Archive for Food

Fall color: beans.

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All in all, I think we ended up with twelve bean varieties, though some didn’t do so well in the face of marauding deer.

We only grew a bit of each variety, just to see what works best in our garden’s mesoclimate (that’s the boy’s new favorite word, there).

The varieties:
bottom row, left to right
Jacob’s Cattle Beans, Hidatsa Red Beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans, Black Turtle Beans
middle “row”
Ireland Creek Annie Beans, Yellow Indian Woman Beans, Good Mother Stallard Beans
bread pan
October Beans
top row
Marfax Beans, Tiger Eye Beans
not pictured
True Red Cranberry Beans, Fagiolo Rampicante di Spagna a Grano Bianco (fat white italian/spanish runner beans)

So far, my favorites are the Italian white beans (so fat and meaty), the Tiger Eyes (so creamy), and the True Red Cranberries (so incredibly tasty). I have yet to taste them all, though.

The most productive varieties in our Zone 6, deer- and horseweed-challenged, southwest-facing clay were: Good Mother Stallard, October, Cherokee Trail of Tears, and Black Turtle.

Because we didn’t grow too many beans, we shelled them by hand. But that can be tedious. There are many creative ways to thresh beans. The National Gardening Association has some good basic instructions.

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Last bits of summer: plum honey wine.

plumhoneywine.jpgI made a lovely drink on the spur of the moment the other day when it was really hot out.

I took an overripe plum and squished it up in the bottom of a wine glass, then added some of our homemade honey wine and a few crushed mint leaves. It tasted like summer.

Honey wine is incredibly easy to make. Just mix 1 part honey with 3 parts water and let it sit out in a crock for a few days, stirring often. (A towel over the top keeps the critters out.) After it starts to bubble and foam, put it in a jug with an airlock and wait.

You can start tasting it after a month or so. For the first few months, it will still be quite sweet — in the style of T’ej, Ethiopian honey wine. (Honey’s complex sugars take a long time to ferment.) After six months or a year, it will be much dryer, more like a northern European mead.

I like to taste ours as often as possible — the flavors change almost every day. This last batch tasted like everything from apples to chocolate over the course of its fermentation.

(As always, if you’ve never made wine or beer before, it’s good to read up. I suggest Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.)

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Pippin season: hunting wild apples.

wild apples

A pip is a seed, and a pippin is an apple tree grown from a seed.

What’s so special about an apple tree grown from a seed? Well, for one thing, every time an apple seed sprouts and grows a tree, it makes a new apple variety that’s never existed before.* Really. All those Granny Smiths (or Yellow Transparents or Wolf Rivers, etc.) are clones of one original tree, grown from cuttings grafted onto different rootstocks.

So every fall, the boy and I go traipsing around old fields, tasting all the pippins we can find. It’s quite an apple education — every sort of texture and flavor you can imagine. This year, we found an especially good one in the high pasture behind our house. It’s a little green apple with a really bright flavor. To my taste, it was perfect for eating right at the end of August — crisp and tart and just sweet enough (I like my apples on the acid side). This week it’s a lot sweeter, but a little less crisp — it would be perfect for cider. (Now if we can just hunt up a cider press to borrow…)

Good places for pippin hunting:

Old pastures
Old hedgerows
Old housesites
Old farm roads

If you find a pippin you really like, you can take home a cutting and graft it onto another tree. (Call your local apple grower to help, or go to a “fruit school” like this one, held in Asheville last spring.)

* Remember Johnny Appleseed? All those pippins he planted? Most of them wouldn’t have been any good for eating. He was planting them for cider — for hard cider. They left that bit out of the girl scout song!

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Storing herbs: my old canning jar addiction.

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If I try to buy any more old canning jars, the boy is going to have a stroke.

But the thing is, there’s nothing better for storing herbs and dry beans and grains and such. The blue tint keeps some sunlight out, which keeps things fresher for longer (you still don’t want to store them in direct sun), and they’re just so pretty!

Try yard sales or flea markets or auctions in areas where canning hasn’t completely died out. (Southern Appalachia is a paradise for this sort of thing. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.)

(I don’t use the old jars for canning so much because they’re more likely to break, and they often have little chips on their “lips” that would interfere with sealing.)

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Garden impatience: green tomato salsa.

greentomatosalsa.jpg

I like salsa.

I like salsa a lot.

Every year I get impatient, waiting for my tomatoes and peppers to be ripe.

We had our first few ripe hot peppers this week, though our tomatoes are still way green. And I thought, why not green tomato salsa?

Turns out it’s tasty!

Just chop a few green tomatoes and a bunch of onions (I used about a one-to-one mix), add some chopped hot pepper and garlic, maybe cilantro or epazote, a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, salt to taste, and call it salsa!

PS I have my camera talking to my new computer now, so I’ll be posting a bunch of local meals soon…

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One local summer: something tasty to drink wine with.

antipasto.JPG When the boy and I got home last night after a long day of combing the countryside for ruined farmhouses, we weren’t too hungry. We’d had a late lunch, and we were a bit tired for real cooking.

But skipping supper wasn’t an option. We needed to sit around the table and drink wine, and talk, and nibble something tasty.

The perfect solution: antipasto for supper!

This is what we ate (all things that were in the fridge or otherwise easily accessible):

Sourdough English Muffins* made with local wheat from Reed’s Mill over the hill in Second Creek, WV.

Sliced hardboiled eggs (these eggs, of course).

