Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Plum Torte

This is a fairly moist, heavy, rich, sweet cake; it makes an excellent foil to tart plums. The batter will seem shockingly skimpy, and the plums will barely be sitting in it when the cake goes into the oven, but it will rise up and engulf them.

8 to 10 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Plum Torte
16 to 18 purple Italian or German plums
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup + 2 tablespoons soft whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Wash the plums, and cut them in half. Discard the pits.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 9" springform pan with parchment paper, and butter the sides lightly.

Cream the butter and sugar until light. Mix in the salt and almond extract, and beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix the flour and baking powder together, then stir into the wet ingredients until well blended.

Using a spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it out as evenly as you can. It will seem like barely enough to cover the bottom, but persevere. Then, take the plum halves and stick them in the batter standing up in circles, starting at the outside of the pan. Think stonehenge.

Bake the cake for 45 to 55 minutes, until firm on top and golden-brown all over.

Last year at this time I made Honey-Mint Glazed Carrots.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Korean Vegetable Pancakes

I've had these - or similar - in restaurants a number of times. They're very easy to make, as it turns out, and you can really put in whatever vegetables you like. Leftovers, even, I would think. They also often contain bits of fish or other seafood. I do think it's important to try and keep your vegetables and other additions a bit on the dry side, as otherwise the pancakes will not be crisp. Also, get them thin or they won't cook through. I did not entirely succeed in doing either of those things, so mine were on the soft side. We agreed they were very tasty though, and we will definitely make them again.

4 to 6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Korean Vegetable Pancakes
Make the Pancakes:
1 medium zucchini
1 medium carrot
3 to 5 green onions
2 cups all-purpose flour (I used half Red Fife and half soft whole wheat flour)
2 extra-large eggs
2 cups water
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
vegetable oil to fry

Wash and grate the zucchini, and squeeze out as much liquid from it as you can. Peel and grate the carrot, and wash, trim and chop the green onions. Set the vegetables aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs, water and tablespoon of oil. Fold in the vegetables.

Heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Ladle in about 1 cup of the batter, and spread it out as thinly as you can. (If the batter is too thick, add a little more water to the remaining batter.) Cook the pancake for 2 or 3 minutes, until the top starts to look dry, and the bottom of the pancake is crisp and browned in spots. Flip the pancake over and cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and cook the remaining batter in the same way, adding more oil to the pan as needed.

Cut the cooked pancakes into wedges and serve with the dipping sauce.

Make the Sauce:
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Stir or shake together until the sugar dissolves, and pass with the pancakes.

Last year at this time I made Hot & Sour Greens, and also we made Crabapple Jelly and Definitely Applesauce.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Aporkalypse Later

"If you receive an email from the Health Department warning you not to eat tinned pork products, delete it.

It's just Spam."

- current joke
Okay, that one cracked me up, I admit it. Almost all disasters are coped with through a certain amount of humour and once people had absorbed the appearance of a new pandemic disease, it wasn't long before the jokes flew.

Of course, I don't even need to say - do I? - that you can't get swine flu, or H1N1 flu as the pork marketers would like you to call it, from eating pork. (Am I the only one who wants to pronounce that "hinny"? Or should it be "hinie"?) You probably can't even get it from hanging out with pigs. But the association of pigs with this particular strain of influenza has opened a rich vein of humour, and the jokes have been passed around almost as fast as the virus.

Mind you, swine flu isn't a problem for the actual pigs; after all they're going to be cured anyway. And what is the difference between bird flu and swine flu? (You need tweetment for bird flu, and oinkment for swine flu.) You can't get that information from the health department; all you get when you call is crackling on the line. A lot of people are calling in sick with swine flu, but many of them are telling porkies; they're not actually breaking out in rashers. Pandemics of this scale only happen when pigs fly. Oh wait... swine flu.

Seriously, there are a lot of arguments for avoiding factory-farmed pork, but this isn't one of them. In the mean time, thus far, swine flu has turned out to be quite contagious (hence the pandemic part) but not particularly deadly. If you do eat pork, there are some good deals to be had, according to the weekly flyers. Apparently this has hit pork producers hard. And that's no joke.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Last Call for Ripe Tomatoes: Garden Peach (Yellow Peach) and Green Zebra

Garden Peach and Green Zebra Tomatoes
These were both rather late to produce for us; and there will be few more ripe ones than seen in the picture. This is not the fault of the tomatoes, but rather of the fact that we very nearly killed them as seedlings by watering them with salty water (from our deep well) so when they went out into the garden they were at least a month behind, and their survival did not seem at all certain.

However, once into some actual soil, however poor, and given better water, they revived and and thrived.

Garden or Yellow Peach:
One of the Garden Peach plants went on to become the biggest of all the tomato plants in the garden, including the pampered flourishing seedlings that came from the nursery. It was also quite loaded with fruit. The plants in general were amongst our largest. They are indeterminate and vigorous, and a good support or trellis will be required. The plants are broadly disease resistant and if you are not careful about picking up fallen fruit, you may get volunteers.

The fruits themselves are fairly small, a nice size for a single serving. I like that in a tomato, because I don't eat huge amounts of raw tomato, I just want a little in my sandwich or on my salad. They really do have an uncanny resemblance to peaches. The colour is reasonably convincing (I think mine could have been a tad riper), the shape is right, and even the skins have a sandy texture reminiscent of peach fuzz. Only the size and big green stems are a bit off. The flavour is mild and sweet. Some people give it rave reviews, others think it too mild. I have to say I like it a lot. No, it doesn't taste like peaches. That's a bit much to ask, don't you think?

According to William Woys Weber the Garden Peach was introduced into the United States from France in 1862. At that point it was known as the Yellow Peach, Peche Jaune, or Sorbet de Citron tomato. He recommends them for salads, sorbets - and marmalades, oddly enough. Will have to try that.

Unlike many heirloom tomatoes, the Garden Peach has a relatively long storage life. It should keep at least a week once picked, maybe longer, and their rather thick sturdy skins would make them fairly amenable to shipping. As heirloom tomatoes become more popular, I expect this one to show up in stores as a result of these two facts. Also, I do think it is best to peel this tomato before serving.

Green Zebra:
As you would expect from the name, this is a tomato striped in two shades of green, the light one heading into an olive-yellow as the tomatoes ripen. (Again, another few days of warm sunny weather on the vine would probably not have been a bad thing for my specimens.) They're medium to smallish in size, and my impression is that even if we had got the plants into the ground earlier and in better condition, they would not have been amongst the first to ripen. The plants are indeterminate, although they have not grown as large as the Garden Peach. They have had fewer, but larger, tomatoes. We have had no problems with disease in our garden this year, but they are reported to have good disease resistance, and to be hardy and vigorous plants.

