lekvar: roasted prune plum paste

IMG_8718Forgive me, I wish I had eaten the prune plums, but I had to make lekvar (prune paste) instead.  Lekvar is easy but takes a long time.  If you start with actual dried prunes, it’s much faster, but I was gifted 25 pounds or so windfall fruit from the Friendly Fruit Tree Project to process, so the first step was roasting the fruit to remove liquid and concentrate the sugars.

IMG_8701Once the fruit had been picked over, cleaned, and roasted overnight, I squeezed out the pits and cooked down the puree even longer.  Once it had significantly reduced in size, I milled out the skins and remaining stems, even catching a few errant pits.

IMG_8755If you can, mill on a coarse screen and a fine screen for a silky texture.

Then I added sugar at a 1.5:1 ratio, a cup of sugar for every 1 and a half cups of puree.  This yields a product that isn’t very sweet, but still provides a jam-like feel. And added the juice of a lemon to acidify the mix.  Some people add lemon or orange zest at this point.

IMG_8767I cooked the lekvar down for several more hours, carefully monitoring the bottom of the pan, which is very susceptible to burning.  The stuff thickened and reduced by about a third before I decided it was ready.  And then voilà!  Dark, mysterious prune plum paste for fall.  It can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen, as it’s a bit too thick to be processed safely.

IMG_8732One can use lekvar in so many wonderful ways: to stuff dumplings, fill cookies and Hamantaschen, spread on cheese or cheese crackers, or this, a wondrous creation from the Friuli region of Italy, inspired by Fred Plotkin’s recipe in La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Guilia, Italy’s Great Undiscovered Region.  Sguazeto sauce is used on roasted pork, but it makes a nice sticky barbecue sauce, too, for pork chops or a small shoulder roast.  It usually starts with prunes, but prune paste works like a dream.

Sguazeto for Roasted Pork

    • 2 heaping teaspoons pine nuts
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon honey
    • 2 tablespoons. olive oil
    • 1/4 cup lekvar (or, if you don’t have lekvar, substitute 3 Brooks prunes, chopped and plumped up with some wine for 30 minutes, then mashed)
    • 2 tablespoons chicken stock
    • 1 tablespoon. white wine vinegar

Roast the pine nuts and cumin seeds on a medium-high burner until fragrant.  Combine the pine nuts and cumin in a mortar and pound with a pestle until you have a fine paste, then mix with honey and olive oil. Heat mixture with lekvar, chicken stock, and vinegar and simmer for 10 minutes or so until flavors combine.

Roast or grill your meat as desired, dressed simply with salt and pepper. Remove from grill and top with sguazeto just prior to serving, or brush some on in the last 15 minutes of cooking. Garnish with chopped parsley and few whole pinenuts.

 

 

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cider pressing in da hood

IMG_8915 The Friendly neighborhood was the recipient of a Eugene neighborhood grant for fruit tree gleaning, processing, and educating this year, thanks to Matt Lutter and his partner, Jessica Jackowski, who also organizes work days for the exemplary Common Ground Garden, a neighborhood community garden staffed by volunteers. The Friendly Fruit Tree Project has spent the last month harvesting neighborhood trees and plants like crazy: blackberries, plums, apples, pears, etc., etc.

IMG_8912Last week, it was apples.  Amber gold.  Oregon T.  They managed to source an unused cider press in someone’s shed, and we all pitched in and took home some great cider to share! Using the press was much easier than I had expected; it’s a relatively simple operation, with a motorized rotor on one end to grind the apples and a hand-powered press to crank down the juice.  Apple bits got composted.  No waste, very little muss, very little fuss.

And of course, it was a brilliant way to connect with likeminded urban homesteading folks in the ‘hood: we shared cider recipes, taste-tested beet kvasses and hippie cookies, grumbled about grapes (ok, that was me), and watched apple-cheeked kids running around like monkeys.  What a wonderful paradise we live in.

See the full album here, and if you’re interested in taking part or spreading the word about the project, comment and I’ll make sure Matt gets your info.  It would be wonderful if other Eugene neighborhoods could get in on the gleaning action, since it’s such a service to those with unused fruit and to those who want to do the labor to share in the harvest.

The project was also the source of my prune plums for my recent lekvar undertaking, coming soon to a blog post near you.

summer soups

IMG_7866In this endlessly hot weather, the only thing to do is to delicately sip cold soups and drink Pimm’s Cup.  Why don’t I have a croquet course set up on my lawn again?  This is outrageous.  I demand immediate measures to be taken to remedy the situation.

