Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Too Busy Doing to Write

With high summer in full swing, I've lapsed on the posting.  This seems to be my perennial conundrum.  When I have time to write, there's not much doing.  And when I'm doing lots of things that might interest other people, I'm too tired at the end of the day to do much writing.  So if pictures are really worth a thousand words, then I figure I can catch up on the writing really quick with the following.


Lasagna mulching.  I don't think the garden has ever looked quite so respectable in August.


Second cold frame.  Recently cobbled together with scavenged materials and ready to plant any day now. (Okay, it's really overdue for planting, but that's gardening.)  Isn't it just darling?  I want to plant nothing but Napoli carrots in it.


Elderberry-pear jam.  These will have to stand in for all the other canning I've been doing lately, including tomato sauce, chicken stock, and grape juice concentrate.  This jam is the prettiest of them all by far.


"Kimchee" made with Tuscan kale (instead of cabbage) and other vegetables from our garden.  Still fermenting, but already pretty tasty, especially the Hakurei turnips.


Homemade ancho chili powder. I may do a separate post on this as there was definitely a learning curve to preparing this stuff.  Smoked over our own apple wood chips, it smells so much richer and fruitier than store-bought.  We use quite a lot of ancho powder.


Solar hot water.  Admittedly, it's not my personal achievement, but it's finally - finally - on-line.  This will heat our house this winter and reconfigure our relationship to washing our whites.  We plan to situate a hoop house over the line that dumps excess heat into the earth - a project for next year.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

History, Up Close and Personal


I've been meaning to post about a very special document that came into my hands some time ago.  It's a personal history of childhood(s) spent on a dairy farm right where I grew up.  It's not even entirely clear to me who wrote the work, but it appears to be the transcribed memories of at least one brother and sister, recalling their lives during the 1920s to the 1930s. Some stories are told twice, from slightly different perspectives.  My sense is that some sort of record was made of each person speaking, and someone later typed out the account, page by page, on a typewriter.  There are many amateur line drawings to accompany the text.  And when I say these siblings lived on a dairy farm where I was raised, I mean exactly where I grew up.  My parents bought the farmhouse that belonged to the long-since closed dairy farm in 1973.  They still live there, though the acreage of the original farm was reduced to less than two acres by the time they bought it.

When the parents of these sibling authors bought this farm there was no electricity or running water.  The pump that they used to draw water stood in the front yard, as it still does today at my parents' home.  I remember the Concord grape arbor, planted to shade the pump, still bearing fruit shortly after we moved in.  The farm's summer kitchen, which doubled as a smoke house, was enclosed and attached to the main house during my childhood.  We still call that section of the house the "summer kitchen."  My memory of early childhood is good enough to remember many things which echo the stories told in this document.  The pear tree they mention was gone, but the wisteria they remember growing up around it was still there when my family moved in. 



If you've read stories from the Great Depression, you've read similar recollections.  What makes this so special to me is that I know where these people cut their ice in the winters.  I ice skated there, with borrowed skates, as a child.  I know how long a slog it would have been from the farm to the dammed creek that made a pond to turn the millstone in the old grain mill, and incidentally provided ice to those willing to brave the weather to cut it. I can only imagine the drive over snow-covered roads on a wagon pulled by horses - a real test of fortitude and of strength.  I know the creek that the children were allowed to refresh themselves in as a special treat after summer chores were done.  I played and waded there through all the summers of my childhood, though I never knew the kind of toil the authors did.  I know how the well water tastes that these people grew up drinking.  I've seen the accounts their father kept for bacon and sausages sold to neighbors, penciled on the painted wooden walls in the dirt floor cellar.  I know where they took their horses to be shod, and where they took their apples to be pressed into cider. I've seen the attic floorboards stained black by years of hams dripping moisture and fat as they cured.  I know the screened porch on the second floor, used for sleeping on the hottest summer nights.  It was closed in by the time my parents bought the house, and used as a playroom for my brother and me.  I wasn't there in the 1920s, but still I know this story, these lives in a more immediate way than any other account of that period I've come across.  I'm not kin to the people who wrote these stories, but there's a proximity like no other.

