Thursday, 26 August 2010

Tricolour Tomato Soup

Tomatoes! Tomatoes! Tomatoes! We're inundated with them, about which we are mostly very pleased. The yellow tomatoes were a mixture of Banana Legs and Taxi, the reds were Stupice and the green tomatoes were Green Zebra. Green Zebra is probably the most common green (when ripe) tomato, but I suspect you can use whatever yellow or red tomatoes you can find to good effect.

This is a rather glamourous soup with a few stages to it, but not difficult. You could cook the yellow soup base in advance and just finish it before serving to make it even easier. I meant to shred a little basil into the green tomato garnish but I forgot. You could do it, though.

4 - 6 servings

Tricolour Tomato Soup
Cook the Carrot:
3/4 cup diced carrot (1 small)
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups water

Peel and dice the carrot, and cook it with the bay leaves in the water until just tender. Keep the cooking water.

Sauté the vegetables:
1 cup diced yellow zucchini (1 small)
1 stalk of celery, diced
1/3 cup diced shallot (2-3 medium)
1 tablespoon sunflower seed or olive oil

Prepare the vegetables and sauté them in the oil until soft and slightly browned.

Finish the Soup:
4 cups peeled, diced yellow tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons verjus
OR 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry (optional)

2 to 3 cups peeled, diced red tomatoes
1 cup peeled, diced green tomatoes

When the sautéd vegetables are ready, add the diced yellow tomatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes, until they are quite soft.

Lift the carrots from their cooking water with a slotted spoon, and put them in a food processor or blender. Add the yellow tomato mixture, purée until very smooth, then remove the soup to a pot. Use the water from cooking the carrots to swish out the food processor or blender, having of course discarded the bay leaves. Add this water to the soup.

Add the diced red tomatoes to the soup and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring carefully to keep the red tomatoes as intact as possible. Serve garnished with the raw green tomatoes. We all agreed a dollop of sour cream or yogurt would also go well.

Last year at this time I made Corn Pudding.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Pickled Baby Corn

The baby corn to make baby corn pickles can be very hard to find. I've mostly found it at markets where there are a lot of Mennonite vendors; St. Jacobs in particular. It will also be expensive. It should be. Do you want to husk all those itty, bitty little cobs of corn? No. No, you don't. Give the nice lady the really very reasonable sum of money she is asking for, and a big smile. Also, go early or it will have sold out.

Of course if you are a masochist you could try growing a variety of corn specially bred for baby corn - there are several out there - and then husking them yourself. I haven't quite gotten there yet, but maybe next year or the year after.

Needless to say, these are a rare treat to be brought out on special occasions. The texture is intriguing and the delicate corn flavour and sweet-sour tang makes a good contrast to other pickles and relishes. They go well with almost any kind of meat, but especially more mildly flavoured ones like fish or chicken, as well as cheeses and cold cuts.

7 250-ml jars
1 hour prep time

Pickled Baby Corn
1 cup water
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 quarts (8 cups) fresh baby corn cobs

Put the jars to be used in a canner and cover with water by at least an inch. Bring to a boil and boil them for 10 minutes.

Be sure the corn cobs are quite small and that they have been well cleaned. Boil them for ten minutes in salted water and drain well. Pack them in the sterilized 250-ml jars.

Make a hot brine of the liquid ingredients, and pour them over the corn, to 1/4 inch of the top. Wipe the rims and seal the jars with prepared lids and rings (boiled 5 minutes) and process in a boiling water bath (back in the canner, in other words) for 10 minutes.

Last year at this time I was messing around with Sauerkraut.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Pear Jelly with Blueberries

Yeah, jelly again. Oh, but it's sooo good when it's unspeakably hot and humid out, as it has been, although it seems to have cooled off quite a lot since I made this a few days ago. I'd still eat it though. If there was any left, which there isn't.

I put the blueberries right into the jelly in 2 layers separated by plain pear jelly, just because I can't help myself; I have to get all fancy-pants. But really, I think it would have been just as good if not actually better to just serve the berries alongside the jelly. The plain parts of the jelly had a lovely smooth texture that should be appreciated on its own. You should still be sure to serve it with the blueberries, though. They add some tartness and bite to the pears, which are delicious but perhaps a tad too sweet and mild on their own.

This makes quite a lot, and could easily be cut in half. Although it keeps quite well for a couple of days in the fridge, if well covered. I covered mine by putting the clean, dry mold back over it on the plate.

The pears I used for this were described as "Japanese" but I didn't get a variety name. They were much like Bartletts, though. I'm going to have to track them down again, because they were very good.

6 to 8 servings
20 minutes prep time plus at least 2 hours to chill

Pear Jelly with Blueberries
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
6 medium-large Bartlett type pears
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons plain gelatine
the juice of 1/2 large lemon or 1 lime
2 cups blueberries

Put the water and sugar into a good-sized pot ( because you'll need to get the pears in there too) and bring it to a boil.

