The New Fruit Cellar


I took this picture through a basement window.

I took this picture through a basement window.

In case you’ve been wondering why I haven’t written in so long, I’ll explain: We’ve been moving. This has involved renovating a little old bungalow, cleaning out a big house, a two-story garage, and a large barn, selling or giving away half of what was left after burglars took a good share, and fitting everything we couldn’t part with into our new, cozy digs. The 2015 vintage alone, in carboys, filled the trailer. The canned goods from the garage barely fit into the bed of a large pickup; we moved the hundreds of jars from the pantry in separate trips. Happily, the basement of the bungalow came with an old preserving cupboard. It’s taken me months, but I finally have all the shelves filled, organized, and labeled.

What you don’t see in the picture are the dozens of older jars of jams, jellies, and syrups that wouldn’t fit in the cupboard. I’ll probably make them into wine–but we have plenty of that. Maybe I’ll just feed them to the ever-ravenous soldier fly larvae in my compost.

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The Bambi Wars Continue

My latest weapon in the war against the deer is kimchi. The dryer sheets repelled them only briefly last summer, and the creatures are apparently starting to savor the scent of rotten egg. Rotten egg presents other problems, too: It clogs the sprayer, and it ruins my appetite for fruits and vegetables sprayed with the stuff. So this year I thought I’d try a variant on the sulfurous theme, with chile to burn the tongue in case the odor of garlic isn’t offensive enough.

I threw whole heads of garlic—little ones that were too much trouble to peel—into the Vitamix along with handfuls of dried chiles (I have mountains of them, thanks to last year’s long, warm summer). I added water, blended the mixture thoroughly, and left it to sit on the kitchen counter through several days of rain. The mixture fermented, of course, and soon we were smelling . . . kimchi! By the time the sun came out the stink was strong enough to drive my husband out of the house. So I strained the juice through muslin, poured the liquid into the backpack sprayer, added more water, and went to work spraying the orchard.

The deer seemed to lose their appetite for a week or two. Then more rain fell, and the deer found my peas. Fortunately I’d left the sprayer partially filled in the barn, which no stray cat (or husband) would subsequently go near. I went spraying again—and also rigged up some wires in hopes of garroting a pea-eating deer. (I caught a lawn-mowing husband instead. He howled, but he left the wires alone. He likes peas.)

kimchi juiceI ran out of the juice before spraying some of the roses and blueberries, and last night the midnight marauders gave those bushes an unwelcome pruning. But when I’d made cabbage kimchi a week previously, I’d reserved some excess liquid. We should have had a meal of kimchi soup—I love kimchi soup– but we hadn’t yet, and so two quarts of cloudy, smelly red juice still sat on the kitchen counter today. I poured the liquid through muslin and scooped the chile-ginger-garlic mash that remained into the jars of kimchi.

I’m off to fill the sprayer again, this time with real kimchi juice. Wish me luck!

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Long Red Radishes from Italy, Angelica for the Bugs, and Roses for Preserves

long red radishI should have photographed these before they started to bolt, but they’re still lovely, aren’t they? The variety is Ravanello Candela di Fuoco, and the seeds were a gift from Charlene Murdock and Richard White of Nana Cardoon. Before the radishes get old and woody, they are mild, tender, and delicious. Charlene said she cooks with their pods, which I will try pickling.

If you want to attract beneficial insects to your garden, consider planting some angelica. As I’ve written before, this big, umbellliferous herb is good for candying, making into liqueurs and preserves, and even as eating as a vegetable. Besides all that, insects love the flower heads. Stopping for a minute beside my angelica plants today, I saw bees and flies—several species of each—and wasps, beetles, and more. I wish I had an entomologist on hand to tell me exactly what all these creatures are doing.

angelica with beetle

angelica with flyangelica with honeybee

moss roseOn a visit to an “heirloom” rose nursery yesterday I was disappointed to find more modern roses—such as miniatures and deep purple monstrosities—than old-fashioned varieties. I left with two David Austin cultivars, but just a mile down the road I had to stop to inhale the scent from a big patch of native nootkas, and back at home I admired my lovely moss rose, which came back after years of continuous mowing by the man from whom we bought this farm. I’ll probably use a few of the moss roses along with rugosas and nootkas when I make rose preserves this evening.

