Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I'm being chased by a giant tomato

And the tomato keeps coming
The week of preserving the harvest wasn't really just a week. You know that, right? When you're preserving food, it's about the whole season. And the height of that season, in Portland, seems to be September.

Just when I thought 37 lbs. of tomatoes was enough, we found a u-pick tomato field. A super secret, amazing place. The field has been here for years. But built up around it now, is industrial Portland. Completely surrounded.
Field in an industrial park
The only other people picking that early morning when we were there? Couples in their 60's. And 70's. They knew this place before the industrial park complexes surrounded it.

AdRi read the sign posted on the barn door that said the u-pick tomatoes were 50 cents a lb. Surrounded by these beautiful tomatoes? She couldn't stop picking. "Just a few more." And the box became full of red beauties.

Box of tomatoes

I wandered with my camera. And admired the sunflowers in the strange setting.
Sunflower and chain link fence
I could now blog about the chile sauce (thanks mom for sending my childhood favorite!), BBQ sauce, tomato jam, and pear chutney we made and canned. I could. But I'm a little tired. And these photos here will have to do.

But before I go, I wanted to let you know that this Thursday, I'll be on a local radio show here in Oregon, Think Out Loud, and will be speaking about, well, you guessed it, preserving the harvest. Listen in from 9-10am, 91.5 KOPB, for what I'm sure will be a great show about preserving food. (Looks like you'll also be able to listen to the show online afterwards, so I'll post a link to it then.) Update: you can read about the show here and comment ahead of time. Chime in and tell them what you're preserving!

P.S. Thank you for all the kind comments on my last post about my friend, Rudy. For you to know, we walked today and talked about the economy. He's pissed off and asked the question, "Why is it always the little guy who gets stuck with this mess?" I wish I had a good answer to that. But if Rudy, at age 94, can still vote, so can you. Please make sure you're registered!

Friday, September 26, 2008

A walk with Rudy: fish, apples and a presidential debate

Rudy and I went for a walk today. He was just sitting in his plastic chair in the driveway when I went past. Wink saw him first and started to pull on the leash to get to him as fast as she could. “You goin’ for a walk?” he asked. “Yes, I sure am.” “Hey, you look nice today, all dressed up.” “Thanks Rudy: I had a meeting. You want to walk with me?” His face lit up and without shutting his front door, he lifted up the latch on the gate and we took off towards the park.

I love walking with Rudy. It’s time to chat and catch up, admire the beauty of the trees along the path in the park together. I love it when friends notice things like trees. He tells me his gal friend brought him a tray of food and he won’t have to fix anything all week. He asks about my partner, and I explain she’s working a lot. It’s football season so she’s at the games this time of year.

Rudy tells me how much he loved to work. He loved his job. He worked at a mill just down the road, along the river. “It’s gone now,” he says. “But I sure loved that job. When I turned 40 they told me I was too old. But 3 months later they called me to come back to work for them. I shoulda told ‘em to blow it out their nose.” But he didn’t. He had gone back to work for them nights, so he could fish during the day.

We round the bend at the park and walk along the busy street. Talk turns as it usually does, to fishing. “I fished all my life” he tells me. “The fish were so thick, they’d swim around your feet.” I ask him what he did with all of that bounty he caught. “We canned ‘em! 7 cents a jar to can that fish.”

I turn onto streets I don’t usually walk because I’m enjoying our conversation and I know Rudy is too. He tells me about the Gravenstein apples he collected from a neighborhood tree, and we walk to it to see if any are left. We knock a few on the ground around, and the heady cider scent fills the air around us. They’re picked over by now, but he points out how the hedge underneath the tree would catch the apples as they fell, gently rolling them onto the sidewalk and preventing bruises. It’s a good set up for apple gatherers like us wandering the neighborhood.

Across the corner is another tree, and we cross to see what we can find. A mix of green and red, small apples cover the tree. Rudy gathers a red one, wipes it off with the hankie he always carries, and offers me a bite. I pass, so he takes a big bite. “Sweet!” he says, then spits out the peel. Rudy doesn’t care for the peels much.

He tells me how when he was a kid they’d go swimming and afterwards, they’d grab an apple from a nearby Gravenstein tree to eat. “Gravensteins are the best cuz’ they’re sweet.”