The Green Zebra is comfortably at home amongst heirloom tomatoes, being an open-pollinated variety of unusual qualities. However, it was released in 1983 by Tom Wagner, who bred it using 4 other heirloom varieties. Since then it has become extremely popular. Green Zebras have a tangy, slightly citrusy flavour and a firm texture, and can be used as other tomatoes, raw or cooked, where you would normally use red tomatoes, or in dishes that traditionally use green tomatoes (fried, most notably). Being ripe when green, however, they have a sweetness lacking in green (unripe) tomatoes.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Corn & Potato Soup with Cilantro

I came across the idea of cilantro soup earlier this summer and have been quite taken with it. The first cilantro soup I made was clear; a broth thickened a little with tomatoes and onions, and then mixed with plenty of cilantro. Many traditional Mexican recipes that I've seen call for cream or cheese however, and I thought I would try that next. Somehow, I didn't get there; I ended up with this instead. I think I'm feeling a bit like I eat too much cheese and need to tone it down, also I had some lovely bacon in the fridge. With the fat cooked well out of it, I think bacon is actually a lighter and more digestible option than gobs of cheese. Of course, if you prefer, you could leave off the bacon and top the soup with a dollop of sour cream or soft goat cheese instead. The soup itself is very simple, and will adapt to a variety of garnishes.

The other cilantro soup was quite light, a good soup to serve as an appetizer. This soup is much more substantial, and will make a meal by itself.

4 to 8 servings
30 minutes prep time

Corn and Potato Soup with Cilantro
Make the soup:
4 cups chicken stock
1 or 2 bay leaves
4 medium potatoes
4 cobs of corn
salt & pepper
1/2 cup fresh cilantro

Put the chicken stock and bay leaf in a large pot. Wash and cut the potatoes into chunks, and cook them in the broth until tender. Meanwhile, husk the corn and cut the kernals from the cobs. Scrape the cobs. When the potatoes are half done, add the corn and scrapings to the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the bay leaf, and purée the soup with the cilantro until very smooth.

To Finish the Soup:
1 medium onion
6 to 8 slices of bacon

The soup can be made ahead, although it should in that case be re-heated with the vegetables whole and then puréed with the cilantro, to keep the cilantro as fresh and bright as possible.

Peel and chop the onion. Chop the bacon. If the bacon is fatty, it should be cooked first, until quite crisp, then drained and blotted. Drain most of the fat off, and cook the onion slowly until nicely soft and slightly browned in the same pan. Add the bacon back to heat through, then swirl the bacon and onions into the soup. If the bacon is very lean, they can be both cooked together at once.

If you prefer, just sauté the onion in a little oil, and top the soup with sour cream or a slice or two of goat cheese instead of the bacon.

Last year at this time I made Sweet Fruit "Pizza" Made with Basic Sweet Roll Dough. This was the first thing I had made in quite a while, since most of September was taken up with moving last year.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Final Report on the Sauerkraut

Plain and Hot Sauerkraut in Jars
The sauerkraut I made a few weeks back is now... sauerkraut. Successful sauerkraut. Hurray!

I checked it every day or two, and in spite of that I was caught a bit by surprise by the need to top up the brine. It really lost a lot during the fermentation process (the newspaper I threw out afterwards was pretty raunchy) and the tops of the kraut started to discolour a little before I realized how short of brine they were. However, I gave them their infusion of the brine and they turned pale and healthy looking again, and are fine. I guess I caught it before it became a problem. I made two more cups of brine and used pretty much all of it topping up my 4 and a bit jars. By that time, fermentation seemed to be complete, and no more overflowed. This was at least a week and a half, if not two, into the process.

So the plain one is your standard plain sauerkraut. The "kimchee flavoured" sauerkraut is not exactly kimchee flavoured. It still tastes remarkably like sauerkraut, but hot and spicy. It's good, just not all that kimchee-like. Oh well, I'll have no problems eating it up. It'll be pretty much all mine, mind you, since Mr. Ferdzy is not a fan of kraut. He loves my pickles, and he loves kimchee, so I am a bit perplexed that sauerkraut doesn't make the cut, but there it is.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Picking Apples & Tomatoes

It occurs to me that I haven't said much about the garden lately. It's still there of course, and we are still out there on a regular basis. It's mostly weeding and watering at the moment, interspersed with picking things. Our property came with 7 or 8 ancient old apple trees, from the time it was a commercial orchard. Last year they hardly produced an apple, but this year a couple of the trees are bearing reasonably well, so we decided to pick some of them. Well, we... Mr. Ferdzy picked, I supervised.

From the one tree we picked these two baskets of 40 pounds each, plus another bucket of 10 pounds. At least a bushel. We don't know what kind of tree it is, but suspect that it's Northern Spy, Empire or Ida Red. My immediate impression was that they were afflicted with every disease known to apples, but a brief cruise on the internet showed me that all they have is scab. Scab is enough, mind you, but given the impressively long list of apple diseases and pests it could have been much worse. After last year we were sort of writing them off, but this reasonably clean bill of health will encourage us to fertilize, prune and possibly spray the trees (organically).

We've turned one of the baskets into applesauce, and will do the same with the rest. Thanks to the scab, these won't keep too well and that's really all they are suited for. Still, it's good applesauce.

Our other big project for the fall is to get this load of composted elk manure onto the vegetable beds. The big hold-up at this point is that we still haven't dug most of them. However, we need to get this shifted before the snow flies, so it will be back to the digging shortly.

Here are the main veggie beds. At this point their main feature is the strange maze-like set up of electric fence around them. We had placed a wide arc of single strand electric fence around the yard in the early summer. For a while it seemed to work. Then at some point in the late summer, the deer figured out how to sneak under it. Mr. Ferdzy set this rat maze up around most of the remaining vegetables that had survived their depradations, and that they seemed most interested in. Of course, this didn't include the soy beans or peanuts which they had not even sniffed at so far as we could see at that point, but deer are practical as well as sneaky, and they promptly ate them in lieu of their more desired treats. Rat-bastards. Giant rat-bastards.

We started some late spinach and lettuce in this enriched bed and it has done far, far better than the ones we planted in the spring thus far. If we can keep the deer out of it, it should keep us going for another month or so. We may try mulching some of the spinach and overwintering it.

