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 | 18 Comments

To Cut a Stubborn Squash


In the first flush of spring, as violets and narcissus perfume the air, as we taste the first luscious spears of asparagus and await the first tender lettuces, I consider the old winter produce we’ve yet to eat up: sprouting potatoes, thick-cored parsnips, leeks that will soon form stalks, and squashes still heaped in baskets. The little striped pumpkins are especially problematic. Resulting from an accidental cross between an acorn squash and a miniature pumpkin, the fruits are lovely and sweet-fleshed, with meaty seeds that are excellent for roasting. But the skins are as hard as those of gourds. I can hurl these babies onto a concrete floor and make dinner from the mess, but I prefer to bake my little pumpkins whole.


scoring pumpkinMy daughter, Rebecca, took on the problem without my asking. She scored each of four pumpkins all around with a serrated bread knife, and she jabbed the score line in spots with a narrow, pointy-bladed knife. Then she used the pointy knife to pry off the tops, which came loose with nearly perfect edges (the slight imperfections helped in replacing the lids later; Rebecca says next time she would purposely notch each edge).


poking & prying pumpkinRebecca scraped out the seeds and filled the cavities with quinoa, raisins, roasted hazelnuts, and chives before baking the little pumpkins for dinner. Next time she thinks she might try quince preserves in place of raisins, but the possibilities for filling ingredients are endless: rice and peppers, bread and cheese, bacon and onions and cream, sweet coconut-milk custard . . .


filled pumpkin

Baking the pumpkins gave their shells a handsome burnished look. After the chickens had pecked off every clinging bit of flesh from the insides, both bases and tops were still fully intact, so I scrubbed the shells and left them on the kitchen counter to dry. To keep mold from growing, I squirted them once or twice with chlorine-water.


pumpkin with necklaces 4And now I have four pretty little striped pumpkin boxes, for jewelry or keys or pennies or any other little things that need confining.

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Cabbage Rolls with Adjika

When I finally found time to make cabbage rolls from my fermented whole cabbage heads, I didn’t know where to begin. From Turkey south to the Levant, west to Greece, north through eastern Europe, and west again to Germany, cabbage rolls vary a lot. They usually include ground meat of some sort, and rice, although bulgur or other grain may be substituted. Tomato is usually incorporated, in forms that range from V8 Juice to canned soup to tomato paste. Other ingredients may include cilantro, mint, dill, basil, and quince (in a Turkish recipe); beans and fresh peppers (another Turkish recipe); mushrooms and parsley (Poland); onions and paprika (Hungary) carrot, celery, and parsnip (Russia), cinnamon, cumin, garlic, and pomegranate molasses (Levant); bacon and pork ribs (Serbia), and even mustard seed, ginger, and garum masala (an Indian cook who says cabbage rolls aren’t really Indian, though hers certainly are).

But Cristina from Moldova was the first person to tell me about fermenting whole cabbage, and my daughter, Rebecca, loved Cristina’s mom’s cabbage rolls, called sarmale, when Rebecca tasted them last spring. So we had to go Moldovan. The key ingredient in Moldovan sarmale, Cristina had told me, is adjika, a tomato-pepper sauce with garlic, horseradish, and apple added. Rebecca remembered carrots in the cabbage rolls and told me I must also use unrefined sunflower oil. These bits of information would have to do as a recipe, because we weren’t going to bother Cristina, who was (and is) busy with a new baby.

First I set some rice to soaking. Some people make cabbage rolls with raw rice and others with cooked rice; soaking seemed a good compromise. It would shorten the cooking time but still allow the rice to swell, filling out the rolls as they cooked.

My gogosari look-alike, a happy product of careless seed saving

My gogosari look-alike, a happy product of careless seed saving

The next day I fetched from the garage two pint jars of adjika. I made the adjika last summer according to instructions from Cristina’s mother, who had used a dinner plate as a measuring reference. Unfortunately I lacked an essential ingredient, gogosari peppers, which, Cristina had told me, are “meatier” than other sweet peppers, but in the garden I had a pimiento cross that looked very similar. I can’t know how closely my little peppers match gogosari peppers in taste, but my sauce turned out delicious. True pimientos might work well enough, too.

