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.

Concord Grapes

grapes & scaleMy neighbor does not yet have time to use the grapes growing on the vines in her yard. She has little boys to chase and enjoy, and at nap time, she is still napping to recover from all the chasing and enjoyment. We aren’t sure how old the vines are. I know that they have been there for at least three owners of the house, and the owner before the present one was there for 17 years. What I do know is that they put out a lot of grapes!

In about a half an hour, I picked 14 lbs. of Concord grapes. Some of this will turn into jelly, the rest into grape juice concentrate. I like to use liquid pectin for jelly because I don’t have to worry about it clumping or clouding the final product.

 

Grape Jelly

  • 3 lbs. of grapes, washed and stemmed
  • ½ C water
  • 7 C sugar
  • 1 pouch liquid pectin
  1. Place grapes in a large pot with the water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes.
  2. Crush the grapes with a potato masher, or long handled meat tenderizer (I use the plunger from my grinder), and simmer another 5 – 10 minutes.
  3. Strain juice through a jelly bag (See Note below). Do not squeeze the bag!
  4. In a clean pot, measure 4 cups of the prepared juice.
  5. Stir in the sugar. Do not reduce the sugar if you are using standard pectin. If you want to reduce the sugar, use pectin made especially for low-sugar recipes!
  6. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil – a boil that cannot be stirred down.
  7. Quickly stir in the pectin, and return to a full rolling boil.
  8. Boil for exactly 1 minute.
  9. Turn off hear and let stand for 1 minute. Skim any foam from the top.
  10. Ladle into prepared jars and process.

Note: I used an old sheet and made jelly bags that fit inside my chinois. When I am done, I can throw the jelly bag in the washer and it gets completely clean – no pulp hanging on anywhere.

You can do a “second pressing” to make another batch of jelly: Return the pulp to the pot, and add ½ C of water. Bring up to a simmer and return it to the jelly bag. This time you can squeeze the bag to get all of the juice out of it. The result will taste great, but will be a little cloudy.

Grape Juice Concentrate

  • 10 lbs. Concord grapes, washed and stemmed
  • 2 quarts cold water
  • 3 ½ C sugar
  1. Combine water and grapes in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 – 20 minutes.
  2. Pour contents into a juice bag (I use one of my homemade jelly bags), and squeeze it until you get all of the juice out of it.
  3. Return the juice to the pot and add the sugar. Bring this to a full boil and boil for 10 – 15 minutes.
  4. Ladle into prepared jars and process.

To serve, dilute 1:1. My daughter likes to make grape soda by diluting the concentrate with seltzer.

Eggplant Pickle: Preserved Eggplant at its Best

I was at Fernbrook Farm’s CSA this morning, and much to my delight, there was a bounty of eggplant!  I love eggplant.  I love eggplant parm and this roasted eggplant dip my husband makes that has taken the place of baba ganoush on our table. I like eggplant that has been thick sliced, salted, and then cooked on the grill, dressed with a little olive oil.  But what to do when there is more eggplant than can be eaten fresh?  As far as I am concerned there is only one way to preserve eggplant and that is to pickle it.  Pickled eggplant is wonderful.  I have tried drying it, and while it did keep very well, I was never happy with the results I got using the rehydrated eggplant in recipes.

Here are my two favorite eggplant pickles.  One is a hot-water-bath processed pickle that can be kept in the pantry.  The other is a “raw pickle” and MUST BE REFRIGERATED!

Eggplant Pickles 1

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2″x 1/2″x3″ sticks
  • 2 T sea salt
  • 3 C white vinegar
  • 1 C balsamic vinegar
  • Basil leaves
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 t whole peppercorns
  1. Salt the eggplant sticks, and toss them gently to distribute the salt.  Lay the sticks in one layer between on a cookie sheet covered with towels.  Cover with more towels and another cookie sheet, and put something heavy on top of the cookie sheet to press the excess water form the eggplant.  Let it rest for one hour.
  2. In a pan, heat both vinegars.
  3. Prepare jars.  In the bottom of the jar, add basil and garlic and peppercorns.  Add the eggplant sticks, being sure that the sticks are not taller than the 1/2 inch of head space needed.
  4. Cover the eggplant with the hot vinegar.
  5. Cover with lids and process in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes.
  6. Wait about three weeks before eating these!

Eggplant Pickles 2 (The Family Favorite)

  • About 2 lbs. eggplant, peeled and cut into 1″x1/2″x1/2″ pieces
  • 2t salt
  • 1/4 C red wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves of garlic thinly slices
  • 1/2 t hot pepper flakes
  • 12 basil leaves, torn
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  1. Toss the eggplant with the salt and let drain in a colander for 12 hours (or overnight).
  2. Gently press the pieces to remove anymore water.
  3. Toss the eggplant with the vinegar and let stand 1 hour.
  4. In a jar, layer the eggplant with the garlic, basil, and red pepper flakes, pressing down to fit as much as you can in the jar.  Cover the top with olive oil.
  5. Refrigerate overnight, and then check the oil level.  Add more oil if needed.
  6. Wait four to five days before eating, but 6 weeks is better.

Serve at room temperature.  These will keep in the refrigerator for a year.

Happy eggplant!!

Basil in Abundance

One of the things I enjoy about gardening is the ebb and flow. This year, my cucumbers are struggling. First it was a battle for germination. I think I had a storage issue over the winter, or for some reason, did not extract my seeds from last year’s fruits correctly. After I finally got sprouts, the plants didn’t mature long enough to develop true leaves – groundhogs bowled over the bunny-fencing, and all the critters were having a feast. And now, because everything got started so late, I am picking off cucumber beetles and squash beetles.

On the other side of the productivity scale, I have basil. My plants this year are about three foot high bushes. When I go out to pick off the tops to prevent them flowering, I come in with 2 or 3 cups packed with leaves. To use them fresh, I just add them to salads, or stack the leaves, roll them, and using kitchen shears, snip the leaves “chiffonade” over grilled vegetables, or sliced tomato, or sliced tomato and mozzarella, drizzle it all with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Basil is also wonderful in salad dressing:

Basil Vinaigrette

  • ½ C olive oil
  • ¼ Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 T sugar or honey
  • 1 t salt
  • ¼ C chopped basil

Combine all ingredients and process in a mini-processor, or blender. You can also just combine all of the ingredients in a jar and shake it up until the sugar/honey is dissolved. The oil won’t emulsify the same way, but it will still taste really great.

How does one preserve this bounty?

Dehydrating is one way. In my opinion, the Genovese Basil, most commonly grown in the garden, does not dry as well as other varieties. The variety I choose to dry is the Purple Basil that when dried has a flavor most similar to fresh Genovese Basil.

Another way is to make pesto, which can be frozen in ice-cube trays (for 2 tablespoon portions: 2 cubes = ¼ cup), or larger quantities in freezer bags. I like both methods. The cubes are handy to add to roasted potatoes for something a little different, and the bags are easy to store, and defrost quickly for a fast dinner. Measure 1 cup of pesto into a small freezer bag and press the air out. In the process you will flatten the bag. Put the bags onto a cookie sheet and place in the freezer overnight. The next morning, take them off the sheet and store them in your freezer. So here’s a quick, easy dinner:

  1. Defrost 1 bag of pesto.
  2. Cook 1 pound of pasta
  3. Beat three eggs in a large bowl
  4. Drain the pasta and combine with the eggs immediately and toss thoroughly. The heat in the pasta will cook the eggs and make them coat the pasta.
  5. Add the pesto and toss until the pesto is well incorporated.

I’ve done this recipe doubled, and frozen half of it. I reheated it in a casserole, topped with extra parmesan.