Meanwhile, wash, peel and core the pears, and cut them into chunks. Add them all at once to the boiling syrup. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the pears are fairly soft. Turn off the heat, and sprinkle the gelatine over the pears, and stir it in until completely dissolved. Stir in the lemon or lime juice.

Put the pears and their liquid into a blender or food processor and process until very smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides if necessary.

You will need a 6 cup mold, or individual molds. To put in the berries in layers, pour about a quarter of the purée into the mold, and add half the berries. Chill until just set, leaving the remainder of the purée out on the counter until that point. Add about half of the remaining purée over the first layer and chill until set, again leaving the remainder of the purée out. Finally, add the remainder of the purée and put in the remainder of the blueberries. Or you can make life much simpler and dump all the berries in at the beginning, or else don't even put them in at all but just serve them alongside the jelly. Like I said above, the plain jelly has a very appealling texture by itself.

Last year at this time I made Cucumber Relish, and Slightly Lemony Blueberry Jam.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Striped German Tomato and a Bacon-Cilantro-Tomato Sandwich

Striped German Tomatoes
As with so many old tomatoes, the history of Striped German -sometimes refered to as German Stripe or Striped - is hard to trace. As far as I can find, it was introduced by Johnny's Seeds over 20 years ago, after having been a pass-around variety for some unknown length of time. Other hints suggest that it originated in Hampshire County, West Virginia. It's quite possible; the name suggests a "Pennsylvania Dutch" or at least Mennonite origin, and Hampshire County butts up against Pennsylvania Dutch territory. Old German is a very similar tomato, but larger and later. I haven't grown it.

Seed catalogues describe Striped German as in indeterminate, 80 day tomato, a fine flavored red/yellow bicolor with unusually well defined stripes, and a productive plant. I don't find the stripes that pronounced; more like red-orange marbling, with more orange on the outside than red. Mind you, I have exactly one plant to go by. I'm a bit annoyed by this; I planted 2 Striped Germans, and one of them is distinctly off-type, and not nearly as good. Somebody wasn't keeping their seed plants well isolated? Harumph.

However, a well-grown Striped German - and my other plant seems fine, and more or less as I remember from the last time I grew them - is a real treat. The tomatoes are medium to large (mine are more medium, but they're pretty crowded) with red, yellow and orange marbled flesh and skin. They are dense, with moderate seed cavities and gel, and good texture that balances softness and firmness. The flavour is sweet and rich with fruity, almost tropical, notes. They are one of my favourite tomatoes for eating fresh, and a lot of other folks rate them highly too.

My tomatoes are unusually round - this may be because I don't have completely pure seed. Many Striped German tomatoes are rather ribbed, to the point of being lumpy.

Bacon Cilantro Tomato Sandwich
They make great sandwiches. The one above is a "BCT"; a bacon, cilantro and tomato sandwich. The use of cilantro and baguette made me think of banh mi, so I threw on a little hot sauce with the mayonnaise. Very yummy.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Cabbage & Cheese Curds with Tomato & Tamari

This ridiculously simple dish makes a nice light lunch or supper. There is something about the combination of tomato and tamari that really appeals to me. Of course I am notoriously fond of salt, so why wouldn't it? The cheese takes it from a being a couple of vegetables to being a main dish, if served with noodles or rice. Some nice crusty bread would work as well.

2 to 4 servings
20 minutes prep time

Cabbage and Cheese Curds with Tomato and Tamari
4 cups chopped cabbage
3 cups peeled, chopped tomato
100 to 150 grams (1/4 pound) cheese curds
1 or 2 tablespoons tamari

Put the cabbage in a pot with sufficient water to come half way up it, and bring it to a boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until just tender. Drain well, but keep it in the pot.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the tomatoes. Add the tomatoes to the cabbage, along with the tamari. Bring to a boil then simmer, stirring regularly, until the tomato softens, just a couple of minutes. Add the cheese curds and cover the pot. Cook for about 2 minutes more, until the cheese curds melt.

Serve at once over noodles or rice.

Last year at this time I made Fried Whitefish Fingers and Spinach with Celery.

Friday, 20 August 2010

A New Phase of the Garden

Things have changed a lot in the garden since I last wrote about it. It looks a much different, much less lush place. Partly this is because of a major error we made, but partly it's because a number of things are ready to harvest and we have been harvesting them. Potatoes, for instance.

Digging potatoes is a lot of fun - it's like digging for pirate treasure, only better because instead of digging up stupid gold and jewels you get something really useful: potatoes!

I'm still waiting - oh so patiently (well, kinda) - for our first ripe melon. They're looking good so far!

We have only one enormous Rouge Vif d'Etampes pumpkin vine, with only two pumpkins on it, but the pumpkins are large and absolutely beautiful. I expect they'll be ready soon.

We have some smaller pumpkins, Small Sugar, which have sprawled well out of their bed and produced about a dozen pumpkins. They should have produced more, but for our major error.

Little Ping Tung eggplants are coming along beautifully, and Little Fingers eggplants are not far behind.

