Saturday, September 6, 2008

Processed Foods

It's been another week spent in the garden and the kitchen. We've been food processors this week, taking our homegrown and even some purchased food and making it shelf-stable or just more convenient for us. Sometimes the effort is trivial, as with the several pounds of organic cheese that I shredded and froze for later use on our pizzas. More often, food processing takes more time and effort. Still, we feel the reward of high quality food in a convenient form more than trumps the "convenience" of low-quality, high-price store bought processed food.

The tomatoes, enjoying our recent hot and very dry weather, are ripening in earnest. The lack of humidity and rain means the tomato vines are being suitably tortured, so their fruits contain concentrated sweetness and bear few splits in their skin. I harvested 36 pounds of beefsteaks between Monday and Wednesday (and probably another 10 pounds, at least, last night). The sauce I processed them into has swelled the ranks of my filled canning jars residing in the basement. That dry heat I mentioned has also made the kitchen a little less of a hellhole while the canning is in progress. Typically, we have sweltering hot days this time of year, and the refrain goes, "it's not the heat; it's the humidity." So I'm thankful for small mercies.

The potato harvest continues. I'm experiencing a bit of cognitive dissonance around this crop. I want to eat them. But I associate meals built around potatoes with cold weather. I'm working on overcoming this preconception. It's difficult going when there's still so much "summer" produce to deal with. Obviously, part of the way we deal with summer produce is by eating it. This has the effect of crowding out other meal possibilities. Still, I managed to cram in a very simple dish improvised around using up what we had. We had some schmaltz - that's rendered chicken fat. In this case, it was schmaltz processed from the skin of a bona fide free-range, organic chicken, raised by a friend of mine. We had the legs in a Thai-inspired chicken and pumpkin curry dish on Tuesday. So on Wednesday I thinly sliced two of the largest Kennebec potatoes I've dug out of the ground so far. I layered those into a skillet with the schmaltz, a smidgen of butter, slices of our own garlic, and a seasoned salt mix of ancho chile powder, cumin, white pepper and kosher salt. The skillet went into a hot oven, covered, for 25 minutes, then went another 25 minutes uncovered. You know what? It was delicious. I polished off nearly the entire thing the morning I made it.

In our first use of our chile pepper crop, my husband and I made and canned some salsa with a large pile of the peppers and a mix of our tomatoes. I found the recipe at the New Mexico State University Extension site. Now who better to trust for canned salsa recipes? The one I chose from the site contained equal parts chiles and tomatoes by volume, which helped with some of our supply issues. We've been eating lots of fresh salsa too. I even gave in and bought some tortilla chips at the store. It was pretty delicious.

The cherry tomato glut continues unabated. My husband came up with an ingenious but labor intensive way to process them. He smoked them with some of our own apple wood chips. He banked up a low fire in our Weber grill, arranged a lot of halved cherry tomatoes cut side up in low-sided aluminum trays, and then dropped small handfuls of our chips on the coals every half hour or so. It took hours. The pragmatist in me reaches for the conclusion that the end product isn't worth the lengthy process time, resources, and effort. But the gourmet in me has to acknowledge that these semi-dried, bite-sized nuggets are culinary gold. I don't know why someone isn't processing something like this on an industrial scale and marketing them for big bucks. I thought the Moonblush cherry tomatoes were like candy. Well, these apple wood smoked cherry tomatoes are like crack. We put them in some pasta along with a few homegrown poblano peppers that we smoked (thus turning them into genuine, if unusual, ancho peppers). We added cream and fresh herbs from our garden and some grated parmesan cheese. I really had to restrain myself from eating the entire dish. The leftovers didn't last long during the week, I can assure you.

I continue to harvest a few of my black soup beans every day and shell them whenever I accumulate a large enough pile to make it seem worthwhile when I look at the pile of shelled beans afterwards. The net can be a little disappointingly small compared to the gross. The soup beans are going to be one of the few crops I raise this year for which I'll have an exact harvest record. So far we've got about 3 cups of beans. The seed packet I bought had 51 beans in it. We'll see what the total is in a few more weeks. Next year I'll probably try to be more disciplined about recording harvest weights and such.

This weekend I plan to experiment with two different fillings for chiles rellenos. I'll probably process a big batch of whichever filling we prefer and then freeze them. Processed food indeed.

Related posts:

The Limits of Garlic

1 comment:

marci357 said...

If you run out of processing time for doing something creative with the tomatoes, (such as I do when it starts to freeze) then remember that they can be easily frozen whole. Just place in a brown paper bag, roll the top up, and freeze. Take out as needed, pop in boiling water for 20 seconds, and the skin will just pop off. Then use for your sauces etc as needed.