Wednesday, November 18, 2009
For Columbus Day weekend, I went to visit my parents in Vermont with one mission in mind – apple picking! The Kitchen Genius and our daughter Julie both had to work, so it was just Tommy, Little Miss Sadie Beans (who traveled quite well in her crate), and me.
My brother Rich and his family, who live in upstate New York, met us up there for a weekend of good food and good times. The sun was shining brightly all weekend - perfect for our purposes, but all wrong for photos, so please excuse the sun spots, etc. To set the mood for this story...here is my Mom and Tom's house:
You can pick apples at orchards all over Vermont, but I was in full foraging mode by that point and while we were driving around looking at the gorgeous foliage, I saw some trees just loaded with wild apples.
Now why would I pay for apples when they were there for the taking for free? As soon as we got home from our drive, I grabbed my step-father’s apple picker out of the woodshed and my Mom and I headed right back out.
On a deserted road with no houses in sight, we found a tree with red apples and one with yellow apples almost side by side. I sampled both and decided the red ones had a lot more flavor.
So I got to work.
It only took a few minutes to fill my bushel basket.
The apples were too small to spend the time peeling and coring them, but they were fine for apple jelly because you strain the seeds and skins. I quartered them up and into the pot they went.
After I cooked them down, I still didn’t have enough juice to make a batch of jelly, but I noticed another apple tree just down the road. It was on a steep hill so it wasn’t easy picking. Luckily my parent’s neighbor Ken Grimm saw what I was trying to do and came over to tell me I was free to pick as many apples as I wanted on his beautiful property.
Even little Sadie got into the action. She found an apple in my parents’ yard from one of their trees. At first she thought it was a ball…but then she realized it was FOOD. Yep, she loved the apple.
On the way home Tommy and I stopped at Alyson’s Orchard in Walpole, New Hampshire where they have 50 acres of orchards and grow every variety of apples I’ve ever heard of, and then some. I bought a bushel bag of enormous Cortland apples (because you can never have enough apples).
By the time I was finished with all those apples, I had canned applesauce, apple jelly and apple pie jam (which tastes just like apple pie filling and is a new family favorite). I also made two pies and a loaf of Oatmeal Apple Bread from a recipe my dear friend Jennifer shared with me. It took about 10 minutes to throw all the ingredients in my bread machine and this bread is simply heavenly. It’s even better the next day as toast slathered with some of the apple pie jam.
It's so good, I’ve made it three times already. This scarecrow photo is for Jennifer in thanks for such a fabulous recipe. Check out the apple in her hand!
Oatmeal Apple Bread
(adapted from a recipe by Mary Ann McKenna)
3/4 cup apple cider
1 cup chopped apples ( I pulsed about four times in food processor)
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup oatmeal (Bob’s Red Mill old fashioned rolled oats)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon yeast
Put all ingredients into bread machine and set for basic bread, large loaf. Yes, it's that simple.
Apple Pie Jam
4 cups peeled, cored and finely chopped (in a food processor) apples (I used Cortland)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter
1 box powdered fruit pectin
5 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine apples, lemon juice, butter and pectin in a large Dutch oven pan. Bring to a full boil, then add sugar and cinnamon. Return to a boil and boil hard for 1 1/2 minutes (Mississippi one, Mississippi two…), stirring constantly. Skim off foam and pour into hot, sterilized jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Wipe rims with clean, damp paper towel and cover with lid and screw band. Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Subscribers may notice a few changes and I promise I’ll explain, but let’s get to the food first.
At some point during this harvest and canning season, I became a bit obsessed and began looking for anything I could find to put up for the winter. You’d think I was Caroline Ingalls worrying about a long winter on the prairie, rather than a modern day woman with full access to grocery stores.
It started with one pumpkin I bought at the farmer’s market. It sat on my counter for quite a while, admired in passing, but mostly ignored. Then I bought two more sugar pumpkins to decorate for Halloween (and later eat). A week ago I stopped at a local apple orchard and farm stand and they were selling sugar pumpkins for 50 cents each! Of course I bought five.
