Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lemon Marmalade

10 lemons
2 or 3 cups sugar
4 cups water

Zest lemons; set aside zest. Get all the white pith off the lemons; set naked lemons aside. Compost pith. Cut the zest into thin strips and put it in a non-reactive bowl with the sugar. Let the zest soften in the sugar for an hour or two.

Slicing all that rind into tiny strips is tedious, so this time I used my grater to zest the lemons. Faster, but it won't have the same marmalady texture.

Sure was easy to do, though.

Lemons, sugar, water. Gotta love the simplicity of this recipe. Too bad I don't have any non-reactive pots.

Chop the lemons and put them in a non-reactive pot with the zest, the sugar, and the water. Cook on high heat until it boils, then reduce and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Put in sterilized glass jars and process in a hot bath for 10 minutes. Remove and cool.

Sounds good with some toast, or maybe over some vanilla ice cream, huh?

I'm going to the store right now.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Old-time Apples

Southern California transplant David Martinek came to Humboldt County in 1985 for a job in a law firm. He stayed for the apples.

”My first house in Humboldt County had many large, neglected, and unidentified apple trees and the process of rehabilitating and identifying them got me interested in apples,” he explained. “It's amazing to me that you just have to plant once, and the tree gives apples year after year for decades, even generations.”

Some years later, Martinek said he purchased his current home, and began what turned out to be the hobby of a lifetime.

”I acquired my current property in 1993 and started planting apples right away, just a few per year at first,” he said. “Pink Pearl was an early favorite, and still is. It's a Humboldt County 'native' developed by Albert Etter and released in the 1940s.”

Albert Etter is a local apple propagating hero who died in 1950. According to apple luscious, he created many red-fleshed varieties near his Southern Humboldt home, still referred to as Ettersberg, and Martinek has many of the varieties Etter developed.

Martinek said he took grafting lessons at Sandy Bar Nursery in Orleans in the early 1990s because many of the apples he's interested in are no longer available, and he must graft cuttings onto an existing tree to get a desired strain.

”Mr. Botner has many thousands of varieties, a large percentage of which aren't listed in any of my apple books,” he continued. “For example, in 2000, because of my interest in Pink Pearl, I ordered scionwood of apples that have red or pink flesh: Delight, Webster, Pink Pearmain, Airlie, Hidden Rose, Almata, Winter Red and Scarlet Surprise. At the time I ordered the scionwood, none of these were available commercially, except possibly Hidden Rose. His work in keeping these varieties alive and available to apple growers is invaluable. He certainly doesn't do it for the money.”

Martinek's orchard comprises just over a half-acre, with about 600 trees, and around 100 varieties, but he said he's not really sure just how many trees or varieties he has. ...

This excellent little article on local foods brought to you by Sharon Letts at the Times-Standard. Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Green Tomato Pickles (updated)

This one's from

4 quarts sliced green tomatoes
1 quart sliced yellow onion
1 quart sliced red (or yellow or orange) bell pepper
1 cup pickling salt

First, realize your tomatoes are not going to ripen before this year's first frost. Accept the inevitable and pick them for canning as-is.

After slicing and salting let sit for 4-6 hours (to remove excess moisture). Drain off and discard the salty water. Add to the tomatoes/onions/peppers:

2 lbs brown sugar
6 cups vinegar
1/3 cup mustard seed
1/4 cup celery seed
1 tsp black pepper
And, in a bag:
1 tb allspice
1 tsp cloves

Bring it all to a boil then simmer for another 20 minutes. Put it in sterilized glass jars—add a dried red chili to each jar for a spicy kick—and process in a hot-water bath for 10 minutes.

Now to me, that sounds like a lot of brown sugar. Two pounds? Jesus. Since I'm sick today and not venturing outside, I'm making this now in my kitchen. I'm going to try it with half the sugar called for; I'll let you know how that turns out.


Well, I ended up using all two pounds of sugar called for; those salt-kissed tomatoes looked like they needed it. But I tossed that recipe in the trash. Why? Boiling those tomatoes results in tomato mush. Tried it again with tomato wedges placed in the sterilized jars with the pickling solution poured on top. Better, but I still ended up with over a quart of pickling solution. Made some more pickles, still had solution left. Finally got tired and poured it onto the compost heap and gave the rest of the green tomatoes away on Craigslist. Oh, well!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Taste of Apples

...I ate an insane number of apples - at least a dozen, with a wide and exotic range of flavors. The Hodges, who have three generations of family living on the farm, all said that they never get tired of eating apples. I can understand because I was delighted to come home with a big bag of many varieties and exerted a lot of will power to only eat three Honey Crisps today.

