One of the pleasures of weeding over the weekend: the flowers of Cherokee Trail of Tears black shell beans.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Dozens of small, shrubby autumn olive trees are speckled across our five acres of river bottom land. Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is an invasive exotic. . .and an abundant, nutritious, wild fruit. Of all of the invasive species I've encountered, autumn olive is the hardest to hate.
Autumn olives are one of the first trees to leaf out here on our land, and one of the earliest plants to flower. Their silvery green leaves are beautiful, and their tiny yellow flowers are heavy with a sweet scent that makes me feel drunk with Spring. Honeybees and other pollinators love the flowers, which provide an early spring meal for many beneficial insects. Then, around the time that blackberries start to ripen, the trees bear fruit. Autumn olive trees in fruit are covered with tiny red berries, packed with fruit, bursting with fruit. The berries are pearly, almost opalescent in some light, and flecked in such a way that they almost seem to be dusted with glitter. Autumn olives are magical. A hard plant to hate.
Need more evidence? Autumn olive trees are nitrogen fixers. At Sugar Creek Farm, where we took a class last spring, farmer Joe Allawos has experimented with the benefits of the nitrogen fixing capacity of autumn olive trees by planting fruit and nut trees next to autumn olive trees, and at the same time planting the same variety of tree in a spot away from any autumn olive trees. The trees planted next to the autumn olives grew much faster and when we saw them were about 50% larger than the ones planted away from the autumn olives. Autumn olive trees planted or allowed to grow in a garden or orchard will accumulate nitrogen around their roots, which is then available as on-the-spot fertilizer for other nearby plants.
Finally, there is the nutritional value of the fruit: autumn olive berries contain vitamins A, C, E, essential fatty acids, flavanoids, and carotenoids. They are especially chock full of the antioxidant carotenoid lycopen, which is considered a powerful fighter of cancer and heart disease. Tomatoes, which are the most common source of lycopene, contain a fraction of the lycopene found in autumn olives. One study by the USDA's Agricultural Research Service showed that autumn olives can contain 17 times as much lycopene as a fresh tomato.
So there it is. Beautiful. Nitrogen fixing. Nutritious. And invasive.
We have cut dozens of autumn olive trees in clearing space for gardens, but we've left a smattering growing for the time being, and we harvest as much of the fruit as we can. The taste of the fruit is a tart burst of summer--I can stand at an autumn olive tree for a good long time picking and eating on a summer afternoon.
I can never eat an autumn olive without thinking of my friend Holly, who introduced me to autumn olives on a hike in the woods almost ten years ago now, when she was six years old. She knew far more about wild foods than I did, having spent a lot of time in the woods with her knowledgeable parents, and I am always thankful to her for helping me begin to appreciate the food that is available all around us for free!
All of this said, I feel compelled to offer at least a couple of links to information about the noxious, invasive nature of Elaeagnus umbellata, so here they are:
- Nature Conservancy article on Autumn Olive (this article is written with a specific focus on autumn olive in one state, Indiana, but is more widely applicable, and is a good summary).
What To Do With Autumn Olive Fruit
As long as these beautiful and edible invasives pepper our landscape, we might as well enjoy their delicious fruit.
We knew we wanted to try a batch of autumn olive mead, which we did (more on that below), but I took to the internet in search of other interesting things to do with autumn olives, since we have so many and they are so yummy.
Here's a blog with all kinds of autumn olive recipes, including a delicious-looking jam that I intend to try later this month: Dreams and Bones.
I also discovered on one of my perennial favorite blogs, Fast Grow the Weeds, a post with a recipe for an autumn olive chutney that looks divine. There will definitely be some chutney happening in my kitchen later this week -- thanks El!
In the meantime, here is the recipe for the mead we made last evening, which smells outlandishly delicious already and is a gorgeous deep, purple red color as it begins its fermentation.
Autumn Olive Mead
In the meantime, here is the recipe for the mead we made last evening, which smells outlandishly delicious already and is a gorgeous deep, purple red color as it begins its fermentation.
Autumn Olive Mead
- 1.5 gallons autumn olives
- 1 gallon of honey
- Water as needed
- 6 gallon carboy (glass jug for fermenting)
- Airlock (see photo)
- Wash and mash the autumn olives. Use your hands and create a nice, mushy, juicy slurry!