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

Shrub, Part II: Quince Vinegar, Syrup, and Shrub

quince shrub, syrup, & vinegarThe various historical meanings of shrub have always fallen into two groups, the syrup, or pre-mix, and the finished drink. I’ve often made shrub as a finished drink but seldom as a pre-mix, because it makes more sense, to me, to preserve fruit either as a flavored vinegar or as a syrup without vinegar. Flavored vinegar can also go on salads; syrups can go into cocktails or lemonade or over ice cream or pancakes. To make shrub from flavored vinegar, you add sugar and water. To make it from syrup, you add vinegar and water. Either method is barely more complicated than making shrub from fruit syrup with vinegar already added. I have wondered, though: Which is better—shrub made from fruit syrup or shrub made from flavored vinegar? I decided to do a comparison using my homemade quince syrup and quince vinegar. Making quince syrup and vinegar is easy enough for anyone with a quince tree. To make the vinegar, put diced quinces (there is no need to peel them) into a jar, and cover them with cider vinegar, distilled vinegar, or white wine vinegar (I recommend cider vinegar, for reasons I’ll explain shortly). For 2 pounds quinces you’ll need about a quart of vinegar. Close up the jar, wait about three weeks, and then strain and bottle the vinegar. There are many ways to make fruit syrups, but I prefer a raw method: Layer equal weights of diced unpeeled quinces and sugar in a jar (don’t skimp on the syrup or you’ll end up with a sort of quince wine). Close up the jar, and shake it occasionally over the next few days, until all the sugar has dissolved. After two weeks or longer, strain the syrup. It’s a good idea to store the syrup in the refrigerator. I made my first quince shrub from the syrup, as follows: Quince Shrub 1 2 tablespoons quince syrup 2 tablespoons cider vinegar ¼ cup cold water 3 ice cubes  Stir the syrup and vinegar together in a glass (I used a small wine glass). Add the water and ice, and stir again.  I filled another glass with quince shrub made this way: Quince Shrub 2 1½ tablespoons sugar 2½ tablespoons quince-flavored vinegar 3½ tablespoons cold water 3 ice cubes  Stir the ingredients together just as for Quince Shrub 1.  The two shrubs tasted equally strongly of quince. The syrup-based one had a slightly earthier flavor, perhaps because it was made with cider vinegar, whereas I’d used distilled vinegar to make my quince-flavored vinegar. The big difference between the two drinks, though, was in appearance: The vinegar-based shrub was colorless, like my quince-flavored vinegar; the syrup-based shrub was golden. Using cider vinegar would have eliminated this difference. Then I decided to try using both of my quince products, the syrup and the vinegar, in a third glass of shrub: Quince Shrub 3 2 tablespoons quince syrup 2½ tablespoons quince-flavored vinegar ¼ cup cold water 3 ice cubes Stir the ingredients together as for Quince Shrub 1.  The third shrub was golden in color and undoubtedly the quinciest in flavor. But don’t worry if you have only enough quinces for vinegar or syrup; all of these shrubs were deliciously refreshing. With carbonated water in place of still water, any of them would make a lovely soda. And with a splash of brandy or rum, any would make a tasty sort of cocktail—one that would I think would please Sir Walter Besant, whether he recognized it as shrub or not.  

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Shrub, Part I: The Story of a Drink

Fifty Years AgoIs there any living man who now calls for shrub?

You may still see it on the shelf of an old-fashioned inn; you may even see the announcement that it is for sale painted on door-posts, but no man regardeth it. I believe that it was supposed to possess valuable medicinal properties, the nature of which I forget.

So wrote Sir Walter Besant in 1892, in his book Fifty Years Ago, about a drink a half-century out of style in England. But Besant wasn’t reminiscing about today’s typical shrub, sweetened flavored vinegar served well diluted. More likely he was remembering an alcoholic lemonade, like the one fortified with brandy and wine in Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife (1766). Or he might have remembered an orange shrub; Benjamin Franklin left a recipe for one, made with rum, among his papers.

Besant associated shrub with “medicinal properties” because shrub was, after all, a sort of syrup (the words shrub and syrup are closely related, with Arabic roots), and both syrup and alcohol had long histories as vehicles for drugs. In 1892, though, medicine was modernizing fast, and disease was no longer a valid excuse for alcoholic imbibing. So shrub had gone the way of outmoded English drinks like purl, copus, bishop, and dog’s-nose.

