Monday, August 23, 2010

A Plum Busy Weekend

The plums came ripe enough to pick on Friday of last week. 

One year I let the plums go what must have been a day too long because the crows somehow got wind of fresh fruit for the pickin’s. Hearing loud and raucus caws right outside I said, “uh-oh, sounds like trouble!” And there they were, picking a plum and letting it drop to the ground, and then another, and then another. I’m guessing they were planning on having a fine plum dinner after all the picking was done. Well I got out there fast with a big container and scarfed up the plums- and let me tell you I have been crow-wary ever since!

The best time to pick is when the fruit is still firm but on the edge of softening. For eating, a soft plum is sweetest. The firmer plum is a bit sour, but this is the perfect stage for canning, baking, and for any recipe. Once they get soft they are difficult to pit and cut into pieces.  

Our plums are the small dark purple “prune“ type of plums (they can be dried to make prunes), a common variety called “Stanley”. Good for canning, baked goods, drying, and jams.
Plums seem to come ripe all at once unlike other fruits making it a good idea to have some kind of plan for them. Favorite things for us are chutney and baked goods and salsa. 
In the following three posts are the recipes we used this year. -jmm

Plum Crisp or Plum Pie

Makes one crisp or one 9” pie
“Luscious” is the only word I can find to describe this. Other fruits tend to hold their own in a crisp or pie, but plums MELD with other ingredients. It’s magical. And sweet, oh, my, yes, swe-e-e-et (even without a ton of sugar). Perfect by itself or add a dollop of whipped cream, ice cream, or my favorite- sour cream or creme fraiche.  
This recipe makes either a pie or crisp. If making crisp to put into the freezer make it directly in a 9-1/2 x 7-1/2” (or 2-3/4 qt.) glass pan made for freezing (these come with a plastic tight-fitting lid). Other baking pans of similar size may be used to bake a crisp.   
For pie only:
One 9” whole wheat pie shell

6 cups unpeeled Stanley or “prune” plums, pitted and quartered
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup honey
(1/4 cup whole wheat flour- for pie only)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup cold butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
Make the filling: Place plums in a large bowl, and drizzle with the lemon juice. Add remaining filling ingredients and toss. (Note: flour is only needed for making pie).
Make the topping: Place the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg into a medium size bowl. Mix with a fork. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. 
Place the filling mixture into a baking pan if making crisp, or into the prepared pie shell for pie. Sprinkle the topping over the pie or crisp.  
Bake crisp for 40 - 45 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Bake pie for 50 - 60 minutes until bubbly and golden brown. You may want to set a baking sheet under the pie. Plums can be very bubbly! -jmm 

Plum Chutney

Makes 7 pint jars

This chutney is wonderful served with lamb (a substitute for mint jelly), duck, or any roasted game bird, chicken, and roasts. And great with Asian foods such as egg rolls or tempura used in place of duck sauce. Good, too simply scooped up with toasted pieces of pita bread.
16 cups pitted unpeeled plums, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large apple, chopped fine
3 cups organic raw sugar
3 cups cider vinegar
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups raisins
2 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients in a large stainless steel pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring often. Reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering gently. Continue to stir frequently. Cook until the mixture loses its “watery” appearance, and begins to thicken, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. If you like your chutney thin, it should be jarred and canned at this point. Otherwise, to make a thicker chutney continue to gently simmer- it will reduce slightly- up to about 2 hours.
Follow canning instructions for a water bath or steam canner- sterilize jars, place screw bands and lids into simmering water and keep everything hot. 
Ladle hot chutney into jars leaving 1/2” headspace. Remove any air bubbles, wipe the rim. Place lid on jar and screw on screw band until finger tight. Place in canner, bring water to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Allow to rest in canner for 5 minutes, then remove. Leave undisturbed for 12 hours, then place in cool storage. -jmm 

Plum Salsa

Makes 4 cups
The flavors of salsa which come from mostly cilantro, lime and hot pepper add phenomenal zip to slightly tart plums. Pick plums that are still firm for this recipe. Fruity salsas go great with poultry dishes, refried beans, as a taco topping, or simply serve with corn chips. Enjoy this seasonal treat!

