Naked Barley: Lovely and Local

The food shortages that accompanied the outbreak of the coronavirus and continue to this day have made local food—food produced for the local population rather than for shipping across the country and overseas—a suddenly more urgent cause. I have struggled to understand why supermarkets have been able to stock all-purpose flour but not bread flour or whole-wheat flour. But I have asked myself a more important question, too: Why are we all reliant on grain and flour from Midwestern mega-mills? One hundred and twenty years ago, everyone in this valley ate wheat both grown and ground within ten miles or so from home. If we still did that, we would have some security against crises that upset the national and international food distribution networks.

As I thought about all this last week, my heart swelled for the one pair of local farmers I know who grow wheat, barley, and meal corn, bag it themselves, and spend much of the summer at farmers’ markets selling their goods to the public. And I took a bag of the Harcombes’ naked barley out of the freezer.

Naked barley gets naked by dropping its inedible hulls during harvest, just as modern wheat varieties do. This means the barley doesn’t need “pearling”—the abrasive process that removes the bran as well as the hull of each kernel. Naked barley takes longer to cook than pearl barley, but it has a pleasant, chewier texture, nutty flavor, and more nutrients. And its habit of shedding its own hull means that small commercial farmers and even homesteaders can easily process it to a ready-to-cook stage. You can use naked barley in brewing and for animal feed as well.

Naked barleyPaul and Nonie Harcombe’s naked barley is a variety called ‘Streakers,’ the first release of the Oregon State University Barley Project. Naked barley was nothing new when the OSU researchers started their project, but they aimed to breed something new indeed: a naked barley that would resist the rust disease endemic to the Pacific Northwest. The grain has grown well for Paul and Nonie. Now they just need to get people used to eating barley.

And why not eat barley, especially when it’s hulled but not pearled? The whole grain is full of minerals and fiber. It can help to lower both blood sugar and cholesterol. It is excellent as a breakfast cereal and in grain salads and pilafs. And it makes an interesting substitute in some traditional pearl-barley dishes, such as this soup.

mushroom-barley soup

Mushroom-Barley Soup

I have used here a mix of chanterelles and winter chanterelles (funnel chanterelles, yellowfoot chanterelles) from the freezer. Both are easy to find in the lower Cascades, not far from my home, and easy to identify, too. Before freezing the mushrooms last fall, I cleaned them and cooked them in a dry skillet until they stopped releasing water.

¾ cup naked barley
2 ¼ cups water
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 quart beef or chicken stock
1 Mediterranean bay leaf
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
4 ounces onion, chopped
2 ounces carrot, chopped
2 ounces celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
8 ounces frozen cooked chanterelles or other mushrooms, thawed
½ cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or savory leaves
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Put the barley into a bowl with 1½ cups of the water. Cover the bowl, and let it stand overnight or for at least several hours.

Toward the end of this period, put the shiitakes into a bowl with the remaining ¾ cup water. Weight the shiitakes with another bowl set inside the first, and let them soak for an hour.

In a pot, combine the barley, the stock, the shiitake soaking water (reserve the shiitakes), and the bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover the pan, and let the barley simmer for an hour or until it is tender.

In a small skillet, heat the oil or butter over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it is tender. Add the carrot, celery, and garlic, and sauté 5 minutes more. Put the vegetables into the pot along with the frozen and thawed mushrooms, the parsley, and the thyme or savory. Slice the shiitakes, and add the tops to the pot. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Return the contents of the pan to a simmer, and simmer them for about 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Serve the soup at once, or cool it for later reheating. The naked barley won’t swell as much as pearl barley, so your soup won’t turn into porridge. If you’d like it thinner, though, just add some stock or water.

Serves 3 as a main dish

Tasting Local Chestnuts—American, Chinese, and European

peeled chestnuts smallerI am lucky to have Carol Porter’s chestnut farm nearby. After all, the whole United States has fewer than a thousand chestnut farms, totaling a little over 3,700 acres. Americans grow only 1 percent of the world’s chestnuts, while importing about five times the tonnage we produce. We would grow and eat many more chestnuts than that, I believe, if we could remember how good they are—even though they are a bit of a pain to prepare.

