lane county apple cider

One of the things I missed most in California was decent apple cider.  When we moved to Oregon, it was time to rejoice!  There doesn’t seem to be as much cider in markets as one would think, so when you find a source, hang on and don’t let go.

Or, make some fresh apple cider jelly, and you can have it all year ’round!

I get my cider at River Bend Farm, lately made famous by an appearance on KLCC’s Food for Thought radio program (listen to the .mp3 archive here).  The farm, just outside Pleasant Hill beyond the south Eugene hills, is primarily an orchard, and apples are plentiful.  This weekend, Annette set me up with the crispest, juiciest Empires, Liberties, and Mutsus for my apple-picky husband.  He approved of the crispiness factor, so I wholeheartedly recommend these apples.

One of the best parts of cider at River Bend Farm is experiencing the turn of the season.  They use different apples throughout autumn, and you can taste it in the cider, which sweetens up and transforms as the weather gets cooler.

In Lane County, cider is also available at Detering’s Orchard and Thistledown Farm.

Where do you get your cider?

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:

roasted blackberry jam for étienne brûlé

Chester blackberries, a late variety usually associated with the East Coast, also grow well in Oregon.  No surprise there. But they’re worth investigating because of the beauty of this cultivar and the flavor.  I find marionberries a bit monochromatic, I’ll confess.  They all taste the same.  Evergreen and Himalayan “wild” blackberries, the ones that grow like pests in our gardens and alongside roadways, are often too tart for pleasurable eating.  But Chesters combine the tartness of the wild blackberry and the consistency of the bred berry.  They hold their shape well in preserves and don’t have the copious seeds of the Himalayan.  A good choice, therefore, for late blackberry pies and jam.

I made a French-style, long-cooked preserve from Chesters this year.  When you cook berries for a long time to set the jell, they take on a roasted, almost figgy flavor.   I find these jams a very nice transition into autumn.  I named my jam “Blackberry Brulé” not only because of the slight caramelization in the jam, but also after my ancestor, Étienne Brûlé, a French explorer and interpreter who had a hard time picking the right friends.

From Étienne, we learn that the company one keeps is crucial to success, and one should be wary of all cooks.  Now that eating local and food preservation have become a craze, there is the inevitable creation of a canon — a set of recipes and techniques that are associated with these movements.  One of the new no-nos seems to be jam with pectin.  Pectin has biocides in it, they cry! This is silly.  It’s a naturally derived substance from apples or citrus fruit.  Moreover, there are various types of pectin and each pectin creates a different product.  Some do have additives, and if  you must, avoid them, but you’d be better off avoiding that low-carb, preservative-laden wrap you ate last night.

Think of pectin as a cooking tool, molecular gastronomy, if you will.  To be a cook, in my view, means you know how to manipulate your final product for the effect you want, whether Frenchman or jam.  This is a good thing.  It increases creativity and works against the canon-formation of any food movement.

Most often, I use Pomona pectin, which is activated by calcium, for low-sugar fruit spreads.  The ratio of sugar to fruit becomes 1:2 or less, instead of 2:2 or more, which is what you’d need for pectin-free French-style jam to jell.  Take your choice: a tiny bit of preservative in the tablespoon of pectin you’re using for your batch of jam, or double the sugar in each bite.  I’m not judging sugar-eaters here.  It’s just a different product.  Full sugar jam tastes much fruitier, believe it or not, on toast with butter, compared with a low-sugar fruit spread that tastes like fruit if you eat it with a spoon.  The butter seems to dull the flavor of the low-sugar spread.

So let me take a stand for pectin.  But you can also do it naturally.  Christine Ferber has a recipe for green apple pectin, and I’ve made my own for marmalade with orange skins and seeds.  Even easier, I cooked up some beautiful, pectin-rich quinces last fall and froze the unsweetened juice.  Since my Chester blackberries were bursting full of juice, I knew that I’d need a jelling boost or else I’d end up with a too-loose jam (for my purposes) if I was going to do it the french way.  So I defrosted about a cup of quince juice and added it; the set was beautiful.

Ferber’s recipe for wild blackberry jam, from which this recipe is derived, doesn’t use any pectin.  It will also result in a looser jam.  Using wild blackberries (instead of Chesters) will significantly reduce the juice amount and increase the seeds in the product.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that the overnight sugar bath will turn this jam into preserves, really, because the sugar infuses the cell walls of the whole berries and strengthens them.  If you stir carefully, the jam will remain a true preserve, with whole berries suspended in the solution.

I don’t stir carefully.  I like jam.

And I like this jam, roasty and dark.  It’s lovely served with fresh farmer cheese or chèvre on still-warm, freshly baked bread.

Blackberry Brulé Jam

Recipe adapted from Christine Ferber’s “Wild Blackberry Jam” in Mes Confitures

  • 2 1/4 pounds of wild or Chester blackberries
  • 3 3/4 cups sugar
  • juice from one small lemon
  • 1/2 cup of unsweetened quince juice (optional)

Combine the berries, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring carefully to melt the sugar.  Pour mixture into a glass or ceramic bowl, and cover with a sheet of parchment paper.  Refrigerate overnight.

Pour the chilled mixture into a large stockpot, add the optional quince juice, and bring to a boil.  Allow it to boil until it starts to jell, stirring frequently to prevent scorching (especially as the liquid boils off).  The time is approximate, since every batch is different, and the quince juice will change the time.  But plan on boiling for 20-30 minutes for a roasted flavor.

Jam should be spooned into hot, sterilized canning jars with 1/8-1/4 inch of headspace only to deter mold, and fitted with properly prepared two-piece lids. (Refer to a canning basics guide if you don’t know what this means.)  Process for 5 minutes in a waterbath canner.