including poblano, Romanian, salsa, serrano, jalapeno, and cayenne peppers (split)
--four pounds of tomatoes (split)
--one pint red or yellow cherry tomatoes (for my folks)
--one pint tomatillos (mostly mine)
--three pounds Kennebec potatoes (split)
--one pound elderberries (for my folks -- My Dear Papa loves elderberry pie!)
--four leeks (mine, and I'd better do something quick!)
--one large cucumber (mine)

The recipes on this week's sheet included elderberry bread and tomatillo sauce, so now I'm torn between trying to make tomatillo salsa (to can) or that sauce. Maybe both!

And I think that will keep me busy this weekend!

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Date With Fame

I know it's been a while since I've posted much in the way of recipes (outside of canning, of course). I just haven't been cooking much beyond the most basic of meals.

But some time ago, the kind folks at a relatively new recipe site called Key Ingredient spotted my strawberry-date bars and wanted to feature them.

Being easily flattered :-) I said yes. And now that recipe is up at Key Ingredient for others to enjoy.

I'm tickled to be included, and if you browse their blog, you'll find plenty of other delicious-sounding recipes from other food blogs around the world.

It's about all the fame I can handle, really, and I'm happy I can make more people hungry for good food, especially for a good dessert with local ingredients.

Thanks! And enjoy!

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: August, Week 3

When summer's fruits appear in all their fragrant abundance at the local market, it seems like we'll have sweet, juicy fruit forever.

We don't, of course, for fruits seem to have even shorter seasons of ripeness than vegetables, and if we want to enjoy them at their peak, we have to hurry up!

Storing fruit for the winter just isn't the same since it never tastes quite as good as when it was fresh and dripping with nectar and warmed by the summer sun. But I do end up preserving a good deal of fruit simply because the fruit that appears in the supermarket in midwinter is far less appetizing.

So I hedge my bets. I dry lots of berries and cherries for baking, and I load up bags of more fruit to fill the freezer. Some I'll even sweeten and cook into jam.

But by late summer, I'm running out of room, and I've got a different preferred method for preserving the late summer fruits like peaches and pears.

This is the time of year for canning fruit, even when it's still hot enough outside to make me think twice. For peaches and pears, I like to have that juiciness kept bottled up in a sweet syrup, ready to be released for a dessert topping or even to mix into oatmeal.

As always, you can find basic canning information in my two favorite preservation books, Stocking Up and Putting Things By. But I also reach for Canning and Preserving Without Sugar because I like being able to make a barely sweet packing syrup from white grape juice, lemon juice, and water.

Canning is pretty easy, and if you follow instructions, it should be foolproof. Follow the usual guidelines:

1. Check your equipment (no nicks or cracks in the jars, please!) and have everything laid out ahead of time.

2. Use fruit that is ripe enough to eat in order to get the best amount of natural sweetness, and avoid blemished fruit.

3. Read through the entire recipe first, then follow it to the letter.

4. Follow the exact times for the boiling water bath; though the sugars in fruit (and added to it) help preserve it, you won't have a safe seal without the boiling water bath.

On Sunday, My Fabulous Aunt, bringer of fresh peaches, peeled the peaches while I set up everything in the kitchen and started chopping the peach halves into bite-sized pieces. I packed the hot sterilized jars, pressing the fruit down to get as much in as possible.

Once I had the jars filled, I poured the hot syrup into the jars in small quantities, stopping often to run a chopstick around the sides to release air bubbles before adding more syrup.

After that step, I wiped down the rims of the jars, added lids and rings, and set them aside. When all the jars were filled, we loaded the canner and let the boiling water bath do its work.

Half an hour later, I had seven pints of chopped peaches packed in a light low-sugar syrup, ready for winter. You'll notice a bit of space at the bottom of the jars with no peaches: that's what happens when you don't press the contents down as you go to squeeze out air and squeeze in more fruit. It's fine, but you do want to pack the jars as fully as you can, while leaving some room for syrup.

In selecting a recipe, you might choose the raw-pack method (which I used here) or the hot pack method, which involves cooking the fruit in the syrup, then adding it all into the jars together. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but I do like the raw pack method because I can deal with the fruit first, then make the syrup and bring everything up to temperature before the boiling water bath.