Rudy walks me home, and I offer him some tomatoes. “Why sure” he says while he pulls a plastic bag from his pocket. Rudy is prepared. A few ripe yellow heirloom tomatoes, a cucumber, and a handful of pineapple tomatillos go into his bag.

Tonight Rudy will watch the presidential debate, as will I. I ask him who he thinks he’s going to vote for, and 94-year old Rudy says “I think I’ll vote for the young guy.” Obama it is. “Rudy, are you a democrat?” “Of course, been a democrat my whole life. “ And while he’s not sure how to pronounce Obama’s name, he tells me “it’s time for us old guys to give the young guys a chance.” Yet another reason why I love my friend Rudy. And our walks together.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Thursday Tale of Two Tarts

The tomatoes had finally come into their own. The 6 plants of heirlooms and cherry tomatoes—one of my favorite was Mexican Midgit, along with Chocolate Cherry—had started to provide in August, but come early September, they hit their stride and just started churning out handful after handful. We've been having caprese salads, fresh slices, BLTs: but then we had even more and it was time to make something decadent.

That's when the tart entered the picture.
Tomato Tart
The secret to this tart is the tanginess of the vinegar in the caramelized onions and the salty olives, combined with the richness of the crust and the absolute gorgeous flavor of fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes. Go make this NOW and experience if for yourself. It's a keeper.

Caramelized Tomato Tarte Tatin
Prepared pie crust (I made my own from my standard recipe, but without any sugar added to the crust)
2 T unsalted butter
3 red onions, thinly sliced (yes, use all of them: it's a lot, but delicious)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1/4 cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes (we also mixed in slices of heirlooms from the garden)
1 T chopped fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 425. Make your pie crust (sans sugar). Roll out into a 10-inch round and place in your tart pan.
2. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of sugar and cook, stirring, until onions are golden and caramelized (20 minutes). Add 2 T water and let cook off, scraping brown bits from bottom of pan. Transfer onions to a bowl.
3. In a clean, ovenproof 9-inch skillet, combine 1/4 cup sugar and 3 T water. Cook over medium heat, swirling pan gently (do not stir) until sugar melts and turns amber, 5 to 10 minutes. Add vinegar and swirl gently.
4. Sprinkle olives over caramel. Scatter tomatoes over olives, then sprinkle onions on. Season with thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Top with piecrust, tucking edges into pan. Cut vent on top of crust.
5. Bake tart until crust is golden, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then run knife around pastry to loosen it from pan, and flip tart onto a serving platter. Cut into wedges and serve immediately.
(This recipe is adapted from the New York Times, 9/17/08)

But why stop there? We had picked up some pears at a farm stand in Washington County and needed to use them. And along came the Caramelized Pear Tart. Pears are so mellow and just beg to take on the flavors around them. This is a lovely flavor combination and a nice bridge from the boldness of late summer to the warm comfort of autumn.
Pear Tart
Caramelized Pear Tart
2 lbs. pears
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I use a wee bit more)
Pie crust
1. Peel, halve and core the pears.
2. In a 10-inch ovenproof skillet, heat butter over medium heat until foam subsides. Stir in sugar.
3. Arrange pears, cut sides up in the skillet. Sprinkle with cinnamon and cook without stirring until sugar forms a deep golden caramel. Remove from heat and let cool in skillet.
4. Roll out your pie crust into an 11 inch round and arrange over caramelized pears. Tuck in edges.
5. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes.
6. Remove from oven when golden brown and have your rimmed serving plate ready, because you're going to flip the whole thing. Wear oven mitts, keep the plate and skillet firmly pressed together, and just invert it. The tart will transfer to the plate and you will have a gorgeous tart.
(This recipe is adapted from Epicurious)

And that, my friends, is the Thursday Tale of Two Tarts.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sometimes you blink and time flies by

Busy. I'm busy. It's a good busy though. Busy with work and life and fun and scheming and learning and experiencing. Experiencing life.

With that opening paragraph I bring you five recent photos from my life.

A client meeting. My client meetings are fun.
A recent client meeting

In a room with 800 garden writers swaying and singing along to the tunes of Queen set to the words of garden writing craziness. Don't make me explain anymore than that.
Goddess of Flora Choir and a ballroom full of garden writers

An important message from our sponsor.
smart women are very entertaining

I've come to terms with summer being over. I have proof.
summer is over

Friday, September 19, 2008

A visit to a Northwest Garden

I recently visited with my good friends Tom and Brian in their yummy garden. I've seen it grow over time, since its very beginning, and now to be able to feature it in my Sassy Gardener column, well, that's just too cool.

