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Shishito Peppers

2015 0718 Shishito Peppers in our GardenA simple discovery led to an annual ritual. A few years ago, we pulled in to a picturesque restaurant in the Napa Valley that we like to visit, late for lunch but starving. The place was shutting down to set up for dinner, but sure, we could sit in the courtyard and they would serve us. How about starting with an appetizer of shishito peppers and sharing a composed salad? That would least disturb the kitchen.
2015 0717 Shishito peppers in bowlWe were enjoying ourselves sipping wine at a café table under olive trees that sent dappled light across the courtyard, when the waiter brought out an oval plate piled high with shishito peppers. I had been expecting a more complicated appetizer, perhaps with anchovies or cheese, but no, this was a pile of two-inch peppers that had been sautéed in olive oil, slightly charred in places and sprinkled with salt. No utensils, just a plate of peppers. Picked up by the stem end and eaten in a bite or two, they were simply magical.
2015 0717 Sauteed Shishito PeppersI have spotted shishito peppers only once in our local farmers’ markets, so I grow them every year just for the experience we enjoyed in California. Because the plants are prolific and will continue to produce if kept picked, even a few will provide a satisfying harvest. And true to the discovery in the Napa Valley, I prepare them simply. I heat a large heavy pan until very hot, film it with olive oil, lay the peppers in the pan in one layer (make in batches if you have a lot of peppers), and sauté over medium heat, turning them gently and cooking until they collapse, about 10 minutes. They’ll darken in places, but you shouldn’t fully char them. Sprinkle with coarse salt and serve hot. You could also add a squeeze of lemon, but any more complicated preparation would overpower the delicate and delicious flavor and texture of simply prepared shishitos.

Wild Raspberry Salsa

2015 0711 Wild raspberry salsaWhat’s that phrase, “Necessity is the mother of invention?” We were staring awestruck at the results of an over-adventurous trip to the woods that yielded a tremendous amount of wild raspberries and wondering how to use them all productively. 2015 0711 Red onion, pepper, clantroAs far as I know this salsa was invented on the spot by one of our family members who foraged around in my garden for bolting cilantro and fresh hot peppers and came up with a delicious salsa. Surprisingly versatile, this should not be relegated to the cracker tray but drizzled over grilled fish, tossed with corn, or paired with fresh muskmelon and prosciutto. Although we consumed just about every batch the day it was made, a small bowl left in the back of the refrigerator for a week turned out to keep very well. It just needed a little freshening with new cilantro leaves and a splash of vinegar or lime juice.2015 0711 Wild Raspberry Salsa with Chips 2

Wild Raspberry Salsa
1 pt wild raspberries, lightly rinsed
A few sprigs of cilantro, stems and leaves
1/2 small red onion, finely minced
1 small-medium hot pepper, minced
Grated lime zest
Pinch salt
1-2 tbsp vinegar (unseasoned rice, cider or red wine)
Optional: squeeze or two of lime juice
Lightly rinse the raspberries, shake to remove excess water and place in a bowl. Pick the leaves from the cilantro and finely chop the stems. Reserve the leaves. Add the stems to the raspberries along with a portion of the hot pepper (reserve some to correct the heat), onion, lime zest, salt and 1 tbsp vinegar and let sit for 10-15 minutes. Taste for hotness and tartness and add more hot pepper and vinegar to taste, along with a portion of the cilantro leaves, lightly torn. Just before serving, check again for hotness and tartness and garnish with additional cilantro leaves. Stir in a little lime juice to spark the taste.
Makes 1 cup.

