Posts filed under ‘market’
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.
Rather, a typical evening meal happens something like this:
- Get home from work. Feed the cats. Water the garden. Check my e-mail and phone messages. Get distracted uploading photos to Flickr. Realize that my stomach is growling.
- Wander into the kitchen. Open the refrigerator and stand there staring at the contents. Wonder why I have so many condiments, and how I acquired three half-empty bottles of club soda .
- Discover something potentially tasty. Think, “Hm, what could I do with that?”
- Start improvising. Taste. Improvise some more.
- Declare it dinner. Eat.
All of which is to apologize for the fact that a lot of my favorite meals don’t come from, or produce, recipes – they come from inspiration, and keeping good ingredients on hand. Which means either keeping notes as I go (and who does that?), or trying to reconstruct the dish after the fact, and explains why I often use such technical terms as “a handful of this” or “a glug of that.” In short, I cook pretty much like my mother and grandmother did, except that I’m lucky enough to have a much wider range of ingredients at my disposal.
Last night I was inspired to put together what turned out to be an absolutely delicious pasta dish using local vegetables, herbs from my garden and one of my favorite regional cheeses. I would love to give you a detailed recipe, but I don’t have one. So I’ll tell you what I did, and encourage you to try your own improvisation. Like much of what I cook, this dish could spin off in several different directions, depending on your tastes, your dietary requirements and what’s in your own refrigerator. Frankly, about the only thing you could do to mess it up would be to overcook or overseason.
Pasta with shrimp, asparagus and smoked blue cheese: An improvisation
- I usually have a bag of quick-peel shrimp in the freezer, in whatever size is the best price at the supermarket. They’re practically a staple. Last night’s dinner started with pouring a quantity of shrimp into a colander, setting that in a bowl in my kitchen sink and filling it with cold water to thaw the shrimp, a process which took no more than 15 minutes or so – just long enough for me to water the garden.
- Once the shrimp were thawed, I peeled them, set some water to boil for pasta, and got out my small skillet, which is the perfect size for one serving of pasta topping; it went on the burner with a little olive oil.
- While the oil heated, I chopped a bit of sweet onion and a couple of cloves of garlic; those went into the skillet at medium heat. Practically everything I cook that isn’t dessert starts with “chop some onion and garlic.”
- The fridge revealed a half-dozen spears of asparagus left from last weekend’s farmers’ market run. Shrimp and asparagus go great together, so I snapped off the woody ends (and tucked them into my freezer bag of veggie trimmings for stock) and cut the spears in inch-long pieces.
- Also in stock: An unopened wedge of Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue Cheese, one of those “ooh, must try this!” finds from the supermarket. Rogue makes terrific blue cheeses at its creamery down in Central Point (a great side trip if you’re heading down to Medford or Ashland), and I was delighted to discover that Ray’s Market in North Albany currently has three or four varieties (including a lovely Chipotle Cheddar) in stock. I hope they plan to keep the brand in stock.
- Brain starts working, inspired by tastebuds: Asparagus … shrimp … smoked blue cheese. Oh, yeah, baby. The water was boiling, so in went the pasta – just good old spaghetti, although I could have chosen rotini, flat egg noodles or Japanese soba; I tend to keep a lot of noodles on hand.
- Once the onion and garlic had begun to soften, I tossed the asparagus and shrimp – both of which benefit from quick cooking – into the pan. Some liquid seemed required, so I opened a bottle of Elk Cove Pinot Gris, poured a splash into the pan, filled my glass and let things simmer a while.
- I’d pinched some herbs to stimulate branching while I was watering the garden earlier. No point wasting those tender, aromatic bits, so I minced thyme, oregano, Italian parsley and a couple of tiny basil leaves, and tossed them into the mix.
- It took less than five minutes for the shrimp to turn a delicate, opaque pink and the asparagus to reach that vivid-green stage that signals crisp-tender. Time to lower the heat waaaaaaay down to continue reducing the liquid, and add some of that blue cheese, crumbled. I thought about adding a spoonful or two of creme fraiche*, but that seemed excessive. A quick taste (blow on the spoon!) confimred that no further seasoning was required.
- In less than a minute of stirring and tossing, the cheese had begun to melt and merge with the pan liquids, so I took the skillet off the heat, plated some pasta and spooned the sauce over it.
- One final inspiration: Walnuts. I love the combination of blue cheese and walnuts, so I grabbed a small handful from the bulk bag I keep with baking supplies, broke them with my fingers and scattered them on top of the dish.
Holy cow, that was good. And with a pretty good ratio of local-to-not-local ingredients, too:
- Local: Asparagus, onion, garlic, cheese, herbs, wine. OK, the cheese and wine aren’t local-local, but I’m willing to stretch the boundaries of “local” to encompass Oregon-made food produced within a few hours’ drive.
