Friday, 30 August 2013

Peach Upside-Down Cake

This year I didn't go for a traditional birthday cake. With all the lovely fresh peaches around, it seemed like time for Peach Upside-Down Cake, and very yummy it was too. I thought this was even better on the second day, so it can and probably should be made a day before you want to eat it. However, with the fresh peach topping it won't last long so keep that in mind too.

I used a 9" springform pan for this and that... didn't exactly work. It was fine until I got it into the oven and then the butter topping started leaking out.  So don't do that. I did put a tray under it, and it didn't leak horribly, but still, no springform pans.

8 to 12 servings
1 hour 30 minutes - 30 minutes prep time

Peach Upside-Down Cake

1 1/2 cups soft unbleached flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 medium peaches
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup Sucanat OR dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons rum
3 tablespoons melted butter
4 tablespoons Sucanat OR dark brown sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk OR thin yogurt

Butter a 9" round, deep cake pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Put a pot of water on to boil, to which at least 3 of the peaches can be added and have the water cover them. Measure the flour and mix in the baking powder and salt; set this aside in a small mixing bowl if you need the measuring cup to continue, or leave it in the cup if not. When the water boils, blanch the peaches for 1 minute, in one or two batches depending on the size of the pot. Rinse them in cold water at once to cool them, and peel them. Set them aside.

Cream the butter in a larger mixing bowl, and work in the sugar until soft and well amalgamated. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla extract and the rum.

Melt the butter and put it into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly over the bottom by tilting and turning the pan, or use a pastry brush if preferred. Sprinkle the remaining 4 tablespoons of Sucanat evenly over the butter. Cut the peeled peaches in half, discarding the pit. Place them cut side down evenly over the prepared butter and sugar.

Mix the flour into the butter and egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk or yogurt. Scrape this evenly over the peaches in the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until the cake tests done with a toothpick inserted in the middle.

Last year at this time I made Fresh Corn "Polenta".

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Minty Watermelon Agua Fresca

So how long have I had this blog? Six years, isn't it? And this is my first melon recipe, if you can even call this a recipe. But that's the thing about melons, both watermelons and the other kind - it isn't that I don't love them, and eat them, but they are so good just as they are, that they never end up in anything fancier than an ad hoc fruit salad.

Well, not quite never, because I just did this. Perhaps I will have a few more recipes too, since I grew a ridiculous quantity of melons this year and the results are starting to roll into the kitchen. So far it's mostly been melon for breakfast everyday, but I'm going to have to get a bit more creative to use them up. Although this was very good, and will take care of quite a few.

Taste your melon before you measure your sugar. I put in 2 tablespoons sugar because this was a little Golden Midget watermelon, and as such not very sweet. A really sweet, fine melon will need next to none, just a little to counterbalance the lime juice. I suspect your average watermelon will be fine with about 1 tablespoon of sugar.

2 servings
15 minutes prep time

2 spigs of fresh mint
1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons sugar
the juice of 1/2 a large lime
2/3 cup water OR 6 to 8 small ice cubes
3 cups chopped deseeded watermelon

Rinse the mint and pat it dry, and put it in the bowl of a blender. Add the sugar and blend until the mint is finely chopped. Add the lime juice and water or ice cubes and blend again, until the ice is completely crushed if you are using ice. 

Scoop the watermelon from the rind, removing all seeds as you go. Add it to the food processor, and blend until fairly smooth. Serve garnished with mint sprigs, if you like.

 Last year at this time I made Green Bean, Sweet Onion & Cherry Tomato Salad with Parsley-Mint Dressing.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Green Bean Salad with Mushrooms, Onion & Bacon

Hot green vegetables cooked with bacon, mushrooms, and onion are classic and delcious, and there is no reason to give that up just because it is too hot for hot vegetables. The combo makes a great salad too.

Need I say that sour cream is certainly better than yogurt? But you have to do what you have to do. Yogurt isn't half bad either.

2 to 4 servings
40 minutes prep time

Make the Dressing:
1/4 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/4 cup sour cream or yogurt
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Whisk the above together, and cover it and put it in the fridge until ready to proceed.

Make the Salad:
1/2 of a medium sweet onion
450 grams (1 pound) green or yellow wax beans
125 grams (1/4 pound) button mushrooms
125 grams (1/4 pound) bacon

Peel the onion, and cut it in half from pole to pole. Reserve half for another use. Cut the half-onion in half again, then cut it into thin slices. Salt them and set them in a dish to drain while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Wash and trim the beans, and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a pot with water to boil, and boil until just tender, 4 or 5 minutes. Rinse in cold water to cool them, and drain them well.

Clean, trim, and slice the mushrooms thinly. Rinse the onions and drain them well. Mix the beans, mushrooms, and onion in a salad bowl and toss in the dressing.

