Category Archives: Eat What You Grow

My Family’s Favorite* Pickles

 

A jar of our Fave Dill Pickles, before delivering them to a friend on Saturday night.

Some of my earliest memories as a little kid are from the vegetable garden at my grandparents’ house. It seemed as large as a football field to me, and the when our shadows started to get long in the grass, Gram would lead us cousins down the rows with an enormous colander.  We would pluck beans, peas, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers, and tomato for dinner – filling our tummies more quickly than the dinner basket, which was a great strategy to keep us from complaining of hunger.

 

My relatives preserved their own food the whole time I was growing up. Fresh food that we grew ourselves was tastier (and cheaper) than store-bought, so the pressure canners got passed around and everyone had a large collection of long-used and well-loved mason jars that got passed from house to house. I remember my mom carrying jar after jar of corn scraped fresh from the cob with small, bright pieces of red pepper down the stairs to our cellar while I sat at the kitchen table, well out of her way.

When I moved to the city on my own, I took on the work of hot-water-bath canning high acid foods on my own – sourced from pick-your-own orchards and farms, or the generous overflow from my hobby-farming uncles. By this point I’ve put up hundreds if not thousands of pints of tomato sauce, salsa fresca, spiced applesauce, apple butter, fruit jams, and sour dill pickles. The pickles are my absolute favorite.

I couldn’t tell you whose recipe this was to start with, but it’s pretty simple:

  • The night before canning begins, scrub your pickling cucumbers to remove dirt and the spiny groths from the nubbly outer skins. Toss the washed cukes into a colander in the fridge to dry.
  • The morning of canning, prep your cukes:
    • Slice off both ends
    • Sort the vegetables by size, and practice stuffing an empty jar, so you know how many of each size will fit into your jars.
  • Set up the hot water bath and sterilize jars, lids, and rings. While they are sterilizing,
  • Make a brine and bring it to a boil, following these ratios:
    • 1 cup of vinegar
    • 1 cup of water
    • 1 tbsp kosher salt
    • 1-1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • Prep your seasonings. For each jar:
    • 1 head of fresh dill or 2 tsp of dried dill seeds
    • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
    • 1 clove of garlic, peeled but whole
  • Once the jars are sterilized, remove them from the canner. Into each jar, place the seasonings, then the cucumbers, then ladle in the hot brine (leaving 1/2 inch of headroom). Seal the jars and dump them back in the water bath for 10 minutes. Let cool, check the lids for a vacuum seal, label with the date, and place them into a cool dark cupboard to mellow for at least six weeks.

 

*If I’m 100% honest I’ll admit that most of the family prefer sweet bread-and-butter pickles to the dill ones. I despise those fake pickles, so am calling these the favorites. 

No-fault Pasta

Painted in Waterlogue

A friend of ours got married on Sunday.

Another friend didn’t.

You get the idea, I think: those two friends once expected to be married to each other, and that marriage did not come to pass. Their relationship is not the point of this story; what is the point is that the friend who wasn’t putting on a tux this weekend wanted to have other things to think about than the friend who was putting on a pretty dress. We picked him up near relatives we were visiting and brought him home with us.

It was a perfect Sunday for a road trip: not too hot, not too humid, and lots of traffic. That might not seem like a good thing, but it gave my navigator an excuse to show her skills. We spent most of the day on back roads and small state routes that avoided the blockages and gave us much prettier scenery.

We stopped for lunch at a terrific—and uncrowded—place in a town I didn’t know anything about, and enjoyed grinders, salads, fish and chips and clam chowder, with a little Food Network in the background on the bar TV. We stopped at an outlet mall and did a little shopping, amusing ourselves greatly at the gender-stereotype-busting of the girl buying far less than the guys. Unfortunately, the stereo speakers I’d been looking for were out of stock. (Side note: Honey, I just ordered them from Amazon.)

By the time we got home and met the hungry cats, we were hungry, too, but not for anything big and heavy. And, remember, it was Sunday night—a veg box will arrive Tuesday morning, and there were still plenty of things in the crisper. While she made up the guest room, I chatted with our guest and made dinner. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but there was no question that it would contain plenty of vegetables. Sometimes you just have to start cooking and figure it out along the way.

No-Fault Pasta

Clearing out the crisper, discover:
1/2 lb. green beans
1/3 lb. asparagus
4 small cucumbers
half a bag of baby carrots brought home from someone’s lunch
4 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms
half a bunch of celery
1 celtuce
1 or 2 garlic scapes (Note that there are more, but that common decency suggests their judicious use–and that they still look plenty sturdy. Plan to regret this decision if next week’s box contains more.)

Elsewhere in the fridge, find:
A jar of chive vinegar
4 oz. chive-and-spinach pesto
a big hunk of parmesan cheese
a container of bite-sized mozzarella balls.

From the freezer, retrieve
4 oz. bulk Italian sausage

On the counter, catch sight of:
half a tub of week-old grape tomatoes, their skin just starting to wrinkle
the bottle of rosemary simple syrup used to sweeten the iced tea you took upstairs to the room-straightener.

From the pantry, retrieve:
A box of fettuccini

Note also the bounty of dill and oregano in the herb-garden-basket hung by the kitchen window.

Set a pot of salted water to boil.

Slice the cucumbers into a bowl, tossing with a couple teaspoons of the vinegar, a splash of rosemary simple syrup, and a couple of sprigs of dill from the kitchen garden.

