Thursday, September 29, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different...

At first, I thought they were figs. They are supposed to be a little more green.
My in-laws arrived tonight with a gift straight from the farms of Ohio - pawpaws!

Ohio's state fruit was almost the pawpaw.  It should have been, but the tomato won out.  I have no idea why.  2 years ago my mother-in-law and I saw an article about that and, ever since then, she has been on a mission to find me this elusive fruit and bring it to me so I can preserve it.

The problems with this plan were myriad.  Pawpaws, when found, need to be picked off the tree, not up off the ground, because if they are on the ground they are already too ripe.  They don't last long at all.  The batch I was presented with had been picked 2 days ago and they were already getting very soft.  Most people who have pawpaw trees don't even consider them something edible or even remotely lucrative.  By habit my in-laws asked around at a local (to them) farmers market and found someone who admitted to having some trees and was willing to bring some the following week for them.

One other problem is that they need to be dealt with rather quickly.  So, after the kids went to bed and the in-laws unloaded the car, I set to work.  Pawpaws are a lot like bananas, but they have these big seeds which look like large beans.  Each pawpaw is very little flesh and a lot of seeds.  Or, at least, these were!  Maybe there are bigger ones further south - the pictures on the wikipedia page show much larger fruit than what I had.  Using a recipe on line as a guide which calls for 1.5 kg of pawpaw flesh, 1 kg sugar, the juice of 2 limes and 50 grams of pectin, I grabbed my scale and started measuring.

I weighed out the pawpaw flesh: 635 grams.

I weighed out the sugar: 485 grams.

To this I added 1 T. lime juice.  When it was all boiling I added about half of a Certo package.  Which is essentially 50 grams (so I used twice as much pectin as the recipe called for, but it worked out just fine).  What I ended up with is 4 half-pint jars of pawpaw jam and a little left in the pot for me to taste.  It's a bit like roasted bananas, maybe bananas foster?  It's moderately tropical.  I like it!

Thanks for the gift!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nettles for the Freezer

After our nettle success of last week (and a foraging failure; let's just say that not every berry is a chokecherry) I wanted to get more nettles to freeze this time.  Hunt, Gather, Cook says that after you blanch them in the boiling salt water and shock them in the ice water you can drain them, squeeze them out, and freeze them.  This is exactly what I did.  However, I got 3 times as many nettles this week so I have 3 small packages of frozen nettles.  I even weighed them so I would know how many grams I had.  Just in case I find a recipe that uses the metric system.

The book also said you can take the liquid you squeeze out of the nettles and drink it as a tea.  I tried this, but it was still too salty so I guess I'll be figuring that out another time...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Apple Picking

We had a great time apple picking the other day.  Despite the weather.

No, it didn't rain.  It was sunny and 83 degrees.  That's just wrong, somehow.  There should be a crisp chill in the air and you should have to wear a sweater.  Not a short-sleeved shirt!  There should be no smell of fermenting apples.  One should not work up a sweat picking apples.

Regardless, the season is early this year and strangely warm.  So we got our half-bushel of apples:  honeycrisps, vampires (I mean empires), cortlands and macouns.  Even a couple of galas.  The kids had fun running on the haybale maze.  Not in, on.  The best part is running on the top of it and leaping to the next bunch of bales.  Now I have some applesauce to make, as we are just about to finish the last jar from last fall!

Today I cooked up about 25 apples in two batches, each batch with 2 c. water and then run through the food mill.  To all this I added 4 cups of white sugar and ended up with 4.5 quarts of applesauce and one very happy 9 year old who got to lick the pot!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Something to Crow About

"Why, is it," my husband asks, "that when you cook with the farm share you announce it to us at dinner?  You don't announce which grocery store the food came from, so why is the farm different?"

Good question.  I guess that even after three years I am still really excited to be getting my produce locally. It feels like a novelty.  And it's made me a little spoiled.  I frequently turn up my nose at produce in the store (even the much-lauded Whole Foods) because it isn't nearly as fresh as the veggies I bring home from the farm.  I also feel like I'm getting a tremendous bargain - all this organic food for not a whole lot of money!  What could be better?

Tonight I made a double batch of khoresh, a basic persian stew.  Once you have the base, you can add all sorts of things to it.  So, after skimming off 2 quarts for the pressure canner, I added turnip greens, beet greens and mustard greens to the rest of the stew and, 15 minutes before dinnertime, I added some fried eggplant.  This, plus the potato tadiq in the rice, used up a good chunk of farm share from this week.

