Category Archives: Recipes for Seasonal and Local Foods

May UFH Foraging Challenge Round 4: Something for Dessert

Sweetened Salmonberries on a Biscuit

This month on Sustainable Eats, you’ve seen our suggestions for foraging dandelions, morels, and a savory dinner. Our guides have been some of the best foragers on the West Coast. But for the uninitiated, the doorway into foraging is often through the sweet tooth. This is true in my family too, where wild berries are the incentive I use to get my family into the woods.

Salmonberry Harvest

This time of year, there’s really only one game in town: the salmonberry. It’s the first sweet thing to ripen around here, beating out just about every other fruit in both farm and forest. You’ll spot the first ripe berries along stream banks in the lowlands, then increasingly in drier areas and at higher elevations (I harvest mine near the ponds at Seattle’s Discovery Park).

This earliness offers the fruit some advantages. First, it beats by a month the pest insects that infest so many of our soft berries later in the summer. August blackberries may be sweeter, but you have to ignore what’s squirming around inside of them. And as stated before, salmonberries ripen first. So you prefer our local huckleberries? Good luck finding them in the last week of May.

Salmonberry - one of the first NW woodland flowers in spring

If you’ve tried and failed to fall in love with salmonberries, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The only thing separating them from the big boys (such as blackberries) is sugar content. Fruits need an unforgiving sun to develop sugars, and many of our native berries favor the shade of the forest floor, where they develop subtle, woodsy flavors. They may express terroir, but it’s nothing you’d want to put on top of your grandma’s shortcake. But add a little sugar and you’re in for a big, delicious surprise. These berries don’t just compete, they rock.

Salmonberries

Salmonberries

I understand why you would not want to eat sugary preserves all the time. But there’s something delightful about playing the “what if this tasted sweet” game with our native berries. What if oregon grape – that sour berry that tastes a little like lettuce – had high sugar content? Answer: it makes a wonderful jam with an unusual taste. Repeat the experiment with salal berries, and you’ll discover a secret cinammon flavor. Once you’ve used sugar to discover the hidden joys of one of our native berries, you’ll want to try them all. For me, this activity transforms every simple hike in the woods into a treasure hunt.

To wrap up foraging month here at Sustainable Eats, we’re offering you this challenge: Take a walk in the lowland woods, somewhere near a stream, and harvest a few cups full of salmonberries. If you live somewhere else, you can substitute another wild berry of course. Sweeten them with sugar and eat them on top of something. Then, post a comment here and tell us about your experience.

Sweetened Salmonberries on a Biscuit

Salmonberries on a Biscuit

Sweetened Salmonberries on a Biscuit

Topping: 

4 cups salmonberries, gently rinsed, drained and tossed with 1/4 cup of sugar.

Cornmeal-Maple Biscuits (based loosely on recipe from King Arthur Whole Grain Baking):

1 cup (4.875 ounces) cornmeal
1 cup (4 ounces) all-purpose flour (I used fresh ground soft white wheat)
1 T baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 T unsalted butter
1/2 c buttermilk (ordinary milk will work in a pinch)
1/4 cup maple syrup

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter. Combine liquids and stir into dry mix until just moistened. Form into ball, flatten to 1/2 inch thick, slice in eighths like a pie, dip in flour to prevent sticking and spread on a cookie sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Top with salmonberry topping and serve warm.

All they needed was a little sugar.

How to Cook Your Goose – Redux

Your Goose is Cooked

I’ve made goose before and been disappointed. While the breast was tasty, it was small and the legs were sinewy and tough. After spending $75 on a goose, that was a bitter pill to swallow. This year I decided to give it one last go at the behest of Brad of Abundant Acres (my favorite fine rug salesmen turned pastured chicken, goose, duck and rabbit farmer.)

In order to make sure I was giving the goose it’s due, I dusted off my flood-tarnished but neglected set of Cooks Illustrated books and found an article on cooking goose. The author mentioned that goose is like stew – the most common mistake you can make is to undercook it. Sure enough, this is what I’ve always done in the past – because I’ve always been worried about overcooking my pastured chickens and turkeys. Goose is not like other pastured birds though, because of the high amount of fat. But don’t let that fat put you off because it’s hard earned on a diet of bugs and grass. The goose fat that I rendered was the whitest, lightest fat ever.

