Archive for August 2009
Nurturing these pickles for a week, you become attached. I’ll be more than distraught if something goes wrong now. They still taste good but today was the first day I noticed the presence of white, filmy scum…mold I suppose. Perhaps my cover was too airtight? I replaced it with a pillow case to let the brew breathe a little better. Looks like my instincts were also right to add extra salt after the first day, according to Wild Fermentation master Sandorkraut. My recipe called for 1/2 cup salt to his 3/8 cup per 4 pounds cukes, so at least I already had that more saline brine he recommends. It’s nice to see that even experts botch their ferments when they first begin. It is a science but not an exact one. There’s plenty of room for trial and error here. Sandor also gave me the idea to try horseradish leaves in addition to the grape ones to keep the pickles crisp. Though I need to transplant my horseradish root into a big pot, else it take over the yard!
Next, I’ll try to make a kraut ferment with this beautiful young purple cabbage our friend Sang picked and gave to us today. We are dog-sitting sweet Mr. Baba (baba-sitting) while she and Antony head to Burning Man this week.
I’ll start small with kraut in a mason jar. Season it with caraway, celery seeds and/or fennel. I just hope the dog doesn’t get into it:) Any suggestions on kraut seasonings? Any advice on controlling mold while your veggies brine?
What a difference five days makes. The stewing pickles have been transformed: an acidic broth has formed and infused the cucumbers’ once-firm flesh with a lactic tang that teams with life. Their color has change from vivid green to gray. Though delicious and aromatic with the essenses of garlic and dill, the brine has the off-putting look and clarity of dishwater.
At least all hope isn’t lost. I thought some of the top pickles were turning and going soft, so I lugged the full five-gallon jug down to the basement, which promises temperatures more consistent with the 75 degree threshold for problem fermentation to take place. But now they are safe and sound. My paranoia melted away as I sampled one, two, no five or six pickles this evening (bet you can’t each just one!). The whole basement smells like slightly-stinky pickles.
But it’s just a faint aroma compared to the scents wafting from the Ecotrust Building out towards the Thursday farmers market in Portland yesterday. We went up to check out the city’s inaugural fermentation fest, organized by Liz Crain, a fellow food writer there who is finishing up a Food Lovers’ Guide to Portland and specializes in wild-crafting and fermenting her own pickles, cider and dandelion wine. The main attraction: an appearance by the generous and gregarious Sandor Ellix Katz, or “Sandorkraut,” the guru of raw fermented foods and author of popular books on the topic.
The pungent smell of kimchi, krauts, kefirs and kombuchas perfumed the humid air in the Ecotrust gathering space. Most of it was delicious, though the tiny samples left you wanted for me. Hey, this was a free festival. But I had the rare experience of actually discovering a food I don’t like: natto. These gooey fermented Japanese-style soy beans stew in their own viscose sauce that has a (there’s no other way to put it) disenchanting semen-like consistency. I’ll just stick to my tempeh and tofu. But really anything to help me narrow my food choices down is a relief. Apparently, even in Japan, one-quarter of the population doesn’t care for the native food, so I’ve got good company. Sounds like another polarizing Asian delicacy: the spikey-on-the-outside, mushy-within, offensive-smelling durian fruit.
The drinks were what really stayed with me. Really delicate kombuchas, such as the one with spicy cardamom and aged pu-erh Chinese tea. Kefir, which normally describes fermented milk/yogurt drinks, as water-based drinks, such as the super-refreshing coconut water one at right. Hard ciders, which ran out before I got there. And unique professional-grade home brews fermented with special local ingredients, such as Douglas Fir tree needles and blackberries. The brewer gal is coming to OSU apparently in the acclaimed fermentation science program here. On our trip home, we schemed of having our own fermentation festival right here in Corvallis.
I never thought I’d need 20 lbs. of cucumbers in one sitting. But when you’re brining your own batch, you look for economies of scale. I had a five-gallon food grade salsa bucket. And my recipe called for four pounds of pickling cukes per gallon of your container. So there.
