Thursday, September 27, 2007

apple cider is preservation, right?

I'm gonna sound like a bit of a lush here, but when I first read about the september focus of food preservation, brewing was one of the first things that came to mind. I figure, alcohol is a fine and dandy way to preserve things without having to cook the bejesus out of it. Besides, it warms the tummy. Come on now, that's a win-win situation.

Since it's coming on fall in this here northern part of the globe, apples are falling off the trees about now. This past weekend we were at H's folks' house and I had access to several hundred pounds of granny smiths. Time for juicing, for tis the season huh? Or, will be that is, so with september drawing to a close I've begun fermenting apple juice in hopes of hard cider by christmas. It was time to put up some alcohol for warming the belly come winter.

This is about two thirds of what was eventually picked on mid-saturday after a light rain had kissed the parched central valley loam. Reedley has fantastic soil, but it's hard and baked for at least half of the year so its a real treat when you get a whiff of it after a bit of rain. I walked out back and went to the cluster of apples in the orchard. The granny's are loaded with fruit but a bit wormy. Being selective somewhat and picking without a ladder I collected 13 buckets of apples with each weighing nearly 20 pounds in under two hours. I washed and cut up a few buckets worth and put the juicer I borrowed from my sis to the test. It appeared that a quart could be done before needing to disassemble and clean it. Hmm, seems like this is gonna take longer than anticipated. A bit of kitchen math revealed I would be doing this some thirty times or so. It was time to get more efficient.

So, fill the bowl on the left with hunks of apples. Feed these into the juicer. Strain the juice into the white stock pot for some settling before being decanted into the carboy for storage. Basically, the apples came in off the tree and sat near the juicer for a second before getting a quick scrub and cleave. Then they made a trip through the juicer, hang a u-turn and proceed back to the biggest glass vessel we have.

All finished and decanted on the average of twice a quart, we had near 6 & 1/2 gallons of apple juice. A quick trip to the oak barrel and we were in business for making some cider. A packet of ale yeast and a packet of potassium metabisulfite and we had our bases covered. Treat the juice to get rid of any unwanted nasties that have popped up in the few days since juicing and be prepared with a fresh batch of known yeast to innoculate it with. Considering the apples were free for the picking, that makes it about 6 gallons of cider for about 5 bucks of materials. I'm sure running the juicer intermittently for some 6 hours costs a penny or two on the utility bill, but I know it ain't no twenty bucks. It's all about them cheap apples.

Taking a gravity reading indicates that if all goes well with fermentation, we should have about 7-8 points of alcohol in the end. That will definately be warming to the belly on a cold winter day. This is surely cause for a big smile. Or in another scenario, a few weeks go by, I crack open the carboy and discover that everyone is getting organic apple cider vinegar for the holidays. We'll just have to wait and see.

I just love ol' granny smith. Pick her when her fruit starts dropping, twirl her around, sprinkle with pixie dust and let her sit for a bit in the shade. When she's done breathing hard, give her a taste of sugar and some time to mellow. Come the holidays she'll be ringin' yer bell, or puckering your mouth. Doesn't everyone need a granny like that?

Friday, September 14, 2007

canned comfort

Doesn't it suck when you're sick?
Some unexpected virus happens upon you and suddenly you just wanna hurl.
Maybe you spend time feeling like you're gonna hurl but you can't or won't.
You think what did I eat and then realize you are all achey and uncomfortable in any position.
You spend a day or two or five feeling like something ran over you.
Despite food around you, nothing sounds good.
Not even chocolate.
Don't know about you but it is then that I know I am sick.

Even if the departure from eating is only a few hours, or days for that matter, it is always with trepidation that I return to food. Usually it revolves around toast. An english muffin perhaps. Light on the butter, or with a smidge of jam perhaps? Mmmmm jam..............I was sick a few days ago, but thanks to some previous work put in by my partner and I, there was a selection to pick and choose from when I came back to the land of the well.

It's been a long hot summer here in oaktown. Not outside, but inside. In my kitchen. We've been jamming for months now and the stash out in the garage is in dire need of a more permanent and seismic motion proof means of storage. It's getting out of hand out there. When that pic up top was taken last week there were some 130 jars. At least 50 are jam and another 25 or 30 are chutney. And tonight, H added at least twenty more jars of stuff. Tomatillo salsa, raspberry and blackberry jam. If we keep it up, the month of December is going to consist of going out to the garage and selecting something to spread on toast or pancakes for breakfast and then a condiment for the rice with our dinner. There is a small stash of beer and tomato sauce that are starting to look good especially with a few more batches of both in the near future. There is peachsauce and applesauce for the wee-one to enjoy some summer when he starts eating the more solid stuff this winter. There are some green beans and some pickles. Oooooo and don't forget the pear mincemeat. I can smell the turnovers and pies already. Taking an inventory and having these thoughts while still finding my groove wih both monkeys at home is a thrill because, well, the scenario of pulling stuff out of the garage to eat sounds rather nice to me. I can't wait for fall and winter.

