Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Real Winter Squash: Blue Hubbard

Blue Hubbard Squash in pieces
 Our first Winter CSA pick up included potatoes, radishes, collards, carrots, fennel, bok choy, leeks, cilantro, and what I had been waiting nearly a year for... a Blue Hubbard squash. I forgot to photograph it whole, so here it is on the left, split in two and another slice taken from the top. These amazingly ugly squashes are unbelievably tasty. Last year I used them for pie and equally delicious soup. In Germany in the winter we would have lots of kerbis (meaning gourd) soups and other dishes through the Fall. Kerbis oil and seeds are used as condiments. The one thing you'll never see is kerbis pie. Funny. They just don't eat the same type of desserts as we do.

Roast until soft in oven

What they are missing !

You cook Blue Hubbard like Butternut or other winter squashes. Cut them in chunks, scrape out the seeds, and roast the pieces in the oven at 350F for 45 minutes or so. They'll be totally soft and you scrape the skin off to mash the remains. 

Puree and add ingredients
 Once you have something like this, it can be pureed with spices, cream, and eggs for pie. Or changed into some other savory dish.

Did you know that most commercial pumpkin for pumpkin pie - the kind you buy in a can - is butternut squash? It's interesting to me that you'll find quite a lot of people who say they don't like squash, or particularly butternut squash, but will eat it as pie.  Of course, the sugar and cream probably influences that.

wonderful Blue Hubbard Squash pie
 But Butternut squash soup tastes nothing quite like Blue Hubbard. I'm hoping for at least one more squash this season.

Which isn't to say that Butternut isn't great for soups. I have two wonderful recipes for it. One combines the squash with ginger for a smooth soup that balances those wonderful flavors. The other keeps chunks of squash in with pork, creating a chunky Fall stew for a tasty pairing.

One Blue Hubbard is enough for two deep dish pies and several small ramekins. Looks good, eh?

Dried squash seeds
My great find this year is dried seeds. Of course, I'm constantly looking for ways to use my new dehydrator. I dried apples and raw almonds in the last few weeks. The almonds are soaked overnight and then dried for 24 hours. This keeps them a bloated, crispy feel that's hard to describe and absolutely addictive.

I figured the seeds might well work the same. I soaked them for about 6 hours, dried for about 12 hours. I sprinkled on some cinnamon at the start, too. The result were puffy seeds with a paper-like outer coating that was similar to rice paper in consistency.

The kernel is a green yummy morsel
The outer white part is fibrous and a bit chewy, but the seed on the inside has a wonderful delicate taste of pumpkin.

In Germany I would buy raw kerbis seeds for my yogurt. These were dark green seeds, and I could never quite make out really where they came from. I've never seen a green squash seed. But taste testing our new dried seeds, my son and I realized there was a separate kernel inside the white coating which was giving the fabulous flavor. Sure enough, with some effort you can pull off the white coating to reveal a green seed. It's a bit difficult, and you can see my finger nail marks on the green seed here, but hey, you get the idea. I do wonder how they strip off the outer coating commercially now. Hmm....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Better Life through Canning

So, this past weekend I got invited to a local canning swap and trade party. I know it sounds a bit weird or, well, domestic maybe, boring to some, old to others,.... dated maybe... but, this is the kind of gathering I've been wanting to join for some years. The idea is that you can things during the harvest season, either by yourself or in canning parties, and then bring a bunch of canned goods for others to taste. At the end of the event, all the unopened cans are laid out and folks fill their baskets with roughly what the number they brought in. There were six of us on Sunday. I took ten jars and came back with ten jars, only two of which were mine. Not bad.

The reason these types of trades are so intriguing to me is, aside from the whole aspect of socializing with others who do arcane things, the sheer variety you get without being overwhelmed. If you are canning alone in your kitchen, just you and your pot of boiling water (I'm cheap and don't own a pressure canner), even with small batch canning, you'll end up with 4-8 jars of whatever you make. Let's say eight. So if you make six half pints Apple Ginger Chutney, that's actually a lot of chutney to consume over the year. Of course, you can gift these things, and sometimes I do. But, let's be honest, the vast majority of folks have no appreciation of the amount of work that went into making that unusual chutney. Some will avoid opening it, instead waiting for the right special occasion where chutney calls out to them and they have all the right guests and all the right china on the table. Or, in all likelihood, they have no idea how one would eat chutney; isn't that some weird foreign food? So I'm leery of gifting unusual recipes even though I might just love to try a jar myself.

