This is a blog about home canning—or "putting up" as one might say where I'm from—and it will cover jams and other fruit preserves, pickles and briny things, canned vegetables (above all tomatoes) and the complement of condiments that includes relishes, sauces, salsas and those related preparations that result when you chunk bits of seasonal produce and preserve them in a syrup either piquant or sweet.

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Tuesday
May122015

Pickled Ramps

Before I left the Hudson Valley, where I hid out for the winter to work on a book, the ramps came in. I dug a few to eat and a few more to pickle—just enough for a single jar, ABOVE

I had given away my last copy of my book, so I didn't have my usual recipe at hand. Instead I freestyled a recipe using the universal ratio for pickling brine: one part 5% vinegar to one part water, plus whatever seasonngs you like. 

Given the ramp's boisterous nature, I let the brine be quiet, a minimalist background of apple cider vinegar softened with sourwod honey, then rounded out with a bay leaf, a stem of dried wild thyme that I had brought back from Spain, a clove, and a half-dozen peppercorns.

This is a cold-pack pickle and I didn't bother to process the jar in a boiling water bath. The project took maybe 15 minutes, and now that I'm back in Los Angeles—far, far from the rampy woods—I wish I'd made a few more. 

Freestyle Pickled Ramps 

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much fine sea salt)
a small bay leaf
a stem of dried thyme or a pinch of dried leaves
1 clove
a half-dozen whole peppercorns
30-40 fat ramps, trimmed (save the tops to cook as you would any other greens) 

1  Combine all the ingredients except the ramps in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat. Set aside for 15 minutes while you trim the ramps.

2  Pack the ramps in a clean wide-mouth pint jar. Bring the pickling brine back to a boil, and pour it over the ramps to cover. Seal, and allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator and use within a month.

 Yields 1 pint

Wednesday
Jul162014

Raspberry Jam with Rose + Rosé


I wanted to let you know that I'm really excited about a collaboration I'm doing this year with SIMI Winery from Sonoma County. SIMI asked if I'd like develop recipes incorporating their wines, and of course I jumped at the chance. This is the first of a series of recipes I'll be sharing in the months ahead. We'll start with raspberry jam using the signature wine of summer: rosé. Enjoy!

Growing up in the South, I loved picking wild blackberries every summer, and my grandmother always made batches of blackberry jam, which she sealed with paraffin and stored in her cool basement. As a teenager, I spent summers with friends in Vermont and raided their backyard raspberry patch with the satisfaction of a petty thief. Years later, when I moved to California, I fell for boysenberries, an heirloom blackberry-raspberry hybrid with a high-strung flavor that is impossible to duplicate outside of its too-short season. For me, summer means wading into brambles and returning with buckets of berries.

What I discovered while developing recipes for Saving the Season is that all bramble berries pair beautifully with wine. This recipe uses SIMI Sonoma County Dry Rosé with raspberries, and it gets additional flavor from rose geranium—a tribute to Isabelle Simi’s rose gardens. You can sometimes find rose geranium, one of my favorite kitchen herbs, at farmers’ markets, or you can order a plant for your garden from www.hobbsfarm.com in Maine—it grows like a weed. But don’t be discouraged if you can’t find any. It’s an optional ingredient, and good raspberries really don’t require anything more than the elegant acidity of a splash of rosé.

Raspberry Jam with Rose Geranium and SIMI Sonoma County Dry Rosé
Yields 1 ½ pints
 


Ingredients
8 cups fresh raspberries, lightly pressed to measure (2 ¼ pounds)
2 scant cups sugar
3 Tablespoons SIMI Sonoma County Dry Rosé
optional: 4 to 6 rose geranium leaves

1)  Pick over the raspberries to remove any overripe fruit or debris. Place the fruit in a mixing bowl, and add the sugar and wine. Crush thoroughly with a potato masher or your own clean hand.

2)  Turn the fruit-sugar mixture into a 4-quart enameled casserole and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce at a steady boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 12-14 minutes. Turn off the heat and check the set by placing a teaspoon of hot jam on a chilled saucer and placing it in the freezer for one minute. If the chilled jam forms a light skin that wrinkles when you push your finger through it, you have a set. If not, cook for a minute longer and check again. [Compare the two samples below: the top one is still bright-colored and runny. The bottom, darker sample shows a good set.]



