Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rhubarb everything!

Dear fellow experimenters,

Rhubarb is a miracle plant.  It is botanically recognized as a vegetable, but in the United States, as of 1947, it is legally considered a fruit, for purposes of regulation and duties.

This is because of its uses - it is seen primarily in sweet dishes, as opposed to savory.  It is cultivated and valued for the tart, tangy flavor it lends to dishes.  It is scorned and disliked by many that I know because of the way it is commonly overcooked, undercooked, poorly cooked, and abused.

If you don't care for the delicious, tart flavor of a sweet Granny Smith apple, or the crisp tang of a rosy plum, then you would probably not like rhubarb dishes.  And if you don't like tough stringy fibers or soggy, watery filling, then you probably don't like overcooked undercooked poorly cooked and abused rhubarb.

Rhubarb must be treated properly.  Like the juice recipe two posts back, the next few recipes I will post call upon rhubarb solely for her properties of taste, and not of texture.  This is not to say rhubarb cannot be eaten in whole and for texture, for indeed when properly treated the cooked rhubarb should have a texture and quality something between an apple in a pie and sliced strawberries heated.  But we will address that ball of wax on another day.

For now, content yourself with the following recipes - both highly rated by all who have tasted them so far.  The below recipe is drawn from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I put my mods in italics, so if you wish to stick to the original you may.

Rhubarb Conserve
Makes about seven 8-oz jars.  We quadrupled the recipe and our yield was 13 pints.

4 cups finely chopped rhubarb
1/4 cup water
2 organic oranges, unpeeled, washed thoroughly (if you don't have veggie wash, use 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar - and a scrubbie, for even better results.  Read a blog article about a Cook's Illustrated article about vinegar and water here!), seeded, and finely chopped (minced)
1 organic lemon, unpeeled, seeded, and finely chopped (minced)
1 cup raisins (I would suggest currants, since they are smaller)
5 cups sugar (We quadrupled the recipe and used 15 cups) or 3-3/4 cups
1-1/4 tsp ground mace or nutmeg
2 pouches (each 3 oz) liquid pectin
1/2 cups chopped walnuts (we didn't use these)

Make sure your jars, lids, canner etc are ready before you begin, and the lemons and oranges are chopped - because this all goes pretty fast once it starts! 
In a large, deep stainless steel saucepan, combine rhubarb and water.  Partially cover and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Boil gently for 2 minutes, until rhubarb is softened.  Add oranges, lemon, raisins, sugar and mace, stirring until sugar dissolves,  Over high heat, stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.  Stir in pectin.  Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in walnuts (if using).  Skim off foam.

Ladle hot conserve into hot jars, leaving 1/4" headspace.  Burp and lid.

Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
(We took some of the hot conserve out of the pot and dripped it over yeasted corn muffins - my goodness it was delicious.................!) 
I had my suspicions about how it would taste with the peels and all in there, but they are small, chewy bursts of tart flavor, and are a necessary element!  An amazing recipe.  If you want to taste it before you try the recipe, come on over!

Enjoy, and happy canning to all!


Mrs H
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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Things change, things change; things just don't stay the same.

Dear companions and travelers on the way,

When I was probably about seven, my older sister Rebecca, who would have been around nine, went with my Dad to work for "Take Your Kid to Work" day.  She and Dad left nice and early in the morning, and I was still groggy in bed as I heard the car pull out.

It was a listless, warm afternoon, and I sat pathetically in the backyard observing the bleak and colorless future that would be mine; a life of endless days of lonely backyard play without my best friend and tenant in common.  I wandered around the trees in our backyard with my toy horse Black Gypsy, wondering what kind of strange jobs Rebecca would be executing at the Office.  She had joined the world of adults now, mature and aged creature that she was, and probably wouldn't even be interested in playing with me any more.  I picked a chunk of bark off the tree and found no interest in the ensuing rush of ants.  Normally this would be an exciting event, as one could follow the ants as they explored the ravines of the craggy bark, and watch them intersect on invisible highways known only to them, porting as it were bundles of building material.  But today, there was nobody to share it with.  There was no point in watching them; no pleasure in discovering their hiding places.

That evening Rebecca and Dad returned home in time for dinner; she had Cool Stuff like papers and pens.  She seemed totally normal and played with me after dinner with her horse Carmel, who was espoused some years ago to my Black Gypsy.  Both of them had four broken legs but seemed to survive and enjoyed a normal, although perhaps somewhat vertically challenged, life.  As normal a life as one can have, anyway, with over forty polyethylene children.

The next morning I came downstairs for breakfast.  I had heard the car pull away in the misty morning as usual, since the garage opening beneath my bedroom usual stirred me from my sleep.

Imagine my shock when I saw Rebecca sitting at the table, placidly eating her cereal!

"Mom!" I said.  "Why isn't Rebecca with Dad!?"

"She was only going for one day," Mom said casually, stirring the pot of oatmeal.

Glory be!  This was too good to be true!  Who knows why she had to go that one day - but who really cared?  Returned were the joyful days of building Viking houses for our horses and their myriad plastic offspring; returned was the thrill of tracking and hunting elusive squirrels with shoestring bows and arrows; again we could follow ants on their adventurous routes through the tree; once more the Everlasting Tower, a figment of our fertile imaginations, would continue to be built, with ever new and perilous rooms to be explored by the intrepid Tarbari and Tabina!

Time trickles down though, and yesterday morning Rebecca left for New Orleans to study music with the great ones there.  Our relationship is now not so much one of toy horses and Indian tipis in the backyard, although those are memories that will forever last as a part of our history.  Our relationship has matured and evolved, and can now be held over a long distance - to talk about things (gentlemen callers, perhaps), to learn from each other (that's called a glissando?  News to me!), and to pray for each other.

Sisters, sisters - there's nothing like 'em in the world!  Enjoy your stay in the Big Easy, big sister!



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Monday, August 23, 2010

Rhubarb juice? Yes, I kid you not.

Dear patriots of the press and internets,

"Yes, I know it's amazing.  You don't have to tell me twice!"

This is what I commonly find myself saying after serving guests a glass of sparkling, refreshing Sunshine Rhubarb juice.  Rhubarb was never a particular favorite of mine, but its appeal blossomed significantly when I found I could obtain virtually unlimited quantities, for free, from my mom-in-law Joan!

The following recipe is gleaned from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. It is absolutely delicious and refreshing!!!!

Sunshine Rhubarb Juice Concentrate

Makes about four pint (500mL) jars
12 cups sliced rhubarb (approx. 1-inch chunks)
4 cups water
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1-1/2 cups white sugar

1. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine rhubarb, water, lemon zest and orange zest.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly.  Reduce heat, cover and boil gently until rhubarb is soft, about 10 minutes (I know that stirring rhubarb while it cooks makes it tough, but don't worry about that here; the rhubarb will be strained and the toughened fibers discarded).  Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and orange juice.
2. Transfer to a dampened jelly bag or a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth set over a deep bowl.  Let drip, undisturbed, for at least 2 hours.  (I will here privately confess to you that I always squeeze and mash the jelly bag from time to time.  I don't care if my juice is clear - I like it foggy and tasty!)

3. Meanwhile, prepare canner jars and lids.
4. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine rhubarb juice and sugar.  Heat to 190F (88C) over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Do not boil. Remove from heat and skim off foam.
5. Ladle hot concentrate into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) headspace.  Lid.
6. Process for ten minutes.  Remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, remove jars.

Variation: For a basic rhubarb juice concentrate, omit the lemon and orange zest and juice, and reduce the sugar to 1 cup.  I have not tried this variation; I imagine you would want to use only slim, tart stalks for this option.  Of course, you can add more or less of whatever lemon, orange, etc. that you like.

To serve the rhubarb juice (best part!):  Mix to your taste with lemonade, lemon-lime soda, ginger-ale, sparkling water or club soda, cold water, etc.  If you have a home soda maker, this is the perfect syrup for your drinks.  The recipe suggests one part concentrate to one part water etc., but sometimes I use far less concentrate - depending on what I am adding it to.

A toast to summer!

Mrs H
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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Let's begin with breakfast, New Orleans style

Thanks for reading this post, I'm so excited to visit with you!  
After you've gleaned all the good information you need, visit our new blog platform at www.farmandhearth.com to read even more fascinating tidbits from the kitchen and the fields. 

Dear friends and avid cooks,

With the latter part of summer and the advent of fall, the fields yield their harvest and the fat fruits of the farmer's labor are brought en masse to local farmer's markets. This means the opening of canning season. It seems to be the beneficent hand of Providence that organized the timeliness of canning season with the cooling of the weather, and so the boiling water baths are brought out and the propane stoves are torched to life, and once again the bustle of peeling and mashing and stuffing and lidding begins.

With any event involving hard work, I think all my dear readers will agree that it is beyond important to provide good food for the laborers thereof. I recently enlisted the help of numerous family and friends to help with the washing, snapping, pressure canning, and pickling of some 160 lbs of plump green Fandango snap beans. For this event, it was necessary to have a good breakfast early in the morning to start the crew off on the right fork... err, foot. But breakfast on canning days must meet a few stringent requirements in my household: it must be hearty and tasty as a matter of course; it must require very little work because most of one's time is consumed with setting up stations and getting ready to leave for market; and it must make little or no mess and require only the dishes needed for consumption, to keep the sink and counters empty and clear.

Here is the breakfast which miraculously met every requirement, and went A and B the C of D for breakfast. It hearkens from a cookbook my mom and sisters brought back from New Orleans for me, called "Waking Up Down South: Southern Breakfast Traditions" by Patricia B. Mitchell. The only thing I changed was the bacon: the recipe called for cutting it into halves, but it is far easier to serve and eat if it is cut into bite size pieces. Feel free to serve as is, or with maple or fruit syrup.

Martha Asworth's Egg Casserole
Martha Ashworth is one of our town's best cooks. This sort of casserole seems to be a 20th century idea, and is ultra-popular in Dixieland.

7 slices white bread, preferably homemade, with crusts trimmed off (cutting the crust off is optional)
8 oz shredded Cheddar cheese
6 eggs
3 c. milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1tsp dry mustard
6 strips bacon, cut into bite-size pieces

Break bread into bite-size pieces and spread in a greased 9x13" baking dish. Top with cheese. Beat together eggs, milk and seasoning, and pour over bread and cheese. Lay the bacon strips on top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Then bake uncovered at 350F for 50 - 55 minutes Serves 6 - 8.

Note: If you wake up in the morning and decide this sounds good, it doesn't HAVE to be refrigerated overnight.  I've done it both ways and it's always delicious!

Yesterday, I made the following breakfast before canning peaches. This recipe also comes from the same book. The original recipe does not call for milk, but I included it. I've also included weights and bake times for two different sizes of balls.

Cindy's Sausage Balls
These savory morsels, introduced to us by local friend Cindy Motley, make fine apptizes or party food, perfect also on a brunch buffet table.

1 lb uncooked bulk pork sausage (I used spicy)
2 c biscuit mix
1 c Cheddar cheese, shredded
Milk as needed

Mix the ingredients with your hands, adding milk if or as needed to create a moist ball. Roll into little balls.  I refrigerated these overnight and baked them the next morning.
If the balls are approx. 20g ea: bake on a greased sheet at 350 for 15 minutes. Yield: about 50.
If the balls are approx. 40 g ea: bake on a greased sheet at 350 for 30 minutes. Yield; about 25.
Check for doneness before serving, with either size.  I used a roasting pan/drip pan to cut down on grease.

Serving suggestion: I served these with a pot of Scottish Oatmeal (Bob's Red Mill), which perfectly offset the greasiness and spiciness of the sausage.

Bon appetit - enjoy your breakfast in style!

with affection and good taste,

Mrs H
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