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

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Another Red Watermelon Pickle

Gwen's watermelon pickleI was pleased to find outside the front door yesterday a package from Gwen Schock Cowherd, my cherished advisor on all foods German-from-Russia. Gwen had sent a jar of her prize-winning unfermented watermelon pickles, made in the tradition of Midwestern prairie dwellers whose German ancestors once lived beside the Black Sea in Russia.

Gwen's watermelon pickle 2Gwen’s fresh-pickled watermelon tastes much like mine, but with a strong, fresh dilliness and a striking, appealing saltiness. I especially like the bit of crunch provided by the sliver of white rind showing on one edge of each watermelon piece. And notice how pretty Gwen’s pickle jar looks, with the dill heads and the sliced green pepper.

Gwen kindly sent me her recipe to share with you:

Gwen’s Watermelon Pickles

BRINE:
12 cups water
2½ cups sugar
2½ cups white vinegar
¾ cup salt
1 ounce Schilling pickling spice mix

Bring all ingredients to a boil. Simmer for a couple of hours, covered. Stir occasionally to distribute the flavor of the spices. 

1 large seedless watermelon, any variety (better underripe than overripe)
2 small heads fresh dill per jar
1 slivered garlic cove per jar
1 small dried red pepper per jar (optional)
1 or 2 thin green pepper slices per jar 

Peel the watermelon, leaving a thin amount of white rind. Cut the watermelon into 1-by-1/2-inch chunks. Try to leave some white rind on each chunk; this will help to keep it from disintegrating. Drain the chunks in colanders for several hours—overnight is best. 

Pour off the watermelon juice. If you want to use the juice in your brine, that is OK. 

Into each sterilized quart jar, put a dill head, and add watermelon to fill half the jar. Shake the jar so the pieces settle. Then add one small dried red pepper (if you like your pickles hot) and half the garlic slivers. Distribute the garlic among the watermelon chunks. Add more watermelon chunks, again shaking the jar so they settle. Add the strip(s) of green pepper and the rest of the garlic slivers, distributing them in the jar. Put another dill head at the top of the jar. 

Pour the brine, boiling and strained, into the jars. (Save the extra brine for another batch. It will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.) Add lids and rings, and put the jars in a hot water bath. Bring the water to a boil, and boil it for 5 minutes, no longer. 

Remove the jars from the bath and let them cool undisturbed for several hours. Check to see that they are sealed. Store them in a cool place. 

Makes 7 quarts

Gwen says her pickles improve with age. As you can see in the picture, the ones she sent me were made in 2012. Keep in mind, though, that she stores her sealed jars in an especially cool place: a refrigerator reserved just for pickles.

As the fermentation fad spreads, some people are saying that pickles aren’t true pickles unless the solids as well as the liquid components have been fermented. Gwen’s unfermented watermelon pickles, and my slightly sweeter ones, are very different from brine-pickled watermelon, and if you try all three recipes you may well prefer one over another. But I can’t predict which you’ll like best. All of them are real pickles, and all of them are really good.

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Still Eating Parsnips, and Planning for More

parsnips

The longest root here ended up in the compost; it had dipped below the water table and so was rotting. The others broke off at about a foot below the soil surface, as usually happens with my parsnips.

At last week’s book club meeting, in the midst of a discussion of race and gender in nineteenth-century America and the founding of the U.S. Geological Survey, somebody asked the inevitable sort of question: How do you grow parsnips?

Our husbands think we talk about them at these meetings. We do, sometimes. But more often the talk turns to gardening.

I felt an immediate surge of affection for the new member who asked about parsnips. Parsnip lovers are rarities, it seems. Why is this? Who can dislike that carroty flavor combined with extra sweetness? Is the parsnip just too blandly white next to its sunny cousin the carrot? Or is the parsnip so pricey in the market that most people never even try it?