You can read the text of my column at Just Out online here, and in the slideshow below, see lots of photos from my visit. It truly is a gorgeous and much-loved garden.

This month the garden is being featured in a national publication, Gardening Ideas and Outdoor Living. But you can say you saw it here first. :)

Thank you Tom and Brian, for sharing your garden!

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

You can also see the photos directly here in my Flickr set.

P.S. You'll see there's a new little feature on my blog in the corner there. A link to my professional garden and food writing and photography website.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Salsa verde: ooh la la

There are a few things that are just staples in our kitchen. One of them is salsa. And in this case, green salsa. I use it in so many things, like spinach enchiladas, weekend breakfasts, and roasts throughout the winter. We make a lot of salsa, or pico de gallo, and last year we froze it. But our freezer is pretty full, what with pesto and berries, so when chiles came into season, and AdRi even brought home some of those famed Hatch Chiles, we tried our hand at canning it. Look at how beautiful these chiles are (Hatch and Poblano)...
combination of chiles
Tangy tomatillos combine with chiles and lime, and it's a delicious combination to eat with chips or mixed into recipes. The air around our house while AdRi grilled the whole chiles smelled like what I imagine all of New Mexico must smell like during Hatch season this time of year. In fact, the chile festival is on our list of places to go: maybe next year?

Roasting the chiles is different than smoking: these beautiful chiles don't need that nasty smoke flavor. Roasting them quickly blisters the skin and sweetens the chiles up, all-the-while easing skin removal.

Chop your onions, tomatillos and cilantro, combine with lime juice, garlic and water and you've got your salsa...
salsa in the making
Cook it all down some, salt it, and can it, baby. Oooh, and I even photographed while canning, how daring is that? Here is my one-handed photograph:
canning salsa
The salsa we used is adapted from my bible of preserving, Preserving the Harvest, but we changed up the chiles to include those tasty Hatch chiles as well.
Green Chile Salsa
18 poblano and Hatch chiles
10 cups/4 lbs coarsely chopped, husked tomatillos with juice
2 cups coursely chopped onions
1 1/2 cups fresh lime juice (12 limes)
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup water
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1. Place the chiles on a hot grill and roast, turning throughout, to blister the skins, about 15 minutes.
2. Discard the membranes and seeds from the chiles. (I make AdRi handle all chiles in our house: as an eye contact wearer, once you've experienced the residual chile burn in your eyes when you remove your contacts 8 hours later is a pain you never, ever want to experience. You can also wear gloves.) Chop the chiles coursely and combine with the tomatillos in a heavy nonreactive saucepan.
3. Bring the mixture to a simmer and add the onions, lime juice, cilantro, water, and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
4. Add salt. Stir well.
5. Ladle into hot, clean jars. Cap and seal.
6 Process in a boiling water bath canner for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Preserving the deliciousness of summer tomatoes

So I went to the market and came home with this.
37 lbs of tomatoes
That there is 37 lbs of tomatoes. Thank you to Deep Roots Farm for those red orbs of summer sunshine. We bought them on Saturday, and on Sunday we did our magic with them. On the radar? Tomato sauce.

We use tomato sauce all of the time. On pizza, on veggies, in pasta dishes: you name it we use it. And I remembered the Family Secret Tomato Sauce from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Family recipe. Quantity. I was on it.
washing romas
Getting the tomatoes ready is time consuming. Wash, blanch, peel, core and rough chop. But what was really handy was my emersion blender. No need to use a food mill (I don't have one anyway) when you have an emersion blender.

With this recipe, all of those great spices and flavors go in. Basil, honey, onions, oregano, lemon peel, thyme, parsley, garlic powder, cinnamon, nutmeg...
spice it tup

And despite my diligent list making, prep and shopping, there was one thing I had forgotten. Darn it.