Americans once venerated the chestnut—the tree, at least, if not the nut itself. The American chestnut grew straight and tall, to more than 100 feet, and it dominated the forests of eastern North America. Its straight grain and resistance to rot made it ideal for log cabins—especially for foundation logs—and for poles, posts, masts, floors, and railroad ties. The nuts fed domestic pigs and cattle as well as people and wildlife.

By 1950, however, the American chestnut was a fading memory. In just a few decades, a fungus imported with Asian chestnut trees had killed nearly every American chestnut. This disaster was worse than the stock market crash of 1929, Carol says, in that it devastated the lives of the masses rather than harming a relatively few rich people.

Carol doesn’t actually favor American chestnuts. She acquired her American trees by mistake, after a nursery owner grafted European chestnuts (Castanea sativa) to American (C. dentata) seedlings. The grafts failed, and the rootstock grew up slender and tall among the wide, round canopies of the Chinese and European chestnuts.

Carol does like Chinese chestnuts (C. mollissima), which grow particularly well in her hillside orchard and reach only about 40 feet in height.

Yet all of the nuts Carol sells come from another chestnut variety, the Colossal, a hybrid of European and Japanese chestnuts (C. crenata) bred in California in the early twentieth century. The Colossal is vulnerable to chestnut blight, but that disease has never become an epidemic on the West Coast, with our dry summers and lack of native chestnuts. The American chestnut thrives here for the same reason.

Recently Carol led me and a few friends through her orchard. As Carol talked, the rest of us filled our pockets with American and Chinese chestnuts, which otherwise would have fed Carol’s pigs and goats, before Carol led us to an outbuilding to buy bags of washed and dried Colossals. Our petty theft allowed us to do a taste comparison later, at home, after roasting some of the nuts. The small, rather flat American chestnuts are said to be sweetest, but Robert, Renata, and I all found them more nutty than sweet. The Chinese chestnuts, bigger and rounder than the Americans, were sweetest. The very big Colossals—often an inch and a half across—were least sweet and least nutty. They tasted starchy, like yellow sweet potatoes, and mealy. European chestnuts, after all, have only 4 percent fat, in comparison to 10 percent fat in American chestnuts. Although Carol’s customers want the biggest chestnuts available and so buy only Colossals, we preferred the American and Chinese nuts.

All of the chestnuts we brought from Carol’s farm required some work in shelling and peeling. A chestnut has not only an outer shell but also a thin inner skin. Unless you are a hog, the skin as well as the shell is best removed before eating. To keep the nut from exploding, you slit the shell on the flat side once or twice, without cutting the flesh, before cooking the nut. Depending on how you plan to use the nuts, you might boil them after slitting, but for eating on their own chestnuts are traditionally roasted. Renata remembered her Swiss brother’s advice: Soaking slit chestnuts in water for as long as overnight makes it easier to remove the skin after roasting. To Renata and to me, an overnight soak seems overlong for fresh chestnuts, but we both found that a 15- to 30-minute soak really does seem to loosen the skins.

Oddly, chestnut recipes are scant in old American cookbooks. Mrs. Lincoln, in her Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1884), has recipes for chestnut stuffing and chestnut sauce, both intended for poultry, and The Settlement Cookbook (I have the 1976 edition) combines chestnuts with cabbage, with brussels sprouts, and with prunes, and also includes recipes for chestnut croquettes, chestnut ice cream (yum!), and “chestnut dessert.” But, perhaps because the nuts were just too cheap and commonplace, many old American cookbooks have no chestnut recipes at all, and most of the recipes I did find were identified as French or Italian.

I knew what I wanted to do with my chestnuts, and I knew how I wanted to do it. I would make a simple chestnut soup. The first chestnut soup probably came from France, source of so many purées, but no matter. The soup is sweet and smooth and not too rich, and it will satisfy you even if you forego bread with the meal. It is a very good use especially for Colossal chestnuts or any European variety.