And finally, here are the tomatoes. We picked our biggest harvest yet from them; about 4 quarts. They are looking a little ratty as we had a light frost the night before, somewhat to our shock. The weather forcast said it was only going to get down to 6°C, so we were not expecting it. Had we known we would have covered them with some blankets. Still, they survived and now it looks like we should have at least a week of considerably warmer temperatures. Hopefully we will be able to harvest a bunch more ripe tomatoes. Even so I expect there will be a lot of green ones at the end. I had better haul out some of my recipes for them.

Here's the tomato haul displayed by variety. Being tomato barbarians we just canned them all up. Shocking, I know.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Eggplant Parmesan

This is not, I confess, a terribly authentic eggplant parmesan. The real thing involves frying in olive oil, and eggs, and breadcrumbs, and stuff like that and I really can't be arsed; not to mention that even with this version the amount of fat in it strikes me as elegantly sufficient. If you are able to brush the eggplant with a little oil and grill it before you assemble the casserole, I suspect that would be a very good thing.

2 hours - 1/2 hour prep time

Eggplant Parmesan
2 medium eggplants
2 cups tomato sauce
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano
2 large tomatoes (optional)
250 grams (1/2 pound) mozzerella cheese
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Peel the eggplants and cut them in half. Slice each half into slices about 1 cm thick; you should get three or four of them. Keep them together in sets. Salt the slices and put them aside to drain for about half an hour, then rinse them and pat them dry. If you don't do this, the eggplants will exude quite a lot of juice as they cook. If you are serving these with rice, you may decide that isn't a terrible thing and skip this step.

Mix the herbs with the sauce. Slice the tomatoes, if using. Slice the mozzerella cheese and grate the Parmesan.

Lightly oil a baking pan that will hold the eggplant halves fairly snugly. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pour a little of the sauce over the bottom of the pan, and lay the largest slice from each set of eggplant halves in the pan. Top each slice with a little more sauce, some mozzerella, and a tomato slice, if using. Top with the next slice of eggplant and repeat.

When the eggplant halves are re-assembled, pour any remaing sauce over and cover the dish with foil. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the eggplant is quite tender. Remove the foil and sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the eggplants. Return to the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes, until well browned. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving, if only because it will be brutally hot otherwise. Careful; it might be brutally hot anyway.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Broccoli Salad with Bacon, Cranberries & Onion

Do you know this salad? It was quite popular when I was a young adult, in the early '80's. I suspect it was an invention of the 1970's "health food" movement, which took the charmingly naive view that vegetables were healthy, but fat and sugar were what tasted good, and so created a number of dishes requiring the metabolism of a race-horse to digest, but which had vegetables and whole grains, and so were "healthy". Carrot cake was a prime offender in this catagory as well. Ah me. Reality has turned out not to be quite so simple.

Anyway, I looked up a bunch of versions of this recipe, and they all seemed pretty similar, including the fact that many of them called for 1/2 cup of sugar in the dressing. Now, while I do think a touch of sweetness is required here to balance out the onion, that is just wretched. I took it out and replaced it with a bit of apple butter, which also adds a bit of a subtle tang, and which is plenty of sweetness for my taste.

This salad was a popular one for pot-lucks. It does well made in advance, and in fact it's best if you can do so. It's quite simple and doesn't have a huge, long list of ingredients, but it is a bit fiddly.

6 servings
1 hour prep time - an hour or two to rest

Broccoli Salad with Bacon Cranberries and Onion
Make the Dressing:
1/3 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons apple butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
OR wedges of lemon
salt & pepper to taste

Blend the above ingredients together in a large salad bowl. When adding salt, keep in mind the bacon; and adjust according to how salty it is.

You can put in a little lemon juice, or if you prefer you can leave it out, and pass lemon wedges to be squeezed over by the consumers of the salad.

Make the Salad:
2 medium-small heads of broccoli
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
150 grams (1/4 pound) bacon
1/2 of a medium-small red onion
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or raisins)

Wash and trim the broccolis, and peel the stems. Cut them into quite small pieces; I break the broccoli into florets and them chop them with a large knife. Put a pot of water on to boil and blanch them for 2 or 3 minutes. Rinse in cold water and drain well once cool.

Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sunflower seeds and toast them, stirring constantly, until they are mostly browned. Turn them out onto a plate to cool.

Chop the bacon, and sauté it in the skillet until quite crisp. Drain and let cool.

Peel and chop the onion finely.

Add the broccoli, onion and cranberries or raisins to the dressing and mix well. Cover and set in the fridge for 1 to 24 hours, to allow the flavours to blend. Just before serving, mix in the sunflower seeds and bacon bits. If you think there will likely be leftovers, you may wish to pass them separately, so that they will not go soggy as the salad sits.

If you like, pass with some wedges of lemon to squeeze over.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Mushrooms Are Mysterious

"Once the rains stopped in April the chantarelles were done for the year, and there wouldn't be another important mushroom to hunt until the morels came up in May. I used the time before then to read about mushrooms and talk to mycologists, hoping to answer some of the questions I had collected about fungi, a life form I was beginning to regard as deeply mysterious. What made mushrooms mushroom when and where they did? Why do chantarelles associate with oaks and morels with pines? Why under this tree and not that one? How long do they live? Why do some mushrooms manufacture deadly toxins, not to mention powerful hallucinogens and a range of delicious flavours? I brought the gardener's perspective to these plantlike objects, but of course they're not plants, and plant knowledge is all but useless in understanding fungi, which are in fact more closely related to animals than they are to plants."

Michael Pollan, from "The Omnivore's Dilemma"
Don't have much to add to that. People get obsessed with mushroom hunting. It's wildly exciting to find edible wild mushrooms - hey, free food! Two of my favourite things in one place. But they do seem mysterious, even magical, in that they will show themselves to you or not.

I note, however, that when Mr. Ferdzy and I were in Spain a few years ago I had minor cause (unrelated to mushrooms) to visit the emergency room in Pamplona. We were amused and a bit horrified to see that the main decorative features of the room were 2 gigantic posters identifying different species of poisonous mushrooms - presumably so that expiring visitors could point as they gasped their last, "este, fue este". On the other hand, Mr Ferdzy's dad has been an assiduous mushroom hunter for years. It makes our hair stand on end, but he's still around and kicking, and hasn't even had any bad experiences that we've heard of. It can be done, with a bit of care and a good guide.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Purple Viking Potatoes

Purple Viking Potatoes
More purple food. There's been an awful lot of purple food this month, don't you think? Not that I'm complaining; I love purple especially when you have things like these great Purple Viking potatoes with their psychedelic magenta streaks peeking through the darker skins. Inside they are a stark white, and they cook up as light and fluffy mashed or baked potatoes, although they are said be good for frying as well. In short, a good all-purpose potato. Quite a few people describe it as "the best tasting potato".