What I don't know in my bones is the kind of hard work it took to raise a family and run a successful dairy farm on a property without electricity or running water.  If you want to know what's in these stories, it's hard work and thrift on a scale few of us have ever known.  And yet, true to form, these recollections are not told with resentment or complaint for the work done nor the austerity they were raised with.  There's evidence of an enormous body of practical knowledge.  The parents of the authors knew how to make soap, butcher chickens, hogs and cattle, how to cure meat, make sausages, raise all kinds of crops, make sauerkraut, mend burlap feed sacks, keep horse tackle clean and supple, can all kinds of foods, resole shoes, press cider, sharpen all manner of tools, and run a raw milk dairy in a hygienic manner without indoor plumbing.  They did all these things and more besides.  Make no mistake, this is very credible documentation of what would be considered extraordinary effort today.  Though they clearly were not even moderately well off by the standards of their day, they had enough extra food to share with relatives who were in even more straitened circumstances.  The family was Pennsylvania Dutch, a culture with a reputation for extreme frugality almost to the point of notoriety; nothing in this account would belie that reputation.

Here's an excerpt that gives the flavor of the whole:
Apple butter making was a yearly get together with my uncle, aunt and cousins.  We youngsters just loved this affair because there weren't that many social things to attend.  Anyway this was always done in fall after the apples were ripe.  Neighbors usually offered Dad apples from their orchards.  So Dad would hitch the horses to the wagon and we'd go for a ride into our orchard and theirs, taking us along to pick apples and pick up fallen ones.  Then he'd take them home and we'd give them a good washing.

Then Dad would take them down to Powder Valley, to Robert Schultz's cider press and have cider made for use in the apple butter.  A lot was kept for drinking, which really was tasty and refreshing after those long chores of picking up and washing all those apples.  Dad's next job was to go out into the woods and find a sassafras tree.  He would dig around the base of it and get some of its roots.  If he went after school hours I would tag along.  We would then bring the roots home.  Then it was usually Mother who would wash and scrub them, then scrape off the outer shell of the roots, put them into small cloth bags, tie them up so they were ready to put into the boiling apple butter.  What a delightful aroma, and then a taste of the finished product!



Dad would have to get out the old copper kettle to replace the cast iron kettle in the little old house. The men would gather wood from the woodshed. Then Dad would build a fire underneath the old shiny copper kettle to get the cooking started. At the same time we youngsters were peeling apples with the peeler which was clamped to the kitchen table, then placing them into a dishpan or other clean vessel. Then my mother and her sister Alverda would sit coring and cutting the apples so they were ready for cooking. The men would put 2 or 3 gallons of cider into the kettle, the small bag of sassafras root, then the apples the women had prepared. We usually had between 4 or 5 bushels of apples. As they boiled down, more apples were added, and more, and more. About 10 pounds of sugar was added to the cooking apples. Later on in the process that small bag of sassafras was removed for the last hour of cooking.

While cooking apple butter on the farm it had to be stirred continually as not to burn. Dad had a special paddle to stir the mixture. It was shaped to fit right into the kettle. It had four sections for scraping at the bottom of the kettle. He had a ten foot handle to connect to the paddle upright in the center of this paddle so no one had to sit that close to the hot kettle that was cooking, bubbling and steaming to get that apple butter thickened. There was a leather sling from the ceiling joist of the little house to hold this long handle which worked just fine to stir that apple butter.

This was an all day job. Then after it was finished and cooled we had a good tasting party with fresh bread, cottage cheese and extra fresh apple butter. Gallon crocks had to be gathered, cleaned and ready to be filled with the apple butter. Also, clean washed sugar or flour sacks were cut into squares to fit and tie over the crocks to make sure that no kind of insects or flies could get to that scrumptious spread. The crocks were left setting to cool completely. Later on, most of it was placed in the attic, so we had apple butter all year long.

We youngsters all remember real well all the fun we had taking turns peeling those apples. Some of the peelings came off all in one piece. They would look like real long curls. They were also tempting for eating, which we at times would do. But that was cheating the hogs because they also were anxiously awaiting them. Apple butter custard was my brother Earl's favorite dessert that Mother used to make.

