Archive for September, 2008
Thanks to a packed schedule of work and theater, I haven’t been keeping this blog up the way I’d hoped to, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been neglecting the height of the harvest season. Far from it: at this time of year, practically every meal I eat (well, except the occasional hit-and-run “meal” of cheese and crackers or storebought hummus) is packed with local goodness: Tomatoes (yes, mine finally ripened). sweet corn, tomatoes (so did my next-door neighbor’s), eggplant, tomatoes, late-season berries, tomatoes …
Now the fall fruits are coming in. There were so many apple vendors at the market today that I went a little nuts, coming home with probably 20 pounds of gorgeous, crisp apples: Big, juicy Gravensteins, crisp little Daveys, Cox’s orange pippins, the quintessential English apple, and several heirloom varieties I can’t even remember.
I also picked up some perfectly ripe red Bartlett pears, a half-dozen late-season peaches, three beautiful little globe eggplants, an assortment of hot peppers, a nice big pork shoulder roast (I see slow-cooked pulled pork in my future), a dozen ears of yellow corn, two winter squash (a sugar pumpkin and a French heirloom variety, Galeux d’Eysines), and a pound of green beans.
A lot of food for one person, to be sure – but I’m putting some away now for the months ahead, when fresh local produce will be hard to find and dear when you can find it.
I don’t can. I know how, but I have neither the equipment, the storage space nor the patience to stand over a hot canning kettle on a fine fall afternoon. I do, however, have a large freezer in the basement, and an ample collection of freezer containers. So I came home from the market, hauled out my trusty Applemaster and my big enameled cast-iron kettle, and set to work.
Four hours later, I’ve got several quarts of easy home-made applesauce, one of rosy-pink apple-pear sauce with dried cranberries, and some fabulously aromatic peach chutney just off the stove and ready to spoon into containers. Tomorrow, I’ll blanch the corn and cut it off the cob to freeze in meal-sized bags, and cook up a batch of eggplant curry to eat with some of that chutney. The squash will keep till next weekend, when I’ll roast and peel it and freeze the chunks for curries, soups and pies.
It’s getting late for local peaches, so you may want to squirrel this recipe away for next summer. It works best with slightly underripe fruit that’s still firm enough to stand up to the long cooking without completely disintegrating:
Autumn Peach Chutney
- 5-6 large peaches, peeled, pitted and cut in chunks
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed
- 1 Serrano (or other hot pepper) seeded and minced
- 1/4 of a red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 3/4 cup raisins
- 3-4 Tbsp crystallized ginger, chopped fine
- 2 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 5-6 whole peppercorns
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes (more if you like a very spicy chutney)
- 1 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil while stirring. Turn heat very low and simmer 45 minutes-1 hour, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick and brown (if the peaches are very juicy, it may take longer for the liquid to evaporate).
Cool and spoon into half-pint freezer containers, leaving some head-room for expansion as it freezes. Keeps well in the freezer for up to 6 months; thawed and refrigerated, it will keep for a few weeks. Goes great with curries, or as a sweet-sour-and-spicy condiment for pork, lamb or fowl.
But this isn’t that year, it seems, at least in this part of the Willamette Valley.
The peach crop has been sparse, thanks to bad weather when the trees were in bloom. Some varieties haven’t been seen at the market at all; others are small, buggy or expensive.
Sweet corn is around, but not by the usual truckloads, and not at the usual prices. I’m seeing corn priced at 5 ears for a dollar, double what it was last summer.
And tomatoes? Sloooooooow to ripen, both in back-yard gardens and, evidently, on the farms. The six tomato plants in my own garden, all different heirloom varieties, are loaded with fruit, but only one of them – a Black Plum – has produced any ripe tomatoes yet. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they’ll ripen in the next couple of weeks, before the rain starts up or the nights get frosty.
But woudn’t you know it: today’s Albany market finally had a great selection of tomatoes, including lots of big, ripe heirloom varieties – and I was in no position to buy, because I’m heading out of town for a nine-day vacation in Seattle. Now’s the time to eat the produce on hand, not stock up on more.
Besides, a friend whose wife has better gardening prowess than I do dropped off a bag of mixed cherry tomatoes last night, and they need to be eaten before I leave town on Monday.
At this time of year I crave tomato sandwiches. Bread, tomatoes, mayonnaise, maybe a little black pepper or a bit of minced basil = heaven. As much as I like a good cherry tomato, you can’t make a decent sandwich from them, because the little suckers keep squirting out from between the slices of bread.
So I settled for the next-best thing: A BLT salad.
I don’t know why you’d need a recipe for this, but here’s one, anyway.
- 1 thick slice of slightly stale artisan bread, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces. (I used a some leftover roasted garlic bread from Big River restaurant in Corvallis that a friend had brought to my Labor Day barbecue.)*
- Olive oil
- Lettuce, torn in bite-sized pieces*
- Cherry tomatoes. Small ones can stay whole; if they’re more than a mouthful, slice them in half.*
- 2 slices of bacon, fried and crumbled*
- Real mayonnaise. Helman’s/Best Foods is canonical. Make your own if you’re feeling adventurous
- 3-4 leaves of fresh basil, minced*
- Black pepper
Toss the bread in a little olive oil. Wrap it in foil and put it in a 350F oven while you cook the bacon (10-15 minutes).
On a plate, layer lettuce, toasted bread, tomatoes and bacon. Top with a spoonful of mayonnaise, scatter basil over the top and finish with a generous grinding of black pepper.
* Locally grown or made ingredients