They are often described as slightly sweet, which I don't find at all; they have a good intense earthy potato-y flavour to me. They are described as good keepers, although I doubt we will find out, as I expect we will eat our crop of them pretty quickly. They are good, no question. There are a lot of novelty potatoes out there at the moment, but this is a real potato-lovers potato, light and mealy. I found the skins thin and easily damaged when I washed them - you can see a couple of light spots on the potatoes in the picture where it came off. These are mostly medium-sized to large potatoes; a couple of them were very large; even the small one at the bottom of the picture was about the size of a golf ball.

The plants are compact, and resistant to scab and leaf-hoppers, or so they say. Drought resistant and tolerant of poor weather; they should be ready to harvest in about 85 days. On the other hand they are apparently susceptible to late blight and a host of other fungi, bacteria and viruses. They were bred in North Dakota in 1953 and seem generally well adapted to growing in Canada.

NOTE ADDED: 03/05/2012. Having now grown these for several years, I can now say that although I love these potatoes and still intend to grow them regularly, they are amongst our worst potatoes for storing. You should really expect to use them by mid-January at the latest. 

Friday, 18 September 2009

Eggplant, Potatoes, Tomatoes & Bean Stew

Here's a simple vegetable stew a bit like a ratatouille, but with beans and potatoes instead of peppers and zucchini. We added some ready-made curry paste to this (Patak's Madras to be precise) then served it over rice, which changed it quite a bit, but not for the worse. You could omit the Mediterranean herbs and use curry paste right at the start if you like.

4 servings
1 hour prep time

Eggplant Potato Tomato and Bean Stew
1 large onion
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
2 medium eggplants
2 cups chopped green or yellow wax beans
6 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
6 medium potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
1 teaspoon rubbed oregano

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Peel the eggplant and slice it fairly thin, then cut it into bite-sized pieces. Trim and chop the beans. Peel and coarsely chop the tomatoes.

Wash the potatoes, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a large pot with water to just cover them, and boil them until they are just tender. Once they have cooked for about 15 minutes and are nearly done, add the beans.

Meanwhile, sauté the onion in a tablespoon or so of the oil in a large skillet, until soft and just showing signs of browning. Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two longer. Remove the onions from the pan into a dish and set them aside. Put about half the remaining oil into the skillet, and sauté the eggplant until it is softened and browned in spots. Add more oil if it needs it, which it probably will. Spoon out some water from the potatoes into the pan of eggplant once it is well on the way to being browned, and cook it down a bit.

Once the water is gone from the eggplant, and it looks quite soft and browned, add it to the pot of potatoes and beans. Add the chopped tomatoes and the seasonings to the stew, and cook until well amalgamated; another 10 minutes or so.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Giant Puffball Mushrooms

Look what Mr. Ferdzy found in the lawn! No, it's not a zombie brain. It's a giant puffball! As usual with pretty much everything in the garden, the deer found it first and took a nibble but for once they left enough for us. I hustled it into the kitchen, licking my chops. There are very few wild mushrooms I feel confident enough about absolutely accurate identification to eat, but this is one of them. They're big and roundish, they're smooth although they may have "craters" (and the top may split a bit), and when you cut them in half they are solid white throughout. If it isn't solid white, it is either something else, or past the period in which you would wish to eat it. On the other hand, there just isn't anything else out there that fits this description.

The skin, though smooth, is a bit leathery and should be peeled off, along with any discoloured or damaged spots. Check for bugs; as with most good-tasting plants you aren't the only one who wants to eat it. Then slice the mushrooms about a centimetre (half an inch) thick and fry them. You can dip them in batter first, or not. Beaten egg and breadcrumbs are a popular option. They are quite mild, although with a most definite subtle and lingering mushroom flavour, so it is best not to overwhelm them with too many other strong flavours. Still, with their solid white flesh and gentle flavour they are very versatile and can be used in most dishes where you would use button mushrooms. Once sliced and fried, they have a texture not unlike that of tofu.

I dipped mine in a batter of egg and rice flour then pan-fried the slices in a little oil. Delicious. At least, I thought so. Mr. Ferdzy was underwhelmed; he thought they were dull. However, we found another two after this one. One of them went to a pot-luck, where it was simply fried in butter and subsequently it disappeared quite quickly.

Puffball Mushroom on Foodista

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


Everybody knows ratatouille, right? Especially after the release of the movie by the same name. But it wasn't always that way. The first eggplant I ever saw was when I was about 4. We were living in Mexico, and Francisco, the ancient* gardener at the house we were staying in had some growing in the garden. I was fascinated by them - so big and voluptuously shaped, so shiny, so purple! I was sure they would be fabulous. Francisco gave one to us, and the resulting grey slimy mess after my parents cooked it was a bitter disappointment to us all. Literally. Well, they had never really seen one before either, I don't think. They (eggplants, not my parents) just weren't something to be found in the groceries of Ontario at that time.

We didn't have another eggplant for about 10 years. Then eggplants started to be available in Ontario and Mom aquired that seminal cookbook of the time, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and she made the ratatouille recipe in it. The clear instructions on cooking, particularly the advice on salting and draining the eggplant to remove the bitter compounds, created quite a different experience. Eggplant, we discovered, was good. Ever since then when I get an eggplant, the first thing I think of making is ratatouille.

Our modern recipe is more relaxed and rustic than Julia Child's, but it's still very good. It's absolutely perfect for using all the vegetables of early fall. To make it even easier, a number of varieties of eggplant are now available, many of which are not nearly as bitter - if at all- as those earlier ones. There's a lot of oil in this, so a good quality one is important.

4 servings
1 hour prep time

1 medium eggplant
2 medium zucchini
1 medium-large onion
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
6 large tomatoes
1 medium sweet/mild pepper, just about any kind you like
- Red Shepherd are good for this
1/4 cup olive oil, more or less
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
2 bay leaves

Peel the eggplant, and cut it into 1/4" slices, which should then be cut into bite-sized pieces. Wash and slice the zucchini into pieces of about the same size. Sprinkle them both generously with salt, and set them aside in a colander to drain for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Core and chop the tomatoes (peel them first, if you like.) Deseed and chop the pepper.