I'm quite generous, I think, with my canned goods and other things I make, as long as folks will appreciate them. I can see my little Golum coming out, though, when I recognize that's not the case. This year life interrupted, and I was unable to get many sour cherries. The result: two pints of sour cherry jam. Nothing else. No frozen cherries. Nothing. My sour cherry jam rocks. And I know it's totally sad and selfish, but when folks who like Smuckers just as much are digging in, I have to hold down my inside voice... "it's mine, my precious".... and I might just be guilty of sliding that one to the back of the fridge and bringing my less-than-favorites to the front. The sins of a canner.

On the other hand, my hot pepper jellies are usually a big hit, particularly with folks who haven't paired them with cream cheese. I had so many request for jars last year that I made double this year to give to whomever wants them. Pepper jelly is so unique and one of the coolest ways to make a quick Real Food appetizer, I'm delighted that folks like it and glad to share.

In any case, when you make unusual recipes, you are often, well, I am often, stuck then with jars of unusual recipes. Luckily, last year my son absolutely loved the spiced blueberry cherry preserves in his yogurt. These were Fall spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg stewed into blueberries and sour cherries. It tasted good, I though, but four quarts good? Not for me. It took the year, but we did eat them all. Still, this year I went back to tried and true things.  Which means, when I got invited to this party to share, since I wasn't quite expecting it, I wasn't quite prepared either.

I brought garlic dill pickles, apple sauce, and pepper jelly. The first two are things most everyone makes. Most everyone makes a lot of. Not too exciting to swap. I also had one jar of lemon basil jelly, which was interesting.  The great thing is that these kind of parties usually involve generous people who are willing to try other folks stuff and appreciate the work involved, so I did pretty well.

For my part, I got to take a home a jar of Blackberry Lime jam, pumpkin butter, cranberry jam, pickled watermelon rind, a different pepper jelly, apple chutney, and bay leaf infused plum jam. Plus, I got a bit of pineapple sage butter. We tasted various breads that others made, and an apple cobbler. Not too shabby. And the group was all knitters, so we sat around, talked, and did that too...Bonus!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Crushing Grapes at Serpent Ridge Winery

 It's taken me a few more weeks than I had hoped to get these photos up from my recent volunteer day with Serpent Ridge Winery in Westminster, Md. Life intervenes.

For more than a year now, I've been watching the winery's calls for volunteers to help crush, press, pick, or bottle, hoping to match up a day when I was free and they needed help. Invariably things didn't work out. Turns out, a lot of people like to volunteer at the winery and you only need so much help at a time. But finally, in mid-November I got my chance.

My friend, Maureen, and I joined six other volunteers for a morning of crushing cabernet sauvignon grapes that the winery had just received from another farm in Maryland.  After a morning of lifting, pouring, and cleaning, we were rewarded with a wonderful lunch and a discount on our wine purchase. It's a great experience to be involved in, and hopefully we'll get the chance to do other parts of the process next year.

Maureen weighs a box of grapes - they ranged from 14-30+ lbs

This is what the grapes look like before crushing...
The crusher before it's in place...

And after crushing....

Create a work line to pass along the grapes
They try to quickly pull junk out of the grapes before they get crushed
And, the bins get cleaned after their grapes are dumped...
This is the winery cat, Zork, named after the wine cap

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Organic Local Apples

A new source for Organic Apples
Farmer, farmer put away your DDT now, 
I'll take spots on my apples, 
Leave me the birds and the bees... 

I love that song. The original. The remakes. Of course, we're not using DDT anymore, but there are plenty of other "proven safe" but make you (or me) nervous chemicals being sprayed on our agriculture still. Living in the mid-Atlantic, the problem I've found is that if you want local, as I generally prefer, you're going to have a tough time finding organic fruits. Sure, plenty of people have an apple or pear tree, or two, growing in their backyard. They don't touch it and it produces fine, if not beautiful, organic fruit. There is an organic blueberry farm not too farm from here (in Olney, Md), but blueberries are among the easiest fruit to grow organically. Tree fruit is tough.