Maybe there will be more time for bread to dip and coat and break and eat. Like olive and walnut sourdough with a hint of fresh ground coriander, sliced and toasted and coated in butter. Yeah, having more time for stuff like that sounds pretty good now don't it? I mean olives, walnuts and coriander store just fine. This would be a nice winter bread for a hearty soup.

Maybe you too have been busily socking away pesto for the long dark cold winter months when you will be craving a savory bread to enjoy in the fashion of a cinnamon roll. How about pesto and dry-jack rolls? Sourdough of course. The pesto can be found in the freezer and the dry jack wil be around because, like, it's dried. The sourdough component can be made any time. Ah....what a little flour and water can do, when given time and attention.

Really though, I look forward to jar after jar of really yummy jam.
Big piles of the stuff, all over toasted muffins, or pancakes.
Ooooooo almond butter and jelly sandwiches. I just thought about that. I can do that local too.

September is all about preservation for the locavore crowd. Come to think of it, I'm sure it is for at least some other parts of the world where folks are looking to save some of summer's bounty. Like they always have.

Winter is gonna be good. Bring it on. I'm drooling already........

Friday, September 07, 2007

corn in the grand scheme of things

So, in a previous post I mentioned the garden pests being pretty bad this year and how my first round of corn never made it into the house. Hoo boy was I pissed. Then sunday morning I picked our first ears and IMMEDIATELY brought them inside and boiled them. Well, obviously they made a little stop for documentation purposes, but not for the worse. The water was boiling and ready. They boiled for a few minutes and then we slathered them with butter and a pinch of salt. It was super satifying eating an ear of home grown corn. It was two years in the waiting and I would be chawing on some momentarily. My day of corn had arrived.

It looked promising. Full kernals, tender and white. I took my first bite. Corny for sure, kinda tender, but not really sweet. Figures. Work my ass off to finally get some corn around here and it's just alright. Damn! Ok, I mean I can see that I'm on a rant here but geez man, in terms of input effort and final produce this experiment screamed loser. I thought to myself "well, in the grand scheme of things this is a lesson that I should stick with growing tomatoes here in coldville, where the sun is not powerful enough to produce super sweet corn."

Two days later I found myself eating chili and what I really wanted in it besides hotdogs was some fresh corn. But nooooo, not enough around here to be found. Maybe in another week we'll have a few more ears if the theives, er uh.....I mean garden pests don't make off with them. Anyway, the chili was very satisfying in a local sense, but a bit tough with some under cooked beans. Next time I'll make it on a day that I'm not attempting three other kitchen tasks. You live and learn right? Patience you see, is inevitable in the grand scheme of things. One of the better spices in the kitchen, right up on the shelf next to love.

Tuesday night after the farmers' market, I was famished. We had some leftover white beans, zucchini and 'maters on the counter, and herbs that needed picking in the dark of night. Meaning it was dark and I needed herbs. A bit of chopping, dash of olive oil and sprinkle of salt. Tossed in the dish the beans were in to save on washing. Cold bean with fresh tomato salads are some of my favorite and with some feta and walnuts thrown in this one certainly hit the spot. The only thing it was missing was some fresh corn.

Speaking of no corn, last night for the first time in months I made my first pizza dough without cornmeal in it. It wasn't as difficult as I thought, as I simply substituted whole wheat. It still makes for one fine dough, especially herbed as we like to do it here at the monkey ranch. I had some fresh tomato sauce and some delicious sautéed mushroom-peppers-onions combo for the top. Some jersey jack to finish it and all that was needed was blistering heat for near ten minutes. It was chewy and herby on bottom, gooey contained in crisp up top. The elder monkey and I ate the entire thing in about the time it took to halfway cook some calzones. I was a bit amazed my cousin didn't show up, having that preternatural sense about them soon going in the oven at your house. With the bready items finishing cooking it was time to prep dinner.

I whizzed up a dough earlier that morning. It was all local wheat that I tried coaxing into being flakey. It had obvious butter chunks when I started but was rather thick and a bit tough. I'll have to keep working on these whole wheat crusts. I love them, but I think I need a grain mill or grinder attachment or something so I can start off with a finer flour. It was chunky and smelled nice, and the gauge it was rolled out at should contain just about any degree of wet contents. I hacked up some broccoli and green beans, putting them in the steamer for the last ten minutes the quiche baked. If only we had some fresh corn.......

The next morning it was even better. The super soft texture of the custard from the night before performed a miracle and held up nicely. The crust softened a bit in the fridge as the moisture in the dish evened out. It is one of my favorite breakfast items so a few slices served with some strong local coffee put me in the right frame of mind to end the week on a strong note.

Overall, we'd been living large eating locally this week. One round of corn instead of a predicted three, but what the hell I learned a lesson in the grand scheme of gardening here in oaktown. Next year, I won't spend so much time on just a few ears of corn. I'll channel some of that energy (and water) toward other veggies that can be put up for later.

