My friend Mary has a sweet red plum tree. I stopped by this morning, and we rigged a ladder in the bed of her little cart thingy, and picked most of the ripe plums off the tree. Now to the preservation of these delicious morsels!

I decided to make two different batches of  jam to test different methods for pitting the plums. For the first batch, I placed the whole plums directly into the pot. I added a little water, and cooked them until the pits came away from the fruit. I put the entire mess into a food mill, and removed the pits and peels. It was a little bit too tricky to remove just the pits, so the peels went too. I would have preferred to leave the peels in though.

I cooked the resulting puree with sugar, and jarred it as usual. It was a bit thin, so I let it cook down for a while.

The jam has a bit of a sharp taste which I think is from cooking the fruit with the pits. There seems to be a bit of sourness surrounding the pits of plums, too, which carried across in this jam. It is good, but maybe not my favorite. Tomorrow I am going to make the second batch of jam, with pitted fruit this time!

cool cool cucumber

July 27, 2010

A friend gave me a bag of huge cucumbers the other day. They were overgrown for sure, and so I decided to juice them. It is hot hot hot here, and so I have been motivated to lie on the couch and take naps. And drink cool cucumber juice. With sugar and lime. And a bit of mint.

I halved and quartered the cucumbers and put them in the champion juicer. I left the juice in the fridge to cool off, and then when it was cool I added sugar, fresh lime juice and fresh mint.

And sat around on the couch drinking it. Not doing much else…

Note: For the record, its not quite as good as Binghi Mon’s cucumber juice, found at various locations around town…

russian pickles

July 24, 2010

This morning I got to the market early and found some pickling cucumbers, dill, and garlic. I picked some grape leaves at my dad’s house, and a handful of oak leaves from a tree in my yard.

I used a recipe from The Joy of Pickling and Preserving for Russian dill pickles. Oak leaves are added for flavor (instead of fermenting the pickles in an oak barrel which I don’t have..).

Pickles are a no heat project which is great since it is so hot today! Wash the jar, layer the cucumbers, herbs, and spices, and cover with salt water. EASY.

This recipe included hot peppers, garlic, mustard and coriander seeds, peppercorns, and bay leaves. The pickles are covered with a layer of oak leaves, and then some grape leaves, and then pressed down with a glass disk to keep everything submerged in the brine.

pickle success!

July 21, 2010

My first batch of pickles had a narrow escape. Everything was going hunky dory, and then I went out of town for the weekend. Usually when I leave home with a batch of something brewing, my mom looks after it. I forgot to tell her about the pickles, and fortunately they survived the two and a half day absence. I came home and they had finished fermenting. They bright green cucumbers had turned a deep olive green, and the bubbles had stopped rising to the surface of the jar.

I was a little worried about the brine, as some of the white scum that usually forms on the surface had started sinking into the jar. I washed the pickles, and then stuck them in a clean jar filled with salt water. That was the first thing that came to mind to do. As far as I am concerned, the pickles narrowly missed being ruined…I most certainly am not going to leave home and forget my pickles again!

The finished pickles are crispy, bright and tasty. My mom and I are going to make potato salad for them, and I am already planning on making another batch of sour dills…

I drove up to visit Swati in Minnesota last night. Just about the first thing we did Saturday morning was go and pick blueberries. We wanted to bake a pie, and figured that we should use what was fresh and pick-able.

We got to the berry patch around ten, and apparently it was a busy day, and we were late! Fortunately they found us a row to pick berries, and we got going. We noticed that there were more berries on the bushes to either side of us. After we finished our row, we went back to the house to ask for another one, and they said there weren’t any, and to look in our row for more berries…we took the opportunity to jump a few rows over and RAID.

We got a lot more berries that way, browsing the vacant rows.

When we got home, we promptly ate berries with cream. Then we baked a pie.

We ate pie for dessert, then for breakfast. With vanilla ice cream.

roasted vegetable tart

July 13, 2010

A customer has been telling me about this tart for a while. She was in the store this morning, and we talked about it again. The basic directions are to make a tart with a cheese layer, then top it with roasted vegetables.

On the way home from work I picked up a package of feta cheese, a tub of ricotta cheese, and a box of butter.

I raided my fridge, my mom’s fridge, and the garden for fresh vegetables and herbs. Beets, basil, eggplant, zucchini, leeks, thyme, corn, and tomatoes. All from the garden, market, or csa. We were loaded with stuff. I washed and chopped up the beets and leeks and put them in my cast iron casserole and started roasting them. Then I made the dough for the crust. It needed to chill in the fridge for a while, so meanwhile, I peeled and chopped the eggplant and zucchini, and added them to the roasting vegetables, one at a time.

Next I mixed up the base layer of the tart. A package of feta cheese, 3/4 of a tub of ricotta cheese, and a little bit of prairie breeze cheese. To this mixture I added some chopped pickled pimentos, a handful of chopped basil, and some black pepper.

Time to roll out the dough and prebake the crusts.

I made two crusts, and put them in the oven for a little while first to bake so that they were nice and crispy when I was finished. While they were baking, I chopped some tomatoes, and cut the kernels off of a few ears of corn. I sauteed this in butter, with fresh basil and salt.

