Preserving Fruits And Vegetables

When The Fruit Boat Arrives

High summer brings a boatload of local fruit to the table, from raspberries and strawberries to peaches and plums. Try as we may, we can’t eat it all fresh, so out come the canning jars and all the associated gear. Not everything will get canned, of course. After blanching and peeling and slicing the stone fruit, I freeze the slices in single layers on parchment paper, then package them in freezer wrap for winter pies and crumbles. If the freezer isn’t too full, I’ll mix up batches of fruit pie filling, line pie dishes with parchment paper, then freeze the filling in the pie dish. When solid, pop out the filling, wrap with freezer proof paper and label (!!!). That makes pie making a breeze: line a pie dish with crust, slide in a frozen filling, top with the second crust, flute the edges and bake as usual. Tastes as fresh as if it came straight from the garden and those frozen fillings keep for months.

Of course, there’s always some fruit that isn’t quite ripe or is perhaps a bit sub par in flavor. Among the tastiest things to do with such sad stuff is roast it. Roasting awakens the latent sugars hidden in sour fruit and dull vegetables as well. When big fat cherries taste bland, roast them for 20 minutes and prepare to be amazed. Same with peaches and nectarines, or plums and pears. You can then use the gilded, caramelized results in all sorts of dishes, savory or sweet. For starters, try mashing bits of caramelized fruit into soft goat cheese for a marvelous garnish for roast chicken or grilled fish. You can also freeze these roasted gems and use them all fall and winter.

Let The Revels Begin

Here’s another of my favorite treatments, which is beyond delicious. Slightly chewy on the outside, creamy on the inside, each piece retains its own flavor yet also melds with the others.

Roasted Fruit/Root Medley

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons avocado oil
4 cups coarsely chopped ripe peaches
4 cups coarsely chopped carrots
2 cups coarsely chopped sweet potatoes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine first three ingredients in a serving bowl, set aside. Combine last four ingredients on a rimmed baking sheet and gently toss to coat with oil. Spread in a single layer, sprinkle with salt and bake until slightly caramelized (20-25 minutes), stirring once or twice. Immediately toss with maple syrup mixture and serve hot. Makes about 4 cups.

Nectarine Breakfast Crisp

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 coarsely chopped nectarines with their juice
1/4 cup coarse coconut meal (unsweetened)
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups rolled oats (old fashioned oatmeal)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Put 1 tablespoon butter into an 8 x 8 inch baking pan and set in oven to melt. When melted, spoon fruit and juice into pan, set aside. Blend remaining butter with coconut meal and brown sugar, then blend in oatmeal, making a coarse meal. Spread evenly over fruit and bake until crisp (30-40 minutes). Serves at least one.

Sweet/Hot Pepper Jam

8 cups chopped peppers (mix of sweet and hot types)
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 cups cider vinegar
3 cups sugar

Grind peppers in a food processor to a coarse mixture. Put in a bowl, sprinkle with salt, cover bowl and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours. Drain (save liquid for gazpacho) and combine peppers with sugar and vinegar over low heat. Cook, stirring often, until thick (40-50 minutes), then spoon into hot sterilized jars and seal. Process in hot water bath for 15 minutes. Let cure for 2-3 weeks and refrigerate after opening. Makes about 4 8-ounce jars.

Peach & Pepper Chutney

4 cups chopped peaches
2 cups chopped mini peppers
or any sweet/mild types
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
1/4 cup chopped preserved ginger
1/4 teaspoon each: cinnamon, salt, and cardamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

In a large pot, combine first 7 ingredients with 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer over low heat until slightly thickened (20-30 minutes). Add spices and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Spoon into hot jars, leaving at least 1/2 inch head room. Seal jars, then process in hot water bath for 15 minutes. Let cure for 2-3 weeks and refrigerate after opening. Makes about 6 8-ounce jars.