Speaking of putting up, over at the new locavore blog there are many examples of folks preserving things this month. For an inventory of the work I've done so far this week go check it out here on my new locavore page.

Now for a few recipes of the food pictured here:

Plant, water, encourage the sun to shine on, protect from mites aphids ants dogs humans and the like for a real long time until the stalks are about ready to give you sustenance. Go out to pick and become quite depressed with your fellow humans as you realize your corn has been ripped off. Wait another week and then finally come inside and eat an ear. Realize that the best corn you can grow is nowhere near as good the stuff at the farmers' market. Learn your lesson that corn just doesn't do that good around here.

Boil ears for 5 minutes. Slather in butter and a pinch of salt. Enjoy.

2 cups cooked butter beans
1 small zucchini
3 ripe garden tomatoes
6 big leaves of basil
2 sprigs of thyme
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 diced feta
olive oil and salt to taste

Combine the beans, diced zucchini and diced tomatoes, chopped basil and thyme together. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil and add some salt. Mix and then add cheese according to your own preference. I used a cow milk feta here so it was probably milder than the typical goat version. Add the chopped walnuts, adjust the salt if needed and then sit down and enjoy it all to yourself as you deserve a nice healthy meal after a long day at work.

2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 stick butter
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freeze butter then chop into smallish pieces. Add to flour in a food processor along with salt and blend until crumbly. Don't over do it. Make sure there are obvious chunks of butter still left. Remove from food processor and add the egg and yogurt. When dough is just beginning to stick together gather into a ball and wrap up, putting into the fridge for a few hours while you work on the filling and other stuff.

5 eggs
1 cup non-fat milk
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
10 ounces grated jack and cheddar cheese (whatever proportion you like, but remeber the jack melts better in a quiche application)
1 cup sauteed veggies with bacon pieces (this started out as pancetta that was cooked and taken out of the pan, then mushrooms, onions, bell pepper and jalapeno were added and cooked until brown and lightly carmelized then the pancetta was put back in)

Roll dough into a shape roughly two inches wider than the dish you are putting it in. Press into place, shape the edges into a fun crust. Combine filling ingredients into another bowl and pour into crust. Place into a preheated 400 degree oven and cook for approximately 30 minutes. Turn down to 350 and cook until middle is set and lightly brown, maybe 10 or 15 more minutes.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

early girls from dirty girl get sauced

Mmmmm. The 'mater that wins alot of taste tests. When I worked the tomato tasting recently held at the market, most folks who had the dry farmed early girls said they seemed like "twice the tomato of that other one." I'm in heaven. Dry farmed early girls. Twice the tomato. In bulk.

One distinct advantage to being around at the end of the market is that some vendors are willing to wheel and deal. It's all about approach. When I spotted three boxes of dry farmed early girl tomatoes with only ten minutes left for shopping the other night at the BFM, I made a proposition: "hey if you give an end of market discount for a box that's just gonna go back on the truck, what would it be.......cause I could easily go home with a box if the price was right."
"Oh, something like the restaurant price, like $30 a box or so."
"Sold!" searching my pockets "wait, I only have twenty! Will you take that?"
"Sure.....well not a full box" she says as she loads some more tomatoes into a half filled box with a smile.
The nerd in me does a rough calculation and figures that these tomatoes are somewhat small so even 2/3rds of a box should weigh around 15 pounds or so. I pat myself on the shoulder, thinking that these are gonna make one fantastic sauce. They are probably better for just eating, but at the price and volume, I want to preserve some for later. The equivalent of summer squared is gettin' sauced.

I employed the elder monkey at one of her finer skills. Having the opportunity to wash at least a hundred tomatoes put her in the right mood for being helpful and I'm all about child labor.
We washed them all, and I got to slicing and putting 'em in a large stock pot for a quick cook to soften the skins before milling. With the younger monkey taking his first bottle during the cooking, my day was set on the right track for success.

I had two 8 quart stock pots filled a bit more than half with cooked tomatoes when I got to saucing. The 'mater meat was very soft and quite willing to go through the finest screen of the food mill. After running it all through and getting maybe 3/4 of the seeds and most of the skin out, I had near 7 quarts of sauce. I contemplated reducing it further, but it has a nice body already and is most tomatoey. Now, do I can this or simply freeze it? It will live in the fridge tonight while I contemplate how much work I want to take on tomorrow.

Speaking of contemplating.......the tomatoes may be called early girls, but I swear there were a few boys in the batch.

Looks like dirty girl has been growing some dirty boys along side the early girls. I guess that kind of thing happens when you leave the vines to themselves after the rain stops.

In the dead of winter (what the hell am I talking about, I live in Oakland where some years we hardly have frost) when I'm hankerin' for a taste of summer, I'll take out some of this sauce and make up some pasta while thinking about all the tomato sex about to happen. Somewhere out where the the dirty girls grow early girls and end up with a few dirty boys.......

We've been busily socking stuff away in the freezer. I'll try and get to a post once we're through the first week of the challenge and tell about some of the highlights so far.