Why such a humble root should cost so much is puzzling in itself, but at least I could take a stab at the new member’s question. For my big parsnip crops of the past couple of years I must thank my friend Lisa, who told me to toss the seeds onto bare soil in February. This works because parsnip seeds require constant moisture for about two weeks while they think about sprouting. Here in the Willamette Valley, we generally have that constant moisture in February. Our frosts continue until mid-May, but that matters not at all to the hardy parsnip.

This year February was so strangely dry that I wonder whether Lisa’s parsnip seeds have germinated. As for me, I’ve held off planting. As I dig the last of last year’s crop, with roots averaging 8 inches across and 1½ feet long, I’m thinking I’d like this year’s parsnips to be a little smaller.

Most gardeners know that you’re supposed to leave your parsnips in the ground until after the first frost to sweeten them up. This is what I’ve done, though I don’t know that I wouldn’t like a less-sweet parsnip. Usually I leave most of my roots in the ground for much longer still. A virtue of parsnips is that you can store them right where they have grown all through the winter—unless the water table rises into their root zone, which causes them to rot, or unless the weather is so brutally cold that a mound of mulch won’t keep them from freezing.

But when you plant parsnips in February for digging in late fall and winter you’re at least doubling the usual four-month growing period. And when parsnips grow for that long they develop two problems: They get so big they become hard to dig, and they develop a hard core that gets bigger and tougher over time. By mid-winter the parsnips may have as much core as tender flesh, which makes for much effort in the kitchen and a big pile of trimmings. And then in late winter the plants sprout new top growth, because, like their carrot cousins, they are biennial. As parsnips prepare to produce seeds, their roots become entirely tough and inedible. So last week I dug the last of the parsnips that we’ll eat this winter. The rest I’ll till under or let go to seed.

We didn’t talk at book club about parsnip varieties. It may be that the variety I’ve been growing, All-American, is more prone to tough cores than others I might try, such as Tender and True, which is described as “almost coreless,” and Harris Early Model, which is said to have no core at all. Considering the high water tables here in winter, maybe the short- and thick-rooted German varieties would be an even better alternative. (Readers, if you’ve had success with particular varieties I hope you’ll share your comments.)

Regardless of the variety, the best course may be to plant parsnips later, dig them promptly after the first frost, and store them out of the ground. So, here’s how I tentatively recommend growing parsnips: Plant them late spring, around the time of the last frost. Use fresh seeds; old ones won’t sprout. Keep the seeds moist for two to three weeks, until they germinate (Next time I may try covering them with a board, as I do carrot seeds, or I even try germinating them on damp paper towels). Don’t give parsnips too much nitrogen-rich fertilizer; it’s said to make their roots hairy. Let them grow for 105 to 130 days, depending on the variety, to maturity. Start digging them as soon thereafter as you like. If you have time to devise some out-of-ground storage system, such as a clamp or box of sand, dig them all soon after the first autumn frost.

Preparing parsnips for the table is easy when you have no big, tough cores to cut out. Betty Fussel recommends boiling the roots, dousing them in cold water, and then slipping off their skins, but parsnips have no more in the way of skins than carrots, which I rarely peel at all. Just to make sure my parsnips are fully clean, though, I peel them with a swivel peeler. Then I use them in most of the ways you might use carrots. They are especially good roasted, on their own or along with carrots or chunks of squash or wedges of sweet potato, or pureed in soup flavored with nutmeg, as in my recipe here.

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Tomato Report 2014

I’m hurrying to get out this report to you, because here in the Willamette Valley it’s nearly tomato-starting time already.

Our long hot summer last year produced bountiful tomato harvests for many of my neighbors but a strangely scant one for me; apparently, the unusual heat made the plants repeatedly drop their blossoms. My report here is limited to the few varieties that produced fairly well in my garden.

