Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making Tallow

I'd heard about rendering beef fat (rendered fat is called tallow) to use for cooking. Every year we stock the freezer with a organic, grass-fed beef, and last year we decided to ask for the suet. Suet is thick, solid fat that surrounds the liver and kidneys of the animal. The suet stayed in the freezer for almost a year until I got brave enough to figure out what to do with it.
I don’t know why I waited so long to do this. Tallow is great for frying potatoes, for deep frying, and, my favorite use, pie crust. 
The problem was, I had no one to ask how to do it. The person to ask would have been Grandma, but she has been gone for many years. She had to have known how to render fat way before she ever went to the store for a can of crisco. So I googled.
The search landed on a question, among other entries. “What the heck is suet?”, someone asked. I already knew what suet was having bought little cages of it to feed wild birds. But the question led me to think about how knowledge of real food has tumbled off some cliff in favor of brand named packaged stuff. Anyway, the search turned up two methods of rendering suet. One consists of boiling it in water, then separating the water from the fat. Is this an older method designed for wood stoves with erratic heat? The second one said to heat it for considerable time on very low heat.
I chose the low heat version. Here’s how it went.
First, I get the brown paper bag of suet out of the freezer and let it sit for awhile to thaw. A few hours later I tear open the bag and find two big, solid slabs of whitish stuff.
I decide to do one slab today and tackle the other tomorrow, giving me a second chance to get it right if things don't go well the first time. Only one of the slabs will fit in the kettle anyway.
After finding in my google search that the stuff gums up food processors and meat grinders, two little facts I would have guessed anyway since it is solid, greasy fat, I opt for a chefs knife. As it turns out, suet cuts up very easily. I cut the slab into one- to two-inch cubes, and at the same time trimming away anything that is a color other than white.
Acting on advice to use a heavy pot, I choose a cast iron dutch oven. I set the burner on very, very low heat, exactly at the point where a speck lower is no heat at all, and then went off to do other things. 
When I return to check on progress, not expecting any due to the low heat setting, I’m surprised to find the heat has worked magic- under the cubes I see that liquid has started to seep out.
As I keep returning to check on it, I find the chunks becoming smaller. Eventually liquid predominates. Somewhat later the chunks seem to be gradually turning brownish. My research says these are cracklins. The cracklins continue to brown as I keep checking on the pot.
Warning! Do not be tempted at any point to raise the heat. I tried this just to let you know it should not be done. I thought that maybe turning up the heat would darken the cracklins sooner. Well, they didn’t get much browner but the entire pot of fat started smoking. That, you know is a sign of danger. Never let your fat smoke. With no further ado I slide the kettle onto an unheated burner and slap the lid on. And open windows and put on fans. It takes a long time to stop smoking. Hairy scary.
The second slab rendered the next day entirely on very, very low heat. This worked perfectly with no smoke. None. As things turn out it was a good idea to do this in two batches; a-a-ah, learning curves...!
To finish the process I take out the cracklings with a fine strainer. After the liquid cools down a little I pour it into jars. There was plenty of google advice saying to use wide mouth jars, so I did't mess with it and chose wide mouth canning jars. Both batches got me about three quarts. They say it lasts a year in the fridge. 
Tallow is solid, especially if you store it in the fridge. When you need some stick a butter knife into it and crack off a chunk. If you need a quantity for deep frying, take it out of the fridge a few hours ahead of time.
As for the the trimmings and the greasy cracklins, I scrapped those way back in the woods. -jmm