Knowing what the Kitchen Genius would say, I actually hid three of them in my Jeep. Every time I turned a corner, the sound of them rolling around tweaked my guilt. Well this weekend it was time to deal with all those pumpkins.
Making homemade pumpkin puree is so easy I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do it. First I split the pumpkin in half, vertically and scooped out all the seeds and stringy stuff with a spoon.
Then I put them face down on two baking sheets covered with aluminum foil that was lightly greased with olive oil. (I had to repeat this procedure twice to process all my pumpkins.) Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour until tender when poked with a knife.
Cool thoroughly and scoop out the pumpkin flesh into a bowl. Mash with a potato masher and it is ready to use or freeze.
I froze 18 cups, but I also wanted to bake something with the fresh pumpkin. On Saturday I came across a recipe for pumpkin bread by Pam at For the Love of Cooking. I made five changes to her recipe to accommodate the ingredients I had on hand, so I’ll included my revised recipe here (so I can remember it next time I want to make it), but I urge you to head over to visit Pam because she has some really wonderful recipes and beautiful photos.
Saturday night we used the pumpkin bread as the base for a pumpkin shortcake made with Cape Cod Creamery pumpkin ice cream (double pumpkin!) and whipped cream. Do I really need to tell you how good this was?
Now onto the business…and this might interest anyone whose blog subscriptions are handled by FeedBlitz.
One of my subscribers (thanks Christie!!!) brought it to my attention that there was an ad for third term abortions at the bottom of the email post she received from me. I’m not going to get into the politics of THAT. Suffice to say, I do not want ads like that on my blog.
I even find the ads for belly fat offensive. This is a food blog, not a diet site. So I’ve decided to pay a small monthly fee to be ad free. I think it’s worth it.
The second change I made was at the suggestion of the lovely Pam who inspired me to make pumpkin bread. She warned me that having all of my content available in an email left me incredibly vulnerable to content theft. This happened to her a while back and it was a nightmare.
So from now on (if I formatted it correctly), there will be only about 100 words of the post (a teaser) in your email and you will need to visit the actual site to read the rest. I hope you don’t mind one more click to read my posts, but if you do, please let me know in the comments section. You do not have to have a Google account to leave a comment. Or you can email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your patience and support while I work out the bugs in the new format.
Pumpkin Bread with Raisins and Peacans
recipe adapted from For the Love of Cooking
2 cups fresh pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 X 5 loaf pan with butter. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the pumpkin, oil, eggs and brown sugar on medium speed until well blended. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and spices. Stir into the pumpkin mixture and mix on low until combined. Fold in the raisins and pecans and pour batter into loaf pan. Bake for 55 – 65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the loaf.
For a printable recipe click here
Friday, November 13, 2009
The Kitchen Genius has wanted to gather wild mushrooms for a couple of years now. He has four different books that he pores over every so often, but I’m not convinced I trust his identification skills. We were in full foraging mode when we discovered a local mushroom gathering class taught by Lawrence Schuster, a member of the Boston Mycological Society.
We joined a group of about 25 people gathered at Nickerson State Park one morning about a month ago. Lawrence gave us an overview of the different mushrooms we might find and each description made me even more uneasy. There were mushrooms that could make you hallucinate, mushrooms that could give you a pretty bad bellyache and mushrooms that could KILL you. Cue scary music here.
He then sent us off into the woods for an hour to see what we could find. At first it was hard to spot any mushrooms, but the one thing I’ve discovered about foraging is once you find the first couple of whatever you’re gathering, it’s like you discover a new set of eyes. Pretty soon our basket had a respectable collection. It was a bit addictive and we found ourselves alone in this beautiful grove of pine trees.
