oregon or pnw food gifts?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m co-teaching a Gifts from the Kitchen class for the MFPs, in conjunction with Lane Community College, this October.  As we’re preparing our materials for great gift baskets for the holidays, I thought I’d ask for more ideas.

What kinds of Oregon food gifts do you bring to people out of state?  What food represents the Willamette Valley, Oregon, or the PNW to you?  Is it jam, fruit, candy, vegetables?  Do you bake any special Oregon treats at the holidays?  Do you have any particular food gifts you give from local Eugene companies?  I’d love to hear from as many people as possible, so I can present a comprehensive list.  Thanks and have a great Labor Day weekend: don’t work too hard!

blt salad

I’ve posted enough about my dislike of lettuce, I think, but there are a few ways in which I really love it.  BLT sandwich is one.  Who wouldn’t like thick, peppered bacon, a quarter-inch slice of juicy August tomato, and a handful of crunchy bittersweet lettuce, layered on a slice of fresh bread slathered with homemade mayonnaise?  Heaven.

Our tomatoes are having a weird season, and the heirloom long-season slicers and paste tomatoes are coming in before the short-season slicers.  The cherries suffered early in the summer, but came back to set fruit by the bucketful on the tops of the plants, so now I have more Supersweet100s, Sungolds and Yellow Pear cherry tomatoes than I can eat.    So I thought I’d slice up a bowlful and make an excuse for a salad.

BLT Salad

  • all the cherry tomatoes you can get your hands on
  • all the remaining bacon you have left over from breakfast
  • glug of olive oil
  • couple spritzes of excellent sherry vinegar
  • pinch salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a couple of romaine lettuce hearts, sliced into fine ribbons
  • handful of basil from the garden, sliced into fine ribbons

Cut tomatoes in half and toss with bacon, olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper.  Mound lettuce and basil on top of dressed tomatoes, then bring to table.  Toss immediately before serving, since lettuce starts to wilt in the dressing.  Die of pleasure.  Choose whether you will leave leftovers as your legacy before doing so.

safe kosher-style dill pickles: fermented and non-fermented

This post contains two recipes: (1) a tested recipe for vinegar pickles, which are canned immediately and therefore called “Quick Kosher Dills;” and (2) a tested recipe that takes more time for fermented full-sour dills that you can either store in a cool place in a crock or can.

See my fermented half-sour dill pickle notes if you’d like to develop your own recipe for that kind of pickle.

There is a certain art in making fermented dill pickles, since the environmental conditions matter so much.  We don’t have central air conditioning, so my house is subject to the vagaries of time and place.  But it’s pickle time, and the pickle eating masses demand a good recipe!  Most people aren’t as grumpy as I am about too-vinegary pickles, and the MFP in me feels slightly obligated to distribute a plain pickle recipe that people can use, especially after my own mom had to rely on an old recipe with no directions.

So please find herewith two reliable, safe recipes from the Pacific Northwest Extension brochure called “Pickling Vegetables,” annotated and modified with my notes in green.

If you’re interested in long-term storage, please follow these instructions carefully, as cucumber pickles are large enough to cause problems with the brine not penetrating and creating a haven for microorganisms.  You will soon see why people don’t post these recipes — what a fussy pain!  :)  But I think we need an annotated, vetted pickle recipe on the interwebs, since there really doesn’t seem to be one.  I don’t want to be the pickle nazi — we all have the responsibility to take our own risks with food and other activities, but part of that choice is to know what has been tested and recommended by food science folks.

The first recipe allows you to put up dill pickles in pint or quart jars instead of a crock.  You won’t have to refrigerate these if you process or low-temperature pasteurize them.  What I like about this recipe is that it doesn’t use pickling lime or any hard-to-find spices, like mace.

The second recipe is a more standard old-fashioned fermented pickle recipe.  It is more fussy but will make better pickles, in my opinion.  You have the option of either storing them in the refrigerator or boiling the brine and processing them for longer storage.

When selecting cucumbers for pickling, don’t use the waxy supermarket variety, of course, and select the freshest, firmest, youngest, smallest cucumbers you can.  Scrub with a very soft brush, since dirt tends to cling to them, especially in the crevices, and trim off any blemishes.  If you can, pick them in the morning and put them up the same day.  Try to have them all the same size, so they process evenly.

