Pickled Pink

pink cauliflowerIf you use The Joy of Pickling or you have traveled in the Middle East, you may be familiar with pink pickled vegetables, colored by either a bit of beet or some sliced red cabbage. Although the pink turnip and cauliflower pickles in my book are made with vinegar, fermented pickles are also popular in the Middle East. In fact, as one of my readers told me a couple of years ago, when he lived in Egypt the local pickles were always brined, with no added vinegar. On a counter in every kitchen, batch after batch of pickles would be were fermented in a jar whose brine was seldom thrown out, although I would guess that salt was added from time to time.

Were those Egyptian pickles pink? I’m not sure whether I asked, but adding beet or red cabbage does the trick whether you’re using vinegar or fermenting in brine. With this in mind, I made brined pink cauliflower to share at a recent preserving fair in Albany, Oregon. Here is the recipe:

Brine-Pickled Pink Cauliflower

1 pound cauliflower florets
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 Mediterranean bay leaf
1 small beet, or a piece of a larger beet, cut into chunks
2 small dried hot peppers, slit lengthwise
1½ tablespoons pickling salt
1 quart water

In a 2-quart jar, mix the cauliflower, caraway, garlic, bay, beet, and hot peppers. Dissolve the pickling salt in the water, and pour it over the cauliflower. Weight the cauliflower, cover the jar loosely, and let it stand at room temperature.       

After about five to six days, when the cauliflower is as sour as you like, cap the jar and store it in the refrigerator. Or leave it on the kitchen counter, if you prefer, but expect the cauliflower to get more and more sour and eventually to soften somewhat.

I’m not sure whether I like the flavor of this pickle better than that of the vinegared version; brining seems to bring out more of the cauliflower’s bitterness. But I love the firm texture and lewd color of the fermented florets.

You can certainly vary the aromatics to suit your taste. Dill—already forming seed heads in my garden!—might be an excellent addition or alternative to the caraway.

Posted in Fermented foods, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Tasting Lavender

Sharon Roberts lavenderAt a potluck last week I was eager to taste the lavender lemonade, something I’d never made myself and drunk only once or twice before. But the drink was sweetened to a child’s taste; I guessed it had been made with twice the volume of sugar as lemon juice, before lavender syrup was added. And because the lemonade was already so sweet, apparently, only a little lavender syrup was included, so little that I could barely taste the lavender.

It occurred to me that the culinary use of lavender was a growing trend that I’d been nearly ignoring. I use lavender for repelling moths in closets and dresser drawers, and I’ve stirred the flowers into blackberry jam for a mysterious resinous touch, but the smell of lavender never makes me hungry. I actually like looking at my hardy, tidy, deer- and drought-resistant lavender plants more than I like sniffing them.

Lavender has traditionally been little used for cooking. The name of this herb, after all, comes from a Latin word for washing, and lavender is still most beloved as a scent for soap. Although southern France is famous for its lavender production, most of the oil is used in perfumery. The famous herbes de Provence, typically rubbed on meats for grilling, sometimes include lavender blossoms, but lavender has no place in the certified label rouge mix, which comprises only thyme, rosemary, savory, oregano, and basil. French cooks do sometimes infuse lavender flowers in milk to flavor ice cream or custard, and the flowers are occasionally used in tisanes and in vinegar or vinaigrette, but other culinary uses seem rare in France.

Americans, in contrast, are experimenting freely with lavender in foods. I’ve eaten both lavender meringues and lavender shortbread. Alma Chocolate, in Portland, makes caramel sauce and caramel candies from cream infused with lavender (the candies are coated in bittersweet chocolate and sprinkled with salt). Sundance Lavender Farm, also here in Oregon, recommends using lavender stems as skewers for fruit or shrimp kabobs; freezing the blossoms in ice cubes; infusing honey and jams with the flowers; adding lavender sprigs to pink champagne cocktails, lemonade, or punch; and sprinkling the flowers over salads, fruit, and desserts. Renee Shepherd puts lavender sugar in hot or iced tea; makes a syrup with lavender, dessert wine, and orange juice to pour over cut fresh fruit; rubs lavender blossoms in lemon juice and olive oil on pork or lamb for grilling; and tosses lavender stems, leaves, or flowers over the hot coals while grilling lamb, pork, or salmon. American bartenders, likewise, are making their own lavender syrup and adding it to cocktails.