A Costoluto Genovese tomato, left, beside a Kishinev pepper

A Costoluto Genovese tomato, left, beside a Kishinev pepper

Costoluto Genovese has deeply ribbed, meaty red fruits with large seed cavities. The lovely look of this fruit makes the bland taste all the more disappointing. Like most Italian tomatoes, this one has apparently been bred for sauce or drying, not for fresh eating. The low sugar and acid levels call for concentration. 

Tangerine is a medium-large to large, squat, old yellow-orange variety that won brief fame several years ago after scientists showed it to have more absorbable lycopene (an anti-oxidant that may protect against some cancers) than a typical red tomato.  Early in the season my Tangerine fruits seemed to have low acidity and an unremarkable flavor, but after mid-summer, as often happens with tomatoes, they tasted much better. The acid level, in fact, seemed unusually high for a yellow tomato.

Tangerine & Persimmon tomatoes

Tangerine and persimmon tomatoes. The cut one in the foreground is the Tangerine–I think!

Persimmon is an heirloom from the 1800s (says Territorial), from 1781 (says Henry Field’s), from about 1983 (says Gary Ibsen), or from the 1880s (says a Seed Savers Exchange member in Wisconsin).  The tomato is originally from Russia, says Burpee. It was grown by Thomas Jefferson, says Henry Field’s.

Whatever its origins, Persimmon turned out for me much like Tangerine—in the appearance of the fruit, the size of the plant (both are indeterminate), and earliness (about 80 days). But Persimmon’s skin color was a softer orange, truly reminiscent of its namesake, and the fruit tended to develop a navel-like blossom end. The flesh may have been a little less tart and flavorful than that of Tangerine, but Persimmon also had an appealing creaminess. My Persimmon plants were a little less productive that my Tangerine plants.

I had trouble choosing a favorite between these two big, delicious, blemish-free tomatoes. In the kitchen I didn’t try to keep them separate. I can tell you, though, that ratatouille made with Tangerine or Persimmon tomatoes or both is as tart as it should be and at the same time startlingly sweet.

Druzba, a Bulgarian red tomato, is about the same size and shape as Tangerine and Persimmon (Burpee calls Druzba a “mini-beefsteak”) but has bigger seed cavities and apparently even higher acidity. I will certainly grow it again.

Berkeley Tie-Dye tomato

Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye tomatoes

Striped tomatoes are the rage now, and Pink Berkeley Tie-Dye, bred by Bradley Gates of Wild Boar Farms, is the best I’ve tasted so far. My friend Wendy, to whom I gave a plant, reported that it was “early, prolific, very attractive, and excellent tasting.” It wasn’t prolific for me, but I have high hopes that it will be this year.

If you’re still not sure which tomatoes to plant this year, you may want to also consult my Tomato Reports from 2012 and 2009-11.

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No-Cooking, No-Canning Black Currant Jam

raw black currant jamIn my intermittent effort to make space in my freezers, I was delighted to come upon a bag of black currants yesterday. Just the day before, while pruning my currant bushes, I’d been dazed by the musky fragrance of the wood—the same intoxicating fragrance that wafts from the fruit and leaves of the black currant.* (And perhaps most of all from the buds, for it’s the buds that the French collect for perfume.) And I’d suddenly realized that I’d neglected to make raw black currant jam last summer.

So I made some this morning, from my recipe in The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves: 

Raw Black Currant Jam 

¾ pounds fresh or thawed black currants, stemmed
1½ cups sugar

Briefly blend the currants and sugar in a food processor or blender. Pack the jam into a jar, and cap it tightly. Store the jar in the refrigerator. Makes 1 pint.

Don’t be tempted to reduce the amount of sugar called for here unless you plan to eat up the jam quick or store it in the freezer. Provided the currants were free of mold when you picked them, the sugar will allow the jam to keep well—so well, in fact, that for me this jam keeps perfectly in the fridge for a year. And don’t assume the jam will be too sweet for your tastes. Currants are low in natural sugar, and the added sugar is well balanced by the currants’ high acid content.

