Free food

I’m not a great fan of  paying $5 at the market for a very small basket of ripe, red crabapples, and when the spouse noted that the trees by his office were groaning with bright red fruit I put out a plea for some after-work gleaning. Next evening, there were two big baskets of the little red beauties, just waiting to be turned to something nice to eat. And crabapples are so laden with pectin that they make a beautiful red jelly with hardly any work.

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The method goes something like this. Wash your crabapples and chop off any rotten bits, and maybe halve the bigger apples. Then almost cover them with water and let them simmer away for 20 minutes or so until they are meltingly soft, but not quite melted away. The riper the crabapples, the redder the mush, and these babies were very ripe indeed.

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Then you pour your crabapple mush into a jelly bag and let it drip into a bowl for a good few hours (or even overnight). The recipes warn you not to squeeze the last drops of juice out of the jelly bag because you’ll get a cloudy jelly, but I admit I always ignore that one. I’m not aiming to win any prizes with my jelly, and I squeeze things as hard as I dare without busting the jelly bag. I hate to think of all that wonderful juice ending up in the compost along with the pulp.

Measure out the juice, and add anywhere between half and 3/4 the amount of sugar — I had four cups of juice, so that meant two and a bit cups of sugar, and it made almost four jars of jelly. Heat your jelly slowly until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil untl it sets. I didn’t time my boil, but I’m sure it was less than 10 minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Ever so easy, and oh, so pretty.

crab3I still had some fruit left over, so I switched to a quick batch of ice-cube pectin, which I made a few years back and then used to help force a set with low-pectin fruit like cherries and strawberries. Last time my little cubes were pretty pink and today they are ruby red, but I’m sure they’ll work the same way. There’s enough natural sugar in the mix that they don’t freeze rock hard, so I’m going to saran wrap my little cubes and store them in a Ziploc. I’ve not used commercial pectin for a long, long time, and see no reason to start using it now.

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There’s something very special about free food.

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Saving the sunchoke

choke2Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are my latest offering from the Community Garden, partly because my fellow gardeners complain they give them gas. I’m welcome to as many as I can dig, although they are seriously fiddly to scrub and clean. I roasted the first batch with olive oil and lemons, which was yummy, and I can’t say I noticed any major stomach issues. But I feel I’ve been neglecting the pickle world in the last few months, so I took to the internets for thoughts on how to preserve these (very) little babies.

There were a number of regular pickles and then there were recipes for lacto-fermenting, both with grated sunchokes (sauerkraut without the kraut) and with ‘chokes that were diced or sliced. Fermenting is a new part of my preserving repertoire, and I’ve done small batches only so far. Perfect chance to branch out into something new.

choke3As I scrolled through the recipes, I rejected anything that told me to peel the veggies, as well as things that called for ingredients I didn’t have in the kitchen. Then I found perfection, with including turmeric (for color and taste), plus ginger, garlic and cumin (three things I really like). I chopped my ‘chokes into chunky rings rather than dice because they were so small, added brine and spices and waited for the fermenting magic to do its stuff.

Fermented Jerusalem artichokes (adapted slightly from Linda Ziedrich’s Mellow Yellow Jerusalem Artichoke Pickle)

750 g Jerusalem artichokes, washed, then scrubbed and trimmed and sliced fairly thickly
1 tsp turmeric
6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 oz fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar
1-1/2 cups water

Make a brine with the salt, sugar and water and set aside. Mix the ‘chokes with the spices (and wonder how the hell you’ll ever get the yellow off your fingers) and then pack the veggies tightly into a clean jar. Pour the brine over the top, and weight the veggies down (I used a smaller jar filled with water, but you can also use a ziploc full of water or brine). Leave your cheesecloth-covered jar on the countertop for a few days to let the fermentation alchemy to do its stuff — it took five days before mine tasted “right” — a sort of tanginess that will go well with cheese or hummus — so I put the lid on and moved it to the fridge.


