Category Archives: Food

Garlic 101

When I was in college, I met a couple who supposedly made their living farming different varieties of heirloom garlics. Forgive me, but I thought this sounded incredibly romantic. I’m pretty sure I even wrote a poem about it, because, well, I used to write poems about everything that happened.

Though I am less starry-eyed about garlic these days, I still have an above average affection for it. I can say garlic in German (knoblauch) and Spanish (ajo) and Swedish (vitlock).  I once went to a restaurant called The Stinking Rose, where the pesto is just chunks of raw garlic with some basil leaves mixed in. For desert I had garlic ice cream. By the time I got to the garlic ice cream, my taste buds were no longer able to taste the flavor of garlic and it just tasted like ice cream, however, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it had I been able to. I sweated pure garlic for days afterwards. As a side note, one of our party looked sulkily at the menu and asked if they had anything without garlic? Needless to say, I don’t talk to her anymore.

Shockingly, despite my fangirl status, I have never grown my own garlic! Probably because by the fall I’m too bored with gardening to throw any garlic in. But this year I was determined.

Over the last few weeks, I have learned several useful things about garlic. How did I not know these things before! :

  1. There are two basic types – hard neck and soft neck. Hard neck garlic is easier to peel and grows better in northern climates. Soft neck is the kind you can braid and grows better in warm places.
  2. To plant garlic, you drop in cloves of garlic (usually two inches deep and 6-8 inches apart). For some reason it never occurred to me till this week that you could go to the farmers market and buy garlic there and then plant it in your yard, and the next spring, fancy heirloom garlic! Is there any difference between this and the fancy heirloom garlic they sell specifically for planting online? I hope not!
  3. Not totally related, but wild onion (seen incidentally in the photo) is bad for you, babies, and livestock in large quantities. My dad always told me not to eat it, and (bummer) he was right! I’m glad I looked it up before I ate a bunch of it.
Below is my garlic bed, which is actually bigger now, I found some more garlic I had been saving up. 

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Ketchup – Or What to Do With Your Green Tomatoes

So, I’m sitting out behind my house typing this and I hear a rustling behind me. I turn to see which of my cats is spying on me from around the corner and see a groundhog. Chilling out. “Git!” I say, “We’re not friends!” But, it just looks at me. When I got up to get a camera though, it wandered slowly away and is hidden in the hostas now.

OK, back to ketchup – I made some. I told my brother that I felt I had crossed a line from canning=thrifty and crafty into canning=total nutjob.  I mean, we spend like $10 a year on ketchup, so what sense is DIY ketchup? I don’t know. For a while I thought, ooh, this could be a nice gift! But then I realized that, no, ketchup is actually a pretty terrible gift.

Homemade Ketchup in Grolsch bottles

Last week I began taking down the roughest looking of our tomato plants and picked off all the tomatoes that were left on them. This sounds really industrious, but it was incredibly beautiful weather and I just needed an excuse to be outside. I ended up with a 3 gallon bucket full of red and green tomatoes.

So, ketchup. At first I researched whether there was any reason not to mix the green and red tomatoes to make ketchup (or anything else). I had seen tons of recipes for green tomato ketchup and they seemed pretty much the same as the red. Except, that the final product was green. That sounded pretty bad ass, so I decided to cook up the different colored tomatoes separately – and because I know you are wondering – the yellow tomatoes went into the green batch…

As a side note, I left the seeds in. Several recipes called for you to skin the maters and then get rid of the seeds and the liquid from the tomato and just use the meaty bits. I guess this would give you a thicker sauce, but I decided that the seeds/juice/skins had health value. Uh, fiber? Whatever, I’m lazy. If I had a food mill, I could run my ketchup through it and get rid of all the chunks, but I don’t! The food processor helped smooth the sauce out, and whatever. Let’s call it a salsa/ketchup hybrid.

Ok, so as I ketchupped, I was finishing off a jar of last year’s pickles, and decided to throw the pickled garlic and dill into the gallon-ish of lovely pale green tomato goo bubbling away on the stove. This was an awesome decision. According to a few of the 6 recipes I was looking at, I added some cinnamon, coriander (so important, this is the key ingredient!), brown sugar and sauteed sweet green peppers and onions and then set it to simmer for a couple hours. Unfortunately I then fell asleep, and even though Matt turned it off after it started to smell burnt, and the next morning it had boiled down to TWO CUPS of dense brown paste. I have labeled the jar “tomato relish” for lack of a better idea. It is delicious with nacho chips.