2015 0703  Wild raspberries and red currrants in basketsOur family craves a carefully curated pantry. Think of preserves in limited editions made from produce we’ve grown or foraged. With rooms in our house that transform into a full-blown artists’ print shop at a moment’s notice, I think this is really about designing and fabricating labels and other collateral. So far, I’ve held up my end of the bargain, with dozens of packed jars ready for labeling. They have makeshift sticky notes all over them now but someday they will be boasting graphics as gorgeous as the jam.
2015 0704  Black Raspberry Currant JamAlong with the label idea came a search for distinctive jars and lids. The ubiquitous quilted Ball jelly jars with two-piece lids seemed too homey for this experiment. My husband trekked out to Fillmore Container in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to see what they could offer as an alternative. Well, quite a lot. Even though I continually used the words “continuous thread” (CT) to describe the lids I wanted, he came back with lugs anyway. A while back, Marisa from Food in Jars posted about CT versus lug, courtesy of Fillmore Container, and I followed their advice.
2015 0704  Wild raspberry and red currant jam in lug jarsMost typical for water bath canning are one-piece or two-piece lids with continuous threads and “buttons” in the middle of the lids that suck in with the vacuum formed when air is drawn out of the jar. That button tells you that an appropriate seal is made. Continuous thread, or screw-on lid, means that the lid and the jar each have grooves that are threaded in one continuous bead. Home canners are familiar with this system. Lugs, also called twist-off, have multiple threads in the lid that correspond to threads in the jar, so they interlock. They’re made for capping machines that set them perfectly in a commercial setting but actually are easy to set by hand. The trick is to get them snug but not so tight as to strip the thread and not so loose that they’ll disengage. The USDA prefers the CT method since it’s more foolproof for the home canner but Fillmore insists that lugs work too. So far, I agree. Just get the high heat variety of any type since water bath canning means that the jars are subjected to boiling water at 212 degrees F.

This jam follows my yearly ritual of using red currants – the few small boxes that come my way – to add a tart and perky edge to berry jam of all sorts, and also to rhubarb. This jam is delicious. Just waiting for those labels, ahem.

Wild Raspberry and Red Currant Jam

4 c wild raspberries
2 c cane sugar, preferably organic
1 lemon, juiced, with seeds and peel reserved
½ pt (1 c), fresh red currants, de-stemmed
1 c water

Pick over the raspberries, removing any stem ends that linger, and rinse lightly with cool water. Place in a large bowl and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Place reserved lemon seeds and a few slices of peel in a small muslin sack and submerge in the fruit. Set aside to macerate for several hours.

Clean the currants and place them in a small pot with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the currants burst, about 4 minutes. Set aside to cool. Refrigerate if not using right away.

Place the raspberries in a large pot and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes and return to the bowl to cool. Combine with the currant mixture. Refrigerate if not using right away.

When ready to prepare the jam, prepare the jars for water bath canning. Place a saucer in the freezer to test the gel.

Remove the sack of lemon seeds and bring the mixture to a boil over medium high heat. Cook until the jam tests for gel (a drop on the frozen plate will be wrinkly to the touch). Fill the prepared jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let sit for 5 minutes before removing the jars to a counter to sit, undisturbed, until cool.

Makes 6 four-ounce jars.

2015 0627 Gooseberries in bowlIt’s rare to find gooseberries around here. I’m not sure that they’re native. Growing them is actually banned in much of the state of New Jersey since they can carry a fungus called white pine blister rust, which would threaten the Pine Barrens, a vast stretch of land that harbors one of the region’s most important aquifers. We don’t live in one of the forbidden counties but I rarely see them grown locally. The same is true of currants, which are relatives of the gooseberry in the species Ribes. Both are pretty delicate so we don’t even find them imported to specialty shops. I am grateful that a local farm grows them, albeit in small quantities. 2015 0627 Gooseberry JamLike currants, uses for gooseberries abound in locales that favor hedgerows. England for example. And continental Europe. The first gooseberry jam that I made this year is robust, flavorful and tart, not for the faint of heart. The second one was inspired by the elderflowers that line the edges of our fields along the Millstone River, another child of the traditional hedgerow. I had just made my yearly batch of elderflower cordial and had a second batch of distilled blossom water, so I used it to make the gooseberry jam, sweetening it a little more than the first batch and smoothing it with an immersion blender. The gooseberry jam with elderflowers was more refined and slightly floral in comparison to the first batch. I was considering floating some blossoms in the mix to distinguish the two, as I’ve seen others do, but they looked like mosquitoes and I thought that was too literal a reference to the glen where the elderberries grow wild. At least that’s how I would remember the day.

Gooseberry Jam and a Version with Elderflowers
1 pt gooseberries, rinsed
1 c water or elderflower water (use slightly more water to create a thinner jam)
Sugar (amount is proportional to the liquid)
Juice of ½ lemon

Place the gooseberries in a heavy pot and add the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and cook until the gooseberries deflate, about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Prepare jars for water bath canning and place a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel.

