Foraging in my Yard

It has been a while since I had time to work on my blog, which was a sadness.  But now Summer has begun and with it a bit more flexibility in my schedule.  For the past few days, I found myself awake at 4:30 AM, not able to fall back to sleep, but not thinking about lesson plans or Student Growth Objectives, which is a nice change.  Instead I was thinking about blog posts, berry picking, staking tomatoes, and what to do with the mint that had gotten out of control!

Clearing Space

I have two varieties of mint growing on the side of my house: peppermint and spearmint.  They seem to get along with the raspberries, but this year, when I went out to start picking, I couldn’t get down the rows because the mint was out of control.  I started pulling it out and ended up with three enormous bunches of mint.  It hurt my heart to just throw them in with the chickens, and then I had the “A-ha” moment: tea.  This was way too much mint to put in my dehydrator, so I just tied it up to my clothes line.  I took it down at night and hung it back out the next day.  It took three days until it felt like it was really dry.  Then I just stripped the leaves from the stems and stuffed them in a jar.

This coming winter, I will happily drink mint tea from these dried leaves.  It also makes a nice iced tea, but I generally use the fresh mint for that in summer, since we have so much.

Storage Space

The fun part of this is that all of that mint, when dried packed into a quart jar.  In the winter, when I use the mint, I will put it in the mini-prep (a small food processor) to chop it up and release the oils from the leaves. Otherwise, I think it has a little bit of a “grassy” taste.  Sometimes I will mix it with loose black tea; sometimes I just make the mint.  Other dried herbs that make a nice tea with mint are lemon balm and chamomile.

This time of year, a lot of perennial herbs, like mint, sage, and oregano are going a little crazy.  Cut them back before they flower and dry them.  Any dried herbs you have left from last year should get thrown in the compost (or give them to the chickens!), as they have probably lost their potency.

 

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.

Grilled Dessert Peaches

August is a great time for local produce in New Jersey.  The weather may be oppressive, hot and very humid, lots of 90+ degree days, lots of sun, heavy thunderstorms that don’t cool things off at all.  But the flip side is that this is tomato ripening time and peach ripening time.  These conditions lead to sweet juicy fruit.  Peaches are great in pies, made into jam, lacto-fermented, or home-canned.

Here is an easy and unusual seasonal recipe.  If you are planning to grill your dinner, you can make these wonderful peaches to have for dessert!

  • 6 peaches, halved, pit removed, brushed with 2 T melted butter
  • ½ C brown sugar
  • ¼ C butter
  • 1 t vinegar
  • ¼ C water
  • A  few grains of salt
  1. Place the peaches, cut-side down on a pre-heated (medium) grill. Close the lid and leave to cook for about 5 minutes. Check on the grill marks.  You want the peaches to be dark, but not blackened!  For “criss-cross” marks, rotate the peach half 90 degrees.  When they are done, arrange the cooked peaches on a heatproof platter and let them cool.
  2. In a small pan, combine the remaining ingredients. Heat over medium, until the mixture gets bubbly. Stir carefully and constantly for about 2 minutes.  Removed from heat and pour over the grilled peaches.  Sprinkle each half with a tiny bit more salt.  Let cool.  Serve at room temperature.  If there are any left over, store in the refrigerator, but bring back to room temp to eat.

Not Your Run of the Mill Cucumber Salad

One of the hobbies I have is reading old cookbooks.  I have a review of a classic gem from the 19th Century by Mrs. Owens elsewhere on this site.  I find many interesting recipes and rediscover ideas and solutions to problems that have been long forgotten.  Although sometimes I laugh when I see them on “life hack” links on my social media.  Don’t know what I mean?  Like rubbing a walnut on scratched furniture to make the scratch less noticeable.  So as the cucumbers started filling out on the vines, and piling up at the markets, I went back to an old recipe that I adapted from The Searchlight Cookbook (mine is the 23rd edition, published in 1952). This is not your run of the mill cucumber salad that uses vinegar and onions.