The red tomatoes I actually followed a recipe for, and did not burn. We nearly went through an 8 oz jar at my neighbors’ BBQ last night, which makes me think it turned out decent – better after I added the coriander. I have canned it in Grolsch style flip top beer bottles – it’s an experiment. You can’t get a normal canning seal on them, but when you put beer in them it doesn’t go bad… I boiled the beer bottles to sanitize them, instead of using bleach like when we bottle beer.

Now to scrub more pans.

Update: FYI, I’m keeping the ketchup refridgerated, and also, look, ketchup is cool and fancy now! 

Re-using Canning Jars and Lids

As you may know, Matt has a super specific and rare eating disorder that involves the constant consumption of Vegenaise, a vegan mayonnaise alternative (we get the kind made from grapeseeds!). We buy it in bulk and go through about a jar a month, and by “we” I mean mostly Matt.

While this is mildly disgusting, the plus side is these jars are great for canning because they fit “Regular Mouth” standard canning lids. Which means we can buy new lids for them at the store. The only concern is that they are thinner glass, and a little more prone to cracking. For that reason, it’s important to avoid drastic temperature changes – which you should do with the regular Ball/Mason jars anyway.

For those who don’t can, sometimes when you dump the boiling hot tomato sauce into the jar, the temperature change makes the jar explode. It is not as awesome as it sounds. And when it happens around midnight and the whole kitchen is already a disaster and now you and everything else is covered in boiling tomatoes, it can be, ahh, demoralizing.  The other thing that can happen is that your jar cools down too much before you put the full jar of tomatoes in the hot water bath to sanitize and seal it, and it explodes into your pan of boiling water.  And then you are so tired that you think you can dump the pan full of water and tomatoes and broken glass down the sink, and the boiling hot tomato debris clogs up your sink…

We have been sanitizing our jars pre-canning using the oven instead of boiling water the last two years, and while we haven’t been poisoned and it’s awesome to have one less pot of boiling water on the stove, it does seem that we crack a few more jars. Thoughts? Is this a coincidence? I think we cracked three jars this year, all on tomato sauce, and two of them were actually fancy Mason jars. Considering the dozens we didn’t crack, it’s not that bad.

Apple and Peach Butter and Hot saucesBut anyway, this year we are experimenting with re-using other types of our jars from things like salsa, “Better than Bullion” (my fave soup stock), peanut butter, jellies and sauer kraut.  The concern is these jars have odd sized lids, as you can see in the photo.

We save most of our jars to use at the co-op for spices and such, and also, yeah, to drink out of, and well, mostly because we have a problem throwing things away. This came in handy when we totally ran out of jars this year and had to scrounge around for more.

Since the lids were odd-sized, we had to use the factory lids they came with. These have a plastic seal around them similar to the canning lids we buy, so we thought, what the hey? All of them but one jar sealed right, thought I am nervous about the seals failing in a month or so?

I searched around on-line before I did this and all I could find was dire (ACHTUNG! PELIGRO!) warnings against re-using canning lids, ever!! EVER!!! Matt assured me that grannies on the rural West Virginia creek where he used to live did this all the time, and I guess those grannies are just not on the internet in canning chat forums?

Anyway, I’ll keep you updated on the success of our grand experiment in DANGEROUS canning habits and if I suddenly stop blogging, you’ll know why…

Update: As of the end of March, about 6 months, we haven’t had any problems with our re-used jar lids. Yay!

Peaches! Peaches! What to do with a Million Rotting Peaches!

Uh, look what we brought home!So, not too long ago, our kitchen looked like this. I just noticed the sushi wraps in there, and that has nothing to do with our canning XXtravaganzas.

But the peaches do! We ended up with about  a bushel of rotting peaches. We went around all the farmers markets, and had missed peak peach time. But the orchards all had plenty of rotten peaches they were thrilled that we were dumb enough to buy!

A note on canning – often times canning recipes call for the “freshest fruit at their peak” which always cracks me up! Those are the ones I am going to eat, people! Not boil up and stick in a jar for 6 months! But anyway, I’m sure I’m missing out on some subtleties of flavor, but I am not sophisticated enough to notice the difference.

You are supposed to skin peaches, but eh, I never do. I just chop out all the gross parts and throw them in a big pot and turn it on. I usually make peach butter because you don’t have to add pectin, just boil it for a long time. You add some lemon juice to raise the acidity so you don’t get botulism, and maybe a smidge of sugar (or apples if you have some around, to raise the sweetness), cinnamon, etc?

This year I decided to get fancy and made a few jars of the following:

Canning extravaganza–Lemon Thyme Peach
–Lemon Grass Peach
–Vanilla Nectarine
–Toasted Almond Peach  (The almond stuff was really amazing till I burnt the crap out of it. I canned the burnt up mess anyway, maybe the charred taste will mellow out like a fine wine…)

To make these variations I just scooped out a 4-5 cups from  my 3 gallon vat of peach butter and threw in whatever chunks of herbs from the yard. Ta-daa!