Chop the bacon into half-inch pieces, and fry it slowly until crisp. Drain well and cool, on a piece of paper towel, then mix about 2/3 to 3/4 of it into the salad. Sprinkle the remainder over the top of the salad, and serve. 

Last year at this time I made Mexican Pickled Carrots & Jalapeños.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Broccoli & Tortellini Salad

This summery salad couldn't be easier, thanks to frozen cheese tortellini, which also makes it suitable to be a full meal in itself - 2 servings in that case. If you make it part of a larger meal, it will stretch to 4 or maybe even 6 in a pinch. But don't count on it; this is popular!

I've made this later in the year with imported basil and dried tomatoes; 1/4 cup chopped dried tomatoes soaked in 1/4 cup of boiling water and set aside, covered, for 15 minutes. Toss them into the salad, along with any leftover soaking liquid. Still, it's better to make it now with squeaky-fresh local basil and ripe, juicy tomatoes.  

2 to 4 servings
30 minutes prep time

 Make the Salad:
250 grams (1/2 pound) frozen cheese tortellini
1 large head of broccoli
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup minced fresh basil leaves

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil, and cook the tortellini according to the package instructions, or perhaps a minute or two longer. While the water boils and the tortellini cooks, cut the stem from the broccoli and reserve it for some other use. Chop the broccoli florets into bite-sized pieces. Wash and halve (or quarter, if they are large) the cherry tomatoes. Wash and mince the basil leaves.

When the tortellini has only 2 or 3 minutes left to cook, add the broccoli - cover the pan to bring it back up to a boil as sonn as possible. However, the broccoli only needs to be blanched more than cooked through. Be sure the tortellini is well done though, before you drain it. Rinse the tortellini and broccoli in cold water until completely cool then drain well.

Put the well-drained tortellini and broccoli in a large salad bowl and mix in the cherry tomatoes and basil.

Make the Dressing & Finish the Salad:
1/4 cup sunflower seed OR olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
the juice of 1 lemon
1 cup grated old Cheddar or other cheese of your choice

Whisk together the sunflower seed or olive oil, the mustard, and the lemon juice, and toss the dressing into the salad. Let it all rest together for 20 minutes to half an  hour. Just before serving, mix in about 3/4 of the grated cheese, then sprinkle the remainder over the top.

Last year at this time I was Making Meringues

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A Visit to Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds

On a bit of whim I contacted Hawthorn Farm, wondering if I could stop by for a visit. The answer came back: I certainly could. In fact, they were doing a tour for members of Seeds of Diversity on August 10th, and I could sign up for that, if I wanted. Well I did! Mr. Ferdzy and I are members, and were very happy to join the tour.

About 30 of us started out in Kim Delaney's office and seed storage space, where she described some of the basics about saving seeds, including whether plants are inbreeders or outbreeders, the numbers of plants required for good genetic diversity, and distances required to isolate certain plants to prevent crossbreeding.

She showed us two nifty devices for sorting seeds from their chaff, both of which use a balance of gravity and vacuum pull, supplied by a shop-vac. They got the plans for the larger, flat metal seed cleaner from Real Seeds, a company in the UK which put out a YouTube video about making their own. Kim's husband is a tool maker, so he was able to make a very effective all-metal version. The other one is even simpler, made of assorted plumbing pipes also hooked up to a shop-vac.

These are for dry seeds, of course. She deals with wet seed (tomatoes, squash, melons, etc) the same way as everyone else: the fruits are opened, the seeds rinsed and mixed with water, and sometimes fermented, then rinsed again and dried.

Next we walked out to see the gardens. Here's the quarters for the on-site crew.

Vegetables are spaced much more widely than they would be if grown for eating. This allows the plants to be examined for health and being true to type.

The plant Kim is pointing to here is Cherry Vanilla quinoa. She gets the seed she sells for it from another company, as she cannot keep hers from crossing with Lamb's Quarters, which is apparently the exact same species! I didn't know that! So it seems I'm growing lots of "quinoa" already...

I was a bit amused to see that Kims purple orach looks like all the purple orach I've ever grown - just a few red stems and stubs of leaves. Apparently it tastes good, but I wouldn't know. So far the rabbits and deer have always gotten to it before me. There is a dog, but one dog can only do so much patrolling.

Hawthorn Farm is in some ways a typical Ontario farm, consisting of about 100 acres. In other ways though, it's quite atypical. Only about 10 acres are in use one way or another, and the seed growing takes up just 2 acres. The rest of the farm is being allowed and encouraged to return to a much more wild state. In some places, native prairie forbs and grasses have been planted.

Kim and her partner bought the farm in the 1980's, quite inexpensively. The terrain is too uneven, with a river flowing through it, to be suited to the type of industrial farming done on all the other farms around it. Consequently, no chemical fertilizers or pesticides have been used on it since the 1960's. Kim's background is in restoration ecology, so she is well able to steer the process of return to more natural state. The farm also contains 2 protected wetland areas.