I garnished my soup with a bit of chopped parsley, which provided an interesting contrast in color, texture, and flavor. I would have used finer, paler celery leaves instead, if I’d had any on hand.

chestnut soup small

Chestnut Soup

 1½ pounds fresh chestnuts, in their shells
4 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
4 ounces chopped yellow or white onion
1½ cups whole milk
½ teaspoon fresh-grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon fresh-ground white pepper
Salt
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped celery or parsley leaves

Slit each chestnut once crosswise, or twice in the form of a cross, on the flat side. Put the chestnuts into a bowl, cover them with water, and let them soak for 15 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Lay the chestnuts slit-side up in a roasting pan. Roast them in the hot oven for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. As soon as the chestnuts are cool enough to handle, peel off their shells and as much of their skins as you can. If a nut crumbles while you’re trying to skin it, scrape the flesh out of the skin with a spoon. Combine all of the meats in a saucepan with the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a simmer, and let it continue to simmer for 20 minutes.

While the chestnuts simmer, melt the butter in a small skillet. Add the onion, and sauté it until it is soft.

When the chestnuts have finished simmering, put them and their cooking liquid into a blender jar. Add the sautéed onion, and blend the mixture to a purée. Pour the purée into the saucepan. Add the milk, nutmeg, and white pepper. Stir, and add salt to taste. Heat the soup just to a simmer.

Serve the soup hot, garnished with the celery or parsley leaves.

 Serves 4

For recipes for chestnut cream and preserved chestnuts in syrup, see The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves.

 

More about Chestnuts

American Chestnut Foundation
The Faint Taste of a Lost Harvest (New York Times)
Growing Chinese Chestnuts in Missouri
Chestnut Culture in California

Salad in a Jar: A Quick, Light Sliced Cucumber Pickle

suyo pickleAs the sky turned grey and the rains commenced, I knew what I wanted to do with what might be the last of my suyo cucumbers. I wanted to fill a quart jar with thin crosswise slices, adorned with sliced red onion and yellow pepper and covered with vinegar diluted to the point that I could serve the mixture as a salad.

Had I created such a recipe before? I couldn’t find one in the Joy of Pickling. No problem—I would start from scratch.

Suyo, suhyo, or sooyow cucumbers are not a particular cultivar but a general type of Cucumis sativus. These long, slender cucumbers, said to have originated in northern China, have undergone a lot of breeding in Japan. At harvest they are at least 10 inches long. At 1 inch in diameter, some cultivars may reach 18 inches. If left to grow longer they may reach 2 feet or more, although they will be past their prime. The vines’ small tendrils make them good climbers, and when the vines climb they are more likely to produce straight rather than curled fruits. The skins of the fruits can be ridged or smooth, and they are fairly thin; for salads or pickles, you can peel these cucumbers partially, completely, or not at all. The best thing about suyo cucumbers is that they are seldom bitter (although the cultivar I planted this year had an inch or two of mild bitterness at the stem end).

mixed cukes
At the right and left here are two different suyo cultivars.

Suyo cucumbers’ uniform diameter and typically small seed cavity make them ideal for cutting into crosswise slices or chunks. If you like to make bread-and-butter pickles, you should definitely be growing suyos.

But bread-and-butters are too sweet and too sour for my taste. Instead I’ve made this light, pretty pickle.

Quick Suyo Pickle Chips

Feel free to change the spices to suit your whim.

1 ¼ pounds suyo cucumbers, unpeeled, sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
1 small red onion, about 4 ounces, halved lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise
1 to 2 sweet yellow or red peppers, about 4 ounces, halved or quartered lengthwise and sliced thin crosswise
2 tablespoons pickling salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh turmeric
2 garlic cloves, sliced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
¾ cup water
2 teaspoons brown sugar

In a bowl, combine the cucumber, onion, and pepper slices. Add the salt, and toss the contents together. Drop the ice cubes from one full tray on top. Let the bowl stand at room temperature for 3 hours.

Drain the vegetables in a colander, rinse them, and drain them again. In a small bowl, mix together the turmeric, garlic, ginger, coriander, cumin, and pepper flakes. Pack the vegetables into a quart jar, layering them with the mixed spices.

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, and sugar. Cover the pan, and bring the mixture just to a boil. Pour the hot liquid into the jar of vegetables. Turn and tip the jar to release trapped air bubbles, and then cap the jar. When it has cooled, store it in the refrigerator.

