Saturday, September 13, 2008

Month 10--August--Nature's Bounty

August is an easy month to eat locally. We are picking grapes, and our own Siberian peaches and tiny greengage plums. The potatoes are ready, under the ground. Due to general neglect on my part, each hill has a fairly small number of potatoes, but they are delicious.

The fruit from the Colorado's Western slope is simply superlative.
The Colorado fruits are coming in: apricots, plums, early peaches. Now, in mid-September, peaches are still running strong. I was able to snag a box of Colorado organic nectarines this week. To look forward to: buttery Colorado bartlett pears, and a variety of apples. It has been years since I bought a supermarket nectarine. They have all come from California or even farther, tasteless and mealy. I have high hopes for the Colorado nectarines.

The CSAs are all in full swing, as are the farmers' markets. LoveLandLocal food cooperative is selling more produce than staples now. We buy only Colorado organic produce, and we've been feasting on corn, cucumbers, red spring onions, zucchini and yellow squash, green beans, and more. There was still some late spinach. The fall lettuce is just starting to come in. (Lettuce in Colorado does not do very well in the hot dry weather of July.)

Our meals often are very simple: some form of meat such as chicken, sausage, bison burger, pork chop, etc., and a selection of fresh cooked or raw vegetables. Examples are sweet corn, fresh tomato, green beans; green pepper slices, radishes, snap peas; sauteed green tomatoes, corn again. Then for dessert, whatever Colorado or homegrown fruit we have on hand.

I've also been very busy "puttin up". Today it was quarts of red plums, and greengage plum butter. Lessons learned: for red plums, leave a lot of headspace in the jar. As I took them out of the water bath, purple juice came up and out of the jar. I used the raw pack method, pricking the plums, packing them into hot quart jars, and covering with a light (Colorado) honey syrup.

The greengages have been sitting on the back table for a couple of weeks, starting to dry. They are small but sweet. I finally just dumped them into a saucepan and covered with water. After an hour or two, they were soft. I pressed the pulp through a colander, taking out the pits. Then I took the sieved pulp and simmered it in the saucepan until it was somewhat thicker. I seasoned it with ground cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. It had the perfect sweet/sour flavor without adding any sugar or honey. I packed it into hot half-pint jars and processed it in the waterbath.

I'm running the Siberian peaches through the fruit dryer, pitting, cutting into slices, but not bothering to peel. I dried a great load of green bell peppers last week, also some Anaheims and yellow gypsy peppers, for winter soups. Peppers keep beautifully when dried.

It's really a race when I get a box, or pick a bunch of something. When will they get ripe? When will they spoil? There's a window--wide for green peppers and tomatoes, narrow for apricots (every one ripens at the same instant).

Eating locally has really made me conscious of harvest times in our state. Cherries are done, apricots are done, plums are at the end, peaches only have a couple more weeks to run. Asparagus is a spring thing. Peas are a joy of early summer. We'll have fall lettuce until the first freeze, then the hardier greens. Enjoy it while you can! It won't be back until next year.

Some fruits and vegetables can be put up for the winter, and I've been doing it this year. I remember my mother putting up fruit and vegetables. She did green beans, peaches, sweet corn, bread-and-butter pickles, and watermelon pickles. Watermelon pickles were certainly not a favorite of mine, but the bread-and-butter pickles were great. We enjoyed them all winter. Nothing you can buy in the store beats them.

Bread-and-butter pickles
Makes 7 pint jars

4 pounds of small, very fresh organic pickling cucumbers
2 pounds of red spring onions, bulbs only
1/3 cup flaked sea salt
some ice
2 cups sugar
3 cups apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1 teaspoon peppercorns

Slice the cucumbers 1/4" thick, and the onions similarly. If the onions are large, cut into quarters before slicing. In a very large bowl (or 2 large ones) mix with salt, cover with ice cubes. Let stand 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, put your jars and rings into the waterbath canning kettle and bring to a boil. Put the lids in a small pan covered with water, and bring to a simmer.

Pick ice off top of vegetables, drain them, rinse, and drain well.
Mix vinegar, sugar, and spices in a large kettle and bring to boiling. Dump the cucumbers and onions into the kettle, and bring all to a boil. Pack vegetables into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Wipe off the rims, then place the lids and rings on.
Put jars back into water bath, bring back to boil, and process 10 minutes. Then lift out onto the counter and wait for the ping!

Their flavor is said to develop further in the first few weeks of storage, but the samples I ate that just wouldn't fit into that last pint jar were delicious.

They are very pretty with the red onions; white are usually used. You can do the same thing with small zucchini, adding 2 smallish sliced green peppers or sweet frying peppers. A friend was planning to make the zucchini pickles with the zucchini we got at the food cooperative. Surprise: the zucchini turned out to be a beautiful bright yellow. And the onions were red. But she decided to make them anyway. The yellow zucchini looked so sunny and bursting with health.

Don't bother to make pickles with wilted, tired cukes. They should be crisp and fresh. If you don't have fresh spring onions, regular onions will do. If you haven't seen spring onions, they are full-grown with green tops, pulled fresh out of the field in midsummer; they are NOT scallions. We've been getting them in the cooperative; they are really wonderful. If you refrigerate them, you can use the tops like scallions in the first few days; the bulbs last a long time.

Another summer's bounty recipe:

Quinoa tabbouleh

1 cup Colorado quinoa (if you can find it, or other source)
4 cups boiling salted water
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
1 large red ripe tomato, chopped fine
chopped leaves from a large sprig of fresh mint
1/4 cup lemon juice, or to taste
1/4 cup olive oil, or to taste
salt and pepper as desired

Put quinoa in boiling water, boil 10 minutes, then drain. (This is quinoa cooked like pasta.) Put in a bowl, mix with parsley, tomato and mint. Add lemon juice and olive oil, then taste. Need more zing? add lemon juice. Need more salt? add some.