My Sweet Pickles peppers are so weighted down with fruit that they have toppled over. They seem fine though, so I'm just letting them topple. Other peppers also doing well, although there seems to be some mild, leaf-wrinkling virus working it's way through the patch. No composting the plants this year.

We've started harvesting the short corn on the left (Quickie is the variety) and the mid season corn (not really visible behind the late season corn in front) will start very soon, within the week. We've managed to keep deer and raccoons at bay with electric fencing, but we are starting to see minor damage, either from crows or squirrels. Everybody loves sweet corn!

The tomatoes are now a semi-impenetrable, semi-collapsed jungle. We will need a better support system for next year. Meanwhile, we have been eating lots of ripe tomatoes and canning season will probably start next week. Uggh. Love the finished product, hate canning in August. September is so much cooler and better.

Carrots look big and leafy and we have even pulled out several very decent carrots, although I sure wouldn't say we have the knack for them yet. Beets have been harvested and replanted behind them, and the last bed there is full of potatoes waiting to be dug up.

Okay, now here's the big change. All those leafy peas and beans are gone, mostly because we killed them through our big error. We were using water from our deep well to water, and it was full of salt. We had tested it on a number of plants in the spring, and it seemed fine. But once the really, really hot weather hit in mid to late July, the combination of poor weather and bad water did in a number of plants, including almost all the peas and beans. (Lima beans just kept on trucking, amazingly enough.) You can see my Mammoth Melting we liked so much hanging dead at the back there. They were the last to die, and we will be able to save some seed from them, which is good.

We've planted more peas and beans in the hope of getting a second crop. We still have more to plant, including some short ones (Tom Thumb peas) that will go into the cold frames, and which we hope will keep us supplied until Christmas. We'll see; gardeners are incurable optimists!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Chocolate Icebox Cake with Raspberries and Homemade Chocolate Wafers (Biscuits)

I've made this before. You've probably made it before too, or at least had it when someone made it for you. This has been a popular, classic cake for a long time. Usually it's made with bought biscuits but it's even better if you make the biscuits yourself, which is a little time-consuming but easy. Plus you get to have a beautiful, neatly finished dessert that actually looks like a cake, and not like a bunch of cookies glued together; not that there's anything really wrong with that. But sometimes - and for me that includes any time I'm serving more than (ulp!) half a litre of whipping cream at once - you want something more formal, more spectacular.

I was really happy with these biscuits, and I'll definitely make them again and for other purposes. I'm pretty certain that they will make fine ice-cream sandwiches, for instance. The recipe would cut in half very nicely, which is good because I suspect you could make at least 24 quite large ice-cream sandwiches with the full recipe, if not 36.

Now, I hate to interrupt this happy occasion (it was our annual family birthday party) with a RANT. But a RANT is required, because I went to both the local grocery stores to buy whipping cream to make this, AND NEITHER OF THEM CARRY WHIPPING CREAM ANY MORE!

Oh, they SAY they have whipping cream. It's right there on the large-print label of every dairy represented in this town's store refrigerators, which is 3 or 4 different dairies. 35% cream, it says. BUT THEY LIE - IT ISN'T WHIPPING CREAM. It's cream, plus skim milk, plus carrageenan, plus, plus, plus. Plus a bunch of CRAP, that's what.

Fortunately, I was able to call one of the guest/celebrants in Toronto before they left, and they brought me some organic whipping cream, and the day was saved. But make sure you read the label before you buy whipping cream from here on in. Accept, as they say, no substitutes. And that probably means that the cream MUST be organic.

Make 12 servings as a cake.
In addition to the time spent making the biscuits, allow
1 hour to assemble the cake and 12 to 24 hours for it to rest.

Makes 6 8" round biscuits or 72 to 96 individual biscuits.
Allow 2 1/2 hours if baking one tray at once.
Allow 1 1/2 hours if baking two trays at once.

Make the Biscuits:
2 cups soft unbleached flour
2 cups cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup soft unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda into a small mixing bowl and set them aside.

Cream the butter well, and beat in the sugar. When very smooth and soft, beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs, one at a time.

Stir the flour and cocoa mixture into the butter and sugar mixture half at a time, until you have a smooth, well blended dough. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once the dough is mixed, cover it and set it aside to rest for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line 2 or 3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 6 equal parts.

Roll one part of the dough out into a circle a little larger than 8". Use the bottom of an 8" springform pan to mark a circle on the dough. Cut around the outside edge and remove the excess dough. Do not press the springform pan bottom down too hard, or you will have a difficult time removing it from the resulting circular biscuit. Prick the biscuit all over with a fork. Bake it for 15 to 18 minutes, until firm. Let cool on a rack, then stack on a plate until all the dough has been baked.

Repeat with each remaining piece of dough. Keep a piece of parchment paper between them as you stack the finished biscuits.

You can do this a day or two in advance, and you probably should. These are pretty basic cut-out cookies, really, but they do take some time to bake. You may also, of course, cut them out as individual biscuits if you prefer, using cookie cutters. They may take a minute or two less to bake if they are much smaller, and you won't need to prick them with the fork.

