Nightshades: What To Do With Too Many Tomatoes

Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes

tying up tomatoes

In winter, I dream of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. I go through my seed file, smiling fondly as I pull out last year’s successes and failures, new seeds from places we have visited, trades and gifts, deciding what to grow in the rising year. The fact is that I eventually can’t choose and I grow them all, and then I can’t bear to compost the hundreds of extra plants, so I take them to the farmer’s market, and then I still have bazillions, so I end up growing about half a football field of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. It is kind of a nightshade nightmare. I must be crazy. Anyway. These are solanums; what people call nightshades, because they, -and potatoes, granadillas, groundcherries, henbane, etc., are in the same family as the mildly poisonous hedge growing plant nightshade. Some people think with a name like that they must be bad for your health. Well, imagine life without pizza, mashed potatoes, gazpacho, chili, eggplant parmigiana. Seriously. So now, if you are like me, you are drowning in tomatoes and something must be done, or you will be up to your eyeballs in rotten vegetables and your good work will be wasted.

Yes, We Can!

Canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes

Seriously, canning is very easy. Today’s instructions make it sound very complex and dangerous. They just don’t want to be sued. Look at the older copies of Rodale’s Stocking Up. The newer versions are much more cautious. Just don’t eat anything out of a jar with a bad seal. Freezing is nice if you have the freezer space and you don’t mind risking a power outage. Dehydrating is fun, especially if you have a solar dehydrator, but I haven’t really been successful in producing really nice reconstituted vegetables. Dried tomatoes are like candy, but it’s really a sideline for me. Canning puts produce in glass jars which will be stable at a wide temperature range on your shelves for years, which makes them a favorite for preppers.

Equipment

Glass jars about the size of mayonnaise jars: Mason, Kerr, or Ball jars mainly- but you can reuse any clean glass jar, any size, that the disposable lids and rings fit. I recycle just about every glass jar that has a lid I can trust for one thing or another, and I have always scavenged spaghetti sauce jars and mayonnaise jars for tomatoes. You can buy new canning jars at the dollar store, but people are always throwing them out. Let your friends and family know to save them for you.

A really big pot for submerging Mason jars in boiling water. (If you want to go whole hog and get a pressure canner, you can still use it to do the easy open water bath canning for things like tomatoes and applesauce.)

Canning lids and rings The button in the middle of the lid is how you check if your seal is good. The rubber gasket, usually red, built into the lid, should be smooth and soft.

Funnels, especially a wide mouthed canning funnel.

Jar grabber/lifter– Like a big set of bottle grabbing tongs-totally essential for lifting hot jars out of boiling water.Trust me.

Tongs and a magnetic lid lifter are nice too. You can get all this stuff cheaply in five and dime or hardware stores, online, etc.

Glass jars are reusable and non-reactive. I have some Mason jars that are older than me, so I just run my finger around the edge to make sure there are no chips, and reuse them. (The blue ones are collector’s items, but I think they make the tomatoes look sickly.)The metal sealing rings are reusable but rust easily, and lids are risky to reuse, because although the rubber seal might reseal, the plastic film on the inside of the lid is easily damaged and then the underlying metal will corrode into your food.  I have heard of reuseable lids, and then there are glass jars with wire bails, glass lids and reusable rubber gaskets. They are expensive so I just try to find them in thrift stores. The gaskets last years.

Processing

I put my jars in the dishwasher, but I also check very carefully that each jar is clean and has no chips or cracks. Set up enough lids and rings in a separate pot of water to boil and sterilize for 15 minutes when you are getting ready to fill jars.  Put the wide mouth funnel in the mouth of the jar you are filling – it will be an exact fit so the mouth of the jar stays clean. Fill the jar until you have a half inch of space left- this is for the air that will exhaust and create your vaccuum seal. Remove the funnel, dip a clean cloth or paper towel in the water of the lids and make sure the rim of the jar is food-free, as little microorganism threads will climb up on food and break the seal, like weeds in a sidewalk, if you don’t. Using your jar lifter or tongs, put a lid on the jar, add the ring, and finger tighten, repeat.

boiling lids for canning

boiling lids-this was from a jam jar but it was late and I had no pictures….

When you have about seven jars filled, if you have the canning pot I think you do, put them in the pot, fill to cover with at least a half an inch of water over the top of the jars, and allow to boil until bubbles have been exhausting from the jars for 25 minutes. Many canning books quibble about the time, but my garden mentor, Steve Moaney, told me to just submerge the jars in water  and count 25 minutes from when it boils.Then use the jar lifter/grabber to carefully place the jars on a mat to cool. Make sure you have a secure grip before lifting clear of the water. You could make a serious mess and get badly scalded if you hurry.

As they cool, you will hear the lids suck down with a clicking sound. Check the “button” in the center of the lid and make sure it is down. If it didn’t go down or pops up, throw the contents out, unless you just canned it and it hasn’t had time to spoil. In that case you can eat or refrigerate it.