A hedge of marshmallow screens the tour as it enters the next field. There are 3 fields, separated by short walks, to allow for the separation needed between varieties to keep them from crossing with each other. Throughout the fields, you will see a row of this, then a row of that, then a row of some other thing, with closely related plants kept as far apart as possible.

Kim talks about some of the supports and materials needed to help keep varieties separate. Peppers are under row-covers, as they will self-pollinate if the insects can be kept away from them. The bundles of drying plants at the far right of the picture are peas. Growing them on the very loosely woven jute cloth draped from pole to pole was an experiment this year; unfortunately, one which did not really work out. The peas detached themselves from it in the first strong wind, and ended up in exactly the kind of tangled heap that it was supposed to prevent, adding a lot of work to cleaning and processing the seed. Next year, back to chicken wire.

It was a perfect day for a tour, sunny but not too hot. About half of the people on the tour were interns or apprentices at various farms and agricultural institutions. The rest were a mix of local farmers, home gardeners, wannabe farmers, and even a couple from another seed company.

Kim talked about the specific requirements of specific plants, cultural techniques, collection methods, how they water the plants - they had 5 1/2 weeks without rain last summer (tellmeaboutit) - using a pond which was behind me as I took this picture, and various pest problems.

Each row of vegetables, flowers or herbs is marked with a flag, indicating the field name (letter) and row number. Everything is very carefully charted with distances carefully calculated before being planted.

Kim also contracts with a number of other growers, and purchases some of her seed wholesale. Spacing will only take you so far... corn, for instance, must be 5 miles from any other corn that is pollinating at the same time, or it will cross. That means she can grow exactly one variety, and that one only by careful consultation with her neighbours, all of whom grow GMO corns. Fortunately, they all put in late corn this year, which meant she was able to get hers in and flowering before theirs started. Furthermore, just to be safe any of her plants that did not flower promptly were rogued out (removed).

There are 3 species of squash commonly grown in Ontario, so Kim can grow 3 varieties. Unfortunately, cucurbita pepo includes all the summer squash, most of the pumpkins, and a good selection of winter squash. You need 80 plants of each variety to maintain good genetic diversity, and they need to be half a mile from any other squash of the same species. Brassicas? She gets to grow ONE, because they all cross - cabbages, kales, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rapini, mustards; the lot.

Kim talks about some of her specific varieties. This is Merlot lettuce, a customer favourite. It has not yet even flowered at this point. (Lettuce is a pain. You carefully prevent it from bolting for as long as you can. Then once it starts bolting, it decides it has all the time in the world and is very slow to flower and set seed.) Apparently the best way to collect lettuce seed it to just bend over the top of the plants and shake the seeds into a paper bag. That hasn't really worked for me; I find it easier to pinch the buds as they start to go white (like dandelions, to which lettuce is related) and drop them into said paper bag. Carefully labelled, of course.

These are Marvel of Venice beans. Kim talked about how selection has improved these beans over the last number of years she has grown them. Originally, there were a fair number of these beans that stayed green and never turned yellow. Now, green beans are rare for her; she has succeeded in roguing out most of the off-types. She also mentioned how the incidence of blossom-end rot in tomatoes has been greatly reduced through selection.

Onions, beans, tomatoes, sunflowers, poppies (I think?), lettuce, even edible chrysanthemums are still growing, even though some earlier finishing plants have been removed.

Seeds from Hawthorn Farm are packed by weight, although a seed count is put on the package as that's more convenient for gardeners. Each batch has to be recalculated so that the weight is correct to give the right seed count, or better, a few more, as seed size can vary considerably from batch to batch.

I noted before, that for a small seed company Hawthorn farm has great packaging - it includes the date and results of germination tests in addition to the seed counts.

Aabir Dey, the Ontario Regional Program Co-ordinator for the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, which sponsored the tour, thanks Kim and all the participants in the tour for their efforts. Thank you too! It was an interesting and informative event, and it was great to see where some of my seeds come from.

At the end of the tour we had a chance to have a drink, a snack and chat on Kims patio, and ask Kim any questions that might have gone unanswered on the tour.

Then we walked back to where we  had parked our car. That's not a back road in the picture, that's (part of!) Kims driveway - helping to keep those seeds isolated.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Zucchini & Cucumber Salad with Sweet Onion & Parsley

Don't be put off by the time it takes to make this; 2 hours of that is just waiting time. This is really quick and easy to make. The salting and draining of the vegetables gives this salad a soft yet sturdy texture and helps the vegetables really soak up the dressing.

I made this for our birthday party. It's a good choice for entertaining because it needs to be made in advance, but it could easily be cut in half for more pedestrian occasions. On the other hand, leftovers keep for a day or two in the fridge quite well. 