If I wanted to experiment with fresh lavender this year, I knew, I had to hurry. The flowers are best harvested while still in bud, and mine were beginning to open. The day after the potluck dawned sunny and dry, so in the cool of the morning I sniffed my various specimens of Lavandula angustifolia—“narrow-leafed” lavender, true lavender, or English lavender—and chose the intensely fragrant, deepest blue flowers of Sharon Roberts, a Nichols Garden Nursery introduction.*

I wanted to make lemonade that tasted more of lavender than sugar. But how should I instill the lavender aroma? I could flavor the sugar, as Renee Shepherd suggests, by burying several lavender spikes in a jar of sugar and closing up the jar for a week. Or I could make up a batch of plain lemonade, add lavender flowers or spikes, and chill the lemonade until the flavor seemed right. Alternatively, I could make a batch of lavender syrup, which I could keep on hand for making lemonade or cocktails by the glass, with the lavender syrup standing in for sugar (in the case of lemonade) or plain syrup (in the case of cocktails).

I chose the last option. Now I had to decide how strong the syrup should be, in both sugar content and lavender aroma. I decided on the typical sugar-water ratio for a bartender’s simple syrup: 1 part sugar to 1 part water. A 1:1 syrup needs refrigeration or pasteurization for long keeping, but it won’t tend to crystallize, as a 2:1 syrup will. And I would use plenty of lavender, more than was called for in any recipe I could find.

Lavender Syrup

 2 cups water
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons fresh lavender buds

Bring the ingredients slowly to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove the pan form the heat, and cover it.

After 30 minutes or longer, strain the syrup through a fine strainer. Press the flowers in the strainer to extract as much syrup as possible.

Makes about 2 ¼ cups syrup

My syrup turned out nearly colorless, with a silvery tinge, a strong floral aroma, and a mildly bitter taste. Even without alcohol, it would make a grown-up lemonade.

Lavender Lemonade, by the Glass

About 6 ice cubes
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon lavender syrup
¾ cup club soda or plain water

Put the ice cubes into a 12-ounce glass, and pour the lemon juice and lavender syrup over them. Add the club soda or water, and stir.

As I’d hope, the lemonade turned out more aromatic than sweet, and slightly, refreshingly bitter. My husband would have liked an even stronger lavender flavor, but I don’t advise using more than a half-cup of flowers in your syrup. My son Ben suggested adding gin to the lemonade (I sent him home with a jar of lavender syrup, which he says he’ll try in various cocktails, such as a Lavender Aviation, with lavender syrup replacing the crème de violette). For me, though, club soda makes this drink celebratory enough, and with plain water it’s a fine accompaniment to meals.

 

*”English” lavender, like other lavender species, is native not to England but to southern Europe, although unlike other species it is hardy enough to grow in England. My “Spanish” lavender, L. stoechas—the species whose fat flowerheads are each amusingly topped with four large violet-pink bracts—succumbed to last winter’s extreme cold. Toothy-leafed “French” lavender, L. dentata, also lacks cold-tolerance. In any case, these species are too bitter and camphor-like to use in cooking, as is the powerfully aromatic L. latifolia, also known as spike lavender. Yet another kind of lavender is lavandin, a cross of L. angustifolia and L. latifolia. Because of its high productivity, lavandin is now the most cultivated lavender in Provence, but it is better in perfume than in food.