When the jars are cool, remove the rings, wipe, label, and store someplace they won’t freeze. Dry the rings so they don’t rust and put them away for reuse.The lids will stay on from the vaccuum seal until you pry them off with the side of a butter knife this winter. Some people like to cap the lids with a square or pinking shears circle of cloth- old clothes are fine- and tie a string around the top to hold the cloth cap in place. This is cute and keeps dust off the lid, plus if your seal is bad and the contents spoil the cloth will stain and show it. Not necessary and a time consumer, but it looks nice at the county fair. You can get cute labels and alll that. I know what tomatoes look like and only label my jams, jellies, and pepper sauces using plain white adhesive labels.

Labor Saving

sphaghetti sauce from summer tomatoesI used to skin and seed my tomatoes, pile them neatly into sterilized jars, and cover them with strained tomato juice. Later I would open the jar, chop the tomatoes, and add them to fried onions, peppers, eggplants, etc.  Lots of work. Why not make my own convenience foods? Tomatoes are acid, like applesauce, another easy canner. So what if I just made huge pots of the mixture I would usually make? I start with fried onions, add herbs, garlic, salt, peppers, eggplants- what ever I have- even okra or zucchini, and then pile in chunks of tomatoes. Each tomato that ripens gets quickly cored, bad parts cut out, and tossed into the big iron pot. It sears and melts into red deliciousness. Eventually it gets too watery, so I ladle off juice into a seive over a funnel over a mason jar or a sealable bottle. That way, when I open the jars, if I decide to make lasagna or spaghetti, it is thick enough. The tomato juice can be drunk, thrown into rice, or used as a soup base. I don’t peel anything but the onions and garlic, and I only slice the zucchini, if I have it. I get through my work a lot faster, and we eat our own tomatoes all year.

Just the Recipe

2 onions chopped

6 cloves garlic

1 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp olive oil

2 green peppers

4 Asian eggplants (long skinny, don’t have to be peeled or drained)

2 medium zucchini

8 large tomatoes

small bunch basil

1/2 tsp italian herbs

Slice and brown onions until nicely caramelized, add salt, garlic, chopped, Italian herbs ( just something dried and aromatic- I have oregano) add chopped peppers, chunked Asian eggplants, cook until softened, add zukes, sliced, and tomatoes, chunked. Cook until liquefied, add chopped basil. This is a way oversimplified recipe. I just put things in in a logical order, and use up what I have, in a basic tomato sauce so it is acid enough to can. Add whatever, mushrooms, okra, etc., except meat. Meat has to be pressure canned, and that is a whole ‘nother deal. Make sure it is still mostly tomatoes, especially if you are using low-acid tomatoes, because the acidity, as in vinegar pickles, is what makes the open bath bath canning technique safe.

In winter, when you look at your rows of gleaming tomato sauces, you will be pleased. They are like a meal in a jar. You can throw them on pizza, spaghetti, rice, or make soup, and the blissful taste of the summer garden is still there.

 

Jams and Jellies

How to make jam/jelly:

Plum pulp ready to make jam with no added pectin
Plum pulp ready to make jam with no added pectin

Jelly is just jam without pulp. It is easier to have jam come out right because the fruit can cover for you if it didn’t jell properly, but it’s really pretty easy. You make the juice by straining the cooked fruit through muslin- or an old t-shirt stretched over an upside down chair. Put a chair upside down on the table, stretch thin, clean white fabric over it- we used to have all these old fashioned diapers- I swear they were clean- and attach the corners firmly to the legs with strip of rag, rubber bands, what have you. Make sure it is very firmly tied or you will have boiling hot fruit splashed everywhere. Set a large bowl under the cloth on the bottom of the chair seat. Cook the fruit with water just peeking through the layer below the top layer When it is properly soft dump it carefully into your cloth strainer and let it drip overnight. Don’t squeeze the bag unless you aren’t worried about the clarity of the jelly.

Pectin:

Making plum jam

Making plum jam

Some fruit has pectin; some does not. Pectin is what makes jams and jellies become firm. There is a lot of pectin in apples, the greener the better. It is possible to make your own liquid pectin from green apples, especially what we call the drops- the smaller apples that fall early and don’t really ripen. However I find I am not good at producing a consistent product so I don’t always do it. Yes, it is the right thing to do- we should not be dependent on a bought product if we can make it ourselves. But if my jelly turns out really tough or really runny, it is sort of a waste of my fruit and labor. I need to improve, but in the meantime, if you don’t mix apple juice with a non-pectin fruit like elderberry or suncherries or even hot peppers, there is Surejel and Ball Pectin, Dutch Jel (sold in bulk at Amish type bulk food stores), or many other brands. Follow the recipe, although I often try to reduce the sugar just a little and generally it is fine. If not, either use the runny jam on pancakes or follow the instructions on the pectin instructions for “if your jelly fails…..”

So, procedure wise:cukes and razz jam 004

Have your jars all ready: wash them with very hot water, set them to dry on a clean folder dish towel or thick cloth. Boil the lids for 15 minutes. There are magnetic lid lifters to get them out of the boiling water, or you can use tongs. Have more ready than you think you will need.

