Category Archives: Food Preservation

Waiting For The World To Change

It’s always been like this but, more than ever, the garden becomes a retreat from watching the daily dismantling of our country’s reputation, stature and dignity. It’s always something.

This year, whatever it is in Washington, it’s eggplants here.

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I’ve grown this vegetable before, several times. A strange semi-thorny little plant with alien, lovely light purple flowers and slow-growing fruit of a wide range of colors. If the Texas heat and the flea beetles didn’t suck them dry, we’d have a few tasty dinners in mid-summer. All that, I believe, has changed.

I bought this heirloom variety, Aswad. From the deserts of Iraq. Heat tolerant, incredibly prolific, with fruit the approximate size of your head, round and very dark purple. And the kicker: They taste great. The production is so high that you’d think these were hybrids instead of open-pollinated, but no. I will be saving their seeds for the foreseeable future.

So when I could only count on a harvest of eight or nine eggplants, I usually stuffed them in the Italian manner, and they were always good. But when the harvest is more likely to involve 30 or more 2- or 3-pounders, you find a need to broaden your repertoire. Thus have I learned the wonders of baba ganoush, among other things. This is a Mideastern dip with similarities to hummus, consisting mostly of grilled or roasted eggplant, lemon juice, minced garlic and a concoction of roasted sesame seeds and olive oil called tahini. At this point I’m really not sure how I got along without baba ganoush in my life before now.

A year ago, almost to the day, our entire yard was underwater, the Brazos River was washing over the entire neighborhood and the street was navigable only by boat. This year, the river is running at about 13 feet deep, instead of 55 feet, which is a relief. Nonetheless, we’ve had lots of rain, and “cooler” than usual temperatures, which in Texas means it hasn’t hit 100 degrees yet. That’s caused most of the garden to take off, including my home-developed Brazos Beefsteak tomatoes, the aforementioned eggplants, summer squash, zucchini, the ever-popular cucuzza, and various hot or hottish peppers.

Among that latter group is one I’d never heard of before this year: the Leutschauer Pepper, a somewhat-hot paprika pepper grown in Hungary since sometime in the 1800s, when the Hungarians brought the pepper back from neighboring Slovakia. Well. I’ve always wanted to try making paprika, and it turns out this plant grows easily in our weather, on big plants with lots and lots of peppers.

However, in order to make paprika, it’s pretty essential that you either have a food dehydrator or live in a climate dry enough to hang and dry stuff outside. That latter won’t work here, as humidity is kind of our state motto. So after some study, I bought us an Excalibur food dehydrator, the exact model of which you can see here if you wish. (I don’t do affiliate product advertising or any other kind of for-pay product placement from this blog, but Lord knows the Excalibur people should thank their lucky stars for the free plug. Actually, I don’t mind at all because I really like this gizmo so far and expect to preserve a lot of fruit and vegetables in it this year.)

For some of the best semi-hot paprika I have ever had, I take about six of the bright-red ripe Leutschauer peppers, cut them into four or so semi-flat pieces each, remove the seeds and membranes and spread them across one of my food dryer trays. Then I remove the rest of the trays, set the dryer on 125 degrees Fahrenheit and set the time for about 5 hours. Then I take the dried pepper chips from the dryer and put them in a cleaned-out coffee grinder. I press the button for a few second and then put the resulting powder into a jar. Yeah, buddy.

At 135 degrees, my new drying toy turns wet slices of fresh figs into sweet, dry fig leathers, which can further be preserved in the freezer. Good news, because it’s looking like we may have a bumper fig crop for a change.

Trump and the Republicans may still find a way to screw me out of my health insurance, but the good news is that they haven’t (yet) figured out how to cut off my food supply.

Happy Trails

Also posted in Food, Garden, Vegetables

Salsa di Pomidoro

About that tomato sauce recipe I alluded to a couple of posts back but never produced. We traveled north on vacation for awhile but, upon our recent return, I found the garden had yielded several big tomatoes despite our absence, and lack of water and the extreme steam heat. It jogged my memory. The recipe is good, and it’s here:

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This recipe requires fresh, ripe tomatoes, and the results are lighter than the more typical Italian past gravy, but very tasty nonetheless. I much prefer using a food mill to remove the skin and seeds from the tomatoes, as it simultaneously pulverizes all the good stuff into a thick, sauce-like consistency. If you don’t have one, you can drop the tomatoes into a large pan of boiling water for a couple of minutes until the skins loosen, them drop them into a sink full of cold water, then drain the water, cut out the cores with a paring knife and squeeze out the seeds at your option.

INGREDIENTS:

– 4 to 5 pounds of fresh, ripe garden tomatoes
– 1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia
– 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
– 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:

– Cut the tomatoes into quarters and run them through the food mill, or follow the procedure above if you’re processing them by hand
– Pour the resulting tomato mash into a large, heavy pan. Add half of the onion, sliced thin. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool to near room temperature.
– Pour the sauce into a blender (you may have to do this in two or three batches). Blend until smooth.
– Finely chop the remaining half onion. Add the olive oil to a large, heavy pan, heat and then add the onion. Stir and cook until it turns golden yellow. Add the oregano, basil, salt and pepper and stir for another minute or two, then add the blended tomato sauce.
– Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 15 to 25 minutes.

