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.

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.

Living La Vita Locale: Vida Salad

Growing up, my grandmother made this concoction called Health Salad.  So, color me shocked one day in NYC, when I saw it at a deli.  I turned to my friend and said, “I thought my grandmother made that up!” Honestly, when I was younger I didn’t like it.  I didn’t really like anything that tasted cabbage-y, from coleslaw to cabbage borsht, although I have since changed my mind and will heartily dig into all things cabbage, from kraut to prakas (stuffed cabbage).  My husband jokes that the horseradish is the root of my people, and if that is the case, then the cabbage is the brassica of Everyman.  The ancient Greeks wrote about them, as well as the ancient Chinese.  From north to south and east to west, there are varieties of cabbage that are central to most major cuisines.  This humble green is packed with vitamins and minerals, grows well in poor conditions, keeps well through the winter, and along with the potato, probably kept a gazillion people alive during hard times.

After a time, my mother took up the mantle of making the health salad.  It was one of her contributions to every family dinner occasion, from Thanksgiving to Passover, my mom, Vida, made the Health Salad.  It was about this time of year a few years back, and I was putting away my share from the CSA when I realized that I had all of the ingredients to make Health Salad.  There was a head of cabbage in the fridge from the week before, and I had cucumbers, carrots, and the one pepper per share from that week.  I called my mom and asked for the recipe.  Since then I have tweaked it a bit, and since my mom likes these results better than hers, I feel good about renaming the recipe, Vida Salad.  Yes, after my mom, but her name means “lifetime” in Spanish, so “Lifetime Salad” — salad that will help you be healthy for a lifetime!

Vida Salad

Salad

  • 1 medium head of cabbage, quartered and cored
  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 sweet pepper, halved and seeded
  • 1-2 T salt
  1. Put a large colander inside a bowl.
  2. Slice the cabbage quarters thinly, across the grain, so you have thin shreds (I usually do this on a mandoline).  Put them in the colander and sprinkle with 1 T salt. Toss to coat.
  3. Grate the cucumbers and carrots.  Add them to the colander and sprinkle with the remaining salt.
  4. Cut the pepper into strips and then cut across the strips to make small squares.  Add them to the colander.
  5. Using a plate that has a smaller circumference than the colander, weigh down the veggies to press out the excess water that the salt is drawing out. While you are waiting, make

The Dressing

  • 1/2 C Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 sugar or honey (but use a mild flavored honey)
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1/4 C coconut oil

Put all of the ingredients in a jar and shake until the sugar is dissolved.

6. Press out as much of the water as you can.  I take an extra step here and put the veggies in a towel and wring out as much water as I can.

7. Dump the water, and put the veggies in a bowl.  Add the dressing and mix thoroughly.  While you can eat this right away, the flavor definitely improves after a day or two in the fridge.

 

This is great as a side, on a burger or hot dog, or mixed with tuna.

Kohlrabi: That weird bulb-thing

“What is that?” asked a lady at the CSA last week, holding a purple bulb.  I replied, “Kohlrabi.” “This weird bulb-thing?  That’s a kohlrabi?  What do I do with it?”

I told her that a friend of mine, who grew up in Germany, passed along that her family would grow lots of them in their garden and they ate them raw, peeled and sliced with a little salt, almost every night in the summer.

But as I was driving home, I realized that we use kohlrabi in lots of ways, from lacto-fermented to Indian food (gaanth gobhi).  It tastes sweet, but a little broccoli/cabbage-like.  The consistency is crisp and is reminiscent of broccoli stems.  Sometimes we just slice them and eat them with dip or a little salt, or add them to cold salads.  But kohlrabi is extremely versatile.  It is also a crop that comes in twice in NJ, because it is a cooler weather crop.  My CSA distributes them in the spring and then again in the fall, so I have spring/summer recipes and uses and fall/winter recipes and uses.

This time of year, we tend to the raw and lacto-fermented recipes — things that don’t heat up the kitchen!  But in the fall and winter, we roast it in chunks, cube it and add it to curries, or even cut it like french fries and pop it in the deep fryer.

Here is a super easy lacto-fermentation recipe for kohlrabi:

Garlic Kohlrabi Pickles

  • 1 large kohlrabi, peeled and cut into 1/4″ sticks, a max of 1/4″ shorter than the jar you are using
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, halved
  • 2 T sea salt OR 1 T sea salt + 1 T whey from yogurt making, if you have it
  • 2 C filtered/unchlorinated water
  • horseradish leaf (optional)**
  1. In a scrupulously clean wide-mouth pint jar, mash the horseradish leaf into the bottom of the jar.
  2. Add the kohlrabi sticks and garlic.
  3. Combine the water and salt (and whey if you are using it) to make a brine.  Mix until the salt is completely dissolved.
  4. Add the brine to the jar, being sure to leave some space at the top.
  5. Secure the lid.
  6. Leave the jar on a counter, out of direct sunlight, for 2-3 days.  When you see bubbles, put it in the fridge. One of the bonuses of lacto-fermenting is that you can open the jar and not break a seal or wreck anything.  Open the jar and look at the pickles.  Sniff them.  Taste them.  If you like how they taste, put then in the fridge.  If you want them to be a little more “done,” leave them out for another 12 hours.  These will keep in the fridge for about 6 weeks.  After that, the texture begins to degrade.