So, I was delighted when a friend mentioned a source for organic apples out of Pennsylvania: Oyler's Organic Farms.  And I was thrilled when I saw the prices. Where the organic blueberry prices are several times those at the average pick-your-own farm (but chemical free), the organic apples were just plain normal grocery store prices. They sell #1 and #2 apples, by the 1/2 and full bushel. These aren't pick-your-own. You place and order, then drive to pick them up.

Since I had no idea what to expect, I went with a full bushel of #1 Ida Reds in a box. I figured the extra costs for #1 apples and also for the box, over a bag, might be worth it. The apples were $42 for 42 lbs! That's unbeatable in my book. Friends told me that they still used the #2 apples as eating apples, but that you'd have to cut pieces out here and there. I am processing a lot of my apples into sauce or freezing them for winter desserts, so you'd think I wouldn't mind cutting. I probably don't, but not cutting is even easier. And it would tell me what to expect.

My box of #1 Ida Reds

I was thrilled with these apples. They were indeed spots. All of them had some scab looking thing, but not a single one had an issue under the surface. Not one. I peeled and sliced about 30 apples (with the ever-helpful Pampered Chef tool) and found absolutely no problems. Another large bunch were sauced whole, but cored, and again, no issues.  The last big bunch went to making Fresh Apple salsa that I mentioned in my last post, for freezing. And, a handful went to the fridge.
All the apples had some blemishes like this
And all the apples looked great inside - like this !

There's still some time left for apple picking in the season. There's no doubt this is the best way for me to go. I'm looking forward to some York apples, which are supposedly much more sour, in the next few weeks. Yum yum.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Variety of Thoughts for Fall

Hot pepper and lemon basil jellies
Well, this Summer turned out to be quite a trip, and unfortunately, the first thing to go by the wayside was writing and food sourcing. I have no idea whether my posts were missed, but here I am again, and hopefully will get back to being a bit more regular. Sadly, we've passed the height of fresh food from local sources, so we'll see how it goes. Since so much time has passed, instead of a cohesive topic, I have a bunch of early Fall subjects to touch upon today. Hopefully some of it will be helpful.

If you find yourself thinking about the long winter ahead without fresh local food, a winter CSA might be for you. My local buying group is going in together again with subscriptions at Everblossom Farm, outside of Gettysburg, PA. With pick ups only every other week and a group of families to share the driving, you can have a wide range of produce throughout the five months you would normally trek to the grocery store and get straight from Mexico or elsewhere. If you're in Southern Carroll County, you might even be able to join our group. Check out my earlier posts on Everblossom and our CSA experience last year.

My only worry about the CSA this year is that the weather here in the mid-Atlantic has been beyond dreadful this year. Today is our second day of clear blue sky in literally many weeks. The rainfall for August and September was ridiculously high and washed out a lot of farmer's Fall plantings.  Many farmers were left with poor growth and failed seedlings.  Tom of Nev-R-Dun farm in Westminster even failed to show a few weeks at the farmer's market this last month, as his plants had been hit so hard.

My own adventures didn't fair well either. I wrote earlier about my big project to create a fenced garden. It was a raised bed filled with about 7 yards of compost from D.R. Snell Nursery in Mt. Airy. Unfortunately, their compost, though extremely expensive ($27/yard+delivery), was really not good. It had not fully composted, had huge chunks of cloth, wood, and rocks in it. But most importantly, it's nutrient levels were way off. It is supposed to be manure and leaf litter, but it was very low in nitrogen, and it all but killed off my tomatoes. Everything except cucumbers were a complete failure this year.  I can only hope that next year the ground will be fully composted and ready for seeds.

The other thing we do about this year is plan for our winter meat orders. Chickens are a big one. You can't get pastured chickens locally from about November until around April. So, my group always puts in big orders to freeze through the winter. Unfortunately, this Summer was a kicker for local chicken farmers. Predation took hundreds of birds. Our usual sources, Sattva Place, Akeys Farm, and Jehovah Jirah can not fulfill our usual big order (~20 birds). So, that's incredibly disappointing. If you know another good source in the area, please add it to the comments section. We also buy our turkeys about this time of year, but Copper Penny Farm also suffered huge losses due to heat and predators this Summer. It's unclear whether they will be offering any birds for Thanksgiving. Bummer, man.

