california in a jar

IMG_3406On my way back to Eugene, I was feeling a little bitter and sorry for myself because I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to do in California thanks to the funeral side trip to Michigan.  I had planned to take a longer route down, a solo road trip, that would allow me to visit colleagues and friends and explore a bit of California’s Central Valley, America’s bread basket.

The Central Valley, according to an NPR story, is “the greatest garden in the world” and reports that it produces 25% of the nation’s food.  As someone who lives in America’s former bread basket, the Willamette Valley of central Oregon, I view it with an amateur historian’s eye — fascinated and horrified by commercial farming practices that turn a fertile crescent of land into monocultures ruled by pesticides.  In particular, I was thinking of investigating a little farm or two that might be growing unusual olives to spite those black marbles we see on the grocery story shelves or those awful huge pyramid-shaped flavorless strawberries that weren’t meant for shipping.

The funeral dashed my hopes and free time, but I got lucky anyway, and stopped at a few local produce stands along highway 505 at Winters and I-5 near Williams.  And found what I was not expecting, including a nut wall made of shipping containers that separated an auto business from a popular taco truck in Winters.  (I snapped this shot while waiting for my lengua tacos for my friend John Mariani, no relation, and told him his detractors were at it again.)

IMG_3409Most notably, Royal apricots were up and running at the Double R Ranch produce stand in Winters, so a picked up half a flat with some olive oil from Knabke Farms.  I only found out later that Heath Ranch Organics in Orland grows fantastic and wonderful varieties of citrus fruits as part of a 30-some-year relationship with experimental research scientists needing a demo farm.  (That’s their gas pump and sign, above.) If I had known Ron and Melanie Heath were so cool, I would have stayed longer and asked to tour the farm, but we did have a quick chat about blood oranges and Sevilles as we snacked on the absolutely best Valencia oranges I’ve ever tasted in my life.  I managed to leave with some of those oranges, a blue star thistle honey bear, a pound of pistachios grown and roasted down the road, and a pound of red wine-marinated kalamata olives.

IMG_4653Of course, I needed to rush right home and bottle it all up.

The Québécois make a conserve called nougabricot that famed jammière, the Alsatian pastry chef Christine Ferber, has made famous.  With all due respect to my French-Canadian ancestors, I think nougabricot sounds like a mouthful of marbles, and a conserve made of apricots, almonds, pistachios, oranges, lemons, and honey is really a California thing, so I have taken the liberty to rename it:

California in a Jar

A conserve of apricots, almonds, and pistachios.  Yield 6 half pints.

  • 2.75 lbs. ripe but not overripe apricots (choose an heirloom variety like Royals or Royal Blenheims if you can)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 8 oz. dark honey (Ferber suggests chestnut, I used avocado honey for the California theme)
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2/3 cup shelled pistachios (unsalted or rinsed if they are salted)
  • few dashes rose water (optional)

Wash, pit, and quarter apricots.  Very large apricots should be cut in pieces.  Wash and sterilize your jars and prepare two-piece lids.

In a large pot, bring all ingredients to a simmer, then pour into a glass or stainless bowl, cover with parchment paper, as any apricots left exposed will oxidize to brown, and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, strain the solids from the liquids and place liquids in your preserving pan.  Heat the liquids until they are syrupy and reach a temperature of 220 degrees, which will allow some thickening to occur (but it will still be a loose-set product).

Add the solids to the syrup and bring to a vigorous boil, then keep at a boil for five minutes. Let sit off heat for five minutes and skim foam. Add a few dashes of rosewater if you like, and ladle product into sterilized jars.

For processing, fill to 1/4 inch from top, pressing down apricots and nuts under syrup to combat oxidization problem, and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.  Between you and me, I think this one really should be kept fresh and in the refrigerator, so I didn’t process the jars.  The hot conserve “sealed” the lids after I added the product, but it is a weak seal and I must stress a refrigerator is necessary if you don’t waterbath can the jars.

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harvest

Such an odd year. Picked the rest of the green tomatoes, finally, which will turn into salsa, and will make ajvar out of the ripe peppers. Cooking down apples into butter in the crock pot. Ethiopian berebere peppers, which have a fantastic flavor, and a bunch of Hungarian paprika and others gifted by Jeff Eaton, who wanted to share the remainder of his crop (thanks, Jeff!) are drying in the dehydrator along with another gift, a tub of newly fallen walnuts (thanks, Lara!). Still haven’t figured out what to do with all those cranberries, but that’s next.