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?  Reading these stories brings home to me that people really, really lived this way.  Not in some fairy tale, or in a time so ancient that it is shrouded in mystery.  And not in a far country with a tradition different from my own.  As I read the stories, I could see them happening in a real place, not a fictional setting that I could vividly imagine.  It all happened in and around a place I know intimately, just a few short decades before I lived there.

I believe that in a few short decades many of the skills and tasks written about in this document are going to be necessary again.  We in the modern world wring our hands when confronted with the facts about declining supplies of energy.  We wrack our brains and wonder how, how in the world will we survive.  How is it possible to live other than the way we do?  We recite lists of things we need.  Things we simply can't do without.  This is folly.  The document in my possession is special to me because of my own connection with the physical setting of the story.  But there are any number of such accounts in every public and academic library. These were all ordinary lives.  It is our lives and the petroleum era we live in, which are extraordinary. There is no mystery to how people live in a world without abundant and affordable energy.  Down through the ages they did it mostly through unstinting industriousness, thrift, and skilled work.  We simply don't want to imagine that those people will be us one day.  But they will be us, or our children, or grandchildren, one day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Very Devious Am I


I like hacking things together, coming up with my own ways of getting things done, and generally making things work without resorting to purchased solutions.  But sometimes I'm not above paying for a partial fix.

Though it didn't make my formal list of goals for 2010, this was meant to be the year of experimentation with lacto-fermentation.  I actually started last year, trying to make some sauerkraut in a half-gallon glass canning jar.  It probably would have worked, except that I had trouble keeping the top of the kraut submerged below the surface of the liquid.  So the part sticking up above the liquid got funkier than I was comfortable with.  I tossed the whole batch, which really disappointed me.  I later learned I could have just scraped off the funky part, and the kraut underneath probably would have been fine.  More disappointment.

Now, there exists a brilliantly designed, patented, and well-marketed solution to this problem of top spoilage with sauerkraut.  Which is to say: an expensive product.  Like $100+ expensive, and that for the smallest model in the product line.  They're ceramic fermentation crocks and they're made in Germany.  They have a neat fix to hold whatever vegetables you put in there below the liquid, and a neat-o liquid airlock as well, which allows gas to escape the fermentation chamber but not get in, supposedly preventing contamination.  Since they're patented, they can't legally be copied here.  And since they're made in Germany and very heavy, they have a very high carbon footprint when brought to the area I live.  But here's the thing - I don't care about the airlock, because from what I've read, the lacto-bacillus will outcompete just about any other organism if you give it suitable conditions.  I don't really care about the aesthetics of glazed ceramic either.  All I want is something to keep my vegetables submerged while they ferment.

So a while back I went to a local potter with a one-gallon glass jar and asked him to make me simple, unglazed, half-moon weights that fit snugly inside the glass jar.  I have several of these glass jars, bought cheaply at our local bulk foods store.  These will be my new fermentation crocks.  The ceramic pieces will hold my vegetables down below the waterline, where airborne stuff won't have a chance to spoil it.  At less than $3 for the glass jar and $16 per pair of weights (tax included in both cases), that's less than $20 per gallon-sized crock.  That's a huge savings over what I'd pay for the ready-made crock.  Not only that, but since I have several of the glass jars, my weights can be moved from jar to jar as each batch finishes.  I couldn't do that with the weights from a purchased set.  If I were still a student with access to a pottery class, I probably would have tried making these for myself.  You could certainly do that if you have access to a wheel and the use of a kiln.

The embodied energy of these simple pieces of ceramic is still quite high.  After all, the clay was almost certainly not local, so it was probably transported in a wet state, and clay is heavy.  Pottery kilns consume an enormous amount of energy.  But at least my money went to support a local craftsman practicing an important skill.  And these are tools that will help me with the lowest energy method of food preservation for years or decades to come if I'm careful with them.  Indeed, the ceramic will never wear out, though they could break.  Potentially, these could still be in use centuries from now.  Ask an archaeologist what the most common artifact is worldwide.  Even if the weights should break, chances are very good that I could simply continue using them in a broken state.  I think that qualifies as appropriate technology.