Wait a day or two, at least, before serving the pickle.

Makes 1 quart

Radish Pods, for Seeds and Pickles

radish bushTo replenish my stock of Candela di Fuoco radish seeds, I let a single plant go to seed. It grew into a lovely bush, about three feet tall and wide, with pretty pink blooms that continued to appear as seed pods matured and dried. Although I loved the look of the plant, it was taking up bed space that I needed for other things. So last week, as soon as I could collect a few handfuls of dried pods, I pulled up the plant.

radish pods & flowersBut most of the pods were still green and tender. I couldn’t let them go to waste. Although they were quite small—unlike the pods of “rat-tail” varieties, which are grown specifically for their pods—I collected enough to fill a pint jar. And now I have one more pickle, a jarful of tangy tidbits with a mild radishy bite, to bemuse my friends this summer.

 

pickled radishes

 

 

Pickled Radish Pods

1 pint fully formed but still tender radish pods, stems trimmed to ¼ inch
1 small hot pepper, fresh or dried
1 tarragon sprig
1 large garlic clove, sliced
½ cup cider vinegar
½ cup water
1 teaspoon pickling salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Pack a pint jar with the radish pods, hot pepper, tarragon, and garlic. In a saucepan, bring to a boil the vinegar, water, and salt. Pour the hot liquid over the pods, covering them well and leaving only about 1/8 inch headspace. Cap the jar, and leave it at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours, turning it two or three times.

Add the olive oil to the jar, cap it tightly, and store it in the refrigerator, where the radish pods should keep well for months.

Makes 1 pint

A More Colorful, Flavorful, and Textured Rhubarb Chutney

quick rhubarb chutneyThe best apple chutney I ever ate was made as I watched by a sorority cook who said she never used a recipe. She would make chutney quickly and instinctively for the young women in her care the same day that they would eat it, and they would eat it all. The apple slices in Trish’s chutney were tender but whole. Her chutney tasted as much of apples as of vinegar or spices.

English-style chutneys, to my mind, are too often too sour, too sweet, too dark, too pasty. Sometimes I can’t identify the main ingredient without looking at the label—even if I’ve made the chutney myself. A good rhubarb chutney is particularly difficult to produce, since rhubarb so quickly turns to mush as it cooks and since it’s quite sour even before you add vinegar.

As I pulled my first rhubarb stalks of the season last week, I vowed to make a rhubarb chutney inspired by Trish’s apple chutney. I wouldn’t can my chutney, since I’d make only a small quantity and since I wouldn’t use enough sugar and vinegar to guarantee safety without laboratory testing. The lesser quantities of sugar and vinegar would produce a thick chutney with only brief cooking, and I needed to keep the cooking brief so the rhubarb wouldn’t turn to mush.

But what to do about color? Most rhubarb stalks are more green than red, and when you combine them with spices you get brown. My rhubarb stalks were almost entirely green, but I wanted my chutney to be as red as cooks imagine rhubarb to be. So I decided to add hibiscus flowers, jamaica. They would contribute their own tartness to the mix, but just a little hibiscus would produce a lot of color.

Here’s the recipe I created that day. The chutney is a wonderful accompaniment to grilled chicken.

Quick, Chunky, Rosy-Red Rhubarb Chutney

You can buy dried hibiscus flowers in Mexican and Middle Eastern markets. Grind them in an electric coffee grinder.

1 pound rhubarb stalks, diced ½ inch thick
½ pound white or yellow onion, quartered lengthwise and sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons hot pepper flakes
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
Zest of 1 orange, in thin strips
1/2 cup white sugar
½ cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground dried hibiscus flowers
½ cup raisins, preferably golden

Combine all the ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Simmer them about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and gently. When the liquid is nearly all absorbed, remove the pot from the heat.

Store the cooled chutney in the refrigerator. Before serving, remove the cinnamon stick. You might also warm the chutney briefly, on the stove or in a microwave oven.