Across the Atlantic, however, shrubs were still popular. During the nineteenth century they had actually expanded in variety, as Americans substituted local fruits for citrus. Cookbooks contained recipes for red and white currant shrub, cherry shrub, raspberry shrub, and occasionally even fox-grape shrub.

With the exception of grape, all of these shrub varieties are included, along with orange and lemon, in Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide of 1862. Thomas added vinegar only to his raspberry shrub, probably because the other fruits were sufficiently acidic without it. (He specified that the cherries should be “acid”; that is, they should be sour cherries, not sweet ones.)

Judging by the frequency of its appearance in nineteenth-century cookbooks, raspberry shrub became the standard type. Perhaps because raspberry shrub always included vinegar, vinegar became a standard shrub ingredient. The method of making shrub changed, too: Instead of cooking the fruit, as was always done in older shrub recipes, the fruit was now soaked in vinegar, and then the vinegar was strained and combined with sugar to make a sour syrup. Here’s a typical recipe, from Estelle Woods Wilcox’s Buckeye Cookery (1877):

Raspberry Shrub

Place red raspberries in a stone jar, cover them with vinegar, let stand over night; next morning strain, and to one pint of juice add one pint of sugar, boil ten minutes, and bottle while hot.—Mrs. Judge West. 

For serving, the syrup was well diluted with water and ice. The shrub might or might not be spiked with brandy or other liquor at serving time.

(I let my fruit steep much longer than Mrs. Judge West advises, three weeks or more. And I often use the berries, too, after straining them out: I toss them into a fruit or green salad, and then I dress the salad with oil but no vinegar or other acid. The vinegar-soaked berries keep for many weeks in the refrigerator.)

By the late nineteenth century, the American use of the term shrub had narrowed. In 1892, the same year in which Besant wrote, the Missouri Horticultural Society published a recipe for raspberry shrub along with nearly identical recipes, except for the choice of fruit, for “blackberry vinegar” and “strawberry acid.” Shrub was coming to mean one thing only: Sweetened raspberry-flavored vinegar, diluted with water and ice.

By the mid-twentieth century shrub was waning in popularity even in America. Apparently only country people—those with scant access to fresh lemons but with plenty of homemade cider vinegar—bothered to make the drink. For farm families such as one I know here in the Willamette Valley, raspberry shrub has been a special, non-alcoholic refreshment for the hot summer days of haymaking.

Several years ago, though, shrub became a hot topic of discussion among the hip. It seemed that scads of city folk were throwing out their kombucha cultures and mixing up their first batches of shrub. Partially responsible for the trend was Andy Ricker, of the Portland restaurant Pok Pok, who discovered “drinking vinegars” in local Asian markets and started making his own in 2005 (he now sells them under the label Som). Some people recognized Andy’s drinking vinegars as shrubs. And suddenly shrubs were back in style.

But the meaning of the term shrub has shifted once more: Now shrub is any sort of drink acidified with vinegar. It might be made with cooked or raw fruit. It might be drunk with soda water. It might be a sort of cocktail. It might be made from beets! (You can imagine how simple that recipe can be: Pour some liquid from a jar of sweet pickled beets into a glass. Add water and ice to taste.)

A commercial quince shrub even won a 2015 Good Food Award. Its maker, a California company called INNA Jam, has returned to the eighteenth-century tradition of cooking fruit to make shrub.

I make quince shrub, too, but in the more modern, American way: I use raw fruit, thus preserving its vitamin C and fresh flavor. You’ll find my recipes in “Shrub, Part II: Quince Vinegar, Syrup, and Shrub.”

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Name the Mystery Melon

Asian melonDo you recognize this melon? I found one like it at a Vietnamese market in Portland in 2013, saved the seeds, and planted them in 2014. The vines were vigorous and healthy, and the fruits oblong and fairly large, with netted yellow skins and pale orange flesh. These melons aren’t aromatic, but they are extremely sweet and wonderfully crisp. The texture is more like that of watermelon than that of cantaloupe.

Although I’m planning only a small summer garden this year, I’m once again including this melon. If you know what it is, please let me know!

Posted in Fruits | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Olive-Oil Pickles: Q&A

Before the routine use of mason jars or even paraffin in the home kitchen, olive oil was often used, in America as well as Europe, to seal air out of jars of vinegar-pickled vegetables. When you’re canning pickles in the modern way today, oil might seem a superfluous addition—if it didn’t make the vegetables look and taste so good after they’re drawn, unctuously gleaming, from the jar.