Also of crucial importance is the length of the cucumbers.  If you use pint jars, they will barely fit, and you’ll have to slice more off the end.  You want the cucumbers to be no longer than one inch from the top of the pint jar (just under the lowest ring stamped in the jar), since you will fill it with brine to one-half inch from the top of the pint jar.  You’ll be able to fit in 5-6 cucumbers per pint jar.  For quart jars, you will have more leeway, but make sure the pickles don’t float to the top.

Quick Kosher Dills

  • 4 lb. pickling cucumbers (4-inch)
  • 14 garlic cloves, split
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt [note: regular salt has a non-caking additive that will cloud the brine; sea salt has impurities.  You can buy canning/pickling salt at most grocery stores in season.]
  • 2 3/4 cups vinegar (5%) [note: European vinegars have more acidity, so they’re ok to use, but don’t use 4% vinegars, which are also on the market.  Standard white vinegar is usually 5%]
  • 3 cups water [note: if you have hard water, use bottled water.  Soft water is ok.]
  • 14 heads fresh dill [note: frozen heads of fresh dill taste better than fresh, since the cell walls are broken down by freezing.  Stick your dill in the freezer after buying it at the market and harvesting the heads]
  • 28 peppercorns
  • 2 tsp hot red pepper flakes (optional)
  • [note:  I also add a teaspoon of Penzeys pickling spice and a half-teaspoon of brown mustard seed per pint jar]
  • [note:  6-8 fresh, washed grape leaves can be added to the jars if you have them, to retard softening.  Concord are best.]

Yield: 6 to 7 pints or 3 to 4 quarts

Procedure: Wash cucumbers.  Cut a 1/16-inch slice off blossom end [note: i.e., not the stem end.  It’s usually the smaller, lighter-color end of the cucumber], but leave 1/4 inch of stem on the other end.  Cut in half lengthwise [note: this isn’t necessary and they’re prettier if whole].  Heat salt, vinegar and water to boiling.  [Wash and heat jars — I usually run the dishwasher immediately before canning, and leave the jars in the heated dishwasher.  If you are particularly careful, you can boil the jars for 5 minutes before using.  The lids and rings shouldn’t be boiled, but should be washed and brought up to 180 degrees in simmering water, then allowed to sit for 5 minutes before use.  Use only new lids to ensure a good seal.] Pack cucumbers [as tightly as possible] into pint or quart jars, adding [one grape leaf per jar at bottom of jar,] 4 garlic halves, 2 heads dill [note: if large heads, use only one], and 4 peppercorns.  Add 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes per pint, if desired.

Pour hot vinegar solution over cucumbers to within 1/2 inch of top.  [Gently tap or roll jar on counter to release air bubbles inside brine.] Adjust lids and use conventional boiling-water canner processing [note: this might soften pickles, but you can boil for 10 minutes for pints, 15 for quarts, following standard waterbath canning procedures] or [what I recommend] lower temperature pasteurization.

[For lower temperature pasteurization, you use your waterbath canner (or a large stockpot that can cover the jars with at least an inch of water).  You’ll need a candy thermometer to check the temperature.  Heat the water to 120 to 140 degrees, then add jars and more hot water to cover, if necessary.  Heat water to 180 degrees, then start a timer, processing the jars for 30 minutes.  Be sure the temperature stays between 180-185 the entire time.  Remove the jars after processing and let cool on a rack or towel with air circulating between the jars.]

Dill Pickles

[This is a recipe for fermented kosher-style dills.  It only uses a little bit of vinegar to inhibit microorganisms.  I recommend buying a Gärtopf crock if you like to make pickles and sauerkraut regularly.]

Use the following quantities for each gallon of your container’s capacity.

