Monday, October 26, 2009

The Harvest Continues...

Last weekend I got to harvest figs and grapes with the Portland Fruit Tree Project. I love picking fruit, obviously, and I love having fruit to cook with, but the other best part of the PFTP is having friends come to harvest parties with me so we can hang out and talk all morning while up a 15-foot orchard ladder picking figs or craning our necks and having grapes rain down all over us.

I made the best thing I've ever made with figs: Honey-Lemon-Fig Marmalade. It's a beautiful rosy color because I used black figs with red insides, and the lemon gives it a much needed tart and bitter counterpoint to the intense sweetness of the figs and honey. I can't wait to serve it at holiday parties with cream cheese and crackers.

I started with a recipe from, but made some changes based on how many figs I had and my own taste.

3 cups fresh figs (stems and a slice off the bottom removed), mashed into the measuring cups
1 1/2 cups mild honey
1 whole Meyer lemon plus juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon
1 bay leaf

Chop figs or break them up with your hands until there are no pieces left that are bigger than a chunk you'd like to find in your jam (for me, this is about 1/2 inch pieces). Put the figs in a wide, non-reactive pot, and add the honey. Finely chop one whole Meyer lemon, including rind, and pick out the seeds. Add the lemon (but not the seeds) to the pot with the figs, along with the juice of an additional 1/2 lemon and the bay leaf.

Bring jam to a boil, then cook over low heat until thick and jamlike and reduced in volume by about half, stirring occasionally. This took me about 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, fill up your canning pot with water and bring it to a boil and sterilize six 4-oz canning jars (this jam is intense, so I think the small jars are a good idea). I'm assuming that you know how to can or can look up the procedure on one of the many extension service sites, so I'll just say, once your jam is done, take out the bay leaf, ladle the jam into the jars with 1/4 inch headroom and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. For me, this recipe made six 4-ounce jars with a little left over to spread on toasted baguette slices with cream cheese.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tomato Marmalade and Apple Butter Angst

For the past few days I've been thinking about a bizarre recipe I found in an old Gourmet magazine...Tomato Marmalade. Yes, it's sweet. And yes, it's made with regular red tomatoes. Gross? But the person who sent in the recipe called it "superb"! So I made five jars. Here's the recipe I used, modified just a bit from the original (which was served to Calvin Coolidge while he was in the White House!):

2 pounds red tomatoes, peeled and sliced
3 cups sugar
1 juice orange, quartered, seeded, and very thinly sliced
1 tangelo (or another orange), quartered, seeded, and very thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, halved, seeded, and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon whole cloves

Place a small plate in the freezer. Wrap the cloves in a small piece of cheesecloth and tie up the bundle with cotton string. Combine all ingredients except cloves in a large pot and cook over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved. Add cloves and turn heat down to a simmer; simmer the mixture for about 30 more minutes, or until it's thickened. (To test, pull the plate out of the freezer and put a small dollop of marmalade on it. Put it back in the freezer for one minute. Get the plate back out and tip the plate to see if the marmalade runs. If it pretty much holds its shape and seems jamlike, it's done.) If marmalade isn't thick enough after 30 minutes, let it cook another ten minutes and test again.

Meanwhile, put your canning pot full of water on the stove and let it heat up to boiling. Wash 5 half-pint canning jars in hot soapy water and rinse them. Put the lids and rims of your canning jars in a small pot of water and heat to just below boiling; keep lids simmering until you're ready to use them.

Use a wide-mouth canning funnel to transfer the hot marmalade to 4 or 5 of your clean half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch of headspace. Wipe jar rims with a clean damp cloth; put on lids and tighten rings finger-tight. Process jars immediately in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes. Let cool undisturbed for 24 hours; check seals. Store those with good seals in the cupboard; if any jars didn't seal well put them in the fridge to eat right away.

It's giveaway time for all the produce that's left now that harvest season is addition to the mountain of green tomatoes that I turned into green tomato chutney yesterday, I have quite a few apples and pears that I got on a brilliant trip to Hood River last weekend.

My friend Kelly took me to her friend's beautiful little farm where we squeezed cider, took pictures of maple leaves, jumped on a trampoline, and ate way too many caramel brownies. At the end, we each got to bring home 7 half-gallons of cider (!) and as many apples and pears as we could carry. It was so much fun. One day Kelly will have a farm just like that one and I'll just go to her house for the annual cider squeeze.

I've been making apple butter for the past...five years? A long time! And I think my apple butter is the best I've ever tried (no offense, everyone else). I don't like cinnamon much, so I go easy on the spices, and I have cut the sugar back more each year so now I use 1 cup sugar for 7 cups apples. My recipe has a little apple cider vinegar in it too, which I think balances the sweetness well. But no one in my family will eat apple butter! They won't even try it. This year I was getting all sulky about the fact that not one of my family members would appreciate a jar of apple butter under the Christmas tree and had decided not to make any. But them my girlfriend's mom asked me if I was making more, and so did Kelly, and so did my friend Rob...all unprompted. So I guess SOMEONE will appreciate a gift of apple butter! I made another five jars tonight.

I did try the chestnuts...soaking them overnight was a good idea, because it made the shells easier to cut. However, I still almost got a blister on my thumb from cutting slits in the shells of about 60 nuts. Not much fun. I boiled half and roasted the other half. The boiled ones were softer and somewhat easier to peel, but I couldn't really get the inner skins off of any of them without crumbling the nut meats! After all that, I started feeling sour grapes-y about the whole thing. Chestnuts have a weird sweetness that I don't love. After eating all the broken nuts, I think I've had my fill for the year. Next time I will serve hot roasted nuts and make my guests do the peeling themselves!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What It's Like To Be Me

I was walking down the street this afternoon noticing edible plants the way I usually do, and I started thinking about my stream of thoughts and how funny they would seem to most people.

