Friday, August 22, 2008

Summer Bounty recipes

Here are three summertime recipes we've been eating recently.

A cold soup; a Jewish specialty often made with sorrel. Makes 4 servings.

1 smallish potato, sliced thin, peeled if skin is heavy
3 cups water
3/4 tsp salt
1 pound finely chopped washed greens
2 beaten eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 sliced scallions or equivalent in fresh onion tops or chives
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the potato in the water with salt until tender. Wash your greens. You can use all spinach, half spinach and half dandelion greens (I used the big farmed ones), half dandelion greens and half chard (not using the stems), or your choice, but they should be soft greens that cook quickly. If you have sorrel for part or all of the greens, you'll need less lemon juice. Since the eggs are only lightly cooked with the hot water, use the best quality fresh eggs you can.

Chop the greens finely. Put in skillet with just the water they still have on them, and stir over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the color brightens. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a whisk, then beat in the hot potato water. Add the potato bits, the hot cooked greens, and the scallions. Mix well. Finally add 1/4 cup lemon juice. Add salt to taste and freshly ground pepper. Chill the soup for several hours. It is served cold.

Summer's Bounty Stew
You COULD use
ingredients from somewhere else, especially if you live in another state. Quickly cooked summer meal. This amount serves 2 adults.

1 tbs sunflower or olive oil, or home-rendered lard
1 Colorado fresh spring onion, red or white, green part sliced, bulb chopped
1 Colorado garlic clove, peeled and sliced
1/2 lb Colorado ground bison
1 Colorado yellow crookneck squash
1 1/2 large or 2 medium Colorado tomatoes, stem end cut out and chopped but not peeled
1/2 cup chopped Colorado flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herbs, or use your choice of fresh herbs
3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas, or chopped fresh Colorado snap peas
freshly ground pepper, salt to taste

Spring onions are fresh medium-sized onions with their tops; only available in midsummer, fresh and delicious. Must be stored in frig.

Saute garlic and chopped onion in the cooking oil, then add the ground bison and stir to brown. After it loses its red color, add the squash, parsley, and herbs, stir a few more minutes, then stir in the chopped tomatoes. Allow to simmer covered a few minutes, then add the peas (if you use fresh shelled peas, add WITH the tomatoes). Let simmer a few more minutes, covered, until the peas are done. Sprinkle with pepper and salt to taste. Serve. You could put it over pasta if you like, but we like it plain as a stew.

Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
"Tastes like Italy", my husband said. The Italians insist upon fresh food, freshly cooked, letting the quality of the ingredients make the flavor of the dish.

3 large local tomatoes, stem end removed, chopped smallish
2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves peeled sliced garlic
fresh herbs to your taste: thyme, marjoram, oregano, flat-leaf parsley, rosemary, basil, etc.
salt and pepper to taste
Spaghetti, regular or gluten-free
Fresh mozzarella cheese (ours is from Windsor Dairy)

Start boiling water for pasta.
In 1 tbs olive oil, saute one of the chopped tomatoes for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Put into blender and quickly puree.

Start the pasta cooking.
Wipe out skillet, start again with another tbs olive oil, the other two tomatoes, and the fresh herbs. Saute over medium heat as the pasta cooks. The tomatoes should not lose their essential character. After they have sauteed for 5 minutes or so, stir in the puree. Check the seasoning.

Pour sauce over freshly cooked pasta, decorate with small thin slices of fresh mozzarella. Ciao!

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Chokecherry Adventure

This has not been a good fruit year for Northern Colorado, and for our yard in particular. Last year we were up to our ears in Siberian peaches, plums of several kinds, and apples. My fruit dryer was busy for weeks putting away all that harvest. We gave away over 1000 pounds of apples from our three trees.

But this year, we have just a few apples, just a few peaches, just a few plums. So my attention turned to... ta-da.... chokecherries. Since we live in the valley of the Big Thompson river, chokecherries grow wild here, along with wild plums. Chokecherries seem impervious to heat, cold, drought, downpours, insects, and hail, always producing a crop. And they make enough for the birds, the bears, the rodents, and the occasional jelly-making human.

Problem is, I just don't like jelly. DH doesn't either. Since I have gluten intolerance, we don't have much bread around, and wouldn't put jelly on it anyway. It's easy to make jelly from chokecherries, and it is excellent jelly. Just collect, simmer 15 minutes, and let drip in a muslin bag for the juice. Sugar and a little pectin, and you have it. (Obviously this is not a recipe, but recipes for chokecherry jelly are readily available.)

So, I think, what about chokecherry leather? I have trays with my fruit dryer that make leather, and I've made apple and pumpkin leather in the past. I picked about 2 quarts of berries, removed the stems and the bird-pecked ones, and put in a saucepan with a little water. Then I simmered them for about 15 minutes, until soft. (You need to cook chokecherries, as the pits are slightly poisonous.)

Next, I tried to put them through the food mill. Bad idea. The pits are large compared to the size of the berry, and the food mill really did not like the pits. In fact, some of the pits broke into little sharp pieces.

Food mill didn't work very well, so I tried rubbing them through a sieve. It was very difficult to remove the pulp from the pit by this means, so I gave it up as a lost cause.

The original food mill approach did give me about 6 cups of juice and pulp. So I decided to sweeten it just a little, using healthful local honey...... wrong. Honey is hygroscopic, meaning that it doesn't dry, and in fact can absorb moisture from the air. So after hours of drying, I had a thin and very sticky paste stuck to the trays. On the good side, it was absolutely delicious, although it had a few little sharp bits from the pits.