Makes 3 cups

After the Radish Harvest, Hot Radish Soup

radish soupThe big difference between cooks who garden and those who don’t is that the former start with what’s available. Market shoppers may claim to do the same—to begin their meals by buying produce that’s fresh and in season. But shoppers usually buy only what they can use right away, and so seldom have to deal with excess. Every success in the garden brings with it a burden—heaps of vegetables or fruits that must be dried, pickled, canned, stored in the cellar, or crammed into the refrigerator. The last is easiest, when the harvest isn’t too big, but before the veggies go sad and limp in the fridge the gardener had better wash the soil from her hands and open the cookbooks.

French breakfast radishesThat’s what I did yesterday, after bringing in a pile of French Breakfast radishes. Nearly everybody eats radishes raw—in salads if not at breakfast with butter. And, of course, radishes are good for fermenting and vinegar-pickling, in various ways. But surely they are most digestible cooked. If I wanted to put a lot of radishes into our stomachs right away, I needed to cook them.

I found inspiration in Irene Kuo’s book The Key to Chinese Cooking (1977). In it is a recipe for a pork-and-radish soup. I had no raw pork on hand, but I had the remains of a half brined ham. And I had a potential ingredient Irene may never have considered: a pot full of fragrant leek broth.

The leek broth resulted from an earlier harvest the same day. Needing to clear a bed so I could plant it with tomatoes, I had brought in an armload of leeks. Since I had plenty more leeks in another bed, these could all go into the freezer. I washed them, sliced them, and blanched them for a minute in batches before spreading them on cookie sheets, freezing them, and vacuum-packing them. Now the blanching liquid smelled too good to throw out.

So I made a radish soup like Irene’s, but with a leek-and-ham-flavored broth and bits of leftover ham. Because my soup wouldn’t be one dish among several but dinner in itself, I served it over buckwheat noodles, with a dish of raw arugula to tear and add at will, Vietnamese-style. What a simple and satisfying meal!

If you have no leek broth on hand, you can certainly substitute other vegetable or meat stock.

Ham and Radish Soup with Leek Broth

2 quarts leek broth, preferably unsalted, from blanching or cooking leeks
About 12 ounces ham bone(s)
6 quarter-sized slices ginger
¾ pound radishes
About 1 12 ounces ham, in ½-inch dice
Salt, if needed
Fresh or dried buckwheat or wheat noodles
A small bunch of arugula or other greens, such as watercress or spearmint

Strain the broth, if it needs straining, into a large saucepan. Add the bone(s) and the ginger. Simmer the stock for about 1½ hours.

Cut the radishes into pieces about ½ inch by 1 inch. Depending on the variety and size, you can slice them into quarters or eighths, or you can roll-cut them, slicing diagonally with a quarter-turn between slices; this maximizes the cut surface area of each piece and promotes even cooking and flavor absorption. Add the radishes and ham to the soup. Simmer about 30 minutes longer, until the radishes are tender. Taste the broth, and add salt only if needed; the ham will have probably provided enough.

Before the simmering is done, cook fresh or dried buckwheat noodles in boiling water. Drain and rinse the cooked noodles, and divide them among large soup bowls. Ladle the soup over the noodles. Serve the soup with fresh arugula or other greens for eaters to add according to their taste. Diced avocado and oily chile sauce are other tasty optional additions.

Serves 4

 

 

 

Roasted Peppers with Anchovies and Garlic

On Halloween, fall has finally set in here in the Willamette Valley. The trees stand bare, red and gold leaves carpet the ground, the sky is as grey as the wet streets, and the air is damp and cold. At this time of the year I pick the last of the peppers and remember where I was four years ago, watching the same change of seasons.

lunch in Diano d'AlbaMy daughter and I had hiked to a hilltop village near Alba, Italy, where beside a blazing fire we ate plate after plate of a fixed-price lunch. My favorite dish was soft, sweet, oily roasted peppers flavored with a paste of anchovies and garlic. It’s a perfect dish, I think, for the last of the pepper harvest.

In Piemonte peperoni al forno is made in various ways, and here in America we also have options. You might use salted anchovies instead of anchovies canned in oil. You might use big, thick-skinned peppers and char them to remove their skins. I prefer to use thin-skinned peppers and to leave the skin on. You know the little supermarket peppers that come in red, orange, and yellow? They would do, and if their flavor is dull the roasting would certainly enhance it.