If you’re interested in going nuts, the filbert crop is in and walnuts are coming. I took some shots of the harvest at Thistledown Farm the other day. They close a couple days after Halloween, so if you want your store of winter squash, potatoes, onions, or apples, head out there soon.  It’s a time to be amazed by the bounty of our valley.  Even in a crummy year, we manage to pull it off.

dark days challenge #10: “foraged” salad with apple, walnut and quince dressing

The foraging was in my backyard!  To balance all the confit I’ve been eating, I had a keen yearning for a serious salad for this week’s Dark Days Challenge meal.  Now, I’m not talking about insipid heads of butter lettuce, or those pointless (sorry, fans) bags of mesclun greens that all taste the same, even though they look to be different species.  I’m talking about salad that bites back.

We had two — TWO!! — sunny days this week, so I did a bit of gardening between deadlines, pruning the cane berries and pulling back the mulch in some areas to allow for little chives and lovage and strawberry babies.  But I was really on the lookout for salad possibilities.  I learned in my Master Gardener training that one can eat our first ubiquitous early spring weed, the little Western bittercress, now making itself known in bare patches of my garden.  I pulled some of the largest ones, then found some tender dandelion greens (the second ubiquitous early spring weed), tore them up, and added them to the mix.

I love eating weeds.  It makes me feel powerful!

But I realized I had cultivated salad greens still in the garden, too.  The arugula is doing wonderfully, all the better for the cold wet weather, so I snipped off some of those leaves for the base of the salad.  I had given up on the plants cozied up to my peas because they were unbearably spicy and hot in summer’s dog days, but they have actually mellowed and become fresher over the course of the winter, weathering our cold snaps with gusto.

And my wild bronze fennel is up in two corners of the yard, sending out gorgeous feathery fronds that are sweet, fresh, and slightly licorice-y, so I sacrificed a few to the salad bowl.

I still have storage apples (Melrose, I believe) in the back from Riverbend Farms, so I added a couple to the salad, plus some delicious new Rogue Creamery cheese, Brutal Blue, and walnuts from Hentze Farm.  The lily still needed to be gilded, clearly, so I melted a couple of tablespoons of frozen homemade quince paste and whisked it into a vinaigrette made of (non-local) olive oil and my accidentally brilliant* Concord grape and star anise vinegar.  Amazing.  It was like eating spring.

* I wanted to make local raisins this year, but I realized too late that one shouldn’t dry tiny Concords (pictured on left) without taking out the seeds, because those seeds are big and hard, and they stick like glue to the dried grape.  So I took the lot, added a whole star anise, and covered everything in white wine vinegar.  Four months later, it’s incredibly delicious — better than the best berry vinegar because of the “foxy” flavor of the Concord grape, with just the right amount of spicy depth from the star anise.  I’ll make this one from now on.

oregon hazelnut recall, ouch

This couldn’t be timed more poorly, with holiday baking and all, but it looks like salmonella was found at one of the shelling plants for Oregon’s hazelnut crop, in Newburg, OR. For more information, see the Oregon Department of Agriculture recall notice here.

As far as food-borne illnesses go, salmonella is usually relatively mild, unless an infected person is in one of the risk groups (infant, elderly, compromised immune system), and common as dirt.  Unlike e. coli, which has wider and more devastating consequences, salmonella can be easily caught and easily overcome.  It lives in the intestines of otherwise healthy humans and animals, and is spread through animal or human waste products coming in contact with food.  (It’s one of the reasons you are urged to wash your hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom.)

In a processing facility, where contaminated products are circulated and touched and redistributed, the possible contamination threat grows greater, of course.

Salmonella is always a small threat — you probably have some in your refrigerator right now.  At the very least, you needn’t fear your locally purchased nuts any more than you would any other crop, since vegetables, eggs, dairy, and everything else are always subject to salmonella.   The salad depicted above, for example, could be laden with salmonella if an infected animal made its way through the arugula patch, or the pears were handled by a worker who didn’t wash his hands, or the blue cheese was crumbled by a chef who was careless about cross-contamination with raw meat on the kitchen counter.