Here is my version of Cristina’s mom’s adjika recipe:

Adjika (Moldovan Tomato-Pepper Sauce) 

Hot as well as sweet peppers are required for this recipe. I used ripe pimientos de Padron, which have quite a bite, and I didn’t bother to seed them, but still the sauce turned out only mildly piquant. If you have scant tolerance for capsaicin, however, you should feel free to seed your hot peppers and even to substitute peppers that are barely piquant. 

Note that the USDA provides no recipe for homemade adjika, so I can’t give you an officially approved processing time. In Moldova the jars of hot sauce are simply capped and stored in a cool place, but I chose to process my adjika like salsa, in pint jars in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. The pH of the finished sauce was 2.6. 

This tomato sauce with kick is good not only in cabbage rolls but on bread and pasta, in sandwiches, and with meat.

1 ½ pounds gogosari, pimiento, or other thick-fleshed sweet red peppers, tops and seeds removed
10 red hot peppers, such as pimientos de Padron, tops removed but seeds retained
6 pounds tomatoes
1 tart apple, cored
3 large garlic cloves
½ ounce peeled horseradish root
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup cider vinegar 

Cut the sweet and hot peppers, the tomatoes, the apple, and the garlic cloves into pieces, and grind the vegetables fine in a meat grinder. Put the ground mixture—which should have “the texture of sour cream,” Cristina says—into a large, nonreactive pot. Grate the horseradish, and add it to the pot along with the salt and vinegar. Cook the mixture uncovered over low heat for several hours, until the adjika is as thick as pizza sauce. Pour the sauce into five pint jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Cap the jars, and either process them in a boiling-water bath or let them cool and then store them in the refrigerator. 

For the sarmale filling, Cristina’s mother may use pork or possibly beef, I suppose. But I chose ground alpaca, because I had some handy, thanks to our local food swap. Since the meat was very lean, I used plenty of sunflower oil. I also added carrot, as Rebecca insisted, onion and garlic, as I suspected a Moldovan might, and cumin simply because I love it.

Here is my recipe for the stuffing:

Sarmale Filling 

6 tablespoons unrefined sunflower oil (available at Russian markets)
½ pound onions, diced small
½ pound carrots, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ cup adjika
2 pounds lean ground alpaca or other meat
1 cup long-grain rice, soaked in water to cover 8 to 24 hours

In a pot, heat ¼ cup of the oil, and sauté the onions until they are soft. Add the carrots, garlic, and cumin, and sauté the mixture until the garlic and cumin seeds release their aroma. Let the mixture cool. 

With your hands, thoroughly mix the cooked vegetables with the adjika, meat, rice, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and salt. I used 1½ teaspoons salt, which was just the right amount, but you’ll need more if you’re using unfermented cabbage and less if you’re using heavily salted cabbage. 

Stuffing the cabbage leaves is surprisingly quick and pleasant if you have a helper or two. Rebecca and her friend Guillaume and I did the job together in ten minutes or so.

Stuffing and Cooking the Sarmale 

You can substitute water or meat or vegetable stock for some or all of the brine. This is a good idea if the brine is very salty or you aren’t terribly fond of the taste of sauerkraut.

1 very large or 2 or more smaller fermented whole cabbages
1½ cups adjika
2 cups brine from fermented cabbage, or water or stock
About 3½ cups water

Core the cabbages, and pull off the leaves one by one. If you’re using a very large cabbage, you may need to cut each leaf into pieces and plane or trim off the thick rib at the base of each leaf. I used six very small cabbages, whose leaves were mostly perfectly sized for small sarmale. Cover the bottom of a large, heavy pot with cabbage leaf fragments, and save more fragments for placing over the sarmale.