3)  At the gel set, turn off the heat. Lightly bruise the rose geranium leaves, and press them into the hot jam. Stir the leaves through the jam for one minute, then pick them out and discard.

4)  Ladle the hot jam into clean half-pint jars that have been warmed in a 225-degree oven for 15 minutes. Leave ¼” headspace. Wipe the rim and seal. Allow the sealed jars to cool, then store the refrigerator and use within a month. If canning, process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, or follow the jar manufacturer’s instructions.

NOTE: As a variation, you can use blackberries instead of raspberries in the recipe above, also replacing the rosé wine with SIMI Landslide Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.


Tuesday
Jun242014

Nocino

Originally posted at Los Angeles Magazine's booze blog, Liquid LA

Today is San Giovanni day—also known as the holy feast day of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist—and it falls right after the summer solstice, a day on the pagan calendar that throbs with spiritual energy. Tradition has it that today is also the day to harvest walnuts for nocino, a delicious coffee-brown walnut liqueur. Superstitious souls and lusty drinkers might say that summer magic from both traditions infuses this dark, complex booze redolent of spice, chocolate, and coffee.

Right now in California our walnuts are green—both in color and in the sense of being “unripe”—and smooth as eggs. Their inner shells haven’t yet hardened, and they can be cut as easily as a Granny Smith apple. I make nocino with English walnuts (sometimes called Persian walnuts), although local cocktail wizard Matthew Biancaniello forages wild black walnuts for his nocino after having learned about the native variety from master forager Pascal Baudar. (The one caveat is that our local black walnuts mature earlier and needed to be harvested in late May.)

The origins of nocino are unclear, although as the name suggests the Italians claim it as their own. Other European countries from France to Scandinavia that make green walnut liqueur might dispute that, but in every case the basic technique remains the same. You chop the raw walnuts, cover them with strong booze (vodka or any neutral spirit will work), add a few spices to taste and...wait. The soaking liquid will first turn sinister green then the tea-brown of bayou swamp water. After 40 days, you strain off the liquid and...wait some more. The nocino will be ready when our first fall rain arrives, or on All Saints Day/Halloween—a fitting date, it turns out, because the late Sicilian author Ana Tasca Lanza tells us that nocino was invented by a congress of witches. The flavor improves with more aging: my 2012 vintage, now black as cowboy coffee, is superb and will continue to mellow for a decade or longer.

The basic nocino recipe can be adjusted with any flavors you like. I suggest adding a teaspoon of whole coffee beans. Biancaniello started his nocino back in citrus season, when he infused high-proof vodka with kumquat, bergamot, and tangerines. Using that as the base spirit, he also added wild bay leaves and fir tips to the soaking walnut. “I just dipped in my finger and could not believe the flavor,” Biancaniello told me. “It tastes like citrus, the forest, and vanilla.”And what to do with this magic elixir? Biancaniello’s suggestions include dribbling it over ice cream, mixing it in a Cynar cocktail, or using it to replace sweet vermouth in a Manhattan. For myself, there’s nothing I like more than to drink nocino Italian style—served in tiny glasses as a digestif. 

Incidentally, the ancient nocino tradition also holds that green walnuts need to be gathered by barefoot virgins, so in this case perhaps tradition isn’t everything. You can buy green walnuts over the next few weeks at the Santa Monica Farmers Market on Wednesday and the Sunday Hollywood Market.

Nocino
yields about 5 cups

2 pounds green walnuts (30 count)
750 ml of 80-proof vodka
3 ½ cups sugar
Zest of 1 lemon, in strips
Zest of 1 orange, in strips
5 cloves
¼ whole nutmeg
1 heaping teaspoon whole dark-roast coffee beans

1  Quarter the walnuts and place them in a large glass jar. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Don’t worry that the sugar won’t dissolve immediately. Seal the jar, and place in a sunny place for 40 days. Once every ten days, agitate the jar by inverting it a time or two.

2  After 40 days, strain the contents of the jar through a damp jelly bag, and funnel the liqueur into scalded bottled. Store in a cool, dark place for several months—or up to a year or longer. The liqueur will keep indefinitely without refrigeration.