This recall is going to needlessly devastate sales of these nuts and local farmers dependent upon the income for the crop.  It looks like the salmonella they found was localized to one place and caught at the distributor.  The notice says that hazelnuts in the shell are still fine, even if you do buy them at a larger scale, but the vast majority of hazelnuts that are shelled are perfectly OK, too.  If you bought your hazelnuts from small farms, such as Freddy Guys or Detering’s, or micro-networks, such as the farm stand at River Bend Farm that sells nuts from a local orchard, you needn’t fear purchases or throw away your nuts.

One can also buy the highest quality plump, fresh, new-crop hazelnuts from middlemen like the OSU Extension-Lane County Master Food Preservers who accept nuts, shell and bag them, and sell them as fundraisers in the Willamette Valley.   We still have bags left!  Hazelnuts AND walnuts AND almonds, oh my — all from the 2009 crop and lovingly hand-shelled by our volunteers. The quality is better than anything I’ve ever seen. I would strongly encourage it, and not just because I’m interested in keeping Extension programs alive by any means necessary (and by the way, one of the services the MFP program provides is answering questions from the community about food safety recalls like this one).

So…if you are local and suddenly in need of hazelnuts because of the recall OR you have questions about nuts you have purchased, please call the MFP hotline and leave a message at 541-682-4246, or drop by the OSU Extension office next to the Fairgrounds (950 W. 13th, Eugene) on weekdays (M-Th, 10-1, 2-5).

Support your local hazelnut farmers — this is going to hurt in a year defined by hurt.

hazelnut millet granola, with variations

In my pre-Thanksgiving pantry investigation, I discovered I had two big containers of oats.  In an ongoing effort to break my morning bagel habit, it seemed I had no choice but to make granola.  We did a double batch of Nigella Lawson’s ridiculously simple nut granola recipe that several bloggers have adapted for their own, including Orangette and David Lebovitz.  I was interested in the recipe because it uses non-sweetened applesauce to moisten and flavor the oats, and I am particularly loath to eat anything sweet most mornings.  Plus, I just so happen to have a few low-sugar homemade applesauces stashed away in my canning cupboard.

The three cookie sheets full of baking granola took almost twice the time to dry and roast as the recipe states (I should have used four sheets, but I didn’t have oven space for four!).  The double batch I made ate up most of this year’s hazelnut crop, too.  Must go to OSU Extension office to buy more.  I used agave syrup instead of rice syrup, and only hazelnuts, adding a handful of millet for a bit of contrast instead of the sunflower seeds.

When the granola came out of the oven, I tossed one tray with currants, the second with crystallized ginger, and the third with home-dried sour cherries and cocoa nibs.  All three are delicious.  The applesauce makes the granola crispy and full of flavor, and the proportions are just right.

The granola is delicious mixed into yogurt or with milk.  I may try it with a flaked grain cereal if I can find one, as David Lebovitz suggests.  My favorite commercial granola, a German brand with a bewilderingly wondeful range of flavors, uses an oat that seems to be processed a bit differently than our rolled oats — almost as if the roller smashed the oat down even more.  It makes the oats less chewy and more pleasant when raw (or basically raw).  Anyone have a source for these cereals?

Try making it for gifts in a jar this holiday season.  Your family and friends will thank you!

Hazelnut Millet Granola with Fruit

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast and Orangette’s variation (see link above)

5 cups rolled oats (not instant)
2 cups coarsely chopped new crop Oregon hazelnuts (or almonds), roasted*
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1/2 cup millet
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. kosher salt (less if using regular salt)

3/4 cup low sugar apple sauce
1/3 cup agave syrup
1/4 cup full-flavored honey (meadowfoam is particularly good)
2 T. vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F.  In a small bowl, combine the applesauce, agave syrup, honey, and oil.   In a very large bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones, and stir well.

Spread the mixture evenly on two large rimmed baking sheets as thinly as possible.

Bake sheets on top and bottom racks of oven for 45 minutes, or until evenly golden brown (watch for burning around the edges).  Every 15 minutes, carefully stir and re-spread out granola on the sheets, switching positions in the oven so the granola will bake as evenly as possible.

When it turns golden brown, remove the pans from the oven and stir once more.  Orangette says “this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet” and “The finished granola may still feel slightly soft when it comes out of the oven, but it will crisp as it cools.”

Let cool for about 15 minutes before adding the dried fruit of your choice.  Dried currants, raisins, cranberries, blueberries, sour cherries are all good choices; stickier fruit, such as mangos or apricot pieces, are not because of storage issues.  You may also add crystalized ginger pieces (tiny), cocoa nibs for a chocolatey taste and/or toasted coconut shreds.  The amount of fruit is up to you — I found about a half-cup of sour cherries was good for one tray, and two teaspoons of ginger or cocoa nibs was just right for one tray.