You can also can plums, apricots, berries, and apples in this fashion, though I'm pretty well stuck on just peaches and pears.

And though the taste won't be the same as sinking your teeth into a dead-ripe fruit, it can still brighten a winter day with memories of summer.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hip, Hip, Hooray!

Remember back to your health and nutrition classes in school, when you learned about vitamins and minerals and the main sources of them all?

Remember what food you were told was a great source of vitamin C?

Well, of course, you do. Between those classes and excellent marketing, we all associate orange juice (and, all right, other citrus fruits) with vitamin C. Go to the head of the class!

But citrus fruits don't grow abundantly in northern Ohio (though I've seen them in hothouses). And even though I bend the locavore rules in winter to enjoy fresh oranges, I also know that there are other sources of vitamin C that do grow abundantly here in the north.

And at the top of that list, you will find rose hips.

Would you believe that these small fruits have many times the amount of vitamin C that oranges do? One of my herbal books indicates a twentyfold increase in the amount of vitamin C -- pretty impressive!

I've enjoyed cooking with rose petals in the past, but the bushes I harvested those petals from did not produce plump hips once the flowers had withered. Not every variety of rose does, but those that do are easily identified from the brilliant orange-red bulbous growths on the stems once the flowering season has past.

The Sheep Lady brought some such rose hips to the market yesterday, and as soon as I spotted them, I knew I had to buy her out. I've used dried rose hips in herbal tea during the winter to boost my stores of vitamin C, and finding a local source for them made me ecstatic.

So this morning I pulled out the bag of rose hips and trimmed the blossom ends (and some large stem ends) before cutting the hips into quarters. While rose hips can and often are dried whole, I didn't know how moist they would be inside and thus how long it would take to dry them.

Once I had a parchment-covered baking sheet loaded with all the rose hips, I slid the pan into the oven and set the temperature at the lowest setting (170 F for me). And on I went into the day's activities.

By evening, though, the hips seemed dry enough to remove from the oven, so I pulled them out to cool. One of my herbal books indicates that the hips should then be crushed with a rolling pin and sifted to remove the little hairs found on and in the hips. (So I'm not done yet.)

From the looks of things, I should be able to brew a good number of vitamin-rich brews! And if I like, I might even make a syrup from some of the fruit for homemade cough medicine.

And that, in my book, gives me plenty of reason to cheer.

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Battle of the Bulge

Whenever My Fabulous Aunt comes to visit, we usually have an exchange of some sort, passing along things we've saved up for each other in the past months.

At this time of year, of course, food is high on that list. She brought a large quantity of peaches from one of her local farmers, and I had set aside two pints of the family recipe hot dill pickles for her.

But when I pulled the jars from their storage space, I had an unpleasant surprise.

It may be difficult to tell from this photo (I couldn't get a better view), but the jar on the bottom, formerly sealed, has in the past few weeks UNsealed. The "button" in the middle of the lid has popped up, compared to the pulled-in button on the top jar's lid, and there's a definite aroma of dill pickle coming from the box.

And of the dozen pints of pickles I put up, two had bulging lids, meaning they had managed to come unsealed.

I'm baffled. I know that they sealed fine after the boiling water bath, and they were still sealed when I packed them in a box and stored them in a closet. But since I put the box away two or three weeks ago and I don't know when the jars unsealed, I had to dump the contents.

Had the jars not sealed to begin with, I could have salvaged them by storing them in the refrigerator and using them promptly. But since I don't know how long the contents might have been exposed to warm air, I'm not willing to risk the health of any of my family or friends.

So here's a lesson for everyone practicing home food preservation (and yes, that means me, too!): check your preserved items on a regular basis. You might even keep a log as to when you've checked the seals. Use your preserved foods in good time (you can find helpful charts as to how long things should be stored), and be prepared for potential loss.

And keep a lid on it!

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Market Report: 8/16/08

Since My Fabulous Aunt and Uncle were in town for the weekend and staying at the Inn, I naturally signed up for breakfast duty for this morning. I didn't have much to do aside from reheating things and setting out the meal, but I did end up lingering at the Inn to clean up and to turn two rooms.

That meant that MFA and I made it to the farmers' market at the unspeakably late (for me) hour of 11 AM. Every farmer I visited gave me a gentle ribbing about being late, but they assured me that I hadn't missed all the good stuff.

And they were right! I found some unusual items this week, as well as some favorites:

--well over a quart of rose hips from the Sheep Lady
--potatoes and whole wheat pasta from the Herb Lady
--two pints of honey from the Bee Man
--half a peck of Reliance grapes from the local orchard
--a quart of tomatillos and a small bunch of onions from the Lady Bountiful
--spelt flour, spelt berries, and a Mediterranean flatbread (I was hungry!) from the Spelt Farmer
--some dark red paste tomatoes and six bulbs of what I learned was their farm's "mutant" garlic from the Cheerful Lady and Handyman Joe

I didn't worry about picking up any of the "basic" produce for meals since my refrigerator is still full from Wednesday's CSA pickup -- and since I know I'll be eating out a good deal this weekend with family.

That left me free to stock up on some of the things I don't see every week and to plan a couple more drying projects (the rose hips and the grapes).

And who knows what next week will bring?

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sauce What?

Lately I haven't been tackling the big preservation projects in the evenings as I've had other things I've wanted to do. But with a big weekend coming up, I decided to spend this evening making more pizza sauce.

With about 12 to 13 pounds of tomatoes (with my supply from the Lady Bountiful supplemented by my co-worker, She Who Brings Fresh Donuts -- or maybe that should be Fresh Tomatoes!) sitting on the counter and waiting for me when I came home, this was no easy task. It took probably an hour or so to get the tomatoes stemmed, skinned, blanched, and sauced, and then to assemble all the ingredients and to set the sauce to simmering.

But hey, what's a whole evening when you end up with this?

Yeah, that's eight -- count 'em, eight -- pints of homemade pizza sauce (plus a half pint you don't see out of shot), cooked and processed and sealed and cooling off.

That makes my month's total a whopping fourteen pints of pizza sauce, with enough sauce per pint to make two large pizzas. And since I often make one pizza a week during the cooler months, that should get me through over half a year.

Yeah. YEAH! I am just that good. (Can you tell I'm a little proud of myself?)

So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to relax tomorrow night and get ready for a birthday celebration weekend with family.

And then I'll decide if I want to make yet more sauce!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? Week 11

My cooking of late has been scanty, though I've certainly had plenty of excellent produce to work with, and I've mainly dined on fried okra or fresh kohlrabi and carrots or my old broccoli walnut pasta standby.

Each week when we pick up our CSA basket, though, I get inspired all over again! Last week's basket included the first of the Fairy Tale eggplant, and last evening I finally roasted it and mashed it into baingan bhartha to share with the Renaissance Man.

So how could I not look forward to today's basket?

Once again, the Lady Bountiful lived up to her name and provided us with a colorful selection of only the best produce available!

--two small Mars Red sweet onions in lieu of one large one (for My Wonderful Parents)
--two small Walla Walla sweet onions (ditto)
--one White Cloud eggplant (for my folks) and one pint Fairy Tale eggplant (for me)
--two large green peppers (for them) and one Lilac Beauty pepper (for me)
--three bulbs garlic (mine)
--one Spineless Beauty green zucchini (my folks)
--one Golden Dawn yellow zucchini (mine)
--three small summer squash (split)
--one pint okra (mine)
--four poblano peppers (split)
--one quart mixed hot peppers: jalapeno, serrano, cayenne (split)
--four pounds tomatoes, mixed variety (my folks)
--one pint red cherry tomatoes (my folks)
--three pounds Kennebec potatoes (mine!)
--two small kohlrabi (split)
--one pint of small pickling cucumbers (my folks)
--a small bag of fresh basil (for me) and a small bundle of fresh oregano (for my folks)

If you've read over that list carefully, you might be wondering, "You let your folks have ALL the tomatoes?" And yes, I did.

But lest you think me incredibly self-sacrificing or incredibly foolish, let me put the record straight. I had already emailed the Lady Bountiful this morning to let her know that I wanted to pick up an extra $10 worth of tomatoes for canning, and I would be happy with some seconds.

As always, she was ready for my request, and she let me pick out easily ten pounds' worth of tomatoes (nearly half were seconds, either underripe or blemished). That should be plenty for another batch of pizza sauce yet this week!

