Summer Loving

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We are in deep summer over here, and I find it’s somewhat like deep winter. There is a lull, a quietness, as if all the wheels that were grinding have come to a halt. It’s like being underwater. The days are hot and long, the constant rattle of the cicadas is only interrupted by the shrill meow of the catbird. We take car rides to find fruit to make into jam, out winding roads called Butterville, alongside mountain ridges, passing wide fields of green lined with tall, old trees.

The summer is dotted with bursts of fun in the quiet, like butter on a fruit crisp these bits of fat are savored greedily. Like the fair, driving out on Libertyville Road, past the corn fields, high and waving. I am forever enamored of the iconic beauty of a country fair–the lights, the dusky sunset, the wildness seeping through as night falls. And then there’s the days at the river beach, the sand, the slow river with barges chugging by, the white clouds rising above. It’s summer, and I’m letting myself sink into it.

Despite all this slow motion, there’s a frenetic note too: the preserver’s frenzy. I’m a little more paced about it this year as I’ve gotten out of control in years past with my need to stick everything in a jar. There’s been a lot of jam-making, as usual, and lots of fermenting. The cucumbers are prodigiously producing fruit, and each ten pounds gets pickled: sandwich stuffers, Dutch spears, half-sours. The tomatoes aren’t so good this year, looks like there’s some fusarium wilt unfortunately. But no matter, there’s lots of good tomatoes to buy for canning. The kitchen, dining, and porch tables are constantly groaning with revolving loads of produce.

There is a side table in my dining room that I have found is perfect for fermentation, and it’s been bubbling with activity all summer. There’s a red wine vinegar that forms a strong mother when I feed it some red wine, a fruit vinegar that is young and vibrant, and a newly started apple vinegar.  The fermenting padron peppers smell smoky and spicy. Their promise is palpable in the room’s air.

I think I’m going to sink a little deeper into this summer soup. I’ll be back in another week or two, ready and revived to share more recipes. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you are preserving this summer. Won’t you tell me what you’re up to?

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Fruit Tarts with Olive Oil Crust

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These fruit tarts have been my go-to dessert this summer. The crust is a breeze to put together, and the fresh fruit is what stands out. The tarts are based loosely on my mom’s simple summer fruit pies, which we would eat all summer long, for breakfast lunch and dinner. She would fill a large cookie tray with a pie for a family of five. My family are just three, so a tart pan is enough for us. The premise is fruit in a single layer, which is then only sprinkled with a small amount of sugar. The thin layer of fruit cooks quickly, and the juices evaporate out and concentrate the fruit flavor.

The possibilities are many, and wilting fruit no longer good for eating out of hand is welcome. One was a mix of blueberries and black currants, tumbled out on to the pastry which I had spread with crushed lemon cookies. I added a quarter of a cup of sugar sprinkled on top, and some lemon zest. That is it. The idea here is to focus on the fruit, of course. I am always tempted to put whipped cream on something like this, but it’s often better on its own. Another good one was made with leftovers: a half jar of red currant jam and two cups of lingering blueberries. Only a tablespoon of sugar on top with this one, just for some gloss and crunch. The jam and blueberries were sweet enough.

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I adapted the pastry from this oil pie crust from King Arthur, only I used olive oil. I often use oil in baking and have made many olive oil crusts, and this is my new favorite. What I love about this particular oil crust was that it added a smidge of baking powder, which gave it just the lightness it needed. (I also like this one from the NY Times, tailored for more savory pies.)

You can play around with what fruit you put on–berries or stone fruit are both good candidates. Also, experiment with ground cookies or jam spread either under or over the fruit. Or both!

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Black Currant Jam

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Today I will be making this jam at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, to demonstrate how easy it is to make a gorgeous jam from your local produce. If you see some black currants at your local market, I hope you try them out. They are an unassuming berry, that when allowed to shine reveal how very special they are. They’re like a good book–complex, deep, thoughtful. Don’t judge them by their cover!

Black Currant Jam

yield: A little over a half-pint

1.5 cups black currants (8 oz./220 g.)

1/4 cup water (1.7 oz./47 g.)

3/4 cup sugar (5 oz./150 g.)

