Here’s the Shrub

The last couple of summers, I have been lucky enough to be invited out to Rose Ranch to pick wild blackberries. Last summer was no different. Well — it was different, in a big way, because Rose Ranch had just lost Don Rose. As I headed out toward the brambles, there was a muffled quiet like when you navigate a crowded space while wearing ear plugs. It was as though the ranch was observing silence at the loss of its caretaker. I pondered what Vicki might be going through and quietly, meditatively picked the berries from the thorny vines that snagged my shirt and jeans. I felt grateful for the opportunity to be in Don’s domain while mourning his absence. We miss you, Don.

I picked several pounds of blackberries. I ate more than my share of raw berries, froze some for a future crisp, and decided to experiment with blackberry-infused vinegar to make a drinking vinegar, known as a “shrub.” The color and flavor of the berries leached into the white vinegar as it sat in the cupboard for almost one month. To the strained vinegar, I added sugar and simmered it to make a syrup, which is used to flavor carbonated water. Refreshing! Bracing! Add some spirits, if you wish.

Almost Eden

I don’t recall ever seeing a fresh fig before I moved into my rental house nearly three years ago. Thanks to this glorious summer and the efforts of my landlady, I’ve been eating figs on an almost daily basis and even collecting enough to make a batch of refrigerator jam. Lately I’ve felt so lucky, like I’m living in Eden or a fairyland.
mascarpone crepes with fig jam
mascarpone crepes + fig jam
figsfigs
figs
fig jam

Plenty

Some friends went hiking in southwest Oklahoma Labor Day weekend and picked about two 5-gallon buckets of prickly pear fruit. I got to help make jelly, as well as a big mess!
IMG_4320IMG_4347
IMG_4328
We had a jolly assembly line going: singe the spines off the fruit, quarter the fruit, puree, strain. And things got progressively sillier, due to Nancy‘s prickly pear juice cocktails.
IMG_4346IMG_4356
pb&j
PB & (prickly pear) J

Gleanings

It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, it took me a while to remember my password. So, hello, there. It’s been a while. Here’s some of the stuff that’s been keeping me busy: making ginger soda, killing roosters at Hill Farm, harvesting arrowroot and Jerusalem artichokes at Rose Ranch, fermenting kimchi and sauerkraut, picking persimmons, scarfing down homemade turkey pastrami and corned beef, picking pecans, exploring Oklahoma’s fall color, enjoying many potlucks with my dear friends and family, and pondering the point of this site. I haven’t come up with any answers about the latter, but I will elaborate on some of the former in the coming days. How about I start with the persimmons?

Pickin' persimmonsI’m enamored with the persimmon:
its brittle leaves like clover, its skin a wintery sunset

My generous neighbor, Anthony, shares his persimmons with me. After I noticed the trees in his yard last year, I included his house was on my walking route until I finally caught him outside. It’s a tricky thing, asking for permission to glean. It might be perceived as invasive and aggressive, but when well received, it can be an opportunity to create community. Anthony is the only person I’ve approached and luckily it went well. He has no interest in his persimmons, and was slightly amused by my enthusiasm.

Persimmons are still novel to me: I’m not sure I was aware of their existence before I moved to Oklahoma. Or maybe I was, but thought they were from some exotic land. (That land turned out to be Oklahoma and one of my goals from 2009 was to see a persimmon tree in person. Check!) Also, limited accessibility contributes to the persimmon’s novelty. They don’t ripen very well on the counter; ideally they are harvested at their peak, which means they are so soft they completely give under slight pressure, and they are so heavy and tender, they are barely hanging on to the tree.

The skin is edible and has a crystalline texture on the tongue. You can use it as a bowl to scoop out the creamy meat, which is best described as pudding. I made an actual pudding with persimmon purée, but I think the unadulterated form is better. If you have a good recipe, please share.

Handpicked

Last Saturday I got up early, picked up Julie and we headed to Rose Ranch to hunt for sand plums. (Two consecutive Saturdays of foraging!) We found only a handful of those, but were rewarded with loads of wild blackberries! The thorns snagged my clothes and skin — and I still have some splinters I could use some help with — but it was all worth it!

I bet we gathered at least 10 pounds, and they were the most precious berries ever. Not only because blackberries are expensive, but because we picked them ourselves on Don and Vicki’s beautiful land where they raise grass-fed beef. After a couple of hours of picking, but not even close to exhausting the blackberry canes, we got hungry and hot and went for lunch at Braum’s, waded and lounged at Arcadia Lake, followed by the Porch Mice and pizza at Sauced on Paseo. What a day!*

On Sunday Julie made a couple of blackberry cobblers to feed those Porch Mice, and I enjoyed wild blackberry compote crepes for breakfast, made a small batch of jam, and froze whole berries for some future dessert.
wild blackberries at Rose Ranchwild blackberries at Rose Ranchwild blackberries at Rose Ranch
wild blackberries at Rose Ranch
wild blackberries at Rose Ranchwild blackberries at Rose Ranch
wild blackberry compote crepewild blackberry jam
Rose Ranch

*This post required much restraint. I wanted to punctuate every sentence with an exclamation point. That’s how much fun this day was!

Preserving pears, or making things more complicated than needed.

Some friends and I harvested pears and apples in Jones, OK
In early October some friends and I went to Jones and picked about 170 pounds of apples and pears. We had a great time divvying our harvest and I brought home a good haul: roughly 15 pounds of apples and 8 pounds of pears. My friend Julie and I made apple butter (yum!) and preserved the pears in a sweet-tangy syrup.
dessert pearsdessert pears
dessert pears
Dessert Pears in Vinegar
from Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning by the Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante
2 lbs. sugar
2 c vinegar
8 1/4 lbs. ripe pears, peeled

Combine the vinegar and the sugar in a large pot. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Arrange the whole pears, peeled but still with their stems, in layers in the pan. Boil, covered, over low heat for three hours, and then uncovered, for an additional three hours. Do not stir. Then, holding the pears by their stems, transfer them to jars or a stoneware pot. Cover the pears with the remaining syrup. Seal the jars. The pears will keep as long as jam.
Variation: Add one or two cinnamon sticks and a few cloves. Some recipes require less cooking: one and a half hours covered, followed by one hour uncovered.
dessert pears
Pear and rice pudding
Dessert pear and rice pudding
IMG_0164
Dessert pear with cardamom whipped cream

While the process was pretty easy and fun, I think this was an instance when I simply should have enjoyed the raw fruit. The jars of amber pears looked lovely, but the contents left something to be desired. I couldn’t figure out what to pair them with, which led to more time and effort. Contrasted with canned applesauce or peach wedges, which are a hit without any additional effort, the preserved pears were an exercise in inefficiency. Perhaps I should create a food-preservation decision-making flow chart?

Persimmons

persimmons