Finding the bumpy, relatively seedless pickling cukes isn’t always easy. Luckily, I could custom-picked ones from Heavenly Harvest Farm just down the road. The farm’s owner and manager were in my master food preserver’s course.
Once you secure your cukes, preparing the bucket for brining is pretty easy. You slice all the blossom ends off the cucumbers, to remove an enzyme that softens them. You make a salt water (with a little vinegar) solution. You throw in heaps of flowering dill heads (or dried seeds), garlic cloves, dried hot red peppers, peppercorns, some pickling spice, whatever spices you like, really. You put a weighted plate in on top, to push down and ensure all the cukes are submerged in brine. Otherwise they could mold and rot. Then you allow the fermenting cukes to steep in a dark place with temperatures no greater than 75 degrees. I’ve got the bucket in our coat closet but will move it to the basement if it heats up again. And I’ll be checking the bucket almost daily, to skim any scum off the top and sample the cukes to taste their progress. After three to four weeks of brining, these girls should be fully fermented. Then I can either refrigerate them or hot water process them in jars to make them shelf stable. Oh, and to keep the cukes crisp, I rolled up a few fistfuls of grape leaves from the neighbors vine and horseradish leaves from the root I planted and stuffed them into the brine. Using chemicals like alum or lime to crisp the pickles kind of scares me.
Speaking of fermentation, I plan to attend Portland’s first-ever fermentation festival this Thursday. Sandor Ellix Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation and food preservation poster boy, will be speaking there. He is living with AIDS and eats lacto-fermented foods, in part, for their health benefits.
I don’t often have pie for breakfast. But I did today, in honor of Poppy on his birthday, because he made the habit of doing so, but of course only with fruit pies. It’s also not often I make a pie, with homemade butter crust. But it’s a habit that could grow on me.
When your partner turns 30, you bake him a pie. I won his heart six years ago with a key lime graham cracker crust one. This year’s blueberry with fresh foraged blackberries did the trick. I finally had a chance to test out my master food preserver blueberry pie filling recipe, after stopping on a whim to pick some at a mom-and-pop place in Albany. I’d rather not use lab-developed Clear-Jel modified corn starch, but I did for the first time because it imparts a pleasant consistency, so you won’t have a soggy, runny, mushy pie. I spiced up the utilitarian extension office recipe with grated nutmeg, lemon and lime zest and vanilla. This Portland kid’s prize-winning pie recipe inspired the lime. Blueberry needs such tang to heighten its flavors. I processed the jars of filling for 30 minutes so they melded together in a fruity goo.
What else have you made with your blueberries? I stumbled across this fabulous muffin recipe, which, with the ample maple syrup and melted butter, evokes the taste of fresh pancakes. Throw some crystallized ginger into the batter for kick. And with blackberries, consider milk with some sweetener and the muddled fruit.
Foraged raw blackberries added to the inside just before backing gave the pie that extra umpf we were looking for. Topped with gelato from a downtown shop (why was this our first time there?) the result made for a pretty memorable dessert.
Looking to spice up your next picnic? The latest issue of MIX Magazine, for which I did my Newport restaurant reviews, offers some fresh suggestions. And the food tastes just as good when prepared and even consumed inside.
The Nicoise Egg Salad showcased a tantalizing array of flavors. I cut the eggs back to six, since I’m not a big egg salad fan, and added more tuna and chopped garden-fresh cucumbers instead to soak up the garlicky mayonnaise. A dollop of the fresh pesto I had made added some zest. Delicious with fresh sliced tomatoes. It was certainly worth splurging on Oregon albacore tuna for this dish.
Though we tend toward vegetarianism at home, we seem to be eating more and more meat these days. Perhaps it’s because Oregon has so many local, sustainable sources that we can feel good about (farms close enough that we can visit, which most seem to encourage). On 10 percent off member day at the food co-op, I sprung for a Lonely Lane pork tenderloin with this MIX recipe in mind. I need to get more into spice rubs. Applying the aromatic blend really gives you a chance to viscerally connect with the meat before slamming it in the oven or slapping it on the grill. Smoked paprika can be an elusive ingredient to find, but standard paprika is no substitute. And the earthy seasoning contrasted nicely with the tart onions and sweet blue cheese.