I didn't have a pot big enough for all of that tomato puree. See the problem?
yeah, we'll need bigger pots

A few phone calls later, I had two big pots.
bigger pots arrive

Cook it down some and the most delicious smell fills the house. Pints filled, quarts filled, hot water bathed and those jars are put up for winter. Here are a few of the first ones...
canning tomato sauce

But there were still tomatoes to deal with. The remaining 7 lbs were slow roasted over the coming two days, and then frozen. Have you tried slow roasting your tomatoes yet? Thanks to Alanna's wonderful blogging about it last year, I tried it for the first time, and I couldn't miss doing it again this year. They are so good, so flavorful, and so easy. See how you line them all up? Drizzle the pan with olive oil and herbs, place your halved tomatoes face down.
preparing for slow roasting
And then into the oven for a good 8-10 hrs and voila. You have slow roasted tomatoes.
slow roasted tomatoes
Slip off their skins, and pop them in freezer bags, and into the freezer. You'll have delicious tomatoes for use in all kinds of things this winter. Tomatoes, tomaters: they're one of my favorite things of the summer. And with a days work, we can enjoy them all winter.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Why don't people can food anymore?

The barn in Yamhill, Oregon
I don't like that question. Because the answer is they do. They just don't talk about it. (Except me and the other bloggers canning like fiends, snapping photos and writing away.) And because they don't and instead go for convenience and availability and really, affordability. Canning isn't always the most frugal thing, especially if you don't grow your own food. I wrote about why I'm preserving food at the beginning of this series. But what I'm really enjoying are the conversations with family, friends and neighbors, especially older people, about their memories of canning.
Rudy our neighbor
This is Rudy. He's 95 and lives down the street. AdRi and I are good friends with Rudy, and he tells great stories. He grew up on a farm in Washington, lots of kids. His dad worked the farm with horses, and every summer his mother would can 100 quarts of peaches. And every winter they'd eat all of them. When he told me the number "100" I about fell over. That's a lot of work.

On the other corner lives Hazel. She's lived in her house in this neighborhood for over 50 years. She's how we found out about the farm to pick sweet corn out on Sauvie Island. She still cans her pears, though she can't lift the big water bath pot anymore. She just does single jars on her stovetop, but she still does them every year.

My mom always canned. She said we kids swore we could smell her chili simmering when she was canning, as soon as we crossed the street on our way home from school. My sister remembers mom making her own ketchup, and I remember the hot Southern California days when she'd be canning salsa, tomatoes and sauce. And of course, the peaches. All home grown. My grandmothers canned too. My mom recently told me the story of my grandma, canning green beans when the cooker exploded, sending beans at record speed straight up at the ceiling, ricocheting all over the kitchen. My grandma swore she had a burn on her hand in the shape of a green bean.

Today's Oregonian features a top-knotch obituary, and one I read with a smile. The subhead read, "The matron saint of food storage traveled often and almost always slept outdoors." But my favorite line is a caption with one of the three photos: "One year, Esther put up 165 quarts of apricots, 78 quarts of tomatoes, 12 quarts of peaches, and 30 quarts of grape juice. In a dehydrator, she dried 12 quarts of corn and 5 1/2 pounds of figs." Wow. I don't think I'm quite into it that much, but I can imagine the stories she told.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'm hooked on jam

Back to our previously scheduled series on Preserving the Harvest...
So jam. I'm kinda hooked on it. I've heard the description of opening a jar of homemade jam in the middle of winter, and tasting summer. And I'm okay eating summer jam in summer too. Because homemade jam is tasty.

I've never been a big jam eater. Eh, no big deal. But then we made strawberry freezer jam at the beginning of the season? And I was in heaven. Seriously. Look at this picture and tell me it doesn't look delicious...
Strawberry freezer jam is so vibrant red
So we took it up a notch this summer, and made some jam. Actually, it was preserves because we didn't use any pectin: raspberry and tayberry. It was berry central here. Tayberries are a delicious cross between raspberries and blackberries and smell delightful.
Making berry preserves is pretty simple. Mainly, you have to match the right amount of sugar in order to preserve the fruit. Some people play with that a bit, and with a lot of berries, you don't even have to use pectin (the jelling agent). If you just cook it slow and steady, your berries and berry juice will turn to a nice thick consistency, and eventually thicken up a bit. And if they don't thicken up a bit, that's okay too. Because it's delicious no matter what.
Tayberry Preserves (adapted from Preserving the Harvest)
3 quarts tayberries
6 cups sugar
In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the berries slowly until the juice is extracted, then add the sugar. Boil the mixture for 20 minutes. Skim off the foam. Pour the preserves into sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inche of headspace. Cap, seal and process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.