  • 4 lb. pickling cucumbers (4-inch)
  • 2 Tbsp dill seed or 4 to 5 heads fresh or dry dill weed [note: dill heads are superior to seed.  Frozen heads of fresh dill taste better than fresh, since the cell walls are broken down by freezing.  Stick your dill in the freezer after buying it at the market and harvesting the heads]
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional) [note:  NOT optional :)]
  • 2 dried red peppers (optional)
  • 2 tsp whle mixed pickling spices (optional)
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (5%) [note: European vinegars have more acidity, so they’re ok to use, but don’t use 4% vinegars, which are also on the market.  Standard white vinegar is usually 5%]
  • 8 cups water [note: if you have hard water, use bottled water.  Soft water is ok.]
  • [note:  a few fresh, washed grape leaves can be added to the container if you have them, to retard softening.  Concord are best.]

Procedure:  Wash cucumbers.  Cut a 1/16-inch slice off blossom end [note: i.e., not the stem end.  It’s usually the smaller, lighter-color end of the cucumber], but leave 1/4 inch of stem on the other end. [Poke cucumbers with a knitting needle or thin chopstick to aid pickling.] Place half of dill and half of other flavorings on bottom of a clean, suitable container [i.e. a crock or food grade plastic or glass containers, preferably 3 quarts or larger.  DON’T use small jars for this recipe, as they won’t allow proper fermentation].  Add [grape leaves,] cucumbers, remaining dill, and flavorings.  Dissolve salt in vinegar and water and pour over cucumbers.  Add suitable weight [if you don’t have a crock with a weight in it, I recommend a gallon-sized Ziploc bag filled with brine (1 1/2 tablespoons of salt per 1 quart water) that you close up and place snugly in the container after filling it.  Double-bag for security, but if it leaks, the brine is the same concentration as the brine in the container.] and cover [with a clean towel.  Do not seal the container or the fermenting may make the lid blow off.  If you are using a crock, follow the manufacturer’s instructions about the lid].

Store where temperature is 70 to 75 degrees F for about 3 to 4 weeks.  Temperatures of 55 to 65 are acceptable [and in my opinion, make much better pickles], but the fermentation will take 5 to 6 weeks.  Pickles will become too soft if temperatures are above 80 degrees during fermentation.

Check the container several times a week and promptly remove surface scum or mold. [I find that with a Gartopf crock, I don’t get mold, since the seal is air-tight, so I don’t check it that often.]

Caution:  if the pickles become soft or slimy, or if they develop a disagreeable odor, discard them.  [Without tasting them!!!]

Fully fermented pickles may be stored in the original container for 4 to 6 months, provided you refrigerate them and remove surface scum and molds regularly.

Canning is a better way to store fully fermented pickles.  To can them, pour the brine into a pan, heat slowly to a boil, and simmer 5 minutes.  Filter brine through paper coffee filters to reduce cloudiness, if desired.  Fill pint or quart jars with pickles and hot brine, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.

[Gently tap or roll jar on counter to release air bubbles inside brine.] Adjust lids and use conventional boiling-water canner processing [note: this might soften pickles, but you can boil for 10 minutes for pints, 15 for quarts, following standard waterbath canning procedures] or [what I recommend] lower temperature pasteurization.

[For lower temperature pasteurization, you use your waterbath canner (or a large stockpot that can cover the jars with at least an inch of water).  You’ll need a candy thermometer to check the temperature.  Heat the water to 120 to 140 degrees, then add jars and more hot water to cover, if necessary.  Heat water to 180 degrees, then start a timer, processing the jars for 30 minutes.  Be sure the temperature stays between 180-185 the entire time.  Remove the jars after processing and let cool on a rack or towel with air circulating between the jars.]

gifts from the kitchen class offered in october

And while I’m advertising classes, take mine! :)

If you’re like me, you now have a cupboard filled with jams, pickles, and vinegars waiting for the holiday gift-giving season.  If you’re not like me, you have batches of cookies and sweet breads planned.  And if you would rather not be burned by a hot jar or jelly roll pan, but still want to give delicious goodness in pretty packages… I have the class for you all!

As part of our fundraising efforts, the Lane County Extension Master Food Preservers are holding a three-day class called “Gifts from the Kitchen,” on making and packaging food gifts for the holidays. I’ll be organizing and co-teaching the class with another MFP, Jennifer Martin, who has an excellent design sense and great ideas.   It will be held on October 8, 22 and 29, from 5:30-8:30 p.m., at the Extension building next to the Fairgrounds in Eugene, and it is being offered through Lane Community College. The fee for the three-part class is $95, which includes materials.