Thursday
Nov142013

Where do recipes come from?

A while back, Laura Avery of the Santa Monica Farmers Market asked if I'd like to moderate the last panel discussion of 2013 at the Santa Monica Public Library. I jumped at the chance, and we put our heads together to think of a timely subject.

Our starting point, holiday cooking, led us to think about family recipes, and that led us pretty quickly into a whole bunch of questions that first appear almost childishly simple but become more complex as you consider them. For instance:

What is a recipe?
Where do recipes come from?
How do you come up with a recipe?
What makes a recipe yours?
Can someone own a recipe? 

So that's where the conversation will begin at the SMPL on November 21, as a FREE panel discussion titled Where Do Recipes Come from?: Culinary tradition, creativity, family recipes, and holiday cooking.

My co-panelists are an amazing line-up of culinary and literary talent:

Lauryn Chun, founder of Mother In Law Kimchi and author of The Kimchi Cookbook
Valerie Gordon, founder of Valerie Confections and author of Sweet
Russ Parsons, Los Angeles Times food editor and author of How to Pick a Peach
Anne Willan, founder of La Varenne cooking school and most recently author of One Souffle at a Time
and I'll be there of course with Saving the Season 

I'm currently reading Anne's captivating memoir and Russ's indispensible guide to selecting and preparing fresh produce. Valerie and Lauryn are both friends and I admire their cookbooks enormously.

The panel discussion begins at 7 pm, but plan to come early for a book signing (everyone's books will be on sale) and also plan to stay late for a tasting of Valerie's snacks and my preserves. 

This is going to be a top-flight event, and I hope you all can make it.

Thursday, November 21
7 to 8:30 pm
Santa Monica Public Library
601 Santa Monica Boulevard 

 

 

Thursday
Nov072013

STS on Amazon's Best Of 2013

Breaking news hit my inbox this morning: Saving the Season has been selected as one of Amazon's Best Cookbooks of 2013. Hooray! It's a special treat to be on the list alongside my great friends David Tanis (One Good Dish) and Valerie Gordon (Sweet). Another close friend, Dana Goodyear, won the top prize for Best Food Writing of 2013 for her deeply reported and insightful survey of radical foodie culture, Anything That Moves. Congratulations to them all!

Wednesday
Oct302013

Fall Seeds, Spring Gardens

Last night I was on my laptop with the real estate listings open in one window and Google earth open in the other, so that I could zoom in on houses for sale to see if the yards had enough space and sunshine to plant a garden and a little orchard. That's just my nuttiness in action, but it also made me think of a larger idea about the fall season. This is the end of one agricultural cycle, but nature is already preparing for the next because fall is a time of maturing seeds, and seeds inevitably imply spring rebirth. I was reminded yet again that agriculture—as a subset of the larger natural world—is a cycle without end. Virgil wrote in his Second Georgic:

The farmer's labor circles back on him
As the seasons of the year roll back around
To where they were and walk in their own footsteps. 

In my present gardening mood, I want to mention Crimson Carrot, a sweet new website based in the northern Virginia suburbs that focuses on growing, using, and preserving the output of a backyard mini-farm. Whether you just want to plant a few seeds next spring, or if you're ready for chickens, bees, and cheesemaking, Crimson Carrot intends to position itself as your online resource. They have a good book selection, too.

Winter may be nigh, but spring lies beyond its far edge. Start planning your garden soon!

 

Friday
Oct252013

Fall Means Green Tomatoes

The perfectly red-ripe tomato is a touchstone on many levels: a harbinger of the summer season, an exemplar of heirloom quality, a triumph for the backyard gardener. Papa said there’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true, true love and homegrown tomatoes.

So why bother with green tomatoes? One answer is that they, too, are harbingers of a new season—fall. Tomato vines will put on more fruit than the waning sun will ripen. The first freeze abruptly ends the crop in many parts of the country, but even in frost-free Southern California, cooler nights and overcast days mark the end of red tomatoes. In their immaturity, green tomatoes are zingy and firm. They’re good for chutney, pickles and relishes.

And if you're from the South, green tomatoes may also mean chow-chow.

See here for more information about this wonderful catchall relish, including a recipe—with warm thanks to WNYC for the enjoyable interview.