My usual source for beef, Ruth Ann's Garden Style Beef, is doing their winter orders earlier this year.  Her pick up will be in November this year, and orders are due very soon. Other farmers may have later order times, but I haven't seen any specifics.

It's apple picking time ! I've been asked by a number of different people about preserving apples recently, specifically about freezing apples. Yes, apples freeze extremely well. I do a few things with them. I'll slice about 6 apples, toss them in sugar (for preservative), and freeze them in a ziploc, removing as much air as I can. This is exactly what you need for an apple pie. You can use the apples frozen, and some people even freeze the apple with the bag sitting in a pie tin so they have the exact shape they need. You can also just dice the apples, skin on or off and freeze them like that. That's great for apple toppings and crumbles. I also make a lot of sauce, but my absolute favorite these days is apple ginger salsa, which freezes fabulously.

I think I got this recipe from last year, but am not sure... in any case, they have one listed there... they call it Fresh Apple Salsa Recipe. Make a bunch. Freeze it in pint or half pint jars. It goes fast.  I like it best with yellow corn tortillas.


  • 2 tart apples, cored and cubed
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1 fresh Anaheim chile, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. In a large bowl, stir together apples and lime juice. Stir in jalapeno and Anaheim chile slices. Stir in onion, cilantro, walnuts, ginger, and salt. Mix thoroughly.
The other thing to do right now is deal with herbs you have in the deck or garden. Most of them can be cut and dried inside - hung in the basement is perfect. Oregano is a perennial. Just cut a bunch of it's stems off, dry them, and ta-da! you have oregano for the winter. Mint is the same. I also usually dig up a bit of mint, pot it, and bring it inside for the winter.  If you have lemon verbena for it's fabulous herbal tea or otherwise, you can actually bring that plant in for the winter. It is a tender perennial, so if you don't, you'll have to buy another next year. Instead, dig it up, shake off all the outside soil. Cut off almost all of the growth - and dry that in your basement for winter tea ! -- so that it doesn't stress out. Re-pot and keep in a sunny location. It will completely regrow during the winter and you can use it fresh. 
I also grew lemon basil this year and didn't use it. So, last week I was contemplating what to do.Turns out, it makes awesome jelly. With about 2-3 cups of lemon basil, you can create a lemon tea, add sugar and pectin. I doubt you need to use a hot bath canning process, but I did. The result is a lemon drop flavored jelly - delicious ! As is always the case with jams/jellies, getting it to set how you want can be tricky. The batch I made this past week set, but is a bit runny. It sorta has a honey texture. In any case, lemon basil jelly on cream cheese and crackers.... yum yum.  I'm certain that lemon verbena would produce a similar tasting jelly.
jellies with cream cheese on crackers - scrumptious!
 While you're  in the mood of topping cream cheese and crackers, might as well make some hot pepper jelly. If you've never had it before and you like hot-sweet combos, you are seriously missing out. This super easy jelly is made with apple cider vinegar, chopped hot peppers, and sugar. A lot of recipes also add sweet red peppers. Last year I made bulgarian carrot pepper jelly -- at it set perfectly. This year it set a bit runny, so you never quite know. There are any number of recipes out there for hot pepper jelly. It's so easy and so acidic (so there's no real risk of getting sick later), I always recommend it for beginner canners. 
 Well, I guess that's enough for now. 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Veggie Gardening - hey, it's progress

Hey, a cucumber and some Thai basil !
My latest, grandest attempt at veggie gardening on our mostly wooded lot hasn't completely failed. Earlier this summer I hauled nearly 9 yards of compost into an old dog run to create a raised garden bed, resistant to deer and not mired in heavy clay. It didn't take long to realize that all of that work was certainly not going to pay off in spades. My plants were quickly yellowing and sad. The potatoes were particularly hard hit. The leaves yellowed and fell off continuously, leaving only a few small emergent leaves grasping at life, in a cycle that lasted for weeks. It became clear that something was afoot with my compost. My expensive compost. My expensive compost that took days to haul from pile to garden bed. This manure-leaf litter mix compost was $27/yard, so you'd expect great things. You certainly wouldn't expect it to stunt your plants. But the problem wasn't obvious. The plants weren't burning, like you always hear about with incomplete compost. They were just plain sad. A soil test eventually revealed that the compost was indeed nitrogen poor, a result, I think, of the incomplete breakdown of the elements.