- Heat a large pot of water and dissolve the honey in it.
- Add water to the fruit slurry to make it easier to pour. Combine the honey water and fruit slurry in the carboy and add water to fill the carboy up to its shoulders.
- Cap with an airlock and wait!
- The mixture should start to bubble and continue for several weeks. If the mead is not bubbling, or develops mold, you can add storebought yeast for winemaking (champagne yeast is good). If you're lucky, the wild yeast that is present on the skin of the fruit will suffice.
- After the bubbling stops, siphon off the liquid into another carboy and compost the fruit dregs. Allow to ferment again until there is no more bubbling; transfer to bottles and enjoy right away as "young" mead or age for a mellower flavor.
Below: mashing the fruit to create a slurry. . .
. . . and the mead ready for fermentation!
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Garlic was the first food crop that we planted here on our land. We planted garlic before we had even a temporary place to live here, and it is without question the backbone of our kitchen and garden.
We harvested over 1,400 heads of garlic this year. We grew 13 heirloom varieties with a range of subtle taste differences and growth habits, planted in the fall for a mid-June to early July harvest.
We started out with seed garlic from Filaree Farm and have been saving garlic for seed from varieties that we like and that do well here, gradually selecting to create strains more and more well-suited to growing in this particular spot as we continue to save seed over the years.
Much of this year's garlic bounty will be saved for next year's seed; some will be sold to local restaurants; some will be sold, traded, or given to friends and family; and a large amount will be eaten right here in our home.
Christopher cured all of the garlic that we grew by hanging it to dry under a porch roof for 2-4 weeks (the time varies based on variety of garlic and weather conditions). He's recently been spending evenings processing cured garlic, cutting off tops and roots and sorting for storage, seed, and sale.
Curing garlic by drying it immediately after harvesting yields the dry heads of garlic that are the way most of us buy garlic at the grocery store. The majority of our garlic will be stored that way. Stored in a cool place with low humidity and good air flow, dried heads of garlic can keep for up to six months, depending on the variety of garlic. But we found this year that there comes a point in when the dry garlic from summer's harvest, even stored under the best conditions, has reached its maximum shelf life.
Plus, some of the garlic that we harvested is not pretty or perfect enough for selling, saving for seed, or storing whole. Particularly if the heads are not tight or the cloves are starting to separate or there is any sort of damage to the skin, garlic will be less likely to hold up in storage.
So we are finding ways to preserve garlic for use in our kitchen throughout the year. Pickling is an easy and tasty way to eat homegrown garlic year-round. And besides: pickled garlic just plain tastes good.
So here are two super-delicious ways to enjoy pickled garlic.
These two preparations have a different enough taste from one another that they are both worth trying, especially if you have an enormous amount of garlic to preserve, as we do.
Pickled garlic is great as a substitute for fresh garlic in prepared dishes (though it adds a totally different flavor) but my favorite way to eat it to pop a whole crunchy, sour clove in my mouth...mmm!
The old fashioned brine-pickled way
(modified from Sandor Katz's Wild Fermentation)
- 2-4 cup garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup salt dissolved in 1 quart of water
- 1 Tbs. black peppercorns
- 1 gallon ceramic crock
- Small plate that just fits inside the crock
- Peel the garlic and rinse.
- Sprinkle the bottom of the crock with the peppercorns, and fill with garlic cloves.
- Make the brine by combining 3/8 cup salt with 1 quart of water, and pour the brine into the crock over the cloves, making sure the garlic is submerged.
- Place the plate on top of the top layer of garlic and weigh down with something heavy (I use a clean mason jar full of water). Make sure you don't have any floaters.
- Cover with a cloth and allow to ferment for as long as you like. I recommend at least a month.
The newfangled vinegar/heat-processed way
(modified from a recipe found in the Rodale Food Center's book Preserving Summer's Bounty)
- 2 cup garlic cloves
- 3 cups apple cider vinegar
- 4 Tbs pickling spices (make your own blend or buy it pre-mixed)
- 4 pint jars with self-sealing lids
- Canning pot big enough to fully submerge filled jars
- Peel the garlic and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain.