Lightly mash the gooseberries and measure the liquid. (I got 1½ c.) Add half the amount of sugar (in my case, ¾ c) and the lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook until the jam tests for gel (when a drop paced on the frozen saucer is wrinkly to the touch), about 5 minutes.

Ladle into warm jars, clean the rims and top with a two-part lid. Process the jars in the water bath for ten minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars sit for five minutes before removing them to a counter to sit, undisturbed, until cool.

Makes 3-4 four-ounce jars.

2015 0620 Wild black raspberries
“Follow the black dots,” he said. Into the woods and the bramble patch where a tremendous harvest of wild black raspberries lay before us. We were outfitted in long pants and long sleeves to avoid the poison ivy, which runs rampant among the arcing canes of red and black fruit. The berries on higher, drier ground along the Millstone River have ripened first but as the land slopes down and the river bends, there are many that are still green and hard as rocks. This adventure could go on for weeks.

The berries seemed rather dry and sturdy compared to the red raspberries that we will harvest at the CSA farm or the tasteless blowsy sort that the grocer stocks in plastic containers, “fresh” from thousands of miles away. The wild berries are small and seedy of course but contain taste bombs that explode in your mouth with a lingering wine-like flavor. 2015 0620 Black raspberries in bowl
With the berries, we made summer cake and pancakes, tossed them with the first melons of summer and the last lettuce, have plans for ice cream and sorbet, and of course, we made jam. Just like the winter’s pomegranate experiment, this jam needs to be treated gently so as not to overcook it and make it tough. I say tough because I left the seeds in and they provide a kind of structure to the jam, which is nicely offset by jelly that’s not too firm.2015 0622 Black raspberry jam
I made a second version, with apples and lemon, so that I can develop natural pectin to avoid overcooking and add less sugar, so long as the overall preservative content makes the jam safe over time. The recipe needs tweaking but the approach works.

Wild Black Raspberry Jam
2 qt wild black raspberries, lightly rinsed and drained
Sugar (about 2-3 c)
Juice of 1 lemon, seeds and peel reserved
Mash the black raspberries and add half the volume of sugar (if you have 4 c of mashed berries, add 2 c sugar). Juice the lemon and add the juice to the berry mixture. Tie the lemon seeds and a bit of the peel in a muslin sack and submerge it into the berries. Let the mixture sit for several hours or overnight until the juice renders.
Place the berry mixture in a large heavy pan with a wide bottom and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove and cool. Cover with crumpled parchment paper and set aside for several hours or overnight (refrigerated).
Prepare jars for water bath canning and keep them hot. Place a saucer in the freezer to test the gel.
Remove the lemon sack and bring the berry mixture to a boil over medium high heat and cook, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching, until the jam test for gel, about 7 minutes (but check earlier if large bubbles form). A drop placed on a frozen saucer should crinkle when touched.
Ladle the hot jam into the prepared jars, wipe the rims and close with two-part lids. Process in a water bath for ten minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and let sit for five minutes before removing to a counter to sit, undisturbed, until cool.
Make 4 eight-ounce jars or 8 four-ounce jars.

Combining two annual pantry traditions illustrates our kitchen ecosystem. One is stocking up on the first berry crop of the summer and the other is making vanilla extract. What a combo. 2015 0610 Bowl of strawberries

I find that strawberries turned into jam need a companion ingredient to keep them from being cloying. Over the past two weekends, I’ve made Strawberry and Roasted Rhubarb Jam (pictured) and Strawberry Jam with Pinot Noir. For the final batch of this session, I decided to add vanilla beans to the strawberries, reminiscent of a successful Nectarine Vanilla Jam from past summers. My timely decision worked well on two fronts: it made a very tasty jam and it used the remnants of whole vanilla beans and vanilla sugar before the cycle of vanilla extract begins anew.2015 0610 IMG_5995 Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

That’s the ecosystem part. I’ve always thought of the process that uses every viable part of our food ingredients as “waste-not-want-not.” Eugenia Bone characterized this phenomenon more aptly in her recent book, The Kitchen Ecosystem. The phrase struck a chord when I first heard it. Eke out nutrients from even the most unexpected parts of a plant, compost the rest to feed the garden, and start all over (if you grow your own).

