caramelized gooey local syrup with windfall fruit

IMG_9581Do you remember that odd bag of pancakes in my freezer?  Well, I lived the freezer packrat dream for one glorious moment when I used them to test a new recipe.  Yet another from the oeuvre of Linda Ziedrich, whose work I rely on time and time again to inspire great Oregon canning recipes, the inspiration was sirop de Liège.  It’s a long-cooked, caramelized, thick, dark sludge made traditionally mostly of pears, with a little apple thrown in for good measure and pectin, traditionally eaten with cheese like membrillo.

Eugeniuses may find the Belgian city of Liège familiar, as it’s home not only to my syrup but also the waffles made locally famous by Off the Waffle.

What I love about the syrup is that it uses great quantities of fruit, perfect for those of us with pome trees or neighbors who want to get rid of pears, Asian pears, and apples.  You can make the syrup two ways: deliciously burnt-sugar dark sludge, or light peach-colored pourable butterscotch.  Since we don’t have our own source of maple syrup in Eugene, I thought it might be a good addition to those seeking local pancake enhancers.

Pear and Apple Syrup, Two Ways

Use a 6:1 ratio for weight of pears and/or Asian pears to apples.   Cut the fruit into quarters, leaving the peels and cores on, and cook it down on medium low until it liquifies.

Once the fruit releases lots of juice, carefully remove the fruit and strain the liquid into a large bowl. (You’re after the juice, not the fruit, so save your fruit to make applesauce with a food mill.) Press the fruit in the sieve to get as much liquid out of it as you can, then add the liquid to a clean pot.

Cook down the liquid on low heat for a few hours. After an hour or so, it should be the consistency of maple syrup with a slippery mouthfeel and a slightly caramelized color and buttery taste. Perfect for pancakes.  Stop here if you want to be able to pour it.

If you want a darker, richer, slightly bitter caramelized flavor (and more traditional version), cook for longer, being sure to watch as it gets thicker and more liable to burn.

The yield will be minimal for the fruit: warning.  Using 6 lbs. of Asian pears and 1 lb. of apples will yield about a pint if thin and as little as a 1/2 pint if thick.  As I said, it’s great if you have tons of fruit.  Not so great if you are buying at premium prices.

Variation: I recently came into a bunch of Asian pears, and thought I’d give it a whirl with a few apples and a handful of cranberries to make the color pretty (above).  The cranberries release some ruby redness and better yet, stay intact in the light syrup, so they become candied and really wonderful.

 

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.

grapest show on earth

IMG_8636Whoa, looks like my green table grapes (of indeterminate variety) really liked having more airflow and a less severe prune!  For a change, my laziness resulted in happy times: a bumper crop of the little, seedless, acidic things. So. Many. Grapes. Expecting yours did as well as mine, I won’t try to pawn mine off on you as a hopeful gentleman did the zucchini bat below:

IMG_0188Thus, I present to you the recipes I’m experimenting with this year. I’m afraid my grapes are less juicy and more tart than the average grape, so I’ll probably have to adjust the recipes. 

I’m looking forward to:

You might be tempted to try some of these 51 grape recipes.  I dunno.  Some of them look awful.  And that goes for most grape recipes on the internet.  Anything remotely indicating a grape pie, for example — a weepy, mushy grape pie with some offensive topping where the recipe writer warns the reader ahead of time — is not going to be something I sample.  If you do, and you like it, let me know!

One recipe link that’s broken is an interesting one for “burnt grapes,” which seems to be just a raspberries Romanoff adaption, in which one tops the fruit with sour cream then brûlées it.  Eh.  Not my fave, and grapes would be slipperier.  But here’s another link for that.

Pickled grapes?  Hmmm, maybe.  You tell me.

Or this grape almond olive oil cake that won the contest that produced the Collins and chutney recipes?  Sure thing.

You could also try fresh grape juice, which is made by processing a ton of grapes in a blender, then straining. Or grape juice for canning, recipe here.  I had some wonderful grape juice this winter sold at the Cottage Grove farmstand made of blends of table and wine grapes, both red and white, so I know it can be good, and not a trip down Welch’s memory lane.