- In an enamel or stainless steal saucepan, bring the vinegar and pickling spices to a boil.
- Pack the cloves into sterilized jars.
- Pour the hot liquid over the cloves, leaving 1/2 inch of headroom.
- Seal and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Jars stored in a cool place out of direct light should keep for months or even years, and can be cracked open for garlicky goodness at any time. After opening a jar, you should refrigerate it-- that is, if there are any cloves left after you chow down on the crunchy sour taste explosion of pickled garlic!
For more info on growing garlic:
Friday, July 17, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Brine pickled garlic scapes dry-packed (left); in their own cloudy, probiotic brine (center); and in a 4-to-1 solution of apple cider vinegar and water (right)
Back when the garlic scapes were coming in hot and heavy, I wrote about what to do with savory, serpentine scapes. For the uninitiated: the scape is the flowering stalk of hardneck garlic plants, and is best harvested early to allow the garlic plant to put more energy into producing a fat bulb.
Happily, scapes taste fabulous, too!
This spring I experimented with a number of ways to use scapes, including making garlic scape pesto and risotto (see my earlier post here).
I was especially interested to find ways to preserve scapes so as to spread their garlicky goodness throughout the year. Pesto turned out to be one good preservation strategy; brine pickling is another.
Garlic scapes ready for pickling in a 1-gallon ceramic crock
Brine pickling is an ancient, low-tech preservation technique that uses no electricity and very minimal equipment and ingredients. You can read more about brining in earlier posts here and here and also at Sandor Katz's website, wildfermentation.com.
The science behind brine pickling is simple. Brine is salty water. Salt inhibits certain bacteria, and allows for the proliferation of others, namely: lactobacilli, the famous "probiotic" beneficial bacteria. Most vegetables are hosts to naturally occurring lactobacilli, which will thrive and multiply in the right environment. It turns out that the right environment is brine. Submerged in salty water, many vegetables will "sour" or ferment in a way that is both delicious and good-for-you. The lactobacilli create lactic acid, which is responsible for the sour taste of fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso. And as an extra bonus, lactic acid prevents "bad" bacterial growth by maintaining an acidic environment as the pickles pickle.
Salting and fermenting used to be what "pickling" meant - preserving food in vinegar with heat (canning) is a much more recent food preservation technique. While I do some canning, I am much more partial to low-tech, probiotic methods of preservation which instead of killing living organisms in the food, work with the microbes to create sour, salty delights. I love the simplicity of fermentation, and the way that it works with natural systems of life that are usually invisible to us.
Of course preserving without heat uses no electricity, too, which makes it more environmentally-friendly than heat processing food. Local brine pickled scapes have a very small "foodprint."
Above: all the ingredients and equipment needed to make brine pickled garlic scapes:
Just add water and: Viola!
I made my pickled garlic scapes like a simple sauerkraut: I layered chopped scapes with salt. After each inch-or-so layer of scapes, I sprinkled on a tablespoon or so of good salt, pounding with a potato masher to incorporate the salt and release the juices of the scapes. After the last layer of scapes, I poured lightly salted water over the whole thing. You can use this process to pickle a wide variety of vegetables.
For brining, I use ceramic pickling crocks and keep everything submerged by placing a plate on top of the top layer with a weight on top of the plate (I use a mason jar filled with water as a weight).
I let the scapes ferment, covered with a cloth, on the counter for between 5 and 6 weeks. You should check the pickles every so often and skim off any mold that may develop on top, and press down the weight (jar) whenever you think of it. A variety of factors can affect how flavor develops, so I recommend tasting your pickles every so often to see how they are progressing, and "harvesting" them when they good to you.
After the pickles reach your desired sourness, you can either debrine them (if they taste to salty for you) by soaking in cold water and draining, or you can just pack them in jars straight from the crock if you like the saltiness.
I packed the scapes without debrining. Some I packed in their own brine and others in a 4-to-1 water and apple cider vinegar mix. It's important to cover the pickles if you're going to keep them for any length of time, either with brine or a vinegar solution, to maintain an acidic environment.
The pickled scapes turned out fabulously: salty, sour, garlicky, and delicious!
Monday, July 13, 2009
Image by Jorge Arrieta
Over the summer, we get a large quantity of fresh raw milk on a regular basis. While the raw milk abundance is completely awesome, it can be hard to keep up with such a high-volume, ongoing milk influx.