**I use horseradish leaf in all of my pickle jars. Bruising the leaf in the bottom of the jar helps release the naturally occurring potassium and magnesium that help the pickles retain their crispness.

Who Grew Your Food: Mike Wilk

carranza-memorialIf I say Tabernacle, New Jersey to people who are not from Tabernacle, New Jersey, they might know the town for one of two reasons: a) the ghost of pilot Emilio Carranza, the “Mexican Lindbergh,” who crashed there about 90 years ago, or b) it’s where the Jersey Devil lives. If you drive far enough down Carranza Road (it’s paved now, by the way), you will come to the monument in memory of Captain Carranza in the middle of the pines. But Tabernacle is more than haunted history and folklore. There are farms there, wonderful farms, producing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and lamb.

Lamb? Well, yes. Those loin chops come from an animal, and the animal has to be raised somewhere. Last week I had the opportunity to meet a farmer, Mike Wilk, and tour where these lambs are raised. Mike scored points by having me to the farm because while he never met me, he was willing to give me a tour. This let me know that he was going to be very transparent about his practices. This isn’t to say that a farmer who will not give you a tour is being purposefully opaque. Some farmers are cautious about visitors because they fear people bringing in bugs or germs that may have a negative impact on herd health.

The morning was a typical hot, humid New Jersey July morning – it was already in the 80’s at 8:00 am. You can discern a lot about a farm by the way it smells and one side effect of heat and humidity is an amplification of smells. Wilk Farm smells the way a farm should: like clean animals. If this were a scratch-n-sniff blog (are they coming soon?), I could add a dirty animal smell and a clean animal smell so you would be able to tell the difference.  If you have the opportunity to visit the farm where your food is produced, you quickly leanr to smell the difference.

We started out chatting in the shade near the house, with Mike pointing out things he needed to repair. I was laughing on the inside because I do this at my house, an old, always a work-in-progress place, a kind of apology to the new visitor that it isn’t some pristine dwelling. But most of the farmers I know are like this – there is always something else that needs to be fixed, improved, expanded, etc. Despite his pointing out the flaws, what I saw was a beautiful 25-acre piece of land, divided into pastures, with contented sheep grazing.

The sheep are Katadhins, a breed developed through selective breeding (much like dog breeders do, in search of superior traits) in Maine from African Hair Sheep imported from St. Croix that were bred with Suffolk and Hampshire among others. The traits the breeder was looking for in the lambs were lean, healthy animals that did not require shearing. Sheep with wool (like a Suffolk) require shearing. Sheep with hair naturally shed, like a dog, and do not require shearing. After a few generations, the breeder had very hearty animals. They are heat-tolerant and naturally disease resistant because of the St. Croix origins of the African Hair Sheep. Since they were bred in Maine, they also developed thick winter coats to help shield them from the cold.

What does this mean for Mike Wilk? It means they are fairly low maintenance. But low maintenance is in the eye of the beholder. Mike inspects every animal daily, looking for issues such as hooves that need to be trimmed (they grow like finger nails), or signs of anemia. Anemia is a signal that the animal has worms, and he will selectively treat that one animal that gets worms. He told me that seeing signs of worms right away and treating them right away keeps this from becoming a problem in the flock.

The lambs are born on the farm and the only time they spend in confinement is a day or two immediately after they are born to ensure bonding with the mom. They stay on this farm and graze the pasture for about 9 months, which is when they are ready to go to market. The animals always have access to clean water and shade. In the winter, they have a sheltered area that they can always access. What do they eat when there is snow on the ground? Mike puts out grass bales that he gets from a favorite producer because of the high quality of the grasses. He said that 20 big bales gets him through the winter. When I saw what was in his barn, I was surprised because it did not have that mold-must smell of old hay bales that I was expecting.

The lambs are processed by a family shop, Nello’s, in Nazareth, PA. The proprietor is a real, old-fashioned butcher who processes meat from “start to finish,” as opposed to some “butcher shops” that are purchasing cryo-vac’ed meat and cutting it into sale-able portions, which is a story for another day.

DSC_5494The good news for you, if you live in South Jersey, is that you can purchase Mike’s very high-quality, super-humanely raised lamb at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market. If you are interested in whole animals, you can contact Mike through his website, wilkfarm.com.

New to cooking with lamb?  Never made anything but lamb chops?  Get some ground lamb and try some “Gyro Burgers”!

Gyro Burgers

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 2 T finely chopped onion
  • 2 t minced garlic
  • 1 t minced fresh oregano
  • 1 t minced fresh marjoram
  • 1 t minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 t minced fresh thyme
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t black pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Divide meat into 4 and form into patties.  Grill to desired doneness.  Serve with cucumbers and yogurt.