Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Candied Oranges

Last week was our last CSA box! D is switching jobs, and we don’t know if there will be a CSA that delivers to his new office. We’ll look into it more in the fall, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to going to the farmer’s market more often. Lately I’ve only gone to the farmer’s market to see what’s in season and get one or two special things, because we get so much from the CSA. Now I’ll get to go weekly, and I just have to promise to buy a few things I don’t know much about.

Slice orange about 1/4" thick.

Slice orange about 1/4″ thick.

I bring this up because I often preserve and cook looking for ways to use up extras from the CSA. Too many pears? Dry them. Too many apples? Make applesauce. Too many oranges? Umm… how about candying them? Before yesterday I’d never had candied oranges, but they are quite beautiful, and therefore worth trying just for the visuals. If you’re like me, making something beautiful is almost as fun as making something delicious. And if I can do both, well that counts as an excellent day.

Oranges simmering in sugar and water. This was taken about half-way through the recipe.

Oranges simmering in sugar and water. This was taken about half-way through the recipe.

I found this recipe from Food and Wine, which looked like a good representation of the other recipes.

Recipe

1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 orange, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick

In a medium skillet, combine the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add the orange slices and cook over medium heat*, turning over every 5 minutes with tongs, until the liquid is reduced to thin syrup and the orange slices are translucent, about 20-25 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the syrup is thick and the slices are tender but still intact, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes.

(*Note – I found medium to be too cool in the first step, and ditto for medium-low, so I used medium-high and medium, respectively.)

Cool orange slices on a rack. Reserve the syrup.

Finished cooking and cooling on a rack.

Finished cooking and cooling on a rack.

Results

We ate the candied oranges plain, for dessert. They have a strong “marmalade” flavor, which I’m not crazy about. I ended up eating just the flesh and leaving the peel. If you like marmalade you’ll love the whole thing.

Cheers!

Cheers!

Next, we tried them in bourbon (me) and rye (D). Ok, now we are talking! I added a little of the left over orange simple syrup, popped in the candied orange, and ooh la la. This was so delicious! And the orange at the end was such a nice way to finish off a drink. We saved the syrup in a squeeze bottle, and the oranges are in a Tupperware with wax paper between the slices because they are sticky. They should keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.


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Preservation Society – Pickled Ginger and Pickled Asparagus redux

We had our second meeting of the Ladies’ Preservation Society on Monday. This time I decided to make pickled ginger. The recipe is pretty simple, with an hour gap in the middle, so we thought we could pickle asparagus in that hour. Of course, I never plan for chatting and snacking and dancing and laughing, so the schedule didn’t quite work out. We ran late yet again, so next time we’ll stick to one recipe. Hold me to it!

Pickled ginger and asparagus - a big undertaking for one evening!

Pickled ginger and asparagus – a big undertaking for one evening!

I’ll discuss the recipes separately, because the asparagus was very similar to the asparagus I made last month.

Pickled Ginger

3 pounds of ginger is about a full produce bag. Look for firm pieces that don't appear desiccated.

3 pounds of ginger is about a full produce bag. Look for firm pieces that don’t appear desiccated.

How great is it when foods can be interchangeable between sweet and savory (and spicy, and floral)! I live near a bunch of Asian groceries, so I can get ginger cheap. Is there a “season” for the best ginger? If so, I’m not sure what it would be. They are roots (actually, rhizomes, which are modified stems) and are able to be stored for a long time.

Peeling ginger with a butter knife.

Peeling ginger with a butter knife.

Recipe (from Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry)

3 lbs ginger, the fresher the better
3 Tbsp sea salt flakes
3 cups rice vinegar (We used the sweetened kind, to balance the sweet and acid)
2 cups granulated sugar

Peel the ginger. I use a butter knife and basically rub off the skin. Keep as much of the flesh as possible, because the softest flesh is on the outsides of the root – the insides can get really fibrous.

Before and after.

Before and after.

Slice using a mandoline, if you have one. I sliced it on the thinnest setting, 1/16,” which is paper thing and hard to mimic with a knife. With out ginger, it worked best to cut with the grain, not across the grain. This kept it from shredding… maybe young ginger wouldn’t do this. We ended up not using the centers of the ginger roots, because they got so fibrous. Also because using a mandoline is scary when you’re down to nubbins, those blades are sharp and it’s so easy to cut yourself. Careful!

Slice ginger as thin as possible.

Slice ginger as thin as possible.

Put all the sliced ginger in a bowl and toss with the sea salt. Let this sit for an hour, tossing occasionally. This draws excess water out of the ginger.

… During this hour, we were dancing to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. That may not be necessary for the recipe but I highly recommend it.

Salt pulls excess water from the ginger.

Salt pulls excess water from the ginger.

After an hour, rinse the ginger in a colander. You want to remove as much of the salt as possible. Then spread the ginger out on tea towels and pat dry. Place ginger into jars that are clean and kept warm. We used 12 quarter-pint jars.

Heat vinegar and sugar on the stove until boiling and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Using a funnel, pour vinegar over ginger, covering ginger and leaving about ¼” of room at the top.

Putting ginger into jars, packing but leaving plenty of room at the top.

Putting ginger into jars, packing but leaving plenty of room at the top.

Wipe tops of jars with a clean towel. Place jar lids (that have been kept in almost-boiling water) on top of jars, and twist on rings.

Boiling water bath using large pot and steamer basket. I just took the lid off to take a picture.

Boiling water bath using large pot and steamer basket. I just took the lid off to take a picture.

At this point my friends had to go, so theirs weren’t processed in a water bath. It is fine to store them in the fridge for up to 3 months. I want to give mine out as gifts, so after they left I made a mini-water bath canner using a pot and a steamer basket. The jars are small so it was possible, and went much faster than the normal water-bath canner. Yay! Process in boiling water for 10 minutes, then cool.

Top Ramen with boiled egg, fresh garlic stems, and pickled ginger.

Top Ramen with boiled egg, fresh garlic stems, and pickled ginger.

Uses: There’s the standard side-dish-for-sushi preparation, which probably wins. But we were brainstorming other ideas, too. One gal said she’d try adding it to stir-fry at the last minute. Another thought putting it in a salad dressing would be fun. Yesterday, I made Top Ramen for lunch and added it at the end, pretty tasty. If you have any other cool ideas of how to use it, leave them in the comments!

Pickled Asparagus

asparagus spears

Asparagus spears, trimmed to equal lengths to fit into jars.

You can find the recipe we used at this link. This time, we put in less dill, and a few of the jars had these amazing dried chipotle chilies I got at the farmers market last week. Otherwise it’s the same!

One of our members is our official photographer and she took some great photos. Discerning readers will notice, there was a gap in the photos for the ginger recipe – that’s when she had to leave and I forgot to take photos. Whoops!

Dried chipotle chiles (above, with stem removed) and chiles de arbol (below).

Dried chipotle chiles (above, with stem removed) and chiles de arbol (below).

Jars with garlic, chile, and dill. Next they will be filled with asparagus and vinegar mixture.

Jars with garlic, chile, and dill. Next they will be filled with asparagus and vinegar mixture.

Asparagus in jars, before vinegar is added. This asparagus is a little long, you can see how it sticks up too high. Also, that's Jasper in the background.

Asparagus in jars, before vinegar is added. This asparagus is a little long, you can see how it sticks up too high. Also, that’s Jasper in the background.

Completed! This is the night of the project. You can see the difference in color as they pickle in the photo below.

Completed! This is the night of the project. You can see the difference in color as they pickle in the photo below.

Finished jar of pickled asparagus, the next day. I refrigerate these after about a day, allowing them to ferment slightly.

Finished jar of pickled asparagus, the next day. I refrigerate these after about a day, allowing them to ferment slightly.


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Pea Flowers

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written about our garden, so I thought I’d drop in a quick update. Soon I will post about the construction of our raised beds; I just have to, you know, construct them. It will involve saws and drills, quite exciting!

Garden front May

Our front yard. Included are epimedium, nepeta (catmint), hellebore, columbine, lilac, spirea, stewartia (tree), Rhododendron thompsonii (with the red new growth) and peony ‘Bartzella’ back against the house.

Here’s a picture of our front yard. It’s a jungle right now, which D loves. I do too, but I also find it a bit overwhelming. It’s that first flush of spring when every plant gets a little bigger, a little closer to its neighbor, and makes me worry we have too much in too small a space. At some point things will need to be shuffled about, but not just yet. (I say that every year.)

Of note, that peony in the background was a wedding gift from a dear friend and it’s my favorite plant in our yard – Peony ‘Bartzella.’ It’s fancy but seriously worth it. It’s intersectional, which means it’s a cross between a tree peony and herbaceous peony, and the best of both worlds. The blossoms are 6-8” and just so beautiful.

Peony 'Bartzella' flowers up close.

Peony ‘Bartzella’ flowers up close.

Ok, on to the food producing plants! The peas have been growing well, are a good ways up the trellis, and are blooming. I am so excited. I realize that’s silly, they are the easiest things to grow, but it’s just so satisfying. I placed them in the ground with my fingers, and weed them and water them. I would never be so foolish to say that they are like my own little honor students, but I do feel pride. And impatience. When do I get to eat them? Not yet! Why? Because they don’t have fruit! Oh.

Pea flower. I love how it looks like an cartoon dog, or an angry old man.

Peas with flowers. I love how the blossom looks like a cartoon dog, or an angry old man.

And finally, the “orchard” is looking healthy. The fig leaves have expanded and are quite beautiful. I water it regularly because we’ve had such a warm spring and I planted it bare root. The Italian prune is also looking good, although I did have to cut back two branches that were dead. ☹ Keeping fingers crossed on that one. I feel nervous because we lost one prune a couple years ago, and I don’t want to lose this one, too. For you non-Seattleites out there, Italian prunes are nearly ubiquitous in Seattle, and are phenomenally delicious. Every summer offices all over town have bowls of prunes for coworkers to take, because almost no one can use all the fruit that one tree produces. I plan to try, but will of course have to wait a year or two for fruit. More patience.

Fig leaves, keep on chugging along little fig!

Fig leaves getting bigger. Keep on chugging along, little fig!

Hope you’re all having a great spring. What are you excited about in your garden?


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Oven-dried pears (and apples)

Last fall, my CSA started sending me pears, and they didn’t stop until March. There are only so many pear salads and snacks you can make before you start craving something else. So back when I was getting 3 pears and 3 apples a week, I started drying them so they wouldn’t go to waste. They make a great travel snack, and are cheaper than buying packaged dried fruits.

Slicing pears

Slicing pears, about 1/4″ thick. To get the most pear with the core, I slice 3-4 rounds from opposite sides, then a few rectangular pieces from the remaining 2 sides.

Those pears were also rock hard, would ripen slowly, and then went from perfect to overripe in a blink. I learned why – pears ripen from the inside out, so by the time you notice they are ready on the outside, they are brown mush on the inside. In order to ripen in a way that is appealing to us, they need to be chilled. So refrigerate them for a couple of days, then place them in a window or in a paper bag (the latter I’ve had minimal success with, but I’m still interested in the science of why that works, so I’ll be trying again.) Luckily, it doesn’t matter if they are ripe to dry them.

Soaking pears

Pears and apples soaking in cold water and lemon juice.

I don’t have a food dehydrator, so I use the oven. This method is a bit of a crap-shoot, because the oven’s lowest temperature is hotter than a dehydrator. But I Googled and got a consensus on what times and temps to use.

Here’s the recipe*

6 pears (or apples, or a combination of the two), washed
4-6 cups cold water
¼ cup lemon juice

*As usual, this is a very fudgable recipe

Fill a large bowl with cold water, about half-full. Add lemon juice.

I don’t peel the fruit, but you can if you prefer. Slice fruit about ¼” thick (you can go thinner if you have a dehydrator, but I find for the oven anything thinner dries too much and gets pointy.) Place in the water mixture and let sit for about 30 minutes. You do this so the citric acid gets into the fruit to prevent browning.

Heat oven to lowest temperature. Mine, like most, stops at 170. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pat fruit dry with a towel to remove excess moisture.

Pat fruit dry with a towel to remove excess moisture.

Drain fruit, and pat dry. I place them on a towel and dab with another towel. Yay for tea-towels, less paper-towel waste! Place fruit in single layer, not touching, on the cookie sheets.

Pears in oven

Pears (top) and apples (bottom) in the oven.

Bake for 8 hours, more or less, depending on how crispy or chewy you like your fruit. I prefer mine chewy, so I start testing at 6 hours. I rotate the pans every couple of hours, and flip the fruit after 4 hours. They harden more after removal from the oven, so take them out a little softer than you are aiming for. It may take trial and error – but honestly even the errors are fantastic. Also, apples dry faster than pears, so if you are doing a combo batch, test both fruits.

Dried pears

Pears cooling on a rack. You can see the apples in the background, they are a lighter color.

Your house will smell amazing. AMAZING. I tend to have to run errands midday, so I turn off the oven when I do (safety first!) and when I get back it’s like walking into the fabled grandmother’s kitchen. Or so I hear – my grandmother was not really a baker. I digress…

Once they are out of the oven, place them on drying racks to cool. It won’t take long. Then I put them in tupperwares or baggies. If you don’t plan on using them within the week, they freeze great. I keep a baggie in my purse to stay away from the pastry case at Starbucks. My only caution – they are addicting! You could eat all 6 pears in one sitting if you aren’t careful.

Dried apples

Dried apples. I will say, this was my first attempt at apples, and they clearly should be baked for less time than the pears. They were quite crunchy and the skins were sharp. Still delicious, though!

Enjoy!


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Potluck Pickled Beets

My mom loved pickled beets. Growing up, we’d have them on salads or with grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. They seem to have gone out of fashion with the popularity of roasted beet salads, but I still love them. I made them for the first time a few months before Mom got really sick. She was down for a doctor’s appointment, and I wanted to make her something that she would enjoy and feel comforted by. I felt a lot of pride that she liked them – she’s my cooking inspiration, of course, and I always wanted her to enjoy my meals.

Beets ready to eat! This picture doesn't do justice to the intense pink/purple color.

Beets ready to eat! This picture doesn’t do justice to the intense pink/purple color.

At any rate, they are now a staple of my repertoire. This is in part because D doesn’t care for beets, and we get them in our CSA a lot. I need a way to cook them all at once (cuz geesh, they take a long time) and then be able to enjoy slowly. And, in the shockingest shock ever, I choose to pickle them! They make a refreshing lunch, or serve them as a  side-dish for a barbecue.

This batch of beets came from the grocery store, because I wanted to make them for my Alumni picnic potluck, which was on Saturday. I tried to pick the smallest beets, to avoid extra starchiness, but they aren’t as amazing now as they were in fall when they were freshest. But they were still a hit at the potluck!

Here’s the recipe, adapted from Epicurious and my mom’s recipe (this recipe is very scalable; I made 3x this amount at once):

1 cup cider vinegar
½ cup water
1 cup sugar
¼ tsp pickling spice
¼ onion, halved
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
A few stems of fresh dill
3 beets (~1 lb without tops)

Trim beet tops and root. Wash beets, and boil in water until tender (between a half-hour and an hour, usually). Drain water and let cool slightly.

Pickling syrup on the stove.

Pickling syrup on the stove.

Meanwhile, put all other ingredients in a saucepan. (I place the spices in cheesecloth, but you can also just strain it well after it’s cooked.) Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Let simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat, strain, and let cool slightly.

Peeling the beets, and getting pink fingers!

Peeling the beets, and getting pink fingers!

As this is cooking, peel the cooled beets with a small knife, or if they are fresh you can just slip the skins off. Either way, you will get very pink fingers, and it may take a day for it to fully come off. So, maybe don’t do this the day before a photo shoot. Also, wear dark clothing!

Slicing the beets, between 1/4" and 1/2" thick.

Slicing the beets, between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick. Messy.

Slice the beets, removing the ends if they are tough, into ¼” – ½” slices. Place in a glass bowl or jars. Put about a ½ tsp salt over the beets. I use the clamp-top jars if I plan on using them over a week, but in this case I just used a big bowl because I knew they’d all going to go to the potluck on Saturday.

Beets and syrup in a bowl. I just put this whole bowl in the fridge, but you can put into jars if you don't plan on using them all at once.

Beets and syrup in a bowl. 

Pour syrup over beets, covering them completely. At this point, I refrigerate them. However, if you’ve canned them in mason jars you can process them in a water bath for storage. If I ever grow beets and have a large harvest I will definitely do that. But for a single recipe (3 beets) I just keep them in the fridge for snacking. They take a couple days to marinate fully in the fridge.

Enjoy!


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Ladies’ Preservation Society – Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

Monday night was the inaugural meeting of the Seattle Ladies’ Preservation Society! The LPS is a group of my friends that are interested in food preservation. We have varying degrees of experience, but are all excited to learn more. I started it because I’m super into food preservation right now, I love cooking with friends, and I figured it would be a great way to learn from smart and creative women. The bonus is that when we combine resources, we can get more done for less money, and share the spoils. (I had been a member of a community canning club, but it got large and unruly. There were 6 of us here, which is a good number.)

Rhubarb peeled and chopped, ready to cook!

Rhubarb peeled and chopped, ready to cook!

Looking for something seasonal and somewhat basic, I chose strawberry-rhubarb jam. I’ve never made it before, but it sounded fun. I found a great-looking recipe online, but on Monday the webpage was down! We ended up patching together multiple recipes and using group-think to solve problems. I believe we came up with a pretty solid recipe, so thank you, internet and friends!

One of my friends brought homemade bread. We ate the jam on the bread and had a grand time. If you aren’t canning with friends, I strongly recommend it. This was such a fun night! We did run kind of late, next time we’ll start earlier.

Here’s the recipe we used:

2 lbs strawberries (hulled and chopped)
1 lb rhubarb (peeled and chopped. We peeled it to reduce stringiness in the final product.)
1 cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
1 package no-sugar pectin + 1 Tbsp more
2 cups sugar

Combine fruit and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Mash fruit a little, just to break up the strawberries if they are large, the rhubarb should be liquefied at this point. Add lemon juice and pectin. Stirring constantly, bring to a rolling boil.

Add sugar, one cup at a time, mixing completely in between cups. Stir constantly and return to a rolling boil. Cook for another minute at a rolling boil. Remove from heat.

Finished jam, just before we skimmed it and ladled it into jars.

Finished jam, just before we skimmed it and ladled it into jars.

Let cool a minute or two, and skim the foam off the top. Ladle into jars, leaving ¼” headspace. Place jar lids (that have been keeping warm in almost boiling water) and twist on rings.

Boil in water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let cool for up to 2 days to let jam set. Or, if you’re like us, save a little out and taste-test it on bread!

Warm jam on homemade bread - serious yum!

Warm jam on homemade bread – serious yum!

Notes:

We made 2 batches, because with jam I hear you shouldn’t combine batches, or the jam won’t set. In the second batch, I had a complete brain freeze and put in 12x the amount of citric acid I needed (I ran out of lemon juice and was using citric acid to replace it, ¼ tsp of citric acid = 1 Tbsp of lemon juice.) This made the 2nd batch very tart, so we added another ½ cup sugar. Some of the gals in the club thought that batch was way tastier, so at least it wasn’t a fatal error. Another reminder to me to follow directions!

I prefer the sweeter batch, but even that isn’t crazy sweet. I like the no-sugar pectin, you are able to reduce the sweetness and taste more of the fruit. I don’t actually recommend using the no-sugar pectin without sugar; the texture ends up weird and “fluffy.”

Jam after it is set, the next day. Look at that gorgeous color!

Jam after it is set, the next day. Look at that gorgeous color!