I am, however, inundated with squash.  I have all the squash I had last week, plus another delicata, a kabocha, and a small pumpkin.  I will need to take Lisa up on her offer to make soup!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Foraging 101

These, my friends, are nettles.  Stinging nettles.  Urtica dioica, to be exact.  And tonight, I am having my first meal with them.  I have foraged.

My sister sent me two cookbooks about foraging.  One, entitled Hunt, Gather, Cook, by Hank Shaw, is amazing and hilarious.  This guy thinks a bit like me.  He looks at something and his first thought is, "Can I eat that?"  The only problem with the book is that it isn't really a field guide.  So I took a few of the greens he mentioned in the book and looked them up on the internet, just last night.  One was nettles.  And, lo and behold, while I was riding today I noticed something that looked a lot like the pictures I saw.  To be fair, I started my afternoon at the stables by looking around at the ground and thinking, "OK, dandelions I know, but are those lambs quarters?  Is that garlic mustard or geranium?"  But with the nettles, once I got over to them and took a look, I was quite sure of myself.

You might find this strange, but I keep gardening gloves in the trunk of my car.  I started that because sometimes when I hike I see trash and want to get rid of it, so I have the gloves with me and a plastic bag to gather trash.  Who could have foreseen that I would want to pick stinging nettles?

Once we got home, I blanched the nettles in boiling salt water and then shocked them in ice water.  This gets rid of the formic acid which makes them sting.  I made a potato-nettle soup:

1 cup nettle leaves, blanched
1 clove garlic
1 shallot
2 cups chicken stock
3 small potatoes, cubed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. parsley

The onion, garlic and nettles were pureed with 1/2 c. of the stock and then added to the rest of the ingredients in a pot.  This was simmered for about 30 minutes until the potato cubes were tender and then the immersion blender did its thing.  We now have a thick green fragrant soup and I almost cannot wait until dinnertime!

Under Protection

Last night my husband went up to the garden to look for some tomatoes.  What he found was a formidable sentry keeping watch.
In the light of day it wasn't anywhere to be found, likely hiding in the tomatoes, but the web was something to behold!  I managed to squeeze under it enough to find the one tomato hiding behind a plant.  And I also grabbed a cucumber, likely the last.  The peppers are having a second crop and the beans are almost ready. It won't be long before I dump all the plants over the railing, lash down the pots and cages, and rake the dirt into the yard below.

I used the tomato and the cucumber, along with farm share parsley and cippolini onions, to make a tabouli salad.  The only difference is I'm using half the volume of lemon juice and oil.  The last time I made this it was too watery.

This is the time of year when the farm share gets overwhelming, even to me.  What I have left to work through (and I'm picking up another share tomorrow!) is:

3 acorn squash
2 spaghetti squash
1 blue ballet squash
1 delicata squash
2 pounds potatoes
2 beets
peppers and hot peppers
6 leeks
onions, garlic, and shallots

Fortunately, with fewer greens, a lot of the vegetables, particularly the squashes, onions, and carrots, can be stored for a while.  This is good because we haven't been home for dinner much in the last week or so.  Last night we had steamed edamame and a pasta primavera with tomatoes, eggplant, onion and carrots.  Yum!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Starting on the Gift Stash

Last week's farm share had one of those crazy big zucchinis in it, in addition to more peppers and onions.  Since the zucchini relish is such a hit, I decided to make another batch in the half-pint jars so I could give them as gifts.  I combined 6 cups of diced zucchini, 2 cups diced peppers, 2 cups diced onion, all from the farm share, with 1/3 cup kosher salt and then covered with cold water.  This sat for 3+ hours and then was drained and rinsed.  It was combined with 1.5 cups vinegar, 0.25 cup water, 1.75 cups sugar, 1 tsp each of celery seed and ground turmeric, and 1/2 tsp mustard seed.  (The recipe calls for green food coloring but I never use it.)  This simmered for 10 minutes and then was processed for 10 minutes and now I have 7 jars in my gift stash!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Raspberries...

...and other things.

I've been in a particularly pensive mood over the past few days.  Partly because of the specific national events of the last weekend, but also on a more personal level.  It has been a year since I broke my finger and faced two months of enforced slowing down on a professional level.  It has been a year since I have worked under a contract, and the "negotiation" process to get a new one has taken its toll on everyone involved.  My kids went back to school last week.  Summer is almost over, and it's time for raspberries.