Once you’ve pried off the lid and stored the jar in the fridge, though, the oil can partially or totally solidify. That doesn’t make for such a pretty pickle. Here’s how Matt, one reader of The Joy of Pickling, encountered this problem: 

I’m a beginner to this experience, and have made a few pickle recipes from your Joy book. I have a question relating to a recipe I did of the olive oil pickles (page 98). I did as instructed, and opened around 4 weeks after pantry storage. They tasted amazing! After about a week in the fridge, however, the opened jar formed small, white beads at the top. They vary in diameter, but all quite smaller than the mustard seeds.  

The unopened ones do not exhibit this, and I am concerned that there is something wrong. Perhaps this is some congealing of ingredients, but I wanted to see if you’ve encountered similar results. I haven’t eaten them since they’ve been in the fridge (e.g., formed the beads), so am only hoping that the refrigeration is the factor here, and that they are safe to eat.

And here are two photos that Matt sent me:

congealed olive oilcongealed olive oil 2

Sometimes chilled olive oil forms a solid whitish mass; other times it solidifies only partially. The “beads” Matt saw are solidified oil droplets.

The solution to this problem is simple: Take the jar out of the refrigerator a little before serving time, and let the oil melt in the warmer air outside the fridge. In Matt’s case the oil had only slightly solidified, so the melting probably took only ten minutes or so.

There’s something else to remember about oiled pickles: Oil on the rim of the jar or on the lid’s sealing compound can prevent a good seal. So be sure to leave adequate headspace in the jar, wipe any oil off the rim with a paper towel or clean cloth dampened with vinegar before placing the lid on top, and avoid tipping the jars or boiling the water hard during processing.

Posted in Pickles, Preserving science, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Forget the Roots: Radishes for Spicy Sprouts

red-stemmed kaiware sproutsThese are red-stemmed kaiware, radish sprouts, growing in one of my raised beds last September. I thank Judy Gregory for sending me the seeds. She got them from Kitazawa Seed Co., of Oakland, which has been selling Asian seeds in California since 1917 (except for a three-year break during World War II, when the Kitazawa family members were confined in concentration camps).

Kitazawa’s online catalog currently lists eight radish varieties for sprouting, in various colors from all-green to all-purple; two other varieties for their developed leaves (ha daikon); and thirty-seven for their roots, from round to tapered and from small (such as French Breakfast) to monstrous (Sakurajima Mammoth, which can reach 100 pounds). Although kaiware and ha daikon are of the same species, Raphanus sativus, as all of the root radishes, the roots of kaiware and ha daikon do not swell.

Kaiware are so delicate that they are always eaten raw. In the Japanese tradition they embellish sashimi and sushi, and at any table they can add a mildly pungent, crisp element to salads, sandwiches, and soups.

radish seed packetThe kaiware seed envelope said the sprouts would be ready in ten days, but I think I started harvesting in five. I cut the stems with scissors; this allowed me not only to avoid bringing soil into the kitchen but also to harvest repeatedly from the same little patch.

After going away for a few weeks, I had big leaves to harvest. Unlike the prickly leaves of cherry radishes, these were tender enough that we could enjoy them raw in salads. We cooked some, too, just as we might cook mustard or beet greens.

flowering radishAlthough I’ve now started a fresh kaiware patch, the original one lasted through the winter, under plastic. We would still be eating from the same patch, in fact, except that I’m now letting it go to seed. Unlike many of the root radishes in the Kitazawa catalog, the kaiware varieties are all non-hybrids, so I plan to keep the seeds in the hope that we can continue eating kaiware indefinitely. As for the money I’ll save, I may well spend it on seeds of some other amazing vegetable variety from Kitazawa.

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Another Fine Use for Parsnips

Danita’s story about parsnips in her Grandma’s stew made me curious: What about parsnips would turn off a child? Danita remembered the parsnips as bitter. Did the cooking method make them this way, or did it bring out a bitterness that other preparations would mask?

So I boiled a couple of my gigantic parsnips, without salt or any other flavoring, put them through a food mill, and tasted the purée. Danita was right: The stuff was bitter. With some of the natural sugar lost to the cooking water, and without added salt or fat, the parsnips were indeed distasteful.