Posted in Herbs | Tagged | 12 Comments

Brined Cherries, for a Change

brined cherriesPickled fruit? People often ask me that two-word question with a look of mixed astonishment and horror. But in the Anglo-American tradition fruits have commonly been preserved in strong vinegar, along with plenty of sugar, to make sour, sweet, and long-keeping accompaniments for meats. These pickles are similar to English-style fruit chutneys, though not as heavily spiced. Less common but also traditional in North America are lightly sweetened vinegar-picked fruits, such as cherry olives—that is, vinegar-pickled dark cherries that resemble olives more in appearance than taste.

These pickles all have their place. I love sweet pickled figs or plums on the Thanksgiving table, sour pickled grapes on a salad dressed with olive oil alone, and cherry olives with pâté. But for a milder-tasting fruit pickle that complements a wider range of foods and drinks, it’s worth considering leaving out vinegar altogether. Pickling fruits in brine, in the same way as cucumbers and other vegetables, can be another appealing way of extending the season.

I recently applied this method to my favorite wild cherries, which are slightly bitter, too small to pit, and nearly black when ripe. To ensure that the cherries wouldn’t soften too much with fermentation, I picked them when they were not quite ripe but still dark red. And then I devised this recipe:

Brined Cherries

1 pint (about ¾ pound) small, slightly underripe cherries, stems trimmed to 1 inch or removed
2 small dried hot peppers, slit lengthwise
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2 to 3 sprigs thyme
¼ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (or substitute black peppercorns)
1 Mediterranean bay leaf
2½ teaspoon pickling salt
1½ cups water

Rinse the cherries well, and put them into a clean quart jar along with the peppers, garlic, thyme, Sichuan peppercorns, and bay leaf. In another container, dissolve the salt in the water. Pour the brine over the cherries. They won’t float—at least mine don’t—so you shouldn’t need to weight them.

Cover the jar loosely, and let it stand at room temperature for about a week. Check occasionally for yeast or mold, and promptly skim off any that appears. When the cherries taste at once briny, tart, and a little spicy, cap the jar and refrigerate it. Serve the cherries cold.

I like brined cherries as a small, slow, thoughtful snack, because even for me they are strange and hard to categorize. They are good with drinks before dinner; upon first tasting them my son Ben immediately wanted to try one in a martini. Use a gin with plenty of juniper, he recommends, but light on other botanicals.

 

Posted in Fermented foods, Fruits, Pickles | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Strawberries in Red Wine

strawberries in red wineHere in the Willamette Valley we’re at the height of strawberry season, and the berries have acquired the full aroma and sweetness that tell you summer has arrived. I snack on the fruits every time I pass by any of my three strawberry patches, and I’m stuffing the freezer with bags full of berries, for making jam and preserves when time allows and instant strawberry ice cream whenever my youngest is around. And after I pick a big basketful of strawberries I always put some aside for dessert, because the strawberries deserve—and we deserve—this formal celebration of the season.

Unfortunately, Robert and I aren’t usually in the mood for extra flour, fat, or a lot of effort in the kitchen at this time of year. So, for dessert, we’ve come to prefer our strawberries simply halved, tossed in sugar, and bathed in red wine.

For this recipe you’ll want a wine that’s not too heavy or tannic. A California merlot has served the purpose well; we found an Australian shiraz to be too much. A very low-acid wine might call for a bit of added lemon juice.

Vanilla sugar is sold in grocery stores in Europe (and in specialty markets, at high prices, in the United States), but I make it simply by keeping halved vanilla pods buried in a bowl of sugar. Plain sugar will do fine if you have no vanilla sugar. If you like, you might add a drop of vanilla extract to the strawberries.

If you want to get fancy, add slivered mint, basil, or lemon verbena leaves.

1 pound strawberries, topped and halved
1/3 cup vanilla sugar
1 cup red wine

In a bowl, gently toss the halved strawberries with the sugar. Pour the red wine over. Let the berries macerate for 2 hours.