Last week I went with the kids and our friend and picked some berries, but 3 days of rain had left them squishy and it was hard to find good ones.  We picked what we could and I made a big crisp.  Which was yummy.  Today I went back for a larger bucketful so I could make another batch of seedless jam.

I won't bore you with the details, but I have 8.5 cups of jam and the food mill caused no trouble today.  That's not the important part.  The important part was that I spent over an hour in the sun, methodically picking berries and thinking about life, family, friends and what matters most.  That the opportunity to pause, reflect, and appreciate the natural world around me is a gift to be cherished.  That ants, and the flock of sparrows in the canes, and bees, and spiders are to be celebrated, not feared.  That I need to spend less time worrying and more time living.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rainy Day Canning

That Concord grape juice was ready to decant and there wasn't really anything else to do this morning.  The kids are in school (today was their first day) and it's absolutely pouring outside.  Which means, no raspberries, again.

I decanted the juice through the jelly bag again and added a cup of sugar to what is about 2 quarts of juice. The recipe says to heat it to 190 degrees for 5 minutes, which I think I did, but my thermometer wasn't long enough to be clipped to the side and stay in the juice so I was holding it over the pot every few minutes.  When it got too hot for me to hold it for more than a couple of seconds and was thinking about boiling I figured I was there.

Ultimately I got one quart to can and the other quart wasn't full enough.  I contemplated topping it off with boiling water but then I decided I'd just have us all drink it now and leave the one jar for a treat on another day.  Maybe another rainy day like this one.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Concord Grapes

In the years since I first got Concord grapes from the woman across town, my oldest and her youngest became friends.  Among other things, this meant that this year when I pinged her about the grapes in her yard (which, by the way, is beautiful!) she very generously said, "Come by and pick all you want!"  Wow.  I did not need a second invitation.

This afternoon we stopped by when it wasn't raining very hard and picked about 8 pounds of grapes.  A batch of jelly takes 3 pounds.  Following the Certo recipe, I made 7 half-pint jars of grape jelly and there is more in the fridge.  The other 5 pounds are in the process of becoming grape juice.  According to the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving I could can the juice in pints or quarts, but I think we might just drink it.  I'm not sure yet.  Right now the juice is in the fridge, letting the solids settle, and then tomorrow or maybe Thursday it will be decanted and I will add sugar and heat it according to the directions.  With any luck tomorrow there will be raspberries as well.  They fields were closed today because of the rain.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Garden Salsa

Hurricane, I mean Tropical Storm, I mean tropical depression, I mean wicked-bad-storm Irene came and went.  I stayed at the hospital as planned, but it turns out I probably was being over cautious.  Whatever.  My roof garden stayed put, nothing even blew off the plants!  However, the farm was not so lucky.  Their tomatoes took a beating so this past Thursday was the last day for tomatoes.

In the share: 2 tomatoes already picked, then we had to go pick a pint of cherry tomatoes, 2 quarts of small tomatoes (roma or jolly), and 20 heirlooms.  I didn't even get all 20.  Plus 10 hot peppers, 2 quarts of beans (green and yellow), 30 flowers and 15 sunflowers.  I can't even hold more than 8 sunflowers.  AND 2 heads of lettuce, 1 bowl of arugula, 1 bunch of chard, 5 leaves of kale, 2 pounds of potatoes, 1 bowl of carrots, 1 bowl of mix and match (I focused on peppers, onions, garlic and eggplant), 2 acorn squash and a spaghetti squash.

I took my half home and we had a big salad to go with some amazing coho salmon Lisa (hi, Lisa!) had caught in BC.  Served with corn relish and parmesan roasted potatoes, the entire meal except for what the 6 year old ate was farm-grown, home-canned, or self-caught.  That, my friends, is COOL.

This morning I had some time to make more salsa and I am pleased to say that none of the produce in it was store bought!  I had to vary the recipe by adding cucumber because I didn't have enough peppers but here it is:
2 quarts tomatoes, chopped and seeded (multiple varieties)
1.5 c. peppers, chopped (bell, poblano) 
0.5 c. chopped seeded cucumber (because I ran out of peppers)
2 c. chopped onion and garlic (1 red, 2 vidalia, 1 shallot, and 2 large cloves garlic)
2 chopped red cherry peppers
2 chopped jalapenos
1/4 c. white vinegar
1/6 c. sugar
2 T. kosher salt
This gets cooked over medium high heat until the onion and peppers are soft, then ladled into pint jars with 1/2 inch headspace.  Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

Now, if anyone has good spaghetti squash recipes to share, I'm all ears.  I had never cooked them until last year and I could use some suggestions...