Making up the pickled red onions was extra fun since the bulbs came from my garden. Note to self: plant more onions next year. I’ve had real success with onions, garlic, leeks, lettuce and herbs — items so indispensible in the kitchen but often overlooked. When you’ve got them in the garden, they’re always on hand. Just two little cucumber plants have been incredibly prolific as well. I’m grateful and still in awe that I didn’t kill off everything.
Blackberries were about the last thing I should have bought upon my return to the Corvallis Farmer’s Market Saturday. Not because I don’t like them. Oregonians love to forage for and eat those wild blackberries so abundant here. But they loathe those same thorny canes that can become some of the most invasive plants, suffocating all other life out of your garden and yard with those looming, downward-seeking vines. Luckily, wild blackberry plants line the trails where I run, just minutes from our home. I didn’t realize they were already blackening (ripening) until I stumbled upon them in Bald Hill Park yesterday. Why buy blackberries when nature gives them up, generously, for free?
I set out to collect two cups more today for dessert. This time, I came prepared, pulling thick rubber boots over my jeans and bringing yard gloves to protect my hands from thorns. Blackberry gathering is like bee-keeping I suppose: the threat of pricks and stings somehow makes the fruit and honey gathered that much more sweet. I’m sure Novella Carpenter would agree. In 30 minutes (including my bike ride down the road and back), I had gathered what I needed.
Ivy Manning’s cookbook once again inspired me: this time, to make her uber-local Peach and Blackberry Hazelnut Crisp. Unfortunately, peaches are just barely in season here, but I still managed to snag some at the food co-op. Though ripe, the peaches sure didn’t seem freestone, clinging as they did to their pit. The blackberries: foraged. The ground hazelnuts, from nearby Hazelnut Hill farm. The Quaker rolled oats didn’t quite belong. Add chopped crystallized ginger to the fruit mixture if you have some lying around. Top with vanilla ice cream. I used vanilla coconut milk cream, because the pricey concoction was $2 off. Now if I could only forage for peaches.
What a joy it is to return to ripening tomatoes. Thanks to watering by our house-sitter, the plants seem to have survived, albeit with some brown blossom end rot covering some tomato bottoms, due to my negligence about their calcium needs. Back in late June, I poured some whey and broke up some oyster shells around the plants to give them calcium but perhaps not enough. If they’ve already fruited, is it too late to prevent the green ones from getting this rot? At least the rot can be cut away and does not seem to really compromise the sweet taste of a ripe tomato.
Though we didn’t get home until 1 a.m. Saturday, I ran right out to the garden, fumbling around in the dark, feeling for those ready tomatoes. Nevermind that some were a tad overripe and less umami tart. I had to have a midnight snack of them with olive oil and basil, right away.
Fortunately, late tomato blight isn’t plaguing Oregon as it has the Northeast, where it’s decimated this year’s crop, particularly those coveted heirloom varieties. Dan Barber’s piece on the blight and how it stems from industrial agribusiness practices caught my attention in the New York Times today. Yes, this season’s surge in backyard gardening is good thing. But the poignant irony is that all those gardeners, buying contaminated starts at the Wal-Marts and Home Depots of the world, helped propel the fungal disease’s spread. It appears it’s not enough to just eschew factory farm foods trucked in from across the country. Your garden starts should come from local, sustainable sources, too. Given all the hype about heirloom tomatoes, it’s refreshing to see Barber make a moderated plea for polyculture sources, include less sexy, more resilient plants bred at your land grant universities, like here at OSU:)
Fairing even better than my OSU-bred Oregon Spring plant, though, is my massive potted Early Girl vine. Given the generally cool summer nights here, our tomatoes are slow to ripen here, shyly reading themselves for picking by late September. Next year, I’ll stick more to the trusty Early Girl. And speaking of which, she’s the namesake of a great cafe in Asheville, N.C., that serves up farm-fresh Southern fare.