Prepare the Cream & Raspberry Filling:
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water AND 2 teaspoons plain gelatine IF using frozen berries
2 cups frozen raspberries
OR 2 cups fresh fresh raspberries
300 ml (1 1/4 cups) whipping cream

If using frozen berries, put the sugar and water into a small pot. Bring to aboil and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and sprinkle over the gelatine. Stir until the gelatine dissolves. Set aside to cool completely.

If using fresh berries, put the sugar and cream into a mixing bowl, and omit the water and gelatine. Beat the cream and sugar until very stiff. Fold in the clean, ready raspberries. Otherwise, pour the sugar and gelatine over the raspberries. Beat the cream stiff, then fold in the sweetened berries and their syrup.

Lay a biscuit on your serving plate, and put about 1/5th of the raspberry cream in the middle. Spread it out carefully and evenly to the edges. Top with another biscuit, and repeat until all the biscuits and cream are stacked, finishing with the final biscuit.

Finish the Cake:
300 ml (1 1/4 cups) whipping cream
2 or 3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspon vanilla extract
raspberries to garnish

Beat the cream with the sugar and vanilla until very stiff. Use it to cover the top and sides of the cake. Cover the cake with a cake cover or other cover - a large bowl, for instance, that will keep out off-flavours. Put the cake into the fridge to rest for 12 to 24 hours. The biscuits should be fairly soft and the whole amalgamated into a melt-in-your-mouth pudding by the time it comes out. Serve garnished with fresh raspberries.

p.s. I did not bake the first couple of biscuits long enough, so I stuck them back in the oven for a few minutes more to bake longer, after they had been out long enough to cool substantially. That worked. They firmed up quite sufficiently. HOOOOray! I do like a nice, forgiving recipe like that.

p.p.s. If you want to cut the amount of whipping cream down to 500 ml in total - and you might, since that is a standard packaging size for it - you might also only want to make 5 biscuit circles to be stacked, and use the rest of the dough for something else. Biscuits for ice-cream sandwiches for example, as I keep saying. But nothing wrong with having them plain with a cup of tea or coffee either. I did actually use 500 ml cream for my 6 layers, and it worked okay, I just would have liked that little bit more cream in proportion to the biscuits.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Pizza-Style Zucchini or, Possibly, Eggplant

This is more of a concept than a recipe, but it's a very good concept for people who get canoe-sized* zucchini because they just can't lift those leaves. Or something. I would swear I do lift those leaves, and yet every few days we haul another little boat out of the zucchini patch. Maybe they just grow insanely fast. I mean, they do grow insanely fast, but I mean insanely insanely fast.

As usual, if you can't pierce the skin of the zucchini with your fingernail, it's a no-goodnik too-biggie. Into the compost with it. You have missed your chance. I haven't yet done this with eggplant, but I'm sure I will.

1 large zucchini per person, probably
1 1/2 hours, including salting time - 30 minutes prep time

1 large zucchini (500 grams, 1 pound)
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/4 cup plain tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2/3 cup grated mozzerella, fruilano, cheddar or other melty cheese, about
1 medium tomato
a handful of sliced mushrooms, peppers, onions, or other pizza-esque toppings

Wash the zucchini and cut off the blossom scar end and the stem end. Cut it into even, lengthwise slices, about 1 centimetre thick. If possible, the rounded outside pieces should be just a tad thicker, and the skin should then be pared down so they will lie flat. Salt the slices of zucchini on both sides, and set them aside to drain for about half an hour. Rinse and dry them before proceeding.

Sauté the zucchini slices in the oil until nicely browned on each side, and about three-quarters cooked. Lay them on a cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Spread each slice of zucchini with a tablespoon or two of tomato sauce, and sprinkle with oregano.

Grate the cheese, slice the tomato, and prepare the other vegetables to be used as you would pizza toppings.

Sprinkle half the cheese evenly over the sauced slices. Arrange the tomato slices and other toppings over the cheese, and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the slices.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling, and the vegetables tender. Best served with a little rice, I think.

*It's a little-known fact that the singular of "zucchini" is "zuccanoe".

Monday, 16 August 2010

Gazpacho - with Traditional Cucumber, or With Zucchini

I made this gazpacho with zucchini, and it was very successfull, although I hear a rumour it can be made with cucumber instead. Of course I never touch the stuff.

Unfortunately, for some reason my tomatoes, although ripe, were not all that red once they were peeled and so the gazpacho was not as bright as I would have liked. It was very tasty and refreshing though - just the thing for this hot, muggy weather we've been having.

Speaking of which... Oh, how I wish it would rain a respectable amount of rain! We've had barely an inch in the last month, and barely 3 inches in the last 2 months. I water, and water, and water, but the poor garden is so dry.

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

1 medium mild red onion
1 clove garlic
1 medium zucchini OR cucumber
1 small mild pepper (I used sweet banana)
1 or 2 stalks of celery
3 cups diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or 4 of verjus
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil

Peel the onion and garlic, and chop them roughly. Wash and trim the zucchini or cucumber and chop them roughly. Stem, core and chop the pepper. Wash and trim the celery and chop roughly.