The cilantro, stevia, mint, and jalapeno peppers in this recipe all came directly from the garden, and I grabbed some red onion from storage, harvested last month. The only ingredient that didn't come from our garden was the lime. Citrus doesn't survive our Maine climate.
3 cups pitted, unpeeled plums, diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
1/3 cup red onion, minced
1/4 cup fresh mint, minced
1 tbsp stevia*, minced or 2 tbsp organic sugar or honey
Juice of 1 lime
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers
Combine plums, cilantro, onion, mint and stevia in a large bowl and toss. Add the lime juice and toss to blend. Dice one of the jalepeno peppers. For a milder touch, remove the seeds and ribs. A tip for working with hot peppers is to wear rubber gloves. I generally don't, but this time I had a nick in my finger and I wished I had taken that advice (and don’t go to rub your eyes). Add the diced jalapeno and toss. Taste and decide whether another pepper fits your temperature tolerance. If you want a hotter salsa, dice and add an additional pepper and toss to blend. 
*Stevia is a natural sweetner. We use fresh leaves in season and dry it for winter use. Last year we grew a stevia plant in a pot and moved it indoors for the winter. -G.H.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Honey Mustard Zucchini Pickles

Makes 7 one-pint jars
Honey Mustards are my favorites of all pickles, even more so than my once-revered bread n’ butters (and I still make those too). What a pleasure to pop open a jar of these in the middle of winter as memories of what-the-heck-do-i-do-with-all-those zucchinis, and what-in-the-world-was-I-thinking-in-planting-so-many-of-those are starting to fade. And the memories do fade. This can be attested to every spring when i plant too many all over again. All based on the cliche: “better to have too many than not enough.” Who first came up wth such a mantra of profusity?
Maligned or not, zucchini is a good plant and I feel honored to be a recipient of its abundance. 
If you haven’t done canning before, get complete instructions and follow them. I’ve abbreviated the canning instructions here. 
A brief note on canners: I use a steam canner and have for over ten years. A steam canner uses less water, takes less time to come to a boil, and is far easier to use. For specifics, follow instructions that come with the canner.   
Make sure you have plenty of zucchinis before starting. I used one large and about five medium- to medium-small sized zucchinis to make one batch. 
15 cups of unpeeled, seeded zucchini cut into 1/2” rounds, and the rounds cut into halves or fourths depending on size
6 cups of onions thinly sliced
1/4 cup pickling or canning salt
3 cups honey
1/4 cup dry mustard
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 cup water
2 cups white vinegar
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
Combine zucchini and onions in a large non-reactive bowl. Sprinkle with pickling salt, mix, and let stand at room temperature for at least one hour. Place a colander in the sink and place the mixture into it. Allow to drain.
Meanwhile, wash and sterilize jars and keep them hot. Wash lids and bands and place in simmering water. 
In a large non-reactive kettle or dutch oven, combine honey, mustard, ginger, and turmeric, and stir well. Stir in the water, then add vinegar. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the drained zucchini mixture, the red pepper, and bring to a boil again. Remove from heat. 
Ladle the mixture into hot jars, leaving 1/2” headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe the rims, then place the lids on the jars. Screw on the bands until finger-tight. 
Place jars in canner, covering with water if using a water bath canner. Bring to a boil and process for ten minutes. Let rest in canner for five minutes then remove. Leave undisturbed for 12 hours, then store in a cool place. -jmm  

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Stuffed Zucchini

Serves 2 as a main dish, or 4 as a side dish.
Hiding in the a corner of our garden we found a behomoth zucchini. If we had waited any longer to harvest this baby, it could have starred in a B movie: “The Squash That Ate Limerick, Maine.” Anyway, we detached it from the vine before it could strike fear into the hearts of our neighbors. So, what to do with this thing? Well, it seemed to have "stuff me" written all over it.
We've been eating zucchini and yellow squash for the past week, sauted with garlic, baked, and in a soup. Our friend Laura mentioned grilling as another great way to prepare summer squash. There are gazillions of ways to cook, bake, or grill zucchini. In fact, if you have a favorite zucchini recipe, please share it with us. 
To add to the rice stuffing I collected chives, thyme, kale, endive and beet greens from the garden. Go ahead and substitute any greens and herbs that you have on hand.    
1 large zucchini (we used one about 15” long), scrubbed
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 Tbsp butter or olive oil, divided
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup kale, finely chopped
1/2 cup beet greens, finely chopped
1/4 cup chives, minced
1/4 cup endive, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced
pepper to taste
2 tsp olive oil for oiling shells
4 slices whole wheat bread, cut into small cubes
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
Prepare the zucchini: slice in half lengthwise, and scrape it out until a 1/2” thick shell remains. Coarsely chop the scraped-out flesh and seeds. Place the shells on a baking sheet and set aside.
Melt 2 Tbps butter or heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet on medium heat. Turn down heat to medium low. Add diced bread, pepper and thyme. Saute 5 minutes to brown the bread. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. 
Melt 2 Tbs butter or olive oil in the skillet. Add onion and saute until soft (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and saute another minute. Add chopped squash pulp and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes. Add kale, beet greens, chives and endive. Simmer another 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add the cooked brown rice and mix.