Sauté the onion and pepper gently in about a tablespoon of oil. When it is soft and the onions are turning golden, add the garlic and cook for a couple minutes more. Remove them to a stove-top casserole or heavy-bottomed pot. Add the tomatoes to them, and turn the heat on to low. Simmer them gently while you rinse and dry the eggplant and zucchini.

Sauté the eggplant in 3 or 4 tablespoons of oil. (I always try to use less, and it always doesn't work. Eggplant is just a sponge for oil, and if there isn't enough, it will scorch rather than browning nicely.) When it is nicely browned (because you have used enough oil) add it to the stewing vegetables. Cook together for about 10 minutes until well amalgamated. Add a smidge of water if it seems like it might stick or scorch.

Now sauté the zucchini, again fairly gently, until lightly browned throughout. Add it to the stew and simmer for 5 minutes more. I like to do it this way because the eggplant, peppers and tomatoes become soft and stewy, but the zucchini still retains a bit of crunch and greenness.

Good hot, warm or cool as a salad, as a main dish with rice and a bit of cheese, or topped with a poached or fried egg, otherwise as a side dish to roast or broiled meat.

*He really was ancient. He was, I think, over 100 years old - surely not!?** - but he had been a drummer boy in the Mexican revolution, that I do know for sure. If only I had known, at 4, how to really talk to him, what a chance that would have been!

**No. Funny the things one gets told as a child and just accepts as gospel. A little arithmetic tells me he couldn't have been much above 70. Somebody was pulling my leg. Well he did seem as old as the hills to a 4 year old. Even so, the history he had seen...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Damson Plums

Damson Plums
Damson plums are an ancient fruit, and were well known to the Romans, who were likely responsible for introducing them throughout Europe. They were known as prunus damascenum, the Damascus plum, which became corrupted to damson. It is likely that they did indeed originate near Damascus, now in modern-day Syria. They were cooked, dried, made into wines and liqueurs, and even used as dye. German plum kuchen, the slavic drink Slivovitz, English plum jam and flavoured gins, and Hungarian plum dumplings are all based on the Damson plum.

They came to North America with the earliest European settlers, and remained popular until quite recently. They are losing ground now, as fewer people grow them, know them, and consume them. Their downfall is the fact that they are not very nice to eat raw, being small and sour. They are also a bit tedious to pick, being small, so farmers don't necessarily love them. When you do find them, then, you will likely pay more for them than other plums. The fact is they are also a bit of a chore to cook with, as they are clingstone, meaning that the pits must be wrestled out of the flesh, or the fruit must first be cooked then de-pitted. In spite of these drawbacks, I eagerly hunt them out every September: they are worth all the effort. They are, without exception, the best domesticated plum for cooking. Damson plum jam is suberb.

However, when I bought mine the lady who was selling them was bubbling over about plum liqueur, and couldn't be stopped from giving me the recipe in great detail until I had to flat-out tell her I don't drink alcohol. I will pass on to you the gist of it, in case you do drink alcohol, and I am told this is a treat not to be missed. Wash and lightly stab (with a pin, or some such thing) your damsons, and put them in a sterilized jar of sufficient size to hold both damsons and alcohol. Take some alcohol; brandy, vodka or gin according to your desire, (I've heard kirsch suggested) and pour it over. Seal up, and set it away in a cool dark spot for a month or two. Then, strain it, discarding the plums. Taste the resulting liqueur, and add as much sugar as seems good to you.

Damson Plum on Foodista

Monday, 14 September 2009

Arepas with Corn & Cheese

Arepas are the tradtional "bread" of Columbia and Venezuela, and on up into Central America; thick (or thin, depending on where they are from) patties made from pre-cooked cornmeal, and cooked on a griddle or lightly fried. They are often split apart, and filled like sandwiches, likewise other materials are often added and cooked into them. The most commonly available corn meal for these is P.A.N. brand. I'm pretty sure this meal is often used to make pupusas as well.

I bought some in a little take-out restaurant one time, and got talking with the proprietor about them. She was describing how they varied from one location to another; some larger, some smaller, some thicker, some thinner. It gave me the courage to try them myself, and I have gone ahead and developed my own style: thick, uneven and cracked! Never mind, they taste just fine. Even better with corn and cheese added to the batter.

8 arepas
20 minutes prep time

Arepas with Corn and Cheese
100 grams (1/4 pound) feta cheese, crumbled
1 cup arepa meal
2 large cobs of corn
1 cup boiling water
oil to fry

Crumble the cheese into a medium mixing bowl, and add the arepa meal. Mix, and set aside.

Husk the corn, and cut the kernals from the cobs. Scrape the cobs. Put the kernals and scrapings of corn into a food processor or blender. Add the boiling water and process briefly, until blended but still a bit chunky.

Mix the corn and liquid into the meal and cheese. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, cover the bottom of a large skillet generously with oil, and heat over medium-high heat. With wet hands, form the mixture into flat, hamburger shaped (and sized, pretty much) patties and put them in the oil, 3 or 4 or however many fit in the pan. Cook them for about 3 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Keep the finished arepas warm in the oven as you cook the rest of them, adding more oil to the pan as needed.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Listada de Gandia Eggplant

Listada de Gandia Eggplants
Is this a beautiful eggplant, or what? Eggplants in general are very attractive fruits, but I think Listada de Gandia takes the prize as the most gorgeous. In fact, there are said to be 3, 5 or 10 slightly varying strains of it (depending on the source) in degrees of cream and mauvey-purple stripes. This white-grounded strain seems to be the most common and best suited for growing around here.

It is generally described as an Italian heirloom variety dating from the mid 19th century, which it plainly is not. Occasionally it is decribed as being from France, which is much closer. A very little investigation shows that it is in fact ultimately Spanish. Gandia is a town on the coast of the Mediterranean sea, about halfway between Valencia and Alicante. Spain is also the traditional source of nearly half of 20 varieties of striped eggplant. The confusion likely arises since "listada" is a word shared between Portuguese, Spanish and Italian; it means striped. The "de" rather than "di" is also a hint that it is Spanish, not Italian. On the other hand, the seeds in circulation in North America may be different enough from the "berenjenas listada de Gandia" actually grown in Gandia, as to constitute a rather different plant. Mind you, the Gandians are looking for a designated appellation for their eggplants, so you should perhaps take that with a grain of political salt. William Woys Weaver, in his wonderful book "Heirloom Vegetable Gardening" describes it as "introduced into southern France in the early 1850's as the Striped Guadaloupe". It is quite possible, I suppose, that it had crept up the coast from Spain and into France by that time. Or it may be that the Gandians are quite correct and this is a different eggplant than the one they grow, in spite of the name. Weaver describes it as an old cross between a purple and a white variety. I confess it all seems quite unclear to me.