Put a little filling on the concave side of each leaf or leaf section; the exact amount of filling will depend on the size of the leaf and the desired size of your sarmale. Roll the leaf around the filling, folding in the sides as you would in rolling a burrito. Place the cabbage roll seam-side-down in the pot. Continue in this way, layering the rolls in the pot, until you have used all of the filling, Cover the rolls with the reserved cabbage scraps. Combine the adjika and brine, and pour the mixture over the cabbage rolls. Add enough water to cover the cabbage (heating the water first will speed the cooking).

Cover the pot, and set it over medium heat. When the contents begin to simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer the sarmale for 45 minutes. Before serving, take one out and taste it to be sure the rice is fully cooked.

sarmaleServing the Sarmale

Sour cream

Place several hot sarmale on each diner’s plate, and serve adjika and sour cream on the side. Alternatively, drain off some of the cooking liquid, mix it well with adjika and sour cream, and serve the mixture as a sauce.

Although the sarmale are irresistibly tasty, you will probably have many left over; four of us could finish only about a third of them at a sitting. So the next day and maybe again the day after that, you might fry some sarmale in a little sunflower oil. Again, serve the hot sarmale with adjika and sour cream.

Posted in Fermented foods, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments

Taking the Wind Out of Jerusalem Artichokes

jerusalem artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes look like thick, pale gingerroots.

Does your spouse refuse to eat Jerusalem artichokes because they’re too—err—windy? Have you yourself abandoned your Jerusalem artichoke patch to the weeds or the pigs, because no human of your acquaintance would eat the damn things again? If so, you have plenty of company.

If you can’t quite place this native North American vegetable, you may know it instead by a name invented by a California produce wholesaler in the 1960s: the sunchoke. The sun part of this moniker comes from sunflower, because the plant is closely related to the sunflower that provides us seeds for birds and snacks and oil. Jerusalem artichoke blooms look like small sunflowers, and they can grow just as tall.

The Jerusalem part of Jerusalem artichoke came about soon after the plants were first grown in Europe, in the early seventeenth century at the Farnese Garden in Rome. From there they were distributed to the rest of Europe as Girasole articiocco, “sunflower artichoke.” In the diet book that he published in 1620, an English doctor, Tobias Venner, translated Girasole as “Jerusalem”—a good first guess, perhaps, but unfortunately the name stuck. Soon inventive English cooks were making their Jerusalem artichokes into “Palestine soup.”

Sunroot would be a better name for the vegetable than sunchoke, in my opinion, because Jerusalem artichokes certainly are not artichokes, and they have nothing like the hairy, inedible part of an artichoke that is called the choke. Yet the two vegetables known as artichoke are discreetly similar in their chemical makeup and flavor. Samuel de Champlain noted this in 1605, when he found Indians on Cape Cod growing roots with “le goust d’artichaut,” the taste of artichokes. Both artichokes and Jerusalem artichokes, he may have observed, share a peculiar sweetness. This sweetness comes from inulin, a kind of soluble fiber that passes through the human digestive system intact until bacteria go to work on it in colon, releasing a lot of gas in the process. Artichokes are rich in inulin. Jerusalem artichokes have about half again as much, by percentage of fresh weight.

I thank Rose Marie Nichols McGee, of Nichols Garden Nursery, for asking the question I should have long ago asked myself: Can fermentation rid Jerusalem artichokes of their windiness?

Rose Marie posed that question about a year ago, and the two of us promptly decided to conduct an experiment. After digging up the little patch of Jerusalem artichokes that I’d ignored for ten years, I brined a pint of the rhizomes according to the kakdooki (Korean fermented daikon) recipe on page 64 of The Joy of Pickling, with garlic and powdered chile. Rose Marie developed another recipe based on one of mine, she said, although nothing about it sounded the least familiar. With a stroke of brilliance, she added turmeric, so that her pickled Jerusalem artichokes turned out a brilliant yellow. We shared both pickles, hers and mine, at a Slow Food board meeting, and people seemed to find them both tasty. I requested follow-up digestive reports.

But I got none. Was this good news? I couldn’t be sure. Apparently nobody’s bellyache was bad enough to prompt a complaint. But, then, the meeting attendees hadn’t actually agreed to tell me about their gas problems. Some of them may have felt they really didn’t know me well enough. And none of them had eaten more than a small handful of the pickled rhizomes. So the results of our study were inconclusive.