If you taste the jam immediately, you’ll probably feel sugar grains on your tongue. That’s OK—the sugar will soon dissolve. And although the jam may already seem thick enough to spread on toast, it will thicken more in the fridge, though it will never jell hard, as cooked black currant jam does.

*I mean Ribes nigrum, the European and Asian black currant, which the French call cassis. The yellow-flowered, thicket-forming variety known as Crandall, which was selected from an American species, lacks the cassis aroma.

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Anise Hyssop in the Kitchen

anise hyssop 1My new darling of the herb garden, anise hyssop, is neither anise nor hyssop but a member of the mint family. You can tell this from the square stems and opposite leaves, but the scent might fool you. It’s a bit minty but even more licorice-like, with other, elusive characteristics. One nurseryman compared the aroma to that of root beer. My younger son is reminded of basil, but unlike basil anise hyssop tastes sweet, and to me it’s more refreshing than basil, in the way of wintergreen. The botanical name, Agastache foeniculum, tells you the plant is fennel-scented; it’s the fennel-scented member of a genus with a lot (agan) of wheat-like flower stalks (stachys).

Having decided to plant anise hyssop as a late nectar source for bees, I bought seeds from Nichols and easily sprouted them in the greenhouse last spring. Once I had set out the plants and they had grown a bit, I disregarded the bees and started picking the leaves and little lavender-blue flowers for my own use. Dried, they make a tasty and soothing herbal infusion. You can sprinkle the fresh flowers over a fruit salad, and the leaves are tender enough to add to a salad as well. Some people, I’ve read, use anise hyssop to flavor jelly, and others add the seeds to cookies and muffins.

Native to the upper Midwest and Great Plains, anise hyssop had medicinal uses for the tribes. Some found an infusion of the leaves good for colds and coughs. Others used the herb for bringing on sweat, as a wash for itchy skin rashes, or as a poultice for burns. Anise hyssop was also known as a cheering herb, a remedy for depression and anxiety.

Strangely, this plant gets scant recognition from cooks and herbalists in the Euro-American tradition. In fact, several of my herb books fail even to mention it. This may be because of its confusing popular name, but more likely because neither this species nor any other in its genus is native to Europe. One species, A. rugosa, comes from eastern Asia. It is added to Korean pancakes and stews and is one of the fifty fundamental herbs of traditional Chinese medicine; modern science has proven its antibacterial and antifungal properties. But all of the many other Agastache species are American. Together, the Agastache clan ranges from Mexico to Arctic Canada and from the West Coast to the East.

Ornamental gardeners have long loved these three- to six-foot herbaceous perennials, for their varied fragrances and bloom colors; for their eagerness to thrive, given sun and adequate drainage; and for their favor among bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. When I bought a pretty plant with tubular yellow flowers at a garden sale last fall, I looked at the label and thought, Agastache—the name sounds familiar. I’d acquired ‘Summer Glow,’ a sterile patented cultivar that sadly won’t self-seed. More recently I bought ‘Sangria,’ an A. mexicana cultivar with pink flowers and lemon-scented leaves. Another cultivar, ‘Tutti Frutti,’ is supposed to have bubble-gum-scented foliage! They are all cousins, I now know, of my sweet anise hyssop. Maybe I’ll plant my three Agastaches side by side, so I can easily compare their looks and aromas.

Flower gardeners and breeders have long admired the Agastache species. Perhaps it’s time for more food gardeners to take note?

Posted in Herbs, Wild foods | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Fresh-Pickled Watermelon

pickled watermelon 2I love discovering in my garage “pantry” a forgotten jar of something unusual—a one-time experiment, most often, that I’ve neglected to taste. Sometimes the contents are unremarkable, and I search my paper and computer files for the recipe just to note that information. But once in a while the contents are fabulous, and I think, I should make this every year!