Measure your fruit or juice into a very large pot. It has to boil up a lot and you don’t want to boil over. Have your sugar measured out and ready. Bring your fruit or juice to a boil, with or without the pectin, boil for a minute, then add the sugar and bring to a boil. My female ancestors always skimmed the “scum” off, which was delicious foam to little me, but I don’t see why. Some people put a teaspoon of butter in to stop it scumming. I don’t think it matters to the end result. Maybe if you are making a very clear, pretty jelly you need to worry about skimming scum. The important part is to watch for sheeting. If you boil it too long first it will cool tough and stringy, with less fruity taste, and then it will be tough and brown, and pull like candy. Still yummy, but we’re making something to spread on bread here. Get a large wooden spoon. Spoon up a little of the liquid after it has boiled hard 1 minute. Let it cool about 10 seconds, then, turn the spoon over so that the jelly runs off the edge of the spoon. I prefer to let it roll over the back of the spoon. It seems to show the sheeting better. Watch the drips. What you see before it sheets is two  drips running off the spoon separately.  Stir and try again. Now the drips might start to run into each other but still become one normal shaped drip. Try again. Don’t leave it. Finally the two drips will run together but stay wide, like a flat blob, and fall off in a sheet. This is the perfect time to jar. If it never happens, perhaps your fruit was too ripe, you changed the recipe too much, or you went to the bathroom and it overboiled. In this case you can either reprocess your jam according to the “if your jam fails” directions on the package insert, you can just let it be runny and label it pancake syrup, and actually, some pectin added jellies will firm up over time. But it’s not that hard. Usually it is fine. Check out the raspberry jam recipe. That one needs only sugar.

raspberry jam

raspberry jam

I haven’t really experimented with methoxy and other low sugar options. I don’t use that much sugar normally and I am an old stick in the mud about new ideas that involve long words. It took me a long time to give in to pectin. My maiden name is Dabney; an old Virginia name. Did you ever hear this one? How many Virginians does it take to change a lightbulb? Oh, I’d say four or five. One to change it; the others to sit around and talk about how much better the old one was.

When you pour your boiling hot jam or jelly into the clean jars, having them on an old towel prevents damage to the tabletop.  Use a funnel to prevent drips. Make sure your funnel is clean by upending it in the boiling water you have the lids in. Check the edges of the jars for drips as that can prevent a good seal.

Two ways to seal:

Put the lids on finger tight. I invert the jars for 7 seconds and then set them up right-ways again. You will hear a soft hiss as air superheated by the hot jam exhausts  out of the jar. Then tighten it a bit more- as it is hotter you can do that. If I do this I find I don’t usually have to process in a hot water bath and I don’t get mold.

Or you can put on the lids finger tight and submerge them in a pot of hot water, boil for 15 minutes, then pull out and allow to cool. You can get jar lifters cheaply in the dollar store or many hardware stores. This will allow you to safely remove the jar to a clean towel where it can cool. It will be nice and clean to label and put in the pantry.

no knead bread
This is the “no knead” bread made famous by Mark Bittman.

Yum. Now, you need to make some proper bread to put that on, seriously. Remember I told you

My Grandmother’s Easy Authentic Texas Chili con Carne (with deer meat)

Venison chili

Greenhouse broccoli with venison chili on turmeric rice

My grandmother, born Crystal Ray Ross, grew up in Lockhart, Texas, but spent a lot of time on a ranch in New Mexico. I don’t think she ever told me the name of whoever taught her to cook chili, but she did say she was allowed to go on roundups, because, as she proudly said, the hands said she knew how to keep out of the way. She had 3 horses; Poindexter, a tall Eastern horse she didn’t like, Negro, a black Mexican cow pony trained to rear and gallop off madly the minute you put your foot in the stirrup, and Old Blue, a gentle grey horse the cowboys called Old Glue because of his age. It was Old Blue she rode on cattle drives, and perhaps that is where she learned to make this chili.

I have changed it a little of course- I use deer meat, and I add more tomatoes and beans than she did. She served beans separately. She served her chili with grits, to which she added garlic, canned milk, and butter.

CRD’s Chili

2 onions, chopped

2 tablespoons healthy oil -or bacon grease, which was on hand….

1 quart bag defrosted ground venison

3-4 tablespoons chili powder

4-6 cloves garlic,chopped

1 tsp. dried oregano

11/2 tablespoons cumin seeds

1 quart canned tomatoes (mason jar)

1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (a can)

salt to taste

Brown the onions and meat well in a big heavy pot, add garlic, oregano, cumin seeds and chili powder. 3-4 tablespoons of chili powder just means a whole bunch. Brown it a bit more to bring out the flavor, then add your tomatoes and beans. Simmer on medium until well combined, salt to taste, then leave it on very low heat until ready to serve, or set it somewhere for the flavors to develop.  It is better every day and freezes well. I have sometimes added beer, but that’s not what Granny did. I also have my own home raised and toasted chili powders, with which I can crank up the heat in this otherwise mellow and savory chili.

It is delicious with grits or rice, some guacamole, a salad and some warm hand patted corn tortillas. A splash of hot sauce and a few bottles of cold beer pair nicely.

