what i did on my summer vacation

I canned anxiously, fretfully, distractedly, grumpily between deadlines.  Take THAT, CV!  Delicious, jammy, pickly, tomatoey, sauerkrauted THAT.  The sad thing is that I didn’t have the time to do my annual summer mailing of jam to interested family and friends.  Ah well, all we have is time.

Top row: jalapeno salsa, pure tomato sauce, ketchup (last year), roasted roma sauce, tuna.

Middle row: dill relish (last year), dilled green tomato slices, sauerkraut, apple sauce (last year), pickled asparagus, wax and green dilly beans, senfgurken sweet mustard pickle.

Bottom row: various jams (Czech apricot with Becherovka, elephant plum (last year), tayberry Old Bachelor and Old Spinster (with homemade red fruit liqueur and rose geranium, respectively), loganberry, mixedberry, blackberry Brulé, cabernet and lemon curd I bought last winter, and vinegar quarts (in front are chive blossom and homemade datu puti with cane vinegar, chiles, onion, and garlic).

the polish mare

If you haven’t yet voted in Eugene Weekly‘s Best of Eugene 2010, I would encourage you to do so soon!  And if you can support this blog by voting for it for “best blog,” I’d appreciate it.  I came in second place last year.  Can we make it to the top? I’ve been drinking raw (farm fresh urban homesteaded) eggs, jogging up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (leaving my car at home to minimize my carbon footprint — that’s a long jog), and punching sides of feed lot beef every morning.

If you vote, you have to register at the site (this is to prevent ballot stuffing, not to spam you).  And please vote for 10 categories if you’d like your vote to count.  Surely, you can find 10 things to like about Eugene.

And thanks!

it’s not easy being green tomatoes

Well, we need to face facts.  We may get a few more ripe ones during this warm weekend, but most of us in the Willamette Valley will be stuck with bushels of unripe tomatoes this year.

Suzi Busler, the fearless leader of our Master Food Preserver program in Lane & Douglas Counties, recently held a green tomato class in Roseburg.  These are her notes on recipes for cooking and preserving the little monsters:

Green Tomato Chutney – outstanding….best chutney I’ve tasted. Recipe came out of Ball Complete book [ed: see below];

Green Tomato Salsa — used the tomatillo recipe – was excellent [ed: see below];

Dilled Green Tomatoes – a pickle recipe in Ball Complete book [ed: see below; also in Ball Blue Book];

Green Tomato Pie Filling – good [ed: this and more tested recipes are in the Lane County Extension “Green Tomato” publication LC 369];

Fried Green Tomatoes – Slices of green tomato, dip in egg, dredge in flour, dredge in Italian Seasoned Bread crumbs, fry in oil, sprinkle salt, pepper, a little cayenne pepper and sour cream…yum;

Oven Roasted Green Tomatoes – slices of tomatoes, cookie sheet, brush with olive oil, salt/pepper and crushed garlic. Cook in slow, warm oven (200°F) for 4-6 hours till leathery.

Green Tomato Chutney

Yield: 7 pints

Adapted from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

16 cups sliced, cored, peeled green tomatoes
½ cups canning salt
Cold water
3 tablespoons pickling spice
4 cups white vinegar
16 cups chopped, cored, peeled apples (tart, firm)
3 medium yellow or white onions, chopped
3 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
6 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder

In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, layer tomatoes and pickling salt. Add cold water to cover.  Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight.

Transfer tomatoes to a colander placed over a sink.  Rinse well with cold water and drain thoroughly.

Peel, core, and chop apples.  Add to vinegar to prevent browning.

Tie pickling spice in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag. Set aside.

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar and apples, drained tomatoes, onions, and green peppers.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in brown sugar and return to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently for 30 minutes.

Add reserved spice bag and chili powder and stir well.  Boil gently, stirring frequently, until thick enough to mound on a spoon, about 30 minutes.  Discard spice bag.

Sterilize jars, and prepare rings and lids according to safe practices (see canning book if you do not know how to do this).

Ladle hot chutney into hot jars, leaving ½ inch head space.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot chutney.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to finger tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Cover the canner, bring to boil, and process jars for 15 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove the jars, cool, label and store in cool dark place.

For best quality, consume within one year.

Green Tomato Salsa

Yield: 5 pints.

Ed note: because you can swap out tomatillos for regular tomatoes and green tomatoes for tomatillos in salsa recipes, according to Extension, I assume this means green tomatoes can be swapped out for regular tomatoes.  Go, 9th grade math knowledge!   Adapted from tomatillo salsa recipe in Extension’s “Tomatillos” publication SP 50-768.