Fried Tortilla Tacos

Marsha doesn’t like tortillas heated in a dry skillet. She says they taste "raw." So I tried frying them in our homemade beef tallow, and she loved them! Here’s how I fried tortillas to make delicious crispy taco shells.
Place a cast iron pan on the stove, and with the burner set on medium add chunks of tallow to the pan. Keep adding until there is a half inch of melted fat. When the fat is hot, place a tortilla in the pan and fold it in half. Using tongs, turn it a few times until it just begins to get crisp. Remove it from the pan and place it on a paper towel to absorb excess fat. Add another tortilla to the pan and repeat.
Before frying the taco shells, I made a filling and salsa. For the filling I cooked some ground organic range fed beef, onions, green pepper, garlic and a Habanero pepper.
For the salsa, I diced a tomato, and chopped an onion and some garlic and fresh cilantro and placed them into a saucepan with a little cumin. After this simmered for about 15 minutes I chopped a dried Jalepeno and added it. Another 5 minutes of simmering and then I let it cool.
To assemble your taco put some filling in the shell, and sprinkle on some chopped lettuce and some grated cheese. Add a spoonful of salsa and enjoy! -G.H.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gardening in Wet Soil

Soil conditions that involve too much or too little water present issues for many gardeners. In some areas a short rainy season provides some water while the rest of the year is dry. Various ways of retaining rain water and using it judiciously come into play. Rain barrels, drip irrigation, swales, and thick mulches are some of those.

Here, in the past several years we have experienced unusual and copious rainfalls that dump a lot of water in a short amount of time. One of these was a devastating hail storm that cut a narrow swath through Southern Maine. The hail entirely stripped young fruits from trees and shrubs, and completely leveled the garden turning plants into soggy heaps of collapsed tissue. Onslaughts like these send brooks through the woods where there were none before. This is catastrophic water, and we’ve deepened ditches to prepare for future incidents.
Constant water is another matter. This comes to mind because Roman, who is renovating a home on Chebeaque Island, wrote to me that this may be a consideration around his house. His description reminds me of gardening where I once lived. This was a 1900 farmhouse with a spacious backyard abutting a large hayfield. In talking to neighbors at the time, I learned that the hayfield had been tiled by the Army Corp of Engineers. It was an aquifer. The engineers redirected  water into a brook running down the center of the field.
But tiling it didn’t stop the field from being an aquifer. My backyard, at the edge of it, consisted of soggy soil heavily populated with a tenacious crop of weeds. My visions of rows and rows of veggies bounded by perennial flower borders turned into an enormous amount of work.
In the end I resolved the problem of waterlogged soil, and wonderful crops were able to grow. The soil there was deep, unlike the thin forest topping we have here. It would have felt  tragic to not use it!
Having no book of instructions I acted on instincts, the first of which was to dig soil out of pathways and pile it into rows. This, I believe was the single most important thing that could have been done. The raised beds gave the plants a dry-enough place, while the roots could reach down and find moisture. In the center of the garden I piled a mound of dirt several feet high and planted sage, oregano, thyme, and other herbs. These grew beautifully also. An area was planted in rhubarb, which thrived. I have a photo of my teenage son holding a rhubarb leaf ... it was almost as big as him!
And I did a couple more things. The garden pathways were gradually filled in with leaves, grass clippings, and weather-worn hundred-year-old cedar shingles from the side of the barn. Pathways running along the outsides of the garden were filled in with trucked-in small stones. The stones made an ideal path that was always dry to walk on. Off to one side I planted a Wisconsin Weeping Willow tree. Driving by recently, I saw that the little twig that was originally planted has grown really big! A full grown willow can soak up an enormous quantity of water.
I guess the moral of the story is that with some adaptation even soggy soil can be turned into a beautiful garden. -jmm