6 to 8 servings  
2 hours and 20 minutes - 20 minutes prep time

1 large English style cucumber (long and thin)
1 or 2 medium, fairly thin, zucchini
1 medium sweet onion
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

3 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil
the juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and trim the cucumber and zucchini. Slice them thinly, and place them in a colander in layers, sprinkling each layer generously with salt, and set aside to drain over a bowl or sink. The amount of zucchini should be roughly equal to the amount of cucumber.

Peel the onion, and cut it in half from pole to pole. Lay each half down flat, and cut each half in half again, also from pole to pole. Holding the two halves together, cut the onion pieces into thin slices. Put them in a (different) colander in layers sprinkled with salt, and set aside to drain in the same way as the cucumber and zucchini.

Wash the parsley and chop it finely; set it aside. Let the vegetables drain for about an hour.

When the vegetables have drained for an hour, rinse them well in cold water and drain them thoroughly again. Mix them in a bowl that can be covered, and add the parsley. Whisk together the sunflower or olive oil, lemon juice, and mustard. Toss the dressing into the salad and season with black pepper to taste.

Cover the salad and put it in a cool spot (the fridge is fine) for about an hour to rest before serving.

Last year at this time I made Basil-Garlic Mayonnaise.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Smörgastarta - A Celebratory 1,000th Recipe

According to my little list, this is my 1,000th recipe post, more or less. I say more or less, because sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a recipe post and a "hey, look, food!" post. But whatever, I've made, and eaten, and written about, an awful lot of food since I started this blog just over 6 years ago.

I had a hard time picking a recipe for this post, but I think this one makes a good representative sample. It's pretty basic stuff, with a little twist. It uses techniques I know, but I was still making something new to me, and it wasn't as perfect as it could have been, but nobody complained, because it was made with high-quality Ontario grown and made ingredients and therefore tasted pretty damn fine anyway.

First suggestion - use a different bread than what I chose. Something with a lower profile, because when you make them this high they get realllllly hard to cut. Also, this was a beautiful loaf of stone-ground Red Fife wheat bread, and it tasted excellent but was a little too sturdy to be ideal. You really need a lighter sandwich bread.

Two days after our party (not just for the blog, other people were under the impression it was our annual family birthday party) I was wandering through the grocery store and saw a nice little flat, rectangular ciabatta loaf. Just the thing with a bit of trimming. Ho hum, well now I know and so do you because I make the mistakes for you.

This is a traditional Swedish thing, by the way. Mine are very low-key compared to most I've seen depicted on the internet. The Swedes are known for clean, modern design but when it comes to smörgåstartå, they tend to pile them high with curlicues of rolled cheese and cold cuts, vegetable folderols, shrimp and hard boiled egg slices; in short, they just don`t think it's possible to make a smörgåstartå that's too rococo.

I disagree.

It's not just that I lack the talent or the patience, (although I do), it's that my more minimalist sense of design apparently also extends to cakes, even if they are made out of sandwich. Still, if you like, this is a place to really let loose with your decorating ideas.

So, what do you put into your smörgåstartå? Whatever sandwich fillings you like, although I don't think sliced cold cuts and cheese are right at all, at least not inside. You can do like the Swedes and pile them on as much as you  like outside, but you want soft, icing-like fillings to continue the sense that you are eating a savoury cake.

I used egg salad (with minced fresh parsley), smoked trout salad (with Chow-Chow), and chicken salad (with celery and fresh savory). I can't give you quantities; it's going to depend on the size of your loaf of bread, but really, just basic sandwich fillings, chopped and mixed with a little mayonnaise. This Trout Paté would work, but I would also go for Ham Salad, liverwurst or chopped beef tongue salad, if you like that kind of thing - alas, I would have had it all to myself - or even just more of the icing, perhaps with chopped cucumbers or Pickled Beets.

The icing was a mixture of soft cream cheese and yogurt, with a little mayonnaise mixed in. I decorated the cakes with celery leaves, Bread & Butter Pickles, alfalfa sprouts, Red Pepper Jelly, olives and parsley.

I stuck some candles in the smörgåstartås, and the result was so festive that we broke into a spontaneous round of "Happy Birthday to Us!" as I lit them - and this is a very singing-adverse family.

And away we go - oh, wait. I haven't actually given you any recipe yet, have I? Well, here's one for the "icing". One recipe made just enough for each fairly small but high loaf. If you are making a big smörgåstartå you may need to double or even triple it.

I served this with simple green salads. It's so rich, varied and fancy in itself that I don't think anything else would make sense. 

Smörgåstartå Frosting:
250 g (1/2 pound) soft cream cheese, light is fine
3/4 cup yogurt, light is fine
1/4 cup mayonnaise, light is fine

Light is not only fine, I highly recommend it. This can end up being staggeringly rich if you are not careful. Which is okay up to a point; this is cake, even if it is also a sandwich. But still, the poor old digestive system can only take so much.

If your cream cheese came in a tub - and I don't want to hear about any of you using that nasty, gummy stuff that comes in foil-wrapped rectangles - use the tub to measure out the yogurt and mayonnaise - this is not rocket science or even rocket engineering, so eyeballing it is just fine. Actually, let me expand on that: both the cream cheese and the yogurt need to not contain any gums or gelatine, as they will interfere with the spreading and holding abilities. And make it tastes ho-hum, too, of course.

Put it all in a mixing bowl and beat it with an electric mixer until smooth and well blended, approximately 30 seconds or so. It should be a good, spreadable but not runny consistency, You may need to adjust one or another of the ingredients to get it just right, but this worked for me.

Trim your bread into a neat rectangular piece before filling and icing. If you can get 2 slices in, as I did (see first picture) either you are a much better slicer than I am or your bread is too high. Fill the sandwich generously with the filling of your choice.  Frost the smörgåstartå with the frosting, and decorate as you see fit.

That's it. If you have a nice, broad spackling trowel icing spreader, so much the better, but go forth, use your imagination, and have fun.

Oh, and be sure to use Seasonal! Ontario! Foods!

Last year at this time I made Cauliflower Patties. I note that last year at this time I was also apparently eating Great White tomatoes from the garden. *gnashes teeth* I knew things were much slower this year.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

A Visit to Pork of Yore Farm

I had arranged to visit Pork of Yore farm, 1632 Scotch Bush Road, near Douglas, Ontario, on our way out to visit relatives in Ottawa. On the way there, we had been annoyed to have lost about half an hour travelling time when we hit construction in Algonquin Park, but it turned out it was lucky that we did. As we drove the last half hour to the farm, it was clear that we had just missed a severe storm. There were trees and electric wires down in quite a few places we passed.

We arrived at Pork of Yore to discover that their driveway was blocked by a massive fallen tree. Ida Vaillancourt and Gary MacDonell were just starting what was clearly going to be a very large clean-up job. In spite of this, Ida said she would show us around.

The last of the storm can be seen receding in the distance behind the barn. 

The thing about a pork farm that raises its pigs in pastures, is that there are not very many pigs to be seen. Especially when they have all just been sent scurrying in fright into the woods, to which they have access. These were just a handful of the 100 or so pigs usually found on the farm, in a pen close to the barn as they were scheduled to go to the butcher that afternoon.

Most of the pigs are Tamworths, although the farm also has Berkshire pigs.

All the pigs have open-sided shelters available to them, and they are rotated through different fields to root around and forage. When one starts to look worn down, they are moved to another field. The farm is a fairly typical small-farm size, at 112 acres of mixed pasture and woods.

Like other forms of rotational grazing that I have seen, the separate fields are pretty simply deliniated with electric fencing. It's inexpensive, and boundaries can be changed as needed. The down side is that the storm put them all out of commision for a while!

Because most of the pigs had disappeared into the woods during the storm, some of the photos in this post were taken by Ida; this is one of them. These pigs are part of the breeding herd. Ida says, "To ensure production practices incur the smallest carbon footprint possible, the pigs are fed locally grown grains milled in a nearby facility that is certified free of any medicated feed. Pigs will turn feral and dangerous very quickly. Feeding them a small amount in addition to their forage keeps them friendly and tame."

Many of the fields contain small scrubby fruit trees, apples and plums, and the pigs eat the fallen fruit. Including the green, unripe ones. Ida says they get a stomach-ache when they do that. They do it anyway. Hmm, reminds me of someone I know. (Uh, hi. Not that I eat green apples, but, you know...)

The pigs are also taming the short, scrubby junipers which with the farm was becoming overgrown when they bought it, in 2007. This is not rich farm land, and it's impressive to see how well the pigs do on it. They do get fed locally grown and milled grains in addition to their foraging. Still, it takes three times as long for a Pork of Yore pig to reach a marketable weight as it does for a standard industrial pig raised in a standard industrial way.

Oh dear, yet another massive fallen tree, a big old basswood. It really was a wild, wild storm.

Ida walked back behind it to see if she could find any of the pigs pastured in the back field. She couldn't though; they had hidden themselves really well. She said they did not reappear until quite late the next day! One of the disadavantages to giving your livestock plenty of space and varying terrain, I guess.

The advantages are that pigs, which are forest animals naturally, lead a very pig-like life, foraging and rooting through the fields and woods, finding shade and cool mud as they need it - (and they need it, because they are not capable of sweating). The sows raise their piglets themselves, and do it well. Pigs have a reputation for being terrible mothers, but apparently that's only true when they have been bred for maximum fast growth, and live in grim industrial conditions. With good shelter and lots of bedding, the Tamsworth are fine mothers.

Here's a photo from Ida showing the pigs having a huddle during calmer times. You can see they have a lot of variation in coat colour, being a mix of two varieties and also closer to their wild ancestors than modern industrial pigs. I think they may be under a choke-cherry tree here; another fruit that they hoover up when it falls.

The sky was threatening to dump yet more rain on us, so we headed back to the main section of the farm, Ivy the Lanseer Newfoundland dog leading the way. Fortunately, this storm veered away south and missed us.

Gary hitches up the tractor to haul away one of the many trees downed in the storm, while Ivy looks on. The wood in the shelter is used in the furnace next to it; this actually heats the water and is the heat source for their old log home in the winter. Looks like they are going to have plenty of wood this year!

Ida described to us how she had been out by her chicken tractors when the storm hit. She spent the storm in the tractor, holding down the roof to keep it from blowing away. Scary! The chickens, by the way, are Barred Rock, a standard dual purpose chicken, and Chantecler, a rare Canadian-bred dual purpose chicken. These are raised to supply eggs. We have chicken tractor (and chicken) envy!

Here's a picture Ida sent of the chickens out and about during calmer weather.  These are the White Rock and Bonnie's Heavy Reds, which are dual purpose birds Ida is raising for meat.

We didn't see them, but Pork of Yore farm also has some sheep and Morgan horses, which are happy to graze together.  

As part of her vegetable garden, Ida has a "three sisters" section where she is growing white flint (flour) corn from the Curve Lake Reserve near Peterborough, native corn-field beans and Ni-Es-Pah squash, a native squash from the American mid-west.

This pig is a Tamworth-Berkshire hybrid, ready for processing. Meanwhile, it's enjoying frolicking through the goldenrod - a very different creature from the pigs crammed into tiny pens in giant barns, and fed a bizarre mixture of the cheapest foods the farmer can get for them, often spoiled foods not bad enough to throw out but not suitable for sale. (One pig farmer I spoke to once told me his pigs ate a lot of ice cream!) Not Ida and Gary's pigs; they have a natural diet free of any meat products.

As I posted earlier, we found Ida at the Carp Farmers Market on Saturday, where we bought a few cuts (all cured or smoked, as we were hauling it in the car all day). Prices were about two or three times typical supermarket pork prices, I would say, depending on the cut. I don't think that is surprising given the enormous differences in how they are raised compared to industrial pigs, and well worth it just for knowing that the pigs were treated so well during their lives. But not surprisingly, it tastes so much better too! You can also order sides for the freezer or cuts by contacting Pork of Yore directly.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Cheesy Zucchini Bake

A number of years back, my cousin, egged on and assisted by a few other members of the family, put together a collection of the family recipes, seeing as the family was full of great cooks, some of whom were getting pretty old and we wanted to get our hands on their recipes before they died*, as well as any other great recipes floating around in the family. Treasured Recipes of the Mount Family, it was called. As a member of that family through my mother, I both contributed to the content and purchased a number of the subsequent copies. Rose's Zucchini Squares was one of the recipes in the book. Not contributed by me. Contributed by, er, Rose. Who I can't quite place at the moment, having lost** my family chart. However, her Zucchini Squares are killer.

I have modified the recipe, by cutting back the oil quite a bit but then promptly adding rather a lot more cheese.  The result is a thin quiche or flan-like slice. The original was cut in small squares and served as an hor d'oeuvre, in which capacity it is mighty fine, but it makes a great lunch or supper as well, in larger pieces served with a salad and perhaps a bit of bread. And yes, our zucchini are still churning them out. Can you tell?

4 to 6 servings as a main dish
24 to 36 squares as an hors d'oeuvre
45 minutes - 15 minutes prep time

Cheesy Zucchini Bake

3 cups thinly sliced zucchini (4 medium)
1/2 cup minced green onions  (the greens of 1 large fresh onion)

2 tablespoons minced parsley
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups grated Cheddar cheese
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon oregano

2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
3 extra large eggs
1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup grated old Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9" x 13" baking (lasagne) pan.

Wash, trim and slice the zucchini. Wash, trim and dice the green onion. Wash and mince the parsley. Peel and mince the garlic. Put them all in a large mixing bowl.

Measure the flour and stir into it the baking powder, salt, pepper and oregano. Whisk the vegetable oil, eggs and milk in a small bowl.

Toss the vegetables with the flour until it is evenly distributed, then stir in the egg mixture. It will seem dry at first, but keep stirring until the mixture is evenly moistened. Scoop it into the prepared baking pan and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly all over. I'm told, although I haven't tried it, that you can re-heat this from a baked but frozen state by returning it to a 350°F oven and baking for 10 to 15 minutes.

* Yes, my family does have its priorities, and food is at the top of the list.
** Thrown up my hands and given up trying years ago, is more like it. 

Last year at this time I made Peach & Blueberry Pie.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Cream of Corn Soup, Hot or Cold

I hear the corn is rather late this year, and that there is something of a shortage due to it being late to mature, on account of how cool this summer has been. Fortunately, our local fruit markets seem to have plenty of their own, ripe and ready.  I note the price seems to have gone up. After having tried to grow it myself (and failing) for the last few years, I'm actually okay with that - it's still a bargain, compared to how much work it is and how much space it takes up for a relatively small return in edible produce. Not to mention the raccoons. I asked Robert of 100 Mile Produce what he did about raccoons, and he replied, "They eat an acre." And  he only has nine acres of corn. Yikes!

Anyway, if you want to make it go a bit further than just chowing down on corn on the cob, this is a good way to do it. I served it cold, but given the weather lately it might have been better hot.

8 to 12 servings
1 hour prep time

12 cobs of corn
3 medium shallots
3 or 4 bay leaves
4 tbsps butter
6 tbsps flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon rubbed savory or basil

2 cups milk or light cream
2 cups corn cooking water
2 teaspoons sweet sherry and/or white wine vinegar

Put a large pot of water on to boil for cooking the corn. Husk the corn. Peel and chop the shallots. When the water boils, cook the corn for 5 to 6 minutes, with the bay leaves added to the cooking water. You will likely need to do it in 2 batches, even with a large pot. Cool the cobs of corn under cold water, and save the cooking water. Cut the corn from the cobs, scraping them to remove all the pulp, and set aside the corn from 2 cobs by itself to be used as a garnish.

Next, in a large heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter and flour together. Add the shallots, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the shallots are softened and perhaps slightly browned, and the flour and butter well amalgamated. Add the salt, sugar, and rubbed savory or basil, and slowly stir in the milk or cream, bit by bit, stirring well between each addition to form a smooth sauce. When the milk is all in, add the 2 cups of the corn cooking water, again stirring well to blend. Transfer the bay leaves from the cooking water to the soup. Add about half of the larger portion of corn, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the soup is thickened. Be sure not to let it boil, or the milk may curdle. Remove the bay leaves.

Purée the soup in a blender - it will certainly take 2 or 3 batches - until very smooth. Return it to the soup pot, and add the remaining half of the larger portion of corn and the sherry or vinegar. Either chill or heat the soup, depending on whether you intend to serve it cold or hot. When you serve it up, sprinkle each bowl with some of the small portion of corn set aside for garnishing.

Last year at this time I made Sautéd Beets & Greens.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Telegraph Improved Cucumber

For the last few years we grew a variety of cucumber called Sweeter Yet, as our mothers all want a mild, burpless English type cucumber. Sweeter Yet seemed to fit the bill very well. However, when we had the invasion by the barbarian hordes of squash bugs and cucumber beetles last year, the Sweeter Yet really failed to make the grade - in fact, our entire first planting died, and our second planting really struggled and didn't manage to bring forth more than a handful of cucumbers. But the worst thing about Sweeter Yet is that it is an F1 hybrid - no seed saving possible - from Monsanto. Yeah. Our least favourite company, in a field with a hell of a lot of competition. So the search is on to find a replacement.

We found this one at William Dam, and it looks very possible. It's an open-pollinated variety said to date to 1897, developed in England for growing in "frames" (greenhouses) but which does quite well when grown outdoors as well. At 65 to 70 days to maturity, it produces in good time. The resulting cukes are very long and slender. Ours have been rather inclined to curl, but I'm not sure all that much more than the Sweeter Yet. They are good keepers, crisp, mild, and with few and small seeds. I actually ate a slice - yes I did! - and did not suffer any indigestion as a result. This is exciting, as for years I have been convinced that I cannot eat raw cucumbers at all without suffering greatly. I have to say though, that while I thought the flavour pleasant, it was mild enough to verge on the bland.

I looked at a few old English seed listings on line; the 1898 Wholesale Catalogue of Vegetable Seeds as offered by E W King & Co Seed Growers, Coggeshall, Essex lists Rollinson's Telegraph as one of the varieties they carry. Sutton's catalogue of 1879 lists Telegraph, not improved. The number of greenhouse cucumber varieties available at the turn of the previous century in England was impressive, but few of them are still available, let alone widely available. Telegraph Improved is still very popular in England, and reasonably well known in North America.

William Dam says Telegraph Improved needs to have pollination to set fruit. Other listings sometimes say male flowers should be removed whenever they appear. William Dam is, of course, correct. Do NOT remove the male blossoms. Modern hybrid cucumbers are frequently parthenocarpic; that is, they will produce cucumbers without being fertilized first, just as chickens will produce eggs withour a rooster. Parthenocarpic fruits are seedless, so you won't run into the problem of tough, overdeveloped seeds in your salad. You won't be able to save any seeds either. At any rate, this point is moot, since Telegraph Improved is not parthenocarpic.

Because parthenocarpic cucumbers are now so common, people often believe that bitterness in cucumbers is caused when they are fertilized. This is not true. Cucumbers plants contain compounds called cucurbitacins, which make the rest of the plant taste bitter, but which may or may not be present in the fruit. Modern varieties have been selected for fruit low in cucurbitacins, but they may form there anyway, especially under environmental stress. Plant your cukes in good, neutral, compost-enriched soil, and keep them evenly watered and don't let them get too hot, and you will have excellent, bitter-free cucumbers. Of course, that's easier said than done. Water stress in particular can set off bitterness in cucumbers, and once a plant has started producing bitter fruit it will keep on doing so even if the immediate cause of the bitterness is remedied. So be sure to water your cukes!

There is a recessive gene, called bi, that will cause cucumbers that carry it not to have any bitterness, not even in the leaves and stems, and not to become bitter even under stress. I suspect that the Sweeter Yet had this gene, and that is why it was so thoroughly demolished by the barbarian hordes. I suspect that Telegraph Improved doesn't carry it, which is why it has been doing much better in our garden. This has been a truly excellent season for cucumbers, apart from the bug pressure, which I fear is now permanent. It's been mostly pretty mild, with regular and adequate rainfall. However, I don't believe that the Telegraph Improved cucumbers suffered in flavour even during our relatively short but sharp heatwave of early July.

When cucumbers are bitter-free or low in cucurbitacins, they seem to be less likely to cause indigestion. However, the corellation does not seem to be 100%, and people may react differently to different cucumbers. I am optimistic that this is a cucumber that I will be able to eat, but if you want to try it, and cucumbers are known to give you indigestion, eat a very small piece early in the day to be sure it will be okay before you partake in any quantity.

Telepraph Improved will need to be trellised; it's a longish rangy vine and the long narrow cucumbers will curl much worse if they aren't high enough up to dangle. A tomato cage won't cut it. Ours have done reasonably well, although due to the number of cucumber beetles, there has been a little mild wilt. Not too bad, though; certainly nothing like the instant death that befell the Sweeter Yet last year.

By the way, if you do get a bitter cucumber - don't eat it! Those bitter compounds not only taste bad, they are quite unhealthy as well and may make you ill. You can remove some of the bitterness from a slightly bitter cucumber, by cutting off the stem end and rubbing the two cut edges together until they foam, then rinsing it off and peeling it. But again, if it tastes nasty, don't eat it! You have nothing to gain but a belly-ache.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Green Bean & Apricot Salad

Well, yes! It's green bean season again. One day we were watching the vines wondering why there were so few beans (hint: heatwave of two weeks ago - all the blossoms FELL OFF) and the next day, we are up to our eyeballs in them. Yeah, beans just keep calm and carry on, at least if they are the pole type they do.

Most of them went into the freezer but I also made this, since I found some lovely Niagara apricots - one of my favourite fruits. And the sweet onions are fattening up, and the basil is leafing out, so here we are. I would have liked almonds on this but what I had was sunflower seeds - perfectly fine.

I also prepared my onion before I did anything else, and set it in its own little dish with a generous sprinkling of salt, and let it sit while I did everything else. Then I rinsed it well and drained it well. I hate to say it, but even sweet onions and I no longer see eye-to-eye. If you think your digestion will be improved by this step, well, then I recommend that you follow it too.

Sprinkle a little feta cheese (or just extra nuts or seeds) on this, pass a roll or two and call it a complete meal for 4. Otherwise, it will serve 8 as a side salad.

4 to 8 servings
30 minutes prep time

Green Bean & Apricot Salad

Make the Dressing:
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
the juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground fresh black peppercorns
3 tablespoons sunflower seed oil (OR walnut oil OR hazelnut oil)

Grate the lemon zest and put it in a jam jar or small bowl. Add the lemon juice, honey, salt, pepper, and  oil, and shake or whisk until well blended.

Make the Salad:
500 grams (1 pound) green beans
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet white onion
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh basil
12 to 16 fresh apricots
1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds OR toasted sunflower seeds

Put a pot of water on to boil, sufficient to hold the beans. Wash, trim and cut the beans into bite-sized pieces. Peel and chop the onion, and put it in a mixing bowl. Wash and mince the basil and add it to the onion.

When the water boils, add the prepared beans and boil them for 3 to 4 minutes, until just tender. Rinse them in cold water until completely cool, then drain them well. Add them to the salad bowl.

Wash the apricots, and cut them in halves to remove the pits. Cut each half into 3 or 4 slices and add them to the salad. Toss the salad with the dressing, then sprinkle over the nuts or sunflower seeds.