IMG_8631Aaaand upon seeing the price of table grapes at the market…anyone want to buy about 50 lbs. of grapes? I’m trying to fund a freelancing career, here. ;)

a year in pickles: pickle recipe index

If there’s any specialty of this blog, it’s not gardening or sustainability or Northwest politics or seasonal cooking or local cheerleading or events or complaining a lot.  It’s pickles.  We’re not quite at that magic time of the year in Oregon yet, but I see from the hits on my blog that other places in the country have hit pickling time with a vengeance.

Suffice it to say, I always have pickles on hand, and I spend the whole year pickling.

Throughout summer and late into the fall, I put up crocks and crocks of red and white sauerkraut.  Some of the sauerkraut I can and give as gifts, and other jars I leave fresh in the refrigerator, where they last for months.

Also for winter eating, I make crocks and jars of fermented and vinegar dill pickles with giant bags of perfectly sized cucumbers I buy at a local farm and my own horseradish or grape leaves, plus full heads of garlic. I make dill relish every other year.  The fermented dill pickles have delicious juice that I use all year ’round in potato salads, as a marinade for salmon, and to deglaze pan-roasted fish or shrimp.

In autumn, I restock my tomatoes, salsa, and ketchup supplies. As it gets colder, I turn the rest of the green tomatoes into pickles or salsa.  I used to use all my sweet and hot peppers to make the pepper-eggplant spread ajvar (for freezing) but my new tradition is to put up a few half-gallon jars of hot peppers to ferment and make hot sauce after many months of fermentation.

In winter, when I see the citrus fruits at their best, I make a couple of jars of salt-preserved lemons and lemon zest vinegar (to use in a pinch when I’m out of fresh lemons), and, occasionally, marmalade.  I turn a 5-lb. bag of local dried Fellenberg or Brooks prunes into pickled prunes, to eat with winter roasts. I stew some of the sauerkraut in Pinot Gris (and save the Riesling for drinking — life’s too short to waste good Riesling) and eat it with kielbasa and other smoked meats.  If I remember, I corn a brisket for St. Patty’s day in March.  I make mustard and horseradish relish from my horseradish plant’s roots.

As soon as the spring produce starts coming in, I make refrigerator pickles: salted savoy cabbage, cucumber quick pickles, chard stem pickles.  Flavored vinegar-making also begins in spring with the little purple pompom chive blossoms and tarragon, then ends with wild blackberries, Concord grapes, and cranberries in the fall.  Starting in May, I put up the requisite asparagus pickles and dilly beans; I love giving the jars of slender, perfectly straight crisp vegetable crunchies as hostess gifts for parties throughout the year.  Cauliflower pickles are a standby, as well — the purple cauliflower makes a vibrant magenta pickle.  Each time I make a vinegar brine for canning pickles, I do a double batch, then use the excess brine for refrigerator pickles made of whatever is on hand: baby turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts…

It’s hard to believe, but we eat them all.

Here are my pickle recipes, indexed, if you’d like to try some or all of these ideas!  All of the canned pickles are produced using tested, safe recipes that are approved by the Master Food Preserver program, with which I’m a certified volunteer.

culinaria eugenius in taiwan: fruit loops

Part III of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part I on crabs here and Part II on fish/seafood here.

More Taiwanese food, on a day we could all use a little tropical sweetness.  (24 hours to go ’til grading is due!)

Fruit is one of the main daily luxuries in Taiwan; with a subtropical climate, every kind imaginable is available. At the hotel, we were greeted by three different types of fruit that changed on a daily basis.  They even provided a little card that explained what was being presented.  Note the size of the starfruit, above.  It was almost as big as a brick.

The hotel also provided two fruit stations at the breakfast buffet, so we could either get juice and sliced fruit, including papaya, passionfruit, guava, and pineapple, or chopped up fruit “stew” in a rainbow of colors for yogurt and granola.

Since I have so many images, I thought I’d try a gallery of thumbnails.  Click on the photo for a bigger version.  The series above is mostly from the Agrioz Conserves Factory, a couple of hours from Taipei in Yi-lan province, a coastal area on the northeast side of the island.  The factory candies fruit, a traditional snack for families.  Kumquats are their most popular treat (growing above at the Tea Promotion Center in a different area).  A worker individually packages each candied fruit in a small production area.  The four kumquats on a plate represent different stages of candying and drying.  The one furthest away from the camera has been dried to a leathery nugget and is most like a jujube candy.  The sweet little owner served them to us to try.  She is responsible for the jars of preserved fruit in the last photo, as well.  They’re just for display.