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One with the Land

Autumn Cabbage

Having spent most of my life nomadically moving from place to place, I'm beginning to feel one with the land. I grew up in Southern California, observing acre after acre of field and forest and farm and orchard being converted into tracts of little pink houses. I was not, nor could not be connected to the earth in that scenario. I was drawn to places like Big Sur, Joshua Tree and farm communities like Gilroy, California, the garlic capital of the world. But I was there as a voyeur, a visitor. I was looking for connection but I was just passing through. Later I lived in Washington D.C. and spent weekends canoeing up the Potomac. Living even later near Boston I hiked with my dog in Thoreau's stomping ground. Though these places were inspirational and even therapeutic, I was still passing through.
Winter Forest
American Indians felt a mystical oneness with the land. Who they were was intertwined with the land they inhabited. They were not separate from the earth, but spiritually connected to the land, the flora and fauna. There was no differentiation between the people and the land. The land was the people and the people were the land.
While I have not reached the level of the early Americans and their mystical connection to the earth, I have touched their spirit. Our twelve acres are becoming part of me and myself a part of the trees, the stream, the chipmunks and even the swamp. My hands have been in the dirt in which we plant the squash and the lettuce. When I'm away I think about our twelve acres, I talk about our cabbage and our garlic and our peppers. I no longer think about "getting away", but of getting back to the land I am attached to. While I don't know the technical names of all the plants and trees around me, I do know many by acquaintance. The big oak tree that marks the path toward the stream is the "Three Sisters" because the trunk branches off into three directions. I recognize this majestic tree and pay my regards whenever I pass by. There are unique outcroppings of ledge that have their own personalities. I talk to the frogs in the stream in the summer. I know where the garden snakes hang out. The land is not only familiar but is becoming a part of my consciousness. 
Where once my inspiration was with Jack Kerouac's "On The Road", now it's Scott and Helen Nearing's "The Good Life". Instead of hitchhiking to the Grand Canyon, I'm thinking of what can grow in our garden to end up on our dinner table. I take hikes in our woods with the dog. These twelve acres are becoming a part of me and I a part of them. I'm becoming connected. I am the land and the land is me. -G.H.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Apple Cranberry Jewish Cake

This is my take on a Jewish apple cake that I’ve been making for many years. The  recipe is adjusted for whole wheat flour, and recently I tried adding cranberries- and found they add a nice bit of zest! No need to put frosting on it, but a dollop of whipped cream is a welcome addition. A great cake for coffee brunch, four-o‘clock tea, or for dessert.
4 cups of thickly sliced apples (approximately 4 - 5)
1 cup of fresh or frozen-thawed cranberries
1 lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup of raw sugar, divided
2 eggs
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup of water
1-1/2 cups of whole wheat flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
Core the apples and slice them into a large bowl. Juice the lemon, add the juice to the apple slices and toss. Add the cranberries, cinnamon, and 1/4 cup of the raw sugar. Mix to evenly distribute the ingredients. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter and flour a small (6-cup) tube pan.
In another bowl, cream the butter. Add the remaining raw sugar and work it into the butter until evenly incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and toss with a fork to blend. Add the flour mixture alternately with the water, mixing well after each addition.
Pour 1/2 of the batter into the buttered and floured tube pan. Layer with 1/2 of the apple mixture. Pour the remaining batter over the apple layer, then top with the remaining apple mixture. If there is liquid at the bottom of the apple bowl, pour it over the top. Bake for one hour until firm and slightly coming away from the sides of the pan. Invert the tube pan and transfer the cake to a plate after it has cooled slightly. -jmm

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Heavenly Divine Squash Pie

Delicata squash

It was a big decision to name this pie. It was to be either heavenly or divine. Or both. The filling is fluffy-light compared to the much loved traditional pumpkin pie. It seems to be "spiked" (even tho the alcohol bakes away). As it bakes it warms the house with a wonderfully spicy aroma that feels perfect on  a crispy, chilly autumn day.

Although any squash or pumpkin can be used, a creamy squash such as Delicata adds to the dreamy texture. If you DO use a stringy type, please puree it in a blender first. 
If you'd prefer to do without the pie crust, bake the filling in custard dishes to make dreamy little puddings.
Makes one nine inch pie.
Make whole wheat pie crust for a single crust pie. Recipe here. Roll out the dough and fit it into a 9" pie plate. Trim the edge of the crust to 1/2" beyond the pie plate. Fold the edge under and crimp.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Two large eggs: crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk. Add the following ingredients one at a time and whisk after each:
1-1/2 c. sour cream
2 c. squash, cooked and peeled
3/4 c. maple syrup
1/8 c. rum
Stir in:
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
Pour the filling into the dough-lined pie plate up to 1/2" of the top of the crust. If there is extra filling, pour into a custard dish and bake (for less time) beside the pie. Bake the pie for 35-45 minutes, until the filling is set; custards for much less time. Cool. Serve plain or with whipped cream. -jmm