And then there were the peach preserves. Oh, and the peach butter. Cooked overnight at a very low temperature and in a crockpot, the peach butter. This is a definite keeper. And it's so easy. Here are the step by step directions.

So you know how I said I'm hooked on jam? We made more jam. With these.
And these.
And fig preserves with a little bit of orange zest and orange liquor? Uh, yeah. That's going to be a part of a wintertime appetizer or dessert. You can bet on it.

So now there's talk of pears, and no, I will not be making pear jam. But following quickly on its heels come apples. And I think about apple butter and how easy that crockpot fruit butter is and the free jars that are coming my way via family and I think maybe. It's best I don't count all of the jars of preserves, butter and jam lined up in the basement. This winter I think we shall be just fine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I interrupt this series with bacon

Yes, this week is all about preserving the harvest, but it's recently come to my attention that bacon trumps all. Bacon you say? Yes, bacon.

All roads lead to bacon:
But then there's my new favorite blog: Royal Bacon Society. The best blog header ever.
We'll return to our regularly scheduled programming momentarily.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Preserving the harvest: some nuts and bolts about what I’ve learned and resources

The center of it all
If you thought this series about preserving food was written from a master perspective you’re wrong. I first learned how to can food last summer when my good friend, whom I refer to as my Homestead Hook-up, was extremely wonderful and brought her knowledge, equipment and books to our house one weekend day to teach me how to can. I was clueless. You can read and see photos about it here. During that first foray, it was early Autumn, so we made and canned apple ginger jam, and then I wanted to try carrots, and my grandmother’s cinnamon apples. All of these were made with the intent to give as gifts at the holidays. The best of these was the apple ginger jam.

What did I learn? It was fun and rewarding. It was complicated and involved important steps to ensure food safety. It involved the world’s largest pot on my stovetop. It involved things like jar sterilization and boiling water. In the end? It was a lot of hard work, planning, and equipment. But once the learning curve happened, I thought, I could do this. And at Christmas, we packaged the jars in baskets and combined with things like embroidered towels and rosemary nuts and gave them out as gifts, completely homemade.

There is a really great website that shows you step by step how to can, complete with photos. It includes recipes and information about u-picks as well. I have referred to it many times this season, and gives you a good eye into the process. I don’t feel strong enough in my knowledge to teach other people how to can, because I’m still figuring it out as I go. But here are some things I know and maybe it will help you if you're thinking about canning your own food:

• It takes planning, research and lists. Jars for canning are available at your local supermarket and you can find used ones on Craigslist, too. A lot of people find their canning supplies at garage sales. I’m not much of a garage sailor, so we got our jars at either Fred Meyer , Bi-Mart or WinCo. Small jelly jars for jam, pints for sauces, and a few quarts for sauce or whole fruit (and I don't know how many times we've had to go over how many cups are in a pint, what equals a quart, and how many quarts are in gallons, etc. etc. Have your charts ready!). There are jars, lids and rings. We stuck with the standard jar so that we wouldn’t have to worry about what size lids or rings we already had. Jars and rings can be re used. Lids, cannot.

• You need to follow the recipes for canning because the combination of items sets the pH/acidity level which helps to safely preserve the food, or not. A standard resource for recipes is the Ball Blue Book of Preserving. I also use Preserving the Harvest, loaned to me by my Homestead Hook-up. Barbara Kingsolver also provides recipes for her preserving projects on her website here.

• Be careful, and if you can, don’t do it alone. It’s much more fun to can with someone else. You chat and catch up, you work together as a team, and it goes twice as fast. Also, canning can be a little dangerous. I had an incident one morning by myself when a jar slipped into the boiling water and splashed hot water on my face and hand. I kept it calm, ran cold water and even found a lemon to hold on the burns, but it would have been better to have had someone with me. It could have been bad.

• Using fresh produce as it’s in season is key. And you don’t control the weather. Just because you have on your calendar a weekend designated for strawberry picking and jam making doesn’t mean the strawberries will be ready. You’re going to need to just let go and go with the season. Inevitably it will be hottest day of the year when you end up canning tomato sauce and boil water on your stove in order to do so all ding dong day. That’s the way it goes.
The Barn
Where we get our produce:
-Strawberries picked at Columbia Farms on Sauvie Island.
-Figs and Apricots from Duyck's Peachy-Pig Farm, sold at Cedar Hills Farmers Market
-Tomatoes from Deep Roots Farms, sold at Portland Farmers Market
-Peaches picked from Sauvie Island Farms on Sauvie Island. Sauvie Island Farms also has a blog, The Farmer’s Wife, which updates throughout the season what is available, what’s coming into season, and occasionally recipes they use themselves for their produce.
-Raspberries, Tayberries, Blackberries picked from West Union Gardens.
-Blueberries picked from xxx Farms on Sauvie Island.
-Local produce from Trapold Farms (The Barn).
Sauvie Island Farms
This website has been helpful in finding and locating farms, along with this site.