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Tip: I’ve learned from bitter experience to always put my jar of fermenting veggies on top of a deep saucer or a pie plate because the liquid tends to bubble out of the jar. You really don’t want yellow turmeric brine staining everything in the kitchen.

Maybe next time I’ll make the slices thinner so I can use my veggies in a sandwich rather than as on-the-side chunks.

A bonus: Linda says her Internet research shows that pickling/fermenting the ‘chokes removes whatever it is that causes large amounts of gas in the first place. I can’t confirm this one, but it does mean I’ll offer a taste to my gardening partners without worrying that their spouses won’t talk to them for days.

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Plenty of plums

I missed a month of canning and jamming on the bike trip of a lifetime last month, so there are some jams that just won’t happen this year. I don’t think it matters — the storage shelves are creaking with jam already — but I do want to step up the pickles, add to the chutney collection and save those wonderful late summer/autumn fruits that are starting to arrive, a couple of weeks later than in a normal year.

Last week we canned peaches in three slightly different ways, but I’m saving the blog-about-it until I get around to opening a jar (why eat canned peaches when there are fresh ones in the market?). This week it was those nice, blue Zwetschken plums. I’ve written before about the mysterious alchemy that turns blue plums into red jam, but today’s batch seemed to produce a jam that’s even redder than usual. We picked a plum preserve recipe from Madelaine Bullwinkel’s Gourmet Preserves but eliminated a few steps, added ginger and cut the already small amount of sugar. It set super fast, and I think it’s going to be very nice, but it made five jars, so no samples now.

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Plum ginger jam (adapted from Gourmet Preserves)

3 lbs blue plums, pitted and quartered
1 cup water (maybe use 1-1/2 cups next time)
2 cups sugar
juice of one lemon
1-2 cup crystallized ginger, coarsely chopped

Simmer the chopped plums with the water for 20 minutes, and then drain the liquid from the mushy plums in a colander — let the mush sit around for a good 30 minutes so that it drains well. Add the sugar to the liquid with half the lemon juice and heat, gently until the sugar dissolves, and then at a rolling boil until it’s about to set. The recipe says 5-10 minutes for this stage, but ours was well set within 4 minutes. Then, off the heat, add the plum quarters and the ginger and let it sit around for another 15 minutes or so. Bring the mix back to the boil and boil until it’s set. Again, this took minutes.

Bottle in sterilized jars. Water bath 10 minutes.

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Second venture was a plum apple chutney, from the adventurous Art of Preserving, by the beautifully named Jan Berry. I got this book for $9 in a second hand shop a while back, and I see that Amazon has it on offer at $138. Maybe I should sell.

Plum raisin chutney (mostly from Art of Preserving)

4 lbs blue plums, pitted and chopped
2 lbs apples (we used Macintosh)
1 lb onions
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
1-1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tbsp mustard seeds
Black pepper

Put all the ingredients in a big, heavy pan and simmer until it thickens (something over an hour). Bottle in sterilized jars. Waterbath.

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Why is everything made from plums quite so beautiful?

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These are chums

Something over a year ago I persuaded the spouse that we needed fruit in our little back yard, and I fell in love with the idea of chums and plumcots, which are hybrid cherry-plum and plum-apricot respectively. We bought two chum bushes and a plumcot tree from Green Barn Nursery in Quebec and picked them up from their Ontario affiliate in the early spring. There were a few flowers last year, but no fruit, and more flowers this year as the bare sticks we came home with transformed themselves into leafy bushes and fast-growing trees.

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This year we got one plumcot, but it vanished one morning before I even had a chance to inspect it properly, and five lonely chums. I’ll be away for a bit, so I picked two of them today, even though they were clearly not ripe yet, in the hope I would beat the birds and squirrels to the bounty.

Obviously I should have waited — they are supposed to be deep purple on the outside, not green with purplish blotches. But I think they will be quite nice if we net them as they ripen and if the critters don’t get them first. It’s hard to tell the taste when they are still so tart, but I’d say more of a plum than a cherry. Time will tell.

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Will we ever get enough of these babies to make a jam?