 

 

 

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Time To Plant Cool Season Starts

Summer Time, And The Daylight Is Fading…

Summer’s here and the harvest is coming thick and fast. In my tiny shared garden space, my Blue Jade dwarf corn is fattening up, one blue ear per stalk. The beans are busting the vines, and tomatoes are ripening daily. Yet even as the heat wave continues, the days are already shrinking. It’s dark before 9:00 pm and the mornings are closing in. As we pull spent lettuces and dig potatoes, we’re prepping for fall planting by mulching with aged compost watered with compost tea to refresh the soil.

We’re making room for winter greens, including rosy arugula, which offers pretty much continuous harvest through autumn into deep winter. If given a cloche or a hoop tunnel, you can pick arugula on into spring. Same for many lettuce types, notably bibbs and butterheads such as Victoria, and Optima Buttercrunch Bibb. Of course, the classic cool season lettuce is the French favorite, Merveille des Quatre Saisons, but I’ve also had great crops of Pomegranate Crunch, a mini red Romaine.

Continual Harvest Crops

Endive crops through autumn as well. Frizzy, green-to-ivory Benefine is famed for being slow to bolt in summer heat but it’s also a fine cool season grower, as is smaller-headed Rhodos. Mustard greens are both tasty and pretty enough for the ornamental border, especially Osaka Purple, with rounded, puckered burgundy leaves, and Miz America, a fluffy, deep red confection with mild, almost sweet leaves. If I didn’t love the flavors, I would grow Swiss chard just for the beauty of the stems, from the warm gold of El Dorado to shrimp-tinted Flamingo Pink, citrusy Orange Fantasia and sparkling Magenta Sunset. Can’t choose? Try the Aurora blend, which offers a little of everything!

Long considered peasant food, kale boasts dozens of beautiful, tasty forms that can be harvested pretty much year round. Over the past decade, kale won a place in the trendiest of kitchens, especially in gorgeous forms such as Beira, a Portugese Sea Kale with large, tender leaves of jade green ribbed in ivory. The thick ribs are as crisp as celery, while the leaves, sliced into chiffonade, are delicious in soups and stir fries. Brilliant grass green Prizm won awards when introduced in 2016 and no wonder; the almost stemless, super curly, cut-and-come-again leaves are excellent raw or cooked. I also love Oregon-bred Dazzling Blue, partly because I like the song (thanks, Paul Simon) but mostly because it’s amazing; blue-green foliage with bright pink ribs tastes as sweet as its lacinato parents.

From Beets To Broccoli

There are plenty of root crops to tuck in now, including Bull’s Blood beets, with ruddy leaves and fat round red globes. Purple-red MacGregor’s Favorite are almost carrot-shaped, while Touchstone Gold beets are orange skinned and yellow fleshed and gifted with abundant phytonutrients (a welcome new direction in plant breeding). Crisp, sweet-with-a-bite turnips do well as a fall crop, especially Japanese-bred Tokyo Cross and Hakurei, exceptional in raw salads and stir fries or quick-pickled with rings of red onion and a clove of garlic.

Broccoli has a zillion varieties, many of which will produce tender side shoots all winter after the main head is harvested. Arcadia is a dense, medium-headed form with purple-tinged beads and a delicious flavor. Bred for the Pacific Northwest, Green Gold produces firm, tender heads in about 100 days, while blue-green Marathon heads up even faster (68 days from transplanting) and kicks out succulent side shoots until spring. A star in summer, Summer Purple keeps on keepin’ on, producing bright purple broccolini-type heads all fall. Sturdy, deep green Umpqua is another productive variety that cranks out tender side shoots long after the main head is harvested.

From Brokali to Kalettes

Those little side shoots can be steamed, grilled, roasted or pan-sizzled with a little oil and garlic. A productive cross called brokali (broccoli x gailon, a tender-crisp crucifer sometimes called Chinese broccoli) produces slender broccolini-type stalks with plump, lacy heads. Harvest the dense, small head of Brokali Apollo and you’ll pick sprouts for months. Brokali Happy Rich is especially vigorous and its pretty shoots can be gathered well into winter. I eat cauliflower pretty much daily, raw in salads, grilled in “steaks’, or roasted with a little avocado oil. Big head cauliflower comes in such pretty colors now, especially Purple Cape, Purple of Sicily, and Graffiti, all good fall performers. Stick-type cauliflower such as Fioretto are a delightful addition, tasty raw with dip, lightly grilled or steamed and drizzled with fresh lime juice.