We are still in the planning stages, but we know for sure that the class will include hands-on workshops on wrapping baskets and jars, instruction on making herbal jellies and lemon curd, and drying your own soup mixes.  We have scheduled the cook who makes the artisan jams at Marché Provisions (also a proud MFP!) to help out with pointers on making unusual jams.  Also under consideration is how to make the perfect Made in Oregon basket, foolproof fudge, what to do with 25 pounds of almonds, Italian soda syrups, and delicious additions to tea and cocoa.

I’ve found that these types of classes attract a wide range of expertise, and I guarantee you’ll learn just as much from the other students as you will from us, so this class should be fantastic.  If you’ve always wanted to give food gifts for the holidays, please join us!

Registration has just opened, and class size is limited, so don’t wait to sign up!  For the registration form, click here. The official Lane Community College catalogue announcement can be found here, or just read the paragraph below:

Get a jump on the holidays by learning to make your own gifts. The class series will include unique fruit spreads, herbal and pepper jelly, home canned pie fillings, lemon curd, flavored vinegars and oils, and homemade liqueurs. Soup and drink mixes will also be included. The class will include how to decorate jars and make theme baskets for year around gift giving. Supplies included. No class on 10/15. This class is offered through a partnership with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

preserving green class a hit!

Yesterday’s “Preserving and Cooking Green” class went really well, and now I’m even more excited about the upcoming “Tomato Tango” class on September 20.  Everyone in the class was presented with a booklet of hand-selected recipes and food safety handouts, and Hentze Farm generously provided the vegetables.  After a full-class lecture about canning principles and examples of making sauerkraut and packing green beans, the class broke into small groups to do pickle workshops.

Everyone had a chance to practice making bread-and-butter pickles, kosher-style dill pickles, or dilly beans under the guidance of veteran Master Food Preservers. Maybe next year we’ll see their cukes at the Fair?

After we were thoroughly pickled, we turned to demonstrations:

  • pressure canning beans;
  • drying zucchini, tomatoes, summer squash and various convenience foods; and
  • freezing sweet corn, squash, and green beans.

As the students persevered at the various stations, the volunteers set up a tasting buffet that could only be called extravagant.  Ironically insisting it wasn’t lunch, our Mistress of Ceremonies Donna Crosiar invited everyone to help themselves, and heap our plates we did.  One of the main themes of the tasting buffet was to show every single thing in the entire universe that could be done with the zucchini now threatening to take over Eugene.  Read it and weep:

Two MFPs manned (womanned) frypans, cooking up zucchini-and-carrot fritters and zucchini pancakes, respectively.  There were two versions of fried zucchini (and fried green tomatoes, yum) and stuffed, baked zucchini.  Tzatziki dip accompanied dried zucchini chips.  For dessert?  We had already had two kinds of zucchini bread as a breakfast snack, so we needed…zucchini chocolate cake and zucchini cobbler, the latter of which tastes remarkably like apple.  In between, we tasted sauerkraut chowder, a Hungarian-ish pork goulash sauerkraut soup, several kinds of pickles, sauerkraut salad, and god knows what else.

The high point of the class for me was overhearing someone say she had waited 50 years to learn how to do these things.  That’s 50 years too long, if you ask me!  This program has changed my life, and I honestly believe it can enhance the lives of all of our local cooks.  The class was a mix of generations, and there were just as many young granola-types as there were middle-aged housewife-types, with some yuppie Slowfooders in between.  That’s what I love about the MFP program; learning to preserve your own food reaches across the breadth of Eugene’s distinct populations.  And a quick poll at the end of the class showed that everyone felt they had received their money’s worth.