What's Happening Now

The closet is so full of squash we’ve had to move our shoes out of there. Potatoes and newspapers are layered in brown paper bags on the floor of the root cellar. The freezer is filled to capacity with green beans, beef, cranberries, beets, beef, peas, greens, more beef, tomato sauce, strawberries and rhubarb. And beef.
So, you might think the gardening is over, right? Au contraire! The gardening is still a plethora in the happening (editors note- please accept that sentence as some kind of plethoretic poetry. If you happen to know my husband, feel free to ask. -jmm)
It's fall planting time. Yes, it's fall, and yes, I said planting. This is the time to plant garlic and to spread seeds into the cold frames. Eating from the garden year round means fall is both harvest and planting time.
Two kinds of kale
Garlic is essential to our cooking; we use it in almost everything. It needs at least a two-month cold spell for the individual cloves to grow and multiply, and here in Maine we can pretty much count on at least a few chilly months. Last weekend we planted 50 cloves that will be ready to harvest next July. After the ground freezes we'll cover the garlic row with straw. 
Our kale row is looking terrific. Kale is a very hardy green that is perfectly fine left in the garden all winter.  After a frost it develops a wonderfully sweet flavor. We brush off the winter snow and pick it to use in stir fries or soups, or steam it as a side dish. Its a favorite winter veggie for us.
Theres a whole lot going on with the cold frames right now. They've been set up for our winter veggies. We've blogged about our cold frames before; they're an integral part of our gardening experience. Click on "Cold Frame" in the side column to read those posts.
Lettuce planted in August has been used up. More lettuce was planted in September and it should be ready in December. Claytonia is now tender sprouts and will be ready to eat in December. Mache was planted in August and will be ready to eat in a couple of weeks. Beet greens and spinach are growing and will be used in salads and as cooked greens through winter. And spinach planted this month will over-winter and be ready to eat in spring.
As we pick these veggies spaces in the cold frames open up. We'll fill them in with more mache, spinach and arugula. These will be ready in early spring when seeds for the summer garden are being put into peat pots. Fall is a great time to be outdoors. Tending the cold frames is no chore at all considering the joys of being able to eat fresh-picked greens all winter long. -G.H.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Keyhole Salad Garden

Why did we not think of it earlier? Salad! How many places in the yard do we go to in order to gather one? To the garden over to the west of house, then way over to the garden to the east of the house, and a cold frame or two or three in between!
Have you ever mentally kicked yourself for not thinking of something sooner? Kinda what I did when I thought, “ok, theres all these garden spaces but no coherent spot for gathering the one food group we eat every day.”
First of all, theres nothing ordinary about any of our salads. Each one starts with a mix of greens and some onion, and then it’s whatever else is available. Right now nasturtiums are looking beautiful- they’ve vined themselves all over some heather and some lavender plants and it’s all really pretty. And we think the leaves and flowers are pretty in salads too. They add such nice peppery zip.
Making a garden just for salad was a sudden brainstorm. If only there was a handy spot near to the house! And there was! If only a few flowers were moved out first. Very do-able!
The new salad keyhole garden
A close-following brainstorm turned the design into a keyhole. I wrote about the keyhole earlier, here and here. The shape is ideal for a salad garden. You can walk down a center path and pick stuff along three sides of it. Fill up the salad basket and, voila, you’re done!
A great idea being too good to waste, I got busy last weekend and repurposed rows of flowers into a single-path horseshoe shape. The area is about 20 feet long x 15 feet wide and is nestled in between roses and a stone wall. After some very sweaty raking and shoveling- the weather being oddly warm for this time of year- I worked in some manure to get things off to a good start, and then started moving plants.
The chive hedge now lines the new central pathway. Lovage is transplanted to one back corner, and perennial onions to the other. These should colonize and form thick patches.
Reseeding annuals populate one side of the horseshoe. Most of them were stuck in the ground casually, because it is their seeds that will make new plants next year. They are upland cress, cilantro, and giant red mustard. Love those reseeders!
The other side of the horseshoe is left unplanted. This is for non-hardy annuals. In spring we will seed lettuces, arugula, several types of basil, and nasturtium. What's a late-summer salad without nasturtium! Wow, I feel good about this garden! -jmm