@Glory Garden

 

 

How to make Kimchi (without fish)

making kimchi (1)

Real men eat kimchi

What is Kimchi? Kimchi is korean sauerkraut; a spicy-sour, fragrant, delicous fermented cabbage that has allegedly been used to prevent the avian flu. This may be apocryphal, but supposedly Korean farmers were giving it to their chickens to save them from the bird flu. All I know is that I am addicted to the stuff. It has an ….odor…well, it is fermented cabbage. My sister has the same lust for kimchi that I have, but her 6 kids can smell it in the next room when she stealthily opens the jar in the refrigerator. “Oh Mama, you’re into the Kimchi again!” they chorus. Maybe the Korean farmers’ children were sprinkling kimchi around the chicken coops so their parents wouldn’t eat it in the house!

Fermentation is a miraculous and wonderful thing. Think of all the things we eat and drink that are fermented. Wine, beer, cheese, vinegar, pickles of every kind, whether brine pickled or vinegar pickled, yoghurt, kefir…. Fermentation breaks down and transforms raw materials by the aid of friendly bateria, in a way that not only preserves food but also makes it more nutritious to us. The lactobaccillus in sauerkraut protects your stomach from nasty invaders. I read that Julius Caesar carried barrels of sauerkraut with him and it protected the Roman soldiers from dysentery as they drank water in different lands. I don’t know if that’s true but it’s logical. Kimchi makes my stomach feel good when I eat a little with every meal.

So by now I hope I convinced you to try making some. I use the Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats recipe. (This is my new Amazon link to a page where you can buy it and I get 4 cents.) This is a cookbook everyone should have. The author, Sally Fallon started the Weston Price Foundation and has a farm not far from us. If you haven’t heard of Dr.Weston Price you have a treat in store. His discoveries on the benefits of a pre-industrial diet are really enlightening reading. But I need to get down to the kimchi!

1 head Napa cabbage, cored and chopped

1 bunch green onions, chopped

1 cup grated carrots

1/2 cup grated daikon (optional and I don’t)

1-2 tablespoons grated ginger root (man up and do 2)

3 big cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 tsp dried chili flakes, or 2 fresh cayenne type peppers

2 teaspoons sea salt

2 tablespoons whey (if not available add another 2 tsp of salt)

1/2 cup filtered water.

I have almost directly qoted Sally’s recipe here. I just lean towards more garlic, ginger, and spicy peppers. The whey is a thing us fermentation heads keep around. If you add it to the soaking water for your beans, oatmeal, etc. it makes them more digestible. You can skim it off the top of some yoghurt, and just add a little more salt, and it will work. Salt prevents the beginning of nasty cultures until the lactic fermentation can get going. The whey kickstarts that.

making kimchi (3)

My grandmother’s food processor

I don’t shred the Napa cabbage because I like the texture of inch long pieces of cabbage midrib. So I chop it rather coarsely. There isn’t much core to a Napa, either. Her recipe implies that you can use other cabbages, but I really love the Napa. Put all your ingredients in a large bowl and toss well to distribute the salt. The cabbage will immediately start to wilt and give off water. Take a potato masher or something blunt  that you can bash with, like even a jam jar if you can get a comfortable grip, and pound the cabbage. You are out to bruise it thoroughly so that the lactobacillus can penetrate the tissues rapidly, and the plant sugars can feed it. Just bash it, turn it, and pound some more.

making kimchi

This cabbage has been pounded into submission

When it looks like it has given up, pack it into a glass jar or a crock with a good lid. You want to pack it down with a clean fist, so that water is coming to the top. Add the water after it is packed, if necessary to cover the cabbage. Let it sit at room temprature for 4-5 days. As it ferments bubbles will push up the cabbage, so push it down periodically. There won’t be any scum like with German sauerkraut. There will be a smell though. You can taste it any time to check how it is coming. When it is pickled enough for you, or you don’t want it any sourer, you can pack it into smaller jars and refrigerate. That will slow it down for months.When you are ready to make more, save the liquid from the last of the kimchi to start new batch. So delicious!

Fall Mushrooms: Armillaria Tabescens

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, about the time we go back to school one begins to see these reddish brown to tawny clusters of mushrooms everywhere; on the lawn and on the edges of woods. Armillaria Tabescens.They are almost bouquet-like. If you pull them up you will see that they are in fact grown together at the bottom. The technical term- attention Scrabble lovers- is cespitose. They grow from buried wood, and when picked young they are delicious; with a mushroomy flavor that seems a pit caramel-like to me. They grow in huge quantities and can be frozen, canned in a pressure cooker, and dried. Here is a small laundry basket with one cluster.

armilariella tabescens (10)

Time to put the fear of God in you. Now, this is a variety that is easy, to me, to identify from a photograph, but but that’s me and I’ve been doing this for a very long time. You might think it looks the same a a Jack O’Lantern, which is poisonous, or a Big Laughing Jim, which tastes bitter and will apparently make you giggle. So before you go mushroom hunting, read The Audubon North American Field Guide to Mushrooms, or Peterson’s Mushroom Field Guide. I grew up with the former, and find the book physically durable- mine still has the puppy chew marks from my dear old Lab now dead. Try to find a mentor. My father taught me, but he learned from a book and we were very cautious. Some of our Russian and Ukrainian neighbors have more background in mushroom foraging and others. Bottom line: Never take a chance. A yummy mushroom is not worth your life. The lethal dose for a Death Cap, which is a big white pretty mushroom, is a cubic centimeter. The only way to save your life is a liver transplant.armilariella tabescens (5)

OK, now if you decide to forage ahead, and you are totally sure this is what you have, check that the caps are fresh and young. This photo shows a cluster that is right in the middle- not the baby size but not too mature. If they have deposits of powder on them, they have sporulated and won’t be as tasty. If they have  nice little caps that are still curved under, they are probably yummy. They are beloved by tiny little white worms, which, while not poisonous to you, are kind of gross. Split a cap down the middle and look for little holes. I am guilty of not worrying about one or two holes if I don’t actually see the worms, but generally I just get them as quickly as I can and process them right away.