I put three types of cabbage in the garden for a fall crop, two dozen plants all together.  Though I'm eager to get started, waiting isn't such a bad thing in this case.  Lacto-fermentation is best done at cooler temperatures.  I plan to try at least a few different recipes, including one with caraway and cranberry.  I'll let you know what my favorites turn out to be.  In the meantime, if you have favorite lacto-fermented recipes, I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sow's Ear, Silk Purse: Oatmeal-Raspberry Pancakes


These days, many of our meals seem to have stories behind them.

We've had red raspberry canes producing for the last two years.  Problem is, the berries have no sweetness to them at all.  My husband found them utterly insipid, while I thought they had flavor, just no sugars.  We were going to give them this one more year to see if their first year's production, last year, was just off because they were young or because 2009 was such an atrocious gardening year.  If things didn't improve, they were for the chop, to be replaced by something that earned its space in the sun on our modest lot.  Nothing much changed this year, except for them producing more heavily.

It about killed me that we had raspberries going to waste.  I didn't particularly enjoy eating them, it's true.  And we didn't really have enough at any one time to merit breaking out the canning equipment.  Finally I decided to harvest them and just turn them into a simple raspberry sauce.  The sample I put in my husband's mouth floored him.  He couldn't believe it was from our red raspberries.  The black raspberries that came ripe back in June have won his heart, but the red raspberries have disappointed him mightily.  Heck, honey, all you gotta do is add sugar. Given the unbelievable deliciousness of the raspberry sauce, it seemed like the obvious thing to do was to reproduce the raspberry-oatmeal pancakes from a favorite little breakfast place I used to frequent back when I used to frequent breakfast places.  My husband says that I have an infallible memory for food, such that I can remember meals in detail years, even decades later.  In fact, I can sometimes even recall what he ate, when it differs from what I ate.  Let's just say that favored breakfasts indulged in repeatedly don't lose their spot in my memory banks.

My version of oatmeal pancakes called for buttermilk, prepared oatmeal, and some oat flour to mix with all purpose.  Let me tell you - these require neither butter nor maple syrup at the table; they're that good.  I don't have a little ketchup bottle to drizzle out the sauce all pretty-like.  But a rustically ugly-charming splooge of spooned-out raspberry sauce over dusted powdered sugar has its own style.  I wouldn't really call this a harvest meal, since only the raspberries and the eggs are from our own production.  I'll just call it awesome instead.  My recommendation is to make up both the sauce and the pancake batter the night before you want pancakes.  It's a decadent thing to wake up in the morning and have these waiting for you in the fridge.



Oatmeal-Raspberry Pancakes

For the raspberry sauce:
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
3/4 cup sugar (or less, to your taste)

For the pancakes:
1 cup rolled oats, ground into 3/4 cup oat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted (plus extra for the pan)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup cooked oatmeal, cooled
2 large eggs

Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

Make the sauce: Rinse the raspberries and drain them, allowing a little water to cling to them.  Place them in a small saucepan and add the sugar to them.  Place the pan over medium-low heat. Mash the berries and sugar together with a potato masher or a fork, just until the sugar is blended with the mashed fruit.  Heat gently for about ten minutes, until no granules of sugar are visible when you look at a thin layer of sauce on a spoon.  Cool the sauce.  It will thicken slightly.  It can keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.

Prep the pancakes: Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk the butter, buttermilk, cooked oatmeal and eggs together until thoroughly combined. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Do not overmix.  Allow some lumps of medium size to remain.  Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes.  For best results, cover the batter and chill it overnight.  Thin it with additional buttermilk or milk, one tablespoon at a time, if it has thickened up too much while resting.