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Storing Winter Squash

Winter squash has been a garden mainstay for us for many years. Each year we store three or more varieties. Because of this the ins and outs of storing it have become clear.
Squash cleaned and ready to be put in storage
First, in order to store a squash it must have developed a hard shell, or, in other words, to have become entirely ripe. Some varieties will develop a corky-looking stem. The color of the squash should be fully developed- Butternut, for instance looks yellowy or greenish as it grows, and becomes a dull buff color when mature. Blue Hubbard develops a bluish color. But the ultimate test is, before picking, to tap it with a fingernail. If your nail leaves an indent the squash is not ready to harvest.
We’ve heard advice saying when harvesting a squash to keep at least two inches of stem attached. The method of harvesting is to cut through the stem using a hand pruners. We try to do this but sometimes the stem breaks off. We haven’t noticed that this presents a problem in storage.   
Another piece of advice we’ve seen is this: after harvesting, always handle a squash as carefully as if it were an egg. We’re not sure about this either. It seems like good advice and we try to follow it. But squashes are made of odd shapes and sometimes one takes a tumble. 
We clean them, washing off any dirt using cold water, and, if needed, a veggie brush. If there are spots, lesions, or bite marks from some animal with Dracula-like teeth (some squashes had these this year), they are not likely to keep. Cook them right away and eat or freeze. The side of the squash that laid on the ground is paler than the rest, and that is not a problem.
Squash in the closet
Advice also says to cure them by keeping them dry and at room temperature for about ten days. Not sure of the importance of this, except to make really sure that they are completely dry for storage. We dry them off after washing and lay them out on newspapers for a few days, then assign the most energetic one of the two of us to lug them upstairs to the closet.

What we do know for sure is that winter squash need a dry environment for successful keeping. We place them on newspapers on the floor of an unheated closet. Even in a dry, cool place they must be checked at least weekly for newly developed spots or other signs of deterioration. If anything like this shows up, the squash is still good- cook it right away and eat or freeze. 
The fridge is no place to keep squash, even for a short time. There is too much humidity and they will spoil quickly. Advice has told us to put them in the basement elevated above the floor. The one and only time we tried this they all failed at the same time- right at the end of December, and then we had to cook all of them. The dry, unheated closet on the other hand, has allowed us to store squash way into March. A great food and so easy to store! (For more info on winter squash, see our blog post of Sept. 6, 2010). -jmm

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Day at the Common Ground Fair