Oil the insides of the zucchini shells with the 2 tsp of olive oil. Divide the rice mixture between the two shells. Top with the bread crumbs. Grate Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over the top of each. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Check for doneness by piercing the zucchini with a fork- if it is done it will be soft. Bake longer if needed. Serve and enjoy. -G.H.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ed's Tomatoes

Our friend Ed in Abington Massachusetts wanted to show how well his tomatoes are doing. Good going, Ed! 

Ed used no fertilizer and very little chlorinated town water, prefering composting and rain barrel technology instead. Going organic has produced his best yield ever. Hooray for sustainable, organic gardening!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Makes 1 cup
Pesto makes a tasty topping that uses few ingredients and is incredibly versatile. Pesto can be used as a topping for any number of things such as potatoes and pasta (these are common uses), toasted french bread, cooked eggs, tomato slices, or butter-fried rounds of zucchini. Or you can make a salad dressing out of it (see the following recipe). 

Genovese Basil 
Genovese basil, the most ordinary kind of basil, is the one most commonly used for pesto. But do try other varieties as well if you are growing them or can find them at a farmer’s market. 
You can use a food processor or grind the ingredients the whole fashioned way with a mortar and pestle. We include both methods below. Walnuts can be substituted for the pine nuts.
2 packed cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
Pinch of coarse salt
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese (preferably made from raw milk)
1/2 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
Pepper to taste
Food processor method. Add the basil, garlic and pine nuts to the food processor using the metal blade. Pulse a few times. Add the olive oil slowly with the food processor running. Scrape down the sides with a wooden spatula. Add the cheese, salt, and pepper to taste. Pulse until the desired consistency is achieved. I like it a little course. Scrape down the sides as needed.
Mortar and pestle. Using a marble mortar and wooden pestle, grind the basil leaves along with the garlic and the salt until creamy. Add the pine nuts and grind. Then mix in the cheese and olive oil. Add pepper and adjust the salt to taste. 

Pesto Salad Dressing

And here’s how we turned our pesto into a salad dressing. A quick and easy way to use up leftover pesto! Adjust the lemon juice and vinegar to your taste- using one or the other, or more of one and less of another. 

1/4 cup pesto
1/4 cup lemon juice 
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Put all ingredients into a re-purposed salad dressing jar or other glass container with a lid. Shake well to mix.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What'a Happening Now

Well, we've picked the last of the peas and ate them night before last. They are done in the garden and you can tell by the leaves turning yellow. Peas are a great early crop, but now it’s time to pull up the vines and plant something else. 

As if to take over from the peas, zucchini and bush beans are ready to start picking. Found the first zucchini of the season today. This baby is destined for the frying pan along with a little olive oil and some garlic. 
Last week the bush beans were small and immature. What a difference a few days make- today there is a basketful. We’ll be picking beans every few days now to keep up with the ripening process. Then, when the pole beans ripen we'll start the process all over again. 
Basils planted this spring are doing very well. We started Cinnamon, Thai, Genevose (the plain-jane green type) basils, as well as some purple basil. We enjoy the flavors.
Cabbage plants haven't yet formed heads but the outer leaves cook up nicely with swiss chard and red mustard leaves for a medley of steamed greens. 
One of our lettuce patches has gotten depleted, so we seeded collard greens in there. We have other lettuce patches that are too young to harvest, but are using thinnings. We are also getting arugula, radicchio, endive, and red mustard for our daily salads.
Every day is an adventure to see what will end up on the table. We'll wander around the garden and see another member of our vegetable family ready to eat. We haven't yet decided what will replace the peas, but whatever goes there should be ready to eat in September, continuing the seasonal goodness. -G.H.