Here is a photo of armillaria tabescens cooking down in a cast iron pot.armilariella tabescens (1) So good!

My favorite way to preserve them is to slowly brown some onions in salted butter, cut the caps off the clusters which I have harvested whole, rinse them quickly, drain well, and cook them down. I salt them a little, and eat them with egg noodles, rice, etc., then freeze what is left. (Once in a while I get the quantity to pressure cook them in Mason jars, as I know that anything in my freezer may be lost in an extended power outage.) They become succulent and rich, but reduce much in volume, so harvest a lot, and process immediately. They won’t wait.

Field dressing and hanging a deer

 

If you get to the deer before the heart stops beating it is a good idea to cut the throat, both out of mercy and to allow the heart to expel blood from the body. I think most hunters feel gratitude at this moment, and I think it is appropriate to thank the deer as well. If you are in an area where it will not pose a nuisance to field dress the animal there, go ahead and grasp the furry lumps at the inside of the bend in the back legs, and cut them away. They are scent glands and will make your meat smelly.

butchering deer (8)

Note 12/26/2012: Really, even a doe. A young man gave me a doe which had been hanging for a day and a half without the scent glands removed. I have never butchered a gamier deer. It was actually nasty, and I am not the squeamish type.

Put the point of your knife through the skin of the belly at the edge of the breast bone (really just cartilage) and run it shallowly up to the anus. Do NOT pierce deeply. Go back to your breastbone and grab the edge of the ribcage with one hand while sawing down through the sternum. Be careful not to cut into any guts or you will contaminate the meat with smelly stuff. Actually you can make that cut later if you want, but if you do it now you can sort of let everything slide out at once, and blood will drain out and not coagulate in the throat area when hanging.

Go up around the genitalia and look for a tube running to the anus. Grab it and cut  the skin around it. You should be able to pull out the entrails easily.  Heart, lungs, and liver is great dog food as long as the deer is healthy. I remember seeing what looked like parasitic lesions on a liver my mother cooked once. Cooked it was fine for the dogs, but I didn’t want it.

Once your deer carcass is empty it is a lot easier to move. But it is also easy to gut a deer hanging up. I am a woman so I have less upper body strength and I always ask the guys to get the deer hanging for me. What you want is an overhanging limb or a cross-member in a shed.butchering deer (40) Tie a decent rope over it and get a piece of wood about as thick as a sturdy broomstick to put through the deer’s back legs. Tie the rope to the middle of the stick and make slits big enough through the thin area between the back legs and the Achilles tendon, where you removed the scent glands. This would be like if you feel above your heel, only the deer’s heel is above his back elbow; bottom of the hock, if that makes sense. You can do this on the ground and have someone tie off the rope when they heave the deer up, or tie the rope where you want it and hold the deer up while you push the ends of the stick through the holes in the legs. Needless to say don’t cut through the tendon.

butchering deer (7)

Usually we let the deer hang overnight to cool and stiffen, It is helpful to put a stick or something inside the body cavity to hold it open a little. Note somebody stuck a hammer in there. Whatever.

Always a great idea to hose it out well if you have access to water where it is hanging. I have been given carcasses that were messily shot or inexpertly field dressed that were nasty.butchering deer (5)

Note 12/26/2012: My neighbor has a pulley system hanging from the crossmember in his barn so a little kid can raise or lower a carcass. A mental leap too great for this Neanderthal.

More notes on gutting: Now you have your deer hanging and ready to skin. If you haven’t gutted it in the field out of consideration that someones dogs will find it and have a heyday rolling in it, now’s the time. Put a big sack under it to catch the guts. An old dog food bag, etc. If you haven’t removed the scent glands, do it right away. Gutting in this position I always start near the top but I don’t cut around the anus until I have the genitalia removed and the cavity open so that I can grab the sphincter and lower the guts into a bag. Just easier to control the fall.  Be careful not to damage the bladder which is pretty obvious; that’s the transparent bag full of yellow fluid that you don’t want on the meat. Also be careful when removing the liver, which is also obvious; the big lobed dark brownish red organ with a smaller greenish yellow organ attached to it. Be very careful of this little sucker- if you cut the gall bladder you will have horrible green bile all over the place that stains and ruins the taste of whatever it touches. Remove this by cutting into the liver around the bile duct, pinching the bile duct closed if you can. As I said previously, heart, liver, and lungs are good dog food, as far as I’m concerned. Liver is wonderfully nutritious, and there is nothing wrong with eating heart and lungs, so you could use them in sausage or something, but I never have. Unless you are really hard core and are going to try to use the intestines for sausage casings or something, leave them alone. They come out together if you can catch them in a bag. I have had a deer given to me that had a messy wound in the belly. The only thing to do then is empty the body cavity and hose it out until it smells ok.