The plant is rather short and squat, growing 18" to 2' tall, and about the same width. The eggplants are about 6" to 8" long, and once fertilized, the transition from flower to ripe fruit is remarkably quick; a matter of 3 weeks or so in good conditions. These are apparently also one of the easiest eggplants from which to save seed. In spite of this, Ontario growers need to be a bit careful with Listada de Gandia; the plants are thought to be day-length sensitive, and they do best in good hot weather. In other words, the timing for planting these out is important. You can expect 2 to 4 eggplants per plant, depending on conditions. Row covers are probably useful. Eggplants don't have too many pests around here; the worst are flea-beetles and the Colorado Potato beetle, which should be called the eggplant beetle as it will never touch a potato if it can get its hot little mandibles on an eggplant. These can both ravage young plants, but will do mostly cosmetic damage on older, established plants. They are subject to the same diseases as tomatoes and potatoes, and should not be grown on ground where they have grown in the last few years. Even more than tomatoes, they will be gone with the first breath of frost.

Friday, 11 September 2009

White Lady Peaches

White Lady Peachee
There doesn't seem to be a lot of information out there about White Lady peaches; they are a relatively recent hybrid from Zaiger's Genetics, and much of the information turned up by Google is plainly just advertising copy posted and re-posted. However, they seem to be quite popular and reasonably widely available.

I bought these on impulse just because they are so different in colour from most of the golden-fleshed peaches that have been the standard for decades. Unlike some of the other white fleshed peaches I have tried, these actually have a good flavour, although they are noticeably milder than the Harrow Beauty (still my favourite!) I bought at the same time.

Most white fleshed peaches are what are described as "sub-acid" meaning they are less acidic than the darker fleshed peaches. Less acid makes them seem sweeter, but it also means less flavour.

White fleshed varieties of peaches have been becoming popular in the last few years. At first I greeted this trend with enthusiasm; what could be wrong with having more kinds of peaches? But lately I'm starting to wonder if this trend isn't part of the general dumbing down of our national taste-buds that I've been observing for some years; where intense and interesting flavours are replaced with something sweet and bland.

Fortunately White Lady seems to strike a balance; not too tart but still with good peachy flavour and a slightly musky, slightly floral aroma. They are often described as free-stone, but they are also often described as semi-freestone and that strikes me as more accurate; you'll have to pry a bit to get the pit out, although it will come out. Unlike many white fleshed peaches, these have a nice strong red flush to the skin, which may also speckle the flesh. This makes them more attractive than some white peaches, and may also be the source of their good flavour. The skins are supposed to be low in fuzz, but they seemed to me to be about the usual. Nothing wrong with that. A little fuzz is part of the peach experience. They should be available in early to mid September in Ontario. One report I read suggested that they don't can particularly well, so you may wish to stick to eating them fresh.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Lentil & Eggplant Salad

Amazing that this is the first eggplant dish I have posted since I started this blog. It's not that I don't like eggplants, it's just that they're not around for long, and I guess I was distracted during both of the other eggplant seasons in which I was blogging. This salad happened because I bought an eggplant without any plan, and then I bought some chipotle chile powder at Bulk Barn, and got some cilantro at Keady and thought they could all be combined to good effect.

We enjoyed this salad quite a bit, although I am a bit disappointed in the chipotle powder. It had an odd quality about it that did not seem right but I could not quite put my finger on it until I looked it up in wikipedia. Bingo - the odd flavour was of those "hickory" flavoured potato sticks, and the culprit was liquid smoke. Bah, humbug. Is nothing sacred? Apparently not. Next time I will use my smoked Spanish paprika instead, although if you could get some real chipotle chile powder I think it would be amazing.

For the tomatoes I used little yellow and gold ones out of our garden. *smug, smug*

4 servings
1 hour prep time - also allow 1/2 hour to rest

Lentil & Eggplant Salad
Cooking in Advance:
1 large purple (Italian type) eggplant
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup raw brown, green or de Puy lentils
2 cups water

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the eggplant, and pierce it in several places with a fork. Set it in a roasting pan to catch the drips, with the garlic cloves under it, and roast it until quite soft; about an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the lentils in the water until tender; rinse, drain and cool.

When the eggplant and garlic are roasted, let them cool. If you fear the eggplant might be bitter, split it open and sprinkle generously with salt. Let it sit for about an hour, then rinse it out.

Peel the eggplant, and dice it. Mince the garlic and mix it with the eggplant, and the drained cool lentils.

Finish the Salad:
1/3 cup minced cilantro
black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle or hot smoked paprika
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
the juice of 1/2 lemon
2 or 3 shallots, or a small onion
1 tablespoon sunflower seed oil
2-3 tablespoons sunflower seed oil more

Wash, dry and mince a good handful of cilantro. Add it, with a good grind of black pepper and the chipotle or paprika, to the lentils and eggplant. Dice the tomatoes and add them, with the lemon juice.

Finely mince the shallots, and sauté them until soft and golden in 1 tablespoon of oil. Add them to the salad, and mix in the remaining oil. Let the salad rest for at least 1/2 hour before serving.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Marshville Heritage Festival

Marshville Heritage Festival
On Saturday we went to the Marshville Heritage Festival, which is held each labour day weekend in - wait for it - Wainfleet. At the Marshville Heritage Village; admittedly not too far from Marshville.

Marshville Heritage Festival
It didn't particularly have anything to do with food, apart from there being lots, much of it better than your average fair food. However, we are up to our eyebrows in canning tomato sauce at the moment so there's nothing else new to post about.

Marshville Heritage Festival
Many of the participants get into the spirit of the thing by wearing vaguely old-timey costumes.

Marshville Heritage Festival
Normally, the place is a museum of old buildings. It's still a museum of old buildings during the festival of course, but the place is packed. It would probably be better to visit the museum some other time, because it's well worth seeing properly, and concentrate on the craft and food vendors that flood the place for the heritage festival.

Marshville Heritage Festival
Soup from an open kettle - an inexpensive, healthy and delicious festival tradition.

Marshville Heritage Festival
The arena is full of vendors. There's maple syrup and fudge back there, as well as preserves and all kinds of crafts.