It was interesting to learn that the Red Delicious is the most popular apple in this country. It’s probably the only one that I didn’t like. I think that even the best Red Delicious tastes kind of like a potato, and it’s really sad that most children in the United States associate that flavor as “apple”. I see it as a metaphor for what has become misguidedly important - and what’s wrong- with so many other things in America - It’s valued for its beauty, rejected if it’s blemished, thick skinned and lacking flavor. Still, it’s the one that is held up as the favorite...

Read the full post here. And if you like, love, or admire horses, check out the rest of Victoria's blog while you're there.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Escape from Berkeley

It is a classic road rally, 600 miles from the liberal embrace of Berkeley to the anything-goes lights of Las Vegas. No speeding is allowed, or in some cases even possible. And if you stop to refuel, it had better be in someone’s trash.

On Saturday, five teams began the Escape From Berkeley, maybe the world’s most eco-friendly motor race, driving all manner of alternative-fuel-burning jalopies, roadsters, and even a frying oil-fueled Mercedes-Benz, with a single goal: to complete the race using no petroleum.

“Gentlemen, start your whatever they are,” the M.C. shouted to begin the race, which offers the winner $5,000.The final catch of the race is that participants — artists, environmentalists and even a cattle farmer from Alabama — have to find or scavenge their go-go juice, whether it is used vegetable oil from restaurants or twigs and sticks from the side of the road. All the vehicles, which had to be street legal, were allowed to start with a single gallon of whatever fuel they used.

“We’re just going to hang out in front of Ace Hardware and beg,” said Ben Wedlock, who was riding a two-man bicycle, augmented by a one-horsepower electric motor that runs on ethanol.

Read the full article by Jesse McKinley in today's New York Times. Or, follow the action on the Escape From Berkeley website.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fresh food in the city? No problem!

Those of us who grew up in the middle of cities know how difficult it can be to find fresh, quality produce at the corner grocery—any inner-city grocery, really. So for me it's heart-warming to read about someone making a difference:

In spring, Simon Richard planted 700 seeds in his Bernal Heights garage. Within weeks, shoots and leaves of artisan edibles such as Romano beans, arugula and, of course, lots of heirloom tomatoes were hardy enough to be transplanted into a field.

But this was not just busywork of an overambitious backyard gardener. By midsummer, the fruits (and vegetables) of Richard's labor filled the bins at Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco's Mission District, where Richard is the produce manager.

Bi-Rite has long been recognized for its commitment to local, seasonal produce, but it may be the first market to actually grow its own food. Though Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, Monterey Market in Berkeley, Draeger's on the Peninsula, Whole Foods and other Bay Area markets buy some produce directly from farms, Richard and Bi-Rite's owner Sam Mogannam are taking the farm-to-table philosophy a step further, growing their own produce on one-third of an acre in Sonoma.

Read the full article (with photos!) in today's San Francisco Chronicle by Jane Tunks.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Busy Sunday

Saturday's farmer market expedition was again fruitful, netting a 20-lb box of ugly tomatoes for a buck a pound, and a 20-lb box of ugly red peppers for $12 (and a big bag of jalapenos for $8). So today I got down to it:

That's half a day's labor on my kitchen table. Left to right: apple/peach chutney from leftover fruits I found in the kitchen; pickled jalapeno rings; pasta sauce; lemon marmalade from what was left over from starting a batch of lemoncino; and a couple of jars of Mara's red pepper jelly.

Not pictured is the batch of bread I made today using Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, sent to me by a good friend.

Also not pictured is the glass of wine by my keyboard and the fuzzy slippers on my feet.

My hands feel like I grabbed a bunch of stinging nettles and squeezed hard.

Fruit Chutney

2 cups cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup ginger (fresh or candied), sliced thin
1/3 cup onion, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 tsp mustard seed
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups or so diced fruit

Combine it all in a saucepan and cook over medium-low until the fruit is soft. Fill sterilized canning jars and process.

The chutney comes out sweet and spicy, which I like. It's also a great way to use up odds and ends of fruit—today it was apples and pears, but I've also used this with plums to good effect. And if you have a little more or a little less than four cups of fruit, the recipe is quite forgiving.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Small But Fruitful Plot

In 2006, Kraus persuaded the Public Utilities Commission to grant her access to the unused land for a one-year trial period. In exchange, her organization found applicants in search of fertile ground and committed to growing food sustainably and providing educational opportunities.

After the first year proved to be a success, Kraus secured a nine-year lease agreement with the SFPUC, which granted $65,000 to cover basic infrastructure costs. The utility has been consistently supportive, she said. The 18 acres, all recently certified organic, are now occupied by six farming projects of varying sizes, including a containerized fig-growing operation and a garden producing for a Pleasanton buying cooperative. All tenants pay a modest rent.

"I think the basic idea is we need to share resources," said Peter Rudnick, the project's farm manager, who helped start Green Gulch Farm in Marin County 30 years ago with his wife, author Wendy Johnson.

"It's no longer (true) that people can just go out and buy land," Rudnick said. "When public agencies have land, it's really a benefit for everyone's land-use needs, especially for people to come out and grow food."

From the San Francisco Chronicle. Follow the link to read the entire article.

How did these folks find this land? Through Farmlink! Check it out.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mara's Red Pepper Jelly

1.5 lbs red peppers
3 jalapeno peppers
2 Hungarian hot peppers (the yellow ones)
1.5 cups cider vinegar
6 cups sugar
2 tsp Pomona's Pectin

Seed all the peppers. Finely chop the jalapeno and Hungarian peppers. Cut the ends off the red peppers; finely chop the ends, julienne the bodies.

In a bowl mix the sugar and pectin; set aside. Combine the cider vinegar and peppers in a pan and bring to a boil for 3 minutes, then add the sugar/pectin mixture and heat to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the contents into sterilized glass canning jars, process, and set aside to cool.

Feel free to substitute peppers for a less- or more-spicy result. Or, if you can't get jalapenos or Hungarian peppers in your area. And remember that chickens consider pepper seeds a treat!

Mara says the jelly goes great on bagels and cream cheese, and I have to agree:


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Bonanza

Autumn is in full swing, and so were the canning friends, who descended on my house for a bit of Sunday fun in the kitchen. We made, left to right, blackberry jam, red applesauce, sweet 'n' spicy zucchini, green applesauce, and pickles.

I can't give you a total cost breakdown because I don't know how much the pickling cucumbers from the farmer's market cost, but those, spices from the bulk bins, and another flat of canning jars were the only things purchased. Everything else was from backyard pickings. Well, okay—two of the pickling cukes were from a backyard; the gophers got the rest.

Maybe I'll try one of these strawbale gardens and see how cukes (and potatoes!) do in that.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Organic eggs

My good friend Tom used to keep chickens. "C'mon, Suzanny! Try it. They're fun. They eat your bugs and they give you eggs!" His exhortions stuck around, even if his chickens didn't—strict city ordinances and a fearful neighbor sent Tom's chickens on a one-way trip to a Livermore relative's yard.

But my town loves backyard livestock, so this year I took the plunge and bought some laying hens and ducks from some local breeders. It's extra work for me, and extra expense for the household, buying their feed and grit and oyster shell supplement, though I hope to reduce some of that by selling half-dozens to my neighbors.

And even though Tom was right, and chickens are tons of fun, and eat my bugs, what I'm really glad about is I never have to buy a store-bought egg again.

And if you think you're doing your part by buying cage-free/organic/happy-chicken eggs from the grocery (like I used to think), read Sean Anderson's article in the Arcata Eye.

Want to raise your own eggs? You might like the eglu backyard chicken coop, cute though pricey. Or if you're handier than I, build your own with the plans at the Backyard Chickens site. And if the whole idea of raising chickens for eggs is just too much bother (or you can't keep chickens where you live), find a neighbor or local farmer who does.

Ugly Tomato Sauce

At yesterday's farmer's market we bought a paper grocery bag of tomato seconds—ugly tomatoes in house parlance—from a Willow Creek farmer, about 12 pounds for $6. Busting out my canning setup, I washed off the fruit, trimmed out the bad spots and cubed the rest:

From left to right, my pot of bubbling tomatoes, my white enamel jar boiler, a colander holding a very small portion of that 12-pound score, and my tongs and jar-lifter.

I had half an onion, some dried basil, a zucchini, and a large red bell pepper, all left over from a bag of goodies my neighbor gave me last week from an unclaimed CSA box. I chopped those up, too, and added them to the pot along with some salt and pepper and the last third of a bottle of Two-buck Chuck:

I let them cook down over medium-low heat while we got ready for, then played, our weekly Saturday night Pendragon game. After four or five hours I turned the heat off and covered it for the night. Canning would just have to wait for Sunday morning.

While we read the newspaper I brought the ugly tomato sauce back up to a boil, then turned it down to simmer while I sterilized the jars. Filled, cooled, and stored now, I have 14 pint jars of fresh vegetable tomato sauce to enjoy over the coming months. We also had enough tomatoes from the bag to use some in BLTs for lunch and cut up in a tossed green salad with dinner tonight. Total cost (not including my time):

1 case canning jars, $10.35
12 lbs tomatoes, $6.00
1/3 bottle of wine, $0.66
Assorted vegetables and herbs, $free from my neighbor

Total cost per jar: $1.22

Just for fun, go see how much a jar of spagetti sauce costs at the supermarket.