So that’s what you missed.  But I have good news for you.  I promise, absolutely promise, that the tomato class on September 20 will be even better.  We’ll feature tomato variety taste-testing, and how to preserve your garden bounty by drying, canning, and freezing.  We’ll be demonstrating salsa making and many ways to use up your green tomatoes.   The class will held at the Extension office next to the Fairgrounds.  Early registration is $40 a person, $75 for couples, and at-the-door is $50 a person.  Spaces are filling up, so please call 541-682-4246 to register soon!  We’d love to have you join us, and keep in mind that this could be the last class of its type offered by the MFP program.  We may not have the funding to maintain this level of service next year.  Don’t miss your opportunity!

endless blackberry summer, with panna cotta

Now that the rains are back, you didn’t think I’d leave you high and dry about the panna cotta with blackberries, didya?

This recipe is so simple it’s almost a non-recipe, if you just have time the night before to make the panna cotta and the syrup.  Imagine a silky, milky custard that coats your mouth like sweet, thick, slightly sour cream.  If you haven’t tried making panna cotta yet, it’s a breeze, and a perfect base for fresh fruit in hot weather, since you only have to heat up the cream to a simmer.

Mario Batali’s panna cotta recipe with goat milk yogurt is floating around the internets tubes, but I find it to be a bit, well, gamey with the yogurt and what seems like a gallon of vanilla.  I love you Mario, you know I do.  You know I really, really love you and felt my heart crumble when the Food Network replaced your show with smiling skulls with raucous voices and ghastly quick-cooking abominations.  But I like the purity of my sour cream-no vanilla panna cotta better.

I use our delicious local dairy products: Noris Dairy cream and Nancy’s cultured sour cream, which is thicker and a bit tangier than the Noris version.  Then I turn to Lone Pine Farm’s gigantic, sweetsour blackberries, whose variety is, as the kid behind the counter told me, “blackberry.”  They’re not Marionberries, since that season is over, and I suspected they were Chesters, but that’s not right, either.  If you have a chance to get over there and find someone who actually knows something, please let me in on the secret.  More importantly, everyone should know that our blackberries never, ever end all summer long.  Can you imagine?!

And finally, Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Pinot Gris syrup.  He uses it to make a lovely drink at Bel Ami called the East of Eden; I use it in jam and fruit preparations West of Willamette Ave.  If we had a battle for deliciousness, he’d probably win because the judges would float into the sky, head in the stars, caressed by the rosy fingers of dawn.  I’d pelt them with blackberries, though, and down they’d fall, a Pyrrhic victory of Willamette Valley proportions.

Willamette Valley Panna Cotta with Pinot Gris Blackberries

Serves 6

Panna Cotta:

  • 2 cup Noris Dairy cream
  • 1 1/4 cup Nancy’s cultured sour cream
  • 1 1/2 t. gelatin
  • 2 T. water
  • 1/3 cup sugar

Combine gelatin and water in small bowl.  Let sit for 5 minutes to dissolve.

Whisk sour cream and one cup of the cream in bowl until lumps dissolve.

Bring the remaining one cup of cream and the sugar to simmer over medium heat.  Stir to melt sugar frequently.  Add the gelatin mix, whisking rapidly, until it dissolves.

Remove from heat and combine with cream and sour cream mixture.

Pour into ramekins and chill overnight.

Pinot Gris Blackberries:

  • Three half-pints of the finest, biggest blackberries you can find, rinsed
  • 2 T. pinot gris syrup (see recipe below)
  • Dash allspice

Crush about one cup of blackberries in a small bowl.  Add pinot gris syrup and dash allspice.  Carefully toss with remaining blackberries in large bowl, and let macerate in refrigerator for several hours before serving.  Turn berries every few hours.  Garnish with wild blackberry flowers, if those damn brambles keep coming back in your yard, no matter what you do.

Morgenthaler’s Pinot Gris Syrup:

Keep this in your refrigerator for a fragrant alternative to simple syrup.  Our local Sweet Cheeks Winery‘s 2006 Estate Pinot Gris is particularly nice for drinks and desserts, since it has bright, summery stonefruit flavors.

1 bottle Sweet Cheeks Pinot Gris
12 oz. sugar

Reduce wine by half in a saucepan over medium heat.  This will take a while.  Stir in sugar and cook until liquid is clear.  Let cool, and keep in a sealed jar or bottle in the refrigerator.  Keeps for at least a few months, as the sugar is a preservative.