Vanilla beans are a luxury. They’re exotic and expensive. I buy a pack of plump Tahitian or Bourbon beans online every summer and soak a few rods in vodka or bourbon (not to be confused with the moniker of one type of bean) for 6-8 weeks to obtain delicious vanilla extract. As I use fresh beans throughout the year, after scraping out the tiny black seeds, I insert the shells in the pool of extract or bury them in a jar of sugar to produce an aromatic and lightly flavored confection. At the end of the cycle this year, I combined the remaining, slightly shriveled fresh pods from my stash with strawberries macerating in vanilla sugar. I also scraped drunken seeds from the pods in the extract jars into the mix.

I made the jam in my normal way, by letting the fruit macerate in sugar for several hours, boiling the mixture for 3-4 minutes and, once cooled, letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight. I drained the liquid from the berries and boiled it until the gel starts to set, and then added the berries, cooking until it tests for a good but not too hard gel. This method promotes gelling and keeps you from overcooking the berries. Also, I jam only 1-2 quarts of berries at a time since the small batch allows me to minimize cooking time.2015 0610 Vanilla extract

This was a good experiment. Now it’s time to order beans for vanilla extract. I typically soak 3 vanilla beans, split vertically but not separated from the stem, in 1 cup of alcohol, and scale up from there. The mellowest is bourbon but vodka is fine. Keep tightly capped in a dark spot (cupboard) and shake daily at first and then weekly for about 2 months. I do not add sugar, which is actually an ingredient in the vanilla extract most commonly found on the market. This keeps a long time (years unless you use it up) and is a little stronger than what you buy in the grocery store.

Strawberry Vanilla Jam
1 heaping qt strawberries
1½ c sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice, seeds and peel reserved
2 vanilla pods
Clean and hull the strawberries, cut them into ½-inch pieces and place them in bowl. Toss with sugar. Add the lemon juice. Tie a strip of lemon peel and reserved seeds in a small muslin sack and add it to the mixture. Halve the vanilla beans crosswise and lengthwise and scrape the small black sees into the strawberry mixture. Toss the scraped pods into the strawberries. Stir, cover and let sit for about 6 hours or overnight (if overnight, transfer to the refrigerator).
Pour the ingredients into a wide, shallow pan and bring to a boil, cooking rapidly for 4 minutes. Remove to a heatproof glass bowl and let cool. When cooled, cover the bowl and let the mixture sit overnight.
Prepare the canning jars and set a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel.
Drain the juice from the berries, reserving the fruit. Remove the muslin sack and vanilla bean pods. Bring the liquid to a boil in a wide shallow pan over medium-high heat. Boil for 4 minutes (it will have started to gel), add the reserved fruit, and boil for another 2-3 minutes or until a small drop placed on the frozen saucer tests for gel.
Ladle the jam into the prepared jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes before removing to the counter to cool, undisturbed.
Makes 4-5 four-ounce jars.

Vanilla Extract, Homestyle
Use plump vanilla beans, 3 per cup of alcohol. I use Grade B Bourbon beans (named for the island where they originate, not the liquor) or Tahitian. Split the beans vertically but do not detach the halves. Place them in a clean jar with a tight fitting lid. Cover them with the alcohol: bourbon will give a mellow flavor, vodka works fine but is a little harsher. Store in a dark place for 2 months before using. In the first few weeks, shake the jar daily, then every so often. Store in a dark place or dark bottle. I do not bother to decant this (unless giving it as a gift).

2015 0525 Peas and basil from my gardenI would love my kitchen garden to be a true French potager. A pleasing and productive assortment of herbs, vegetables and flowers artfully arranged. A place where the paint box is as much at home as trowels and shears. It’s more prosaic than that but plenty productive. From now until the killing frosts of fall, I can rely on the kitchen garden for a handful of this or that, enough for a meal or at least the main feature of one. 2015 0525 Pasta with Peas and BasilI typically plant a few varieties of each vegetable or herb. Some are trials for our larger farm, and some are just a local experiment. I discovered yellow snow peas from India a few years ago and they’re now a staple. I added a prolific types of snap pea this year, and a darling dwarf shelling pea. I have ten varieties of basil that I bought as small plants. As they are ready to transplant into the garden when the nights become warm, I pinch them back and toss a handful into wholewheat (or buckwheat) linguine lightened by long threads of zucchini and garnished with blanched peas. All it needs is a spoonful of aromatic olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Spring in a bowl.

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