1/4 of a medium-sized lemon, juice of

Basically, you want to buy one of those little green half-pint containers you see at the farmer’s markets and stands. Locally, Tousey’s sells them at the Kingston Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, and the Rhinebeck Farmers Market on Sundays. Their season is not long, so go out and buy some!

Clean the currants: Submerge them in a bowl of cold water so that all the leaves and loose sticks float to the top–remove this stuff. Then, drain them and spread them out on a cookie tray (with edges so they don’t roll away!) and remove as much of the stems as possible. The blossom ends are bumpy and still have some blossom on them. If they are big, I pick them off. Generally, I feel it all adds to the texture of the final product. Some folks like to put the currants through a food mill to have a smoother jam.

Cook the currants: Put them in a good jam pot, and add the water. Bring them to a simmer, and let them cook about five minutes to soften them. They will look glossy and beautiful. (This would be where you would want to pass them through a food mill, if preferred.)

Add the sugar and the lemon. Mix it all together; the sugar should dissolve quickly. Bring it back to a fast boil–don’t leave the pot! It will reach the gel stage quite quickly. It will bubble up high, then low, and the bubbles will be thick and glossy. A dip of a cold spoon will reveal thick drops that will slowly fall off the edges when done*.

Turn off the heat, let the jam settle for a moment until the bubbles subside. Then, ladle the hot jam into a jar using a funnel, and seal with a lid. It will keep in the fridge  for at least a few months, provided you use a clean spoon when you use it!

*Note: This is the mystery of making jam–when is it done? If you make enough jam, you will know. In the meantime, if it’s underdone you will have a soft jam that will go great with yogurt. An over done jam will be stiff, maybe burnt, so an under done jam is preferable. If you are interested in learning more about jamming (and canning!), I will be teaching three classes starting in early September at Ulster BOCES in Port Ewen. You can email me at halfpintpreserves AT gmail DOT com so I can keep you informed of the details, or you can navigate to my canning classes  page which will soon be updated.

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Jam-making demo, July 13, Rhinebeck Farmers Market

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This post is sadly a little late, and a little shorter than I hoped due to some internet bamboozling this week. That, and I’m adjusting to returning to full-time momming now that the school year is over. But here it is: tomorrow at noon, I will be at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market making some black currant jam. Come see how easy it is to make jam, chat about preserving & canning, buy some local fruits and vegetables, and enjoy my favorite market!

Review: Put ‘em Up! Preserving Answer Book by Sherri Brooks Vinton

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Future pub pickles.

I’ve had this book,  Put ‘em Up! Preserving Answer Book by Sherri Brooks Vinton, sitting next to my left elbow on my desk for quite a while now. It’s an in-depth Q&A book on preserving in all it’s forms: canning, freezing, drying, fermenting and infusing. It seems fitting to review this book now, at the beginning of my canning season. Brooks Vinton, author of two previous Put ‘em Up books (Put ‘em Up! and Put ‘em Up! Fruit) is a tireless advocate for preserving local foods. She’s a long time believer, and it seems evident to me that she is on a mission to educate people about preserving.

This might sound obvious, but spend some time with the table of contents when you start this book. I’m a jump to the middle kind of reader and with this book you might get confused by an overload of (good) information. The contents really nicely organizes all the parts and chapters, so that it’s all very clear and easy to follow. Then you can jump to the fun stuff like recipes for Pub Pickles made with malt vinegar, and Avalanche Sauce, for when you have a ton of tomatoes to process, both earmarked in my copy for August.

I really like that this book tackles questions–there are so many questions with preserving, and canning in general. It’s great to have all those answers in one place, pleasantly addressed in a conversational tone.  It’s a book that provides a real service, and if you don’t have access to classes in your area, this is a great place to begin a preserving journey that usually starts with lots of questions.

I also feel it has a lot to offer the seasoned preserver. Sometimes you know things, but can’t quite articulate them. Although I have been doing jam-making demonstrations for years now (I will be jamming at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market this July 13), I am beginning to teach canning classes this year at Ulster BOCES, and it will be nice to review all of the questions I might have to field before I teach my classes!

Do you have any preserving questions?

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Back in March!