Marshville Heritage Festival
Outdoors, too. A very nice selection of crafts overall; definitely better than average.

Marshville Heritage Festival
What makes the Marshville Heritage Festival a stand-out though, is their large exhibitions of antique farm machinery, much of it supplied and run by members of the Niagara Antique Power Association. This 1907 bean-thresher belongs to the museum, though.

Marshville Heritage Festival
The bean-thresher in action.

Marshville Heritage Festival
And this guy is making bales of hay the old fashioned way - hay goes into the hopper by muscle-power.

Marshville Heritage Festival
The other fabulous thing about the Marshville Festival is the huge display of really choice old cars. There are obviously a lot of antique car fanciers in the Niagara region, and they turn out in droves for this festival. Saturday was for cars up to 1950 only (1950 to 1973 on Sunday) so they really were good old cars. This one from the 1920's. I didn't take notes. It might be a Ford Model A but don't quote me on that.

Marshville Heritage Festival
Just one small section.

Marshville Heritage Festival
Special Deluxe! *Sigh* They don't make 'em like that anymore. Just as well, in a lot of ways, but still...

Marshville Heritage Festival
Oooh! Shiny! And dates back to 1913! A cadillac, no less; a luxurious car that looked more modern than the Ford for the masses from at least 10 years later.

Marshville Heritage Festival
Glamourous old 1930's Hudsons.

Marshville Heritage Festival
A worn medallion and a great combination of textures.

Marshville Heritage Festival
There's my dad! Next to a 1929 Ford of the same model his father drove until he was 5, and which he remembers quite well. Pop-pop's was black, though.

Marshville Heritage Festival
We stayed overnight in Port Colborne and had breakfast before we left, in a restaurant by the canal. As we were coming out, a ship went through. This photo really doesn't give any sense of just how huge these things are. If you can get out in the country a bit to see them, it's also quite surreal to see them sailing calmly through the farmland.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Tomato & Garlic Soup with Vegetables

My soupy summer continues; we picked several baskets of tomatoes from the garden yesterday, along with some zucchini, and soup was the result. This is a very garlicky Mexican style soup; you can use less garlic if you like, but it really is very good with the full amount.

6 servings
30 minutes prep time

Tomato and Garlic Soup with Vegetables
Make the Broth:
1 stalk of celery
1 medium onion
OR 4 shallots
6 to 8 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon olive or other oil
4 cups diced tomatoes
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 or 3 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon oregano

Wash and chop the celery. Peel the onion or shallots, and slice them. Peel and slice the garlic. Heat the oil in a large skillet or heavy-bottomed pot, and sauté the celery and onion or shallots gently until the onion shows signs of browning. Add the garlic slices, and continue sautéing until the garlic is softened and very fragrant; don't let it get more than lightly browned.

While the celery and alliums are sautéing, wash and chop or slice the tomatoes coarsely. Add them to the skillet, and cook for about 10 or 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, but otherwise keeping them covered.

Put the cooked vegetables into a blender or food processor and blend until very smooth. Return the soup to the pot. Use the two cups of water to swish out the blender, and add it to the soup as well, with the seasonings. Let the soup simmer gently while you prepare the vegetables.

Finish the Soup:
2 medium zucchini
1 tablespoon olive or other oil
2 cups small cauliflower florets
1 cup diced green beans
2 cups of water

Wash and slice the zucchini, and sauté it until softened and lightly browned in the oil. Add them to the soup. Meanwhile, have the cauliflower and green beans prepared, and cook them in the water until just tender. Add them to the soup as well. Let the soup simmer for about 5 minutes to blend the flavours.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Amish Paste Tomatoes & Opalka Tomatoes

Amish Paste Tomatoes
Amish paste tomatoes, above, and Opalka tomatoes, below.

Opalka Tomatoes

I figured I'd double up on these ones, as they are quite similar in my experience. These are both paste tomatoes; that is, they were developed for cooking and canning, rather than eating fresh, although they are both very decent to downright tasty tomatoes raw, when fresh from the garden. I have found them both productive of very large, long red fruits that ripen at about the same time (on the early side) and are produced at about the same rate. In short, if I couldn't get one I'd be happy to get the other. I do want to grow at least one of these each year though, and in fairly large numbers, as these are our standard paste tomatoes; the ones that do better than any others we've tried thus far, including modern hybrids. This is true not only of this years' garden (new and experimental, after all) but was also true in the various allotment gardens we have had over the years.

According to Tatiana's Tomato Base, Amish Paste came out of an Amish community in Medford, Wisconsin, and dates from as far back as the 1870's. Tom Hauch of Heirloom Seeds collected it in Pennsylvania from another Amish community, and from him it found its way into the Seed Savers Exchange and thus came into wide circulation. It is now readily available from many of the smaller seed houses.

People in cooler, variable climates such as ours tend to give it better reports than growers in the southern U.S., although most growers seem to agree that the plants are very disease resistant, particularly to blight. These tomatoes are a little shorter and chunkier than the Opalka, although they seem to be quite variable; perhaps due to growing conditions, or perhaps depending on where you source your seeds. Mine have always been a bit longer than most people's photos show. That's the fruit; there are quite a few reports out there of the vines reaching 6' or 7' in height or more, but mine have never reached more than 4'. The vines are indeterminate.

In addition to eating fresh, cooking and canning, these are apparently also good dried - a very versatile tomato, and if you can only grow a few plants this is definitely one to consider.

The Opalka tomato comes to us via Poland, although it's been in North America since around 1900. Seeds were passed on to tomato maven Carolyn Male by a co-worker. She passed it on to Seed Savers Exchange, and mentioned it in her book "100 Heirloom Tomatoes for the American Garden". It is similar to the Polish Linguisa tomato.

Opalka too is a paste tomato, but with longer fruit than the Amish Paste, perhaps slightly curved, with a definite recessed tip or nipple on the end. It could be mistaken for an Italian red pepper quite easily. It's an indeterminate plant as well, but the foliage often seems a bit thin and wispy. That doesn't seem to stop it from producing plenty of fruit. It may be a bit susceptible to blossom end rot, but I have not had any noticeable problems with it. It seems to otherwise have fairly good disease resistance. The tomatoes do not contain a great deal of seed - nice for eating, but a bit frustrating for growers. (Amish Paste is a little seedier, but not a terribly seedy tomato in my experience either.)

Like Amish Paste, Opalka is completely versatile: eat it fresh, cook or can it, or dry it. Both tomatoes should start ripening about 85 days from transplanting.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Cleaning or Pie?