At every meal, we were served fruit as dessert, and often a glass of juice or drinking vinegar made from fruit at the start of the meal.  I usually think of fruit as a cop-out dessert (and therefore my kind of dessert), but in Taiwan, it was really the nicest thing that could follow a meal.  Above, you can see a pomelo we were served at a farmers’ co-op in Yi-lan province; an apple wine/vinegar being fermented in Yi-lan; a rather over-the-top ice sculpture modeled on an ancient Chinese vessel in the National Museum, poised on a bed of dry ice and topped with a fringe of fruit kebabs; and a simple plate of melons, guava, and dragonfruit with the most wonderful ume plum powder used as a sprinkle of sour-sweet-salt on the fruit.  I made it home with two jars of the stuff.

Just seeing the varieties in the market blew my mind.  I fancy myself a greengrocer connoisseur, someone who has a decent understanding of exotic produce.  But I was out of my league.  I recognized the dragonfruit, gigantic avocados and grapes in the first image, but what in the heck were the green things next to the red apples.  Why, fresh dates, of course!

The coconut fruit in the middle and the cherimoya in the fourth shot I could identify, but the delicate red wax apples I had never seen before.  They were fragile and brittle and watery clean in taste.  I recommend them.  Look for dark purple ones, or jade green ones, should you have the good fortune to land in Taiwan.

And last?  That’s a purple glutinous rice “cake” topped with candied fruit for celebrations.  The reddish rice is a lucky color.  A much nicer way to celebrate a birthday than a grocery store sheet cake made from Crisco and powdered eggs, thank you very much.

To you, Taiwan, and your glorious fruit!  I toast you with some passionfruit juice.

dark days #18: in lieu of a local meal — a dream of summer meals

Let’s face it folks, this is the dreariest part of late winter for locavores.  We’re tired of eating local meat-laden stews, and besides, the potatoes, onions, garlic, and winter squash are all in their death throes.  The Months of Kale are just beginning, and that brings with it a new ennui, but for now, let me just say that I’m tired of non-green things.

I’ve been dodging rain showers and slugs to do my spring garden cleanup this week, so I thought I’d share some of my plans for future local meals in lieu of a proper winter eating Dark Days challenge post.  The garden is at its least picturesque this time of year, but I always take a few shots so I can remember that spring hopes usually come to fruition later in the summer.

Berries are the most promising this year.  I’m finally in the magic third year for my raspberries.  I should have a good crop this year. I’m not sure I have enough sun for part of the row, but all looks good for the blackcaps and Meekers in the front.  My strawberry patch is well-established now, too.  My new haskapberry (also known as honeyberry, see photo to left) hedge in the front is blooming and growing like crazy.  I’ve planted a couple of salal starts.  I have a fantasy of making a hedgerow jam just as they do in England, but mine will be blackcap raspberry-honeyberry-salal.  I also planted some red currants in the front, and I can’t wait to play with them.  Currants, like gooseberries are so hard to find here because of their fragility, so one really does need to grow them.

I planted two kinds of peas: the ubiquitous ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ and ‘Waverex.’  I’ll add some ‘Cascadia’ in a couple of weeks for variety, I think.  I’m still working on my lettuce bed.  I bought several kinds of leaf lettuce and chicories from Gathering Together Farm in Philomath last year.  (It’s a wonderful organic working farm and restaurant, and you should go for a meal.)  I’m the first person to complain about salads, but I’m much more inclined to eat them when they’re full of unusual and sturdy leaves.  So we shall see what kind of salad love I’ll be able to create. I’m still loving my arugula.

My onions and garlic starts are doing quite well, and are the herbs.  My caraway wintered over, and it’s now producing a flower head.  I’m really looking forward to having my own caraway seed.  I’ve yet to plant my ‘Mammoth’ dill seed, but the fennel is already up and running in two places in the garden.  I’m trying to decide if I need to plant more lemon thyme, or if I should just hope for the best with the scraggly old plant that was crowded out by the much more vigorous French thyme last year.