Imagine going to a fair where all of your major life topics are represented! The Green Party, women’s issues, solar and wind power, electric cars, low impact forestry, gardening, timber framing, farmers markets and food vendors selling organic, fresh and local, and more. Much, much more. And with lectures going on every hour making it hard to decide which ones to go to.
This year we picked four lectures to attend. The first was about using leaves to provide a resource of nutrients for the garden, followed by one on harvesting edible wild mushrooms, then an intro to beekeeping, and finally how to choose a fleece.
The first of these was both interesting and baffling. The lecturer had experimented with using leaves that he collects in large quantity, runs through a chipper and then piles in a covered bin to use as a garden fertilizer. He had also tried using them for nutrients in a pasture. He placed small piles of leaves throughout the pasture and found that this tended to boost the growth of surrounding plants, altho the leaves mulched out plants underneath. He is not using his pasture except to collect cut grass out of it to make vegan compost. Marsha kept wondering whether it would be easier to put a grass eating animal on the pasture to keep the grass trimmed and then use the manure for fertilizer.  
The mushroom speaker talked about several edible mushrooms commonly found in Maine and showed examples. Now we have a better idea of what to look for in our woods where we see a great many types. He stressed the importance of taking a knowledgeable person along or to use a good reference book.
The beekeeper gave us a good overview of raising bees, as much info as could be covered in an hour. Theres more to learn! We were interested in his take on beehive collapse disorder. He attributes this to monoculture, with the explanation that bees require enzymes from a number of plants, and gathering nectar from only one plant provides incomplete nutrition for them. It was an excellent talk and he will be a valuable resource when we are ready to set up a hive.
Marsha was very interested in learning about some of the common Maine sheep breeds. This included sticking our hands into bags of luxurious fibers, and comparing them for cleanliness, openness, the knitting value of sunburnt tips, excess lanolin, staple length, dual fibers, and what might be a good price. Marsha could not get out of there without two bags of Romney fleece in tow. While Marsha was exploring fleece, Gil dropped in on a lecture given by the Maine Farmland Trust about protecting farmland through easements. This is a topic that we have been researching. He also stopped into the Social & Political Action tent to visit the Green Party table and sign a petition for a cause we support.
Between lectures we caught part of a Border Collie demo in which the collies herded sheep, goats, and ducks. The dogs were very impressive. Went through some  crafts booths, wandered amongst apple trees full of apples, studied how well some living fences were growing, sampled Maine cheeses, looked at a rock garden full of dye plants and some other experimental gardens, lunched on organic lamb sausage with salsa topping, yum. It was a wonderful time and we’re already looking forward to next year’s fair. -jmm and G.H.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Using a Steam Canner

A pantry filled with colorful jars of delicious, homegrown foods is a gratifying finish to a summer of tending the garden. In the past I’ve made bread & butter pickles, jams, zucchini relish, basil beans, piccalilli, peach or plum chutney, and various tomato concoctions. They add zip and zing to sandwiches and dinners through long winters when I miss being out in the garden.
Jars are in the canner and waiting to be sterilized.
But as much as I love the results, putting up jars of food is not one of my favorite things to do. And I might not do it at all, except for having a steam canner. The hot water bath method was my first canning experience, consisting of babysitting a gigantic pot of water as it took a half hour to come to a boil not just once but twice for each batch of jars.
Then, about ten or so years ago I noticed a steam canner offered through gardening catalogs. The catalog entry implied it would be a more efficient method of canning. Intrigued, I put in my order, and haven’t looked back.
The first time I used the steam canner I was in love with the idea. It holds only a couple quarts of water, in comparison to four gallons used for hot water bath, so it comes to a boil quickly, getting the whole job done much, much quicker.
The jars have been filled with catsup
and are waiting for processing.
Except for water amounts, the two canning methods are basically the same. Either method can be used to process fruits, tomatoes, and pickled foods. Neither method, however, is for canning vegetables and meats. For those you need a pressure canner.
There are three parts to a steam canner. A pan at the bottom that is about three inches deep, a rack that fits in the pan, and a tall lid that fits over the pan. There are a couple of holes in the lid to vent steam. Seven quart jars, or eight pint jars will fit on the rack. Fewer jars work too, and if you have only one jar to process, that is fine too. This means that steam canning is adaptable to smaller harvests-  and with less water to boil, less energy is wasted.
I found on Wikipedia that steam is actually a gas, and it works by carrying the energy of the boiling water. I thought, too, about the cog train that runs on steam and full of passengers climbs Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. Steam cooks vegetables, heats New York, and powers trains. If it can do all of that, then it seems unquestionable that steam can seal jars of food.
This year I had a yen for a childhood favorite, Grandma’s chow chow, a corn relish. So I made some of that, and three batches of plum chutney since the plum tree did really well, and some tomato catsup. Yum. The pantry is looking well stocked, and winter will be delicious. -jmm