"Hey, which way do I turn to walk past that chestnut tree? Those people's tomatoes are still looking good. Ooh, lots of chestnuts today, must be because of the wind! Look at those bright red apples up in the top of that tree, I wonder what kind they are? Is that mint? How is so much mint managing to grow out of cracks in the sidewalk?! I guess I'd better take some home. Is it too cold to make salad rolls tonight? Well, there's always mint tea..."

And that was a typical one minute in the life of my hunter-gatherer brain.

That's also how I always end up coming home with some weird edible things poking out of my pockets and rattling around in my school bag. Here's a picture of just some of the things I've brought home in the past 24 hours:

I admit that the parsley is from my own garden and the crazy corn was picked up from my CSA farm, but the rest was authentically gathered off the sidewalk, and there were also a bunch of apples and tomatoes and shelling beans that didn't make it into the pictures.

Who knows what to do with chestnuts? I keep picking them up, and I now have at least three pounds of them, but I've never been all that successful at cooking them. I'd appreciate advice! Aren't they beautiful though? Here's a picture of the chestnuts at the farmer's market today:

I'm going to try soaking them overnight, then roasting some and boiling some others to see which one tastes better. If only I had some sort of open fire...

Monday, October 5, 2009


Lately I've been having a problem with getting preserving projects completed. For example, I started making tomato sauce on Friday night. I ended up getting distracted and sticking the half-cooked tomatoes in the fridge for two days. Yesterday morning I used my food mill to get the seeds and skins out, then accidentally left the strained tomatoes simmering on the stove while I went grocery shopping for an hour and a half! Luckily when I got back home, the house was not on fire, and even more luckily, the tomato sauce was nicely thickened but not burned at all. It's now in my freezer.

Another half-finished project was yesterday's big batch of applesauce. Twelve cups of peeled, cored, and chopped apples spent the day bathing in a hot crock pot with just a hint of honey, but then I ran out of time. I utterly failed to put the applesauce through a food mill, put it in hot sterilized jars, and process the filled jars in a boiling water canner. Instead, there are far too many unsterilized and unsealed jars of applesauce in my fridge to be eaten in a week.

And even more disappointing: the five quarts of grape juice that I made this morning tastes like metal! How could my stainless steel pot do this to me? I transferred it to glass jars, but I think it's too late to undo the damage.

And to top it off...Gourmet Magazine is no more! And it is my favorite food magazine, the one I have a subscription too. Apparently, according to NPR, Bon Appetit is Gourmet's hip younger sibling, but I don't agree. I think it's tacky and shallow compared to Gourmet!

Here is one thing that went right though: my dinner on Sunday. I think the fact that other people did a lot of the cooking helped. Ann and Kelly made incredible fried green tomatoes with their own tomatoes, panko, and a gorgeous dark-brown egg from their Cuckoo Maran chicken. Martin busted out the juicer and turned an entire paper shopping bag full of free apples into apple cider. Theresa baked a pumpkin pie with the picture-perfect Long Island Cheese pumpkin that we'd been using as a centerpiece (served with cinnamon-maple whipped cream and honey ice cream). And I made a big salad and two pizzas, one with pesto, pears, beets, and walnuts; one with mozzarella, homemade tomato sauce, summer squash, red peppers, and onions.

I highly recommend tomato-on-tomato action--ketchup on fried green tomatoes is a winner. We also got the notion that crisp, crumb-coated fried green tomatoes would make a good veggie burger substitute, in a bun with burger toppings!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall Fell

This afternoon I tried to go to the Eastbank Farmer's Market and it wasn't there! I can't believe that the season is already over. There are so many things still being harvested! Tomatoes and eggplants, winter squash, walnuts, mushrooms, grapes, apples, pears...and I was hoping for one last week of peaches. Did I tell you about the black peach that I got last week at the People's farmer's market? From the woman who has the unusual apples and also crazy things like medlars. I had never heard of black peaches, but she said that they are grown in France in the vineyards, as a sort of canary in the coal mine--when the peach tree starts showing signs of a disease, the grape farmer sprays the grapes. Anyway, my peche de vigne was delicious and beautiful, like the peach equivalent of a blood orange, with intensely wine-colored and flavorful flesh. I'm going to plant the seed and see if it grows.

My CSA has tomatoes aplenty and I'm making lots of sauce and dried tomatoes. It's almost time for green tomato chutney too...I can't accept that it's time to pull out the tomato plants already, but it's time to plant garlic, so the tomatoes have to go.

Is everyone else obsessed with chanterelles right now too? I modified a recipe from Gourmet for shrimp and "pearls" by substituting chanterelles for the shrimp and it was amazing. (I also tripled the recipe, added some onion and garlic, and left out the sugar and tarragon.) I also made some outstanding roasted potatoes and roasted chanterelles with a little bit of parsley vinaigrette. And corn-chanterelle chowder a few weeks back. And tonight I had pasta with chanterelles, fresh chopped heirloom tomatoes, garlic chives, and basil. They're so cheap at New Seasons right now, only $7.99 a pound! You have to get some.

The other thing it's time for is winter crafts. Today I did a little sewing and a little knitting, getting warmed up for long winter nights spent under a blanket on the couch with just my hands sticking out, knitting away.