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.
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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
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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?

Basil Panna Cotta

Remember those creamsicles? While ideal for preserving individual portions, they didn’t work too well for my intended purpose: coffee creamer. For some reason, the fats from the cream floated to the top of the coffee, creating an unappetizing glassy layer on the surface and leaving a greasy residue on the lid of my to-go mug. So, I’ve mostly resigned myself to black coffee, with the occasional treat of half-and-half or fresh cream.

Eager to find another use for the cream cubes, I was already considering custard or panna cotta recipes when I came across Cathy Erway’s basil panna cotta in The Art of Eating In (which I finished last night — good book). Erway goes from coupledom to singlehood about half-way into the book, which tells of her 2-year mission to forgo restaurants, take out, food carts, etc.

Turns out, abstaining from restaurants somewhat complicates the typical first dinner-date routine. She has a guy over for dinner and endeavors to create a date-like meal and atmosphere. Apparently, she had fantastic luck inspiring romance, and credits her fresh basil panna cotta. While I didn’t experience this phenomenon, the indulgent dessert did garner appreciative moans.

Panna cotta is a good make-ahead dessert for dinner parties, date nights, pot lucks, etc. And because of the recipe‘s simplicity, you could have fun playing with the flavors. Instead of the basil-infused cream, next time I’d like to try chocolate panna cotta infused with mint.
basil panna cotta
Beautiful cream from Wagon Creek Creamery; basil from my garden.
You can see how the fat rose to the top of the panna cotta — just like what happened in my coffee, but more appetizing.

Snack Attack

I don’t have anything too groundbreaking to offer today, but recently I had an idea that was spurred on by my nearly habitual 3 p.m. visit to the office snack machine: Why not make my own little snacky goodness?
In my kitchen cabinet I found a half-full (I’m an optimist) tub of Snider Farms roasted peanuts, a partial tub of raisins, and a partial bag of chocolate chips. The 20-ounce peanut tub became the perfect container to jostle all of this together for a simple snack mix that I like to call my “crack.” I’ve never been a big raisin fan, but salty raisins are pretty damn tasty.
I will not disclose how many tubs of peanuts I’ve gone through since I started this practice. However, there have been a lot less visits to my nemesis, the snack machine.

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Snack attack in the grass with my neighbor’s dog, Orphan. No raisins or chocolate for you, Orph!

Applesauce with a Crunch

I tried out Molly Wizenberg’s recipe for Vanilla Applesauce with a Crunchy Meringue Cap. Molly gave me permission to publish her recipe in the September issue of Oklahoma Living.
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I had never worked with meringue before and I’m not a fan of fluffy meringue pies; however, this concept of crunchy meringue intrigued me.

The cap of meringue sealed in the applesauce, so I had to tap, tap, tap to break through. It sort of felt like ice fishing—not that I have ever ice fished.

The recipe worked beautifully and I can’t wait to apply this crunchy meringue cap to other desserts, namely a semi-sweet dark chocolate pudding.

Of course, if you want to try the recipe with applesauce, Oklahoma apples are in season right now.

Cornmeal

Ressler Farms cornmeal

Larry Ressler’s cornmeal.

I met Larry over a year ago. He was a new co-op producer—selling eggs and smoking wood—and was visiting co-op pick-up sites to meet his customers. We chatted and he asked what unmet demand there was in the co-op. Besides the typical needs at that time—produce, chicken, and bacon—I mentioned cornmeal.

Later he wrote to let me know he planted meal corn. He periodically dropped a line updating me on the corn’s progress. In late June he lamented his corn was 6 inches tall, while his conventional-farmer-neighbor’s corn was 6–8 feet tall. By September his corn was catching up: “It’s as big as an elephant’s eye (or something like that),” he said.

In late February Larry’s cornmeal was ready. He sent me about one pound of finely ground cornmeal. It was a precious gift; I knew how much effort, thought, and consternation went into it.

This year Larry is growing about three times more corn than he did last year. Let’s wish him luck to endure this crazy weather and persevere against hungry raccoons.

Here’s what I made with the cornmeal:

apple cobbler

I made one of my favorite desserts, cornmeal cobbler. This time I made it with some apples I canned last year. But I’ve made this cobbler many times: with blackberries, blueberries, peaches, and pears. You can add different spices to the cobbler batter to complement the fruit you’re using. For instance, I added cardamom when I made the pear cobbler.

polenta, kale, and pepper bakepolenta and mushroom gravy

I made polenta, which I baked on top of sautéed kale and roasted red peppers. Cold polenta forms a firm loaf, so I sliced the refrigerated leftovers, pan-fried the slices, and topped them with Om Gardens mushroom gravy.

lemon berry cake

I also experimented with a lemon berry cake recipe. I really liked the dense, lemony, cake-like topping that soaked up the juices from the cooked strawberries. When cooked, the batter forms a nice crisp glaze on top. This cake gets baked in a pie plate. (Disregard the springform pan in the photo. That was a bad idea.) 

Lemon Berry Cake

:: 3 c strawberries, hulled and sliced (any type of berry will do)

:: 1 3/4 c sugar, divided

:: 1 c melted butter, cooled

:: 3/4 c flour

:: 1/4 c cornmeal

:: 1/2 t lemon extract

:: 2 eggs

Put sliced strawberries in a pie plate. Stir in 1/4 c sugar. In a medium-size mixing bowl combine the remaining 1 1/2 cup sugar with the melted butter, flour, cornmeal, lemon extract, and eggs. Stir until smooth. Spread evenly on top of strawberries. Bake for 40 minutes at 350˚.

Peach Ice Cream

Is there really a need for words?
Good, because it’s time for bed.
peaches
peach ice cream
Porter Peach Ice Cream turns a humid August day into a blissful, humid August day.

Cornmeal Cobbler

Sweet cornbread baked on fruit. Brilliant!

IMG_2682.JPGIf everything goes right, Ressler Farms will sell cornmeal through the Oklahoma Food Co-op. When I met Larry Ressler in February, he asked about unmet demand in the co-op. I immediately thought of cornmeal. Someone used to make it—I can’t remember who—but it’s not available anymore. Well, there’s hull-less popcorn. Would that work for milling? Somewhat moot since I don’t have a grain mill.

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Blueberry Bonanza for Father’s Day and Mom’s Birthday.
The family doubted the fruity dish; we are a bunch of fervent chocolate lovers. But there was nary a blueberry left.

Blueberry Bonanza with Cornmeal Topping
Submitted by Judy Rogers in the Gardeners’ Community Cookbook
:: 3 to 4 c fresh blueberries
:: 1/2 c sugar
:: 1 T fresh lemon juice
:: 1/2 c cornmeal
:: 3/4 c all-purpose flour
:: 1 1/2 t baking powder
:: 1/2 t salt
:: 1/2 c plain yogurt or milk
:: 3 T butter, melted
:: 1 large egg, slightly beaten
:: ice cream, frozen yogurt, or creme fraiche

1. Preheat oven to 450˚.
2. Place the blueberries in a 9-inch square baking dish. Add 1/4 c sugar and the lemon juice and toss to mix.
3. Mix together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and remaining 1/4 c of sugar in a large bowl. Add the yogurt, butter, and egg and stir briefly until blended.
4. In 1 T amounts, drop small mounds of the cornmeal mixture over the top of the blueberries. Bake until the topping is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove and cool enough to handle, then serve warm or at room temperature, topped with the cream garnish of your choice, if using.

Tricia’s note: I think this topping would work on most fruit. I’ve made it three times now: with Oklahoma blueberries, peaches, and apples. When I made it for the apples, I substituted brown sugar for the white sugar.