So, in theory, next year my bed will be fabulous. This year, I was quite hosed. I added nitrogen, but this is a losing battle. The tomato plants responded by shooting up in height - skinny as a rail, but tall - and producing very limited flowers. My tiny tomatoes have produced a handful each, but the heirloom varieties haven't bloomed. Several plants never grew past a foot in height. This leaves me to buy from the market. Tomatoes are an expensive fruit, maybe the most expensive at the rate we can eat them. We'll easily devour a huge Brandywine - sliced and drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper.
this tomato plant is so sadly skinny you can't tell it's 4' tall

I've learnt though that cucumbers are less picky about their environment. In the past, I've successfully grown two cucumbers. Really. Two. But this year, the plants have done very well, or at least, in my perspective, very well. I have three varieties growing - two slicing and one pickling variety - and I've harvested over a dozen. Small cukes cover the vines and they seem to grow at a tremendous rate. The one thing I have found is that they can easily hide in the vegetation, so it's almost like a treasure hunt trying to find them. So, I'm looking at their success as a great step forward.
the cucumbers have been romping

And, even though my veggies haven't been super successful, my flower beds this year are unbelievable. June was a particularly beautiful month, and the Fall bloomers are all setting themselves up for a great show. I have Japanese irises whose greens this year exceed 5', something I've never seen. And my English style, a.k.a. let the plants and the "weeds" fight it out themselves, has given off a crazy array of color. It's always hard to photo the garden, I think, because there always seems to be a lighting issue of some kind, but I've put a bunch of the plant photos on Picasa. The hydrangeas (I have more than 25 bushes) have almost all bloomed and are now changed to their deeper colors. I'm going to add some photos of them and the late bloomers as I can.

If you want to check them out, here they are:  My Garden Photos

On an unrelated note, I have successfully convinced all of my neighbors to move their trash and recycling off of the storm drain. For fourteen years, our trash and recycling collection has been on this concrete pad at the bottom of the driveway. Inevitably every few weeks, trash would litter the entire area for one reason or another. That was bad enough, but one day a few years ago I actually looked at where we put things for collection. I mean, of course, I know where we put stuff, but I never saw that it was the storm drain leading directly into the Patapsco River. Of course, then I immediately noticed that the garbage didn't just litter the common property but tons of bottles and other trash would fall into the drain. There is no filter of any kind between the street and the river. I guess that's so it won't back up.  This spring, I was able to organize our neighbors into a clean up, and they pulled some 13 garbage containers full of trash out of the stream. Perfect timing to propose we move the pick up. Only one neighbor resisted, but now several weeks later our road is no longer polluting that stream on mass. Yay!

Friday, July 22, 2011

SmallTown, Big Market

We were in Kankakee, Il. this past weekend for a wedding, a town I thought I'd never heard of until I was told it was called out in the lyrics of The City of New Orleans. I love that song. No recollection of Kankakee in it, though. In any case, as we hung about Saturday morning, I jumped on the opportunity to join in a trip to the local farmer's market.

The market is actually quite large, particularly for the size of Kankakee - about 25,000 from what I can find. They had great live music and places to sit and eat. There were a variety of vendors from produce to canned goods, bread, and gifts. I am always curious what the most unusual items will be at the markets I visit. In this case, there was a man selling various types of pickled beets. Like all sorts of weird combinations. My husband's cousins (my cousins-in-law?)  bought horseradish beets for their dad.
The market at Kankakee

There was also a really nice cheese stand. All their cheese was from Wisconsin, which is local enough to Illinois in my book. The cool thing, which I guess probably isn't a surprise coming from Wisconsin, is that the cheeses were really artisan varieties. They had nettle cheddar and apricot brie, and a host of other varieties both simple and fancy. It was definitely reminiscent of a European market stand.

great music stand at the market

It's Illinois, so of course there is corn !
And for those twisting their brains to recall those lyrics that Arlo Guthrie (corrected!) made so famous.. they are due to Steve Goodman...

Riding on the City of New Orleans,
Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,
Three conductors and twenty-five sacks of mail.
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields.
Passin' trains that have no names,
Freight yards full of old black men
And the graveyards of the rusted automobiles.