Although I was skeptical about the overcooking thing I gave it a go. I stuffed the goose (let’s call him Gil) with thyme, prunes, and quartered clementines destined for stockings, then put Gil in the oven on a roasting rack breast side down at 400F. After 30 minutes I then turned the oven down to 350F. In the meantime, I poured a bottle of syrah over some prunes in a small pan on the stove and simmered for fifteen minutes before straining out the prunes and reserving them. I continued simmering the wine until it had reduced to a velvety, thick texture.

I left Gil to his own devices for about an hour and a half and scrubbed and quartered some lovely yellow potatoes from Michael Pilarski. When I took Gil out, I lifted the roasting rack and placed the potatoes in the bottom of the roasting pan underneath the rack. I flipped Gil over and returned him to the oven. As Gil finished cooking, he rendered his own fat down onto those fluffy jo-jo sponges.

At around the three hour mark, when Gil was as relaxed and bronzed as a tourist in Jamaica, I noted the meat on the drumstick was as soft to the touch as well stewed meat, just as Cook’s Illustrated had instructed. I took him out of the oven to rest for thirty minutes, drained off the extra fat and browned the jo-jos.

I added a few tablespoons of goose fat to the sauce, carved up thin slices of Gil and served with the prunes and a roast Kubocha squash, kale and Lentz emmer salad. Now people, I’ve never understood the popularity of prunes and chalked it up to our apparent lack of dietary fiber in this country but I was schooled that night. Simmered in syrah – or better yet – straight from Gil and married with a hint of clementine, they were stupendous.

Gil is served

So forget anything you may have read about not overcooking goose (especially if it was from me). Let Gil be your guide.

Happy Solstice!

Whole Grain Swedish Limpa

Just like meatloaf, there are a lot of bad limpa recipes floating around the universe. But if you are lucky enough to have tried good limpa you know it can be memorable, surprising and even divine. For breakfast – smeared with apricot jam and a slice of good farm cheese there is nothing better.

I have a good dozen recipes for limpa that I’ve clipped or been given over the last twenty five years and I’ve tried them all. None of them really captured that light, slightly sweet and aromatic loaf that is the limpa of my memories. I’ve given it up as being situational. Maybe, like eating food while camping, it’s more about the camping than the food.

A few weeks ago I picked up a copy of The Great Scandinavian Baking Book by Beatrice Ojakangas and of course the first thing I tried was the limpa recipe. It called for mostly white flour so I adapted it for whole grain and swapped out things like salad oil which I’m pretty sure would not be historically accurate. It smelled ethereal even before it hit the oven. But once it hit the oven and began to spring and perfume my kitchen, I knew there was something different about this limpa recipe. I knew this was it.

When I pulled the loaves out and brushed the crust with molasses, I committed a cardinal sin. I sliced that steaming hot loaf and tasted the breadbaker’s right (that is the most flavorable piece of the whole loaf, the crust piece). I closed my eyes and visions of Sweden danced in my head. I was in an airy wooden kitchen with red and white striped curtains and dish towels, Bjorn Skiffs on the radio, warm bread smells in the air, and I was tasting good bread for the first time. Swedish limpa with fennel, caraway and orange zest. If anyone ever offers you limpa with candied orange peel in it, just politely decline.

This limpa recipe, with quite a few adaptations, embodies my memory of real Swedish limpa. I hope you enjoy it.

Swedish Limpa
makes 3 loaves

8-9 cups hard red wheat flour
2 cups rye flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant or active dry yeast
3 teaspoons salt
grated peel of one orange
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon caraway seed
4 cups milk (if not using raw or buttermilk, substitute 1/2 cup whey or yogurt as part of the milk. This acidic medium will help reduce the phytic acid in the grains and soften the dough considerably)
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup dark molasses

Before bed, combine all the ingredients in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Cover bowl and let stand on the counter overnight.

In the morning, turn all the dough out and knead by hand, adding as little flour as possible. You can also split this into two batches and knead using a bowl mixer. Continue kneading until the dough is shiny and smooth-looking but still tacky and passes the windowpane test (when you stretch a small piece of it, it stretches to form an opaque window rather than tearing), about 6-8 minutes.

Butter 3 loaf pans or cake pans. Shape into oblong loaves for bread pans or rounds for cake pans. Place loaves in pans, cover and let rise until almost doubled in the warmest spot in your kitchen, about an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 F.

Score and lightly spray tops of loaves with water just before placing them in the oven. This will keep the surface supple and allow the loaves to continue rising in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the loaves are a deep brown and the inside registers 190 F. Brush the loaves with molasses and allow to cool before slicing. You may even want to put some ABBA on for this loaf. It’s that good.