 

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Apricots and lemons

It seems I’ve never blogged about my maybe-favourite chutney, a tasty mix of apricots and lemons that we’ve done at least once a year. But apricots and lemons go surprisingly well together — you use the whole lemon, rind and all, as though it was a marmalade, with heat from ginger and cayenne pepper, or this year from two tiny jalapenos gleaned from the garden.

Relatively quick boil, for chutney. Perhaps a little runny, but goes well with grilled vegetables, omelettes, meat, cheese. Just about anything in fact. I like.

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Moroccan apricot lemon chutney (from The complete book of pickling, by Jennifer MacKenzie)
(I’m not sure what’s Moroccan about this one except perhaps the cumin)

4 organic lemons, peel washed and cut into strips (or chunks in our case) and flesh seeded and roughly chopped
6 cups apricots, roughly chopped
2 cups chopped onions
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
2 small jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp coriander, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, roasted in a dry pan until they darken a little
1-1/2 tsp salt
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cider vinegar

Put all the ingredients into a heavy pot and simmer until nice and thick – about 20-30 minutes. Bottle in sterlized jars.

That was easy.

Except that looking at the recipe just now, I see that we should have boiled the  peels up in water before adding them to the chutney (also like marmalade). It softens the peels, and removes some of the bitterness. I wonder what not boiling them will have done to the finished product.

Oh, and we also made about a dozen jars of apricot jam — half plain apricot, and half with a splash of redcurrant thrown in at the end for pretty pink streaks. Something to remind us of summer.

 

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Like buttermilk, only better

There are those who rave about kefir because it contains the good bugs that our anti-bacteria society seems to want to purify out of existence. I just prefer the tart-sour kefir taste to the blandness of milk. But I rarely bought it, and never dreamed of making it myself. Then someone swapped me a jar of jam for a handful of kefir grains, and my life turned upside down, just like the discovery of steel cut oats revolutionized my winter breakfasts. There’s no machine, no thermometers and nothing to worry about, and kefir tastes great in oatmeal, cold oats or granola. Why didn’t I discover this decades ago? kefir2The secret for me is to make enough kefir for a day or  two, and just let the grains rest, covered with water, in the fridge when I’m not in kefir making mood. When I’m ready to ferment, I rinse the grains (which look like mini silicon brains), put them in a clean Mason jar and top up with as much milk as I think I’ll need the next day. I close the jar loosely (the ring/lid combo is my alternative to covering with a cloth) and let it sit on the countertop until it’s sour enough to use. In summer that can take as little as 6-8 hours, although the recipes all say 24 hours at least. Don’t close your jar tightly — the milk bubbles as it ferments, and a cracked jar (or an explosion?) could create a nasty mess in the kitchen.

kefir1 When it smells sour enough, I tighten the seal on the jar and shake it up to mix the whey back in with the solids, and then sieve it. The grains are little squeaky things so you sieve the mix gently – don’t try to force the grains through the mesh. Save the kefir, rinse the grains, cover them with water and put them back in the fridge until you want to start the game all over again. I’ve kept the grains in water for as long as a week so far, although I understand you can freeze them for longer storage. I’m planning that for the next few weeks; I’ll update this entry once I figure out if it works.

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The beauty of all this? Kefir grains grow as they sour the milk, so you almost always have some to give away. If my grains don’t work from the freezer, I can always find a way to get grains back.

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When dinner bites back

The berries are just about over at the community garden, and there’s a load of other things that have not made it to the harvest-me stage yet. So today I came back with baby stinging nettles, which I always wondered about cooking, but never did. I had just a handful, picked carefully with gardening gloves, and I did wonder if they would still sting as I rinsed them carefully in cold water (they did). I steamed them up with butter and some tarragon and served them with steamed garlic French beans and feta cheese for a super light supper.

Stinging nettles, once you cook them about five times as long as you think you want to cook them, taste rather nice, like an intense spinach without the metallic taste you get with spinach.

Of course the nettles should not be in the garden in the first place, so our next task is probably to get rid of them once and for all.

But I did enjoy my little experiment.nettles

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