Saturday, December 24, 2011

Last Minute Gift Idea: DIY Hot Cocoa Mix

Window decor by my 8th graders. Tis the season for geometry!

How do I always end up with such an extensive list of things to do on Christmas Eve? I mean aside from the working flat-out until the day before, inevitable last-minute inspirations for the perfect handmade gift that cannot be made at the last minute, the fact that Christmas Eve is the big celebration in our family, all with a side of being easily distracted?

All to-do list anxiety aside, this twofold revelation crossed a few things off my list in one fell swoop:
  1. Hot cocoa mix, even custom hot cocoa mix, is really easy to make.
  2. Most people really like hot cocoa.
The hardest decision to make here is whether you want to put together a mix-with-milk or a mix-with-water variety. As much as I'm happy to heat up milk at home, it's not going to happen at work since it's not practical for me to keep milk there. I actually used to keep a tub of cheap cocoa mix at work to add to my coffee in lieu of sugar and milk. I also know that some of the folks to whom I am giving this cocoa mix are not as well-inclined to heat up milk for cocoa. So, I decided to opt for a variety that would work mixed only with hot water.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Root-Beer Rarebit Soup: Ultimate Soup for Ultimate Soup Weather

So, as you may have heard, New England had a little snow last weekend.

And by a little snow, we mean a foot of wet, heavy stuff that downed large limbs and knocked power out for millions of people in the Northeast. Including us, for about three and a half days. Growing up, I always used to look forward to power outages; they were all about hanging out around the woodstove, playing cards with the family while drinking cocoa by candlelight. Some key details embedded in that sentence: woodstove, which implies heat; drinking cocoa, which implies ability to cook. As long as you have those two things, life goes on pretty much as normal, give or take having to refill the toilet tank manually from the gallons of water you keep specifically for times like this because the well pump runs on electric. As is, our apartment's heat and cook stove both require electricity to run, so we were without both.

So, we decided to revisit the idyllic side of the power going out and headed up to Vermont, after hearing we could be without power for up to a week (as of writing, Western Mass Electric reports that 26% of its customers - over 56,000 people - are still without service, though they have been working flat out since Sunday). We were planning on getting together on Sunday anyhow, to make dinner for Maria's birthday, so we just made a venue change and headed north. Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day - they mostly have been since the storm - clear blue skies and snow melting like it was going out of style. Ironically, the power in Vermont came back on Sunday afternoon, shortly after we got up there. We heard later that some friends from Northampton actually drove up to Brattleboro and rented a motel room to stay warm after returning home to no heat from a brisk weekend in New York, spent mostly outside.

Stopping by Mom's on the way home on Monday afternoon (my heat wasn't on, but it was at school, so they planned to be open Tuesday), she pressed some of the soup she had just made on me, and that soup has pretty much been the template for this week: Pumpkin. Cheddar. Beer.
It sounds like an obviously genius idea upon hearing it; the ultimate soup for the ultimate soup weather. Since then, I've been adapting it to accommodate the variety of sweet winter vegetables that predominate this time of year. Both recipes are adaptations of Mollie Katzen's "Pumpkin Rarebit Soup" from the classic Hippie-American cookbook The Enchanted Broccoli Forest.

Our CSA farm's winter squash crop, planted on the banks of the Connecticut River, was drowned by flooding during Hurricane Irene. However, this year marked their best harvest of sweet potatoes ever, so sweet potatoes have been doing double duty for us in many of the places that we would typically use squash (unfortunately, they don't make very good jack o'lanterns). We offered to cook dinner for some friends in Northampton, with whom we stayed two nights after their power came back online before ours, to thank them for their hospitality.
They let us know that in addition to our sweet potatoes, they had a whole mess of leeks and parsnips they weren't sure what to do with, so they went into the soup, too. Pretty much any sweet fall vegetables will work: winter squash, sweet potatoes, parsnip, carrot, turnip, etc. I picked up a bunch of the perennial favorite Smuttynose Old Brown Dog, a brown ale which balances well a nutty caramel maltiness with a crisply hopped flavor and which actually has its origins in Northampton, to go in and with the soup. I also amped it up a little with the addition of my old friend chipotle and came up with a soup that merited three bowlfuls from at least one diner.
Sweet fall vegetables. Cheddar. Beer.

Root-Beer Rarebit Soup

vegetarian, serves 4-6
  • 1 leek, halved and cut into ½" thick half-rounds OR 1 small onion, medium dice
  • 1 Tblsp. butter
  • 1 qt. mixed sweet fall vegetables, cut into about ½" cubes ← you can also use roasted vegetables here for a quicker soup
  • 1½ c. (12 oz.) beer (I used a brown ale, Katzen recommends a lighter ale, you know what you like)
  • 1½ c. water or stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 1 heaping cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp ground, dried chipotle OR 1 canned chipotle in adobo, minced (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a 3 qt. or larger soup pot, melt butter and begin cooking leeks or onions over med-low heat. Lightly salt. I like to start this process, then start prepping the rest of the vegetables just to make myself patient and give the leeks/onions enough time to cook soft. Add the vegetables. If you're using roasted vegetables, you can add the beer/stock/water immediately. If using fresh, you want to give them about 15 minutes to cook before adding liquid. Once the vegetables have started to get soft (almost immediately for roasted, and about 30 min for fresh), blend until smooth. Add grated cheese and stir until melted and combined. Add chipotle, if using, adjust salt and pepper and serve, ideally with more of whatever beer went into the soup and with a bread robust enough to match (Hungry Ghost Bread, which bakes in a wood-fired oven was one of the first and only places open on Sunday. They had lines out the door for hours.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Freedom Eggs: Protein, History and Good Karma, together at Last (Kunming Tomato and Egg)

We recently started getting eggs from a family at the school where I teach. Local eggs are something I'd been meaning to catch up with for a while, but despite my good intentions driving by "Fresh Eggs" signs alongside the road, it hadn't happened yet. So when I saw a flyer in the school lobby advertising weekly delivery to the school, I was sold. Someone's going to bring me a dozen eggs every other week at school? Awesome.

The family farm in question is an interesting place. It's on the site of the Ross Farm in Florence, MA, the last remaining building of a center of 19th century abolitionist and civil rights activism and stop on the Underground Railroad. At various points in that epoch of its history, it played host to such historical figures as Sojourner Truth (one of Florence's most celebrated historical residents) and Frederick Douglass, who was a frequent lecturer there.