Divide the berries among dessert bowls or glasses, and pour the wine over them.

Serves 3 generously

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Strawberries and Roses for a Scented Spring Cordial

strawberry-rose cordialHere in the cool Northwest we’re not yet fully into strawberry season, though I’ve tasted a few tiny, tender, perfumed Alexandrias. But the rugosa roses are putting forth a new crop of lovely pink blooms daily, and I feel driven to capture their scent in one way or another. A few days ago I did so with this syrup, made with last year’s strawberries from the freezer:

Strawberry-Rose Syrup

1½ pounds hulled strawberries
½ pound strong-scented pink or red rose petals
4 cups sugar
Juice of 1 to 2 lemons, to taste 

macerating roses and strawberriesDrop the strawberries into a large bowl, add the sugar, and crush the fruit with a potato masher. Add the rose petals and crush some more, until the mixture is more liquid than solid and much reduced in volume. Cover the bowl, and let the mixture rest for 12 to 24 hours.

straining strawberry-rose syrup

 

Drain the syrup through a fine-meshed strainer. Stir and press the solids in the strainer to extract the remaining liquid.

Combine the syrup with the lemon juice in a nonreactive pot of at least 4 quarts’ capacity. Bring the syrup to a boil, and boil it for 1 minute.

If you’d like to store the syrup in the pantry, immediately pour it into pint or half-pint mason jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. Alternatively, store the syrup in sterilized bottles in the refrigerator. I think it’s best to keep at least a little syrup in the fridge, so you can enjoy it while still smelling the perfume of strawberries and roses in your garden.

Makes 2 to 2½ pints

On a warm, sunny day, after a couple of hours of scything grass or other sweaty work, drop a few ice cubes into a tall glass. Add 2 to 4 tablespoons Strawberry-Rose Syrup (depending on the strength of your sweet tooth) and ¾ cup carbonated or plain cold water. Stir well, and then drink up the most refreshing treat imaginable.

If the day is coming to a close, you might forget the water and instead combine the syrup with chilled bubbly wine.

 

 

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Another Use for Angelica

blooming angelica Blooming exactly in accordance with European folk tradition is this Angelica archangelica, whose flowers burst forth in my garden on May 8, the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. When you see flowering angelica you may have missed your chance to cut stems for preserving—unless you also find some first-year plants, which will wait until next year to blossom. Happily, I have a bed crowded with both first- and second-year angelica.

Upon seeing the blooms I hurried to cut a few young, all-green stems (the flowering ones turn red), because I remembered that I’d wanted to make a traditional northern European preserve that combines stalks of both angelica and rhubarb. I thank Laura Content, of Portland, for telling me about—

rhubarb-angelica preservesRhubarb-Angelica Preserves

2/3 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 pound rhubarb stalks
½ pound angelica stalks

In a preserving pan, slowly dissolve the sugar in the water, and bring the syrup to a boil.

As the syrup heats, cut the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Peel the angelica stalks, and cut them it into slender rings. Add the angelica and rhubarb to the hot syrup, stir, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer it very gently for an hour or longer, stirring very little if at all, until the rhubarb is quite tender and the syrup is somewhat thickened. Keep in mind that the preserves will thicken more as they cool.

Ladle the preserves into four half-pint sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 5 minutes.

The recipe to which Laura referred me was actually one for rhubarb-angelica jam. If you want a jammy texture, you can simply stir the preserves during or after cooking. But I think that preserves are prettier, especially if your rhubarb is the red-skinned kind.

Angelica has a strong aroma that mystifies and even scares people unfamiliar with it. If you’d prefer to tone down the angelica, at least the first time that you try this recipe, simply increase the weight of rhubarb in relation to the angelica. Try, say, 1¼ pounds rhubarb to ¼ pound angelica.

If you really love angelica, you might use proportionally more than called for here. One reader of this blog wrote that Icelanders use equal parts rhubarb and angelica in their preserves. That might take some getting used to, but I already like angelica in this more modest role.