I also froze up the sliced peaches in sandwhich baggies. Frozen peaches is one of my favorite things! I usually just make cobblers with them, nothing fancy, but opening them in the dark of winter always gives me a little burst of hope that maybe we aren’t all going to freeze to death.  If you could cram summer into a frostbitten ziplock bag, it would taste and smell exactly like these peaches.

The last thing I did with my peaches was blend them up with some habaneros to make a pretty excellent hot sauce. I think the ingredients are just peaches, habaneros, vinegar. Food processor it, boil it, can it, eat it. Slowly, in very small amounts. Tip: a lot of the spice is in the seeds, so I just removed those, and it is fairly tolerable.

By the time we were done canning/freezing all the peaches, the kitchen was basically coated in a layer of syrup. Walking across the kitchen floor was becoming difficult. Sqriik, Sqriik, Sqriik.

And I spent a lot of time scrubbing out the bottoms of the pans that I burnt the peaches in. I used baking soda for this, and also HOT TIP! I have this Cutco Spatula Knife which is SERIOUSLY awesome for scraping out the bottom of pans and other crusted on stuff. Nothing else compares.

Vegan Apple Cake Success

imageThis recipe was my second attempt to come up with some kind of vegan apple recipe to use up the half gallon of apple butter that we didn’t can (ran out of jars!!!). I suppose I could freeze the apple butter (???), but I’d rather freeze it in some kind of usable form.

I got “Canning for a New Generation” by Liana Krissof as a wedding gift, as well as another book about canning. I am pretty happy with her book, it’s cute and friendly and casual and MOST IMPORTANTLY has lots of tips for the lazy, non-perfectionist person (like, you don’t have to peel everything). Yay! It’s really usable and includes recipes on how to use all the crap you just preserved and not just HOW to can/preserve, but WHY you have to do it that way so that you don’t die and/or kill all your friends (ie, a lecture on botulism, fun!).  I like knowing WHY I am supposed to do something a certain way so I know which rules I can safely ignore.

But she really won me over when I realized her Applesauce Cake recipe is vegan AND formulated to use the leftover pulp from her recipe for homemade apple pectin stock.

Vegan baking sidenote: I actually prefer cooking without butter, because I think butter tastes too, ahh, buttery. To me, butter is more of a savory flavor than a sweet one.  So it doesn’t phase me at all to bake without butter.

The struggle with vegan baking (for me) is moisture and density, as in, too much of it, always. Eggs really do a lot of good things for cakes and breads. My vegan sweet breads especially often come out doughy in the middle.

My last round of attempts to use up apple butter and apple pulp were ridiculously dense and gooey in the middle. Though they tasted awesome, it was a bummer. And edible bummer though!

These cakes rose really nicely and fluffily. So now I will make six more of them and put those in the freezer too. If you come and visit, I’ll pull one out for you!

Garden Cat

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My cat Fancy has realized that my out of control gourd patch is the perfect height for her to spy on the neighbors.  However, the more it rains the less the cats are in the garden, and the more the groundhogs and raccoons and bunnies are in the garden. And yes, it is has been raining nearly every day for a while.

So, the garden is looking a little rough, but still keeps cranking out the tomatoes (which mostly go to the groundhogs, who need the lycopene, I guess?) and the habanero peppers and of course endless giant gourds, which I planted on a whim and now I am having to look up how to make birdhouses out of giant gourds, because lord have mercy, what am I going to do with these cursed gourds.

I keep saying that the plant kingdom is just as merciless and brutal as the animal kingdom, but, you know, slower. Case in point, all of the gourd plant above is from one plant. And I regularly mow around the edges of it to keep it in check, but it still grows…..

Frankly, I am feeling kind of spiteful towards the garden at this point, actually, because it killed off my cucumbers, but is hurling endless habaneros and basketball sized gourds at me.

I have canned up a gallon or so of hot sauce of three levels of spiciness, and dried around 30 of the little monsters up to make into unholy quantities of chili powder, and given away around 30 more peppers. And let a lot of them rot on the ground.  Which I suppose means they are getting to seed the whole garden with their evil, spicy progeny.

But isn’t Fancy cute? Who needs garden gnomes when you have garden cats?

What to do with Apple Pulp?

Apple pulp leftover from making ciderSo, as previously mentioned, we made five gallons of apple cider out of a bushel and a half of apples yesterday. Which left us with about 3 gallons of apple pulp (and a filthy stove!). The pulp is delicious and I hate to toss it into the compost.

