Saturday, August 1, 2015

More Baking Than Canning

In addition to our weekly farm share, sometimes our mason drops by with vegetables from his fabulous garden. Usually zucchini is one of the things he brings (along with celery, green beans, basil, tomatoes, peppers and sometimes eggplant - it's really quite wonderful) and they're generally the very big ones. Each one makes about 3 cups of shredded zucchini, which means they are perfect for chocolate zucchini bread. Since I had 2, the other day I made a double batch - 4 loaves. Do you know why this recipe is so great? Because the 10 year old asks me to make it. Knowing full well there is zucchini in it.

One loaf went to my next door neighbors who had just returned from a month away. Another went to the construction workers in front of our house. They are replacing the water main on our street with a new 3-foot diameter main, complicated by old pipes, traffic, heat, and the fact that the entire neighborhood is mostly ledge. For the past week I've had to either make a date with them to leave my driveway or get my car out really early and leave it out on a side street all day. Anyway, they've been super nice. I brought a loaf of the bread to them, and said they could leave the plate on my steps when they were done. Not TWO MINUTES later, the foreman appeared at my door with an empty plate. I was highly amused.

The other two loaves were for us, and one was finished that day - eaten for both breakfast and dinner. See, it's a vegetable, right? So it's perfectly fine for dinner!

Last night we'd stopped by the local peach farm so I bought a quart of "seconds" as well as a quart of peaches for eating. I made the seconds into a peach cobbler which we ate for dessert. (Note to self, use the 9x13 dish, not the Corningware.) We tried it with the spruce ice cream - not bad, but I think I might like to try it with the wintergreen ice cream instead. If there is any left by the time I get home from work today!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pickles from the Farm Share

This week, I needed to get the farm share early. We are still working through last week's share, but there's not too much left. Mainly just the greens, which take time. Today's share consisted of another head of garlic, 2.5 pounds potatoes, 1 bunch carrots, 1 bunch spring onions, 2 pounds zucchini, 3 pounds cucumbers, 4 turnips, a head of fennel, and some flowers. First thing I did when I got home was start a half-batch of bread and butter pickles, using almost all the cucumbers, the spring onions and 2 heads of garlic (I had one from last week).  After dinner and their 3.5 hour soak in salt, I made the pickles, using the same recipe for "Old Fashioned Bread and Butters" on page 95 in The Joy of Pickling. For fair purposes, as I intend to enter the 2 half-pint jars in the fair, there were 7 pickling cukes (just under 3 pounds), 2 heads of garlic and 5 spring onions (10 oz).

For dinner, I sautéed zucchini and carrots with scallions and a shallot and served them over chicken tortellini and a homemade alfredo sauce (2 eggs, 1 pint light cream, some pepper and nutmeg, and parmesan cheese, simmered until thick) and topped with shredded fresh basil. Fairly easy and quick, and everyone loved at least part of it - as you can imagine, the 10 year old had issues with the cooked vegetables. But did eat the cucumber and raw carrots at least...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

So Plentiful!

Last year, we missed blueberry season by being out of the country. A reasonable excuse, but it meant that we were close to running out of wild blueberry jam. As in, we had one jar of sauce and no jam left!

Overall, this year has been fantastic for berries, and the blueberry patch was no exception. I think it has to do with how harsh a winter it was combined with the really beautiful weather we've had in the last month. Every different tree seems to have gone crazy with their respective seeds, fruits or flowers. In the past, we've had to roam all over our preferred picking area for 3-4 hours to get 4 quarts of berries. Today it took us 2.5 hours and we hardly moved; I think we stayed in a 50 foot by 50 foot region. We filled our containers all the way to the top, so in all we netted about 4.5 quarts.

Getting up so early in the morning not only beats the heat of the day, but because there are fewer people around, you can hear the birds and insects as they call to each other. In the distance are strains of music and the occasional shriek of laughter coming from the beach at the lake in the center of the forest. Every once in a while I'd hear the high pitched whine of a fly or the medium toned buzz of a bumble bee. Once a dragonfly passed by with it's lower, lazy sounding hum. We picked mostly in silence, enjoying the morning.

After we got home, I made a batch of blueberry muffins and set aside 4 cups of berries for the freezer. I still have 3 cups left over from 2013, which are going to get used up first. Everyone ate a few handfuls of berries and, with the remaining 12 cups of berries, I made 2 batches of blueberry jam with powdered pectin. I think this might be the first time I didn't use liquid pectin for this so I ended up having to use more blueberries in order to get enough jam to last us for the year. Or two. Who knows what next year's harvest will be?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Very, Very Patient

When we first saw this recipe for Wintergreen Ice Cream on Hank Shaw's blog, in 2012, my elder child asked if we could make it. Yes, I said, when we have enough wintergreen berries. And when I have (or find) my ice cream maker. The project got put on the back burner and even when we finally amassed enough berries (it took over a year and many different locations; I stored the berries in the freezer) I never got my act together.