These days, the farm is the family homestead of the Walker/Hammarlund clan, and also plays host to an herb farm run by another couple. I first caught wind of their project shortly after a play about local abolitionists by the class of one of their kids used a field trip to their house as a narrative framework. Someone mentioned that they were gearing up to start doing egg delivery by donkey cart. As if this operation needed to be any more stylish (donkey cart delivery is only available within Florence).

Shortly before the beginning of the school year, the farm was impacted by flooding of the Mill River caused by Hurricane Irene, which came up fairly suddenly and found them literally tossing chickens out of the barn to keep them away from the rising floodwaters.

In any event, we've been enjoying the eggs. I cracked open a double-yolker earlier today. However, going through a dozen eggs in two weeks is a quicker pace than we're accustomed to. It will pick up when I get into serious soup for lunch season and start including eggs in my lunch more often than not. In the meantime, this very simple dish has saved the day from the cranky hungries (or "the hangries" as we call it) a few times over the last few weeks. While any number of cultures have their own simple dishes focused on egg and tomato, this is one Maria learned from her Chinese professor in college, who was from Kunming in the southwestern Yunnan province (fun fact! in Mandarin, the word for tomato directly translates as "barbarian eggplant"). It's little more effort than plain scrambled eggs, but so much more satisfying.

Kunming-style Tomato and Egg

vegetarian, gluten-free
serves 1, 10 minutes start to finish
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 small or ½ large tomato, large dice (or a small handful of cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered)
  • 1-2 scallions, sliced into rounds
  • OR
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • ½ tsp. sugar
  • ¼-½ tsp. salt
  • a drizzle or spritz of oil to grease the pan
Crack eggs in a bowl and whisk with a few pinches of salt and about half the sugar. Prep the tomatoes and scallions/garlic. Heat pan on med-high heat. Add oil and the garlic or half the scallion. Give it about 30 seconds to start smelling toasty, then add the egg. Start cooking it in an undisturbed sheet, as for an omelet. Pull up the sides every so often and tip/swirl the liquid egg out to the edges to cook. Once it's mostly set, break it up and add the tomato, soy sauce and remaining scallion and sugar. Serve hot on its own, over a little rice or with a piece of toast.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Spuds: Gnocchi with leek, kale and sage butter

From the Potato Festival at Sentry Hill Historic House, UK

Potatoes are starting to come in from the farm, and so I've been giggling about potatoes a lot recently.

Why are potatoes so damn funny, anyway?

Way back when I was an active linguistics major, a friend and I half-seriously started developing a phonetic theory of humor. Which is to say, determining which sounds produced by the human vocal tracts and which features of them were inherently funny. We compared oodles of words that made us giggle. We looked at beautiful sounding things, like cellar door, and inverted their qualities. We combined a number of funny features and found ourselves in a Swedish Chef routine. I don't remember everything about our inquiry and findings, but as far as I remember, it doesn't quite predict the humor of potato. It doesn't have any awkward consonant clusters, its vowels display one or fewer of the funny features (high, front, rounded). Still, again and again, it comes up as hilarious, context or no.

Cheryl Wheeler sings about potatoes to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance

Maybe it's the humble simplicity of the potato. Maybe it's just that it's hard not to smile about potatoes, all or part of many classic comfort foods. Gnocchi is one such dish, an Italian pasta which often features...potatoes! I mean, seriously, does it get any more comfort food than that? (Answer: you fry onions in butter and put them on the potato pasta)

Potatoes, of course, are a relatively recent addition to European cuisine, not showing up on the scene until at least the 16th century, which makes their relative ubiquity throughout Europe and its cultural progeny all the more staggering.
Gnocchi's history in Italy goes back much farther than that of the potato. The earliest versions, dating back over 2,000 years, involved mixing leftover semolina porridge with eggs and cutting it into small pieces. Gnocchi made with ricotta also have a long history. All versions, though, produce tender little pillows of dough, boiled to perfection and hard to resist.

As far as homemade pasta goes, this one is fairly easy. It doesn't beg for special equipment like a pasta roller, and doesn't entail the same kind of bicep-building battles as does a stiff semolina dough. They pair well with most deep fall flavors, but here we've pretty much kept it to butter, sage, leek and kale. Even from this, you can pare it down to butter, sage and black pepper and still be blissful.

Potato Gnocchi with Leek, Kale and Sage Butter

vegetarian, optionally vegan/dairy-free
Serves 2-3

    The Gnocchi:
  • 3-4 med. peeled potatoes (about a pound), boiled or roasted, then milled, riced or mashed
  • 1 Tblsp. butter or olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour (plus flour for dusting)

  • The Rest:
  • 2 Tblsp. butter, olive oil or margarine (we are not kidding around)
  • 1 leek, cut into long thickish strips about 5" long
  • ¼ chopped fresh sage and/or tarragon (or to taste)
  • 8-10 stems kale, destemmed and roughly torn
  • ½ c. mushroom, veggie or chicken broth
  • salt and pepper to taste

Traditionally, the potatoes for this are cooked whole and in their skins, then peeled and ground up into mush (Note: good use for leftover baked potato!). I'm not sure exactly what the logic behind this is, though I suspect it's about trying to keep the spud's moisture balance. If it takes on too much liquid, you'll be forced to add more flour and make a tougher, less potato-y end product. Too little, and you won't get smooth potato taste. That said, I haven't experimented with other ways of cooking a potato for this, so I can't tell you that they don't work.

In any event, once you've reached the point of cooked and peeled, you want to put it through a ricer or food mill. You want a pretty smooth mashy texture. Work in the butter or oil and salt, then start working in the flour. Unlike most pasta dough, where you are trying to develop the gluten pretty strongly, you want to knead this just to the point of coming together into a ball.

Once you have incorporated all the flour, cut the dough into 4-5 sections and roll each into a snake about ¾" in diameter. Cut into ¾-1" sections. Flatten each slightly against the back of a fork with your thumb. At this point, you can boil them for prompt eating, or freeze them for later. If eating now,
boil in at least 1 gallon lightly salted water in a big pasta pot. While you're waiting, prep the leeks, kale and herbs. Melt butter over medium heat in a 10" cast iron skillet or similar, and let butter brown a little before adding leeks. Once leeks start to get soft, season with salt and pepper, add kale and broth and cover. Shortly before adding boiled, drained gnocchi, add herbs and toss. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Quick Hits: Panzanella

We have kind of a unique problem - we have too much artisan bread hanging around on a regular basis. Maybe it sounds a little less whiny if I tell it like it really is: we have too much half-stale artisan bread hanging around. Maria works most of the week as a farmstand muffin and cookie-slinger, but one night a week, she puts on her cape and cowl and takes on her real passion: bread. Every Monday, after working a full shift at the regular baking job, she heads out at 11 o'clock at night to go shape bread at El Jardín, one of a few local bakeries that focus on wood-fired, sourdough bread. She returns, half-delirious, at about 9 o'clock in the morning, often towing several loaves of day-old sourdough, and proceeds to sleep for most of her Tuesday off (and then wakes up in the afternoon and commences cooking again for her weekly pot luck).

Bread, especially sourdough, is kind of a family legacy. We grew up with perpetual sourdough. Mom began baking when pregnant with me, and, for several years, plied her bread at the Brattleboro Farmer's Market out of the back of the 1970s Volvo with her spokesbabies. When I was about 5, she got a job baking in the kitchen at The Putney School, where she was encouraged to further develop her sourdough wiles. We also grew up in the back of that kitchen, warming ourselves against the huge, ceramic-lined ovens and sampling whatever came down the pipeline. As such, we grew up with the idea the sourdough wasn't a big deal. Folks' ability to normalize their childhood is remarkable sometimes. All that said, we only eat so much bread before it becomes almost unslice-ably stale. I guess it's better than it going moldy, with which you can do very little, but we store it at room temperature and not in plastic, which will get you stale over moldy most days. For better or worse, once bread has gone totally stale and lost all its moisture, it really won't go moldy.

So, we end up swimming in stale sourdough, and having to find creative ways to use it up outside of making breadcrumbs in quantities of epic proportion. Leading up to the end of summer, here's a quick favorite: Panzanella, a quick, Italian bread-tomato-basil salad full of simple, fresh, summery flavors that we always have trouble not picking to death before it makes it to its destination (the same can be said of another favorite stale bread usage, a savory bread pudding, but that's a story for another, cooler day).


    vegan, about 20 min. start to finish
    serves 4-6
  • 1 loaf half-stale bread, large dice
  • 2 med-large tomatoes, large dice
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, slivered
  • ¼-½ c. olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp. salt (this is a good opportunity to break out the good salt)
  • 3-4 stems (15-20 leaves) fresh basil, chiffonaded
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste

  • Optional:
  • 1 chile, seeded and minced
After prep, toss all ingredients save the garlic. Toss garlic in a skillet with some of the olive oil over med-high heat until it starts to smell toasty, then sprinkle on top. Let sit for as long as you can stand it, or at least 15 minutes. Crank black pepper to taste over the top.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Art in and of the Orchard: Baked Apple Pancake with Bourbon Caramel Sauce

Art is never far from hand here in the Valley. Park Hill Orchard, here in Easthampton, is currently hosting a sculpture exhibit, which I finally got around to checking out this weekend. It features a variety of sculpted pieces from mostly local artists, ranging from abstract collections of wood and metal to found-object metal insects to a tree studded with plaster lips. Also, they were handing out a tart Paula Red apple to everyone who showed up to walk the exhibit path. As one of the owners explained, “We're not so much farmers who go into art as artists who got into farming.” The exhibit's been up for almost a month now, but it's almost a more rewarding trip the farther into fall we go, as there's more apple opportunities to take advantage of at this point. The advertising of the free apple worked well enough for me to take a ¼-peck home, and they had cold, fresh cider for sale at the stand as well.

Chris Woodman
Robert Markey
View of Mt. Tom from the orchard

As much as I try to avoid snobbish attitudes around food, I haven't been able to completely avoid being a bit of a cider snob. I grew up with Vermont's largest contiguous apple orchard in my backyard, and spent falls in high school making fresh cider, many gallons at a time, to be served in the school dining hall. I'd take home a half-gallon from the cider house and drink it almost to the point of causing intestinal unrest. When you've drunk enough cider that way, bright, fresh and right off the press, it's almost impossible to tolerate the pasteurized apple juice that passes for cider in most supermarkets (which can make decent mulled cider, so I guess it's not a total waste of space). It even seems like a waste to heat it up with mulling spices or save it to make hard cider because that would mean not drinking it fresh. I can get good hard cider all year round and lesser ciders will do for mulling, but there's only a few months' window for good, fresh cider. It's my annual torrid fall love affair.

I'm not quite so passionate in my opinions where it comes to apples (except in my repudiation of so-called Red Delicious "apples," which is probably stronger than my opinion on cider, but doesn't come up as often). If I'm having a torrid seasonal love affair with cider, apples and I are like friends from summer camp: you hang out a lot more for a short part of the year, but you keep up on and off the rest of the year, too. You probably know them better than you know tall, dark and thirst-quenching. My favorite apples are still pretty bold and tart, varieties many consider to be pie apples: Northern Spy, Cortland and Empire are some favorites. The Paula Reds that I brought home are an evolved version of the McIntosh that have a bright sweetness when very fresh that mellows the more time they're off the tree. I mostly eat them fresh this time of year, sticking a few a day in my lunchbag.

However, we turned up with several people for brunch this Sunday, and turned some of the apples into an apple pancake baked in a cast iron skillet and dusted with cinnamon sugar. It tastes a little like a warm cider donut. This is a recipe we came up with a while ago, and is notable partially because it represents Maria and I equally contributing to a recipe without feeling the need to squash each other for territorial reasons. It has a delicate, spongy texture, different from the other baked pancakes and Pfannkuchen to which it's related, due to volume of whipped egg whites, which take on the whole leavening job. We also happened to have some bourbon caramel sauce lying around, like you do, which we drizzled over the top of each slice to dramatic effect. If you don't regularly happen to have bourbon caramel sauce lying around, but would like to, the recipe for that follows as well. Additionally, one of our brunch guests took some gorgeous photos of the finished dish while we were busy, putting our usual photo stylings to shame.

    Baked Apple Pancake

    vegetarian, optionally dairy-free
    serves 4-6, start to finish in 30 minutes or less
    Dry Mix:
  • ½ c. flour
  • 3 Tblsp. sugar (+ 1 Tblsp. for dusting)
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon (+½ tsp. for dusting)
  • ¾ med. apple (about 1/2 lb apple – I used a Paula Red), cut into ½” chunks (the last ¼ will be used for decorative slices on top)
  • Wet Mix:
  • 2 Tblsp apple cider (you can omit the yogurt/milk and use ¼ c. cider to make this dairy-free)
  • 2 Tblsp plain or vanilla yogurt OR 2 Tblsp. milk plus about ¼ tsp. vinegar
  • 1 whole egg*
  • Whip to stiff peaks:
  • 3 egg whites*
  • 1 Tblsp. butter or margarine
  • *We often have spare egg whites hanging around. You can get away with 3 whole eggs, separated. Mix the yolks in with the wet mix and whip the whites separately. You could even try it with just 2 eggs divided this way.
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Put together dry mix ingredients in a 2 qt. bowl. Make sure apple pieces get well coated with dry mix, as it well help them from clumping in the final product. The wet mix ingredients (which do not include whipped egg whites) should fit in something 1-2 c. in size. Mixing them in a measuring cup with spout makes the whole deal very easy to add. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks. Add wet mix to dry mix and stir to combine, then fold in the egg whites.

Melt 1 T butter in a 9” cast iron skillet, then pour in the batter and spread out evenly. Arrange apple slices on top, then put it in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until it gets toasty-brown on top and a toothpick comes out of the center clean.

Combine reserved tablespoon of sugar and ½ tsp. of cinnamon, then use to dust the top. Let sit for 5-10 minutes (or as long as you can stand it). It should slide out of the pan with minimal coaxing. Slice as you see fit and serve, with or without caramel sauce.

    Bourbon Caramel Sauce

    Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert
    Lebovitz's blog, Living the Sweet Life in Paris is always a good read as well.
  • ½ c. (1 stick) butter (salted or not, up to you), cut into pieces
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1-2 Tblsp. water
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • ¼ c. bourbon (a little more than a shot)
  • ¼ tsp. salt, or to taste
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (deep is important because it will bubble up pretty aggressively after the cream is added), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the sugar and water to cover. Stir occasionally until the sugar begins to caramelize. When it reaches a dark amber color and smells on the verge of burning, remove from heat and immediately add the cream. Stir until smooth, then stir in salt and bourbon. Sauce can be stored for up to 2 weeks if refrigerated, but let it come to room temperature before using.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fall Fungus Foraging (and Fairytales)

Battle cry of the week: “Hey, I know what that is – you can eat that!”

I've always been timidly fascinated by mushroom hunting – it's always seemed just out of reach. It's always played a bit like a Red Riding Hood fairytale in my head; skipping through the forest with a basket under my arm, with danger lurking ominously around every turn in the form of the wrong mushroom. It should be as simple as one of those fairytale tests where you have to choose the simple thing and not the pile of jewels, but, sadly, the moral (morel?) of this story is not as clearly pre-defined. My father tells stories of going out mushroom hunting with his Polish grandparents as a kid in New Jersey, but has never felt confident enough to identify anything from that. It's too bad - it feels like losing some piece of my heritage, especially because his grandfather died before I was born and his grandmother wasn't able to communicate much the few times I did meet her as a little kid. They almost feel like as much of a fairytale as the mushrooms they gathered, or the fabled orchard they kept in the middle of Jersey City. As far as mushrooms go, I guess the invitation I was hoping for was to see it happen – to have some guidance from someone in person rather than just a book.

This week, it began with a puffball. You know the ones. You've probably spent fall romps hoping to find the mature ones that burst out a smoky puff of spores when you jump on them. We were on a walk around the neighborhood with the dog and friend that tends to show up with edible gifts (always a good friend to have) when he was the first to whoop into the battle cry at the sight of young puffballs on the field across the street from the house. We twisted them out of the ground and brought them home to confirm them on the internet.

The internet has done fabulous things for empowering folks to try out what have classically been specializations that border on gnostic. While a good mushroom hunting guide is still invaluable, being able to cross reference with others from varied locations with lots of pictures is great for confirmation. You can even reverse-search from images to help you get started. To be sure, there's a limited number of mushrooms you want to collect and eat without consulting an expert mushroom hunter, as there are many edible varieties of mushroom that have poisonous lookalikes. However, there are several common tasty varieties that you can confidently confirm without delicate identification work. Puffballs happen to be among them.

Our specimens happened to be from one of a few common varieties that grow on lawns. In fact, we're still not quite clear whether they are Purple-spored Puffballs (Calvatia cyathiformis) or Skull-shaped Puffballs (Calvatia craniformis), which can be impossible to tell apart until fully mature and beyond eating (one has purple spores, the other, brown, but both are white on the inside at the stage you eat them). Luckily, the difference is largely irrelevant for the purpose of eating, as they're equally tasty and safe, and, while it can be difficult to tell them apart while young, they have no dangerous doppelgangers. Here's what you need to know to identify the young puffball on your lawn for eating:
  1. It has a globish shape, possibly lumpy.
  2. It is creamy white, possibly with some crackly brown on top.
  3. When you flip it over, you will not see any of the gills usually on the underside of the cap of mushrooms.

  4. If it meets these criteria, it's worth cutting open for the last:
  5. When you cut it open, the interior flesh is uniformly smooth white.
This last criteria is essential to determining its edibility. If you see what looks like a cap and stem developing inside, get rid of it, as you may have found the closest thing to a dangerous puffball lookalike: a young Amanitas mushroom, commonly known as a “Death Cap” or “Destroying Angel,” which can kill you if you eat them. Thankfully, the developing cap inside is pretty hard to miss (see picture, right). If you don't see any cap developing inside, but it's not uniformly white, usually with gray-brown patches, you have probably found a more mature puffball. This means you can't, or more likely don't want to eat it, but it does mean that where you found it is a good place to watch for them and you can throw it back in the hopes of growing more.

I brought this new-found confidence on a hike yesterday on one of my favorite spots, a local section of the Metacomet-Monadnock trail. It's the height of mushroom season right now, and the many varieties of fungus seemed to jump out, and not in a fairytale-werewolf sort of way. I spent most of the walk looking down, observing the many different mushrooms along the path, occasionally stopping to snap a picture with my phone's camera to look up later. Along the way, I found the other edible fungus I was sure I could identify: Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), a bright orange and yellow ruffle growing out of the side of a dead tree trunk. I also found another variety of puffball, the Pear-shaped Puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme) I had read up on while trying to type the ones from the lawn, but had ruled out because it only grew on wood.

Puffballs have a much softer texture than the common supermarket mushroom varieties, somewhere between white bread and marshmallow. The first day we found the edible puffballs, we ate them savory french toast-style, cut into thick slices, dipped in egg, milk and herbs, then pan-fried. We spread a little tasty yeasty goo and sprinkled fresh thyme on some of them, which added to the deep savory flavor. After the hike, we cut up the few little puffballs into bite-sizes pieces along with the Chicken of the Woods, which is far on the firmer side of the texture spectrum, and fried them in butter with fresh garlic and thyme. I have yet to come across a mushroom variety that is not delicious sauteed in butter with garlic and thyme. However, this is far from the only thing to do with them; the most creative mushroom preparation I've heard involves giant puffballs, which regularly grow to the size of a soccer ball and larger. Some folks take thick cross-cuts of them, put them on an oiled baking sheet, and top them like a pizza. It takes mushroom-lovers' pizza to a new level.

This promises to be a fall for looking down. From the photos we shot on our hike, we probably found at least one more edible variety: the honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea). While it grows widely on the east coast, it's also a popular eastern European variety, and one that Dad used to harvest with his grandparents, whom we never really got to meet, despite their being key figures in Dad's growing up. It's a circuitous path to knowing them, but finding the same treats in the woods they did, being let in on that quasi-gnostic foraging knowledge feels like getting to know them in some way, even if we couldn't learn it from them. This is part of what's so powerful about family recipes: they make a far more visceral connection to the past than simply hearing stories. In eating what they ate, you feel you have an understanding of them that you can, quite literally, internalize. It makes for a more powerful connection than seeing a picture or hearing a story, and saves the past as a tangible reality rather than what amounts to a fairytale.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Can I Call It Kimchi?

I've been threatening to make kimchi for years now. It's probably the pickled product I eat most frequently, above sauerkraut or even (cucumber) pickles. I eat it in soups, fried rice, stir-fries, tucked inside dumplings and right out of the jar. If you're not familiar with it, kimchi is the broader name for the ubiquitous class of Korean pickled vegetables that comes in many forms seasonally and regionally. The most instantly-recognizable version of it, paechu kimchi, is primarily composed of napa cabbage, usually with daikon radish and scallion, liberally dosed with ginger, garlic and ground chile and, often, ground, dried shrimp and anchovy sauce.

Most versions of it contain at least one of the above ingredients. However, as most is true with many beloved culinary archetypes, such as pierogi and gumbo, the authenticity of which are fiercely defended, it's "authentically" made with whatever's available at the time. Spring tends to bring radish-based kimchi and summer kimchi often includes light greens and cucumber, while fall is dominated by cabbage. Additionally, chiles were not introduced to Korean cuisine until about the 17th century, while kimchi dates back to at least the 13th century, so much of the history of kimchi exists without chiles, as do some varieties of the dish.

Paechu kimchi is often made in large quantities during the November cabbage harvest, to store up for the winter. Historically, this kimchi is made during kimjang, events where a family or community will gather to process truly impressive quantities of cabbage and other ingredients. While an increasing number of Koreans buy most of their kimchi, the practice of kimjang is still alive and well in many families. Saveur magazine chronicled one family's kimjang process in a 2009 article, "The Art of Kimchi".

I'm not entirely sure what's taken me so long to try it out myself. In many ways, it's more simple than many pickling projects. Here's the process in 5 easy steps, including eating:
  1. Cut vegetables.
  2. Brine vegetables.
  3. Season vegetables.
  4. Ignore vegetables.
  5. Eat pickles.
I think part of my reticence is that I'm wary of projects that may involve me ruining large quantities of food, and it seems a little silly to make just a tiny amount of kimchi. However, when I found myself staring down an 11 lb. cabbage from the farmshare that had been languishing in the vegetable drawer for a couple weeks, just taking up space, I knew it was time. Looking at my ingredients, I found that, aside from the aromatic trio of garlic, ginger and chili, I had none of the traditional ingredients. The cabbage wasn't even an Asian variety, but a rather sweet, but more traditionally European type. I also decided to use beets, in place of radish or other crisp rooties. As I've mentioned here previously, I have a thing for beets.

The next obstacle was a fermentation vessel. The most traditional forms of kimchi are fermented in earthenware vessels buried in the ground to keep them at a cool, consistent temperature (à la root cellar). Metal, which can react and interfere with the fermentation process, is out. Most of my large glass containers are currently being used for grain storage or for Maria's kombucha babies. Plastic is workable, but I spent a while ogling various, purpose-designed earthenware fermentation crocks, which are gorgeous and well-designed, but rather expensive. Then, in my preliminary research, I came across a stunningly elegant suggestion from wild fermentation guru Sandor "Sandorkraut" Katz: a crockpot is a glazed earthenware vessel - with a lid, no less - and if you don't have one, you can probably find one at the thrift store for $5 or less.

Armed with cabbage, beets and my crockpot, I finally got started. I sliced up about 5 lb. of cabbage and three big beets and set them in a salt solution (¼ c. salt:1 qt water, shake vigorously until salt dissolves, repeat as necessary to cover veggies) overnight, half in the crockpot and half in a big plastic bowl. For weights, I found two different plates that fit neatly over the top of each vessel and pressed them down, weighting them with jars full of water. The next day, I drained off the brine (reserving the brine from one of the two bowls), and dumped all the veggies into the bowl to be mixed with the aromatics. They had reduced in volume somewhat after their night in the brine, and fit into one of the two containers. I didn't have any of the traditional Korean chile powder, but was determined not to go buy something specifically for this project, so I took the suggestion of the Tigress, whose basic recipe I was using for guidance, of using a blend of equal portions cayenne and sweet paprika. I also minced up a whole head of garlic about an equal volume of fresh ginger. I put on a pair of gloves and went to town massaging the spices and a little sugar into the veggies. I loaded the whole mess back into the crockpot, poured in just enough of the reserved brine to cover, weighted it with a small plate and a bowl of water, put the lid on and stuck it in a dark corner of the counter to be ignored.

Ignoring it and waiting: this is really the hardest part. Thankfully, it's not a project that also bears the "leave alone; do not touch" instruction; you can and should poke at it and sample it daily until it's fermented to your taste. It should start to bubble and develop a sour tang after about 2 days, and should reach fermented fullness after 3-6 days, depending on temperature and other conditions. Mine got so excited when the fermentation really kicked in on Night 2 that it burped up some of its liquid on the counter. Once it's sour enough for your taste, you can load it into jars and put it in the fridge, which will slow the fermentation drastically, so it won't get more sour.

Unlike many other preserving projects, like jams or the recent watermelon rind pickles, you don't want to process this one in a hot water bath; that would kill all the happy little probiotic beasties, namely, Lactobacilli bacteria. This is the same family of little guys that also help make yogurt, beer, wine, and sourdough (there is actually a specific Lactobacillus kimchii!), and are responsible for many of the numerous touted health benefits of kimchi. Kimchi has been reputed to help everything from colds to UTIs (both of which, interestingly, have research to back them up) to cancer and stress, and many ailments in between. As far as nasty bacteria that could make you sick, salting the vegetables prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. If you think about the process, it's similar to making yogurt, and no more likely to make you sick.

We'll see what the next round will bring; now that I've gotten over the initial hump of worrying that I'll mess up and waste a bunch of ingredients, I'll try adding more flavors. I have my eyes on the little dried shrimp used in many traditional kimchi preparations. Both Sandorkraut and the Tigress stress the generous flexibility of lacto-fermentation, and its long history of being done almost entirely to taste. Archeological evidence suggests that laborers working on the Great Wall of China 2000 years ago were eating fermented cabbage and that it was introduced to Europe by Mongol hordes after the Great Wall wasn't quite great enough. Or, maybe I'll just come up with some other concoction that can only dubiously be called kimchi.

    New England Late Summer Kimchi

    vegan, grain/gluten-free, raw
    makes about 3 qts

  • 5 lbs cabbage, sliced into 1" strips
  • 3 med-large beets, peeled and cut into ¼" sticks

  • The seasoning:
  • 2 Tblsp. Korean chili powder OR 1 Tblsp. each of cayenne pepper and sweet paprika
  • 1 smallish head garlic, minced (about ¼ c.)
  • ¼ c. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 Tblsp. sugar
Prep veggies and load into non-reactive containers. Make a 1:16 (6¼%) salt solution and pour over veggies to cover. I mixed it a quart at a time, using ¼ c. salt to 1 qt. water in a lidded container and shaking until the salt dissolved, and ended up using about a gallon. Cover with a plate and weight down to squeeze the vegetables. I used a quart jar filled with water as a weight. Let sit overnight.

The next day (or 8-12 hours later), drain the veggies, reserving at least half of the brine for the fermentation. Dump drained vegetables into a large bowl with room to mix. Prep seasonings and add to bowl. Using gloved hands (don't make me tell you horror stories about chili hands!), massage the spices into the vegetables to get even distribution and good mojo going. Load your proto-pickle into fermentation vessel(s) (e.g. crockpot, glass jar), add reserved brine to cover, and cover with plate/weight as for salting.

Check daily. Fermentation should start to kick in on day 2 or 3, and probably won't take more than 6 days to reach full flavor. Speed of fermentation will depend on temperature and other conditions. When kimchi has reached desired level of doneness, pack into clean jars and refrigerate. Refrigeration will drastically slow fermentation, but it may get a little more sour over several months of storage.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Return of Soup Weather

While talking about what to have for dinner at a friend's house several years ago, in the depth of oppressive July heat, my friend's husband suggested making beef stew. When I protested that it wasn't soup weather, he seemed puzzled, first retorting with a chuckle that he didn't know there were weather prerequisites for making soup. Engineer that he is, he then tried to lay out a strict definition of the concept by asking increasingly specific and self-consciously silly questions about what made for soup weather: What is the highest admissible temperature for soup weather? Is there a set ratio of temperature to humidity? Must there be cloud cover for a designated span of time? All of these, as if we could create a standard soup index, possibly to be jointly regulated by the National Weather Service and the Food and Drug Administration. For months after, he persisted with the question: "So, is this soup weather?" asked with varying degrees of a smirk on his face. Every so often, the question still comes up.

The truth about soup weather is that you know it when you see it; some intuitive combination of cold, damp and gray. It's the same kind of weather that inspires staying inside with a sweater and a book - conditions which are, incidentally, perfect for tending a slow-simmering pot. A good soup is more the product of time than of effort (slow cookers are great for vicariously living the slow life, especially as it applies to making soup).

I guess deep summer isn't a total dead-zone for soup. I spent some of the hottest days this summer eating gazpacho, cucumber-yogurt soup, and naeng myun, a light, spicy-sour, cold, Korean noodle soup. They're all fabulous, but don't quite satisfy the same craving: the fragrant steam, the rich, hearty spoonful, radiating warmth from the belly out. Part of it is that it's the weather as much as the soup. Maybe it's just my Northern blood: hot weather tends to make me cranky and I'm too stubbornly cheap to pay for air-conditioning, and so the first cool fingers of fall pulling me back into myself are a relief. Here at the end of August, with the first rumors of Hurricane Irene smacking against the windows, it's finally soup weather again. So I made lentil soup today.

Lentil soup is one of my favorites because it's a versatile, hearty and healthy base. Nutritionally, lentils make for a filling, heart-healthy choice, not just as a lowfat source of protein, but also loaded with dietary fiber, folate and magnesium. Serving for serving, lentils have as much iron as beef and help stabilize blood sugar levels. Not only that, but they're cheap and don't require the presoaking that most beans do.

As far as versatility in seasoning, there is one school of thought around it which involves pulling the vegetable drawer out from the fridge and upending it into the pot. I'm never one to speak harshly against folks concocting to use things up - it's a valid approach, and sometimes sparks a certain kind of delicious, if unreproducible, alchemy. However, there's also a lot to be said for more consciously building a focused flavor from what you have available. They easily pair with the flavors of the Middle East, where they originate, but have been adopted all around the Mediterranean and along the Silk Road deeper East and South into Asia, and are a staple in many regions of India. With or without meat, lentils work well with a summery dress of peppers and tomatoes or with winter squash and sweet potato.

As I tend to this time of year, I let my bag of farmshare goodies guide the dish, using onion, carrot, bell pepper, hot pepper, kale and cherry tomatoes. I also took the opportunity to use up some languishing Italian sausage. While my flavoring scheme varies, there's a few things that are pretty consistent: about a cup of dry lentils to 5 or 6 cups of liquid, which is plenty to get a fairly thick consistency after cooking for a while. I've also become a fan of building up the body a little bit more by throwing in a couple tablespoons of rice that I've toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat. I usually grind this up for a slightly smoother texture, but you'll still get some thickening and toastiness with whole, toasted rice. I usually include some kind of mushroom, with varying levels of sneakiness, as mushrooms help support the savory richness of lentils, especially in meatless versions. Even without the addition of these last two items, you will still come up with a soup that is rich in texture and flavor, but they do add a little more oomph.

Of course one of the best things about soup, to which this is no exception, is that not only does this work well reheated for days after, it gets better the longer it sits around and lets the flavors get to know each other a little better.

    Lentil Soup in August

    gluten-free, dairy-free
    Serves 4 people for 1 meal or 1 person for 4 meals
  • 2 Italian sausages (about 6 oz. total), sliced or crumbled
  • 1 med. onion, medium dice
  • 1 large or 2 med. carrots, small dice
  • ½ large or 1 smaller bell pepper, red or green
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 hot pepper to your taste, minced or red pepper flake to taste
  • ¼ c. toasted rice, ground (optional)
  • 2 Tblsp. Magical Spice Blend
    • 1½ tsp. cumin
    • 1½ tsp. fennel seed
    • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
    • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 c. brown lentils, dry
  • 3 c. chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 c. water
  • 1-2 dried shiitake mushrooms, ground or chopped fine
  • 1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
  • 8-10 leaves kale, stemmed and chopped/ripped into smaller pieces
  • 6-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
In dutch oven or other deep, lidded pot with at least 4 qt capacity, start cooking sausage over medium-high heat. When sausage starts browning and releasing some liquid (about 3 minutes), add onion. Stir occasionally for another 3 min. or so until onions start to soften. Add carrot, peppers, garlic, salt and spices. Stir occasionally for 3-5 minutes more, then add toasted rice (if using) and dry lentils. Stir to combine, then add stock and water. Cover and let simmer for at least an hour or transfer to slow cooker and set on low for all-day cooking. If using a slow cooker, also add kale at this point. For stovetop cookers, add kale about 45 minutes into simmering. Add cherry tomatoes just before serving. Goes well on its own or with a nice stout bread.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pasta Ricotta: What Summer Tastes Like

Since the last post didn't contain any actual recipe, here's a quick one to keep you going. I read about this dish years ago at a friend's house in a cookbook that I couldn't pick out of a lineup of Italian cookbooks if my life depended on it at this point. The book's long-winded description of it essentially boiled down to: this is an ideal food to make during a long night of drinking. Its appeal is actually wider than that, though. Its precious few ingredients and simple composition mean that not only can you make it when you're half in the bag, but that each of those few ingredients shine.

Much of New England had a cool, rainy spell at the end of May/beginning of June this year, which means that tomatoes have been a little slow coming in. While we've been picking cherry tomatoes for almost a month now, the big slicers from the farmshare just started coming in last week. Et puis, la déluge: We brought home nearly a dozen big slicing tomatoes this week. The basil's been going strong for a while now, both at the farm and in our specialized home herb planter (right). Finally, they get to come together. The dish is as simple as this: pasta, tomato, basil, garlic, ricotta. It's hard to get closer to the taste of summer without just eating a slice of tomato with a basil leaf on top.

    Pasta Ricotta

    Serves 2-3

  • ½ lb. pasta, shape of your choice, cooked
  • 1 med-large tomato, large dice (1½-2 c.)
  • 1-1½ c. basil, washed and torn
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 1-1½ c. ricotta
  • salt & pepper to taste

  • A few variations that don't meaningfully increase the amount of effort:
  • Replace all or part of the ricotta with chèvre.
  • Add red pepper flake or sliced fresh hot pepper.
  • Mash a few anchovies in with the garlic.
  • Include toasted, rough chopped pine nuts or walnuts, à la pesto.
  • Toss in a little chopped fresh spinach.
Cook pasta. All other prep can be accomplished while pasta is cooking. Prep tomato, basil and garlic as indicated. Mix those three in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. When pasta is cooked and drained, empty in to large bowl and add vegetables and ricotta. Toss until combined and add salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mom's Birthday Cake: A History

To start with, here's two very different birthday songs:
The first, "Birthday Cake." is from avant-garde Japanese hip-hop duo Cibo Matto's 1997 album Viva la Woman! (the band's name, Italian for "Food Madness" turns on '70s Italian movie Sessomatto, "Sex Madness"). I find it strangely addictive, but listening to a Japanese woman yell over a dirty bassline doesn't work for everyone. The second is from Soviet stop-motion series Чебурашка (Cheburashka), about the adventures of a the titular cute little animal, his accordion-playing crocodile pal, and a rotating cast of others. This song is one of the primary Russian birthday songs.

Now, on to the food. Our Mom's birthday was last week, along with all of the hullabaloo surrounding her grad school commencement (she is now a Master of Social Work, hood and all). Before she went to social work school, Mom had a long career as a baker, and is pretty well to blame (in the best possible way) for our own cibo matto.

She encourages our more out-there creative sensibilities, so her birthday cakes turn into notable creations. This year, her birthday was supposed to take place at a local drag bingo night, so our challenge was to come up with a confection equally stylish. The working description was "Disco Cupcakes." As it turned out, the bar advertising drag bingo was no longer holding it, and hadn't changed it on their website, but we had a grand time of it anyway. However, the celebratory dessert we came up with held up its end of the stylistic bargain, with both the cake and decorations (the large ones at least) styled after a tropical drink. To accommodate all of the folks coming along, we turned half the batter into more simply styled mini-cupcakes.

What's actually in the cupcakes is going to have to stay a mystery for now. I often say that our family recipe secret is that we don't keep recipes secret. And that's still true - it will be revealed later as part of a larger project Maria's working on.

So, to quench your thirst until then, here's a more detailed description of Mom's birthday cake from a few years ago, another one we're pretty proud of conceptually: the Chocolate Pesto Cake.

The actual meal she requested was a picnic that would assist her in her quest for the perfect cucumber sandwich. Maria and I each also took on salad, hers a corn and black bean salad, mine a Med-inspired roasted veggie one, to which the Extra Happy Theory applied. In any event, there wasn't a whole lot of room for us to go batshit crazy experimental in the cucumber sandwich request.

So we turned our experimental streak on the cake. It's a little-known fact that bittersweet chocolate (the darker, the better) and fresh basil are an amazing combination, a discovery I actually made with my mom. Mom being such a chocolate fan, and it being basil season, I really wanted the cake to play into this.

Maria and I spent a long while discussing how the "pesto" concept could be best expressed in a sweet form. We decided on buzzing fresh basil and toasted pine nuts in the food processor, and stirring it into a simple pastry cream, so as to keep the basil flavor as fresh as possible. It looks pretty ugly, but tastes great. However, if I was going to do it again, I'd use ricotta or mascarpone cheese as the base, not that it would make it any prettier.

The other tough part was the cake. We wanted a dense, dark chocolate cake, but none of the recipes we looked at seemed to approach it quite right. So we took a simple cake recipe and adapted it to have 3 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate, and replaced about ⅓ c. of the flour with cocoa powder. We also used strong coffee to bring out the dark, bitter flavor. Along the way we discovered that the blend we ended up using for liquid (strong coffee, blackberry brandy, and evaporated milk) is pretty damn tasty in its own right. The cake didn't come out quite right. Maria and I realized that we'd come pretty close to brownie batter somewhere along the way, and had to add in more eggs (separated, whites beaten up and folded in) at the end. Next time, less flour, and maybe not making up cake recipes on the fly at 3 AM. Still pretty good though.

For on top, we decided just to do a superdark ganache. Ghirardelli is now selling 100% cocoa liquor bars in stores, which is awesome because I don't think anyone else has been doing that in the general market, and since Mom isn't a baker anymore, I can't snitch hers. We did basically equal parts that and their 60% bittersweet chips, with milk and a pinch of chili. We didn't realize at first how much liquid chocolate this dark eats up though, and on the first round thought it was binding something wicked, to the point where we poured it out and started over (and then proceeded to pick at it all weekend. Maria tells me she melted it later, added more milk, and it smoothed out nicely).

Decorating-wise, we went back out to the garden, put the whole thing on a bed of nasturtium leaves, then topped the cake with blackberries, more fresh basil, and orange nasturtiums.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Making the Most of Melon: Watermelon Rind Pickles

A melon – especially a watermelon – often seems like a mountainous task. Even before it's cut open, the plotting to use it up begins: How much melon can I eat on my own? Who can I get to help me eat it? Can I do anything else with it? Really, how much melon can I eat?

If you're asking that question nutritionally, the answer is quite a lot. Not only is it roughly 90% water, but, per pound (~3 cups, several slices), it contains about 130 calories, 60% of the RDA of Vitamin C, 50% of Vitamin A, and a wealth of antioxidant and anticancer compounds (read more about watermelon nutrition). Cantaloupe is even more of a nutritional powerhouse. Also, they're tasty and refreshing and go down real smooth.

Most of the time, they're really big though.

What do you do after the first 3 slices? Increasingly, I'm seeing more varied uses of it as an ingredient, from grilled watermelon dishes to savory cold salads to its inclusion in stir-fries, SE Asia-style, and it's really exciting! If I get a chance to photograph it, I will post my recipe for black bean and watermelon salad, one of my favorite uses for old watermelon that's picked up some weird fridge taste.

But here's one more incentive to finish eating the beast: you get to make watermelon rind pickles.

I'd been thinking about it when a friend said she had designs on making them, inspired by a favorite memory of a boarder her family had in the summers when she was younger. Every watermelon was accompanied by the ritual of passing back the rinds to be trimmed and stored for pickling. Before you're grossed out by the use of chomped-down rinds, remember that not only is that part trimmed off, but it is subsequently salted, boiled and soaked in vinegar. It will be as free of germs as the surface of the moon, and significantly tastier. I won't be offended if you prefer to cut the melon off the rinds first, though. A big bowl of melon chunks in the fridge is a great snack.

Which brings us to the process, in 5 easy steps, including eating the watermelon on both ends:
  1. Eat watermelon (save rind).
  2. Salt rind.
  3. Boil rind.
  4. Brine rind.
  5. Eat watermelon.
As an extra added bonus, we found that the leftover brine made a killer drink, just this side of a Dark & Stormy, when paired with dark rum and seltzer, which has yet to be named.

    Watermelon Rind Pickles

    Vegan, grain/gluten-free
    Makes ~3 pints of pickles

    Salt Soak:
  • 2 qts watermelon rinds, trimmed and cut into 1" chunks
  • 1½ qts water
  • ½ c. salt

  • The Brine:
  • 5 c. sugar (we split 3 c. white, 2 c. brown)
  • 3 c. water
  • 3 c. white or cider vinegar
  • 6-8 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 Tblsp. whole cloves
  • 1 Tblsp. whole allspice berries
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger, cut into thin sticks.

  • The Rest:
  • 1 lemon, halved, thinly sliced and seeded
  • 1 orange, prepared as lemon
  • 3 one-pint glass canning jars with lids
Trim rinds by cutting off green edge and chomped-down rim and cut into 1" chunks. Soak the watermelon in saltwater overnight or at least 6-8 hours in a 2+ gal. stockpot.

Drain through colander and rinse well in cool water. Return to stockpot, add water to cover and set to boil for ~15 min, or until fork-tender.

Meanwhile, prepare brine in a 4 qt or larger saucepan. Drain the rind pieces, then return to stockpot and add brine and citrus slices. Cover and let stand overnight, or at least 6-8 hours.

Pickles are now ready for canning. Bring them back up to a simmer, and boil a water bath to sterilize jars. Into each sterilized jar, scoop the rind/citrus with a slotted spoon until mostly full, then top up with brine to the base of the mouth. When all pickles are scooped out, process jars in a water bath for 10-15 minutes. Don't forget to stick something like a vegetable steamer in the bottom of the pot so the glass doesn't touch the bottom. Otherwise you run the risk of cracking the bottom out. If this happens, those jars make neat candle-holders. Not that I've ever done that before.

    As Promised, a related drink recipe

  • 2 oz. watermelon rind pickle juice
  • 2 oz. dark rum, such as Gosling's or Kraken
  • ½ c. seltzer


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