I think this sauce is great over pasta just as it is. It’s also easily converted to pasta gravy, by adding a little cinnamon, allspice and brown sugar.

That’s our program for today, boys and girls. Happy trails!

Also posted in Food, Garden, Vegetables

Pepper Sauce To Soothe An Angry Planet

Scotch Bonnets (upper left) and Hot Chocolates belowWe were blessed here at the One-Acre Ranch with an abundance of Scotch Bonnet, Jamaican Hot Chocolate and various other hot chillies, so much so that 2014 has become the year of the pepper sauce.

It turns out that the most limiting factor in your ability to produce new hot sauce varieties lies in your ability to think up new names for the stuff. So far this year I’ve bottled and labeled 10 batches: Bottle Rocket Pepper Sauce, Pineapple Pepper Sauce, St. X, Trade Winds, Bob’s Atomic Banana, Scotch Bonnet Blaster Sauce, Tropical Hot BobSauce, Tropical Bob’s Flaming Fig Sauce, Happy Dragon Pepper Sauce and Chocolate Jerk Sauce. The pepper plants out back are busy making a second crop, so now I have to come up with more names.

The sauces vary from tangy, fruity types to mustard-based, curry types and one Jamaican jerk-type sauce. The Bottle Rocket is my first attempt at a fermented pepper sauce (the process used to produce most Louisiana-style hot sauces). The rest are mixed “fresh” and then sterilized via a canning process.

A few of this year's hot concoctionsIn some cases I may have paid too much attention to the hotter-is-better crowd. Bottle Rocket, for instance, is so hot that just a few drops would season a whole pot of gumbo. My latter sauces, and those yet to come, will include less heat, so that the excellent flavor of the peppers themselves can more easily shine through. A pepper sauce can’t be that successful if it’s uncomfortably hot for 80% of the potential “audience.”

I think the perfect pepper sauce, applied in moderation to almost anything, creates a warm glow, a kind of whole-body warmth that brings on a sense of well-being. I think that if rival warriors could sit down over platters of jerked chicken and rice and just the right pepper sauce, it’s possible they might never get back up and fire RPGs at each other any more.

It’s worth a try, right?

Also posted in Food, Garden Planning

Chip Off Grandma’s Old Block

I remember my grandma had a basement room brimming with canned applesauce and tomatoes and plums and other fruits and vegetables, and she was always adding to the collection.

Now that’s me, straining under the crush of the harvest and turning it into this week’s meals and next winter’s happy freezer discoveries.

Jamaican Hot Chocolate & Scotch Bonnet peppersYou haven’t heard from me much lately because I’ve been picking and processing tomatoes for the past four weeks, and just as they tailed off, the main fig crop started ripening, in a big way. And during both of those harvests, an experimental row of Scotch Bonnet peppers has produced (so far) about 60 balls of fire for me to play with.

Sauces, salsas, salads, pickled, canned, whole frozen, you name it I’ve been doing it. With pleasure, I might add, considering how much I love a real garden tomato and dislike the way grocery food prices are spiraling.

The wildcard this summer has been the Scotch Bonnets. These are like my Jamaican Hot Chocolate peppers in that both of them are variants of habaneros, sharing the same scientific name. But while the Hot Chocolates give off almost a smokey heat and flavor, the Bonnets are sharp and hit the back of your mouth like little lightening bolts, yet just before the heat comes a fruity taste.

I’ve made hot sauce batches featuring tomatoes, papayas, mangos and limes, with a cast that’s included onions, lots of garlic, mustard, honey and brown sugar. Some are only medium-hot, some are very hot indeed. All of them are made with ingredients that happen to be on hand. Which is why this one, made just a few minutes ago, was inevitable:

Tropical Bob’s Flaming Fig Sauce

Ingredients:
– 12 large figs
– 10 whole Scotch Bonnet peppers
– 5-6 large garlic cloves
– 1 cup balsamic vinegar
– 4 Tablespoons lemon juice
– 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
– 2 tablespoons molasses
– 2 teaspoons sea salt
– 1 teaspoon allspice
– 1 teaspoon curry powder
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Method:

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until quite smooth. Empty blender into a large sauce pan and heat until boiling. Allow to boil hard for 3 minutes, then simmer for about 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Then ladel into sterilized jars. Screw on lids and can in a water bath for about 15 minutes (my batch made about 5 cups of sauce). I imagine these will keep in the cupboard for a year or more.

The sauce is very spicy, but tempered by the sweet figs, sugar and molasses. Depending on your tastes, you could easily tame this by cutting the number of peppers in half. Scotch Bonnets are abundant in the Caribbean, but rarely offered in grocery stores. If you can’t find any, habaneros make a fine substitute. If you decide to cut them open and remove the seeds (which reduces the heat) make sure to put on a pair of latex gloves first, otherwise you may regret touching these bad boys with your uncovered fingers.

Also posted in Food, Garden