We have just begun to scratch the surface of cheese-making in the past few years, and continue gradually to expand our cheese repertoire, but in the meantime, highly perishable raw milk tends to crowd our small fridge in the summer, and I am always in search of quick, spontaneous ways to make use of milk at various stages of souring.
Fortunately, making food with slightly fermented milk is an ancient tradition, and there are some delightful ways to make use of soured milk.
Here's my favorite way to enjoy sour milk so far:
Fluffy Sour Milk Pancakes
I can't describe how delicious and addictive these pancakes are. I think I ate them for 3 meals in a row in one recent 24-hour period. Mmmmmm.
- 2 cups of flour
- 1 Tbs. butter, melted
- 2 cups sour milk
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbs. sugar
Simple ingredients + sour milk = super-delightful pancakes.
- Mix dry ingredients in a bowl (sift if you want to - I don't sift because I am a lazy cook).
- Beat the egg well. Add the beaten egg, along with the milk and butter, to the dry ingredients.
- Let sit for at least a half hour and up to a day. I discovered by accident that if you ferment the batter overnight after mixing it up, you will have significantly fluffier pancakes. If you are going to let the batter sit for more than an hour or so, put it in the fridge in a loosely covered, non-plastic container with plenty of "headroom" for the batter to rise. It only took one explosion in our refrigerator to learn the importance of leaving room for expansion inside the container when you store the batter -- it's alive!
- After the batter has had a chance to rise for an hour or a day, spoon onto a hot, buttered cast iron griddle or skillet.
- Cook until browned on both sides.
- Serve hot. I like these best topped just with butter and honey, but you can of course top them with any favorite pancake topping. . .maple syrup, jam or apple butter, yogurt, or fresh fruit. They are also good with fresh ricotta cheese. Yum!
Raw milk sours well, and ours is usually sour within 4 or 5 days in the fridge. Pasteurized milk probably would not sour enough to work for this or other recipes calling for sour milk.
There are various instructions available online for faking sour milk by combining pasteurized milk and lemon juice or vinegar. Faked sour milk, however, would contain none of the beneficial bacteria of fermented milk, and I doubt it would taste as good. It definitely would not add the fluff/heft to the pancakes that comes from bubbly, fermenting sour milk.
Notes on raw milk and commercial dairy:
More on the movement to expand food choices to include legal access to raw milk can be found
on the Farm to Consumer Foundation's website, including information on how to start a cow share.
In stark contrast to raw milk from grass-fed cows living on small local farms, most commercial dairy in the US is produced in big CAFOs -- factory farms that waste resources, confine animals in cruel conditions, and pump dairy cows massive doses of hormones and antibiotics. Raw milk tends to be sold by small operations directly to the consumer. This means that the milk-drinker has a chance to see the cow and the milking operation firsthand. I'll take raw, local milk from a cow I've met over ultra-pasteurized CAFO milk any day!
Monday, July 6, 2009
Collard greens and dill picked this morning for fermenting.
Wanting to eat homegrown food year-round; loving simple, low-tech ways of doing things; nerding out on food traditions; and prefering to eat food without zapping the nutrients -- for all of these reasons, fermenting things in the summertime has become a big part of my gardening and cooking life.
There's almost always something fermenting in our kitchen. For the past six weeks or so, I've had a 1-gallon crock of garlic scapes pickling in brine on the countertop, and today I started another ferment: the first kraut of the year.
We finally polished off the last of last summer's sauerkraut a couple of months ago, and my mouth has been watering for that sour, salty taste ever since. Our cabbage is not ready to harvest yet, so I am trying to satisfy my craving with an experimental collard kraut.
Though I have attempted fermentation of dozens of other vegetables and fruits over the years, I've never tried collards, strangely. They are such a close cousin of cabbage, the traditional sauerkraut stalwart, that it seems likely that collard greens will make a lovely kraut. I love the spicy crunch of radishes in kraut, and we have a superabundance of radishes and more coming on all the time in the garden, so they were a natural addition.
Radishes on their way to the fermenting crock.