When the crusts were finished baking, I took them out and layered the filling. The cheese mixture first, then the roasted vegetables, finishing with the corn and tomatoes for color.

I put the tarts back in the oven, and baked them for about an hour (I think..). I took them out and served them right away..they probably should have sat for a few minutes to settle first, but I was a little behind schedule…

Just a little note: I had a few pieces of tart left and put them in the fridge overnight. They tasted way better cold and the next day!!

pickles for jeanne

July 10, 2010

My friend Jeanne and I were talking about pickles the other day, and she told me about a recipe that her mother used to make. Mustard pickles. 2 quarts cucumber, 2 quarts cauliflower, 2 quarts pearl onions. Covered with a mess of vinegar, sugar, mustard, turmeric, and flour. The recipe calls for a gallon of vinegar! (I cut the recipe in half…)

When I told my mom about the recipe, she said that my grampa used to make the same pickles, or a slight variation. We looked in Joy of Cooking, and they were right there, too, again slightly different.

I followed Jeanne’s recipe pretty much exactly. I went to the market this morning, bright and early, and picked up some small onions, pickling cucumbers, and cauliflower. I took them home and cut, cleaned, and blanched them in boiling salted water. Then I strained and cooled them, and they sat in the fridge for the rest of the day, draining off any excess juices. (The recipe calls for cooking them and then letting them drain over night. I looked at several different recipes, and each is a little different, cooking some things more than others, etc.)

When I got home this afternoon, I started the canning pot going and made the paste of sorts to pour over the vegetables. Vinegar with sugar, mustard, turmeric and flour. I mixed the dry ingredients together and then added some vinegar to form a thick paste. Then I added this to the rest of the vinegar in the pot and heated it until boiling.

Meanwhile, I took the drained vegetables out of the fridge and divided them between 8 pint jars. When the vinegar mixture was just to boiling, I poured it over the vegetables, sealed the jars and processed them as usual.

black currant hedge

July 10, 2010

There is a beautiful brick wall that my grampa built around the stairs to the basement. My front yard is north facing, tree filled, and pretty shady (although sunny right now in the middle of the day in the summer..). The space in front of the brick wall has been a convenient resting place for dead leaves, twigs, and spiders. A friend of mine gave me a bunch of black currant plants from the bushes in her yard, and I decided to try to create a currant hedge. I love currants! I can still remember the first time I had a big wooden basket of them, in the train station in Switzerland, with my best friend. They are a joy to eat, and the idea of walking out my kitchen door to a patch of currants is lovely!

So for now, there are four plants. Two tiny ones, and two a bit bigger (maybe one year and two year sprouts?). I planted them 36 inches apart, about a foot or so from the wall, and I will see what happens. According to my limited research and knowledge, currants like sun, but are pretty shade tolerant. This might be the perfect spot for them.  As usual, it takes me a great leap of faith to plant things like bushes and trees…I am always curious as to whether they will “take.”

finished tunic

July 9, 2010

Last night I finished my first (?) tunic (liesl from, sewed in most of its ends (not for the shoulder seams as I wanted to make sure that I liked the armhole length) and blocked it. I washed the garment in wool wash, and then pressed most of the water out onto towels. I have been dehumidifying my house the past few days (it is super humid here and I don’t have air conditioning) and so I left the tunic to dry under the dry hot air stream from the dehumidifier.

The pockets are my favorite part. I worked about 9 or 10 inches of the bottom, and then using a smaller needle, knit back and forth on the pocket stitches (about 30 on either side). After a while, I picked up the original garment and continued knitting.

(The pockets are basically extra loops of knitting, which I later sewed together.)

Around the neckline, the pattern called for using a diagonal bind off, which created a beautiful continuous line (no need to go back and pick up stitches!). The front straps reach around to the shoulder seams, which rest on the back of the garment.

The yarn is Louet Euroflax linen, sport weight, in french blue. One of my favorite yarns, one of my favorite colors.

This is my first attempt at making sour pickles. I have made sweet bread and butter pickles, and pickled other things, but never have I fermented cucumbers for pickles. A friend dropped off a bag of pickling cucumbers to the store a few days ago, and today I remembered them in my fridge and set out to make something with them!

I found a recipe in my pickling cookbook (The Joy of Pickling) for a brined dill pickle using horseradish and mustard seeds. I love horseradish, and tried to find some fresh in town. I had no luck, and then called my friend Bob in East Pleasant Plain and he pulled up several plants for me. I have way more than I needed for the recipe, so I am going to preserve the rest in sugar and vinegar, and then plant the tops of the roots so that I can start a patch of my own!

The recipe also called for a handful of grape leaves. I picked some from my dad’s vine, and laid them in the bottom of the jar. I then layered the cucumbers, dill sprigs, chopped horseradish, onion slices, mustard seeds, and celery leaves in a 3 liter glass jar.

I am excited to watch the fermentation process through the glass.

After I had added all the ingredients to the jar I added the brine, and covered the entire thing with another batch of grape leaves. Then on top of that I placed a ziplock bag filled with brine to weight the ingredients down. It is very important that the vegetables remain submerged at all times!

The pickles will ferment for 2 to 3 weeks. After they have fermented fully, they are ready to eat, and should last in the fridge for about 4 months. I could also jar them, but don’t think that will be necessary…