Archive for the ‘Recipes’ Category

And So I Cook

HarrietA series brought to you by Harriet Fasenfest, author of A Householder’s Guide to the Universe and a Portland area local. Harriet will be writing regularly about the farmwife movement and responding to readers’ own experiences and questions. If you’d like a question answered on a future blog post, send your letter to the email address at the bottom of this essay.

Okay August, it’s on. I’m on, you’re on, we’re all on — the bounty, the harvest and full court preserving.  With July behind us we are well underway.  Jam pots have been filled and freezers packed with berries.  Yes, July gave us pause but nothing like what stands before us.  August, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road as stone fruits, beans, squash, cucumbers, pepper and tomatoes fall in mad succession. This is our proving ground, the time farmwives earn their cred, the time the reasons for the season make themselves known.

I’ve already mentioned some of the reasons, let us call it the farmwife initiative.  But other reasons exist – tasty ones, frugal ones, smart, farm-wife cooking ones.  This matter of cooking is, at the end of the day, what food preservation is all about, but I do not hear enough of it.  Not in the manner that befits the cause and that concerns me a bit.  Because without cooking food preservation floats perilously in the modern world of trending and trends do pass.  Before long jars of pickles and jam will saddle up between knitted hats and macrame plant holders (if you’re that old) to gather dust and mock our fleeting fascinations. I do not want to scold, but form without full-bodied function is our culture’s folly and the death knell of many a movement.  Which is why I am up in arms touting cooking – day in and day out cooking, solid simple everyday cooking, cooking from our (own) stores, cooking from the food we have put up in volume and farmer direct, cooking as the motive and logic behind this movement because without that important piece our movement is open to what may come.

I’ve thought long and hard about what may come and I don’t think I’m far off.  You see, without our deep and continued support small-scale farmers will need to look evermore to the market place for their survival.  To a certain degree they already do but in the long term the marketplace (with its long established operational systems) will demand an ever greater participation in a system that belies the heart of this movement.  The culprit (if I’m to call it that) is something called economies of scale and without going into it’s operational raison d’être, (if only because other posts will cover it) I will simply tell you that small farmers ain’t got it and likely don’t want it. What they have in it’s stead, however, is the proverbial swimming-up-stream scale because being small in an economy pegged to big is way more than an ideological stance — it is a challenge of unparalleled proportions.  Hourly wage???  Don’t ask.  So why do they do it?  Well, because they’ve looked at the land and the soil and the environment and figured out that of all the many things they could do in this life farming, honest small scale farming, might be the most ethical.  At least that’s how I figure it and I sorta agree.  Which is why I love them and love imagining I am a part of that life but not without understand my responsibility in the matter.

You see, to allow them to shoulder the weight of some pastoral mystique without standing shoulder to shoulder in the effort is blatantly unfair, and so I cook.  To leave them alone to deal with the cost of land today, the cost of start up, the learning curve, the merciless hours, the back breaking work is unfair, and so I cook.  To imagine they can sustain all the hand work and trips loading and unloading at farmer’s markets or management of weeds or watching produce gone to seed or chores left undone or a house left to disrepair is unfair, and so I cook.  To assume that it is fair that they cannot pay for help or take a weekend off is unfair, and so I cook.  I cook because I’m afraid what will happen if I don’t.   Because if I don’t then I cannot blame them for looking elsewhere.   Soon they will be open to whatever port in a storm is available to them.  Soon specialization will creep back into the lexicon.  Soon (and this is beginning to happen) they will be approached by big business (the brokers and big chain supermarkets) telling them to quit all that silly small farm diversity stuff and grow an exclusive main crop at guaranteed prices before season’s end which will mean, as it has meant before, pennies on the dollar.

Soon competition will increase and payments decrease.  Soon get big or get out will repeat its rationalizing mantra.  Soon farmers will see their crop shipped or trucked hither and thon or mixed with the produce of other farms to end up as private-label, value-added stuffs marketed as “organic on a budget” which will, at first glance, appear fair but on closer consideration will reveal the principles of economies of scale and efficiency systems and vertical integration come full circle. Soon it will be production, distribution and consumption as usual if only with a brand new organic and local party hat and frankly, who could blame them?  I mean you try being a broke ass hard working small scale farmer for a couple of years and then talk.  So I get it, see it, and fear it.   We is why I yammer on so much about farm direct purchasing and farmwifery, food preservation and now cooking.  It is why, if you haven’t figured it out, I say we farmwives are important, no, VITAL, bookends to this movement and that we have to show up, put up, be counted and cook.  If not do not be surprised when the revolution is packaged and sold on your grocer’s shelf.

