By Carol Clark
Friday, October 8, 2010
Or What To Do With A Bushel of Peppers
This weekend, my friend Ann and I set out to make the traditional symbol of spicy food, good luck and autumn in the Southwest, the useful and decorative ristra.
The ristra is a string of chili peppers hung to dry for use in the kitchen over the year. You can spot them hanging outside homes and roadside stands all over New Mexico in the autumn. They are useful in making red chili sauce, pepper flakes and a myriad of other cuinary delights I am excited to discover.
Okagawas has a whole room dedicated to bushels and bushels of green and red peppers ready for cooking, roasting or stringing. We chose the New Mexico chili, but they told us the Anaheim is also a good choice for drying.
It's easy to make your own. Start with a double string of heavy duty fishing line with a washer tied at the bottom so the peppers will stay on. Use tapestry needles to string the line through the base of each pepper, tightly fitting them together and spiraling them as you load them onto the string.
When the ristra is long enough, tie a washer to the top of the string and tie on a raffia bow.
If you hang yours in a well ventilated area where it's protected from sun and weather, they should last over a year. One bushel of peppers ($22 at Okagawas) can make up to four ristras. One for yourself and three to share with friends.
"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."
By Penny Stine
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Although I spend plenty of my free time digging in the dirt, I really do clean up before I come in to work. I don’t leave twigs in my hair or dirt underneath my fingernails. So I have no way of knowing how the woman I was interviewing the other day knew I’d be helpless to say no when she asked me if I wanted to see her garden at the end of the interview.
Well, no way except that we did happen to wander off the subject once or twice to talk about gourds and squash, but that could have happened to anyone.
So I toured her garden, which she admitted was more her husband’s hobby than hers.
I coveted the tomatoes and the nifty trellis system her husband built.
The pumpkins made me smile (and secretly wonder if he was giving them steroids).
His tidy rows of spinach and lettuce made me wish I had taken the time to plant them both in my own garden a few weeks ago, but that would have meant cleaning up the overgrown jungle that my garden has become.
Besides, who am I trying to kid? I don’t do neat and tidy in the garden. But I have to admit, this garden does look fab.
Even his morning glories are behaving themselves. Oh well. I can always dream of next year.
By Penny Stine
Friday, October 1, 2010
God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.
I took a lesson from Carol, and decided this short little entry needed an apt quote.
Legend says Nebuchandnezzar created the hanging gardens of Babylon to charm a homesick wife. While most of my garden is grounded, I’ve got one hanging pumpkin
and a couple suspended watermelons, although the weight of the watermelons dragged them back to earth over time.
They make me smile when I see them, which proves Bacon’s point.
By Laurena Mayne Davis
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Harvesting Italian plums on the last fruit-laden tree in our backyard orchard last weekend was bittersweet. Fruit season for both birds and Davises starts with mulberries in June, then apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines and finally plums. There will be less orchard and canning work now, but no more picking breakfast off the trees in the mornings. Guess I better buy some cereal.
Harvest is a good time to reflect on what went right and what to change for the next season. Plucking blue-frosted fruit in the fall morning light, I assessed what worked: The rabbit manure greened things up nicely. The amount of water was right. We hire a licensed sprayer; I never have to worry about insects.
But there are things I'll do differently. The tree is gangly; I need to revise my pruning approach. I also had thinned, but not enough. I need to get more ruthless with my thinning.
My basketful of plums in the course of a day became Plum and Vanilla Jam and two plum cakes. My kids made plum smoothies, and I had plenty to share with my mother-in-law and a friend for their own jam. We still had a bowlful left over for snacking.
Italian plums are purple with light-green flesh. They have less moisture than red plums and are easily dried for prunes. The Plum and Vanilla Jam is from a recipe by Susan Herrmann Loomis in "French Farmhouse Cookbook." It's worth popping $6 a vanilla bean to inhale that unadulterated, flowery vanilla scent as the jam simmers.
There are a lot of delicious, low-sugar jam recipes. This old-fashioned jam is not one of them.
Plum and Vanilla Jam
5 pounds Italian plums, pitted and chopped
7 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
Mix fruit and sugar in a nonreactive pot and cover. Let set 12 hours.
Add vanilla bean and boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to low boil and skim off foam.
Cook until thickened, about 18 minutes.
(I water-bathed the jars for 5 minutes.)
This cake's equally delicious. It's adapted from a recipe by Marian Burros, food writer for The New York Times.
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream the above and add two eggs. Blend, then spread in the bottom of a greased 9-inch springform pan.
Pit and quarter 15 Italian plums. Toss them with sugar, cinnamon, and the zest and juice of a lemon. Place the plums, cut side up, on top of the batter. Drizzle any juice over. Bake an hour. Serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche.
By Carol Clark
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
"If you are what you eat and you don't know what you're eating, do you know who you are?" Claude Fiscler
My 80-year old mother asked me why I can produce when I have a grocery store right down the street with a ready supply of anything I could want.
"And"... she says, "isn't it more economical to buy V-8 Juice than to make it yourself?" Hmmmm, she has a point there....
It isn't always cheaper to can your own food but... it is fun! My mother HAD to can so it wasn't fun for her, but I don't HAVE to, I just WANT to. There is something satisfying about preserving your own food for the long year ahead.
Canning local produce supports local farmers who work hard for their money. This keeps all the money circulating right here in the valley with friends and neighbors.
It also helps save the environment by not purchasing food that was shipped for hundreds or thousands of miles. It takes a lot of petroleum to bring us ripe bananas from South America.
Canning is healthier than eating the processed foods from the store with all the additives I can't pronounce.
There used to be a five-acre warehouse in Grand Junction for City Market stores which only held only enough food for one week for local stores. Now, trucks come from Denver daily.
Did you see the store shelves last winter when the trucks couldn't make it over the mountain for a couple of days due to bad weather? If there ever is an emergency, the store shelves will empty in one day. Our Grandparents were always prepared for storms, bad crop years or financial hardships. Isn't it prudent for us to be ready?
But, the biggest reason I can is because it TASTES BETTER. Why do home canned peaches taste soooo much better than the canned peaches from the store? Maybe cause they are our very own Palisade Peaches.
"Go to the ant... consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest."