Sunday, September 28, 2008

picking in the rain

My sister Sarah sent me this photo on Friday.

It served as a friendly reminder that it's grape harvest time...right now! New Hampshire (where grape-eyed Nathan lives) is usually a week or two behind PA, and those grapes look to be at their peak; I panicked at the thought I might have missed my crop!

It's been a rainy weekend, but today was supposed to be less wet, so Michael and I decided to visit the swamp where we pick. By the time we got there it was pouring. I could see we'd missed peak harvest, being away last weekend, so I was determined to pick as much as I could. (Next weekend we'll be in San Fran, so this was my only chance.)

The grapes were so ripe they fell off the vine at the slightest touch. For every five I picked, one or two would slip through my fingers, leaving a little snack for the next fox/raccoon/groundhog that comes along. Despite the rain I picked enough for this year's pyment (a grape wine made with honey), and maybe even a small batch of spiced grape jelly. Was it worth the wet? You bet.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Stop your whinging

Bottling wine is a tedious process... one I usually put off as long as possible.

It's been a crazy, all-over-the-map summer, and I haven't kept up with my wine making. But now fresh batches of fruits and vegetables are piling up in the freezer, waiting to be turned into wine. And before I can start brewing anew, I need to free up a few 1-gallon jugs.

Today I got down to it and bottled 7 gallons of wine: 2 gallons of mixed fruit, 1 gallon of cabbage, 1 gallon of winter squash, 1 gallon of carrot, 1 gallon of pear, and 1 of apple. Each jug gives me four 750 ml. bottles and two 375 ml. bottles. I always use at least two half-bottles (the 375 ml. size) so I can taste the batch as the wine ages. It's amazing how the taste changes with time. Something that's barely palatable after 8 months is delicious after 2 years. If anything can teach me patience (and that's by no means certain), it will be wine-making.

Next I racked 3.5 gallons into fresh jugs (knotweed, lilac, and plain old grape!). As wine ages and before fermentation stops, you transfer it (rack it) from jug to jug, leaving behind the dead yeast cells (lees) that accumulate at the bottom of the jugs. Each batch usually has to be racked once or twice before fermentation stops and the wine can be bottled.

So what's on deck? Beet wine, plum wine, peach wine, blueberry wine, linden flower wine, elderberry wine...all waiting to be magically transformed from fruit into libation. And in case you're interested, my favorite recipe book for wine-making is Making Wild Wines & Meads.

True, bottling wine is a tedious process but I won't whinge about it. Because when I step back and look at my very full wine rack, I feel warm and friendly inside. Or maybe that's just the cumulative effect of all the samples I tasted today.

Friday, September 26, 2008

my culinary farewell to summer

I'm one of those people who clings to summer in all its glory. I don't care if school has started, I don't care if the fall equinox has come and gone. If it's warm enough to swim, if tomatoes and eggplant are still ripening on the's still summer. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Today doesn't feel like summer in Shohola. The leaves are turning, the temperature hasn't hit 60 all day, and taking the docks out of the lake tomorrow morning is NOT going to be fun. As my official goodbye to the summer garden, I decided to make something special: mirza.

I first tasted mirza at Persepolis, a fabulous Persian restaurant in our NYC neighborhood. I assumed anything that delicious must be difficult to make, but when I looked in the refrigerator this afternoon and saw the last two eggplants of the season, I decided to take up the challenge. I'm happy to report that while the taste is complex, it's actually quite simple to put together.

Here's my culinary farewell to summer. It's been swell, and I can't wait to do it again next year!

-2 medium eggplants
-2 medium onions, chopped
-8 cloves garlic, minced
-olive oil
-1 & 1/2 tsp turmeric
-1 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp pepper
-1 tomato, blanched, peeled, and chopped
-4 eggs, lightly beaten

In a 400 degree oven, roast the eggplants until they're soft. Let them cool, peel them and mash the flesh.
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil until they're golden brown; stir in turmeric, salt, and pepper.
Transfer eggplant mixture to food processor and add chopped tomato; puree.
Return puree to pan and cook over low heat for 5 minutes; pour eggs on top of eggplant and as they start to solidify, stir them into the eggplant mixture.

This can be served warm or at room temperature, scooped on pita bread or simply eaten with a spoon.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sweet and Spicy

I have conquered the pepper peach jelly! And it only took four years.

Even we experienced jelly-makers have our Everests; for me that's been pepper peach jelly. If it weren't so delicious I'd have given up years ago because I am not a patient woman. (I can hear you all laughing, so cut it out.) When it comes to good food I am perseverance personified.

I found the original recipe on Recipezaar, and while the ingredients were a tasty combo, the amounts just weren't right. I'd have to reprocess once, sometimes twice, to get the jelly to the right consistency. Sometimes it would take up to two weeks to jell. Each year I'd try a different set of proportions, and this year I am happy to share with you the accurate measurements for an excellent set. And such a pretty color.

Pepper Peach Jelly

3 lbs peaches
4 red jalapeno or habanero peppers
1/4 cup lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 box Ball powdered pectin

1. cut peaches into rough chunks and discard pits
2. slice jalapenos in half (taste the peppers to make sure they're hot enough; heat is subjective so please yourself here, but I opt for hotter as better)
3. add peaches and peppers to 1.5 cups water in a large saucepan
4. bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, mashing occasionally
5. strain through jelly bag to produce 3 cups juice; add water if necessary
6. pour juice into jelly pan with lemon juice
7. add powdered pectin (I use Ball instead of Sure Jell because it calls for less sugar. Also, for some reason I do not understand, the powdered works better than the liquid in this recipe.)
8. bring to a full rolling boil that can't be stirred down
9. add sugar, whisking thoroughly into the juice
10. return to a full roiling boil (that can't be stirred down) and boil for one minute (one minute!), while stirring contantly
11. remove from heat and skim foam
12. pour into jars (this makes approximately 6-7 eight ounce jars)
13. seal and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes
14. it takes a few hours to jell, so go out and weed the garden to take your mind off whether it's going to work or not
15. try this on top of cheese toast or baked Brie and silently thank me for saving you four years of disappointment and frustration

This has been a make-room-in-the-refrigerator-and-freezer weekend. As an experiment, I dehydrated some potatoes, since storing the large quantity that comes in from the CSA is always a challenge. Has anyone out there ever dried their own potatoes? I'd be happy for any tips.

Also, I'm heading for Portland, OR on Thursday for a Garden Writers' conference. Any suggestions on restaurants or good foraging in the area would be greatly appreciated. Perhaps even rewarded with a jar of pepper-peach jelly...