Dilly Collard and Radish Kraut
- 1- or 2- Gallon ceramic pickling crock
- Glass or ceramic plate that fits inside the crock
- Clean mason jar filled with water and screwed shut
- A hefty bunch of collards - I used about a pound
- Radishes to taste - I used mostly daikon, but any kind will do
- 1 large onion
- Fresh dill to taste - I like to use lots of dill flower heads
- A handful of whole peppercorns
- Salt water (1 Tbs salt per 2 cups water)
- Line the bottom of the crock with dill flower heads. Sprinkle in a Tbs. or so of salt and some peppercorns.
- Slice collards into very thin strips and cut radishes into paper-thin rounds. Slice the onion in half and then slice into super-thin slices.
- Fill the crock, alternating layers of collards, radishes, onions, and dill. Start with a layer of collards 2 inches deep or so, sprinkle on a Tbs. of salt and a few peppercorns, and pound with a potato masher. Then layer on radishes and dill, and another layer of collards.
- After each layer of collards, add a Tbs. of salt and pound. The pounding helps release the juices of the greens and gets the fermenting process started.
- Once you've used up all of your ingredients, cover with salt water and press the plate down on top of the last layer. Everything should be submerged. Use the jar of water to weigh down the plate, cover with a cloth tied or rubber-banded around the crock to keep out bugs, and let sit.
- Check every day or so, pressing down the jar.
- After 3 weeks or so, the kraut should be sour, juicy, and ready to eat. Taste it and see. You may want to scoop some out to eat at that point and leave the rest to ferment longer. Traditional krauts sometimes are allowed to ferment for months, getting stronger and stronger tasting and more and more full of beneficial probiotics. Ferment as long as you like, and enjoy!
A fat & juicy fresh onion, which will taste nice and sour after a few weeks in the crock.
Friday, July 3, 2009
A freshly robbed potato
We've finally started "robbing" new potatoes from the potato patch--hurrah! Robbing is a thrilling process of rooting around with your hands in the potato beds until you feel . . . Viola! A potato! It's a treasure hunt with a delicious, nutritious reward.
Once you find the potato, slip your fingers around it and gently extract it without harming the roots and stems, leaving the potato plant to grow and thrive and produce loads more potatoes throughout the summer and into the fall. Robbed new potatoes seem like a bonus prize, a little special extra treat.
This morning, I robbed several overflowing handfuls of Yukon Gold potatoes from our potato hills.
New potatoes, leeks, and collard greens.
We happen to have a large quantity of raw cow's milk from next door to use up before it goes bad, and leeks and celery ready to harvest in the garden, so a creamy potato soup was clearly in order.
I sometimes like to add sturdy greens of some sort (collards, kale, cabbage) to potato soup, but not too much as to overwhelm things. And there were collards galore in the garden, so a soup was born:
Creamy soup with New Potatoes, Leeks, Collards, and Celery
- 8-12 new potatoes
- 3-4 leeks
- A small bunch of collard greens, cut into very thin strips
- A handful of celery stalks of any size (we're growing a gorgeous heirloom red stalk celery that can be harvested at any stage by the stalk), sliced thinly
- Fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- 3-4 cups of milk (raw if possible!)
- 3-5 Tbs. butter
- Salt and pepper
- A generous handful of fresh dill leaves
- Cut potatoes and leeks into bite-sized pieces.
- Saute leeks in a generous amount of butter in a heavy soup pot. Add salt.
- When leeks are soft, add potatoes and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir, cover and cook, adding water as necessary.
- Add collards and celery. Add a little water to keep things juicy. Continue to cook, stirring.
- Add water and cook on medium heat until everything is nice and soft.
- About 5 minutes before serving, add parsley and continue cooking.
- Turn off the heat, stir in the milk, and cover.
- Tear up a bunch of fresh dill, sprinkle in, and stir. Mash everything up a little bit with the back of a ladle if you want the soup to have a creamier texture.
- Let sit for a minute or two to cool and for all the flavors to meld. Add more salt to taste. Serve!
. . .
We had the soup with a salad fresh from the garden -- lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, and edible flowers and a garlickey dressing from our own garlic. Every ingredient was from the garden, with the exception of the milk, which was from the cow next door, and the salt, pepper, and butter, which, along with the oil and vinegar in the salad dressing, were from somewhere far away.