- Not local: Shrimp, pasta, olive oil. And everything but the oil could be local, if shrimp is in season and you make your own pasta. For that matter, you could omit the shrimp and increase the asparagus and have a perfectly satisfying vegetarian meal.
* You know about creme fraiche, don’t you? If you don’t, you should. Milder than sour cream, plus a distinctive, almost nutty flavor, it’s great for saucing dishes because its high butterfat content prevents curdling. It’s also lovely dolloped onto fresh fruit or a scone, floated on top of home-made soups or used any way you might use sour cream or whipped cream. Not easy to find here in the Valley, it sometimes turns up as a specialty item in a supermarket cheese section – I last found it at Safeway, but they don’t stock it regularly.
However, you can extend the life of a single small container by using some of it to grow your own. Just warm a cup or so of heavy cream in a small saucepan (don’t let it boil), let it cool to body temperature, stir in a big spoonful of creme fraiche and pour the mixture into a glass jar with a good lid – a canning jar works great. Let it sit at room temperature for a few hours until the cream has thickened (I drape a clean dishcloth over the top to keep out stray environmental yeasts, which can spoil the culture) then lid and refrigerate. Creme fraiche keeps for a couple of weeks, and you can keep culturing more from each batch. You can also use buttermilk as a culture-starter, but I find the resulting flavor a bit sharper and less delicate.
Countdown: Eight days till the local market opens!
Talk about good timing: While browsing the Flickr photo group I started last year for the Albany-Corvallis Farmers’ Markets, I noticed that group member Katherine Rivera had posted a note about her new local foodblog: the Mid-Willamette Valley Eat Local Challenge.
Based on the national Eat Local movement, Katherine poses a simple challenge to mid-Valley cooks: Every week, from Memorial Day to Labor Day (May 26 to Sept 1), try to work local ingredients into your meals. How you do it is up to you. A meal a week using nothing but food grown in the valley? A little something local in every meal? It’s up to you. And she makes the challenge in a spirit of fun: Enjoy yourself, and if you miss a week, don’t sweat it, just try again the next week.
Heck, this is an easy challenge. I’ve been managing to eat locally grown food just about that often even through the winter, thanks to all the stuff I bought last season and dried or froze, plus an occasional trip to the indoor Winter Market. In fact, I’m down to about one good meal’s worth of last summer’s bounty (some dried chanterelles and herbs, a container of frozen oven-roasted tomatoes, a small stash of dried beans and one last package of lambchops from Wood Family Farms). If I get a chance in the coming busy week, I hope to make a meal out of that and clear thelarder for this year’s market.
Of course, the first few markets are more promise than anything. The growing season starts slowly here, and it’s been a cold spring so far. In April, we can expect spring lettuce, leeks and garlic, plus maybe a few hothouse vegetables. There will likely be baked goods, eggs from happy chickens and perhaps some of last summer’s honey from local bees. And a lot of plant starts, for those of us hoping to grow some of our own food this summer. It’ll be a few weeks, weather willing, before the early radishes and spring-tonic greens begin to show up. Bit by bit, the season will advance, the variety of wonderful things will increase, and by Memorial Day, it should be a snap to join the challenge.
If you’re reading from somewhere outside Oregon, check the “Eat Local Challenge” link in my sidebar – there might be a challenge group near you. Or start one. Or just take a personal challenge. Do it for your health, do it for the environment (food transport is a major consumer of fuel, do it for (my favorite reason) your taste-buds. There’s no more pleasing adventure than discovering wonderful things to eat in your own back yard, figuratively or (for you gardeners) literally.
It’s the end of market season here, and I joined the handful of hardy shoppers braving the cold November rain to pick up a little late produce – butternut squash, leeks, big Jonagold apples and some frozen lamb and sausage – from the few vendors who showed up for the final day.
I’ll miss my weekly market trips, and not just for all the good things they bring to my kitchen. Shopping regularly at a small-town farmers’ market brings new friends: vendors who come to recognize me over the weeks, my neighbors who are about to go into hibernation for the winter. Maybe I’ll venture over to the Wednesday market in Corvallis, or make it to the Winter Market at the fairgrounds in January, but it’s not the same.
Meanwhile, though, some of this year’s bounty is in the freezer: Applesauce, roasted pumpkin, corn frozen right off the cob, oven-roasted tomatoes, lamb. As winter progresses, I’ll bring it out, thaw it, use it in dishes that bring memories of the harvest. If my habits hold true, I’ll probably eat the very last of it in April, right before the new market season opens. In the meantime, I’ll write about other harvests, and other meals: The Dungeness crab we’ll soon be seeing, pulled fresh from the ocean just 45 minutes away, the savory soups and risottos I’ll concoct this winter from dried beans, mushrooms and other hearty things.
Food, and the way we buy it, can tie us to the seasons if we let it. As surely as the rains of November bring a sense of farewell, spring and the market’s reopening will come like a welcome.