"Well, the house is filthy. I think I'll make a pie."

- My grandmother, at least according to my father
So what is there to say about that? Other than that I am in some ways plainly more related to my grandmother - although I have never been that blatant about connecting my distaste for housecleaning with my interest in cooking - than my father, who has been known to claim that it's a tough life when you're the neatest person in the commune, and presumably he would know. Not that he ever lived in a commune; his ventures in the army and student life had to stand in for what would have been a trendier option by the time I was old enough for him to be telling such things to me.

My own opinion is that people will remember a good slice of pie long after they have forgotten that the floor wasn't swept and the counter was sticky. (So was the table; somebody got pie on it.) Just be sure you wiped the counter before you rolled out the pie-crust.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Striped Roman Tomatoes

Stripe Roman Tomatoes
Well, these are very interesting. They are, in an odd sort of way, a modern heirloom tomato, which ought to be a contradiction in terms. John Swenson, a member of Seed-Savers Exchange,
developed these by crossing two old varieties; banana legs and antique roman. At least that's the case for the red striped roman; I can really find no information about the yellow striped romans, but I suppose them to come from John Swenson as well. As you can see, the red ones were quite a bit larger than the yellow ones, but the yellow ones started ripening first. They are rather beautiful, with a long horn shape and a pattern like dyed alabaster. They have a distinctive little point, or nipple, at the end. They are apparently also called speckled roman tomatoes, although they really are striped.

They are a paste, or cooking tomato, with dense, meaty flesh not overly loaded with seeds. They were more than tasty enough to eat fresh though. The yellows in particular were rather mellow and non-acidic while still having plenty of flavour.

Reports on growing these seem rather mixed. Some people complain of light yields; others think them heavy bearers. They also seem prone to molds and mildews, as well as blossom end rot and late blight, although I have had no problems in my garden; mine have been turning out a steady supply of healthy tomatoes for the last week or so. Some suggest that they do well in cooler weather, which we have certainly had, no doubt about it.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Peach Pie with Cardamom and Nutmeg

Yes, I made TWO pies when we had company this week. Well, if you have peaches - and of course you have peaches at this time of year - and you are making pie you just have to make peach pie. It was so good, I think I might make another one that I don't have to share with company.

I decided to try a slightly different spicing than the usual cinnamon, but there's nothing wrong with the usual cinnamon if you prefer it. Replace the cardamom and nutmeg with a teaspoonful of ground cinnamon. I hadn't used arrowroot flour in a pie before, and I was very happy with the way it worked.

8 servings
2 hours prep time - but don't forget to allow 2 or 3 hours to cool

Peach Pie
Make the Crust:
2 1/2 cups soft (pastry) whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup neutral flavoured vegetable oil
6 to 8 tablespoons ice-cold water

Mix the salt into the flour. Cut the butter into the flour and salt with a pastry cutter or two knives. The less you handle the dough with your fingers, the better. The butter must not be melted into the flour, but distributed evenly throughout in small sand or grit sized pieces. (It should be soft enough to be a bit waxy, but not soft.) Drizzle in a little very cold water while stirring with a fork, until it holds together and forms a ball. Do not use too much water. It is better to encourage the last dryish bits to stick by rounding them up and pressing them into the dough. You may fold it over and press a couple of times, but do not knead it.

Roll about two-thirds of it out on parchment paper and fit it to your pie dish. Be sure to roll it it enough before placing it; if you stretch the dough it will shrink in baking. Put in the filling, and roll out the remaining dough to cover the pie. Pinch it sealed around the edges, and remove any excess dough. Pierce it in several places with a fork, to allow the steam to escape.

Make the Filling:
12 to 14 medium ripe peaches
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons arrowroot flour
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
8 to 10 pods of green cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Put a large pot of water on to boil. Drop the peaches into the boiling water, two or three at a time, and boil them for about a minute. Remove them to cold water at once. Peel them, and cut them in half, discarding the pits. Cut each half into 5 or 6 slices. Put them in a bowl, and toss with the sugar and arrowroot flour. Add the grated nutmeg, the cardamom and the vanilla. The cardamom should be crushed in a mortar and pestle, then the green husks should be picked out before the remaining interior seeds are finely ground.

Mix the spices into the peaches well, then spoon them into the prepared bottom crust. Lay the top crust on, and pinch sealed at the edges. Pierce the pie with a fork in several places to allow the steam to escape.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until well browned. Let the pie cool to at least lukewarm before serving it. Best to bake the pie on a cookie sheet in case of leakage.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Paul Robeson Tomatoes

Paul Robeson Tomatoes
As should become apparent in the next few weeks as I post comment after comment about tomatoes, we bought a large and impressive collection of heritage and other interesting tomato seedlings in the spring. Now they are starting to produce ripe fruit.

This was a variety particularly recommended to us, and I can see why. Unlike their namesake, they are not terribly handsome, but they do make some very good eating. The skins are a dark ruby red with dark green shoulders, and the flesh is likewise a darkish red, with some green at the shoulders. When ripe, these are rather soft, although dense, and much more prone to splitting than some of the other tomatoes we grow. I note they need to be cut from the vine, not pulled, as pulling will likely damage the tomato - the stems are very thick and hard, unlike the ripe tomatoes. Because they are so soft when ripe, I expect you may have to grow them yourself to have them, or expect to pay highly at market - they will not have much of a shelf-life. They are a good tomato for Canadians to grow, though. Since they originated in Russia -Siberia in fact - they are adapted to a shorter growing season in less-than-perfect conditions. The name is still sometimes spelled in the Russian way; Pol Robeson. They were our 4th tomato to ripen, in spite of their large beefsteak tomato size, and the plants are producing in the top 80%, in terms of quantity (by weight) of tomatoes per plant.

The flavour really is very impressive; rich, fruity and tangy. "Smokey" is a word people often use to describe them. Their softness gives them a melt-in-the-mouth texture. They are dense enough to use in sauces as well, where their unique flavour will add depth. I see them working in bread-based dishes like panzanella and bruschetta.

I had no difficulties with them (or any other tomatoes this year) in terms of disease, but I note some people reporting them as very prone to late blight, and others reporting them as disease resistant, so who knows for sure? The vines are indeterminate, so at some point you may wish to pinch off the tops in order to encourage them to stop making tomatoes, and get on with the ones that are going already.

Last year at this time I made Herbed Cream Cheese Spread or Dip - would be very good with a slice or two of tomato on top...