Posted in Herbs, Sweet preserves, Wild foods | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

An Appetizer for Spring: Fried Angelica Sheaths

angelica pods on the plantWhile browsing in Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed yesterday, I came upon a description of two angelica species, Angelica archangelica and A. sylvestris: “Both these angelicas grow wild near abandoned ruins and damp places. In February the Salentines [the people of the Salerno, the heel of the Italian boot] go feverishly in search of them. This is the moment when the incipient flower-heads are still enclosed in their sheaths right up against the greenish-purple stem. You cut these sheaths with a knife.”

Ah, I though, here is my reward for letting angelica—the garden variety, A. archangelica—take over an entire flower bed. I headed straight to the garden to cut some of the little sheaths. According to Patience, I could boil or grill them and serve them with olive oil and a little wine vinegar, or I could boil, flour, and fry them. The sheaths would taste strong and bitter, I knew, although Patience described them as “aromatic and faintly sweet.” British by birth, she had adopted Italian tastes; she seemed to truly like bitter weeds. I might prefer the bitterness softened with grease and starch. So I decided to fry my sheaths.

angelica pods before blanchingThe sheaths came in various sizes. I tore into some of the large ones because I could feel bits of hard stalk inside. Within each large sheath I found a smaller one, or, usually, two. Sometimes the larger of the two contained two more little sheaths. The soft green pouches within pouches reminded me of Matryoshka dolls, or of the Cat in the Hat, with all the little and littler cats hidden beneath his topper.

A tender green flower-head peeked out from one slightly open sheath, looking like a strangely delicate broccoli floret. Perhaps this sheath was past its prime? I decided to use it anyway.

To make zavirne fritte, you boil the sheaths “for a few minutes,” instructed Patience. I hurried to put a pot of salted water on to boil, because the cut edges of the angelica had begun browning immediately after harvest. I boiled the sheaths vigorously for five minutes. This was perhaps a bit too long; one or two began to fall apart, though the open sheath turned out fine. Next time I’ll give them just three to four minutes.

I drained off the now vivid-green water, covered the sheaths with cold water, and let them sit in the water for an hour, as Patience instructed. The soaking, I supposed, would moderate their bitterness.

blanched angelica podsAfter an hour had passed, I drained the sheaths and dried them on a towel. I rolled them first in beaten egg and then in salted and peppered flour before frying them in hot oil until the coating turned golden.

We ate the fried sheaths immediately, while I finished cooking dinner. This was the right thing to do, because zavirne fritte are best hot; the warm, crisp coating counteracts the bitterness.

cooked angelica podsAngelica sheaths are bitter, more bitter than radicchio, I’d say, though less so than dandelions. The incipient flower-heads inside are tender and sweetly perfumed in the odd, medicinal way of angelica—rather like licorice, rather like anise, but at the same time wholly different from both. To know this flavor you must try angelica candy or liqueur, if not zavirne fritte.

Robert dislikes the flavor of angelica; it reminds him of soap. (Soapmakers take note: The scent of angelica would be appealing in your products.) Maybe the flavor will grow on him, if he lets it. But eating angelica is lovely thing to try even if you do it just once. You will no doubt marvel at the taste, and, if you believe the old-time herbalists, you will leave the table fortified against witches, evil spirits, and the plague.

 

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From the First of the Year’s Rhubarb: A Compote

rhubarb-strawberrry compoteMaybe you remember the Rhubarb-Rose Preserves I made the year before last? The recipe was inspired by a simple dessert in Margaret Rudkin’s Pepperidge Farm Cookbook. The beauty of Margaret’s dessert, and of my preserves, is that the rhubarb pieces stay intact instead of falling apart, because they’re cooked in the oven rather than on the stovetop.