Store in the refrigerator for no longer than three months, if it lasts that long, in a sealed container or ziploc bag.

Yield: about 10 cups.

* To roast hazelnuts, place on rimmed baking sheet in 300 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  When the nuts smell fragrant and the flesh turns creamy from white, they are finished.  It isn’t an exact science, so it’s better to undercook them than overcook them.

dirty pumpkin seeds

IMG_1040

Happy Halloween!  Retrogrouch and I carved our jack-o-lantern last night, and got our scaaaaary on.  I am bedecking our porch with body parts, and he’s been nailed through the head.  Luckily, the injury wasn’t bad enough to stop him from the carving.

IMG_1029

For me, the best part of pumpkin carving has always been roasting the pumpkin seeds.  Each year, I carefully separate out the seeds from the goo, rinse them and dry them, salt them, and put them in a 350 degree oven.  Each year, I also forget about them and have to throw half of them away when they get too dark.

Last year, when working on the Master Food Preserver hotline, someone called in and asked how to make pumpkin seeds.  I started to give my standard schpiel, then realized that I could (and should) look up a recipe in our giant binder of recipes and techniques that are tested by our Extension program and others across the country.  And lo!  The Good Book shewed that she was in great error.  I was roasting the seeds at way too high of a temperature, hence the bitter charring when I forgot about them.

This year, I looked at the seeds with their pretty orange lacing of goo, and thought that I might capitalize on the extra flavor of the pumpkin pulp on the seeds, so I didn’t rinse them.  I tossed them in some oil with coarse sea salt and black pepper, then roasted the speckled, striped seeds.  And lo!  Dirty Pumpkin Seeds were born.  And they were delicious.  Even after I forgot about them.

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Dirty Pumpkin Seeds

This recipe doesn’t measure the amounts, since the amount of seeds one gets from a pumpkin can vary widely.  The larger jack-o-lanterns can actually have fewer seeds than the smaller ones.

  • Seeds from one jack-o-lantern
  • Coarsely ground sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Carefully pick through the pumpkin innards to get all the seeds.  Discard malformed seeds and as much of the orange goo surrounding the seeds as possible, placing seeds in a clean bowl.

Do not rinse the remaining pumpkin goo off the seeds.  Add coarsely ground sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, then coat the seeds in enough vegetable oil to make them slick but not dripping with oil (I used about a tablespoon).

Spread seeds out in a single layer in a Pyrex dish or cookie sheet.

Roast for about 45 minutes, checking occasionally, until light gold in color and completely dry.  If you forget about them, they’re ok for about an hour.  You’ll smell a gentle roasting smell, not the charring of burnt seeds, as a reminder.

They tell me the seeds will keep for about a week unrefrigerated, but mine have never lasted more than a day or two.

hazelnut rhubarb bread

DSCF4583Hope everyone had an excellent, sunny, warm Memorial Day weekend.  I was gardening for most of it, but I did take an eensy weensy bit of time to cook for a bbq and gift-giving.

I made a new rhubarb bread recipe (from BaltimOregon’s recipe clipping files) over the weekend to give to neighbors.  We have new neighbors to the west, and the best neighbors ever to the east.  These events deserve some rhubarb bread, don’t you think?

Recipe Notes:

This makes a light, not-very-sweet loaf of quick bread.  The rhubarb gets mushy, even coated with flour, so you want to chop the pieces small.  I wonder if making a puree from the sugar, then incorporating it in the batter, would infuse the bread with more rhubarb flavor.

I substituted hazelnuts for what is probably generally walnuts, reducing the oil in the bread, so it was a bit cakey and less like a quick bread than usual.  Roasted hazelnuts would have been better than raw, oh well.  Didn’t have orange zest, so I substituted a bit of lemon oil and about a 1/4 cup of local strawberry freezer jam that I had on hand, both of which lent nuances in flavor.  Used local Victoria rhubarb, the green and pink-stalked stuff, so the pink is mostly from the strawberries.  I think I’d throw a handful of millet in the batter next time, since I really like the crunch in quick breads, and use some whole wheat flour for more depth in texture.

All right, so the recipe was significantly changed.  This is why I’m not a baker, sorry!  :)