Spring artichokes are one of my favorite vegetables, but I am not sure I’ll have them this year.  I lost one of my two ‘Green Globe’ plants this winter, and the other is now hidden behind a rosemary bush that’s finally grown too high.  I planted more in the front (‘Imperial Star’) and they say they produce in the first year, but I dunno.

I’ve also put in some ‘Jersey Knight’ asparagus, a gift from my neighbor.  That’s a far-off dream.

I’m still holding out hope for my ‘January King’ cabbages that are scraggly (to the right).  The aphids seem the only species around here that is happy with their progress.  I squished a bunch for that unpopular view, hoping that Pat Patterson’s technique for releasing aphid squish scent into the air for predators would work.  Yeah, I know.  I’ll likely pull them and put in ‘Detroit’ beets. Or cucumbers.  I’m pretty much satisfied with ‘Cool Breeze’ for summer eating and pickling, so I’m going to stick with that variety.

Still trying to figure out where I’m going to put in all of the heirloom beans I bought last year and this spring, having forgotten I had some from last year.  Hutterite soup bean!  Orca!  Vermont cranberry!  Scarlet runner!  Yelloweye!  I think I only have one row for beans, too.  Hm.

I do have, however, a nice old galvanized garbage can for growing potatoes this year.  I’m rather unreasonably pleased by this development.  Will keep you updated.

And tomatoes and peppers, right?  I make dark promises about nightshades each year, and find myself in a frenzy of gluttony no matter what kinds of reasonable goals and lists I make.  So all I’m going to say is that I have a brilliant pepper bed (to the left) and two tomato beds.  I want ‘Saucey’ plums, ‘Sungold’ cherries, and a black slicer or two for tomatoes.  For peppers, I need many, many, many lovely red Hungarian peppers, jalapeños, and anaheims.  And we’ll see what else develops.  I think I’m also going to grow a Japanese or Italian eggplant, so I can make more ajvar.  The stuff I froze last year was great.

You can also see my tiny ‘Desert King’ fig tree, which sustained some frost damage this year (center) and my newly transplanted elderberry tree (upper right corner) that I’m hoping will do better in the back than it did in the front.  It’s also closer to its sister elderberry, on the opposite end of the back yard, so I’m hoping for more pollination action.

So that’s my summer vegetable and fruit forecast.  Dreams of summer meals.  What are you planning to plant?  Some of you have already commented on my Facebook page, and I’d love to hear more!

gearing up for the dark days blogging challenge

IMG_1166

My entire house smells like the floral, slightly apply, slightly pineapply fruit most of us wouldn’t even recognize: the quince.  It’s a part of the supplies I’m gathering as part of the 3rd annual Dark Days blogging challenge, run by Laura of (not so) Urban Hennery up in the great rainy north (Washington).  I and a bunch of other food bloggers will prepare and serve one completely local meal through the roughest days of the year in terms of local produce: late fall, winter, and early spring.  It is going to be a challenge, but I’m excited about it, since I’m already learning a great deal about sourcing local grains and other necessities.  You can bet my preserved foods are going to be a big part of the challenge, and I’ve been looking through my freezer for what I managed to save over the summer.

If you’re interested in playing along, follow the link above (also listed on the right side column as a pretty little button) and join me!

As for the quince, he and his brothers will meet a sad but delicious end as a cooked, strained juice.  Quince is high in natural pectin, so it makes a great addition to jams and jellies.  It’s also delicious served as a compote.

I see quince as a long-lost friend because I had an alphabet book that couldn’t find anything else in the child’s universe for Q other than a quince.  A quince, sure!  Little did I know that unlike the banana or dog or umbrella, I wouldn’t see a live quince until college.  And, truth be told, it ain’t much to look at, either.  But the smell, oh man, words can’t even begin to describe it.  If you find an ugly, bumpy, yellow (or green that will ripen to lemon yellow) thing in the produce bin, pick it up and breathe it in.  There’s nothing like it in the world.

Edited to add:  Looking for quince recipes?  Our own Laura McCandlish, a Corvallis-based food blogger, has gathered a handful from various cooks, near and far, for an article for NPR’s Kitchen Window.