Until then, I will be eating chilled gazpacho.  I like my gazpacho milled to a fine consistency, then made chunky with chopped veg and freshly made garlic croutons.  This version added Sungolds and fried padrons from Groundwork Organics.

Want more cold soup ideas?  Try the aforementioned gazpacho in red or green, sour cherry apricot soup, borscht, cucumber melon soup, or okroshka, a mixed vegetable soup based on tangy kvass.

 

 

 

 

my bread and butter (and jam)

IMG_7604We finished the team-taught experimental University of Oregon Clark Honors College “Bread 101” class on Monday, with students bringing in their final projects: loaves of bread baked with sourdough starter they cultivated during the term.  You can see all the pictures chronicling the 10-week experience here.

Just so we’d have all the bases covered, I made some butter and brought along a few jams for the tasting.  A student requested a recipe, so I present them to you here, yeastily, in case you want to eat eight loaves of bread in a sitting, too.  IMG_7622IMG_7606 It was a wonderful class, and I’m so grateful I had a chance to be a part of it.  Working with the scientists was so much fun, and we all improved our pedagogy and learned a great deal from each other.  And the class itself was a delight. Several of the students, mostly graduating seniors, were ones I had had as freshmen during my four years teaching in the Honors College, and it was a pleasure to see how they had developed as thinkers and writers.  That’s really the reward in teaching, and as I ponder the next phase in my life, I’m thankful that I can have this experience to cherish, a truly innovative course that I can say with no guile or guilt is part of the revolution that needs to happen in higher education.  A Pisgah sight of Paradise, I suppose, but I’m happy to have had it.

Congratulations to the graduates; may you earn good bread in both literal and metaphorical ways, and may your slices always fall with the butter side up!

IMG_7580IMG_7593

Homemade Butter

Butter can easily be made cultured by souring the milk overnight on the counter with a little cultured buttermilk mixed in.  I suggest using about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Makes about 1 cup butter and 1 cup of fresh buttermilk.

Take one pint of the best whipping cream you can find, preferably not ultra-pasteurized.  (Strauss makes a good product.)  It’s best if it’s somewhere between ice cold and room temperature.  Place it in your mixer’s bowl and whip with the whisk attachment on high for about 8 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally, until the whipped cream “breaks” into solid bits and liquid.  Stop when it looks like grains of rice in swampy liquid.  You can also try this by hand with a whisk or by shaking it in a jar if you are a masochist.

Drain the liquid from the solids in a fine-mesh sieve for about 20 minutes, then add salt if you wish, mixing thoroughly.  Press as much liquid out as you can using a wooden spoon or similar.   Pack into a jar and refrigerate.

Boysenberry-Kaffir Lime Jam (low sugar)

This recipe is an adaptation of one for “sour blackberries” on the Pomona pectin recipe insert. It makes 4-5 half-pints for canning.  If you want to make it and give it away to friends, there’s no need to can the jam as long as you keep the jars in the refrigerator.  I’m providing basic canning instructions if you’d like to give it a try, though.  The pectin is necessary to make the jam low sugar, and I’ve chosen what I consider the best commercial pectin for low sugar spreads, Pomona.  It uses its own process with calcium water, so it can’t be substituted.  If you’d like to make a full sugar jam with no pectin, try a recipe like my roasted blackberry jam instead, substituting boysenberries and lime juice/lime leaves for the lemon.

  • 1 box Pomona Pectin (do not substitute other kinds of pectin)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • half-flat of boysenberries (or enough to make 4 cups of mashed fruit, about 6-7 cups)
  • 2 t. lime juice
  • 2 t. finely minced fresh kaffir lime leaf
  • 2 t. calcium water (see below)
  • 2 t. pectin powder

For canning: Prepare calcium water: combine 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon calcium powder (in the small packet in your box of Pomona’s Pectin) in a little jar with a lid, since there will be some left over for future batches. Shake well and store in the refrigerator.

Mix 2 cups of sugar with 2 teaspoons of pectin powder (in the large packet in the box).

Bring to a boil enough water in a large stockpot or waterbath canner to cover 5 half-pint jars.  Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions as you’re heating up the waterbath canner.

Examine fruit for leaves and dirt; quickly rinse, if especially dusty.  Mash enough of the berries to make 4 cups of pulp and place in a large pot, leaving space for the mixture to bubble up.  Add 2 teaspoons of calcium water, lime juice, and minced kaffir lime leaves, mix well, and bring to a boil.

Add sugar mix and stir vigorously to melt pectin.  Bring back up to a boil and let boil for a minute.

Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes.  Skim foam from top. Spoon hot jam into jars carefully to reduce bubbles, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.

Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.  Let sit in canner for a few minutes, then remove jars carefully and let cool, undisturbed, overnight.  Remove the rings and check the seals, refrigerating any that didn’t seal.  The jam will keep over a year on the shelf if the seals are intact; a couple of months in the refrigerator.

 

 

 

 

 

silky wild plum jam

IMG_3945Well, the bright side is that I keep getting tiny signs from the universe that there’s a branch over my head just laden with juicy, impossibly blueberry bloomy blue fruit, ripe for the plucking.  It’s just a matter of timing and overcoming myopia and finding a stable ladder. I’m trying, and so far I’ve been pelted on the head a few dozen times and threatened by an overhanging spider and infested with earwigs and ants enjoying their lunch.  I’m pretty sure something dropped down into my bra and bit me where the sun don’t shine.  But always a little fear in pleasure, in possibility.

So. Jam. To measure the sugar you need and get a sense of the yield, you’ll need to imagine how the plums will reduce to a purée once cooked. I filled a standard colander with 5 and a half pounds of small plums, and used 4 cups of sugar in a single 5-quart pot. It yielded 7 half-pints. Your needs will vary.

This jam is all about found fruit, especially the ornamental “cherry plums,” the golfball-sized drupes that cover those pesky feral plum trees that spring up all over the place, including your yard. I had a yellow one in Berkeley, cut down a red one in my yard in Eugene, understood when the neighbors cut down the burgundy-foliaged one in their yard.  It also works for Damsons or Santa Rosas or any juicy, smallish fruit fresh from the orchard.  The recipe is adapted from Linda Ziedrich‘s damson plum recipe, in fact.  I kept the flavor simple, as it really can’t be improved.  You might add a slug of slivovitz at the end, or perhaps a tiny bit of clove.

You won’t be cooking this one terribly long, a blessing in the heat. Plums have plenty of pectin; that’s the silky texture. Wild plums have clingstone pits, so plan on cooking them in and straining them out later.

Silky Wild Plum Jam

I like what plum skins do to jam, coloring and flavoring it, but if you strain them out with a food mill, the jam will be a wonderful soft, clean, pure texture — perfect on skin, as a friend says.

  • Small cherry plums
  • Sugar (3/4 cup per cup of plum purée)

Rinse ripe plums just after picking, and place in covered pot with a bit of water (no more than a half cup).  Simmer for about 10 minutes until the skins burst, then uncover and stir, pressing the flesh down with a spatula or spoon. Simmer for another 10 minutes until plums have fallen apart.  Pits may or may not rise to the surface.  You will be lucky if they do.

Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle.  Skim, strain, and squeeze the pulp from the skin and pits.  You might try a mesh colander or a food mill.  This process may be difficult and messy, as some plums won’t yield up their pits easily, so you may find even a food mill ineffective.  If worse comes to worse, don a pair of food service gloves and pluck the pits out with your fingers, squeezing them to get all flesh off.

Once you have a pot full of delicious pulp, measure it.  For each cup of pulp, add 3/4 cups of sugar and begin the jam process.

Wash your jars, rings, and lids, and heat the lids according to the package instructions as you’re heating up the waterbath canner.

Cook jam down over medium high heat until it thickens and passes a gel test (perhaps 15 minutes?), stirring very frequently and scraping the bottom of the pot.

Remove from heat and let sit for a couple minutes.  Skim foam from top. Spoon the hot jam into jars carefully to reduce bubbles, leaving 1/4-inch head space.  Wipe rims of jars and adjust lids and rings.  Process in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes.

as american as roman honey pickled cherries with savory

IMG_3581Looking for a new locavore cherry recipe in anticipation of the sour cherry crop now ready to go in the Eugene area?  Go no farther than ancient Rome.

A fellow participant in the Cult of Pre-Pasteurian Preservation and Food Preparation Facebook group page, Justin Mansfield, wrote that one of his favorite Roman preservation recipes is this one, a pickled cherry concoction using honey, red wine vinegar, and savory. He provides some details for Classics geeks and historical recreators:

Since there’s some interest, here’s the original recipe, from the 10th century Roman agricultural collection Geoponica (Farm Work) 10.42: Περὶ διαμονῆς κερασίων· Τοῦ Αὐτοῦ. Κεράσια ἀφαιρεθέντα τοῦ δένδρου πρὸ ἀνατολῶν ἡλίου, καὶ εἰς σκεῦος ἐμβεβλημένα, προϋποβληθείσης εἰς τὸν πυθμένα θρύμβης, εἶτα κερασίων, καὶ πάλιν θρύμβης, καὶ ὀξυμέλιτος γλυκέος ἐπιβαλλομένου φυλάττεται· καὶ εἰς καλάμους δὲ ὡσαύτως φυλάττεται.On the preservation of cherries, by same {i.e. this recipe is excerpted from Florentius, a lost author of the Imperial era}. Cherries that are picked from the tree before sunrise and put into a container, with savory first strewn over the bottom, then cherries, then once again savory, and sweet oxymel added on top, will keep. They’ll also keep the same way with rushes.