In digging up my Jerusalem artichoke patch, however, I must have missed a little rhizome. Last summer, sans weeding and sans water, a single nine-foot sunflower stalk shot up. I could experiment some more!

I waited through most of the winter to dig up the rhizomes, because time alone has been said to convert much of the inulin in Jerusalem artichokes to fructose. In January, I harvested a crop just as big as the previous year’s, at least ten pounds. Several nights of temperatures around 0 degrees Fahrenheit had done the rhizomes no harm.

I first assessed their windiness by simply roasting some with salt, pepper, and olive oil. The roasted rhizomes were delicious, but still gassy.

Inspired by Rose Marie’s example, I then pickled some of the Jerusalem artichokes in this way:

fermented jerusalem artichokesMellow Yellow Jerusalem Artichoke Pickle

1½ pounds Jerusalem artichokes, broken into nodes, thoroughly scrubbed, and cut into ½-inch dice
1 teaspoon ground dried turmeric
1 ounces garlic (about 8 cloves), chopped
½ ounce fresh ginger, minced (about 1 ½ tablespoons)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons pickling salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1½ cups water

Toss together the diced Jerusalem artichokes, the turmeric, the garlic, the ginger, and the cumin. Pack the mixture into a jar with a capacity of at least 6 cups. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Pour the brine over the Jerusalem artichokes; it will not cover them at first. Add a brine bag (a gallon freezer-weight plastic bag containing 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in 3 cups water) or another suitable weight.

The next day the brine should cover the Jerusalem artichokes. If it doesn’t, add more brine mixed in the same proportions.

Wait several days before tasting the pickle. I found it perfect after a week: The brine was sour, and the Jerusalem artichokes pleasantly, mildly spicy and still crunchy.

When the pickle has fermented enough to suit your taste, store the jar in the refrigerator. Keep the Jerusalem artichokes weighted so they won’t take on a grayish cast.

Several people have now eaten this pickle in potentially distressing quantities. The test subjects remained on site this time, so that if reports didn’t come verbally they would emerge in another form. And nobody has suffered.

I hope that these results will be duplicated by other investigators. Let me know, OK? Don’t be shy.

Posted in Fermented foods, Food history, Pickles, Preserving science, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

How to Pickled Cabbages Whole

fermented cabbagesWhen years ago my young Moldovan friend Cristina asked me if I’d ever fermented whole cabbages, I just looked at her dubiously. I’d never even heard of fermented whole cabbages. Could salt really penetrate through an intact cabbage before rot set in? I wondered if Moldovans simply tucked little second-crop cabbages into crocks of shredded cabbage while making sauerkraut. But I’d never heard of that practice, either.

So when my daughter sent me pictures of big fermented whole cabbages in a Moldovan market, I had to figure out how to make such things. I found an article that two Cornell researchers had published in 1961 with the help of their Yugoslav exchange student, Gordana Niketic. As Gordana had apparently explained to her mentors, “In Yugoslavia, particularly in the republic of Serbia, whole heads of white or red cabbage are packed in salt brine. Although sometimes the cabbage cores are scored crosswise before packing the heads in brine, more often the heads are packed with no alteration of the cores.” Just as in Moldovan, the fermented cabbage leaves were used to make meat-and-rice filled rolls, or sarma, an originally Turkish word for food wrapped in leaves; the Moldovan term is sarmale or galush. Yugoslavs also baked slices or chunks of the cabbage with turkey, goose, or pork and served the cabbage cold as a salad. After fermenting whole red cabbages, they would drink the pretty pink brine as an appetizer.

Since methods of fermenting whole cabbages varied from one Yugoslav household to another, Gordana and the Cornell researchers decided to experiment. The first year they packed whole cored cabbages tightly into barrels and added brine at three different strengths. The second year, they packed a barrel the same way, at the highest brine strength from the year before, but with uncored cabbages. The third year they packed a barrel as I’d imagined, by mixing dry-salted shredded cabbage with whole small cabbages placed among the shreds.