Heat a cast-iron skillet or heavy pan over medium heat for a few minutes, then turn down to medium-low. Brush the pan generously with melted butter using a pastry brush or paper towel. Quickly pour in about 1/3 cup of batter, to make a pancake about 5" in diameter.  (If the batter does not spread well, thin with additional buttermilk.)  Cook 2 or 3 such pancakes at a time. Once bubbles begin to form all over the top of the pancake, flip the pancake and cook until the bottom is dark golden-brown, about 5 minutes total. Re-apply the butter to the pan before cooking the next batch. Continue cooking until all the batter is used. Makes about 12 medium pancakes

Pancakes can be kept warm in a very low oven (175 F/80 C) if you wish to serve everyone at the same time.  Arrange each serving on a plate, dust it with powdered sugar, and drizzle the raspberry sauce over the pancakes.  Serve warm.  Eat.  Die happy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'm a WWOOFer Too

Back in June I wrote about my incredibly generous farming friend who has this knack for calling me up and asking if I want things.  Free things.  At the time I only posted about the second offer she made, which was our fosterling, blind-in-one-eye turkey poult, who's doing very well, by the way.  The other thing she offered was a WWOOFer.

WWOOF stands for World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  This is a non-profit organization that connects people who want to volunteer on farms with farmers who are willing to give room and board in exchange for labor.  No money changes hands, and it's up to volunteers and hosts to find a good match and make all arrangements between themselves.  WWOOF merely allows the volunteers to browse the host farm listings and initiate contact.  Farming friend is not a certified organic grower, but she follows organic practices and keeps all her livestock on pasture.  The WWOOF organization is not a stickler for certification.  Turns out, it's not even a stickler for commercial farming status.  Backyard homesteaders can register as host "farms" so long as they produce food in an organic manner and are willing to host.  So yes, when farming friend offered me a WWOOFer, she was offering free human labor.

Now of course, she was wasn't engaging in human trafficking, but merely sounding me for some interest because she had a WWOOFer with her at the time who was interested in very, very small scale food production - which is exactly what we're doing if you compare us to even a small commercial farm.  I was taken aback, because it sounded so wonderful to have willing help around the garden.  But lodging was going to be an issue, since what should have been a spare bedroom had pretty much been designated the "wreck room" (sic).  It would have to be cleaned out before we could honorably expect anyone to sleep there, and that would be no small feat.  I chose to see the proffered free labor as motivation for something that should have been done a long time since.  A bunch of old junk got sorted, a couple pieces of furniture were moved, the futon couch underwent minor repairs, and a lot of vacuuming and dusting got done.  In the end, it turned into a pretty nice guest room.

Our experience with our first WWOOFer was great.  She was a young college student who was an enthusiastic learner, and already a seasoned traveler and "couch surfer."  She helped me battle weeds in the garden, and helped with the watering needed to keep our plants alive during the early heat waves of the summer.  We all pitched in together to get the poultry schooner built in one day.  I made my first batch of elderflower cordial with her help, and, at her suggestion, a batch of wineberry fruit leather.  She also was happy to cook a few meals, and showed off her Japanese-American roots with some marvelous vegetable dishes, including our first taste of the domesticated burdock we're growing this year.  I certainly learned a few things about Japan and Japanese cooking, and I think our volunteer learned a few things during her week-long stay as well.  A lot of good work got done.  Altogether, we were very pleased with our experiment as informal, off-the-books WWOOF hosts.

That first positive experience, plus our newly fit-for-guests bedroom encouraged me to make it official and register with WWOOF as a host "farm."  So that's what I did, and we've had a few nibbles from potential volunteers since then.  It looks like we're going to play host again in a few weeks to a schoolteacher from New York City.  She's had experience on larger commercial farms, but like our first volunteer, she's interested in very small scale production.  Homesteads are rarities in the WWOOF host listings.  While I suspect most volunteers are looking for proper farms, it seems that some at least are also interested in serious but non-commercial food production.

The prospect of hosting a series of worker-volunteers is something I really look forward to.  It's not just for the labor, though that is undeniably appealing.  Having someone around specifically to help me with  homesteading projects takes a lot of pressure off my husband, who after all already has a full-time job and travels a significant amount for work.  His downtime is valuable.  The other draw though is that a volunteer who comes because they want to learn and experience what we do here is a great outlet for all my pedagogical (not to say pedantic) tendencies.  Instead of boring random people with my gardening techniques or experiments, and livestock tales, I can be reasonably assured that WWOOFer volunteers are actually interested in these topics.  It's so satisfying to teach what I know, and talk about what I'm experimenting with.  This is why I blog.  In meatspace I try to be sensitive to social cues that other people have had enough, but the urge to share things that excite me is hard to contain sometimes.  Hosting WWOOFer volunteers seems like a win-win-win solution to me.