Open a bottle of red wine; pour each of you a glass. Toast to friends, and to happiness. 

Rinse and trim the asparagus and green beans; cut them into bite-size pieces and toss in a big bowl. Don’t bother to dry them; instead, put a paper towel over the bowl; microwave 90 seconds to just-barely-steam the vegetables. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage; drain and remove.

Peel the celtuce as you would a broccoli stem; slice into coins about 1/4 inch thick. Taste raw, noting that it really does have a little celery flavor, but is much denser–almost like a water chestnut. Set aside.

When the water boils, add the fettuccini, stirring occasionally. (The clock is now ticking: finish everything else by the time the pasta cooks).

Dice an onion, which you’ve dispatched your guest to retrieve from the pantry-in-the-garage. Sauté it and a couple stalks of celery in a little olive oil until the onion is barely translucent. Finely slice the garlic scape and add it, along with the beans and asparagus; since they’re mostly cooked, the point is just to get everything combined without browning too much. Slice the baby carrots and add them; they’ll still be mostly crunchy when you’re done. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine. Clean and slice the mushrooms, but if your guest isn’t a fan of them, sauté them alone in a small skillet. (This is why stoves have several heating elements.)

Hand a hunk of cheese, the grater, and a collecting bowl to your guest.

Halve the grape tomatoes. When the sautéed vegetables are almost tender, add them to the skillet, along with the celtuce coins and the sausage. Toss to combine, then reduce the heat to low. Add 3 or 4 tbsp of the pesto to the center of the pan, but just let it sit on top to warm gently.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and divide into serving bowls.

Add a splash of the pasta water to the skillet; give everything a gentle toss to combine; taste and adjust seasoning, then spoon the seriously veggie sauce over the pasta. Add mushrooms or not. Sprinkle some fresh oregano on top, then let each diner add cheese to taste. Serve with the quick-pickled cucumbers.

Serves 3, who will be happy enough that everyone will forget about dessert.

If you’ve read more than one Dinner at the Country House post, you know perfectly well that this is not so much a recipe as a story about an adventure shared with others. If there had been chicken instead of sausage, I would have happily used that; if there had been no pesto, I might have used soy sauce and made rice instead of noodles. If any of a great many things had been different, I might have written about a wedding feast a couple years ago, rather than a not-wedding dinner last night, or served four instead of three, or gone to the movies by myself. It’s nobody’s fault. This is what happened. This is how we made the best of it. This is how we spent the day. This is how life goes on.

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#EatWhatYouGrow: Rhubarb

I have been thrilled about this particular spring, with its chilly mornings and the need for jackets all the way til the first of June. The bleeding hearts, forsythia, hosta, hydrangea, ivy, and rhubarb in my garden have been busting out new leaves and vines and blossoms (where appropriate) everywhere. But with a few truly scorching days wilting my new bean shoots and the potted tomato plants on the deck this last week, it’s obvious that rhubarb season is drawing rapidly to a close. In the space between a few rain drops, I harvested the last of my stalks yesterday afternoon; the woodchuck who lives in a den burrowed into the stone cliff behind our house can have the little nubbins that are left.

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6 tender stalks of rhubarb, the last of our harvest for 2017

But what to do with them? We’ve already made:

  • Rhubarb Compote (with a few extra bits of fruit he likes thrown into the pot for other flavors), spooned over his birthday breakfast waffles;
  • Rhubarb Scones, with every imaginable spread, several weekends in a row;
  • Rhubarb Snacking Cake, because I trust every recipe Deb Perlman has written, especially those she describes as easy;
  • Rhubarb Honey Sorbet, specially made for some loved ones diet-managing their diabetes;
  • Chocolate Chip Rhubarb Banana Bread, because (1) those bananas were going to turn into bread on their own if we didn’t use them, and (2) he ridiculously maintains that banana bread should always have chocolate chips in it.
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, described earlier this week.

All chopped, the yield was only about a cup of minced pieces, which I knew would cook down to just about nothing.

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A *very* scant cup of chopped rhubarb.

All of the recipes that looked interesting to me require more than that, so I had to get creative. Verdict: another Smitten Kitchen gem, Rhubarb Varied Fruits Cream Cheese Hand Pies.

He made the pie crust. (I have zero knack for it, even though this particular recipe is foolproof.) I made the cream cheese filling. I made the rhubarb filling. And when I had more than twice as much cream cheese filling as rhubarb, I made another filling from blueberries and apricot. And after several hours in the fridge, and over several more hours of do-a-little-work-then-chill-everything-back-down…

The rhubarb filling was just enough to fill 6 little pies, and they looked pretty sweet both before and after baking. (That pastry recipe really is amazing.)

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And the blueberry version became another story. Realizing how much blueberry-apricot filling and cream cheese filling I was going to have left over, I opted for something different. I rolled out the remaining pie crust for an attempt at my first ever tart with something like a pastry cream filling. I used a small, deep Corningware casserole dish rather than a shallow tart pan, layered the cheese and then the berries into the pastry, and attempted a “rustic fold over edge” that collapsed in on itself in the oven. It’s far from the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, and he cut into it for our dessert last night before I could take a picture, but oh my word was it tasty.

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Dessert: a rustic” blueberry-apricot-cream cheese tart

So, rhubarb season is over. Not only did we not waste a single stalk of what we grew, every bite was delicious. This is year three of growing things-humans-can-eat in our little garden, year one of using up every bit of any one ingredient, and year one of loving everything we cooked with it. That’s a very particular kind of success.