Put a pot of water on to boil, and blanch the tomatoes in it for 1 minute. Cool under cold water, and peel and chop them roughly. I think it is also helpful to blanch the onion, garlic and zucchini (but not cucumber) for a minute as well, and cool them at once under cold water, at least if onions or garlic ever cause digestive problems.

Put the prepared vegetables into a blender or food processor, with the vinegar, salt and oil. Process until evenly and finely chopped, and soupy in texture. You will need to stop and scrape down the sides several times. It should not, however, be perfectly smooth when done; there should be some texture to the vegetables. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve chilled.

Last year at this time I made Torshi Lift.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Peach Jelly with Mint

I wish there was a better word for gelatine desserts than "jelly". It sounds too much like something you would put on your toast. However, who cares what you call it? This is very good and refreshing in hot weather. The hint of mint really accents the peach flavour.

Garnish with whatever you like, but there are always blueberries around when peaches are in season. How convenient that they too really go perfectly together.

6 servings
2 hours 20 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

Peach Jelly
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 large sprigs fresh mint
6 large ripe peaches (3 cups diced)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons gelatine

Put the sugar, water and a good sprig of mint into a pot, and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cover the pan and turn off the heat. Let steep for about 10 minutes.

Blanch the peaches for 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water. Peel the peaches, and cut them in halves. Discard the pits, and chop the peaches.

Remove the mint from the sugar syrup, and discard it. Add the chopped peaches and bring them to a boil. Boil steadily for about 10 minutes, until fairly soft.

Purée the peach mixture with the almond extract and the gelatine. Pour into a wet mold or individual molds. Chill until set, allowing at least 2 hours. Unmold by dipping the mold in very hot tap water until just the very edges loosen. Flip onto a plate. Keep in the fridge until serving time.

Last year at this time I made Corn & Tomato Soup.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Early Yellow Globe Onions

We grew these onions from seed this year. Most home gardeners plant sets, which are small onion bulbs which have been heat-treated to prevent them from going to seed. Onion seed has a reputation for being very slow to produce onions, and so it is, by comparison to sets. However, we've been very happy with how these have done. The closer of those two onions was nearly baseball sized! Of course, we did start them indoors in March, so definitely a much longer and slower process than growing onions from sets, and results have probably been a bit more uneven than if we had planted sets. However, if you want some of the more unusual types of onions, you will generally need to grow them from seed, as sets won't be available. And they'll be a lot cheaper too.

Early Yellow Globe are not exactly an unusual onion... or are they? They are an heirloom variety, about a hundred years old at this point. It's difficult to find information about them, as there are a plethora of onions with very similar names, and which are in fact very similar onions. It seems that Early Yellow Globe is a strain or improved version of Danvers Yellow Globe (aka Yellow Globe Danvers), but there is also a Southport Yellow Globe, an Ohio Yellow Globe, a Downing Yellow Globe, a Brigham Yellow Globe, and no doubt others. You get the picture: there are an awful lot of onions that are round and yellow, and named accordingly. A number of these, I suspect, are versions of the original yellow onion which have been adapted by selection for particular areas, and of which Early Yellow Globe seems to be an intermediate form. Of course, these are an older, unhybridized and open-pollinated form of onion. Almost all onions sold today are hybrids. I'm just starting to read up on onions and their reproduction by seeds, and it's very interesting. Seed can be produced that will create offspring that have female flower parts only - so, no seed produced unless the appropriate male plants are added to the mix.

Early Yellow Globe is described as a small, early (mid-season really) onion, which rquires an intermediate day-length (13 to 14 hours of light per day) to properly form bulbs. (Onions are highly dependant on day-length to grow, which is why different varieties are grown in the north than in the south. Reliable seed sellers will provide this information.) "Early" in an onion still translates to about 110 days to maturity, at least that's the official prognosis. Ours took more like 140 days, or an extra month. Perhaps we should have picked them smaller, but I'm not complaining. The tops aren't keeling over yet, which is the sign that onions need to be harvested and cured for storage shortly.

They are a fairly mild, sweet onion, as onions go, at least right now in the middle of summer. Didn't stop me from crying like a baby as I cut them up, though. They've got plenty in the way of fumes. Like many stinky onions, they are good for storage. No doubt they will become more pungent when stored.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Summer Succotash

Succotash is a traditional dish from the eastern seaboard of the U.S. How traditional is it? Well, the word is from the Narragansett, msickquatash, meaning boiled corn, so pretty darn traditional. In recent tradition, it has consisted of lima beans and corn cooked together, and my mother used to serve this simple combination when I was a kid.

I suspect that further back, when it was common to parch (dry) green corn for winter use, that it was made with dried beans and parched corn in the winter. In the summer, of course, it could be made fresh, as I have done here - so fresh the beans aren't dried or even shelly beans, but fresh green or yellow wax beans, and with corn just cut from the cobs. Of course, once corn is in season shelly beans aren't too far behind, and you could replace the green beans with edamame, fresh lima beans or fresh borlotti beans. I threw in a little zucchini, because I had it and because I'm sure the Narragansett did too (squash of some sort, that is). A little onion and bacon fat (butter or oil if you must) ties it all together.