I'll post more on this from time to time as our WWOOF hosting experiment proceeds.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Garden Glut Solution: Imam Biyaldi

Imam biyaldi for one

Right.  The eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes are coming in fast and furious.  This, I know, is a problem a lot of people would like to have.  But when you've harvested 10 pounds of eggplant in less than three weeks, and turned a third of that into freezable baba ganoush, and you're still looking at lots of eggplant coming in, you need some ideas.  Caponata is a popular choice.  But I dislike olives and capers, and neither of them grow in my garden.

Imam biyaldi is my choice for addressing the eggplant glut.  I like it because it can be made in two stages, plus it pretty much uses up all the garden ingredients I need to be using up right at the moment, chili peppers, tomatoes and eggplant being chief among them.  In fact, this is very much a harvest meal, since everything but the spices and olive oil can be grown in the backyard.   It also easily scales up or down to feed however many people you need to.  Imam biyaldi is a Turkish dish that translates as "the holy man swooned."  The implication is that the dish is so rapturously delicious that it can make you faint with delight.  If you survey the top google returns for Imam biyaldi, you'll see that the basic idea is a filling of onions, tomato, possibly pepper - all cooked in olive oil seasoned with paprika and sometimes with either cumin or dill.  I'm firmly in the paprika and cumin camp.  Rarely you'll find a version that calls for the addition of either ground beef or ground lamb. There are many, many different ways of putting these ingredients together.

My personal take is a riff on Madhur Jaffrey's recipe from World Vegetarian - an excellent cookbook, by the way.   Here's an ingredient list and what I do:

Small or baby (globe type) eggplant 5-7 inches (13-18 cm) long
olive oil
onions
garlic
extra eggplant for the filling
pepper - hot or mild chili, or bell pepper as suits your taste
tomatoes
salt
pepper
paprika
cumin
lemon
fresh parsley

The filling benefits from sitting in the fridge for a day, if you're into advanced planning. It's also good as a topping for many other things, so I usually make extra.  For two servings I start with 1 medium onion, a large tomato, good sized long and skinny eggplant, and a small chili pepper. But I encourage you to play around with the ratios of the ingredients.  You'll find it hard to go wrong.   Small dice the onion and saute it in plenty of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Mince the garlic and add it to the onion after a few minutes.  Add the seasonings and the extra eggplant for the filling.  Make sure there's enough olive oil in the pan to keep everything coated.  When the eggplant is well coated and begins to cook a bit, add the diced tomato and finely diced pepper.  Turn up the heat to medium-high.  Cook for a few minutes to reduce the liquid.  Taste the filling and adjust the seasonings.

You'll need one small to medium sized globe eggplant for each person you plan to feed.  Leave the stem intact, but trim away most of the green cap.  Peel off three long strips of the skin, spaced evenly around the circumference of the eggplant.  Place them in a roasting pan and pour over enough olive oil to coat.  Rub the olive oil thoroughly into the exposed flesh and completely coat the remaining skin of each eggplant.  Sprinkle kosher salt over the dish.  Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and bake in a 350 F oven for 45 minutes to an hour.  The eggplants should be somewhat softened, but not collapsing or too mushy.  Remove them from the oven, uncover them, and let them cool just until you can handle them.  They should still be quite warm.

Make a pocket opening in each eggplant. Lay an eggplant on its side and cut a slit lengthwise, starting 1/4" from the cap and stopping 1/4" from the blossom end, but do not cut deep enough to cut through the bottom.  Push the stem end and the blossom end gently together to open up the inside of the eggplant.  Carefully scoop out a small amount of the flesh, in the center to enlarge the opening.  Chop the removed flesh roughly, and mix it into the filling.  Sprinkle the cavity with a little salt.  Put a generous amount of filling inside each eggplant, and arrange them nicely on a platter.  Squeeze a little lemon juice over all the eggplants, and top with finely chopped parsley.  At this point you could serve immediately, chill the Imam biyaldi for later consumption, or put them back in the oven if you wish to serve them very hot.