That supermarket mix is the ancestor of one of my favorite peppers, which I have stabilized as Little Orange Sweet. It’s a little bigger than its hybrid forebears, with few seeds and a wonderful sweet taste. It’s an ideal pepper for roasting with anchovies and garlic. Here’s how I do it.

roasted peppers with anchoviesPeperoni al Forno My Way

2 pounds thin-skinned, ripe sweet peppers
2 ounces anchovy fillets packed in olive oil
1 small head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
½ cup olive oil

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse the peppers, and pat them completely dry. Halve or quarter them, depending on their size, and seed them. Spread the pepper pieces in a roasting pan. In a mortar, pound the anchovies and garlic to a paste. Blend in the oil from the anchovies and the additional oil, and toss this mixture with the peppers. Roast the peppers, stirring them at least once, for about 30 minutes, until they are tender. Serve them hot or at room temperature, with fresh bread to sop up the extra oil.

 

 

 

Jerusalem Artichoke Chips

Jerusalem artichoke chips

Even though I didn’t plant Jerusalem artichokes this year, even though I deprived last year’s survivors of water, and even though I pulled up many of the young plants over the summer, I still expect to harvest an enormous crop of tubers sometime in the next several months. The plant is tough.

But now I have a new way to use bucketloads of tubers. I developed this method last spring, after wondering whether turning the tubers into chips might relieve them of some of their windiness.

For the first trial batch, I sliced the tubers thin and soaked them for a half-hour in water with salt and lemon juice stirred in. This soaking, I hoped, would both prevent browning and give the chips extra savor. Then I dried the slices in the dehydrator until they turned leathery.

The chips turned out pale and uninteresting. So I baked them in the oven at 200 degrees F. until they were golden brown. Now, to my delight, they were sweet and crisp.

But I couldn’t taste the salt. Also, I concluded that the lemon juice had been unnecessary, since sliced Jerusalem artichokes seem uninclined to brown with exposure to air. So for the next batch I soaked the slices for an hour in a brine made of ¼ cup pickling salt to 1 quart water. I skipped the dehydration step; instead, I put the slices straight into the convection oven.

The second batch turned out as good as the first, with a bit of saltiness added.

I imagined that they would have been just as good with no salt at all. Besides, keeping the chips salt-free might discourage overconsumption—and overconsumption would be risky if the drying and baking failed to overcome the vegetable’s gassiness.

Here is my recipe. You decide about the salt.

Jerusalem artichoke tubers
Salt (optional)
Vegetable oil (optional)

Break the tubers apart at the nodes, scrub the tubers, and slice them thin with a mandoline. If you’d like your chips a little salty, soak the slices for at least an hour in a brine made of ¼ cup pickling salt to 1 quart water.

Drain the slices well, and spread them in a single layer on wire racks set over baking pans. If you have no wire racks that the slices won’t fall through, spread them directly on the baking pans, but expect the pieces to stick a little. To prevent this, you might oil the pan or even toss the slices with a little olive oil or other vegetable oil.

Put the pans into a convection oven heated to 200 degrees F. If you don’t have a convection oven, use a regular oven heated to 225 to 250 degrees F. Bake the slices for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hour, rotating the pans at least once, until the chips are almost crisp. Don’t cook them so long that they turn dark brown, or they will be bitter, just like brown potato chips.

Turn the chips out to cool.  As they cool they will grow crisper. When they are cool, store them in airtight containers.

I tested the chips on people at an afternoon political meeting. Everybody seemed to like them, and none could guess what they were made of. Two people were gracious enough to take home small bagfuls, eat the chips all at a sitting, and report the results.

One of them told me that “right around 10 p.m. it hit. They weren’t particularly odorous or loud, just little bubbly poots all night, and that was pretty much the end of it. “

The other declared, “If I knowingly eat this food again I will plan on working around loud machinery, or going on a hike by myself.

“Bottom line, they taste good.”