The best whole-cabbage kraut from the first year, the three concluded, was made with the strongest brine, 3.5 percent, “calculated from the combined weight of brine and cabbage.”* Whereas the least salty cabbages were soft throughout, and the medium-salty cabbages were soft at the core, the saltiest cabbages “showed only slightly soft cores and their leaves were firm and flavorful,” with “an enjoyable blend of taste and mellowness.” When the leaves were used for sarma, their taste perfectly complemented the meat filling.           

Far superior than even the saltiest version from the first year, at least in the judgment of “a former native of Yugoslavia” (Gordana? Someone else?), was the whole-cabbage kraut made in the second year, from uncored cabbage. So, coring turned out to be unnecessary and possibly also detrimental to flavor. The researchers concluded that the best whole-cabbage kraut was made from uncored cabbages pickled at a brine strength of 3.0 to 3.5 percent—calculated, again, as the weight of the salt to the weight of cabbage and brine.

The third-year kraut, made from small whole cabbages packed with shredded cabbage and dry salt, proved a disappointment. The quicker fermentation that resulted made this kraut more pungent and sour—like ordinary dry-salted, shredded sauerkraut, I suppose.

I began my own whole-cabbage pickling experiment late last fall. Because most of my fall cabbages had been damaged by freezing weather, I used the second growth from spring cabbage plants, seven very small heads harvested before the weather turned very cold. I sliced each stem at the base of the head, leaving the core intact, and half-filled a 10-liter crock with the cabbages. I added 10 tablespoons pickling salt dissolved in 5 quarts water, to make an approximately 3.5-percent brine, calculated—because I’d read the Cornell study too carelessly—in the way that’s familiar to me, as the weight of salt as a percentage of the weight of brine. In other words, my brine was weak, perhaps half the strength recommended by the Cornell team. I weighted the cabbages, and, a week or so later, I skimmed the brine once. The small amount of yeast growth didn’t continue.

A little more than two months after immersing the cabbages in their brine, I took them all out and examined them. Some of them showed a little softening around the edge of the core, and the largest one, 4½ inches across, had softened at the center of the leaves as well. If I’d used bigger cabbages, they might have rotted. Perhaps I could have prevented the softening by ending the fermentation sooner. But I simply cut away the soft parts, and all that remained tasted sweet, mellow, and very mildly tart and salty—really much nicer than typical shredded sauerkraut.

Last night one of the fermented cabbages made an excellent dinner salad, sliced and mixed with toasted walnuts, black pepper, and unrefined sunflower oil. No vinegar was called for; the cabbage was already tart. Walnut oil or roasted hazelnut oil might be nice in place of sunflower oil, Robert suggest, and maybe next time we’ll add some smoked meat.

The rest of the cabbages are resting in their brine in a gallon jar in the refrigerator. My next challenge will be to make some of them into sarma, or sarmale. Or maybe I should say golabki (in Polish), golubtsy (in Russian), malfoof (in Arabic), kohlrouladen or krautwickel (in German), or töltött káposzta (in Hungarian). There are a lot of other names, too, because cabbage rolls—made from fermented, briefly brined, or simply blanched cabbage—are eaten throughout much of the world. Every region has favorite ingredients, and every cook seems to have a unique recipe. I guess it’s time for me to develop my own.


*In other words, 3.5 percent was the strength not of the initial brine but of the finished pickle. Because the amount of brine needed to cover whole cabbages can vary greatly, depending on the relation between the size of the cabbages and the breadth of the barrel, the researchers controlled the salt content with a much more accurate measurement than that of initial brine strength (the weight of salt as a percentage of the weight of brine). Their way of measuring is a lot more trouble, however, than using a brine-strength chart from The Joy of Pickling: You must weigh the cabbages and the water after putting them into the barrel, either by taking them out again or by weighing the filled barrel and subtracting the weight of the same barrel with nothing in it. To determine how much salt to use, you then use the following formula, in which x is the percentage you’re aiming for:

Weight of salt = Weight of cabbage and water x  x/100-x

If this calculation seems too much bother, I suggest simply fermenting your cabbages in a strong brine—say, about 1 cup fine salt per 1 gallon water.