The grass was matted down in spots where it was obvious deer had slept and it was so peaceful – until we found the first deer leg bone. We were in an area not far from our house where I hear coyotes howling like raucous teenagers at night. I looked around, wondering where the coyotes go during the day. Another leg bone and the remains of a freshly killed rabbit increased my unease. When we saw a five foot long snake stalking a chipmunk, I decided it was time to head back. We had plenty of mushrooms in our basket.
Everyone piled their mushrooms onto two picnic tables and waited for Lawrence to tell us what we could actually eat. That smart man did no such thing. He identified a lot of mushrooms, but basically said we were all much too new to mushroom gathering to eat anything we found.
Out of all those mushrooms, there was only one that he would give his blessing, the Hen of the Woods.
The man who found it shared a piece with us, but when we got it home, all those warnings scared me. I went online to do more research and discovered that Hen of the Woods is one of the safest mushrooms because nothing else looks like it.
KG made a simple chicken and pasta dish with boneless breasts, white wine, onions and mushrooms.
Every bite felt a bit dangerous and the Hen of the Woods was a bit tough (probably because it hadn't rained in a few days). Since then Lawrence has sent at least 10 emails warning those in the class against poisonous mushrooms, including one about a local mother and her son who got very sick from mushrooms they found in the forest.
So for now, I’m perfectly content to buy my mushrooms from the grocery store or from my friend Julie Winslow who sells shitake mushroom at the Orleans Farmers’ Market. That's wild enough for me...
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Anyone who has spent a day foraging deserves a martini, right? I promise you, there is nothing more perfect than a martini made from the fruits of the day's labors. Guess what flavor this is...
Not that I need a martini to reward me because foraging for food is one of my favorite activities. It’s a bit like a treasure hunt. You never know if you’re going to hit the payload or get skunked, but either way, it offers some relaxing time outdoors.
Sadly my beloved beach plums went the way of tomatoes this year. Some bushes were completely bare and even the plums we finally found tended to be a bit shriveled, or even worse cracked, rending them unusable. They were about half the size of the beach plums we gathered last year. I still found enough to make my beach plum brandy, but beach plum jelly takes about 10 cups of berries and these didn’t look juicy enough to even try.
In despair, I expanded my search to the neighboring town of Eastham and didn’t find a single berry there. As I wandered along the edge of a gorgeous marsh on Cape Cod Bay, I noticed an abundance of another fruit that I had never considered. Rose hips!
To be honest, rose hip jelly has never sounded all that appetizing to me, but I was determined to go home with SOMETHING. The question was, how many rose hips did I need? I whipped out my cell phone and called the Kitchen Genius and asked him to look up a recipe for me. He found one at Simply Recipes, the fabulous food blog of Elise Bauer, who was kind enough to offer me tips on how to take better photos when I was a blogging newbie.
Rose hip jelly reminds me of a tangy apple butter. Mine wasn’t entirely clear like most jellies but it is quite tasty and has more vitamin C than orange juice – all good.
But not my absolute favorite. That distinction is reserved for the wild Concord grapes we found that might replace beach plums as my favorite thing to gather. KG and I headed out one Saturday, lured by stories of lanes that smell like grape jelly and sure enough we found some.
The only problem was they were about 20 to 50 feet above our craning heads and tricky as all get out to actually pick because they have a tendency to grow on steep embankments. At one point KG was high up in a tree, shaking a vine that rained pungent grapes on my head and I fell in love with that man all over again. Who else would enjoy such an activity as much as I do?
I made grape jelly and grape cranberry marmalade, but my favorite grapey treat was grape crush martinis. Total YUM! And especially nice with oysters…more foraging to come…
Grape Crush Martinis
Take a quart canning jar and fill it about half way with Concord grapes. Muddle them to release their flavor, add 3 tablespoons of sugar and fill the jar with a good quality vodka. Put the jar in the fridge for at least two days. Pour the mixture through a tea strainer to remove the grapes. Fill a martini shaker with ice and strained grape vodka. Shake vigorously and enjoy.