Brussels sprouts are a winter staple in my kitchen. Some are slivered into slaw and raw salads, but most get roasted with cubed sweet potatoes, a handful of raw cranberries tossed in for the last 10 minutes. Red sprouts such as Red Ball never seem to get bugged by aphids, while sturdy Jade Cross and Roodnerf are strong growers that shrug bugs aside. I’d grow Hestia sprouts just to honor the goddess of the hearth, but these plump, tight little sprouts taste sweet even without the usual nip of frost. Wrapped in ruffles and tinted with rosy pink and purple, Kalettes are the rock stars of the cool season garden. Crosses between kale and Brussels sprouts, kalettes offer both delicious foliage and gorgeous little frilly balls, like sprouts in evening gowns. Autumn Star crops first, followed by midwinter Mistletoe and late winter Snowdrop. Flower Sprouts Petite Posy is similar, with mild, flavorful little sprouts that taste even better after a light frost. Plus? They’re adorable!

 

 

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Homemade Ice Cream

Dairy Or Vegan, A Summery Favorite

Who doesn’t love ice cream? On a scorching hot day, not much beats the fun of mashing fresh fruit into local milk and cream (or milk alternative) and freezing it into deliciousness. My grandkids are happy to eat homemade ice cream as chilly slush they call ice cream soup. I like a denser texture, which requires putting the soft set stuff into the freezer for a while to firm up. There’s something so nostalgic and sweet and happy about making ice cream with kids. Years ago, I had a fabulous White Mountain hand crank ice cream maker that combined a wooden bucket with a steel canister and paddle. You pre-chilled the canister, filled it halfway with a cold ice cream mixture, stuck it in the barrel, packed the edges with ice and rock salt and cranked away. Any and all kids loved to help, so this rather messy and usually lengthy process took place on the porch, where splashes of salty and often creamy mess could be hosed off and did no harm.

Somehow, that wonderful old machine got left behind on the trail of life, but since then, many faster, less cumbersome ice cream makers have arrived on the scene. Though some are automatic and electrified, I still prefer the hand crank types, which now feature fatter metal canisters filled with gel that holds the cold long enough to get your ice cream well started on the path to perfection. The only issue for me is making room in my ever-crammed freezer for the tub, which has to be kept in the freezer overnight to do the job. These come in many sizes, from pint to quart to gallon, but the smaller sizes are the most efficient, making soft serve ice cream in about ten minutes. Again, for firmer ice cream, transfer it to a tightly sealed tub and freeze for at least an hour.

Do You Believe In Magic

With many traditional recipes, homemade ice cream of any flavor is best the first day, as it tends to get rock hard over time. That wasn’t a problem in the past, when refrigerators were really ice boxes and freezers were almost unknown. Ice cream was for eating fresh and leftovers simply didn’t happen. To solve the problem, contemporary recipes often include a magic ingredient to keep ice cream silky; usually some form of corn syrup, which I (of course) eschew. However, a little experimentation showed that brown rice syrup is an excellent substitute, resulting in ice cream that’s satisfyingly dense yet not too hard. It also makes for ice cream that’s more creamy and less tooth-achingly sweet, and makes fruit flavors more prominent.

My usual recipes involve lovely local organic cream and milk as well as luscious fresh fruit. However, since some of us need to avoid dairy and others are vegan, I’ve developed recipes that please everyone, no matter what their dietary restrictions may be. The following recipes have passed multiple taste tests, but as always, feel free to adjust them to suit your family’s preferences.

Pure And Simple

Originating in ancient Turkey, dairy-free sorbets were traditionally made from dried fruit and rose petals mixed with sugar. Today, sorbets are usually made with fruit juice and water, adding flavoring agents and sweeteners to taste (or not). Tart sorbets make lovely palate-cleansers between courses at relaxed, leisurely summer evening meals. Especially refreshing sorbets can be made with rice or cider vinegar, diluted with water or vegetable juices. My own favorites pair fresh lime juice with pureed cucumbers (great with fish), or pureed sweet peppers with basil or cilantro (fabulous with anything grilled).