Posted in Fermented foods, Pickles, Preserving science, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Bartering for New Tastes

food swapLast Sunday I attended my first food swap, at an alpaca farm on Rodgers Mountain. In this first-time swap in a quiet corner of the Willamette Valley, only seven households participated, but we needed no more. I’d been afraid that we wouldn’t find foods we wanted and would go home packing nearly everything we came with. In fact, among the products of our seven homesteads (including one little rental apartment in town) we had plenty to pick from: eggs, honey, frozen meat, root vegetables, squashes, dried beans, grains, freshly-fermented pink sauerkraut, beer, liqueur, assortments of canned goods, and more. Robert and I chose alpaca sausage, homemade toffee, whole-wheat flour, and a heavenly scented herbal tea mix (rose petals, fennel, and mint). Nearly everybody exchanged something or other with everybody else in the room.

More important, everybody talked with everybody else, one on one, to negotiate specific trades. Then the twelve of us sat around one big table—actually three tables pushed into a square—and together discussed our common interests—gardening, farming, food, and cooking—over a potluck meal that included rabbit stew, sausage and kraut, marinated mussels, two kinds of home-baked bread, and homemade cider. We came away with full bellies and new acquaintances, potential new friends. I’m pretty sure that we’ll do it again.

For advice on holding a food swap in your own corner of the world, or to find an existing local swap group, check out the Food Swap Network.

food swappers

Posted in Herbs, Pickles, Sweet preserves, Vegetables | Tagged | 9 Comments

Purple Mustard from Homemade Must

Once you try the purple, you won't want the yellow.

Once you try the purple, you won’t want the yellow.

The moment I spotted a little article about moutarde violette in a recent issue of Saveur, I got excited. Surely no one would think to flavor mustard with violets. So, could this be a kind of mustard prepared not with vinegar but with must—pressed grape juice—the once common ingredient that gave mustard its French and English names?

Indeed it was. Moutarde violette is today made by members of the Denoix family, whose Maison Denoix has been creating liqueurs and aperitifs from walnuts and fruits in the Limousin region of France since 1839. As Elie-Arnaud Denoix told a New York Times reporter in 2004, ”Moutarde violette was very fashionable during the Belle Époque. But for some reason the demand dropped off in the fifties, and by the eighties it was all but forgotten.” Only one ancient woman in the region was still making it in 1986, when Denoix decided to add it to the family’s product line. He didn’t give the reporter his recipe, but he mentioned that it included cinnamon and cloves. That sounded to me very, very old-fashioned—practically medieval, in fact.

So I was pleased but unsurprised to track down two similar-sounding recipes for mostaza Francesa—French mustard—in Ruperto de Nola’s Libre del Coch, a cookbook written in Catalan and published in Barcelona in 1520.* De Nola’s two recipes differ mainly in method: In one you cook the mustard along with the fresh must, and in the other you boil down the must and then add the mustard and other ingredients, including cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Happily, I had on hand some already boiled-down must, which I’d pressed from wasp-riddled Glenora grapes last summer and reduced to about 15 percent of its original volume. I could make some purple mustard immediately, following de Nola’s second method.

Just enough grinding for a pleasantly rough texture

Just enough grinding for a pleasantly rough texture

Elie-Arnaud Denoix, the Times reported, “coarsely grinds the seeds instead of pulverizing them, so the mustard has a crunchy texture.” On an Internet forum someone described the Denoix moutarde violette as “wonderful whole-grain black mustard, which looked like caviar.” So I fetched from the cupboard the big, black seeds of Brassica nigra, a native of the Mediterranean region, instead of Brassica juncea, Indian brown mustard, which wouldn’t have been easily available in centuries past, anyway, or Brassica alba, white mustard, which is used along with turmeric in prepared yellow mustard. To make the black mustard seeds easy to grind, I soaked them overnight in a little vinegar, which is a minor ingredient in the Denoix mustard as well. Grinding the seeds the next morning would have been quick in a food processor, coffee grinder, or blender, but because I wanted that caviar look I used a granite mortar (which was probably easiest of all, honestly, since I didn’t have to clean around a blade afterward). I then added my Glenora grape molasses, as I call it, a little salt, spices, and some wine and water to thin the mixture, and I was done.

My moutarde violette tasted good—sweet but not cloying, tart but mildly so, chewy from the coarse-ground seeds, and subtly aromatic from the sweet spices. But I wouldn’t consider it finished until I tasted the Denoix product.

A few days later, I found something called Purple Condiment in a tiny grocery in San Diego’s Little Italy. The words moutarde violette, “violet mustard,” or “purple mustard” were nowhere on the label, but the Denoix name was there. Two days later I sadly gave the jar up to a TSA agent, who was deaf to my protests that it contained a paste, not a liquid or gel (though, yes, I knew that toothpaste is a paste and is also banned from airplanes). Knowing that my precious mustard might be seized, I’d already tasted the stuff three times, the last time only minutes before the agent unrolled my pajamas to extract the little jar. I doggedly held the taste in my mouth through the flight to Portland and the trip to the car park and all through the long drive home, after which I headed straight for the fridge and my own jar of moutarde violette.

Mine was different, I already knew; the Purple Condiment wasn’t caviar-like at all, but smooth as French’s mustard; it looked like melted chocolate. My mustard and Denoix’s were very close in flavor, however.

Was the Purple Condiment the same moutarde violette that others had written about? With a little more investigation I learned that, whereas the Purple Condiment is made by Maison Denoix, the old family business in Brive la Gaillarde, a coarser purple mustard, labeled Moutarde Violette, is manufactured down the road in Turenne, at the Distillerie des Terres Rouge, which dates only to 1988. Mustards are a specialty at Terres Rouge; the website lists 43 types produced there, along with aperitifs, absinthe, pastis, and olive and nut oils.

If a family feud might explain the confusion, the parties are keeping mum. In any case, it was the Terres Rouge mustard that was pictured in Saveur, in a squat glass jar belted with a slender label. Like the Maison Denoix product, the Terres Rouge mustard is available in the United States, so I will look for it on my next big-city trip. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my own homemade moutarde violette.

Here is my recipe:

Moutarde Violette

If you have no grape molasses on hand, but you do have canned or frozen grape juice, whether pressed or heat-extracted, you can boil it down yourself as described here. Feel free to use a non-vinifera variety, like Glenora, provided the grapes are not too foxy.

6 tablespoons black mustard seeds
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup grape molasses
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine salt
2 tablespoons red wine
2 tablespoons water

Put the mustard seeds into a bowl, and cover them with the vinegar. Let them rest for 8 to 12 hours.

Grind the mustard seeds coarsely. Stir in the grape molasses, spices, salt, and wine. Add the water gradually, to thin the mustard to suit your preference.

Store the mustard in a tightly closed jar.

Makes 1 cup

You can use moutard violette in almost any way you use other prepared mustard. In Brive and its environs, moutard violette is eaten with boiled beef, sausages, hams, and pâté. It should be just as good on sandwiches and in sauces and dressings.


*To be precise, I found Lady Bridghid ni Chiarain’s English translation of a 1529 Spanish translation. The Spanish translation is titled Libro de Guisados.

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From Ukraine: Beet-Horseradish Relish

tsviklyWhile Robert and I were stocking up on sausage and smoked mackerel at International Meat, a Russian market in Portland, a group of jars in the pickle section caught my eye. Though among them the jars bore several different labels, they were all filled with shredded beets, preserved with vinegar and seasoned mainly with horseradish. I’d never made such a relish before, or even tasted it.

So I went home and did a little research. Called tsvikly, the relish comes from Ukraine, I found out. It’s easy to make. Here is the recipe I settled on:

Ukrainian Beet Relish

1 pound beets, with their rootlets and about 2 inches of their tops
1 ounce peeled horseradish
1 teaspoon dill seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoons black peppercorns
½ cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

In a saucepan, cover the beets with water. Boil them until they are tender throughout. Drain them, and let them cool briefly.

