Living La Vita Locale: Plums

When I was little, I remember going to this farm stand on Route 130, on the North-bound side, that we accessed from a dirt driveway off of New Albany Rd.  I don’t know who owned the farm, but the driveway cut through fields of vegetables.  The thing I remember most was when the corn was there.  It could be the hottest of hot afternoons, and my mom would pull into that driveway and the corn towering up on either side created this shady lane.  There were trees toward the back of the property and at a certain point in the summer, there were little boxes of plums.  They were very dark red and the flesh was red on the very outside, but turned to bright yellow closer to the pit.  They were sweet and tart and I loved them.

One day, I was out walking one of the dogs and I saw all of these plums all over the ground and I thought, ‘Oh, how sad.  Someone dropped their plums.’  The next day, another neighbor asked me if I thought the guy who lived in the house was ever going to pick the plums.  I looked up from the fruit carnage and saw this little plum tree that was heavy with fruit.  We left a note in his mailbox, and he responded that we could pick the fruit.  So we did.

I dried some, made fruit leather out of some, and ate some fresh.  The next year, my neighbor had moved away, so I picked plums, more plums than I knew what to do with – dried a lot, made a lot of fruit leather, and then started experimenting with Plum Sauce.  This version is very good for quick Sweet and Sour sauce of an Asian-inspired flavor on chicken or pork, works as a dipping sauce for Chinese dumplings, and a base for Barbeque Sauce and Steak sauce (think that kind that has a letter and a number in the name).

Plum Sauce

  • 4 lbs. of plums, pitted and chopped
  • 1 C cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ C honey
  • ½ C molasses
  • 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, minced fine (you can cut back on this if you aren’t that fond of ginger)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 t mustard
  • 2 jalapenos (seeded or not, depending on how hot you like things)
  • 1 C chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  1. Combine all of the ingredients EXCEPT the plums in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and boil hard 1-2 minutes.  Reduce the heat and add the plums.  Cook until the mixture is thick and syrupy, about 1 ½ hours.
  2. Prepare canning jars according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Ladle plum sauce into prepared jars and process for 20 minutes.

This yields about 4 pints, but I generally process it in ½ pint jars because I usually use a cup at a time.

How can I use this?

Chicken or pork glaze, mix the sauce with an equal amount of soy sauce.

Quick BBQ Sauce, use ½ C Plum sauce, ½ C ketchup, ¼ C soy sauce, and 1 T of bourbon.

Steak sauce, use ½ C Plum Sauce, ½ C ketchup and 1 T of Worcestershire Sauce.

Living La Vita Locale 7/1: Kirby Cucumbers

What’s new at the market this week? Kirby cucumbers (aka “Picklers”). And when I see little those little gems, I gear up to make pickles, especially a family favorite Kosher Dill.

I’ve already done a post about making garlic pickles that are lacto-fermented and taste like the pickles you get at the deli. In this post, I will talk about pickle-making in general and then give a recipe for a classic Kosher dill, similar in style to what you would get at the grocery store, only better because you made it yourself from ingredients you can pronounce.  It was a Blue Ribbon Winner at the Burlington County Farm Fair a few years back.

Some general hints:

  • Unless you pick the cucumbers yourself, you won’t know how long they have been off the vine. Therefore you should soak the cukes in an ice water bath for at least two hours or overnight in the fridge. This will revive them and lead to a crisper end result.
  • The use of a grape leaf or horseradish leaf is optional. If you are using them, they should be as fresh as possible. The leaves are high in tannins and also work to help improve the crispness of your end result.
  • Smaller cucumbers will result in crisper pickles.
  • Keeping the cucumbers whole will result in a crisper pickle. You can cut them into spears or rounds just before serving. Cutting the cucumbers and then pickling them usually results in a mushy pickle.
  • Do not substitute the long slicing cucumbers for the small picklers. They have less dense flesh and will not hold up to pickling.