It’s quite easy to come up with tasty and simple dairy free and vegan recipes for both sorbet and ice cream, but our family favorites are made with coconut milk, with a rich creaminess that rivals dairy versions. Do a little tasting as you mix, because the sweetener amount will vary depending on the ripeness of the fruit and your preferred sweet-tart balance. I usually add bourbon vanilla to pretty much anything, enjoying the floral bloom it brings, but you can always leave it out (or add more!).

Merry Berry Vegan Ice Cream

3 cups ripe raspberries, strawberries, etc.
1/3-1/2 cup brown rice syrup
tiny pinch sea salt
1 can (about 2 cups) coconut milk
OR any alternative milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a food processor, puree berries, then drizzle in brown rice syrup with machine running. Add salt, coconut or other alternative milk, and vanilla, process for a few seconds, then chill until cold. Process in an ice cream maker as directed, then pack into containers and freeze. Makes about 2 pints.

Spunky Rhubarb Vegan Sorbet

4 cups rhubarb, chopped in 1-inch pieces
tiny pinch sea salt
1/4-1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Place cut rhubarb in a saucepan, add 1 cup water, bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer until soft (10-12 minutes). Puree with an immersion blender, add salt, brown rice syrup to taste, and vanilla and chill until cold. Process in an ice cream maker as directed, then pack into containers and freeze. Makes about 2 pints.

Cherry Ginger Vegan Ice Cream

2 cups ripe, pitted, chopped cherries
1/4-1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 can (about 2 cups) coconut milk
OR any alternative milk
1-2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root

In a food processor, puree fruit, then drizzle in brown rice syrup with machine running. Add coconut or other milk and ginger, process for a few seconds, then chill until cold. Process in an ice cream maker as directed, stir in ginger bits, pack into containers and freeze. Makes about 2 pints.

The Full Dairy Experience

Fresh organic milk and cream from grass fed cows makes a truly memorable real-deal ice cream. Add some ripe and flavorful local fruit and whatever flavoring you desire for something no commercial product can match. Here, too, the brown rice syrup adds gentle, mellow sweetness without a cloying sugary blast, letting the fruit sing for itself. Wait, or vegetables? Huh? Oh my yes. Palate pleasing savory sorbets may be flavored in the French manner with ripe tomatoes or sweet peppers, basil or cilantro, as single flavor notes or in classic combinations like tomato-basil, cucumber-parsley, or fennel with oranges. In France, you might be served a bowl of chilled gazpacho topped with a scoop of basil sorbet that may melt your mind with sheer bliss.

Cherry Or Blueberry Ice Cream

4 cups chopped pitted cherries
OR blueberries (tart ones work well)
1/3-1/2 cup brown rice syrup
tiny pinch sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
grated rind of 1 organic lemon
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream

In a food processor, puree fruit, then drizzle in brown rice syrup with machine running. Add salt, vanilla, lemon zest, milk and cream, process for a few seconds, then chill until cold. Process in an ice cream maker as directed, pack into containers and freeze. Makes about 2 pints. This is also delightful with strawberries and lime zest, or blackberries and orange zest…

Summer Savory Sorbet

2 cups chopped sweet cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup stemmed basil leaves and stems
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups heavy cream

In a food processor, combine tomatoes, basil and salt and puree, add cream and process for a few seconds, then chill until cold (overnight is good). Process in an ice cream maker as directed, then pack into containers and freeze. Makes about 2-1/2 pints. Serve between courses or add a dollop to any chilled soup, from Swedish Cherry to Spanish Gazpacho. Caution: Mildly addictive!

Note: All recipes serve at least one.