Now that we have the carcass hanging empty and clean, if the weather is cool it is fine to let it hang overnight for the meat to stiffen. This makes it a little easier to handle. Some people even let them hang for a few days because that tenderizes the meat. I haven’t done this.

Black Walnuts and Hickories

 

We have a number of Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra) trees on the farm, and like the chestnuts they are fruiting heavily this year. We have Shagbark Hickories, but they are deep in the woodlot and I haven’t been out to see. The squirrels are still burying pecans as well. One imagines that they may be doing this in response to the early drop in temperature. That  combined with the heavy nut crop makes one think perhaps they know something. We are glad we got a jump on the woodpile this spring when a number of trees came down.

The idea of nuts is appealing in winter; the rich oiliness and sweetness, and the comfort of sitting in your warm house and munching away, like a rodent.   Yet black walnuts make this complicated. You have to get off the eternally staining green husk and crack the extremely tough nut. Hickories politely husk themselves and are easy to see on the ground with their smooth, elegant white nuts full of sweet deliciousness. The nut is even easier to crack than black walnuts, but nowhere near as easy as a storebought English Walnut. Nonetheless on the Eastern Shore it’s all about Black Walnuts. Their strong flavor is fabulous in cakes and filled cookies. Says I.

So here’s what I recommend. Pick them up in a bucket and lay them in a gravel road where cars will crush the husk but not the nut. A paved road is likely to scatter and smash them more, but husking them by hand is a terrible job. You can them easily gather the nuts out of the mass of crushed husk, and store them until they are dry inside. I thought you had to store them for a few months in a paper bag in a dry place, but it must depend, because I have eaten nuts the same day I gathered them in Virginia. I don’t know how long they were on the road of course. So my best guess is check one from tie to time. Now, how to extract the nutmeats. They sell a lot of fancy crackers, but these were not available to native people. If you hit them with a hammer, they go everywhere. The perfect tool, to me, for walnuts and hickory nuts as well, is a rock. By the creek in Virginia where we camp, I found a flat piece of sedimentary rock and another rock that fit my hand, about the size of an oblong baseball. The weight is such that it sort of drops onto the nut and cracks and crushes it partially, allowing me to pick the nut apart and extract good size pieces without bashing it all to bits. It is a pleasant activity, sort of an atavistic pleasure I guess, sitting on the ground in the sunshine cracking nuts with a rock.

Black Walnut is good for a lot more than nuts. My brother in law, Robert Clickner, a doctor of alternative medicine in Charlottersville, gathers them for the terrible hulls. He learned the hard way to crush them wearing a good pair of plastic gloves. We used to make the medicine with whole nuts, but the crushed hulls make a much stronger tincture*.  This has been traditionally used for parasites, but it is also good for hypothyroidism. It looks and tastes like iodine. I take about 15 drops a day.

* If you want to know about tincturing, I will probably have something written by the time you read this, but I recommend Richo Cech’s Making Plant Medicine as the perfect introduction; enough to get you interested and  enough to get you started. Actually, despite his fun anecdotal style, he is really quite precise, and you will likely become a fan of his great seed company, Horizon Herbs.

 

Chestnuts

chinese chestnut tree (3)

The chestnuts have begun to fall, “fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls,” as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote. I was tightening the raspberry trellis when I heard the telltale rattle of the fat nuts falling on the gravel lane. My grandfather planted a number of Chinese chestnuts, and I think he planted different cultivars so as to have trees that ripened at different times. (This is something to remember when you are planting any food-producing plant.  Early, mid-season, and late, from tomatoes to apples.) The first one has smaller, silky nuts, while the second one has larger, glossy reddish brown nuts, and the last one has really big glossy nuts of the same fine color for which women with chestnut hair are admired. It is a color that makes me pick up more nuts than I later have time to peel. There are two others, but they don’t bear heavily enough so I leave them to the squirrels, whose population seems to follow a heavy bearing year like a too-late sine wave. Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls. Praise God for the color.

You really should check out Hopkins. I met the greatest living Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, when I was at university, and I asked him whether he maybe felt the influence of Hopkins in his work. Ever polite, ever charmingly Irish, he answered me with the perfect no-answer: “Ah yes, he’s an old flame for all of us, isn’t he?”  (Maybe, maybe not, but we love him, or maybe we loved him once but have moved on…)  chestnuts loose (1)

So what to do with chestnuts. Everybody loves them roasted. Squeeze the nuts as you pick them up. If they are soft, they probably have grubs inside them, which is still fine for animal consumption. If hard, make an x in the shell- I find it easier to cut the flat side but they peel easier if you cut the round side. Some folks just make a big slit on the round side. You can bake them for 15-20 minutes at 400F and the little corners will roll back. Let them cool a bit and then you can pick them open and eat them. So filling and delicious! They have a floury sweet interior when they are done.

For a meal, I cut them the same as for roasting, and boil them about 25 minutes with a little salt. This may be too long since they do crumble a bit while I am peeling them but I want them really soft. With this I can do a lot of things. The best meal I ever prepared with chestnuts was some leftover wild Canada goose, warmed in gravy, with  wild rice mixture and pureed chestnuts. I just put them in the food processor with good stock from the goose carcass. It was so regional, rich in flavor, perfect for winter.