Good morning America how are you?
Don't you know me I'm your native son,
I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans,
I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is done.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Foraging: It's Wineberry Season

This is the first week here of wineberry season -- often referred to locally as wild raspberries. They are indeed a species of raspberry and they grow wild here, even rampant, but they are not native to North America. These berries litter the woods around our property and, if you can tolerate the thorns, reward the picker with a nice tart fresh flavor. In parts of the country they are considered invasive, though I'm not sure if that is true here in Maryland. Originally they were cultivated to use as a hybrid for raspberries, but they got loose. The great thing about them is that they grow in reasonably heavy shade, an attribute not found in many berries. We follow the edge of our yard or trails through the woods to grab whatever we can. Of course, the "best" berries taunt you from canes that are just out of reach. Despite better wisdom, my son and I are always drawn further and further into the brambles reaching for that cluster of perfect berries, inevitably caught by the many thorns and left scratched and battered.

This morning we took a friend out picking and, determined to overcome the thorny branches, we set an early morning meeting time and dressed in long sleeves and long pants. Naturally, we've hit a very humid spell and so we set off around 8am in already oppressive weather. The berries are close to their height now, and the picking is easy. The extra clothes were worth the heat, as we got caught many times, but our arms and legs returned unscathed.
Pick only dark red and plump berries - like the one far right bottom

The best berries are always just out of reach
and between you and the berries are these thorns!

wild blackeberries
Where there are wineberries, there are wild blackberries. Their season is just starting and so you'll only find a few dark black juicy berries on each cane this week. And they'll undoubtedly be very sour. I'm not a big fan of these berries, and I'm particularly not fond of their thorns, which, though fewer in number than those on a wineberry cane, are longer and far more vicious.  But they look tasty.  So when they are there, we pick a few of them too. These are not wild black raspberries, which are, well, raspberries and quite delicious. They are also much rarer to find in my woods; I tend to find them each year more by random than planning.
Nasty blackberry thorns !!

So, how do you use wineberries? Quickly! Wineberries do not last very long at all, and you'll want to do something with them within 24 hours. You'll notice they have a stickiness to them and the flavor is more tart than the cultivated red raspberry. They are great fresh, on cereal for example. I made jam with an early batch this week, which came out ok, but not great. Mixed with the sugar necessary for jam, the wineberry seems to lose its distinct fresh flavor. Today's pick will be macerated (sprinkle with sugar and let sit until the juices are drawn out). Then we'll turn lady finger type cookies (quickly!) in the resulting juice and layer the cookies, crushed berries, and cream cheese into a fast tiramisu-like dessert. Yum, Yum!
Today's harvest - random blackberries included

Traditional tiramisu uses marscapone cheese, which is rather expensive, and requires significantly more work to whip egg whites and fold in the rest of the ingredients. It's fabulous and we make it for special occasions, but for a quick "just us" dessert, we go with the faster, cheaper recipe. Well, it's not so much a recipe because it's modified heavily depending on what we have around. But it is faster and cheaper. The Germans, at least in the South, use whipped cream and something like cream cheese to create these big thick lighter versions of tiramisu. They are just absolutely fabulous. Ours is something in between. If we have whipping cream, we whip that and fold it into cream cheese with a bit of sugar. If we don't, we hand whip the cream cheese to make it a bit lighter, but still dense like the traditional dessert. The main lesson we learned from the Italians was to quickly toss the cookies in the coffee or juice that you are using. The cookie will seem dry, but as it sits in the fridge, it will absorb that liquid and have a lovely cake texture when it is eaten. That soggy gooky tiramisu you often find in restaurants is due to soaking the cookies in liquid, rather than tossing them quickly.  Making the dessert with fruit allows you to eat the great berries that are available all Summer, and you can make this with just about any fruit that will macerate well. 
Toss your berries in sugar and let them sit to extract the juice
These are the cookies we use
Macerated berries

Toss quickly in juice and layer with cheese....

then more cheese and fruit
Layer until you're out of ingredients - rest in fridge 30-60 min
This entry is part of "Feed me tweet me follow me home" blog hop at A Moderate Life !

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Furnace Hills Coffee Storefront and the Great Garlic Pull

That sounds like a great title for a tweener novel. Well, maybe swap out the word "storefront" for something more compelling. And I'd love for it to portend riveting character development and plot twists in what follows, punctuated with juvenile humor, but really, I just have multiple small things to write about and figured I'd slam them all together. But maybe my epic battle with the garlic will hold your attention.