No matter, though, because I have no qualms about adding salt or fat to my vegetables. I couldn’t think of any way I might use the purée, in fact, without adding both salt and fat. And I decided to try—

parsnip gnocchiParsnip Gnocchi, for Two 

To purée big parsnips, peel them, slice them crosswise into two or more pieces, and cut each piece into four or eight wedges. Stand each piece on the wider cut end, and slice out the core. Gently boil the cored pieces in a little water, as you would potatoes, until the pieces are tender. Then press them through the medium screen of a food mill.

1 cup parsnip purée
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter
Ground black pepper
Grated nutmeg
A sprig or two of rosemary, dried and crumbled or fresh and chopped
Several cloves of garlic, minced
Large bunch of beet, chard, or kale leaves
½ cup grated parmesan cheese 

Put the parsnip purée into a bowl, add the salt, and lightly stir in ½ cup of the flour. Sprinkle a little of the remaining flour over the mass and the rest across a cutting board. Form the mass into a long snake about ¾ inch thick. Cut the snake into ½-inch pieces. Separate the pieces, and roll them lightly in the flour on the board. 

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. In a large frying pan, melt the butter, and add the black pepper, nutmeg, and rosemary. Turn off the heat under the frying pan. 

In the saucepan, gently boil the gnocchi in batches of about a dozen for about a minute, until the gnocchi rise to the top. Remove them with a slotted pan to the frying pan, and turn the heat to low. When all the gnocchi have been added, toss in the garlic. Turn the gnocchi gently as the garlic begins to release its scent. Turn off the heat. 

Steam the greens. (I put them fresh-rinsed and still damp into a wide pan, cover the pan, and cook them just until they are limp.) 

Put the greens into a wide, shallow bowl, and top them with the gnocchi and seasoned butter. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the dish, and put the rest into a small bowl to serve along with the gnocchi. Enjoy!

As I’d hoped, the tender white gnocchi tasted deliciously of parsnips. To me, at least, no bitterness was detectable in this dish—except in the beet greens. And the garlicky butter tamed even that bitterness—enough for the typical grownup, at least. A typical kid might turn down the greens but happily gobble up the gnocchi.

I’m glad to say I have more parsnip purée in the fridge. I could try Graeme’s parsnip pie. Or, how about parsnip ravioli?

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Last-Chance Pickles from Last Summer’s Citron Melon

pickled citron melonI feel ridiculous giving so much attention this time of year to a fruit of hot summer days, Citrullus lanatus—that is, the species that includes both watermelons and citron melons. After all, for nearly half a year I ignored the citron melons I’d harvested late last summer, though they lay in plain view on the tiled floor of our entry hall. But yesterday I noticed a brown area on one, like a bruise, and when I lifted the melon it spilled its guts and fell to pieces. Looking at the mushy melon chunks lying in a spreading puddle of clear liquid spotted with red seeds, I figured it was time to get cooking the remaining melons.

So I cut one in half, sliced it into slabs, cut off the rind, poked out the many seeds, and diced the flesh. This was a time-consuming job, believe me, but when I was done it was easy to pickle the melon. Here’s how I did it.

Sweet Pickled Citron Melon

I’ve based this recipe on one published in the New York Tribune in 1918, but I’ve omitted a treatment with pickling lime. Citron melon keeps its shape without liming, and, besides, I like the natural soft, chewy texture of the unlimed melon. 

This pickle has a clear, lovely look and a pleasant bit of bitterness from the lime—and here, of course, I mean not the white powder but the round, green citrus fruit. Lemon, as called for by the Tribune recipe, is a perfectly good alternative to lime. 

6 cups water
6 tablespoons salt
3 pounds peeled and seeded citron melon, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup water
1 cup sugar
¼ cup honey
1 small lime, sliced very thin
2 quarter-size pieces fresh ginger
1 2½-inch cinnamon stick, broken
½ teaspoon cloves

Combine the water and salt in a pot, and bring the brine to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt. Add the citron melon, and simmer it for 15 minutes. Drain the citron melon, and drop it into a large bowl of ice water. When the melon has cooled, drain it again.

In a nonreactive pot, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, honey, and lime slices. Put the ginger, cinnamon, and cloves into a spice bag, and put the spice bag into the pot. Heat the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved, and then add the drained citron melon. Simmer the mixture for about an hour, until the melon is completely translucent and the syrup has thickened somewhat. 

Ladle the melon and its liquid into pint or half-pint mason jars, including a lime slice in each jar. Add lids and rings, and process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. 

Makes 3 pints

Posted in Fruits, Pickles, Sweet preserves | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments