The term locavore was coined in 2005 by Jessica Prentice, who, along with Sage Van Wing and Dede Sampson, made a commitment to eat only food sourced within a one-hundred-mile radius of their homes in Northern California. This effort was … Continue reading
It was hot yesterday. So the last thing I wanted to do was boil anything on the stove. But yet I had picked up my weekly Red Fire Farm farm share and still had carrots, peppers, cukes and other assorted veggies left over from my garden and previous weeks of bounty, some of which were starting to look worse for wear. What to do to make sure none of this goes to waste?
I did some creative freezing (which I’ll detail in a later post) but was also inspired by a delicious little side of curried pickled veggies from Tupelo in Cambridge that my beau and I treated ourselves to a week ago. But since I wanted to keep my heating of things to a minimum, I first gathered all of the jars of pickles that were sitting in various stages of emptiness, in the fridge. I thinly sliced cucumbers and added them to my favorite brine, making sure there was enough liquid to cover them. Those I returned to the fridge as-is, to sit for at least a few days until I sample them.
I had one large jar of mostly brine, most likely from a pickling experiment earlier in the season, that tasted mostly of vinegar and salt, with some mustard seeds and peppercorns floating in the bottom. I hate to throw anything away – even pickle brine – so I strained the liquid and then added it to a sauce pan where I had toasted about a tablespoon of curry powder for a minute or so. To the curry-brine I added a tablespoon of honey and a little water, only because the vinegar was so strong to begin with. If I had liked the taste, I might have added equal parts distilled white vinegar and water. While I was waiting for that to boil I cleaned and par-boiled the beets and carrots that I intended to pickle. Peppers, cauliflower, onions would all work well in this, although not everything would need to be parboiled. (OK – truth here: I zapped them, covered in warm water, in the microwave for a few minutes just to take away the bite.) Once the veg were al dente I stuffed them back into the pickle jar and covered them with the boiling brine. I let the jar set out until it was room temp, and then I put it into the fridge for storage. I’ll wait a few days to taste these as well.
So: no wasted pickle brine, no wasted veg, and (almost) no cooking.
Maybe it was wishful thinking that had me ignoring the numerous white flies that buzzed around my backyard tomato plants whenever I brushed past their leaves. Until my neighbor noted, matter-of-factly, “You have whitefly.” Aphids and blight I was schooled in, but whitefly? Never heard of it. Upon further inspection I found an entire stalk to be diseased-looking (with tumor-like bumps and dying leaves). I could ignore the white flies (and the whitefly) no longer.
Turns out whitefly can be dealt with in similar ways as aphids. Beneficial insects are the best route – ladybugs are a favorite and can be ordered online or bought at many gardening centers. However, because these are in pots in my backyard (my community garden tomato plants are, thankfully, unaffected) I decided to go with a topic solution. Safer Soap is a spray I picked up at the hardware store – and is certified for organic gardening! I gave a spray the other evening and found only a few remaining buzzing white flies the next morning. I feel confident that I will save all but that one diseased stalk (which I am cutting off at the base) with one more spray and some vigilance.
I dragged my husband along for our yearly strawberry-picking adventure. I supposed I could do it alone, but it seems less of a chore and more of an outing with someone else. We arrived at Verrill Farm in Concord, MA (where last year we had a semi-celebrity sighting: Doris Kearns Goodwin! How did we even know what she looked like? And she was in the farm stand area, not in the field) less than half an hour before they were to close for the day. The berries were perfect: fat with rain and sunshine and as sweet as they would get before bursting and becoming insect food. Six pounds of perfect (although smallish) berries only took us until closing time to pick.
I let them sit for a day, only slicing them into yogurt, before I figured out what I might do with six pounds of berries. Sure, jam was great, but I had made jam for the past few years, never quite giving away or finishing each season’s efforts. My parents and friends were getting tired of the same gifts. On the second evening that the berries sat on my counter, covered lightly in a vain attempt to keep out fruit flies, I met a friend at Garden at the Cellar, one of my favorite small plate restaurants that specializes in farm to table and seasonal food. The bartender (who, at one point plucked basil from a plant on the bar to make my cocktail) described the specials, one a pate that came with pickled strawberries. I asked her what the berries were like – salty or sweet.
“The pickling doesn’t make them salty, really, it just brings out the berry flavor. They’re amazing, really,” she told me. I didn’t order the dish, but I did make pickled strawberries the next day, inspired by her description alone.
This recipe is loosely interpreted, and of course relies on small berries that are incredibly sweet, and not at all bruised or rotting. The result is tangy from the vinegar, but sweet and complex from the spices and the berries themselves. An interesting condiment to fancy cheese, I would say, or even pate or fois gras.
In a saucepan I combined 4 cups water, 1 cup white vinegar and 4 tablespoons salt. To that I added a teaspoon each of mustard seed, black pepper corns and vanilla extract (I would have scraped a vanilla bean if I had one), two bay leaves and one cracked cinnamon stick. I boiled for five minutes and let cool to room temperature.
After sterilizing my jars (the brine would fill about four pint jars) I filled the jars loosely with the best strawberries, stems still on. When the brine was cool, I filled the jars, using a clean butter knife to help release any air bubbles and cap them. I tried some after a few hours in the brine and they were tangy and sweet and totally unexpected.
The flavors are so strong, eating within a week would be great. Although I did process two jars for future gifts using the technique described in Blue Ribbon Preserves my canning bible. In this cookbook, Linda Amendt recommends boiling the jars (with fresh lids on of course) at between 180 and 190 degrees for 30 minutes. This lower temperature helps keep the color and texture of the pickles. I did this and the berries did shrink a bit and were a bit paler than before, but I do trust that the jars will keep longer – by months or even years if unopened. The brine turns a nice magenta though, obscuring the pink-grey berries. An interesting experiment.