Trim the beets, and rub off their skins. Grate the beets coarsely, using the large holes of a box grater. Grate the horseradish fine; you should have about ¼ cup. Mix the grated beets and horseradish together in a bowl, and then pack the mixture into a pint jar.

In a mortar, crush the dill, coriander, and peppercorns. Combine the spices in a small saucepan with the vinegar, salt, and sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover the pan, and simmer the liquid for 5 minutes.

Set a tea strainer over the jar of beets, and pour the vinegar mixture through the strainer. The liquid should barely cover the solids. Cap the jar, and let it cool to room temperature. Then put it into the refrigerator, and wait at least a day before sampling the relish.

Makes 1 pint

The horseradish in this relish tastes strong at first, but it mellows after a few days. Otherwise the relish is fairly mild in flavor, though you could of course add more sugar, salt, or spices, or incorporate the spices instead of straining them out. You might also substitute caraway or cumin for the dill.

Tsvikly, I’ve read, is traditionally served at Easter with ham or pork. I think it’s delicious with smoked mackerel, the product that draws me again and again to International Meat.

Posted in Pickles, Vegetables | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

A Taste of San Diego

What makes a good fish taco? In San Diego, where Robert and I went last weekend, craving sun on our pale skin and warmth in our winter-chilled bones, people debate this question seriously. And so the two of us did some not-so-serious sampling. In each case, the local fish taco seemed a bastard child of a traditional Mexican taco and a plate of fish sticks. The tortilla was made from either corn masa or refined wheat. The filling was a chunk of unnamed white fish, breaded or not and fried, and then sauced with thinned mayonnaise (often called “white sauce”) and topped with sliced head cabbage and yellow and white cheese shreds. The cook might provide a sprinkle of diced tomatoes or a side of tomato salsa or both, but if we wanted chiles we had to reach for the bottle of hot sauce.

A fish taco at the Cosmopolitan, Old Town

A fish taco at the Cosmopolitan, Old Town

Fish tacos at Point Loma Seafoods

I enjoyed the two fish tacos I tried, especially the one scattered with black beans, though both tacos would have been better without the industrial cheese. But the dearth of traditional Mexican food in a city less than twenty miles from the border struck me as a little sad. The soldiers, sailors, and retirees from Wherever USA seem to spread white sauce all over their adopted city. We witnessed this at the outdoor Little Italy Mercato, where we heard no Italian spoken but watched vendors make filled crêpes that bore a striking resemblance to San Diego’s second-most-popular pseudo-Mexican menu item, the breakfast burrito, a big wheat tortilla rolled around fried potatoes, eggs, and cheese.




A crêpe at the Mercato

A crêpe at the Mercato

CitruslettuceThank God It's Fermented

Still, we found excellent food in San Diego. We were duly impressed by the Mercato, with its lovely summer vegetables (even tomatoes and strawberries!), dozens of varieties of citrus, local olive oils, and fermented pickles.
















In restaurants, the seafood always tasted fresh, though none on the menus we saw was local. We especially liked Café Secret, a Peruvian restaurant in Del Mar that specializes in ceviche from sustainably harvested seafood, served on platters complete with choclo (tender hominy-like corn kernels) and canchitas (crunchy roasted and salted corn kernels). At Café Secret, the pale sauce on the fried potatoes and yuca was cheese-based huancaína, not runny mayonnaise. Though mayonnaise sauce would have been good, too, come to think of it.

Posted in Fermented foods, Pickles, Travel, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Giveaway for Home Preservers

PA Farm Show GiveawayWhether or not you plan to attend the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg next week, you can enter a contest to win the Canner’s Treasure Chest from Fillmore Container. The Treasure Chest includes a waterbath canner with a rack and canning tools, two books on canning (Blue Ribbon Country Canning and Food in Jars), and both The Joy of Pickling and The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. Submit your entry for the Treasure Chest at the Fillmore Container website by January 11, or drop by the company’s fair booth for a chance at a daily prize as well.

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