4 to 6 servings
40 minutes - 40 minutes prep time

Summer Succotash
3 cups finely chopped green or yellow beans
3 cobs corn
1 onion, with the greens
1 medium zucchini
1 tablespoon butter or bacon fat
salt & pepper

Wash and trim the beans, and cut them into small pieces not much larger than the corn kernels. Put them in a pot with water to cover generously, and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, husk the corn and cut it from the cobs. When the beans have boiled for a couple of minutes, add the corn kernals and cook for another 2 or 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Peel and chop the onion, and the greens, keeping them separate. Wash and trim the zucchini, and cut it into small dice of a size to blend with the other ingredients.

Heat the fat in a large skillet. Sauté the zucchini and white part of the onion until lightly browned. Add the well-drained beans and corn, and sauté for another 5 to 8 minutes. Add the onion greens and continue sautéing until they are well cooked in, and the corn is browned in spots. Season with salt & pepper and serve.

Last year at this time I made Mexican Flavoured Corn & Potato Salad.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Mammoth Cretan Tomatoes & Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes

Mammoth Cretan and Matts Wild Cherry Tomatoes
No points given for guessing which one is which. It's exactly what you think. I thought it would be amusing to take a picture of what is probably our largest variety of tomato with our smallest.

There is very, very little information about Mammoth Cretan tomatoes out there. The only real reference I can find about them links them to Country Meadows Organic Farm, in Queensville. Toronto seems to be the epicentre for them, so I suspect that they brought the seeds back from Greece (actually, I'm going to guess Crete), gave them a name for marketing purposes, and let them loose into the wider world. Tomato growers are notorious both as obsessive savers - all you need is a ripe tomato, some water and a tub - and sharers of tomato seeds, so already the seeds are in circulation.

I was given some seeds as a present a couple of years ago, although this is the first time I have had a Mammoth Cretan tomato since they didn't produce for us in last years dismal, horrible, cold, wet summer. This year they are one of our earliest main crop tomatoes, in spite of the massive size of the ripe fruit.

You want a slicer that will cover your bread from crust to crust? You want your hamburger to be invisible under a, yes, mammoth slice of tomato? You want a single slice of tomato to cover your entire pizza? Here you go. This is it. And it tastes terrific; sweet and mild yet nicely tomatoey. I don't even like raw tomatoes all that much, but I'm watching closely for the next ripe tomato so I can make another sandwich as good as the one made with my model here. The texture was perfect for sandwiches - not too firm, but with very little in the way of gel and seeds, so it didn't goop all over. It's solid enough that I think it would be great to cook with, but it may be a while before any can be spared for such purposes. Pass the mayo.

The Matt's Wild Cherry, on the other hand, is well-documented and very popular. It's actually a form of wild tomato collected in Hidalgo, in Mexico. It was brought to Maine and passed along to Johnny's Selected Seeds, and from there it has become very popular. This is in the eastern part of Mexico, where tomatoes may have originated. Matt's Wild does show some signs of domestication (short styles) , so I gather it may have hopped the fence some time in the past.

The tiny tomatoes are quite sweet, but unlike many modern cherry tomatoes, sweetness isn't their most obvious characteristic. They are also very tangy and flavourful, starting off fruity and intense in the mouth and changing to a lingering tomato after-flavour. They are very juicy, and bit on the seedy side. I don't know that the skins are particularly thick, but because the tomatoes are so small they seem prominent. They hold up well in wet weather, still producing intensely flavoured fruits. Wet weather may cause them to split, however.

Since they are so small, they are best for snacking and salads. They are also good to dry.

They should start ripening 60 days after transplanting, and will continue all summer until frost. The fruits may be small, but the plants are notorious for getting very, very rangy - reports of plants reaching the double digits in feet are not uncommon. They are said to be very resistant to early blight and somewhat resistant to late blight. One other thing they are notorious for: self-seeding.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Maple-Vanilla Canned (Bottled) Peaches

I'm still in love with the combination of peaches and vanilla. I threw some maple syrup in there this time, and oh boy, these were good. I can see they're going to have to be rationed. Or I need to make some more. Actually, I need to make some more and they will still need to be rationed.

7 or 8 500-ml jars
1 1/2 hours - 1 hour prep time

Maple Vanilla Peaches
Make the Syrup:
2 cups dark maple syrup
2 cups water
1 whole vanilla bean

Measure the maple syrup and put it in a pot. Measure the water in the same cup, swishing it out well as you add it to the maple syrup - don't want to waste any! Add the vanilla bean and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 20 minutes, with the lid on, until the vanilla is well infused in the syrup. You can do this a day ahead if you like, and just bring it back to the boil before using.

Bottle the Peaches:
4 quarts small firm but ripe peaches

Put a pot full of water on to boil.