But what’s that you say?????  You’re too busy to cook.  I know that rationale and I will not jump into that briar patch except to say busyness is not particular to our generation but rather, as a generation, particularly based on the presupposition of leisure.  And leisure, as it has been handed down to the people (particularly during the growing season) is the rationale of efficiency systems, cum industry, cum economies of scale, cum marketing, cum chicken Mc nuggets or, at the other end of the spectrum, fancy hand-crafted foods that speak the language of a movement many times removed from the economies of small scale farming.   Leisure, as it turns out, is based on a certain lie and either costs too much or too little and, dependent on class, is feeding a people either filler or hype.

Yes, yes, we are busy or perhaps only seduced by the easy flow of food stuffs brimming from street carts to grocery stores (in fact Heat-and-Eat family meals is one of the quickest growing segments in grocery sales) or because we imagine cooking a mystery.  My sense is we’ve made too much of cooking or maybe just fancy cooking.  But farmwife cooking ain’t fancy, it’s real!

Perhaps one day I’ll get around to writing a cookbook that shows just how simple it can be.  Then again, there are plenty of books out there that can give you the basics and as I’ve written before, all you really need is one “how to cook everything” cookbook and you’re set.  The Joy of Cooking is still my go-to favorite, but the point is you don’t need to complicate things.  Really, all you need is a willingness and commitment to cook your meals.

I guess I’m lucky.  I hail from a generation whose parents still cooked.   Utility was the point, frugality was the reality.   There were no recipes, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen my mother look at a cookbook.  What she had was a repertoire.  Most nights there were baked potatoes set on the dinner table, and no one ever decried the repetition.  They were easy to make, affordable and tasty; a virtual farmwife trifecta. Vegetables were simply steamed with a little meat roasted or broiled to the side.  Dessert was simple.  Applesauce or fruit compote – that mystery of stewed dried fruits reconstituted with a bit of lemon peel and cinnamon.  A miracle of thrifty innovation.

Beside my mother I have sat at the table of older farmwives.  Women I have met since moving to Oregon and from whom I’ve learned both the simplest and most profound style of cooking.   Biscuits or cornbread cooked in the flash of an eye and repeated infinitum.  A jar of pickles brought out at every meal or that here-to-fore odd but soon to be revived (if I have anything to do with it) mixture of frozen mixed vegetables cooked in a flash.   Sausage, steaks, ground beef or chicken defrosted and simply cooked (if you go that way) keeps it easy along with a bit of mashed potatoes.  Canned fruit sauces (apple, pear, plum, whatever), served to the side of many a pork chop or for dessert or in baking – miles and miles of baking in muffins and cake – is simply utility unbound.

Yes, this is August, the season of our madness.  As you continue with your bad selves let me encourage you to think seriously about how you cook, what you cook, how much you cook and, most importantly, why you cook.  Choose items to preserve or store that will go the distance.  Put on your farmwife hat and think utility more than fancies.  And on that note I offer you mom’s recipe for stewed fruit.  Couldn’t be any easier.

Dried FruitSonja’s Ever So Delicious Stewed Fruit

In a pan put an assortment of dried fruit (the fruit you dried over the season)

Suggestions: – Prunes, apples, apricots and pears

Add a stick of cinnamon and a few slices of lemon peel

Add water to cover

Bring to the boil

Turn off heat, cool

Put in a jar and let the fruit sit overnight to make it’s own syrup

Eat as is or served with yogurt or cottage cheese or on pancakes or, or, or.

Will stay good in fridge till a very long time!

Harriet Fasenfest

Urban Farmwife

Please send your letters, comments, and questions for Harriet to info@homesteadsupplyco.com, including farmwife in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you! 

Success with Low Sugar Jams

More than ever before, customers have been in the shop asking about low and no sugar jams. I’m glad they’re doing their research, because jumping into low-sugar jams involves a little more than simply cutting out sweetener. Sugar isn’t just in jam for the flavor, it serves a very real role as a preserving and thickening agent. When heated, the sugar actually binds with water and pectin, thickening the texture. If you’ve ever tried converting your favorite old-timey recipe by skipping the sugar, you know that the result is anything but gelled.

IMG_2036The classic product that we carry for low and no sugar jams is Pomona’s Universal Pectin. This company has been around for over 30 years, and creates a great product with no preservatives that is certified GMO free.

Though I’ve made classic jams, I hadn’t dabbled in low-sugar recipes before. I needed to give this stuff a try. I had heard there was an extra step of mixing up “calcium water” (provided with the pectin) to provide gelling assistance. Would be complicated to work with two ingredients? I whipped up a quick batch of strawberry jam at the shop to find out, and I’m glad to say that I’m completely happy with the results.