I went back to the original recipe to see how many changes I made, and there were quite a few.  While I was looking through the book, I saw recipes for other cucumber dishes, including scalloped cucumbers and creamed cucumbers, both of which sounded rather unappealing.  But I realized that may be because the only cooked cucumber I ever ate was a pickle.  I might just have to try one of those recipes and get back to you next week. But for now, a really unusual side for a hot summer evening.

Cucumber and Cheese Salad

  • 2 medium cucumbers, cut length-wise, seeded and diced
  • ¾ C sharp cheddar cheese, cubed small
  • ¾ C diced celery
  • 1 C grated carrots
  • 1 sweet pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, diced (optional)
  • ¼ C  relish
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ to ½ C mayo or creamy dressing, such as the Cooked Dressing below
  1. In a colander, combine the cucumber, celery, carrots, pepper(s), and salt. Put a plate on top and weigh it down to press out some of the water. Let rest for about 20 minutes.  While you are waiting you can make the cooked dressing below.
  2. After 20 minutes, press out as much water as you can. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the cheese, relish and about ½ of dressing (you can use mayo or the dressing below). Toss to combine and evenly distribute the dressing.

Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

In addition to using this as a side, it makes a great stuffing for fresh tomatoes: cut the tops off and scoop out the seeds.  Fill the cavity with the salad.  A light refreshing lunch or dinner.

Cooked Dressing

(this is good on coleslaw, potato salad, cucumber salad, or a garden salad)

  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1/4 C melted butter
  • 1/2  C white vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t dry mustard
  • ¼ t paprika
  • 1 T arrowroot powder
  • 2 T honey
  1. In the top of a double boiler, or a metal bowl, combine all ingredients EXCEPT the honey, and mix until it is smooth.
  2. Place the metal bowl on top of a pot of simmering water, being sure that the water is not boiling up to the level of the bottom of the bowl. Stir constantly until it is thick and very smooth. This may take a few minutes.  Be patient.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Adjust for sweet and salt until you achieve the desired balance.
  4. Cool and transfer to a glass jar. Store in the refrigerator.

 

**If you are looking for some old standards as far as cucumber recipes, here are some links to pickles: your standard dills and garlic.

Now Trending: Cold-Brew Coffee

Sometimes things trend for a reason.  Cold-brew coffee.  I never even heard of such a thing until about two years ago.  And upon first hearing, I thought, ‘Ugh.  The next thing.’

Last year, I was giving a class at a venue that required I have lunch with the participants afterwards.  It was a very nice feature because it allowed us to really talk, and gave them time to think about the information.  For my beverage that day I chose iced-coffee, one of my all-time favorite beverages.  I was told that the coffee was cold-brewed.  I said that was fine, although I had no idea what that even meant, just that it was the new thing.  It came in a bottle.  I snickered on the inside.  Coffee in a bottle.  It looked a little pretentious.  But I have to say that was a damn-fine cup of coffee (to paraphrase Agent Dale Cooper, even if I didn’t drink it as black as a moonless night).

One day, I was out to lunch with a friend and once again ordered an iced-coffee, and had a similar experience.  I did a little research, read about the science of coffee, and remembered a few things from my chemistry class: when I make a solution (extracting elements from a solid with water), the temperature of the liquid has a direct impact on the solubility of different compounds in the solid.  I am not completely ditching hot-brew coffee, but the flavor of the cold-brew was different and lovely, so I decided that I would try it at home.  It is very easy to do and produces a really excellent cup of cold coffee.  If you prefer warm coffee, it holds up very well to a gentle heating.

Here’s how to make it:

Put ¾ cup of medium grind coffee (you can use fine grind, but is makes a bit of sediment in the bottom of your coffee that needs to be stirred back in) in a 1-quart jar.  Add 2 cups of water and stir the coffee into the water.  It gets kind of muddy.  Then fill the jar the rest of the way with water.  Let the jar sit on the counter anywhere from overnight to an entire day.  Strain out the coffee grinds.  I use a strainer lined with a piece of old cotton sheet, but you can use a funnel with a coffee filter inside.

This creates a coffee concentrate that should be diluted 1:1 for the best flavor.

I froze some in ice-cube trays and used them to make really great frozen coffee drinks:

Put all of the ingredients in a mini-blender and process until smooth.  Serve right away!

Happy Summer coffee!