With my first harvest of rhubarb this spring, I wanted to make a dessert like Margaret’s, but I wanted it red, not greenish. I have one rhubarb plant whose stalks are red both inside and out, but they weren’t ready to harvest yet. All my other rhubarb plants have green stalks with red-speckled skins. I couldn’t add roses to the mix, because none are blooming here yet, and strawberries don’t ripen until June. But I had plenty of strawberries from last year still in the freezer. So I made this lovely dessert:

Baked Rhubarb-Strawberry Compote

1¼ pounds rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch lengths
1¼ pounds hulled strawberries
2/3 cup sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toss the rhubarb, strawberries and sugar together in a baking dish. Bake the compote for an hour or longer, until the rhubarb is quite tender but still intact. There will be a lot of liquid in the dish, but the compote will thicken as it cools.

Serve the compote hot, cooled, or chilled, on its own or with pound cake, shortcake, or ice cream. 

Makes about 4 cups compote 

If the amount of sugar in this recipe seems high, keep in mind that rhubarb is very tart and not noticeably sweet at all.

If you like, add a cinnamon stick or ground ginger along with the other ingredients.

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A Beautiful Pantry . . .

Andrea's garage. . . or, actually, a beautiful corner of a garage, at the home of Julie Barnett of Salem, Oregon. Her mom, Andrea, who sent me this photo, says that Julie is “always on the quest for the perfect pickle.” The picture of Julie’s bounty was too good to keep to myself. Thanks, Julie and Andrea, for letting me share it here.

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Fresh from the Pod: Green Garbanzos

raw garbanzosThis find from a Salem, Oregon, supermarket may be nothing new to the Californians and Southwesterners among my readers, but it got me excited: fresh garbanzos, fully grown but still green and in the pod. I shelled them like regular peas—each pod cradled just one or two garbanzos—and boiled them for seven minutes before tossing them into a salad. Cooked, they had a flavor that was pea-like, though less sweet, and a firm texture with none of the mealiness of dried garbanzos. My dinner guests startled at the cooked chickpeas’ bright yellow-green color.

cooked garbanzosAn ancient food of the Mediterranean region, southern Asia, and North Africa, garbanzos need a long, rather cool growing season in well-drained soil. So where had these pods come from, in early April? I guessed southern California, and a little sleuthing around the Web reinforced my suspicion.  A company called Califresh was established near Fresno in 2002 specifically to produce green garbanzos, after the founders saw Mexican immigrants selling uprooted plants, their green pods dangling, along the roadsides of southern California. Green garbanzos had long been a popular snack in Mexico, and Mexican immigrant communities were a ready market. Soon Califresh had expanded production to several Californian and Mexican growing areas so the company could supply the fresh market year round. And the market was wherever a lot of Mexicans were settling—as they have been, in recent years, in and around Salem, Oregon.

I’ve never grown garbanzos, for either fresh or dried use. I’d like to do it just for the treat of my own in-pod green garbanzos. And in growing my own I could try red, black, and brown chickpeas, from among any of the dozen or more varieties listed by Seed Savers Exchange. Could I really manage to grow them, though, with my heavy soil and short growing season?

Garbanzos can indeed be grown in cooler places. Thanks in part to the current craze for hummus, they are now a major commercial crop in eastern Washington, western Idaho, and Montana, and farmers also grow them in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Oregon. In fact, for several years now a farm family in my county has been growing, drying, and shelling garbanzos for local sale.

Garbanzos are usually planted in early spring, because the plants need at least three months to produced filled pods and longer for the pods to dry. Our wet soils of spring and cold rains of autumn will be problematic for me. But producing green garbanzos should be much easier than producing dry ones. And if necessary I can follow the example of other dogged gardeners, by starting the seeds indoors–in biodegradable pots, because garbanzos dislike having their roots disturbed.

If you’ve grown garbanzos or found good ways to prepare the shelled green chickpeas, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Posted in Vegetables | Tagged | 16 Comments