The species referenced are probably Prunus cerasus, and Satureja thymbra respectively. (No idea what kind of rush is referred to here… the name refers to several species. Dalby also points out that it’s unclear if the meaning is “laid out on rush mats” or “with rush-leaves used in place of savory.”)

He also notes that other sources indicate the honey:vinegar ratio should be between 6-8:1 parts by volume, not weight.  I opted for less sweet, and may just regret it, since I chose a very full-flavor, acidic Italian cabernet vinegar.

The cherries should be sour pie cherries, not sweet ones (but I’m willing to look the other way if you can’t get sour).  The recipe reads as if the Romans didn’t pit the cherries, but you may opt to do so.  I usually buy my sour cherries at Hentze Farm in Junction City, already bagged and pitted because I’m so lazy.  Pros: no sticky pitting on a hot day; easier to eat final product; and you get a quart or so of the most glorious juice in the world.  Cons: not nearly as pretty as intact cherries; you’ll need to pick through the cherries for bruised ones, as the machine handles them roughly; and you don’t get the nice almond flavor from the pits when pickling them.  In either case, you must use sour cherries almost immediately or freeze them, as they are exceedingly fragile.

Romans didn’t cook with sugar; honey was a basic sweetener.  For locavores, you already likely rely heavily on honey and even might have a hive or two to help mitigate the bee crisis.  As for me, I made this recipe with a wild star thistle honey I bought on the road in California, since it seems vaguely Mediterranean and has the scent of almonds from nearby groves (or so I fantasize).  But if you’re in the market, there’s some local thistle honey that’s being sold at Sundance, distributed with other wonderful varieties like pennyroyal, snowberry, meadowfoam, buckwheat, and coriander. (The coriander is grown in fields north of Eugene, Hummingbird Wholesale tells me, and the pennyroyal tastes a little like mint.)  Also in honey news, I hope you caught the interview with new Eugenius and prolific cookbook author Marie Simmons on Food for Thought on KLCC last weekend.  She has just published a book on honey, with history and recipes.  Marie was our last interview before our summer hiatus, so check out the archive if you missed it and you miss us! :-)

Anyway, the Roman pickled cherry recipe is wonderful with homemade duck rillettes, which I had for breakfast in a moment of sheer decadence.  Life’s too short for Cheerios.  As Epicurus would have said, had he known the phrase, carpe diem!  The savory brings out a, well, savory quality of the cherries.

Honey Pickled Cherries with Savory

Makes one quart.

  • 4 cups sour cherries, either pitted or not
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup wine vinegar
  • 12 two-inch sprigs of savory (either winter or summer; I used winter, which is stronger)

Wash and sterilize a quart jar.  If you are using fresh sour cherries, rinse and sort out the bad ones.  If you are using pitted cherries, strain cherries and sort for badly bruised ones.  Reserve the juice unless you are completely nuts.  Pour yourself a shot of pure sour cherry nectar and knock it back.  Ah, there.  OK, now proceed.

Heat the honey and wine vinegar in a medium saucepan, then take off heat and let the cherries soak in the mixture for a few minutes.

Rinse savory.  Place 3-4 sprigs at the bottom of the jar, then add another layer in the middle, then add some on top to help keep the cherries immersed in the liquid.

Using a jar funnel, carefully ladle the cherries into your jar, pressing down gently to fill gaps, and adding savory in the middle and on top.  Fill with 2 inches head space.  You may have more cherries than necessary; if so, enjoy over ice cream with more honey.  If there is not enough liquid, either add back the juice you removed or press down a little harder on whole cherries to encourage them to exude juice.

Place on a plate, and cover jar with cheesecloth.  If you used unpitted cherries, it is especially important that you have enough overflow capacity. Let sit on counter for 48 hours minimum.  At this point, taste and decide if you want to ferment longer for a fizzier, deeper, sweet-sour flavor, or otherwise refrigerate.  Pitted cherries will ferment faster.

