Precious Fruit

Two balls dangle in our yard. We watch and wait. They are precious fruit. (What homegrown fruit isn’t?) Precious because we nurture them and precious because they are rare. The peach tree literally has one peach on it. It will taste so good! But that seed — that’s the golden ticket! One bud endured the late freeze to become a flower successfully pollinated to become this precious fruit. Friday morning I say to Brian, “Remind me to check that peach. We don’t want something to beat us to it.” Less than an hour later we walk outside and eagerly approach the tree. Panic seeps through my optimistic whisper: “I don’t see it.” Maybe I’m looking in the wrong spot? “It was right here. I just took a picture of it on Monday.” It is gone. There is no sign of it on the ground, like when the birds or squirrels devoured last summer’s bounty.

One ball dangles in our yard. We watch and wait. It is the first time the passion vine has bore fruit. Not just this vine, but all the vines before, grown in all the yards before this one.

To be continued…

In a Pickle

fermented cucumber pickles

My “summer of the pickle” turned out to be a flop. After my first tasty batch, the others were disappointing, if not inedible. I forgot to add a grapeleaf to the horseradish pickles and they were a mushy mess. The dill tasted off. Some of the pickles were mottled. While fermentation is an inexact art, I’ve been doing some research to try to pinpoint where I went wrong. This is the best troubleshooting guide that I’ve found. So far I’ve learned:

  • Certain cucumber varieties turn to mush during fermentation
  • Summertime fermenting might be destined to fail in my too-warm kitchen
  • In addition to adding a grapeleaf (or teabag) to keep the cucumbers crisp, I should trim off the blossom end, which removes the source for the enzyme that causes things to go soft
  • Sunlight or incomplete fermentation could cause discoloration.

The Infusion Incident, or How I Wasted A Lot of Garlic and Olive Oil

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For weeks I admired these bottles, only to find out the contents are potentially lethal.

A month or so ago, Shauna gave me several heads of garlic from her harvest. After last year’s success with pistou, I knew that I wanted to make garlic-infused olive oil.

Loosely following the guidance in Preserving Foods Without Canning or Freezing, I stuffed garlic cloves, rosemary and oregano into bottles and filled them with olive oil. For weeks I doted on the suspended herbs and the way the bottles would glow in the afternoon sunlight.

After the recommended steeping, I transferred the bottles to the cupboard where I intended to keep them on-hand for gifts. I reserved a bottle for myself, eagerly drizzling it in gazpacho, on focaccia, and in the skillet for sautéed vegetables.

There have been many kitchen blunders over the years, but none have almost killed me, as far as I know. The oil’s intermittent cloudiness should have been the first clue that something was awry. But even more astonishing is that I dismissed my friend’s declaration that the oil smelled foul. I was sautéing zucchini when Julie distorted her face and exclaimed, “Something smells like dog shit!”

Eventually the doubt started creeping in. I tentatively checked on the reserved bottles only to find questionable residues and murky oil. I finally (finally!) decided to Google “garlic-infused oil.” (This little exercise should have happened much earlier, but you’ve probably already figured that out.)

Apparently garlic-infused oils pose a botulism risk that I possibly could have mitigated. (One suggestion is roasting the garlic first and refrigerating the oil.) This has me wondering about the aforementioned pistou. Why was it delicious? It was almost the same combination of ingredients. Maybe I was just lucky? Please excuse me while I go cry in my festering olive oil.
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Biscuit Bloopers

Sunday was a crazy day in the kitchen. I am tempted to say I would have been better off avoiding the kitchen all together, but I learned (and re-learned) a few things.

I was very excited to attempt to make biscuits with rendered lard. I found a couple recipes online. I find it annoying that I had to use the internet to find a recipe for a centuries-old concept. And I am still disappointed that my new book, Fat (as in cooking fats), doesn’t have a biscuit recipe. None of my cookbooks have recipes that call for lard. Where can I find recipes that use real, minimally processed fats? Or can I just substitute lard when recipes call for shortening?