Also, by putting a few cooked chestnuts in the blender (love my Vitamix) with a veggie boullion cube (I like Knorr’s flavor), a cup of half and half, and a little chestnut boiling water to thin it out, you can get a wonderful vegan cream style soup. My friend Margie Wegener made it for me when I was having rocky times with my daughter. Thanks Margie.

Chestnuts rice beautifully. I pushed some through a ricer and fed it to my grandmother.  She always worried about her weight, because her mother had been heavy, but she really was too thin herself. We could always tempt her, though, by connecting the food to a story.  As a young girl getting her master’s degree at Strasbourg University in the Twenties, she lived with a lady known to us as Madame F. Madame F was “gourmet et gourmand,” and we always heard how she made chestnut puree. So Granny would eat chestnut puree and talk about Madame F.

Once you have your peeled cooked chestnuts you can make all kinds of fabulous desserts as well; totally go Martha Stewart. Amazing recipes.

Chestnuts were a dependable staple in Europe before wheat, which was very prone to getting flattened by rain and rotting in the fields, leaving the peasants to starve- unless they had chestnuts. We saw tons of edible chestnuts growing wild in the south of France. They used to call them “arbre à pain” which means “bread tree”   as well as marronniers for the bigger chestnuts and châtaigniers for the smaller ones.  They had chestnut smoking houses. I tried drying them in the oven, but the resulting nuts were so hard that even my grinding mill turned out something like sand. I think perhaps if I soaked them and boiled them they would return to their fabulous yumminess but in the meantime no creature will attack them and I keep them for emergency food.  So I am still learning. But companies like Trails End Chestnuts are selling chestnut flour, chestnut beer-making kits, dried chestnut, which look untoasted to me, for prices that are actually reasonable after you have done the work yourself for a few hours.

Update!

Forget cutting an x in the flat side of the chestnut before boiling or baking. With a finely serrated kitchen knife, make on long cut through the shell on the curved side of the nut. Bake covered for 30 mins in a casserole, and it will pop right open. You can flick off the shell with your thumb. Easy! I use a covered Pyrex so I can see it and then let it roast open for a nice roasted taste. Also with the nuts I am looking to convert to storable food, I put them in the food processor and crumb finely.  This I will refer to as wet chestnut meal. It is wonderful for a creamy blender soup or just about anything you do with chestnut puree. You can freeze this or spread it on cloth-covered cookie sheets to dry in the sun or slow oven, after which I put it back in the blender to flour. This is  a little gritty but really delicious, nutritious, and easy to store in sealed glass jars. I did make spelt-chestnut cookies the other day, with honey and raisins, adapted from an old British recipe my mother gave me. If I can figure out this newsletter widget I will put it there for you.

Another update!

Two new recipes!

Chestnut Chard Soup

2 c. water

1/2 a Knorr vegetable boullion cube, or to taste any kind you like

1 chard leaf

1/2 c. wet chestnut meal,

Throw in Vitamix and turn on, check for flavor, adjust, run until it gets hot and thick enough. OK, if you don’t have a Vitamix yet, I’m telling you, unless you don’t do electricity, this is a great appliance. They last. Mine is from the Eighties and my sister-in-law still has hers from the Seventies.

If you are using a regular blender and haven’t made the chestnuts into wet meal, cook the chestnuts in bouillion until soft and then blend with the raw chard. You can add turmeric, black pepper, cream, whatever. So good and easy.

Chard and Chestnut Saute- this dish is healthy but comforting, greeny but meaty and the chestnuts offset any wateriness in the chard. I was thinking you could substitute parmesan cheese for the ham if you don’t do pig.

1 onion, chopped

1/4 c. country ham, chopped

8 chestnuts (cooked) chopped

1 large bunch chard, enough to fill a 4 quart pot

Black pepper

Wash chard and strip leaf off of midrib. Grasp the midrib and pull the leaf through your other hand, pulling off the leaf and leaving the strip white or colorful part separated. This is the midrib. Chop it up.

Saute onion, ham, chestnuts, and chopped chard stems (midribs) in a deep heavy pot in the ham’s own fat. Meanwhile chop the leaf of the chard up into about 1/4 inch chop. When the stuff in the pot looks caramelized and yummy, throw in the leaves and saute. In a few minutes the dish will be ready to serve. Taste and adjust salt, definitely add some black pepper.

What to do with apple trees

 

the sooty mold on the skin is absolutely harmless

Apples for applesauce, pies, cakes, dried apples, cider, wine, whatever!

This country is full of apple trees that nobody is paying attention to. Somebody planted trees and didn’t know what to do with them, or moved, or got  older. I love apples, and I know what to do with them, so I keep an eye out when I’m driving, and ask folks who are obviously not using their fruit if I can pick up the windfalls. Usually they will be happy to give me permission to do what I want and are surprised and delighted to get some applesauce, or a pie, or a gallon of sweet cider. So when I have our trees all picked I am not finished.

On our farm apples start and end early. It starts with the Early Harvest tree, whiuch is what Germans call a Klarapfel. It means a “clear apple,” because the peel is clear, so the apple ripens ivory colored. Ours ripens in late June. There is an old-timey fiddle tune called “June Apple.” as it is an instrumental, I always wondered what it was about; the fact that it is the first apple or that it is lousy, as apples go. It has a simple flavor, rather tart, and gets mealy textured as soon as it is ripe. However that is our first applesauce apple, so if you are looking for food you can store, as I am, no complaints.

Then come the apples that drop (called drops) because they have insect damage; right off the bat they are great if you are going to make your own pectin. It is possible to do this, but so far I find it difficult to control. If I did it more I could likely get it; what you do is cut them up, boil them until they get really soft and sloppy, and strain the results through a jelly cloth. This is a good thing to know about, so I’ll tell you right now:

Straining fruit for jelly: get a four-legged chair and flip it upside down on the kitchen table. Get about a yard square of white or light cloth. I have ripped an old t-shirt, used a cloth diaper, or a piece of worn sheet. Cheesecloth is fine but you really need to fold it thickly. Muslin is great. Drape it over the legs of the chair and attach to each leg with a strip of cloth, strings, or heavy rubber bands. You do NOT want this to come loose. Put a big mixing bowl on the upside down bottom of the chair, under the cloth. Pour hot fruit mixture into this cloth strainer and let drip. Overnight is best. If you want county-fair clear jelly don’t squeeze. OK?

But when I make pectin from green apples my jelly is often too firm. You can test it by pouring a little in a small glass of rubbing alcohol. The more it holds together on a fork, the stronger your pectin.

I get better results just throwing in half chopped wild crabapples and half whatever else. And while I try not to buy something I can make, Surejell and Certo are better than not enough elderberry jelly! Boy did I make a lot this summer!

The best apple cake

Back  to apples-Next come Winesaps and Cox’s Orange Pippins good enough to make applesauce, pies, and apple cake with. If you sign up for my newsletter I will give you the recipe for Apple Cottage Pudding, which is called pudding because it was once an English recipe, but it’s just a really awesome easy cake that pushes all the apple pie buttons….

Applesauce is about the easiest thing you can can. I make a ton because you don’t have to peel the apples as long as you have a food mill. I got a  Roma which is pretty fancy for Christmas years ago after I lost a piece from my old Foley. It works fine and is not aluminum! So worth it. You just cut the bad bits out of the apple with a small, short, unserrated knife, pushing against your thumb, and cut up the good apple into large chunks. You don’t even have to core it. There are so many good vitamins against the core and the skin that I’m coinvinced this is much better. Cut until your apples are finished or your pot is full, put a cup of what in the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching- no more, because you want your applesauce thick, cover and simmer until the apples begin to disintegrate.  Dump into the bowl of the food mill and crank away. I find the Roma needs another go at the apples; I put what comes out of the pulp strainer back through to get more applesauce. With the oldfashioned mill that fits over a bowl you just crank until you see that only cores, skins and seeds are left. Then you can it.

Once they get sweet and are less damaged, I can also start making bowls of slices that I can string up on button thread (strong thread) and hang in a hot dry place like my attic. They look like leis, and they dry rapidly so they taste perfect as a snack or you can rehydrate them for dried apple pies. I sometimes wish I watched TV so I could do things like that while I watch a show. If I’m lucky enough to have a friend over it’s something to do while we chat.

When the really great apple flow comes and there are zillions of apples, we get out the cider press. We got ours years ago from Happy Valley for about $400. A chunk, but when I think of the sweet cider, the apple wine, the hard cider, and most of all the good times, it was cheap. In the old days people had a lot more apple trees because cider was safer to drink than water, and because as you can see, apple trees are great food providers. So they probably didn’t have time to wash them and cut out the mushy bits like my mother does. I tend to either toss them or use them.

Sweet cider straight from the press is the best; a return to Eden. But soon it starts to fizz as the wild yeasts on the skins, in the press, in the air, etc., get going. So here’s what we do: You can refrigerate it and it will very slowly turn. I happen to adore fizzy cider. You can also preserve sweet cider. You just pour it into clean mason jars and can it. Works like a charm but tastes like the very best store-bought apple juice ( heat removes the fresh-pressed flavor) and has a little sediment.  Which is fine. Or you can enter the wonderful world of fermentation. My father made apple wine for years. He added 5 lbs. of cane sugar to 5 gallons of juice to kick it up to 12% alcohol. It was a clear yellow wine with a Calvados-like twang. Not bad. Mostly I liked it because of the memories. This year since my husband gets a headache from wine we would make hard cider. I didn’t want to use any metabisulfates, which are used to kill the wild yeast (which can be awesome or awful as it lists) so you can add a tame yeast that will be obedient. So I just went with whatever God sent me and it worked out perfectly. A dry, fizzy, calvados-scented drink, beer-strength, that is just getting better every time we crack one. I think I will do another page for those of you who want more details. Because unless you have a few specialty items, i.e. homebrewing equipment, and a press, this won’t help you.

So today may be the last load of apples I will haul, since next week we are headed down to Bedford County, VA for some praise and worship and a whole lot of music, and by the time we get back it may be that there are only a few left. We are grateful for a good apple season.