 

Kale and French Lentil Salad

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Settling into summer this year has been really easy. The best part about it is that cooking is no longer an equation but simple addition. With fresh vegetables popping out of the garden and the farmer’s markets, putting dinner on the table becomes a breeze. When we have meat, it’s usually on the grill. Hearty salads are a way of life. I like to make a bunch and keep quarts of them on hand for a quick meal.

The other day while roasting potatoes, I threw in a bunch of beets to roast. They sat, unpeeled, in the fridge until I needed them. Once peeled and sliced, I tossed them with feta, scallions and fresh mint and dressed them with olive oil, vinegar and salt. It’s a gorgeous salad that can be eaten on it’s own, or a small spoonful can be tossed with some greens and toasted nuts. It stays in the fridge much longer than you’d think.

Another salad that came together quickly and reaped dividends throughout the week was this lentil and kale salad. It’s good both hot and cold, as a side dish or a main, served with some crusty bread. It keeps in the fridge very well. I used curly kale and French de Puy lentils,  but of course you can switch things up. I keep a gallon jar filled with these lentils because they cook so quickly, are so versatile and delicious! Kale and lentils go so well together, and they are good all year round.

Kale and French Lentil Salad

1 or 2 large bunch of kale, any kind. Remove the stems, and wilt the leaves in boiling water for about three minutes. After draining, chop them finely, or pulse them in the food processor for a bit.

Meanwhile, cook off your lentils. About 1 cup dried lentils to two cups water, and bring to a boil. Cook them at a low rolling boil for about 15-20 minutes. Taste one to see if they are done. (Tip: I usually cook off more, maybe 2 cups, and freeze the extra for another no-cook, easy meal.)

In a cast iron skillet, pour a good amount of olive oil. Sauté a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Once they become fragrant, add the drained and chopped kale. Cook for about five minutes. Then add the lentils. Keep in mind this recipe is just a guideline–use your eye for the amounts. Kale bunches are different sizes and cook down differently depending on the type. I like equal amounts of kale and lentils.

Then add seasonings. I added chopped preserved lemon, salt and pepper, and after a stroll in the garden, some chopped parsley, basil and lovage. The herbs are not necessary but I think the preserved lemon plays a key role. A squeeze of fresh lemon should work if you don’t have any preserved lemon on hand. This salad keeps well in the fridge, and seems to get better after a day or two.

Happy summer!

I like this link from Bon Appetit for how easy it is to use lentils in a meal.

And, the other day I was paging through the new Buvette cookbook, and found a kale and lentil stew for winter time. 

Black Fig and Pear Jam with Honey and Vanilla

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The other day I came home from the grocery store with a bag of perfectly ripe organic pears that needed to be eaten immediately. They were on sale, and I knew I had some good jam-making pears on my hands. In the same trip, I spied a basket of fresh figs that I could not resist even though they were a pretty penny. When I brought them home and put them both on a beautiful platter, I knew they needed to be together.

This is such a special jam. I knew when I first tasted it, I would have to tell the world. It’s a delicate jam, and tastes of fresh fruit while still being rich because of the honey and vanilla. It’s both simple and complex. It was great in a bowl on it’s own, as well as with  yogurt, and equally good spooned onto homemade toast. I know this is probably one to keep for fall, when our pears and figs ripen, but you might have these things on hand now.

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Black Fig and Pear Jam with Honey and Vanilla

yield: one pint jar for the fridge

4 pears, very ripe, I used d’Anjou

6 fresh black figs

juice of 1/2 tangelo, and some zest (I loved the tangelo as it’s acidic and tart, but a tangerine or clementine or even an orange would be fine)

honey, about 1/4 cup

1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, depending on your tastes (or vanilla bean of course, but I had none)

pinch-1/8th teaspoon pink himalayan salt (sounds crazy but it makes the flavors pop)

a grind of pepper

Add all ingredients into a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir gently to combine. Put on medium heat. Once it’s at a low boil, keep an eye on it. Depending on how soft your fruit is, it might take only ten minutes. When you feel it is done (turns pinkish from the figs, thickens, the pears edges soften and the fruits seem to meld with each other fully) ladle into a jar. When cooled a bit, stick it in the fridge. Should last as long as you can stand to not eat it. Mine went within a week.

Staying Hungry

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