Put the jars into the canner, withe water to cover them by an inch. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch the peaches in batches for 1 minute in the boiling water. Remove them promptly to a basin of cold water. Once cool, peel them and cut them in half, and place them in a large bowl.

Once the jars are ready and the peaches are all prepared, fill the jars with peaches. You can expect to get 5 or 6 peaches into each jar if they are on the small side. It's easiest to pack them in if you put them all in cut-side down.

Add any peach juice in the bowl to the syrup. Bring it up to a good boil, and ladle it into the jars, filling them to within 1 centimetre of the top, no more. Use a chop stick to poke into the jars, making sure that any air trapped under the peaches is released. Add a bit more syrup if the level drops much.

Wipe the rims with a paper towel dipped in boiling water, and seal with lids and rings prepared according to the manufacturers instructions. Put the jars back into the canner and boil for 20 minutes. Remove and let cool, check for seals and label.

I've taken to allowing the water in my canner to drop below a boil as I fill the jars for cold-packed (room temperature actually, please) fruit. Then I bring it back up the boil once they are in, and time the processing from the point it starts to boil again. This helps keep the thermal shock down and causes fewer broken jars.

Last year at this time it was Lemony Sumac Broiled Trout, Tahini Salad Dressing, and Currant Jelly. As usual, the currants were over a good two weeks ago this year.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Stupice Tomatoes & Yagodka Tomatoes

I haven't been talking much about tomatoes, but our garden has been producing some for several weeks now at least. Here are the two earliest to produce, not just this year but every year I've grown them. Stupice (pronounced stuPEEKuh, apparently) on the left and Yagodka (which I assume rhymes with vodka and is Russian for little berry) on the right. They are originally from Slovakia and Russia respectively. Yagodka is also sometimes spelled Jagodka.

Not too surprisingly, as early ripening tomatoes, neither is huge. The smallest Stupice in the picture is about the size of a golf ball. The Yagodka are more consistent in size, being a classic elongated large cherry tomato. We like their sizes as we are not big eaters of fresh tomatoes, often just wanting some for a salad or sandwich, and we hate being left with half a tomato which can't go into the fridge but which will rapidly decay if left on the counter.

Both of these have a classic tomato flavour, perhaps a bit on the mild side. They are both known for producing well in adversity, although quality may suffer a bit. In particular, the Stupice is probably more tolerant of lack of heat than of excessive moisture.

The Stupice is a very large plant, easily reaching 6 feet in good conditions, and it is a potato-leaved variety, which means the leaves are much less serrated than most tomato leaves. It's also a sign of an old type of tomato, and one that is more likely to cross pollinate than most. If you save your own seed, you should try to keep your Stupice plants a bit isolated from other tomato varieties. They should produce fruit in about 55 days from transplanting. Since it is an indeterminate tomato, it will keep producing fruit (and growing!) over a long period if the weather is conducive. They will definitely need support.

The Yagodka on the other hand, is quite small; ours have not reached much above 2 feet in height, and they are also compact and not overly endowed with leaves. In other words, they would be good choice for growing in containers. The lack of greenery does not translate to a lack of tomatoes - ours are churning them out. They should also be ready in about 55 days from transplanting, and in fact this year ours beat the Stupice by a good few days. Mind you, they are getting a bit more sun in a better position. However, they are a determinate tomato, and once they have produced all they are going to produce they will just stop, with lots of good tomato growing weather yet to go. I don't actually mind this; I think there are other later tomatoes with better flavour and size that I'm happy to switch to, but it's great to get some decent early tomatoes without fussing, so the Yagodka are worth growing. Apparently Yagodka also has some resistance to late blight.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Cauliflower with Tomatoes & Cilantro

Wow, we are actually successfully growing actual successful cauliflowers in our garden at the moment. We are so impressed with ourselves, we are fit to burst. Tomatoes and onions too. That just leaves cilantro which we still need to figure out, so we got ours at the market.

4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Make the Spice Blend:
1 teaspoon cumin seed
2 teaspoons coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon salt

Grind the cumin and coriander seed together, and mix in the salt. Set aside.

Cook the Vegetables:
4 medium tomatoes (about 4 cups chopped)
1 small or 1/2 large cauliflower (about 4 cups florets)
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro
the juice of 1/2 lemon

Put a largish pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile, wash and trim the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 1 minute, then remove them to cold water. Peel them and chop them. Keep the boiling water, and when the tomatoes come out, put in the cauliflower florets and cook them for about 5 minutes, until just tender. Drain well.

Peel and chop the onion. Peel and mince the garlic. Peel and chop the tomatoes.

Sauté the onion in the oil (in a large skillet) until soft and slightly browned. . Add the seasonings and garlic to the onion and cook for a minute or two longer, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, and cook until soft. Add the cauliflower and mix in well. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until hot through and well amalgamated, about 5 minutes more.

Chop the cilantro and mix it in; as soon as it is wilted drizzle the lemon juice over the cauliflower mixture. Serve at once.