Monday, September 12, 2011

Plum Salsa

Stanley plums

We are having a great plum crop this year, the best our tree has ever done. The tree is about twelve years old, and in the past three or four years we’ve been getting enough plums to make a few things like cobblers, chutneys, and salsa. This year we’ve made plenty of those and even gave some plums to the neighbors. It always feels good to grow more than we can use. Our plums are Stanley, or prune plums, a little less sweet and much less watery than the bigger dessert types, making them ideal for using in recipes.  
Making plum salsa
Besides the abundance of plums, the colors of the garden inspired this salsa: deep purple plums, orange Habanero and bright red Cayenne peppers and green cilantro. This recipe is for a raw salsa. Because it is raw it’s not suitable for canning, but we’re going to try freezing some.  
Be sure to put on some latex or rubber gloves to chop up the peppers. Use a sharpened chef’s knife for the chopping. Fewer seeds go flying with a sharp knife, and a dull one tends to squish the peppers instead of cutting. Wash the knife and cutting board with hot water and soap when finished. 
Much of the heat of hot peppers is in the seeds and inner ribs. If you like serious heat leave them in. If not trim them out. If your taste buds are on the milder side, you can substitute sweet bell peppers.
4 cups of prune plums, pitted and diced (30 to 40 plums depending on size)
1 lime, juiced
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and diced into 1/2” chunks
1 medium red onion, diced
1 Habanero or 2 Cayenne peppers, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine the ingredients in the same order given, stirring in each before adding the next. Use a potato masher to lightly mash the mixture- this helps to blend the flavors. Serve the salsa  with corn chips or on tacos. It is also excellent as a side dish or a topping with fish or chicken. -G.H.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

I’ve made this about six times this summer, which I guess might be an indication of how good it is, and so I’ll share the recipe. Feel free to swap out the strawberries for blueberries, raspberries, or plums, cherries, or peaches. Let me know how it works out! It’s good, too, made entirely with rhubarb- use 5 cups. Both rhubarb and strawberries can be stored in the freezer in the amounts needed for this pie. Won’t it be great to have this in January?  

There’s a little starter thing I do with the tapioca, having had it not dissolve a time or two. And given the price of honey these days, it’s ok to use half honey and half raw organic sugar, or another sweetener of your choice. The pie will leak some filling as it bakes, so be sure to use the cookie sheet as indicated below. 

Whole wheat pie crust dough for a 9” double crust pie
2-1/2 cups of rhubarb stalks, cut into 1/2” - 1” pieces
2-1/2 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, halved
1 cup of honey
1/4 cup organic small pearl tapioca
1. Place the tapioca into a small dish and drizzle with 2 tbsp of hot tap water. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes, or until the tapioca softens.
2. Place the rhubarb, strawberries, soaked tapioca, and honey into a large bowl, and mix. Allow to sit for about ten minutes, stirring once or twice.  
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out half of the pie dough. Fit the rolled dough into a 9” pie plate, and trim the edges so the dough overhangs the plate about 1/2”. Roll out the other half of the dough. 
4. Pour the fruit mixture into the bottom pie crust. Fit the remaining rolled dough over the top, and trim the top even with the bottom. Work around the edge with your fingers to roll the edges of the dough under, then crimp the edge to seal it as well as possible. Cut slits in the top crust to let steam escape. Place a cookie sheet on the bottom rack of the oven. Place the pie into the oven on the middle rack centered above the cookie sheet. Bake for 1 hour until the top crust is browned and the filling is bubbly. Cool completely. -jmm 