Remember around Christmas time I wrote about two of my favorite local businesses for hot drinks - Sweet Simplici-tea for tea in Sykesville and Furnace Hills Coffee roasters in Westminster for, well, coffee. At the time, Dave Baldwin of Furnace Hills had acquired a storefront to roast and sell coffee from on Westminster's Main Street. For those familiar with the area, you can throw a rock from their place at 71 West Main Street and the Carroll Center for the Arts. It took a bit longer than they hoped, but they have opened for retail sale. Yesterday I had a chance to run by and pick up some freshly roasted Ethiopian Coffee. Dave was out, but I chatted a bit with Erin and took a few photos. The store hours are a bit irregular still, but you can always send them a note via Facebook. They also post there when the store is open later. As I understand, they are generally there on Monday and Wednesday 8-3:30, at a minimum, and they are still at the downtown Westminster Farmer's Market on Saturdays. Furnace Hills is still providing great locally roasted coffee, focused on providing a long-term income for Erin, who lives with Downs Syndrome, at very affordable prices. Here's a few pictures I snapped of the store.
Erin at the store

The new large roaster they have at the storefront

Furnace Hills Coffee at 71 West Main Street, Westminster, MD

After hemming and hawing a bit, or a lot, I finally pulled my garlic this past week. From everything I've read, which is not insignificant, deciding when to harvest garlic is quite an art. You are trying to balance leaving them in the ground to increase the size of the bulbs with pulling them before they've lost the protective outer coatings. There is lots of lore surrounding the perfect time to pull them, mostly having to do with how many leaves are brown, but in the end, nothing is really hard core science. If you yank them early, you get small cloves with too much outer coatings and it reduces the storage capacity of the bulb. If you yank to late, the coatings are gone, the cloves will start pulling away from the bulb, and, no surprise, it reduces the storage capacity of the bulb. So, what to do??! this is my first year with garlic, so what I did was read a lot. The Maryland Cooperative Extension says that most garlic in Maryland should be pulled around July 1st. Garlic is grown generally in more nothern climates, so as you read on the Internet, you'll see that most websites recommend pulling from early July through late August.  The key is the browning foliage.  Because I live in the woods, I'm usually about two weeks behind the neighborhood at the bottom of my hill. Of course, one might reasonably ask why you are growing garlic in the woods in the first place. Well, you certainly can't grow it if you don't try. So, I tried.
I made this!

I tried hardneck garlic, Red Chesnuk variety.  Hardneck garlic produces scapes that you can harvest and use in salads and stir frys while the garlic is maturing. But, it doesn't have anywhere near the storage life of the much smaller-cloved softneck varieties. In my case, the reason I tried this variety was because I ordered so late nothing else was available. Lesson learned. If you want to grow garlic, order early, like now. If you have sun and semi-decent soil, and you like garlic, I highly recommend it. It must have the largest payoff for effort reward of any annual I've grown, and it is quite cost effective.

Here's how it breaks down. A friend and I split a 1 lb order from Big John's Garden - an organic garlic and shallot farm - in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Why him? Well, I had just vacationed last year in that area and it's beautiful and he's organic. That's all. He's got a cool website, lots of variety (now, not in September), and was very responsive. He has these sampler packages, which naturally I missed out, ordering as late as I did. In any case, with shipping our 1 lb of Red Chesnuk was $27. I can't recall exactly if we split this evenly, but in any case, I ended up planting around 40 cloves myself. All you do is split the bulbs into individuals cloves, and put them in the ground a few inches under. Then mulch around them with straw or something. Garlic can not compete with other weeds, so if you don't want to be tied to weeding, you must mulch. One bale of straw will be plenty for Fall and then re-mulching in Spring. Then, no weeding. With the hardnecks, you remove the scapes as they come up in early June. Then you watch your foliage, and when it is 1/3 brown, or 1/2 brown, or when there are 5 brown left, or some other magical formula, you use a garden fork to go underneath the cloves and loosen them from their death grip on the earth. Having done that, you just pull gently, shake off the dirt, and let them dry in the house for about 3 weeks to cure the skins. If you try to pull them directly out of the ground, you'll be very sad. I am quite certain that my sneaky little garlic cloves tried to dig themselves in deeper during the winter... some of them were desperately difficult to get out of the ground.
Straight out of the ground - you can see the brown foliage

Ok, so I shelled out about $13-15.  If you buy organic garlic from the farmer's market, you are going to pay $1-3 per bulb based on size. based on the unrelenting reality that I have little sun exposure, most of my bulbs were pretty small. Still, when I added it up, I harvested about $50 worth of garlic this week. Not bad.  We also harvested my friend's garlic... the same original bulbs... but with a lot more sun...hers were big and plump... and I'd say easily $80-100 worth of garlic. Not bad at all. So, I already have plans to make a raised bed on the property where I have a bit more sun. This year, I want to try a softneck variety and we'll see what happens.
Mine are curing in the basement on paper
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's Berry Pickin' Time Again

With our stores from last year nearly depleted, we headed to Larriland Farm in Woodbine this morning to do a little berry picking. Well, ideally, we would have done a lot of berry picking. The blueberry, raspberry, and sour cherries were all picking "good", according to the farm's website. The weather here for nearly two weeks has been a daily dose of grey punctuated by a little rain and a little thunder. This morning was no different, but we decided to head out anyway. Midweek mornings are certainly the best time to pick at a large pick-your-own place like Larriland.... last Summer we met a friend a few times around noon on a Saturday for picking. Wowza. The only thing you get is a little perspective of the life of an immigrant farm worker. My goal this year is to stick to mornings and whenever I can, midweek.

blueberries look great
The blueberry bushes looked absolutely fabulous, spikes of grey-blue berries filled each bush. Unfortunately, it was deceiving. Many, if not most, of the berries were still a bit underripe. I'd guess in two or three days - like Saturday ! - they'll be fabulous and easy picking. There were lots of ripe berries but separating them from underripe ones by eye or feel is something I find difficult. Luckily, we don't mind a little tang. Still, I picked only 7lbs of blueberries, where I would have gone 15-20lbs if the picking were "excellent". Frustrated, we moved on after time to the black raspberries.

They were, on the other hand, picking "excellent". Black berries hung in huge bunches from every vine in row after row of berries. This leads to an almost impulsive picking frenzy, I think.... you say, I've got plenty, but then, making to leave, you see another beautiful bunch and, naturally, have to take that one too. So, we ended up with nearly 3.5lbs of raspberries, which have a much shorter lifespan than blueberries.

Black raspberries were plentiful and easy to pick
We like picking at Larriland. They have a mob of very courteous high school students working at each station and it's clear that it's a family business. They use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which for the fruit means, there is definitely spraying going on, but hopefully through the expensive consultants they use, the chemical usage is minimized. We'll head back in the next few weeks to get more blueberries and stock up on tart cherries, then we'll go back again at the end of July or early August for peaches. Now that I've kept track of how much we stored and what we consumed (everything), I have a pretty good sense of what we should buy.

Folks picking at Larriland Farms

Larriland Farms

Given the pile of berries I had, I decided to try making some freezer jam this afternoon. Ok, in all honesty, I saw these cool looking freezer jam containers at the store and now I needed to use them. Besides, I was curious how we would like the taste of fresh jam, when we are so used to the cooked fruit jams. Hands down, the freezer jam wins on time. From start to finish, it took me 15 minutes (!!) to make and jar two half-pints of blueberry jam. Another 15 minutes for the black raspberry. And included in that time was running the fruit through the food mill to remove the seeds and skins. So, I actually made black raspberry jelly.  I never make jelly; way too much work. 

In this case, all you do is crush your fruit. I ran through mine a food mill... the blueberry with a large opening to remove the skins and the raspberries with a fine opening to remove seeds. A few minutes later I had the requisite 1-2/3 cups crushed fruit. In a bowl, mix 2/3 cups sugar with 2 Tbsp of instant pectin. Add the fruit and mix by hand for three minutes. Pour into containers. Let set. Ta-da! Jam. It took about 30 minutes for a light set of the jam, and a few hours later, they have a nice thick consistency, better than I tend to get with canning.  You can probably do 4-6 jars at once, but I wanted to check this all out first, so I just did a few. Absolutely fabulous.

blueberries in the food mill

The food mill separates the pulp from the skins
Add the pulp to the sugar and pectin, mix, and you are done !
This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday !