Monday, June 29, 2015

Picking, Pitting and Preserving Sour Cherries

We have a few Montmorency sour cherry trees that, until this year, didn't produce enough cherries among the four of them to make a single pie. Between rabbits and deer gnawing on young trees, the polar vortex and inexplicable low fruit production, we considered getting out of the cherry growing business. Then everything changed.

This year the trees were loaded with fruit. We harvested and froze more cherries than we've ever used - four gallons in total. After years of negligible returns, we had a bumper crop. Each night for a week, we picked, pitted and froze. It felt like we were real cherry growers! And then with pride I posted my cherry pictures. Turns out most of my friends also had an exceptional cherry season. So much for my amazing fruit production skills. 

Cherries are ripe when they turn deep red and come away from the tree easily. Sour cherries freeze well and make beautiful pies, crisps, cobblers, jam, etc. We used a cherry pitter, but you can remove the pit by slicing the fruit in half and removing the stone or fashioning a homemade gizmo from a paper clip.

I've included the very best sour cherry pie recipe below. Aside from pie, the versatile filling can be used to top cheesecake, fill a black forest cake, baked into Danish pastry or spooned over ice cream.  

Cherries on the same tree will ripen at slightly different times.
Yellow and orange cherries will eventually turn red, signaling ripeness.

Chief gardener had to bust out the ladder to pick! These dwarf trees are about
nine feet tall. We'll trim next year to open up the center. Shaded cherries take longer to ripen.

Unpitted cherries, fresh off the tree.

Place pitted cherries on a baking sheet and place overnight in the freezer.
When completely frozen, remove to a freezer container. Use within one year.

Sour Cherry Pie
Adapted from Bountiful Ohio

4 cups unsweetened, pitted tart cherries, thawed (20 oz)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 drops red food color (optional, but pretty)
Pastry for 9" double crust pie
In a medium saucepan, combine cherries, sugar and cornstarch. Cook and stir until mixture cones to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, extracts and food color.  Let stand at room temperature for one hour.

Roll out half pastry. Place in bottom of 9 inch pie plate. Pour cherry filling into shell. Roll out remaining pastry. Adjust top crust, seal and vent. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes until golden brown. Cool completely. Serve. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Processing Greens

We grow most of the greens we eat throughout the year. It's an easy-to-grow, prolific crop and freezes beautifully. We plant primarily spinach and chard, but also eat the greens from broccoli rabe. Since we don't use row covers, harvest generally takes place by late spring. However, the unusually hot early June weather caused some sun scald on the spinach and bolting in the rabe.

Left to right: broccoli rabe, Swiss chard, spinach.

The bottom rabe is perfect for eating. Top rabe is still edible,
but open flowers indicate it's past prime.

Chard after blanching. Stems retain their bright color.

After blanching, we'll roughly chop, vacuum pack, add the date and pop in the freezer. 

We use the chard and spinach interchangeably in recipes. Our favorites include sauteed and creamed greens (great accompaniment to steak), in hot dips like artichoke, in pasta florentine, and we've found rabe makes a tasty bitter sandwich topper that's a nice foil to rich Italian meats.

Processing Greens
Wash greens. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Lower greens into water. Cook for 2 minutes just until wilted. Remove greens from water. Chop if desired. Place in freezer container. Freeze. Consume within one year.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Garden Update - June 2015

Hello from chief gardener John! Things are going well in the garden so far this summer.  We've had nice rains and unusually warm weather, which have kept everything growing. We gambled like everyone else and put tomatoes in early, but they are looking fantastic. The asparagus did well but was a quick, short harvest. The greens are growing nicely - we've eaten a lot fresh and just began to preserving the rest. Turnips have been delicious and the beets are almost ready!  The currants and sour cherry trees are producing well - it might be our best year ever for both.  I just planted winter squash and pumpkins from seed. I recently learned planting them a little later than I used to will help avoid squash bugs. The good weather has also helped the weeds, but I've been working to keep them (mostly) under control.    

Tasty garden sandwich with fresh greens, herbs, and pickled hot peppers from last years garden.

Montmorency sour cherry tree.

Slicing and paste tomatoes for juice, sauce, salsa.

Eggplants look great this year! Can't wait for eggplant parmesan!

Sweet and hot peppers. Several are producing fruits already!

Green Beans

Pickling cucumbers. We'll make dill, bread & butter and fresh (refrigerator).

Beets almost ready to pull. We'll eat a few fresh and the rest will be pickled.

Caraflex cabbage produce tight, pointed heads (rather than round). Good for grilling.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fresh Herb Dips

Our herb bed is just outside the kitchen. I want the herbs close so I can grab a handful of fresh flavors when I'm cooking. Despite taking cuttings almost every day, the bed is packed so I'm always looking for new ways to use herbs. These dips help use the excess.

Throughout the summer, I keep a variety of dips in the fridge. Along with fresh vegetables from the garden, the dips make a quick side. Throw burgers on the grill and a meal is ready in 15 minutes. And in addition to great, fresh flavor, these dips are healthy and filling.

Removing the liquid from the cucumbers will keep the Yogurt Dill Cucumber Dip
 thick and creamy. Start by chopping cukes, tossing with salt and allowing to sit for
an hour.  Rinse, drain, and squeeze to remove excess water. 

Easy peasy! Mix all the ingredients, refrigerate for a couple hours and enjoy!

Yogurt Dill Cucumber Dip (Tzatziki)
Adapted from World Vegetarian
Greek yogurt provides a tangy base for this dip. To use regular yogurt, drain in a cheesecloth lined strainer in the fridge for 3-4 hours.

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tsp salt
2 cups Greek yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 green onion, white part chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine cucumber and 1 tsp salt in a small bowl. Cover and set aside for one hour. Rinse cucumber, drain and squeeze out excess liquid. Combine with remaining ingredients. Chill at least 2 hours before serving.

Herb & Feta Dip incorporates four distinct herbs for a fresh, bright flavor. 

Yogurt Dill Cucumber dip (left) and Herb & Feta dip (right).
Serve with fresh vegetables, crackers or pita wedges.

Herb & Feta Dip
From EatingWell
Once pureed, the beans make a creamy base that's enhanced by the addition of yogurt and feta. The flavor also pairs well with grilled chicken, lamb and vegetables.

1 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed
3/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

Place beans, yogurt, feta, lemon juice, garlic salt and pepper in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add herbs; puree until incorporated. Chill until ready to serve.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Hosting Supper Club

A few years ago, my husband and I were complaining we didn’t get to see enough of our friends. After hosting a fun, lively dinner party we’d ask: why don’t we do this more often? After a particularly fun evening in December, I landed on my New Year’s resolution: get together with friends more often. And so, Supper Club was born.

I came up with a few simple guidelines. Here’s how Supper Club works:
  • Lots of friends are invited, but only the first 10-12 who respond can come. The dining room table can accommodate 16, but I’ve found a slightly smaller group keeps everyone engaged in the conversation. When two or more discussions are happening at the same time, I can’t keep up!

  • The menu is included with the invitation. I ask guests to share food allergies/intolerances with their RSVP, which is due one week before the event.   

  • I cook the meal, but guests are asked to bring along a favorite beverage to share. Some of my friends live 45 minutes to an hour away and I don’t want anyone worrying about transporting food, proper food temperature, etc. And I like controlling the menu. 

  • Guests can reserve space for up to two friends. Those new friends are then added to future invitation lists (with their permission). I like meeting new people and this is a great way to include folks I don’t know without the stranger danger.

  • At least six people need to make a reservation to prevent Supper Club cancellation. So far, this hasn’t been a problem.

Guests are invited to come 30 minutes before the meal is served. I usually put out a cheese board (the easiest appetizer for a crowd - see examples below) and friends gather around the island in the kitchen. It’s a more intimate space than the dining room and encourages introductions. It doesn’t feel like an ice breaker at all.

I began hosting Supper Club once a month. That was too frequent for everyone. So we’ve settled on one event each fall, winter and spring. With vacations and family activities, summers are just too busy.  

Each Supper Club is unique as attendees are always changing. The diversity of guests results in great conversations on everything from food production methods and local restaurants, to family issues and careers. Just depends who shows up. 

Dining room table set for a fall Supper Club. We grew the centerpiece!

A cheeseboards is an easy, fun first course.

Cheeseboard Ideas
I love cheeseboards because they’re great beginning noshes without any extra work. The best boards offer a mix of flavors, textures and colors, including: cheese, nuts, fresh or dried fruits, sweet spreads, crackers or flatbreads and fresh herbs. A few of my favorite combinations:
  • Cheddar, fresh apples, roasted pecans, seeded crackers, sage
  • Blue Cheese, honey or fig jam, fresh pears, spiced walnuts, whole grain crackers, rosemary
  • Feta, pitted whole dates, flatbread, pistachios, mint 
  • Swiss, plums or red grapes, smoked almonds, buttery crackers, parsley