Canning isn’t the only way we’ve been preserving the harvest. We also use our freezer, and we’re fortunate to have an extra fridge/freezer in our basement. It is currently stocked with berries of all kinds, and pesto. You can read and see how we freeze pesto in ice cube trays here. Oh, and it’s also packed with strawberry freezer jam. Oh, and slow roasted tomatoes. (I’ll post on Friday about sauces, salsa and tomatoes.)

Tomorrow? I’ll tell you about the jams we learned to make this year: tayberry, raspberry, fig and apricot, and Thursday I’ll write a little about family memories and the heritage of preserving our food, stories from our family, friends and neighbors.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A week about preserving the harvest: why we do what we do

Heirloom tomato fresh from the garden
Over the past year I’ve been reading books about food, our food chain, including books like Plenty, Animal Vegetable Miracle and the writings of Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser. And it was Animal Vegetable Miracle that laid out what could be possible. It was the clincher.

In the book, Barbara Kingsolver and her family reconnect to their roots by moving to a small farm in the Appalachian mountains. They connect to the farmers and to farming life, and resolve to grow much of their own food over the course of a year. It. Is. Intense. And in no way do I believe I’ve come even close to ever doing this. Not even close. However. It made me think.

The questions of where our food comes from and what we’re doing about it continue to loom. And for me, the question is what can I do about it? Not through my work with clients and their work, which is what I’ve done for years, but through my own personal actions? My choices? My way of living? How I eat?

Eating local is a political statement. A personal statement. An environmental statement. An exploration of what is possible. About thinking what you’re putting in your mouth and where you're putting your money. What’s easiest and the quickest in modern U.S. society does not mean what’s healthiest. And the impact on small farmers, and our ability to support them and to make conscientious choices of buying directly from them, is possible through farmers markets and farm visits. Especially here in the Portland area.

What if you were to really stop and get in touch with where your food comes from? What if you were to grow it yourself? Or to at least know the farms it comes from? Or even just make a point to go to the farms yourself and harvest it? This variety of closeness to your food is negotiable: what’s right for me may not be right for you. But what if you were to apply yourself to figuring that out and what possibilities are there for you? Have you read the ingredients on labels of mainstream foods in your major supermarkets? Can you pronounce all of the words on there? Have you noticed how corn syrup shows up on almost everything?*

Over the last year, we’ve tried to get closer to our food. A little bit. AdRi and I have been picking, growing, preserving and harvesting. We've been following the crops seasons, what farms are producing what and when, and resources are out there to connect us in the city to the producers all around us. And I thought this week I’d explore that here on my blog, the why, the how, and my exploration into preserving the food that comes into harvest this time of year. Memories of my mom canning, and memories of other women in my family and preservation. Let’s see where it goes. It’s been a steep learning curve but it’s rewarding and interesting.

And I keep thinking about the look on the woman’s face at BlogHer when I answered her question to “What do you blog about?” And I answered “canning”! The bewildered and puzzled look on her face said it all. Some people get it. Some people don’t. And I’m just figuring it all out as I go.

*Don’t get me started on trying to find hamburger buns without corn syrup—but know that you can get them from the wonderful Dave’s Killer Bread outlet shop in Milwaukie.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Surprise in the garden: pineapple tomatillos

We planted plenty of new things in the garden this year. Some with wonderful outcomes like chocolate cherry tomatoes, big beautiful heirloom tomatoes, tangerine thyme, and even some producing cucumbers. But we've also planted some duds. Duds=eggplants and zucchini that have just puttered out. Zucchini! Whatevs.