Enjoy as a condiment with any roast meat or sausage, as a special side on a cheese plate, or, as I just did, with duck rillettes.

berries with frothy custard clouds

IMG_3571I have my repertoire of berry recipes indexed, if you’re interested, but my new obsession is berries with frothy custard clouds…or as the Italians call it, zabaglione.  The first time I had it, I was a teenager, and thought it was the most exquisite dessert in the world.  I’m not sure if I’ve been disabused of that notion.

It wasn’t just the taste of the custard. I said the word to myself repeatedly, slowly, sensually: zah-BAG-lee-OHN. As a word, it was a marriage between other things I loved to say: zamboni and linguine and Sierra Lione.  It was much nicer, indeed, than the French word sabayon, a similar custard, the cookbooks told me, but one that seemed vastly different to me — almost smug in that way the French can be. No, zabaglione was what I wanted to float away upon if I could choose any liquid for Lethe.  Zabaglione, take me away…

And as a young adult who reads more about the world than circles it soon discovers, I realized I had been saying it incorrectly.  ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay.  Makes sense, no?  Much closer to sabayon, much further away from my version of linguistic heaven where custard canoodles on the perfectly shaven-smooth clouds of West Africa.

Nevertheless, it’s still good, the perfect summer evening dessert.  With three ingredients: farm fresh egg yolks, sugar, and marsala wine (the sweet, fortified wine you can find in better supermarkets, but for godsake don’t buy the cheap stuff), it’s easy to count on it.  Use the best eggs you can. Ones straight from the chicken will yield a lemon yellow custard; supermarket eggs, even good quality, will give you more of a pale froth.

You’ll need a strong arm.  It’s a thin custard, sometimes served like a soup, but you’ll need to froth it to triple its volume.  I’ve long loved the small drama of walking around a dinner party whipping cream by hand with a big whisk.  Whipping the zabaglione takes just as long, anywhere from 10-15 minutes, and you really want a full volume.  Pour it into long, skinny glasses over your favorite fresh berries, either macerated with a bit of sugar and marsala or just left nude as the way you found ’em.

And don’t skimp, you frugal American, as I did in the photo.  I saw a version at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco a couple of months ago that was served absolutely overflowing a tall pilsner (?) glass, frothing down over the sides of the glass and piled up a little on the charger plate.  It was a disaster and fabulous and a showstopper.

If you’re interested in stabilizing the custard and serving it cold, see Elise Bauer’s recipe or others for the incorporation of whipped cream.  You might also try Marcella Hazan’s cold red wine version, reprinted here.  Just don’t put any extra flavoring crap in it, like vanilla.  It’s perfect the way it is.

I was charmed by Giovanna Zivny’s history of the recipe, which reports the old fashioned way was to make the custard using the egg shell as a measurement, with a 1:1:2 ratio (egg yolk: sugar: marsala), so that’s how I eyeball it when I add the sugar and wine.  Egg shells, however, differ in size and it’s an utterly bad way to measure things, not to mention the recontamination issues when handling egg shells in a dish that’s already suspect because the eggs aren’t completely cooked.

Also notable is that Zivny never uses a double boiler, so it’s not essential, but if you don’t your custard won’t be as frothy and will surely curdle on the bottom. Also, you might need to worry about the higher level of heat if using fragile glasses.  Does that stop me?  No.  But you might be more particular, or have nicer glasses.

Zabaglione

Serves two, preferably lovers, and preferably on a warm summer night.  Whisper it to your partner in a husky voice: ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay is served!

  • 3 eggs, as fresh as possible
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Marsala or another fortified or sweet wine
  • 2 cups or more fresh berries of your choice

Separate the eggs, place the yolks in a small bowl, and reserve the whites for another use.

Clean and slice berries, if necessary, and place in tall glasses or wine glasses.

Prepare the double boiler by placing 1-2 inches of water in a medium saucepan, then place a stainless bowl on top of the pan. Note you’ll need a large bowl to accommodate the whisking and triple-volume of the final product.

Bring water to a gentle boil on medium-low heat.

Whisk together the wine and sugar in the heated bowl until sugar dissolves.  Add eggs, whisking constantly, and whisk them for 10-15 minutes, until the custard has thickened slightly, tripled in volume, and is very foamy and pale in color.  If the eggs start to cook, turn the heat down to low and remove the bowl for a few seconds.  Be careful, as this custard, like all custards, will break if overcooked.

Serve immediately, pouring the custard over the berries until barely overflowing.