I was optimistic as I made that morning batch (indeed, there was more than one batch). The dough was a pleasure to work with, not heavy or sticky like the previous—albeit few—biscuit recipes I’ve tried.
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But, the biscuits didn’t rise. And it wasn’t until clean-up that I realized I forgot to add the salt. And…I wasn’t exactly sure that I stuck to one recipe. (I had two very similar recipes on the counter.) Apparently, baking should not commence until I’ve had a cup of coffee.
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Some good news came out of breakfast, though. We opened a jar of the ground cherry jam and it was truly a jam, not a runny “topping.” (It was still runny when I put the jars away back in October.) It was very tasty on the hockey-puck biscuit.
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Sunday flew by; I dried a batch of grapefruit rinds in the oven. It made the kitchen smell of sugar cookies. I decided to attempt biscuits again for supper with a ground beef, gravy, and vegetable mixture ladled on top. I cranked up the oven to 400˚ and proceeded to follow one recipe. All of sudden, the sugar cookie smell was polluted by the smell of acrid, smoking grapefruit rind. I had forgotten to remove the rinds from the oven!
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In all that commotion, I turned off the oven. And then I put the biscuits in the oven without remembering to turn the oven back on. I was happy to see the biscuits rising, but was puzzled when the biscuits were taking far longer than the 15 minutes the recipe called for. Luckily, Matt noticed that the oven was off. Once it heated back up, the biscuits finished baking but the bottoms were burned. Overall, though, their texture showed promise. I’m betting the third time will be a charm. I’ll be sure to report back.
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Casualty of the Kitchen

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Smoke. Lots of smoke.

More to come…

Rendering Lard

Lard. Lard. Lard. Lard. Lard. Maybe if I say it enough it won’t sound so lardy?

I read Real Food by Nina Planck several months (maybe even a year) ago. It’s like In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, but more simplistic. Both have their merits, but I took away more from Real Food probably because it was easier to digest. Though, In Defense of Food may go further in convincing any skeptics that low-fat is a bunch of bologna.

Back to lard: In Planck’s book, she talks about fatty acids, raw milk, real meat, and all sorts of interesting stuff. She raves about coconut oil, which I haven’t yet tried. She also lauds lard. Surprisingly, lard seemed more accessible to me because it doesn’t impart any porky flavor, while coconut oil may be more limiting as a cooking fat because of the flavor. Plus, it seems lard is the key ingredient for delicious baking, refried beans, tortillas, fried chicken—decidedly awesome things to have in my culinary arsenal.

I bought some pig fat from Rowdy Stickhorse and stored it in the freezer until one brave weekend when our friends, Chelsey and Jeff, visited. Matt and Jeff bottled beer. Chelsey and I rendered lard (we also made pasta, but that’s another post).

It’s a simple process that I managed to screw up. You just put the cubed pig fat into a dutch oven with 1/2 cup or so of water. Cook it on the stove top over medium low until it is fully melted (rendered) and the cracklings sink to the bottom. Apparently lard can burn very easily. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention. I had to transfer the lard to a different burner, so, to compensate, I cranked up the heat on the new burner. Once it started smelling bad, I realized what happened and turned down the heat. After the render was complete, we tested the cracklings. Hopes were high from the inspiring and beautiful blog entry on Homesick Texan, but the cracklings tasted like charred bacon. That was the first clue that the lard experiment was not successful. The second clue was the color. Rendered lard is supposed to be white. Ours was a caramel color. Clue #3: Chelsey took some home and made a pie crust. It stunk up the house and the crust tasted foul. Bummer! But we won’t be deterred! I’m ordering more pork fat in December’s co-op order.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

PB220685.JPGChelsey slicing the lard. According to Wikipedia, pork fat can be called lard in both its rendered and raw forms.
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PB220705.JPGWe’ll know if the guys were successful in a few weeks when we get to taste the beer.

Zen Cooking

When I pulled out the spent tomato and ground cherry plants, I found a blanket of ground cherries that were still good—thanks to their protective husks. I decided to make some ground cherry jam.

Because of my recent baking blunders, I made a point to work slowly and deliberately. My mind was craving quiet. Peeling off husks and then cutting each gold orb in half was a slow, quiet process. It was a sensory experience—as it should be in the kitchen, but is often lost in the mad dash to get a meal on the table.

It can be challenging to stay in the moment and lately I’ve noticed that more often than not, I’m mindlessly going about tasks (oftentimes “multitasking” myself into a frenzy). All that leaves my brain fuzzy and my memory fried: What did I do today? Was I really listening? I can find beauty and pleasure in most tasks if I slow down enough. It’s about taking time. So, that’s my goal: living mindfully and thankfully.

Back to the jam: all the quiet and calm helped me cope when it wouldn’t set! Oh, well. Now I’ve got plenty of ice cream topping? Any ideas out there? What to do with runny ground cherry jam?
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Previous post on ground cherries here.