Last year at this time I was on the same kick; I made Cauliflower with Ginger & Cilantro, and Cilantro & Tomato Soup.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

A Visit to Upper Canada Cheese Company

Since we were in the Niagara area over the weekend, we decided to stop in at a place that I've been hearing about for a while: the Upper Canada Cheese Company, in Jordan Station, just off the QEW. Their sign just hints at how unique a place they really are.

Upper Canada Cheese Company make their cheese using the milk from a single herd of Guernsey cows, one of only 4 remaining herds in Ontario and 6 in all of Canada. (The other 2 are in New Brunswick.) Guernsey cows were once more common, valued for their rich and flavourful milk. Those were the exact qualities that caused it to fall from favour though; modern industrial dairy processing wants lower fat milk and lots of it, so Holsteins have come to predominate to the exclusion of everthing else.

The factory is in a small, neat building. Inside, at the front, is a roomy and elegant shop filled with gourmet delights, many if not most locally produced. The centrepiece though, is a counter staffed by two friendly and knowledgable women who pass out samples and answer questions about the cheeses.

Once you've tried the cheese and have an idea of what you want, you cross the room to their wall of refrigerators to pick out your purchases.

On the way you pass the shelves laden with all the other goodies, which can prove to be a considerable distraction.

You can also peer through a (somewhat steamy) window and see one of the cheese production areas.

Another angle.

Here's what we bought: at the centre-front applewood smoked Comfort Cream which is a camembert-style cheese, to the left is a halloumi-type grilling cheese, with 2 tubs of ricotta behind it, to the right of the ricotta is a tub of cheese curds, and finally to the far right there is a wedge of Niagara Gold, an Oka-style tangy semi-firm cheese. The Comfort Cream is named for the Comfort family, who are the farmers who own the herd of Geurnseys.

I haven't tried all of these cheeses yet, but I've been really impressed with the ones I have had, which include the Comfort Cream and the Niagara Gold. The Guernsey milk does lend a very distinctive flavour and texture to the cheeses; quite noticeably different from Holstein milk. There's also the colour, which is a lovely soft gold. I believe this is the colour that the annatto dye commonly used to colour cheeses orange aims for, and totally does not achieve. Good cheese is never cheap, but I thought prices were reasonable.

Right across the street is the Vineland Growers Co-operative, a name you will have seen on fruit baskets in Ontario grocery stores in season. Fruit packed on farms comes to their warehouse to be assembled into orders that go out to the stores. There's no fruit available there to the public, but there is a shop full of useful, specialized fruit growing equipment at reasonable prices, so if you have any fruit trees in your yard it's worth stopping in.

And of course, if you are in the Niagara area during fruit season, you will be sure to stop to buy some fruit to go with your fabulous, fabulous Upper Canada Cheese. (We bought a half-bushel of peach "seconds" for canning - couldn't see a thing wrong with them, other than that they were small, which is ideal for canning. What a bargain!)

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A Visit to Blueberry Knoll

We went down to Port Colborne to visit my father and his partner this weekend. He's often talked about going to Blueberry Knoll, home of Brian and Linda Young, to pick blueberries. Since I had never gone blueberry picking before I suggested a trip out to pick some.

Blueberry Knoll is at 1091 Hutchinson Road, in Lowbanks, just south of Highway 3. It's always a good idea to phone - 905-774-7732 - for information about picking conditions before you head out. During the season they are open 8 am to 8 pm weekdays, and 8 am to 5 pm Saturdays; closed Sundays.

As with most berry crops, the number one pests for blueberry growers are birds. Each blueberry patch is enclosed in a large, large net. Keep in mind that the resulting net "room" has about a 9' clearance... that should give you some idea of the size. Or to put it another way; you could get a baseball diamond in there easily. We saw 4 such netted fields on the farm. Without the netting, about 1/3 of the crop would be lost to birds.

We picked in their newest patch, above, planted in 2003. The oldest patch is almost 20 years old, and must be pruned to 8' to keep the bushes from entangling with the netting, and from being too high to pick. These ones could have been a little higher to make my back perfectly happy, but they were not particularly difficult to pick.

The bushes were clearly labelled by variety, and were loaded with berries, ripe and unripe. It didn't take too long to pick all we wanted.

We could have picked raspberries as well, if we had wanted to.

Blueberry Knoll takes their berries to the Port Colborne and Welland farmers markets; they grow some raspberries in a greenhouse to provide early berries for the markets.

When you are done picking, you head to their garage to pay.

The garage is set up as a small shop.

They also sell some honey, preserves, baking...

... frozen berries and other frozen items.

A member of the family sorts and packs berries...

...And since we were there Thursday afternoon, we probably saw those same berries the next morning at the Port Colborne farmers market.

Like many Ontario farms, Blueberry Knoll is about 100 acres, of which almost a third are wooded. They have about 6 acres of blueberries, about 4 acres of raspberries, and another 4 to 6 acres in strawberries at any time. They can't grow blueberries anywhere on the property; they require acidic soil. Whenever they plan to plant a new blueberry field, the spot is treated with sulphur for several years first to increase the acidity.