As I discovered, cooked chokecherry juice and pulp is plenty sweet enough for leather without adding any sweetener, but if you must sweeten it, be sure to use non-local non-healthy sugar :-(

My original inspiration was an American Indian recipe I came across. They would collect the berries, and pound them very thoroughly, breaking up the shell of the pit, and freeing the kernel inside. Then they would pat it into thin cakes and dry in the sun. This seems to be enough heat to remove any slightly poisonous problems with the pits. The little cakes were considered a treat, although you had to spit out the numerous small sharp fragments of the shell. The pits are highly nutritious with protein and oil, so the little cakes were good wintertime food.

After having made my attempts at doing something besides jelly and little dried cakes, I looked on the internet to see if I was just nuts, or if somebody else had some ideas. And this is what I found: Chokecherry.

The author is a real fan of the chokecherry and has a number of ideas for using them, in addition to information on growth habits and identification. Not only does he make chokecherry leather, he LOVES it.

As he mentions, you can also just make juice and can it (by boiling-water process), without adding the sugar and making jelly. I can imagine that the juice would be good with applesauce. Or you could make a light syrup (honey WOULD work for this) for pancakes, or for refreshing summer drinks or desserts. A little creativity, and chokecherries are a tasty and free addition to the food supply.

From previous years, I know that the wild plums, when allowed to get fully ripe, are absolutely delicious. They are small, and turn a pretty pink when ripe, though there is some color variation between one shrub and another. They should be soft, and nearly falling off the bush.

If you are a jelly lover, they make excellent jelly and jam (no pit worries on these; the pits are big enough to not cause problems). I like to eat them fresh. I have pitted and frozen them. I have also pitted and dried them; they don't take too long because they are small. In the winter, you can stew up the dried wild plums with some water and honey for an hour or so and make Compote (a delicious dish of stewed dried fruit, decorated with heavy cream). Or I can visualize the cooked pulp in ice cream or with other fruits in a cobbler or crisp.

You will know if they are not ripe enough; they are hard and unbelievably tart. I have wondered if one could make umeboshi plums by salting our wild plums, but I haven't tried it.

At any rate, it's fun to see what can be made of our prolific and hardy native fruits. They are the taste of the foothills of Northern Colorado, long before the settlers brought their fruit trees and vegetables. Happy gathering!

Month 9: July--A Bounty of Vegetables

I didn't realize it had been so long since I posted. I've been busy DOING, I guess--putting up food, and working on the LoveLandLocal food buying cooperative.

It's easy to eat locally in Colorado in July. All the farmers markets have vegetables and fruits on offer; the CSAs have all started delivering. If you have a garden, you are probably up to your ears in fresh produce. We're having fresh salads every day, fresh cooked and raw vegetables, and delicious fresh fruits.

This is a good time of year to start your own Locavore diet, because now is the time you need to start puting up that Colorado bounty for the winter. So far I have picked and eaten gooseberries, Nanking cherries, pie cherries, and black currants from our yard. I've also harvested radishes and wild arugula, and dug the first new potatoes from my small overgrown garden.

I've put up tomato sauce by waterbath canning, using a little vinegar in each jar as the experts recommend. And I plan to can lots and lots more tomatoes, as sauce, salsa, chopped tomatoes, maybe tomato juice.

I have made three half-gallon jars of lactofermented green beans, one of sauerkraut, and three of cucumber pickles. These pickles are very easy to make, and don't require vinegar or water-bath canning. You just need refrigerator space for the finished pickles until you eat them all. I have written a little paper on lactofermentation; you can find it under "Blogs and websites" to the right.

I bought a vacuum sealer and put up a boatload of Colorado snap peas for the freezer, as well as many packages of green beans and a few of snow peas.

My fruit dryer has been busy with drying fresh herbs, MORE green beans, some sweet corn, a box of apricots, and a box of peaches. These are safely stowed in glass jars. I prefer to dry fruit since you don't need sugar, and unlike freezing they can be stored without any further input of energy. See my next post for the chokecherry adventure...

The Colorado cherries and apricots are done for the season. We just ate the delicious fresh sweet cherries and I didn't put up any.
As the weeks pass, some foods come into harvest in Colorado, and others go out.

Plans for the coming month:

  • bread and butter pickles (whwnever I can find small pickling cukes)--these are water-bath canned. My mom used to make the best bread and butter pickles.

  • Canning lots and lots more tomatoes, as sauce and whole tomatoes, and maybe salsa.

  • Drying boxes of peaches and plums.

  • Might try drying melon slices; I'm finding delicious melons from Monroe Farms at the farmers market. I've heard they're great dried.

  • All kinds of summer squash can be dried, sliced thinly. They make nice crunchy snacks, and can be put into wintertime soups too.

  • Other foods that dry well: bell peppers, anaheim peppers, and mature onions. I plan to do them all. For chili peppers, just string them and hang them; no need for electricity.

The refrigerator is groaning, filled to the gills with lactofermented pickles and fresh veggies. And the freezer is packed with frozen vegetables, and a couple of bags of whole grain flour staying fresh.

My DH complimented me on the fresh tomato sauce I served on pasta recently. He said, "this tastes like Italy". When we vacationed in Italy in 2005, the foods were so fresh and flavorful. The tomatoes were grown right outside the city, and trucked in fresh in the morning. Most of the sauces were fresh, the vegetables were crisp; everything tasted like itself, like it should.

You don't have to go to Italy to get food this good though--just buy local organic Colorado produce, freshly picked and into your kitchen in a day or two. Warning: It does ruin your taste buds for stale, chemicalized, overprocessed food shipped from all over the world and kept in warehouses for weeks or months, or manufactured in a factory somewhere from ingredients you can't pronounce. No more strawberries tasting like sweet cardboard; no more flavorless melons; no more green beans already three weeks past their prime; no more peaches that go directly from hard to rotting without ever
stopping at ripe.

We've mainly been eating simple meals of meat, vegetables and fruits, but I have a few recipes to share with you in the next post.