I've seen this served once or twice with a garlic-mint yogurt sauce.  If this appeals to you, it's as simple as can be.  Very finely mince a clove of garlic and mix it into a bowl of plain whole milk yogurt.  Stir in either dried or finely chopped fresh mint and a good pinch of salt. The flavors will become stronger over a few hours.  Keep this chilled, whatever temperature you plan to serve the Imam biyaldi at.

If you chill the Imam biyaldi overnight, it's best to let them come back to room temperature for an hour before serving.  I like both the serve-at-any-temperature nature of this dish, as well as the unlikelihood of spilling anything in transport; these qualities make the dish ideal for for potluck contributions and picnics

P.S.  I once read a menu in Europe which presented this dish as "Imam van Biyaldi."  Clearly the proprietor interpreted "biyaldi" as the imam's proper name.  I had a good laugh over that one.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tomato Canning Begins

A friend is coming over in a few hours to can roasted tomato sauce with me.  I don't bother with canning whole or chopped tomatoes.  The roasted sauce serves equally well for pizza or pasta; we don't seem to miss store-bought canned tomatoes, so I don't see the need.  If you'd like to see how the roasted tomato sauce is made, check out my post on it from last year.  For the record, I pressure can this sauce at ten pounds of pressure for 25 minutes in quart jars.  But please consult a reliable canning guide rather than taking any anecdotal canning recommendations you find in the blogosphere.

My canning goal for this year with regards to tomatoes is to get enough sauce into jars to see us through two years.  I'm still traumatized by last year's late blight which left us with hardly any tomato crop to speak of.  I canned only three quarts of sauce, which we soon ran through.  I resolved to make a big effort this year if we had a good crop.  If blight rears its ugly head again next year, I'll be able to coast through with what I put up now.  If next year is a good tomato year, I can put up just one year's supply and still have a year's supply in reserve.  So far it looks like June and July's blistering heat and little rain have protected us from blight and set us up for a good tomato harvest.  My estimate for a two-year supply of tomato sauce is somewhere between 30 and 40 quarts.  I'm going to try my best to put that much up in the next three to four weeks as the tomatoes come in.  Extra quarts are always good to have for gifting.  If our own supply of tomatoes is insufficient, I may resort to buying locally grown.  But first I'm going to see how we fare on our own production.

Much of our cherry tomato crop is going to be smoked in our homemade trash can smoker.  We're still slowly working our way through the apple wood chips we made ourselves from the first pruning of our apple tree after we move in three years ago.  These are excellent material for smoking, and homegrown too.  After smoking, I dehydrate the cherry tomatoes until they are shelf-stable.  We then keep them on hand for adding to winter stews, pasta dishes, and polenta.  Super-sweet cherry tomatoes smoked over our own apple wood give a marvelous flavor boost to winter meals. 

Speaking of growing tomatoes, I have to gush a bit about the Speckled Roman tomato.  My last few posts have included pictures of this beauty if you want to see what it looks like.  I'm more and more impressed with it as time goes on.  This variety is a stabilized hybrid of Banana Legs and Antique Roman tomatoes.  "Stabilized hybrid" means that someone worked on the cross of the two parent varieties until they had a genetic line that breeds true.  In other words, it's now open pollinated.  In other other words, it's possible to save seeds from Speckled Roman tomatoes and reliably get Speckled Roman tomatoes from those seeds.  I like the fact that it's open pollinated.  I love their unusual and beautiful appearance.  I like both the texture and flavor - meaty and solid enough to make a good slicing tomato, but full of well balanced tang and sweetness.  I love the fact that they very rarely split; this characteristic redeems the only moderate production from each plant, since I can count on harvesting just about every fruit that forms.  And I really appreciate the Speckled Roman's ability to resist late blight, which I saw first hand last year.  This is only my second year growing this variety, but I'm definitely sold on it over other paste tomato varieties.  In fact, I'm strongly considering making it my primary tomato in future years and planting only a couple of beefsteaks and cherries.