 

 

 

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Summery Essentials & Indulgences

A Bevy Of Berries

When the berries arrive in gardens and markets, my kitchen overflows with delicious treats. Most get eaten out of hand; between me and the grandkids, fresh fruit has a very short shelf life. Much of what we don’t enjoy fresh gets frozen or turned into jam (raspberry and blueberry are favorites), but some end up in pies and crumbles and grunts. Grunts? Yup; it’s an old fashioned New England thing that’s very tasty and doesn’t require firing up the oven on a hot day. Serve it warm dessert with homemade peach or raspberry ice cream or billows of whipped cream.

Blueberry Grunt

For this, you need a Dutch oven or heavy, covered, stove top pan.

Prepare the biscuits first:

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (or any)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup milk or buttermilk (or alternative milk)

Stir together dry ingredients, work in butter with fingers, then add milk a little at a time to make a soft dough. Knead gently until smooth, pat out to a circle a little smaller than your pan and about 1/2 inch thick. Cut in pieces, set aside.

In the Dutch oven or pan, combine:

4 cups blueberries
1/2 cup water
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar

Bring to a simmer, then drop the biscuits on top. Cover pan tightly and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes. Let rest uncovered for 5 minutes, then serve with ice cream. Serves at least one.

Fresh Blueberry Pie

Well chilled and refreshing, this is a delightful finale for a summery meal on a warm evening.

3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon coriander or grated fresh ginger
1 organic orange, juiced, rind grated
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5-6 cups fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
1 9-inch pie crust, baked and cooled (any kind)

In a deep, heavy saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, spice, and orange rind. Stir in 2 tablespoons orange juice and lemon juice and cook over medium high heat until mixture thickens and becomes translucent (4-6 minutes). Stir in berries and cook over low heat for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Cool to room temperature, pour into pie shell and chill (covered with a plate or waxed paper) for 6-8 hours or overnight. Serves 6-8.

Summery Vinegars

In high summer, I make small batches of flavored vinegars, experimenting to bring out the best in whatever’s most abundant in the garden. Along with seasoned salts, vinegars are kitchen essentials, useful for adding a spoonful of summer to a meal in any season. The quality of any flavored vinegar depends on the freshness of the additions and the base vinegar you choose: save gallon jugs of harsh white vinegar for cleaning windows. Milder vinegars such as unseasoned rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar will showcase the fruit and/or herbs, though mellow red or white wine vinegars can also be a good match for certain additions.

While some recipes involve steeping the fruit in the vinegar base for days or even weeks, these quickly made versions are both flavorful and stable. However, it’s important to store them properly to preserve their quality. Keep flavored vinegars in a cool, dim place (I refrigerate mine), not a sunny window, since the heat and light can cloud the vinegar and may promote bacterial growth. Also, always heat vinegar in a non-reactive stainless steel or enamel pan.

Really Raspberry Vinegar

2 cups raspberries (tart ones work best)
1-1/2 cups cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar or honey

Combine all ingredients with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low , cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, strain through a fine sieve, pressing gently to get all the liquid out. Pour into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Very Blueberry Vinegar

2 cups blueberries (tart ones work best)
2 cups cider vinegar
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/4 cup sugar or honey

Combine all ingredients with 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low , cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, strain through a fine sieve, pressing gently to get all the liquid out. Pour into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Lemon Cucumber Vinegar

2 cups coarsely chopped cucumber
2 cups plain (unseasoned) rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar or honey
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon crushed grains of paradise
or peppercorns

Combine all ingredients with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, strain through a fine sieve, pressing gently to get all the liquid out. Pour into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Nectarine & Lavender Vinegar

2 cups finely chopped ripe nectarines
2 cups plain (unseasoned) rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar or honey
2 tablespoons lavender

Combine all ingredients with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, strain through a fine sieve, pressing gently to get all the liquid out. Pour into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

Tart Pie Cherry & Pepper Vinegar

1 cup pitted tart pie cherries
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar or honey
1/8 teaspoon lightly crushed peppercorns

Combine all ingredients with 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, strain through a fine sieve, pressing gently to get all the liquid out (again, save the cherries for something fun; they taste awesome). Pour into a clean bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

 

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