I was about to put the tomatillo plants into the dud category until I saw pineapple tomatillos for sale at the Portland Farmer's Market. They looked just like ours! Tiny! And then AdRi put it together: yes we had planted pineapple tomatillos, and they looked just like the ones for sale at the market. Tiny!
a tiny pineapple tomatillo
What I thought was a failure was actually a success. But even more successful is the taste of these in my mouth. Bracing myself for the tangy taste of tomatillos, I was pleasantly surprised to discover they're sweet, like citrus really, and really mellow and wonderful. And like tomatillos, they come disguised in this papery husk:
pineapple tomatillos in their husks
I love new surprises in the garden. Especially when they're not failures but sweet surprising success.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Infusing vinegar: getting in touch with my inner mad scientist

strawberry vinegar
With all of this preserving, there are plenty of strange concoctions bubbling and brewing in the house. Actually, with that description, my analogy would be better suited to witchcraft, since I'm currently reading a great book about green witchcraft. But that's another post. Back to the strange concoctions...

I've been interested in using more vinegars in the kitchen, and a book loaned to me by my Homesteading Hook-up is Preserving the Harvest. In it is a section on infusing your own vinegars (along with some wonderful preserving tips and recipes). And years ago, I had clipped a recipe for Blueberry Basil Vinegar and stuck it in my stash. So I suppose I've been ruminating on vinegars for some time. Who knew?

Well, all that rumination came to be a few weeks ago when I purchased a few big bottles of white and apple cider vinegar, and tracked down a variety of berries and herbs.

But then there were the bottles. Oy. IKEA has some, but they're pretty large. A variety of other stores were scoured, and a sampling of bottles showed up. But then on CraigslistI discovered my local coffee shop was looking to find a home for their many, many syrup bottles they were acquiring so I popped in and took a few off her hands. Free! They still have more, so if you're seeking glass bottles for projects, hop to.

First off, the Blueberry Basil vinegar. In a big monster jar, I dumped blueberries and shredded basil and after making a vinegar/sugar slurry, poured that in. See?
preparing the conconction for blueberry basil vinegar infusion
Shut the lid, and down to the basement it went.

The strawberry vinegar required a little cooking, but the mint vinegar was as easy as pie (wait, pie isn't easy). And last night? We strained and sterilized and bottled our vinegars.
blueberry basil and lemon mint vinegars

The mint vinegar is really tasty with fish and fresh vegetables. The strawberry vinegar I'm looking forward to using with pork this winter and with cabbage as a coleslaw. And the blueberry basil makes a fantastic salad dressing combined with olive oil. Quick easy flavors that pack a punch and enhance food, especially vegetables and proteins: all created with the bounty of the summer season. But mainly, these are to give as gifts at the holidays. Sssshhhhh.
lemon mint vinegar
Mint Vinegar
1.5 cups fresh mint leaves
6 cups white wine vinegar
1/2 cup honey or 1 cup sugar
zest of 3 lemons
3 fresh mint leaves
1. In a half gallon container bruise the mint leaves with the back of a spoon.
2. Add remaining ingredients and stir.
3. Store in two 1 quart jars, capped and sealed, at room temperature for about 2 weeks.
4. Filter into three clean containers and add afresh mint sprig for beauty. Store tightly sealed in a cool dark place for up to 6 months.

Strawberry Vinegar
2 pints strawberries rinsed stemmed halved, 1/4 cup reserved
1 quart cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
1. In a large 4 quart nonreactive saucepan combine berries and vinegar. Let stand for 1 hour.
2. Add the sugar to the saucepan and heat to a slow boil to dissolve the sugar. Simmer 10 minutes
3. Use a coffee filter to strain into three sterile 1 pint bottles. Press out as much juice from berries as possible.
4. Add some of the reserved strawberries to each bottle. Cap, seal label. Store in cool dark place for 2 weeks before use.
yields 3 pints

Blueberry Basil Vinegar
3 cups fresh blueberries crushed
1/2 cup firmly packed torn fresh basil leaves
4 cups white vinegar
Fresh basil leaves optional
Combine crushed fresh blueberries and 1/2 cup torn basil in large sterilized wide mouthed jar and set aside.
Place vinegar in a medium nonaluminum saucepan and bring to boil. Pour hot vinegar over blueberry mixture, cover jar, let stand at room temp for 2 weeks.
Strain vinegar through several layers of cheesecloth into decorative jars, discard blueberry pulp. Add additional basil leaves to jars if desired. Seal jars with a cork or other airtight lid. yields 4 cups
Boil, boil, toil and trouble...