 

Kosher Dills

About 10 small pickling cucumbers

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and pierced

Dill fronds, Dill heads (the flowers), or dill seed

Black peppercorns

5 C water

1 C white vinegar

1/3 C salt

 

  1. Boil the water, vinegar and salt for 5 minutes.
  2. Pack clean quarts jars by putting in a grape or horseradish leaf in the bottom along with the garlic clove and dill (you can use a combination if you want. If you are using seeds, about ¼ t per jar). Add the cucumbers, fitting in as many as you can without bruising the cukes on their way in. Pour hot brine over the cucumbers being sure to leave adequate head space. Add a little more dill on top if you are using fronds or heads. Put the lids on and process by hot water bath for 15 minutes.

BE SURE TO FOLLOW MANUFACTURER’S INSTRUCTIONS FOR JARS AND LIDS!

Apples

It is apple-picking time. I love apples. My son will choose an apple over some kinds of candy (not all candy, but some). I love apples and I love biting into an apple that just came off the tree. And I mean, pick, wipe it on my shirt, and bite. We have a local orchard, Strawberry Hill that is fabulous. No frills. They aren’t about putting on a show. No hayrides; no corn maze. Just apples.

I thought about posting recipes for applesauce or apple butter, but they are a dime a dozen. Applesauce for me? Quarter the apples and put them in a pot with some water and let them cook until the turn into mush. Run it through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. BAM! Applesauce. And then take that, put it in the crock-pot. Mix in cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and a little ginger. Let it cook on low for about 16 hours with the lid askew, stirring every so often. BAM! Apple butter.

Instead, I give you Apple Pie Filling. It cans up really well. The best apples for this are hard, tart apples, like Granny Smiths or Braeburns. My favorites are Arkansas Blacks, however, my neighbor, who is of advanced years, lets us harvest his Bellflower apples and they work exceptionally well for this recipe.

Apple Pie Filling

4 C evaporated cane juice

½ C Arrowroot powder

1 T cinnamon

1 t nutmeg

½ t ground allspice

¼ t ground clove

3 quarts of water

3 T lemon juice

6 -7 pounds of apples

In a large pot, combine the evaporated cane juice, arrowroot, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Mix well. Add the water and whisk everything together. Put on the stove, over a medium low heat and cook until the mixture becomes bubbly and thick. This could take 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice.

Meanwhile, peel, core, and cut the apples into bite-sized pieces and pack them into quart-sized canning jars. I use a peeler/corer for this and it cuts the apples into big spirals. I just cut the spiral into quarters and then pack the prepared jars. Cover with the hot syrup, and then top the jars with prepared lids (always follow manufacturer’s instructions!).

Process in a hot water bath for 25 minutes.

Ketchup: Fact, Fiction & Control

One of those staple ingredients that it is very difficult to replicate is commercial ketchup. My children, when they were small, all loved ketchup, the oldest especially, who would eat apples dipped in it. Nowadays, it has taken its place as a condiment for burgers, fries, or a breakfast favorite: egg, cheese, salt, pepper, ketchup on a Kaiser roll (which must be rolled off the tongue as one word). For years, I have been messing around with ketchup recipes in order to have a condiment I could be confident was not full of hidden ingredients. The problem was that none of them tasted like commercial ketchup, so the kids, being ketchup connoisseurs, would reject them. I am not going to say that I have solved the riddle, and it maybe that I just wore them down, but at the end of the post there are two recipes that work quite well.

Let’s face it – ketchup is tasty, kids love it because it is sweet (most commercial ketchup is 25% sweetener), and it is an ingredient in so many other recipes that it has become a “must have” in most American homes.

But have you ever read the ingredients list on a bottle of ketchup? It may include things like high fructose corn syrup, and the ubiquitous “natural flavor.” What is that? According to the FDA, the definition of natural flavor is “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22). For those of you who speak only English, and did not take Legal Obfuscation As A Second Language, it means anything extracted from a natural (not man-made) source counts as natural flavoring. Potentially, that includes things like autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed soy protein, which are both other names for MSG. If you want to know exactly what is in your food, avoid “natural flavor” as an ingredient.

The first year I made ketchup, I used the overabundance of cherry tomatoes that were growing all over my property. I used to look at volunteer plants as gifts and would let them grow and because I accidentally put rotted tomatoes in my compost pile, I had tomato plants everywhere that year. I cooked down 10 quarts of fresh cherry tomatoes to 3 quarts of “crushed tomatoes” that I cooked down further to ketchup consistency. The next year, I used paste tomatoes and that same 10 quarts cooked down to 6 quarts to get that same spaghetti sauce consistency. And every year, with different weather conditions, also affects the consistency. When you cook down the tomatoes, the idea is to cook off a majority of the water. They should be about the thickness of commercial crushed tomatoes.

Both of these recipes can up very well.

ketchupKetchup I

2 quarts of tomato puree

2 anchovy fillets

1 ½ t salt

2 T sugar

½ t mustard

½ t paprika

½ t onion power

¼ t garlic powder

¼ t ground pepper

¼ t ground allspice

2/3 C apple cider vinegar

 

  1. Run the tomatoes through the finest plate of a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. Return the puree to the pot. Add anchovy fillets, salt, sugar, mustard, onion power, garlic powder, ground pepper, and allspice. Allow to simmer until it is very thick, about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Keep a close eye on it after an hour, because this is very thick and will scorch.

 

  1. Once it is thick, remove it from the heat and stir in the vinegar. Return to the heat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

 

  1. Remove from the heat and run an immersion blender (wand or stick blender) through it.

 

Taste for sweet and salt and adjust to your liking.

 

Ketchup II (tastes more like commercial ketchup)

1 quart of tomato puree

1 T salt

1 t onion power

1/2 t garlic powder

1 C white vinegar

3/4 C evaporated cane juice

 

  1. Combine tomato, salt, onion powder, garlic and vinegar in a heavy bottom sauce pan and simmer, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Keep a close eye on it because it will burn on the bottom.

 

  1. Remove from the heat and run an immersion blender (wand or stick blender) through it.

 

  1. Return to the heat. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. When it has reached a boil that cannot be stirred down, boil for a full minute. Add the sugar. Bring it back up to a boil that cannot be stirred down and boil for a full minute. Remove from heat.

 

Taste for sweet and salt and adjust to your liking.

If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender, just use caution when blending hot foods. I recommend waiting for the ketchup to cool a bit before using a conventional blender.

 

On Canning Tomatoes

Repetitive tasks appear to be what we must avoid.  I remember a college professor telling a story about a writer who worked in a factory, twisting caps on toothpaste, or something equally mundane, day after day, week after week, month after month.  Selling poetry is no way to earn a living wage, so poets need to work outside of their own minds in order to be sure there isn’t too much month left at the end of the money.  This writer loved his job because the physical monotony of his work allowed his mind to be free to work on poems.  He kept a small spiral-bound notebook in his back pocket and pulled it out to write down ideas as they occurred to him.  Most of us could not get away with that! We have jobs that require incredible attention to what is in front of us.  I think this is part of why I enjoy canning, especially these next couple of weeks when the tomatoes are just going crazy, and all I seem to be doing is cooking, straining, and canning.  Canning tomatoes, and canning tomatoes, and canning tomatoes may seem mundane and monotonous, but the task provides the opportunity to be mentally active on one task, like what I am going to be teaching the first week of school, while I am being physically productive preserving tomatoes.

CSA Tomatoes
CSA Tomatoes

Another reason I love canning tomatoes is because, in a sense, this is where all of this food stuff began for me.  Canning tomatoes.  It brings me back to my beginning.  In a weird way, it’s like looking at pictures of my children when they were infants, a sort of loving nostalgia.  And to be quite frank, it isn’t very difficult and you don’t need any special equipment outside of proper canning jars and lids, and a pot that is large enough for the jars to stand upright and have enough water to cover.

Easiest procedure using the least amount of equipment:  Cut and core the tomatoes and put them in a pot.  Cook over a medium heat until they have reduced in volume by a little over 1/2.  So if you start out with 4 quarts of tomatoes, cook them down to 2 quarts.  Let them cool a little and puree in a blender, or run a stick blender through them.  While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the jars by boiling them in your boiling water bath, and prepare the lids according to package directions.  Ladle prepared tomatoes into jars, adding 1T lemon juice per pint, 2 T lemon juice per quart, affix the lids, and process (20 minutes for pints, 25 minutes for quarts).

Squeezo
Squeezo

If you want to remove the seeds and skins entirely, you will need to run the tomatoes through a sieve, food mill or Squeezo-type extractor.