Roasting the Last of the Tomatoes

roasted tomatoesTwo light frosts have blackened the tips of the tomato vines, but the fruits continue to ripen, slowly. They taste like autumn now, cold and a little mealy. I don’t care to haul out the canner for a small basket-load, so into the oven they go. Roasting and freezing are a good way to preserve tomatoes when you’ve had enough of canning and the house is chilly enough to make you want to turn on the oven.

Having misplaced the roasted-tomato recipe I’d developed in past years, I looked through others, on the Internet. How fussy they tend to be. Although tomatoes are rich in sugar and acid, and roasting concentrates both, many writers add sugar and vinegar to their tomatoes before roasting them. Most writers also call for tomatoes of a particular size, and usually you’re to place them all in the pan cut-side up—except in cases in which you’re to place them all cut-side down. Some writers even ask you to seed the tomatoes.

To my mind, all this fuss is a waste. I use tomatoes of any size, and I cut them into halves, quarters, eighths, or more pieces so they will cook into bite-size morsels. I toss them with oil and salt before tossing them into the pan. I add garlic and herbs, but I see those as optional.

The tomatoes end up simmering in their own juices, but they will do that however you slice and place them. Eventually the juices will dry up, and the tomatoes may even char a bit. At this point they are ready, to top pasta, pizza, or a tart or to freeze until later.

The one good tip I’ve garnered from other writers’ recipes is to line the pan with parchment paper. The tomatoes slide cleanly off the paper, and the pan needs barely any scrubbing.

Easy Roasted Tomatoes

4 pounds tomatoes, of any kind and any size, cut into chunks
3 to 4 garlic cloves (if you like garlic)
2 teaspoons fresh savory or thyme leaves
¼ cup olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Set a convection oven to 300 degrees F. (or a regular oven to 325 degrees F.), and line a 12-by-17-inch nonreactive pan with parchment paper. Toss the tomatoes in a bowl with the garlic, herb leaves, and olive oil. Add the salt, and toss again. Spread the tomatoes in the pan. Bake them for about 1½ hours, until almost all the liquid has evaporated.

But I am pushing my luck. Today I’ll pick green tomatoes, the perfect ones, full sized and with no sign of disease, in hopes that they will ripen indoors, stretching the fresh-tomato season a little longer.

Ask Santa for Empty Jars

When someone asks what you want for Christmas and you can’t think of anything, you at least know you don’t want commercial preserves, right? Those store-bought jams and relishes are never as good as the ones you make yourself, even if they came from the cutest little shop in someone’s favorite vacation spot. To avoid collecting jars that will sit unopened in your pantry for months or years, try asking for empty jars instead. I mean fancy preserving jars, ones you might never buy for yourself because they cost more than Ball or Kerr jars.

Among the possibilities are jars produced by the French company Le Parfait. You probably know Le Parfait’s old-fashioned glass-lidded jars—now called, on Le Parfait’s website, Super Jars—with their rubber rings and metal clamps. I have used big jars of this type for decades for storing dry foods, and the French still use them for home canning. After the jars are pasteurized, the jars are stored with their clamps unfastened. So long as the lids stay sealed, you know your preserves are good.

I tested another Le Parfjam jarait product, the jam jars, faceted on the lower half and bearing a screw-on metal top. These jars come in various sizes—324, 385, and 645 milliliters. I used the 324-milliliter jars, which hold about 1 1/3 cups and so, I figured, might be small enough for jelly (for a good set, jelly must cool rapidly). A standard American wide-mouth funnel just fits into the top of one of these jars. The metal top screws on with short threads, as on most commercial food jars, rather than with long threads, as on a Ball jar. I like the lids displayed on the Le Parfait website—they are decorated with little green leaves and red berries—more than the ones that came with my set, which are printed with “HOME MADE” in almost psychedelic blue lettering.

jam jar lid

Instead of boiling-water or steam processing for these jars, Le Parfait recommends “self-pasteurization,” which means turning the jam jars upside-down immediately after screwing on the lids. This practice is the norm in Europe, but the USDA frowns on it. So I processed my filled jars for ten minutes in a steam canner.