Whole Wheat Pie Crust

Most cookbooks say to use white flour for making pie dough. I've found that white flour has no advantage over whole wheat, and it entirely lacks flavor. Whole wheat is a mainstay for all of my baking. A whole wheat pie crust has a wonderfully rich, slightly nutty flavor. Even the trimmings are useful- bake them in a pan alongside the pie (take it out of the oven when they turn light brown- about 10 miutes or so)- they make great little snacks and our dog, Murphy loves them too. 
Butter makes a wonderful crust and I used it until we got a quantity of beef suet and rendered it into tallow. Now I prefer tallow because it makes a more supple dough that can be rolled a bit thinner. The dough does not have a “beefy” flavor, in fact it has no “fatty” flavor at all. Tallow is difficult to measure- I keep it in the fridge and chop bits off with a knife - and guess-timate the amount, and even so, the crust turns out perfectly every time. 
Except for the salt, use all ingredients chilled. An important thing with making pie crust is the bits of fat that result from cutting through it with a pastry blender must be coated with flour. (The best pastry blender is one that consists of wires connected to a wooden handle. Wikipedia has a pic here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastry_blender ) Keep tossing the mixture while cutting up the fat.

Recipe makes a double crust for a 9” pie. Use half the amounts for a single crust pie.     
1-3/4 cups of whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup of butter or tallow
1/2 cup of icy cold water
Place the flour and the salt into a large bowl. Stir with a fork to mix the salt in thoroughly. Place half of the butter or tallow into the bowl and use a pastry blender to cut it in until the pieces of fat resemble large peas. Add the remaining butter or tallow and cut it in until the fat pieces resemble small peas. 
Put aside the pastry blender. Drizzle icy cold water over the flour mixture while tossing with a fork. Keep drizzling and tossing until the dough seems to be pulling together. Grab a handful of it and squeeze. If the lump holds together it is ready to roll out. If it crumbles, keep adding water and tossing. When the dough holds together gather the whole of it into a large ball.
Divide the dough in half by breaking it apart or cutting with a knife. Ball up each half. Take one of the halves and press it with your fingers to flatten it into a disk shape. Roll the dough on a floured countertop using a dough roller (sometimes called a rolling pin) shaping it into a circle. Sprinkle the dough with flour as needed to keep the roller from sticking. Pick up the dough and redust the countertop if the dough begins to stick to it. Follow the pie instructions for baking. -jmm

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Calendar for Cold Frame Planting

We’ve blogged about year-round gardening using cold frames in several posts. They include The Many Benefits of Using a Cold Frame, Our Hundred Mile Diet, Greens for Winter Harvest, How to Build a Cold Frame, and Cold Frames for Extended Season Gardening. These posts give some background to cold frame usage. This post is our schedule for planting. Other growing zones must be adjusted for differences in climate. 
Getting the cold frames ready for planting.
During the summer the cold frame areas are used for quick-growing crops. This year, one was dedicated to basil and another to cilantro which have already been harvested. In others, spinach and parsley will be taken out in mid-September, and kale and kohlrabi will be removed at the beginning of October. Radicchio, peas and lettuce take up a frame space that will be repurposed at the end of October. Doing this keeps all of our garden spaces in use, instead of saving the cold frame spaces exclusively for fall planting.   
Here's our planting schedule for this coming winter's cold frame planting. Each plant is given a one-window section of a cold frame, about 2 feet x 2-1/2 feet. One cold frame usually consists of two of these windows. 
End of August:  60-day Le Grand mache is planted- this is a long season mache. A shorter season type will be planted later (see Mid-October). The Le Grand mache will be used in salads about the time the summer garden is finishing up. 
Mid-September: Lettuce and claytonia will be planted. Our lettuce plantings are continuous, both in and out of the cold frames. At this time of year all lettuce seeding is done within a cold frame.  
Beginning of October: Spinach will be planted.  
Mid-October: The Verte de Cambria mache (the 45-day short season mache) will be planted.
End of October: One section of cold frame remains to be planted. Here, both types of mache will be seeded for late winter to early spring usage in hopes of harvesting fresh greens into March. 
By planting our winter garden on this schedule, our harvest will keep going through spring, until about time for the early garden crops. -G.H.