Such is the case with the watermelon pickle that I recently happened upon. Jarred up in 2011, it isn’t a rind pickle but is made entirely of red watermelon flesh. Unlike a typical rind pickle, this one isn’t syrupy; it’s only mildly sweet, and mildly sour, too. The melon pieces lack the crispness of fresh watermelon, of course, but they have a bite, almost a chewiness, and a pleasant, soft spiciness. They seem to demand a partnership with cured meat or fish of some kind—perhaps look-alike cold-smoked salmon.

I’ve written before on this blog about fermenting whole watermelons, as I learned to do through the help of Gwen Schock Cowherd, a proud descendant of Germans from Russia. I thank Gwen, too, for telling me that Midwesterners whose grandparents brined their watermelons in barrels now often pickle their melon in pieces, with vinegar.

In 2011 Gwen was planning to send me her vinegar-pickled watermelon recipe—an award-winner at the Minnesota State Fair—but she forgot, and in the meantime I found a similar-sounding recipe in a little Germans-from-Russia community cookbook, called Küche Kochen and published in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1973. From Esther Hoff’s sketchy instructions in Küche Kochen I developed the recipe that follows.

Red Watermelon Pickles in Sweetened Vinegar

A small, 3½-pound watermelon yielded the 2¼ pounds prepared pieces that I used to make 2½ pints of pickles. I’ve slightly adjusted the measurements here to fill three pint jars, for which you’ll need a melon of about 4¼ pounds. If your watermelon is bigger than that, you can either use just part of it or double or triple the recipe.

As you cut up your watermelon, be sure to reserve the excess juice. Chill the juice until you need it.

3 pounds watermelon pieces, about 2 inches square by ¾ inch thick and free of seeds and rind, including the white part (reserve the juice from the leftover seedy parts)
2 teaspoons pickling salt
¾ cup cider vinegar
¾ cup sugar
1 1-inch cinnamon stick, broken
1 small Mediterranean bay leaf
Pinch of fennel seeds
Pinch of coriander seeds
2 allspice berries
3 black peppercorns

Combine the watermelon pieces and salt in a bowl. Cover the bowl, and leave it at room temperature for 2 hours.

Drain the salty juice from the melon, and measure the juice. Add enough of the reserved juice to make 1½ cups.

Put the vinegar, sugar, and spices in a saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the watermelon pieces, bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce the heat. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.

 Ladle the watermelon pieces and their liquid into pint or half-pint jars. Add lids and rings, and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

After several family members happily devoured my watermelon pickles, I wrote Gwen to ask about her recipe. Was it like this one?

Not exactly, Gwen said. In fact, she wondered if I’d mixed up a recipe for rind pickles with one for red watermelon pickles. Her watermelon pickles, Gwen explained, have proportionally more salt and much less sugar and vinegar than mine. She discards all the watermelon juice and replaces it with water, because she likes a clearer brine. She flavors her watermelon pickles as most people do fermented cucumber pickles, with dill heads, garlic, and a little hot pepper as well as mixed pickling spices. She tries to leave some white rind on each watermelon piece, to help keep it intact (mine held together well–perhaps the higher sugar content helped). And she likes the pieces small, no bigger than an inch by half an inch, so they are easy to eat without cutting.

I will certainly try Gwen’s recipe next summer, and if she lets me I’ll share it with you. As for my recipe, I can’t call it Esther’s, because Esther didn’t specify how much salt or exactly what mix of spices to use, and perhaps she meant to call for water and forgot. But I love the way my watermelon pickles turned out. I’ll definitely make them again—though perhaps I’ll leave on a little of the white rind. And maybe I’ll reduce their size a bit, too.

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Berry Sorbet, Jar Lids, a Book Plug, Bambi Wars, Home-grown Chickpeas, and Terra Madre

I’m sorry I’ve been silent so long; the past couple of months have been especially busy for me I’ll try catch up here by taking on several small topics at once.