Fortunately, aside from storing garlic and potatoes, I don't have to worry about too much other preserving this week, so I can enjoy some of the rest of that produce fresh. The Lady Bountiful always includes one or two recipes in each week's pickup list, and not only did she feature the Chef Mother's new "zucchini surprise" (a dish I sampled over the weekend -- definitely a keeper!), but she also added a recipe for "pizzeria scalloped tomatoes" that sounded like it might be worth trying.

And right now, I have plenty of good food as far as I can CSA.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: August, Week 2

Though August may have the full array of fruits and vegetables to tempt me at the farmers' market, I find that when August rolls around, one overriding thought dominates my food preservation schemes: I have to get as many ripe tomatoes preserved as I can by the time the fall semester starts.

This doesn't mean that all my tomatoes are put up by the end of August. I'll keep canning and saucing and drying those beauties for as long as I pick them up at the market. But August to me means the big push, with all the hard work and sweaty evenings that entails (as I mentioned last year in my first article for the Ethicurean).

So this week, instead of focusing on any one preservation technique, I'm just going to share with you all the myriad ways I keep my tomato longings appeased throughout the winter.

The cherry tomatoes tend to appear first, and those I always dry. In past years, I oven-dried them after coating them with pepper, dried thyme, lots of salt, and a good dousing of olive oil. After they were dry, I packed them in olive oil and stored them in the refrigerator.

Now, though I've never had any problem with storing them this way -– presumably because of all the salt –- I am aware that storing vegetables in oil is not necessarily the safest way to go. And since I had a dehydrator at my disposal for the first round of cherry tomatoes, I dried them on screens in that device without any of the added ingredients –- and they turned out beautifully, with no need to be packed in anything but a clean, dry glass canning jar.

Because of their size, cherry tomatoes can be a little fussy to prepare for drying since you'll need to remove the stems, slice them in half, and scoop out the seeds. The results are well worth the effort, though, because they dry in good time (about 18 to 24 hours in the dehydrator at 135 F, overnight in the oven at 170 F) and don't need to be chopped or soaked before using in recipes. I love their tangy, intense taste and the occasional crisp edge, especially in pasta dishes.

For regular-sized tomatoes, I pull out my giant canner and treat them in one of four ways: canned crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, pizza sauce, or salsa. For each of these methods, you need to know some basic things (outlined so well in a handy guide from the USDA, my source of information):

1. Because many tomato varieties now available have been bred to produce low-acid fruit, you MUST add 1 T lemon juice (I'm told bottled juice is preferred) to each pint of tomatoes to keep the acidity high enough to prevent contamination. For pizza sauce or salsa, you may use recipes without lemon juice if there is adequate vinegar or sugar to preserve the fruit safely, but do not vary those recipes!

2. Though on salsa I sometimes waver, for the most part you will want to skin your tomatoes for a smoother product. This can be done by bringing a large pot of water to boil, dropping in the tomatoes for approximately a minute (until the skin starts to split), and then removing the tomatoes to a bath of very cold or icy water to cool. You can help the process along by cutting a small X into the skin at the bottom of the tomato. Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, the skin will slip easily from the fruit.

3. If you plan to make sauce of any kind from the skinned tomatoes, you'll find that a chinois (conical colander) or a food mill is your best friend. Using one of these, you don't even need to skin the fruit (though it still helps to use the blanching technique to loosen the skins and soften the tomatoes). Either of these tools will help you get the maximum amount of sauce from the tomatoes while keeping out skins and seeds.

4. And as always, make sure your canning jars are free of nicks and cracks, your lids are brand spankin' new, and all your other equipment is lined up as per usual. Safety first!

Crushed tomatoes are a piece of cake (well, metaphorically...). Once you've skinned the tomatoes, trim off any blemished spots and either cut the fruit into quarters or (as I do) crush the tomatoes directly into a large pot with your bare, clean hands. Start with a small amount, mashing the tomatoes a little more if you like and then stirring to prevent burning until the tomatoes boil. Add the rest of the tomatoes, and once all the tomatoes have boiled for five minutes, you're ready to pack your hot sterilized jars.