After the processed or “self-pasteurized” jam jars have cooled, it’s hard to tell whether they have sealed. But I have found that if I hold both a sealed and an unsealed jar with the edges of the lids at eye level, I am able to see the difference. The sealed lids are just slightly concave. When you remove one you hear a little popping sound.

Familia Wiss lids and capI also tested some of Le Parfait’s Familia Wiss terrines. Also called bocals, these jars have straight sides and wide mouths, to make it easy for you to turn out your terrine (pâté without pastry) from the terrine. Available in sizes to hold 200, 350, 500, 750, 1,000, and 1,500 millimeters, these jars are different from any I’ve seen before in that each comes with both a flat lid (capsole) and a full cap (couvercle).  The flat lid is much like that of a Ball or Kerr jar, but heavier and bearing a big pimple in the center. The cap, which like a Ball or Kerr band serves to keep the flat lid in place during processing, sports an inverted pimple in its center. The cap could be used on its own for refrigerator storage, but because it lacks a protective coating, as well as a sealing ring, it shouldn’t be used on its own with acid foods.

The Familia Wiss terrines identified as 500 millimeters in size on Le Parfait’s website actually come embossed as “500-539 ml,”and a fill line is marked at 1 1/8 inches from the top, as if the jars were intended for pressure canning. To my delight, I found that each of these jars hold a pint with ½ inch headspace. They are shorter and wider than Ball or Kerr pint jars; in fact, they are perfect for accommodating quartered large pears in horizontal layers.

I processed three Familia Wiss jars in a steam canner. On one lid the pimple flattened completely; on the others the pimples flattened only a bit. But all three jars sealed firmly.

Le Parfait makes a tool called a tire-rondelle for opening both Super Jars and Familia Wiss terrines. You can use the tool sideways to tug on the tongue of a Super Jar’s rubber ring, or you can poke the pointed end into the pimple on the flat lid of a Familia Wiss jar to release the vacuum. An ice pick should work as well on a Familia Wiss lid, or you can pry up the lid with an ordinary bottle opener or a table knife.

For the French, apparently, Familia Wiss jars are used primarily for terrines, and Le Parfait’s website includes terrine recipes that make my mouth water. Unfortunately, the recipes omit instructions for pressure canning; instead, you are told to process the jars in a boiling-water bath for three hours. The USDA lacks any comparable recipes from which you might derive pressure-canning times, so if you decide to try one of these recipes you’ll probably want to store your terrines in the fridge.

Here is how I canned my pears in 500-milliliter Familia Wiss jars. You might substitute any pint mason jars in this recipe.

Familia Wiss jarsPears in Light Syrup with Vanilla

I used Bosc bears, but any variety should do.

If heating the pear slices in syrup seems like too much bother, you might put them cold into the jars. Heating them should soften them just enough to help them pack well in the jars, but if you’re not careful with this method you can end up with burnt fingers, mushy pears, or both.

3 inches of a vanilla bean
2 2/3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 large or 2 small lemons
About 4 pounds (7 to 8) just-ripe pears

Wash three 500-milliliter Familia Wiss terrines (or wide-mouth pint mason jars) and the flat lids in hot, soapy water, and rinse.

Score the vanilla bean segment lengthwise, so that the seeds will escape into the syrup, and cut the segment crosswise into thirds. Put these pieces into a saucepan with the water and the sugar. Slowly heat the mixture, stirring to dissolve the sugar, while you prepare the pears.

Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl. Peel, core, and quarter one-third of the pears. As you do so, drop the slices into the bowl and turn them gently in the lemon juice; this will keep them from browning.

When the syrup has begun to simmer, use a slotted spoon to transfer the pear slices to the syrup. Bring the syrup back to a simmer, turning the pear slices gently.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Pack the pear slices neatly into one of the jars along with a piece of vanilla bean, and pour syrup through a strainer to cover the pears.

Reheat the syrup as you prepare another third of the pears. Heat and pack them and cover them with syrup as before. Do the same with the last of the pears.

Cover the jars with flat lids and full caps (or mason jar bands). Process the jars in a boiling-water bath or steam canner for 20 minutes.

Makes 3 pints

Le Parfait jars are available at stores listed here, on the Amazon website, and, as I happen to know, at Down to Earth in Eugene, Oregon.