SORBET MIX FOR THE PANTRY

After dance class last Friday night Greg had a hankering for ice cream, so he and his wife, Wendy, and I sat on plastic chairs outside Baskin-Robbins licking our cones, gazing at Albany’s ugliest intersection—treeless parking lots on all corners, backed by buildings that look like giant shoe boxes—and pondering why we don’t make our own ice cream more often. Ice cream is for birthdays, I said, and it’s always after I’ve made the cake and cooked the dinner that I realize I’ve failed to search out cream, and I must have the real thing, which is darn hard to find in our area if you don’t keep your own cow. But sorbet is better than ice cream, anyway, Wendy reminded me, and where was that raspberry sorbet recipe I’d promised her three years ago? It’s simple, I said—raspberry purée and sugar, that’s all you need. Like me, Wendy and Greg always have raspberries in the freezers. Yes, that’s plural, freezers. I have so much fruit in my freezers that there is little room for anything else. Then I had an idea: What if we made up a sorbet mix in advance, and stored it on a pantry shelf? Probably we would all eat sorbet more often, and stay away from this ugly intersection.

So Wendy vowed to make some raspberry sorbet, and I made plans for my next picking of Triple Crown blackberries, for which I use the same basic recipe. Here it is in the pantry version, which I developed just yesterday:

Berry Sorbet

Press the fresh berries through the fine screen of a food mill.

7 cups blackberry or raspberry purée, from about 4½ pounds fresh berries
2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional, and only for lower-acid fruit such as my Triple Crowns)
3 cups sugar

Combine the berry purée, the lemon juice (if you’re using it), and the sugar in a large pot, and stir. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil the mixture gently for 1 minute—no longer, or you may turn it into jam.

Pour the purée into two quart jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. If you come up a bit short, top off the jars with boiling water. Then add lids and rings. Process the jars fin a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes.

A day before freezing your sorbet, put one of the jars into the fridge to chill. Freeze the sorbet according to the directions that came with your device.

Makes 2 quarts

NEW RULE FOR HANDLING JAR LIDS

Jarden, the company that owns Ball and Kerr, has informed Oregon State University Extension that it’s no longer necessary to soak Ball and Kerr mason-jar lids in hot water before using them. Instead, just wash each lid before placing it on a jar and screwing on the ring.

ESSENTIAL FOR FOOD-LOVING OREGONIANS

Food Lover's Guide to PortlandSeptember 1 is the coming-out party for the second edition of Liz Crain’s foodie handbook, Food Lover’s Guide to Portland. A helpful guide for Portland residents, Liz’s book is an essential resource for those of us who visit the city only occasionally and so struggle to keep up with all the changes in the local food biz. Liz lists the many farmers’ markets and CSAs (“community-supported agriculture”—i.e., subscription food boxes), tells where the food carts congregate, and covers ethnic groceries (from Caribbean to Korean to Russian), cured-meat and halal meat markets, bakeries, cooking schools, breweries, wine shops, fish shops, and chocolate shops (13 of them!). She also describes stores that sell supplies for cooking and preserving, such as Mirador, where I send people for pickling crocks and the like. Food Lover’s Guide to Portland, 2nd edition, is available for pre-order from Powell’s Books and from Amazon.

BATTLING BAMBI

While minding the local public library one Saturday afternoon, I read a book on dealing with deer. I’d already tried some of the author’s ideas; for example, I regular spray rotten egg around the garden. (Beat four eggs, add a quart of water, cover tightly with cloth, and let ferment for several days in a warm place far from the house.) But I’m reluctant to spray this stuff on vegetables and fruits that people will be eating soon. I was looking for new ideas.