5  cups chopped green tomatoes
2  cups seeded, chopped jalapenos
4  cups chopped white onions
1  cup bottled lemon juice
6  cloves garlic, finely chopped
1  tablespoon canning salt
1  teaspoon  freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and stir frequently over high heat until
mixture begins to boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Prepare jars and lids.

Ladle hot salsa into hot pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.

Dilled Green Tomatoes

Ed note: I make these green tomato sliced pickles each year.  I find these work better than fermenting whole tomatoes, no matter how small they are, since I have not had great luck with flavor and texture (too hard and crunchy).  Slicing tomatoes will slightly decrease the yield.  Adapted from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Yield: 5 to 6 pints.

3 1/2 cups white distilled vinegar
3 1/2 cups water
¼ cups canning salt
5 lbs. small, firm, green tomatoes, sliced, halved or quartered, or green cherry tomatoes
6 cloves garlic
6 teaspoons pickling spice (separated, one t. per jar)
6 teaspoons brown mustard seed (separated, one t. per jar)
6 heads fresh dill

Prepare canner, jars, lids.  Keep jars hot.  Yield may be smaller than 6 pints, but prepare 6 just to be sure.

Slice or quarter your tomatoes.  You may half smaller tomatoes.  Keep cherry tomatoes whole.  Try to separate tomato pieces by size, i.e., keep cherries together and slices together, for the best quality produce.

In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, water and pickling salt.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve salt. Remove from heat.

Add 1 clove garlic, 1 head dill, 1 teaspoon each of pickling spice and mustard seed to each hot jar.  Pack raw tomatoes into hot jars to within a generous ½ inch of top of jar.

Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover tomatoes, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to boil and process for 15 minutes.

Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, label and store cool, dry dark place.  For best quality, consume within one year.

Whew!  My green tomatoes are done for the year, but here are all my ideas for green tomatoes. Try:

hello, young farmers, wherever you are…

I’m happy to spread the word about the Greenhorns, a non-profit based in several cities that helps educate and support young farmers who may not have the traditional networks of farming education available to them, or just want to share new perspectives.  The Portland branch is holding a mixer on October 10.  Will Eugene be next?

noodle n thai: a springfield surprise

If you’re working as hard as me, trying to get summer (spring?) projects finished before school starts at the end of the month, you will surely need a new Thai restaurant to help.  Check out my latest restaurant review for Noodle N Thai in Springfield.  It appeared this week in Eugene Weekly‘s Chow! quarterly dining guide.  I think the Register-Guard really dropped the ball on this one, as the quasi-review in the strange Q&A format restaurant column last month didn’t pick up on the fact that they make their own noodles and curry pastes.  This is Crucial Information, fellow foodies, Crucial.  (And I would encourage all restaurant reviewers to eat more than one dish one time at a restaurant before writing a review…these shouldn’t be marketing pieces but an assessment of the food!) Pictured above, Thai “spaghetti” red curry, made with said homemade curry paste and rice noodles.

By the way, the restaurant is down the street from Momma’s Kitchen, a great place for fried chicken.  The reviews have been mixed, but my admittedly and unabashedly northern taste buds quite enjoyed it, especially the collards and fried okra.

canning techniques: dropping acid

I often cringe when I see pickling recipes on the internet, but canned tomato recipes are usually downright unsafe.  I’m not a complete preservation safety cop, but there are some basic rules I really do follow.  I carefully consider the surfaces that encourage microbial growth.  I’m kind of a cleaning maniac when I’m canning — I really do scrub up everything and sanitize my sponges before canning.  And I make those little suckers feel very uncomfortable by changing their happy low-acid free love festival to a high-acid paranoid police state.  Kills the ambiance, you know?

I pay more attention to acid than a Berkeley undergrad.  Tomato preparations need added acid because they’re right on the cusp of what we call high and low acid foods on the pH scale.  My guess is that those watery plum tomatoes we buy by the lug are on the low end.  Low-acid foods are breeding grounds for pathogens, including the dreaded clostridium botulinum.  We want to make anything we can either high in acid or high in sugar, sometimes both.

So we add acid.  You can play a bit with tastes.  Sometimes lemon and lime juice can be used, or vinegars with different flavor profiles, as long as they have 5% acetic acid.  But here’s the key:

It’s ok to substitute equal amounts of bottled lemon juice for vinegar in recipes
using vinegar.  DO NOT substitute vinegar for lemon juice.  Lemon juice is more acidic.

Use only bottled lemon and lime juice in tomato canning recipes.  I know, bottled lime is not the best taste and often contains preservatives, but you won’t be able to taste the bottled-ness in your tomatoes, and the preservatives actually may help.  The problem is that the acidity of lemons and limes varies over the season, and you want consistency in canning tomatoes, especially if you are using a tested recipe…or if you aren’t using one, you’ll need all the acidity you can get.  I save my fresh lemons for high-acid fruit jams, where you can really taste the difference.

Vinegars can pose a different problem.  Most of the vinegar one can buy in bulk sizes is standard, commercial stuff with a big 5% printed on the jug.  This 5% is not the pH level, it is the percentage of acetic acid in the vinegar solution (the rest is water).  White distilled, cider, white wine, and red wine vinegars are most often sold at 5% acid.  European vinegars, however, including white and red wine vinegar I often buy for salads, can vary from 3 – 8%.  (Compare my “Ac. 8˚” imported Spanish sherry vinegar and the 5% white wine vinegar, above.)  Japanese rice vinegar is most often only 3-4.2%, so you shouldn’t use it for canning.  The lower amount of acid actually makes for a smoother taste with less bite — great for some dishes, but not great for your shelf-stable tomatoes . In short:

The percentage of acetic acid in vinegar is almost always printed on the bottle, so check it out, and don’t use anything under 5%.

If you follow these two basic rules, you’re on your way to canned tomato nirvana.  Turn on, tune in, and drop out, man.

dinner for oscar the grouch

If the contents of your compost bowl look this good, you know late summer has truly arrived.  We’re still struggling with no main tomato crop in the southern Willamette Valley, but they’re starting to trickle in, and the next few days promise to have a little heat.  I managed to get 6 pints of very hot jalapeño and fresh cayenne pepper salsa out of my own tomatoes, mostly Saucey and Black Prince.  I’ll probably do another batch with purchased tomatoes, should that opportunity arrive before school starts at the end of the month.  I’m completely out of tomato sauce and regular tomatoes, so I would really like to make this happen!

in which i dream of tess of the d’urbervilles

I’m preparing for an advanced cheesemaking class tomorrow in Douglas County by drooling over pictures of our recent tour of Three Rings Farm, a goat dairy and the makers of River’s Edge chèvre.

In my fantasies, I see myself slinging curds and whey like a pro on a little goat farm, a latter-day Tess of the D’Urbervilles.  I will live in the rolling hills west of Portland, a stone’s throw from the coast, and I will sleep al fresco in a flowery meadow, and I will be nudged awake in the morning by my goats.

Heidi, my milking machine and all around Girl Friday, will wake at the break of dawn to take care of their udderly needs.

My cheese will come out as beautifully as these ash-coated, bloomy rind cheeses:

Above: Humbug Mountain and Sunset Bay.  Below:  I’m not sure, but they sure look good.

And there will be no Angel Clare or Alec or any Victorian labor practices or degeneration or class discrimination or murder, and we will live happily ever after, eating cheese.

Stay tuned.

senfgurken: vengeance will be mine!

Senfgurken, mustardy pickled cucumbers popular in Germany, are warriors in the battle of the summer squash.  Vengeance will be mine!

We all know the war — summer squash vs. you.  One day, you’re harvesting tiny cucumbers and zucchini, some even with their blossoms still on the fruit.  You look carefully every day or so, removing the young, tender squash from their vines.

But lurking under the trap doors, hidden down in the tangle of vines just out of reach, is a terrible creature biding its time until it can swell up and take over the garden: a monster zucchini or a yellowing, bloated, misshapen cucumber.

Overgrown zucchini can be used for quick bread, of course, but I’ve always felt slightly ashamed of the bloated cucumbers.  After all, what could I do with them?  Discarded, they are sending the wrong message to the rest of the plants, that one can escape the gardener’s scythe if one just hides long enough.  And then, if composted juuuuuuuust right (i.e., not correctly) your seeds will germinate and you will live again, muwahahahahahahh!

This vegetable revolt went unchecked in my garden until I discovered senfgurken, which magically transforms the yellowing cukes into mustard-spicy sweet pickles similar to watermelon rind pickles.  Indeed, they are less work than watermelon rind pickles, too, and you don’t have to collect a bunch of sticky, hard-to-peel rinds.

This year, I grew quite a few cornichons, which immediately slipped beyond my control.  Cornichons, tiny french cucumbers, do not fare well when let go:

Senfgurken time.

Use very yellow, very bloated, horrible-tasting, late summer cucumbers for this recipe.  My cornichons didn’t yellow beyond this point, but the pickling cucumbers did.  Any yellow-bellied cur of a slicing cucumber will be a marvelous martyr on the battlefield.

Oh, and the seeds?  Save them for planting next year, so the war can continue.  And then you won’t have to fund it with money for schools or public programs!

Senfgurken Mustard Pickles

(Adapted from several recipes, including Linda Ziedrich’s Joy of Pickling)

Makes 8-9 half-pints or 4 pints

  • 5 lbs. large yellowed (overripe) cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • 3 cups cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spices, separated into two equal piles
  • 2 tablespoons white mustard seeds, separated into two equal piles

Peel cucumbers, halve, and scoop out the seeds (save for next year’s planting). Cut into strips about an inch wide, and cut the largest pieces in half.  Salt slices, and soak overnight on the counter (or for 8-12 hours) until the cucumbers are pliable.

Drain the cucumber slices, but do not rinse.  Bring your water bath canner up to a boil and prepare your jars, lids and rings.  Since you will be boiling them for 10 minutes, you do not need to sterilize the jars, but do wash well.

Combine the vinegar, sugar, and half of the mustard and pickling spices in a medium-sized pot, and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat, then add about half of the cucumbers to the brine.  Let simmer for one minute.  Then remove the slices with a slotted spoon and place in the jars with the aid of a wide-mouthed canning funnel.  Once all the cucumbers are in the jars, fill to 1/2 inch from the top with the hot brine, including as many of the spices as you can.  Remove air bubbles in each jar with a plastic knife or chopstick, packing the slices down well, and rearrange any slices floating with their tails pointed upward and well out of the brine.  Wipe jar mouths and adjust lids and rings.

Add the remaining spices to the leftover brine, then bring to a boil again and repeat procedure with the rest of the cucumbers.

Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  (Linda Ziedrich suggests low-temperature pasteurization for 30 minutes at 180 to 185 degrees as an alternative to boiling.)

Once cool, check the seal on the jars and refrigerate any that did not seal.  Remove the rings and keep jars in a cool, dark place for 3 weeks before eating your pickles.

Serve with ham or other cured meats, pork roast, sausage, or cheddar cheese.

blackberry pie for oregonians

All right, enough of this sadness.

It is wild blackberry season here in Oregon.  We have enough each year that Oregon law decrees that every man, woman, and child alive be allotted sunny buckets full of the little purple monsters as remuneration for all those months of rain.  Keep in mind, though, that it’s been blackberry season since early July, when we get the first commercial crop of Sylvans.  We’ve eaten our weight in blackberries.

When we get bored eating blackberries by the handful, we make pie.

I know how to make blackberry pie filling that can be canned, and sometimes I do that.  But the best pie is with fresh blackberries held together with just a bit of cooked blackberry goop.

I’ve messed around with my blackberry pie recipe, which I found on a now-defunct blogger’s site, for several years.  It’s unique enough now that I consider it my own.  I published a slightly different version last year in an article for the Register-Guard on blackberries.   The main components to keep in mind are the liquid, sugar, and chilling.  Use less sugar and less water if your blackberries are late-season, big, plump, ripe berries.  If they are more tart and smaller berries, use more sugar and more water.  The version below should work well with our wild blackberries.

As for the chilling, this pie works best if you’re patient, and I understand that it is incredibly difficult.  Three things need to be cooled — the pie crust, the berry sauce, and the finished pie.  This will help keep the pie from turning to berry juice.  If you do have a berry juice situation when you slice it, just spoon it off or soak it up with a paper towel.  No one, I mean no one, will care.

Last time I made this pie, I made it with Chester blackberries and served it ice cold on a pool of cream.

Fresh Blackberry Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie.

  • 6 cups best-quality blackberries (about 1/2 a flat with shallow half-pint containers)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Clear Jel (a modified food starch that doesn’t break down after time, like corn starch does; substitute corn starch for less satisfactory results)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 prebaked and cooled pie shell

Prebake and cool a 9-inch pie crust using your favorite recipe. (I’ve been using a version of Orangette’s apricot tart crust here, but blindbaking it and chilling it.)  Frozen pie crusts will have directions for how to prebake them.

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups of berries and water. Mash berries well. Heat until boiling on medium high heat. In a small bowl, mix Clear Gel and sugar. When berries are boiling, add sugar mixture to berries, stirring constantly for one minute to set the starch and thicken the juice. When thick, remove from heat and cool to room temperature (crucial).

As the sauce is cooling, distribute the remaining 4½ cups of berries in cooled pie shell.

Pour sauce over top of berries and stir gently to combine with sauce, trying not to break berries. Chill well, at least an hour before serving.

Slice with sharp knife and use pie server to aid transfer of servings, as the pie will be looser than pies made with cooked fruit. Top with whipped cream (optional).