Preserve the Bounty: Peppers Four Ways and an Easy Canning Day Dinner

This is it – Summer’s last huzzah in the form of tomatoes from our bulk buys and peppers from the farmer’s market.

Why peppers? Because when the sun sets in October here in the Pacific Northwest and doesn’t reliably return until early summer, I cling to every thing bright and fiery that I can. That may be a crackling fireplace (burn bans notwithstanding), it may be a hot cuppa joe, and it certainly will be in the form of cheery, zippy peppers that I squirrel away like there is no tomorrow and stuff into every dish I can all winter long. Like a shot of schnapps in sub-zero windchill that warms my soul.

I have many favorite ways to preserve these summer beauties.

Fermented Pepper Sauce.

To make it, simply cut the tops off about 6 pounds of your favorite peppers, place them in a food processor with enough water to process them, and place them in a large jar or crock. Add 1/4 cup of whey, 1/4 cup kosher salt and a chopped head of garlic, cover with a towel and let it get bubbly on the counter for 3-5 days. When the bubbling subsides jar and refrigerate. If you like more acid, add some apple cider vinegar. You could then strain the liquid, or use it as a paste. I like to add the seeds and a bit of the paste to apple jelly or apricot preserves as I make these things, instead of making a separate batch of red pepper jelly. It tastes phenomenal on crackers with Pav’s Annette cheese, or cream cheese, or chevre.

Lactofermented Salsa

Brook introduced me to fermented salsa awhile back and it’s a personal favorite. The salsa lasts in the fridge into mid to late winter (if you’ve made enough). The flavor and color are like fresh salsa because it’s never been cooked and the nutrients and enzymes are intact and loaded with beneficial bacteria.

Quick Pickled Peppers (a Peck)

I pulled out the cherry bomb peppers from my box of mixed peppers and simply put them in mason jars covered with a mixture of equal parts water and apple cider vinegar. This will keep them pickled and perfect for winter pizzas and sandwiches when the tomatoes have run out. They are also great chopped and added to cornbread.

Smoked Jalapeno Peppers

I love these. I’m not sure what more I can say about them to convince you that you simply must try them. I love them on grilled cheese sandwiches, mixed with mayo, on hamburgers, in salsa, on nachos, in beans and bean soups, in mashed winter squash with Beechers, and in carnitas (more on that later.) They require very little active time to make and last for at least a year in the refrigerator.

To make them, simply cut off the stem end, slice the peppers in half and cold smoke for about four hours. Once that is done I dehydrate them until they are about 1/3 of their original mass and store them in the fridge in mason jars.

Try adding them to your favorite salsa recipe to alter the flavor dramatically.

An Easy Canning Day Dinner – Carnitas

In fact, the easiest ever. Cook a pork roast covered with water, a teaspoon of salt and several smoked jalapenos for several hours, until it’s fork tender. Serve with beans, salsa and fresh veg. Pickled pepper cornbread would make a most excellent side dish.

Do you have your summer bottled and ready to dispense yet?

Which tomato should I buy? The economics of canning tomatoes

About 100 pounds of tomatoes, canned

According to conventional wisdom, you should always buy paste tomatoes (such as Romas) for canning. The reason given is that paste tomatoes contain less moisture, and so take less time to boil down to a thick sauce. Also, you’re paying for tomato flesh, rather than sauce.

So how true is this conventional wisdom? We decided to find out.

After our first tomato buy this year, I ended up with about a hundred and twenty pounds of tomatoes. About half were cases of “mixed heirlooms” from Art Heinneman. The heirlooms were beautiful, and represented a variety of different flavors. Of these, we ate about 20 pounds fresh, slicing them on sandwiches or into salads. The rest, we canned.

Two 10-pound batches of heirloom tomatoes. Those in the foreground have been blanched.

San Marzanos

The other half of our boxes contained San Marzano paste tomatoes. San Marzanos are actually an heirloom paste tomato, famous for having a rich, deep almost chocolatey taste. But I tasted none of that richness in these tomatoes. I assume the flavor referred to is in the sauce, rather than in the fresh fruit. Because compared to the heirlooms, I found them incredibly bland and tasteless. My 3-year-old daughter Luella however showed no such scruples.

Paste tomatoes: Not for eating fresh

It’s clear the mixed heirloom tomatoes from Art had vastly superior flavor for eating fresh. And you can tell, just from biting into these tomatoes, that the paste tomatoes had lower moisture content. So does the economic advantage of those lower-moisture paste tomatoes outweigh the superior flavor of the heirlooms? Again, conventional wisdom suggests that for canning purposes, we should always choose paste tomatoes. But how true is that maxim?

The Results

I like a thick, cloying tomato sauce. I like it to cling to your pasta, almost like a paste. And so I boil my sauces WAY down. For every 10 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, I got 4 pints of sauce. For every 10 pounds of paste tomatoes, I got 4.5 pints of sauce. That means you get easily more than 10 percent more sauce from paste tomatoes.

Tomato Sauce yield from 10 pounds of mixed heirloom tomatoes over yield from 10 pounds of paste tomatoes

The difference becomes more apparent when we cold-packed tomatoes with no added water. In this recipe, after putting 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid in each piping hot sterilized pint jar, you pack the hot jar full of blanched tomatoes, squish them down to eliminate air pockets and then put them in the hot-water bath for 85 minutes.

Cold-packed tomatoes after processing: paste tomatoes on the left, mixed heirlooms on the right.

During processing, the solid tomato flesh separates from the water and floats to the surface. The resulting jar looks something like a black-and-tan, and makes it easy to discern exactly how much more water is in the heirlooms. Again, the paste tomatoes appear to easily contain at least 10 percent less water.

If you’re performing a strict economic calculation, paste tomatoes give you at least 10 percent greater value (in tomato flesh), and probably also take about 10 percent less time to boil down. That’s a significant savings.

But what about taste?

Heirlooms taste better, and I haven’t decided yet whether heirlooms result in a better-flavored sauce. Certainly the bland flavor of our San Marzanos improved dramatically when sauced. But the heirlooms were outstanding. I haven’t tasted the sauces next to each other, and now I may never know, as my jars of sauces from the two types have become hopelessly confused. But as we open a jar of tomato sauce every other week this year, I’ll taste carefully, looking for that extra something.

saucing San Marzanos

Saucing San Marzano paste tomatoes

Cost Analysis

Because my sauces are so extremely thick, I consider one of my pint jars to be the equivalent of a quart jar of tomato sauce from the grocery store. A jar at the grocery store might cost anywhere from 3 dollars to 6, depending on its quality, whether it was organic, and whether it was on sale. I paid $42 for most of my 20 pound boxes of tomatoes, both paste tomatoes and heirlooms. These were essentially wholesale prices, as we purchased large quantities of these top-grade tomatoes directly from the farmer and sold them to friends and neighbors without markup in one of our annual Bulk Tomato Buys. For the paste tomatoes, the cost works out to: $4.60 per jar of sauce. Yikes! For heirlooms, that works out to: $5.25 per jar. Double yikes! So this was not a money-saving venture, either way. The quality of my sauces is WAY higher and I know they’re free of unnecessary chemical ingredients, such as the thickeners they use in commercial sauces to get more sauce out of less tomatoes. I know the farmer who provided my tomatoes, and I love the way he farms. But when I go through all this work, I’d still like my sauces to be cheaper too!

One of the 20 pound boxes I picked up were #2 heirlooms. That #2 grade means they had too many blemishes to be sold in a supermarket. These I picked up for a mere $22 a box, and got the same yield as the heirlooms. That works out to $2.75 a jar. That’s a much better deal!

Conclusions

To save money, choose #2

In the end, the debate about whether you get more value from heirlooms or paste tomatoes appears to be a bit of a wild-goose-chase. This discussion distracts us from the most obvious savings. For the most value, I should be buying all #2 tomatoes! The blemishes don’t matter when you’re canning them. So long as you can can them within a couple of days (beyond this, those blemishes turn to rot) you’ll be fine.  Whether they are #2 heirlooms or #2 paste tomatoes makes but a small difference to your pocketbook. The important thing is that they’re #2!

A secret that will save you time

Now that you know which tomatoes will give you the most sauce for your money, let me leave you with one tip that will cut down on your time commitment dramatically.

Saucy!

After cooking 10 pounds of tomatoes for a little while, place the tomatoes in a food mill or colander and let the clear liquid drip back into a pot. Once most of the liquid has drained out, place that pot on the stove and blast it with heat, stirring constantly. With no solids to worry about burning, you can reduce that liquid to a syrup in no time at all. Give it a taste: it will taste like a cross between tomatoes and chocolate. Then, mill the tomatoes right into this syrup, removing the seeds and skins. Once you stir them back together, you’ll have a huge jump start on the long job of reducing a sauce.  I discovered this method on my final batch of sauce. So I’ll have to wait to enjoy the labor savings until next year!

Joshua