To each pint of crushed tomatoes, add 1 T lemon juice, and if you like, you can also add 1/2 tsp salt per pint. (For quarts, double the amount.) Fill the jars with tomatoes, using a table knife or a chopstick run around the inside of the jar to allow air bubbles to escape, and allow 1/2" headspace. You may find that it's best to pack the jar as fully as possible with tomato parts, then top off with water, or you'll find a lot of liquid at the bottom of jar once you've finished the process.

Wipe down the jar rims, add lids and rings, and place jars into a boiling water bath. Process pints for 35-50 minutes and quarts for 45-60 minutes, depending on your altitude. Remove jars from the canner, wait for those satisfying pings that tell your jars have sealed, and store the jars in your pantry once they've cooled.

Making tomato sauce requires a little more effort, since you're using the chinois or food mill to strain out the seeds and skins, but I find it's absolutely worth it. I've come to appreciate being able to reach for a jar of already smoothly sauced tomatoes for some of the Indian dishes I love that require a smooth puree of vegetables, and they're handy for making up a small batch of spaghetti sauce, too.

Once you've run the tomatoes through the chinois or the food mill, pour the puree into a large pot and simmer until it reaches the consistency you want. This will take a while, so keep the burner on low to medium-low, stir occasionally, and get something else done in the meantime. When the sauce is thick enough for you, pack and process as you would crushed tomatoes (including using the lemon juice!) –- same jars, same process, same times.

Pizza sauce is a relatively new addition to my canning repertoire, thanks to a recipe I got from a friend last year. I'm not sure where she found it, and I don't know if it would fully pass inspection nowadays, but I had no ill effects from last year's batch. I think the sugar content keeps it safe, and I would also add the usual lemon juice just for an extra measure of safety.

Start with your pureed tomatoes as you would tomato sauce. The only other vegetables added to the pizza sauce are onions (and possibly a hot pepper, though you can use hot sauce instead), and I like to puree those, too, just to keep the sauce smooth. The proportions are as follows:

3 quarts tomato juice/puree
1 large onion, minced or pureed
1/2 tsp hot sauce OR 1 hot pepper, seeded and minced or pureed with onion
1/4 c oil (vegetable or olive)
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 c sugar
2 T salt
1 12-oz can tomato paste
1 T lemon juice per pint

Bring this mixture to a boil, and then simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the sauce has thickened to your liking. Pack into hot sterilized jars, add the 1 T lemon juice per pint, add lids and rings, and process in a boiling water canner (same times as for crushed tomatoes). Makes approximately 5 pints.

My sauce always ends up a little on the thin side, but it works just fine on my weekly pizzas, and I generally get two pizzas out of one jar of sauce. I've put up five pints already, which is what I made last year, so if I can at least double that, there's twenty weeks' worth of pizzas made for lunches –- a pretty good deal!

For salsa, I don't have a set recipe to give you as I'm still finding out what I like. The aforementioned tomato guide has a number of salsa recipes to try, and you're sure to find many others online, so search and sample. It's pretty easy to make (easier if you don't skin the tomatoes), and it's so satisfying to pop open a jar of homemade salsa when you've got the craving!

There are, of course, other things you can do with tomatoes:

--make tomato juice and can it
--make tomato paste and can it (too much work, even for me!)
--make catsup or chili sauce
--make spaghetti sauce (to be frozen or canned in a pressure canner ONLY)

For me, though, I stick with the basic four since those are the products I will use the most.

So when you find yourself faced with a bumper crop of tomatoes this month, take a deep breath -– and can it!

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Market Report: 8/9/08

What a beautiful day to hike down to the farmers' market!

Sorry I don't have photos to share with you, as I sent the digital camera with the Renaissance Man on his research trip this weekend. And it's too bad, because not only was it a beautiful morning, but I picked up some beautiful produce and other items:

--half a dozen ears of sweet corn (to be dried later this evening), a pound of hull-less popcorn, and two two-pound bags of Ruby Red popcorn from the Corn Queen (Tina, are you paying attention?)
--a small bundle of fresh dill from a new herb gardener
--about five quarts of tomatoes from the Lady Bountiful
--a quart of French filet green beans and a packet of fresh rosemary from the Spelt Farmer
--two cucumbers, a bag of broccoli, a bag of small carrots in various colors, and two cookies from the Cheerful Lady
--three small zucchini from the Fiddlin' Farmer, and a handful of brightly colored zinnias and snapdragons from his son
--a pint of ground cherries from the local orchard
--a quart of maple syrup from the maple folks

Believe it or not, I am really hoping to use about half of the vegetables in cooking this week -- not preservation!

But I am spending time in the kitchen today to preserve some of that bounty. My Wonderful Parents have graciously allowed me to take over their kitchen in order to make three pints of bread and butter pickles and an as yet undetermined quantity of pizza sauce. Not only that, the Chef Mother whipped up a vegetable casserole for lunch! What a deal!

Once I get back home, I'm sure I'll have more projects in the works, and eventually I'll have photos again. For today, though, this is enough.

Hope your market adventures were equally fruitful! (And if you're still not visiting your local farmers' market regularly, here's more reading to convince you!

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Oh, Say, Can You CSA? Week 10

Though our CSA farm is about a half-hour drive away from home, My Wonderful Parents and I always enjoy our Wednesday drive to claim our week's produce. It's wonderful to get away, even for so brief a time, and to see the rolling countryside around us.

I also learn something new about my friends' farm every week, either from the Lady Bountiful's happy talk about their produce and their progress or from just looking around.

This week, they had their roadside farmstand set up, with surplus produce set out for sale. It delighted me to no end to see these signs prominently posted. I don't know if the local farmers' market is quite so forward-thinking, but I'm thrilled to know that my friends are willing to make their produce available to people with lower incomes in this way. It's definitely a step in the right direction toward making good healthy food available to all.

And remember what I had said about the New Hampshire farmstands I found on my vacation? Well, turns out that my CSA farm also runs their farmstand on the honor system -- and has clear signage about leaving containers to be reused! Maybe there are more farmstands in the area that handle business this way, but I like to think that my friends are more thoughtful than most.

When we arrived at the farm, a handful of other CSA members were waiting for their produce, so I left My Wonderful Parents at the tables and wandered down to the first fields to see how things are growing.

Next to the first rows of zucchini plants (now petering out and ready to be supplanted by later plantings), I discovered brand new seedlings for green beans and wax beans settling into the soil. It'll be a few weeks until we see beans off these plants, but I love that the farmers are thinking ahead and planting additional crops to extend the season!

I couldn't resist visiting the high tunnel and the rows and rows of tomato plants. My goodness, how they've grown!

Back in the garage, we had two long tables groaning under the weight of all the produce awaiting us. We had a stunning variety of produce to choose from:

--one Mars Red sweet onion (mine)
--one Walla Walla sweet onion (mine)
--one Lavender Touch eggplant and a pint of Fairy Tale eggplant (split)
--two large green peppers (split)
--three bulbs of garlic (all mine!)
--one Spineless Beauty green zucchini (mine)
--one Golden Dawn yellow zucchini (to my folks)
--four medium summer squash (split)
--one pint okra (for My Dear Papa)
--four poblano peppers (split)
--one quart green beans (split)
--one pint cherry tomatoes (mine; I chose the orange this week)
--one quart Red Pontiac potatoes (mine)
--one small bunch Swiss chard (mostly to my folks, with four stalks for me)
--four Tadorna leeks (split)
--two small cucumbers (mine)

We also had four pounds (about two quarts) of tomatoes coming to us, from about half a dozen different varieties! So My Dear Papa loaded a quart basket with Big Boys while I loaded mine with smaller (but meaty) Early Girls and Goliaths. We could have also chosen Lemon Boy, Hillbilly, Mortgage Lifter, and Better Boy tomatoes -- quite an assortment!

That left us with one very full and gorgeously colored CSA basket for the week! And divided between us, it still made for a very full bag for My Wonderful Parents and overflowing basket for me!

Though early weeks might have seemed a little thin in comparison in terms of quantity and variety, we are definitely getting more than our weekly share's worth right now, with so much good food coming in from the fields. The Lady Bountiful asked if the variety and smaller quantities was okay, or if we preferred larger quantities of fewer items in our CSA baskets each week. I think we (along with other CSA members) wholeheartedly agreed that the variety was preferable, because it saves us buying as many things at the farmers' market, and as long as she has surplus, we're willing to pay extra to get more of certain things.

It's still an amazing deal -- and such a treat!

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