I puzzled over the suggestion to pin “dryer sheets” around the garden. Dryer sheets? Then I remembered: Dryer sheets are the little squares of nonwoven petroleum-based fabric (interfacing, we called it, in the days when girls and women sewed all their own clothes) that are treated with fabric softener and chemical perfume and sold in the cleaning aisles of supermarkets. Labeled according to scent–“ocean breeze,” “forest glen,” etc.—they burn my eyes and nose and smell uniformly sickening to me. God only knows what they do to the produce in the adjacent aisle. But my thoughts were only about Bambi, who was already making nightly raids on my tomato patch, picking fruits that weren’t even full grown yet, much less ripe, and taking one smile-shaped bite out of each. I went to a supermarket and sniffed up and down and shelves of dryer sheets—coughing, eyes watering—until I found the stinkiest packet.

dryer sheetsNo wonder I couldn’t walk down the cleaning aisle of a supermarket without holding my nose, I thought when I got home. The dryer sheets were enclosed in a thin cardboard box and nothing more, no plastic bag or plastic lining. This is legal, in a food store? And now I would use these toxin-laden squares to pollute the air in my own vegetable garden? Yes, I was that desperate. I put one clothespin on my nose and used all the rest from the clothesline to pin the dryer sheets to bamboo tomato teepees and bamboo poles set along the bean rows.

And the dryer sheets did the job, in part. The tomato raids stopped, for several days. But meanwhile Bambi devoured all the bean plants not directly under dryer sheets. I recalled the mystifying rows of little white flags, about a foot tall and a foot apart, that I’d seen in a neighbor’s garden. My neighbor was ahead of me: Those little white flags were protecting rows of bush beans. I bought more dryer sheets—a different brand, with a supposedly different but apparently identical scent, and again packed loose in a thin cardboard box—and planted rows of little white flags, hoping that they wouldn’t give Bambi the wrong idea. I was not giving up!

Placed low and close, the dryer sheets kept the deer off the beans, but in the meantime Bambi was biting smiles into the tomatoes again. I sniffed a dryer sheet from the first packet. The smell was gone. As strong as they had stunk at first, the chemicals had lost their sting.

Now, should I replace the old dryer sheets with new ones? Would I have to do this once a week? What a sad waste that would be. Besides, I have a big batch of rotten egg in the barn, smelling up the entire building. What if I dip the dry sheets in the egg and then pin them on the bamboo? So that’s my next garden chore. Again, I’ll reserve one clothespin for my nose.

HOME-GROWN GARBANZOS

garbanzos on plantAfter discovering green garbanzo beans at a supermarket in Salem, I had to try growing my own. A friend had given me some seeds of Hannan Popbean, a brown- to black-seeded chickpea selected by Carol Deppe,  a Corvallis plant breeder. Carol calls this bean a popbean not because the pods make a popping noise as you press them open—all chickpeas do this, apparently—but because she pops the dried seeds like corn, by parching them in a hot, dry pan until they swell and break open.

Although Carol grows her popbeans in spring, without irrigation, I planted mine in late May, along with soybeans, runner beans, long beans, and regular bush beans (Phaseolus vulgaris). A couple of weeks after the initial planting I had to fill big gaps in the other bean rows, but to my surprise every one of the garbanzos germinated. I was surprised again by the foliage, which looks much like vetch and nothing like other bean leaves. The third surprise from my chickpea row was the best one: Deer don’t eat these plants. I learned why they don’t when I ate my first green garbanzo, just two months after planting, and tasted something sharply sour on my fingers. I touched my tongue to a bean pod and understood: The plant defends itself from grazing by seasoning its pods and foliage with malic and oxalic acids. Brilliant!

So, forget my fears about all the special requirements for growing chickpeas. I don’t have a long growing season. I don’t have sandy soil. I didn’t add nitrogen-fixing bacteria to the soil. But I didn’t need any of these things. Garbanzos seem to be an excellent crop for my garden. They are certainly easier to grow than edamame.

TERRA MADRE AND SALONE DEL GUSTO

delegate_FBbadge_v4-2I’m happy to announce that Slow Food USA has chosen me as a delegate at Terra Madre, the biennial international food fair and Slow Food conference in Torino, Italy. If any readers of this blog will be at Terra Madre or in or near Torino for any other reason in late October, I would love to meet you.

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