Homemade herbed cottage cheese** made with local raw milk and oregano and thyme from the garden.

Fresh arugula from the garden.

Roasted peppers from last year’s garden.

So very tasty.

(No, the wine wasn’t local. It was Kermit Lynch Vin de Table du Vaucluse. We’re still experimenting with local wine.)

This is my first post for One Local Summer, a local food blogging event hosted this year by Farm to Philly. The deal? I’ll post about one all-local meal every week. Shouldn’t be too hard, since we’re eating mostly local these days anyway.

* English muffins are radically easy to make. Just take any bread dough, make a thin-ish English muffin shape, and either cook it on a hot griddle on top of the stove or bake it in a very hot oven (turning once, to brown both sides). One thing: you need to cook them longer than you think you do — about 10 minutes on each side. Remember, they have to bake all the way through.

** Cottage cheese is as easy as English muffins if you have raw milk. I just let mine stand overnight to clabber, and then strain out the curds.

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This is what a good egg looks like.

goodegg.JPGThis is a good egg. A tasty egg. A nutritious egg.

See how the yolk is practically orange?

That’s because the chicken pecked all around in grass and weeds, eating bugs and plants and whatever it could scratch on 8 acres of pasture down the road at the Greenville Garden.

There’s just no comparing this kind of egg to the pale imitation you get from a confined chicken, even an organic one. You don’t need laboratory tests to tell you that these eggs are miles better. You can see it. You can taste it.

This little egg was destined for rice fritters.

I’m trying to use up last year’s garden vegetables that are still in the freezer. Frozen (thawed) grated zucchini is perfect for rice fritters. (You can also use just about any kind of vegetable leftovers — rice fritters are versatile!)

First, squeeze the water out of the zucchini (save it for soups and rice and such).

Mix the zucchini with rice and enough egg to hold it all together. (You may need to add a little flour if your rice isn’t very sticky.)

Add salt and spices — I like chopped garlic and a bit of hot paprika.

To fry the fritters, get a heavy pan (preferably cast-iron) thoroughly hot over medium heat, and add some oil or fat (I use our home-rendered lard). Spoon the batter into the pan, and wait until the fritters are set before you try to turn them. Cook them until they’re nicely browned on both sides.

I love these fritters with yogurt-garlic sauce. But then, I love just about everything with yogurt-garlic sauce. (Yogurt-garlic sauce is easy: just add chopped or pounded garlic to some yogurt and salt to taste. It’s especially wonderful with goat or sheep yogurt.)

Happy frittering!

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Spring greens: bamboo shoots.

bambooshoots.JPGThis month’s herbal blog party theme is “Spring Greens,” hosted by Darcey.

This spring I happen to be living next to a massive bamboo windbreak. Now, this is not something I would have planted myself — bamboo is overwhelmingly invasive and pretty much impossible to control — but since it’s established here, we’re doing our best to control it by eating the shoots!

These bamboo shoots are not like the ones you find in cans at the store. First of all, they have a lovely fresh, almost pea-like flavor. They’re also hollow in the center — you slice them into pretty little circles.

To harvest fresh bamboo shoots, just break them off at the ground when they’re about a foot tall. Peel off the tough skin, and slice. Most recipes call for soaking overnight or parboiling to remove bitterness and potential toxins, though our bamboo (Phyllostachys aureosulcata) is not bitter at all.

We’ve loved ours in miso soup and in stir-fries, and I’ve been pickling them too.

Yesterday I made a half-gallon of spicy Indian-style bamboo pickle. It’s hot and tart and crunchy — wonderful with flatbread or papadums.

Now, I didn’t really measure anything, but this is the basic gist of what I did:

Harvest, slice, and parboil bamboo shoots. Drain.

Saute a bunch of whole or almost-whole (if they’re big) garlic cloves in a good amount of oil. (Mustard oil is traditional, but you could use a neutral liquid oil like sunflower oil or non-roasted sesame oil if you need to.)

Add a whole lot of hot pepper, a bunch of mustard, some black pepper, a bit of asafoetida, plenty of salt, and other spices to taste. (I used some cinnamon, cumin, and fenugreek.)

Add the bamboo shoots, some sliced lemon, and enough lemon juice to make it nice and sour. (The liquid surrounding the bamboo shoots should be thick, but not too stiff. Cook it down or add more oil, lemon juice, or water if you need to. It should be pretty oily.)

Taste. Adjust the spices and the texture. (Keep in mind that the flavors will mellow as the pickle sits.)

Bottle.

Let it sit at least overnight.

Enjoy!

Tips:

The pickle will keep in the fridge for a long time if you make sure there’s always a film of oil covering the top.

If you want to can your pickle, you should probably use a pressure canner — I’m not sure it’s acidic enough for a water bath.

Next: The nature of bamboo, and a very different pickle.

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Eat your lawn: wild greens salad.

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Why mow it when you can eat it?

Today I wandered around our yard with a basket and came back with a salad.

It had chickweed greens and flowers, dandelion greens, bittercress greens and flowers, creasy greens, violet leaves, and sorrel in it. Chickweed and violet are mild and moist, peppergrass and creasy greens are spicy with a hint of bitterness, dandelion leaves (before the flowers bloom) are pleasantly bitter, and sorrel is distinctly sour.

The boy thought it was too many flavors in one salad, but to me it just tasted like today: riotous spring!

Hint: If you want to encourage more edible (and medicinal) weeds in your yard, dig up a bit here and there. Lots of tasty plants like to grow on disturbed ground.

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