Today I picked up that (now) 13 year old from a week of camp and it seemed like the right time to make this. Actually, I started around 6 am and had the base all made and in the fridge before we had to leave and get the child. After we got home, I put the base in the ice cream maker and let it do its thing for 30 minutes. When it was done, I poured the ice cream into a washed out ice cream carton and folded in chocolate chips that I'd run through a little chopper thing (Black & Decker, 1.5 cup chopper. Really useful.). It was the same chopper thing I used to chop up the frozen wintergreen berries. I chose not to strain the ice cream, hoping for a little pink color. It's a little bit pink. Not very. That's fine.

The recipe called for 2 ounces of berries, after making the ice cream I think I have an ounce left. Maybe I'll collect some more this fall and make this again. It's really a nice flavor. The 13 year old loved it, as did the rest of us. Sorry it took so long to make it!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A New Thing to Do Together

We found the robin's egg on our exploration
So, as long as the cooking project is something that is (a) in the 10 year old's preferred food list and (b) able to be eaten right away then I get help on said project. This morning we postponed breakfast long enough to bake cinnamon swirl bread, which took a few hours, and I got a lot of help. The 10 year old is an expert kneader and cinnamon sprinkler.

We then ate breakfast outside, after exploring the yard and doing a little weeding while the bread baked. It is so gorgeous outside today, I had to make sure we spent some part of the day outdoors!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cornichons and Gherkins

This morning, I made Sweet Gherkins using the recipe on page 306 of Preserving Summer's Bounty. It called for honey, which might just be the first time I've ever canned anything with honey in it. Basically, after soaking the little cucumbers overnight in ice water, I cooked them in a mixture of cider vinegar, turmeric, pickling spices, cinnamon and celery seeds. To this mixture, 2 cups of honey are added. That's a lot of honey. I used up the local honey I'd bought for the bees and then added in some more *gasp* store-bought organic honey. The recipe says it makes 10-11 pints, but I only got 4 and a half, so I don't know what's going on there.

Then, after the other cucumbers had sat in salt for a day, they were ready to become cornichons. This recipe comes from page 90 of The Joy of Pickling. These cornichons are pickled but not canned. After rinsing and drying the cucumbers, they are packed into a quart jar with 4 shallots, 2 dried chilies, 1 bay leaf, 10 peppercorns, and 2 sprigs of fresh tarragon. Then the jar is filled with white wine vinegar. I finished my bottle of white wine vinegar so had to top off the jar with some tarragon vinegar instead. Now it sits on the shelf for a month before eating them. With paté.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Little Tiny

We went down to visit my parents today, so we stopped by the farm near their place which has pickling cukes and peaches in their respective seasons. I was lucky enough to snag the last peck of teeny tiny cucumbers, the ones that are 1-2 inches long, for canning. I hadn't been planning on doing this today, so I wasn't entirely prepared, but I had enough to get started.

I have set aside 1.25 pounds of the very smallest (yes, I sorted the whole peck) to make cornichons. They are currently salted and resting for a day. They will be ready to work with around 5 pm tomorrow. I had a few cucumbers from the farm share and I added the largest of this new bag of cukes to make a half-batch of bread and butter pickles; these were sliced along with one onion and 1.5 heads of spring garlic and mixed with salt and ice and sat for 2.5 hours while we had dinner. 2 quarts were put into a jar with garlic, dill seed, a chili pepper, and brine and they will ferment into half-sours. There is also a batch of "Favorite Dill Pickles" (see below) and the rest will be made into gherkins; which are currently sitting with ice water in the fridge. Tomorrow I'll finish those up.

Before dinner, I made the batch of dill pickles - using the recipe on page 133 of The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving. These have garlic, dill seeds, mustard seeds, and a little sugar in addition to the vinegar-water-salt brine. The recipe made 6 pints, not 4, as I left the cukes whole. I had to make an extra half-batch of the brine in order to fill the jars. Two jars have been set aside for the fair, as long as they taste good when we open them up.

After dinner, I finished the bread and butter pickles: using the recipe on page 95 in The Joy of Pickling, but cut in half, the only other change was using the spring garlic. I hope it isn't too overwhelming to have the garlic flavor but I thought it'd be nice. Half a batch makes 4 pints.

That should be plenty of cucumber pickles for this season!