Each pack of Pomona’s comes with directions inside. These directions are also available to download for free on their website. The recipes aren’t fancy, but they allow you to make jam with the bare minimum ingredients. I chose strawberries, as we’re nearing the end of the first flush here in the Portland area. The directions give clear ingredient lists for whichever type of fruit you choose. I followed the following recipe, but skipped the water bath at the end. This test batch will be gone soon!

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Ingredients (for a 4 cup yield):

4 cups of strawberries, hulled and mashed

1/2 to 1 cup of honey OR 3/4 to 2 cups sugar

2 tsp pectin

2 tsp calcium water*

*From the Pomona’s packet, put 1/2 tsp. white calcium powder and 1/2 cup water in a small, clear jar with lid. Shake well. Lasts many months in refrigerator. Freeze for long-term storage. Do not discard unless settled white powder discolors or you see mold. Shake well before using.

Directions:

1) Wash and rinse jars (4 oz up to 16 oz); let stand in hot water. Bring lids to boil; turn off heat; let stand in hot water. Wash screw bands; set aside.
2) Prepare fruit or juice. Measure fruit or juice into pan with lemon or lime juice (if called for in recipe).
3) Add proper amount of calcium water from jar into pan; stir well.
4) Measure sugar or room temperature honey into separate bowl. Thoroughly mix proper amount of pectin powder into honey or sugar.
5) Bring fruit or juice to a full boil. Add pectin-sweetener. Stir vigorously 1-2 min. to dissolve pectin while mixture returns to full boil. Remove from heat. For Jello: pour into bowl(s); cool; refrigerate until jelled. [Note: I wasn't making jello, but I did refrigerate my jam to cool it quickly to a spreadable consistency].
6) Fill jars to 1/4” of top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on 2-piece lids. Put filled jars in boiling water to cover. Boil 10 min. (add 1 min. more for every 1,000 ft. above sea level). Remove from water. Let jars cool. Check seals; lids should be sucked down. Eat within 1 year. Lasts 3 weeks once opened.

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If you’ve got the basics down and want to try a more involved recipe, Pomona’s has many delicious versions on their website (Sweet Cherry-Rhubarb Jam is next on my list). If you’re more interested in a book on the subject, we carry Preserving with Pomona’s Pectin, filled with additional recipes and tips for working with low sugar recipes, or using honey, fruit juice, or other alternatives to sugar.

Converting the Asparagus Skeptic

Fresh asparagusI hear a lot about asparagus this time of year, and for all you asparagus lovers out there, I ask your forgiveness. This post isn’t an ode to your favorite spring-time vegetable, but rather a tale of an asparagus skeptic. Yes, I love spring. Fresh greens, radishes, spring raab…But asparagus? I can’t seem to muster the same excitement for this vegetable, despite it’s ancient credentials.

Asparagus packed into jarsAs manager at the Portland Homestead Supply, I’ve had the opportunity to learn and practice many skills over the past year and a half. Water bath canning is one of them. Two weeks ago at the Milwaukie Sunday Farmers Market, I decided it was time to start brushing up on my canning skills. I (gasp) picked up several bunches of the most tender asparagus I’ve ever seen, took them home, and pondered their fate.

While I may be skeptical about asparagus, I wholeheartedly love spicy. After looking for a spicy pickled asparagus recipe, I adapted this recipe from Marisa who writes for Food in Jars. I found that the two pounds of asparagus I brought home fit into three jars rather than the two she recommended. I also increased the amount of pickling liquid (and spices) because the amount listed wasn’t enough to fill my jars.

Many of the recipes I found called for blanching the vegetables before canning, but these spears were so thin that I worried blanching would be too much for them. If you start with thicker asparagus, be sure to blanch them for 60 seconds in boiling water, then rinse with cool water before canning.

After waiting a week for the flavors to mingle, I dug into the first jar. And, I’ll admit it: (pickled) asparagus is delicious.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs asparagus, trimmed to fit jars (Ball’s 24 oz Pint & Half jars are designed for asparagus)
  • 2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 3 Tbs pickling salt
  • 6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper

 

 

 

 

Directions

  1. IMG_0191Prepare a boiling water bath canner. Add three 24-ounce jars to sterilize them before adding asparagus. Place lids in a small pan of water and bring to a bare simmer.
  2. Combine apple cider vinegar, water, salt, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and cayenne pepper in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  3. Wash asparagus and trim to fit in your jars.
  4. Remove jars from the canning pot and drain. Pack asparagus spears into jars.
  5. Stir pickling liquid to evenly distribute spices, then pour over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Tap jars gently to remove any air bubbles. Add more liquid to return headspace to 1/2 inch, if necessary.
  6. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process jars in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.
  7. When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel.
  8. Let them cure for at least a week before eating.