I thought I could cook it down a little, and get a little more juice out of it, and make it into some kind, of, I don’t know, really, what I was thinking. But it’s so dry that it just started to smoke instead of cooking at all.  Oopsy!

So I started looking for apple pulp recipes on-line. I found a lot of amazing carrot pulp recipes, which made me wish I had carrot pulp instead.

However! Reading a bunch of sources I learned this: “Add a quarter cup of fruit pulp to any favorite muffin or fruit bread recipe – or replace the chopped fruit in any recipe with pulp keeping in mind the pulp has less liquid and more fiber so you are going to get a really dense final product.”

And also this website had a bunch of egg filled (Matt doesn’t eat eggs) recipes but also this:

Pulp Ice Cream/Sorbet

Take 3 cups of pulp from any sweet fruit. Peaches, pineapples, pear, apples and berries all work well.

Freeze in an ice cube tray. When frozen, mix in a blender with 4 ripe bananas until it is the consistency of sorbet. Serve immediately.

I think my plan for the pulp is to make a bunch of loaves of apple bread and apple muffins (we have cranberries and walnuts to throw in too, and chocolate chips for some) tonight and freeze them, then freeze a bunch of two cup margarine containers full of pulp, which seems like a good size to use in recipes throughout the winter.

I’m thinking apple pulp waffles, apple carrot soup, etc.

Apple Time!

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This was really one of our first free weekends since July so we went to an apple orchard. We were going to go to a Paw Paw festival, but eh, it was an hour and a half farther away.

We saw they had boxes of “seconds” or “canning” apples for $5 a half bushel. So, we bought four. Then we walked around the orchard for a few hours, not picking any, because our trunk was already full.

Are we crazy? What if I told you we’d already bought a half bushel of apples at the farmers market that morning? What if you have no idea what a half bushel is? I can tell you – it is a bit smaller than a printer paper box.  A bushel is about 50 lbs. SO we now had 125 pounds of apples. Is this possible? Maybe we had less.

Apple Cider! OK, so, my favorite tool EVER is the apple-corer-slicer that we got at the Goodwill for $5 this summer in anticipation of Apple-Time. Here is a HOT VIDEO of one.  Let me tell you, I am much faster at using those things than that person in the video.

Matt wanted to make apple cider, and we were told we’d get about a gallon and a half from a each half bushel/25 lbs. AND that the sooner you juice them, the more juice you get. So, we got cranking away on the apples for that. We cored them, then juiced them with the skins on. We made 5 gallons of cider, and used champagne yeast to ferment it. We’ll let you know in about a month if it works! Matt was really the hero on that one.

I also made 3.5 quarts of Apple Butter. I made that much because that is the size of my slow cooker. HINT: Making Apple Butter on a slow cooker is way more easy than doing it over a fire in a giant cast iron cauldron like some people still do in Appalachia. Incidentally, the apple that dries up on the side of the slow cooker as the water evaporates down makes the most delicious fruit leather.  I would like to make fruit leather on purpose sometimes, as it is AWESOME!

AND we canned up a gallon of apple sauce. Making apple sauce and apple butter makes me feel like the worlds best cook, even though all I did was slice the apples and put them in a pot. You know how sometimes you are canning and nibbling on whatever it is all day and by the end of the day, the idea of eating any of the food you just labored to preserve just turns your stomach? Well, that never happens to me with apple sauce or apple butter.

And we used apples in the peaches we canned to reduce the amount of sugar we had to put in the peach and nectarine jams we were making. Apples are full of pectin so you can use them as a more natural and local way to sugar up your, well, everything.

But that’s another story!

Cake Plates for My Wedding Cake Buffet!

New thing I learned today: It is difficult to take charismatic pictures of six cake plates. Or maybe I am just a bad photographer. In either case, for our wedding, we’re having a cake buffet with six flavors of cake! I thought that I wanted to get some pretty antique cake plates to display them on – and Matt’s mom volunteered one of hers.

Cake Plates for my Cake Buffet!

So, today I ran to a little stretch of road that is just lousy with antique stores not far from my house to do some cake plate hunting. I found a few there and then, decided to chase some yard sales, and ended up across town at a thrift store, and found a bunch more for $2 each! Yay! America! I actually semi-stole one of the $2 cake plates from a gal who passively-aggressively mentioned to her mom about three feet from me that “Some girl just grabbed the pretty plate I wanted!” I feel mildly guilty about this, but I pretended not to hear.

As you can see, somehow in the wild haze of stealing cake plates from other shoppers I accidentally bought six cake plates – which means I guess Matt’s mom doesn’t have to bring hers.

Anyway, I can’t wait for these to be full of cake. In part, because that means I’ll be married, but also, because that means  – cake!

Also, does anyone need a cake plate in late August? I have six you can borrow.