Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Good things I have found lately....

Shopping at the not so famous farmer's markets around here

Every Tuesday evening this summer, I try to shop at our tiny Dexter Farmer's Market. The prices are great, and very often I am the only person shopping. It's next door to our new library, so I get to do two of my favorite things at the same time - shop for fruits and vegetables and check out library books. Every time I go the DFM, I try to buy something from everyone there. Right now, everyone basically has the same things - peppers, tomato, basil, etc. I bought some wonderful Santa Rosa plums that squirted juice all over the front of my work clothes. The gentleman that sold me the plums quickly got me a damp paper towel. I try to buy something each week off the high school girl who is saving for college. I bought cabbage off of a guy that recently lost his job. He presented me with a lovely bouquet of red zinnias because he values me as a loyal DFM customer. I was so surprised and delighted! They are on my desk at work.

Christopher Kimball's Letters From Vermont

Every so often, I get an email from Christopher Kimball from Cook's Illustrated. Granted, I am sure they are intended to be subtle advertisements, but I love reading them anyway, just like I love his essays each month at the beginning of Cook's Illustrated. I love hearing his stories of living in Vermont. Bonus: Evidently there now is a Cook's Country TV show on PBS. I am looking forward to checking it out.

Port Crescent and Sleeper State Park Camping

These are both in Michigan's Thumb. We camped last weekend at Sleeper and it was great. I can't wait to try Port Crescent - it is like camping right on the beach. We also bought some Candy Stick sweet corn that I froze, as well as 50 lbs of Michigan potatoes for $5. Why anyone bothers to grow potatoes is beyond me? They are so cheap to buy around here. I am hoping I can root cellar my potatoes for the winter by putting them in the garage. Last year I did that with pears and they lasted all winter.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Canning books

I found a list of books on canning on the Canning Across America website. I try to read every book on food preservation I can lay my hands on. Here are my thoughts on these books:

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine

I own this book - it's the book I recommend to anyone interested in canning. It is a compendium of Ball Blue Books. The popular Ball Blue Book is issued yearly and is essentially a canning yearbook.

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: Over 300 Recipes to Use Year-Round, Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard

This book has some canning recipes, nothing remarkable. It features lots of refrigerated recipes, and freezer recipes, and it includes over 300 recipes but most of them are recipes to use with stuff that you already have made. Not a book I need on my already groaning canning bookshelf.

Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving, US Dept. of Agriculture

Anything you need that's in this book, you can find at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

The Joy of Pickling, Revised Edition: 250 Flavor-Packed Recipes for Vegetables and More from Garden or Market, Linda Ziedrich

An excellent book for anyone that loves pickles as much as I do. I can't wait to try more of these recipes - I already made some fresh dill pickles that were excellent.

Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber, Christine Ferber

An interesting read, but the recipes have many ingredients I couldn't find locally.

Preserving Summer’s Bounty: A Quick and Easy Guide to Freezing, Canning, and Preserving, and Drying What You Grow, Rodale Food Center and Susan McClure

I didn't find anything much of interest in this book, which is a recurring theme with me and anything published by Rodale. Why is that?

Putting Food By, Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, Beatrice Vaughan

It's a classic - I've got it, but haven't looked at in years. I need to check it out again.

Stocking Up, Carol Hupping

I like the older versions of this book, before Rodale started publishing it. I own a couple older versions.

Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods, Eugenia Bone.

I checked this one out of the library there's nothing in it that you can't find elsewhere. Don't bother buying it. Nice photography!

More canning books reviewed here....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Canning peaches this weekend

This weekend, I am getting a group together to can peaches. I've been involved with a local food group that gets together on Fridays for breakfast, and we want to put food by for our breakfasts this winter. Some of us have canned before, but most haven't, so it's going to be instructional as well as nutritional! Last year was my first time canning peaches - I knew enough to get a freestone variety. I didn't realize that unless the peaches are perfectly ripe, the peels will not come off them easily when I dipped them in the boiling water. Peaches are climacteric, which means they will ripen after picking, so they can sit around for a while to ripen before canning. Russ Parsons reminds us that they won't get any sweeter, though, in his book "How to Pick a Peach". Since I buy peaches locally, they have been left on the tree long enough to get sweet, since they didn't have to travel far.

My second batch came out much better than my first, after I got that figured out. When canning peaches, it's important to do a hot pack instead of a raw pack. Peaches have a lot of air in them, and peeling them and hot packing, which is a very brief cooking, helps them release their air and prevents floating peaches in the jar. Also, adding some ascorbic acid is a must to prevent browning. I use Fruit Fresh. Floating brown peaches taste fine, they just don't look as good in the jar as some perfectly canned ones. Yes, I am vain about my canning! Looks are important to me!!

Last weekend, we were out on the west side of Michigan, and there are peach orchards all over the place. It got me thinking about Michigan peaches. The first peach tree was planted on the west side of the state in 1780, in Michigan's famed fruit belt. Some believed soil to be the reason for the successful growth of peach trees, others suggested that it was the influence of Lake Michigan. The "lake effect" insulated the peaches from extreme hot or extreme cold. Michigan peaches developed into a monopoly in nearby Chicago, at least until the invention of refrigerated railroad cars. A boost to Michigan peach production happened in the 1950s, when the Gerber baby food company (a Michigan company) encouraged growers to plant clingstone peaches for baby food. Clingstone peaches are non melting types, which means they hold their shape better for commercial canning applications and have no red color to them, which is undesirable, evidently, for baby food.

Probably the most famous peach in Michigan is the Red Haven peach. Clingstone peaches ripen before the freestone peaches, and the first freestone to ripen is after the Red Haven. Some folks call the Red Haven a freestone peach, it is more accurately called a semi-freestone. I've had some that were "more free" than others. Melting flesh types can be clingstone or freestone, usually depending on expected harvest date for a particular variety. Red Haven is sort of the "ground zero" for peach varieties. Harvest dates are measured in units of positive or negative RH - and RH is when the Red Haven is ripe for picking. According to the Michigan Peach Sponsors, home canners may prefer either melting or non-melting flesh. Any of the major Michigan varieties are recommended for canning and freezing. I don't think I have ever seen a non-melting variety for sale around here in southeastern Michigan, so I have only canned melting flesh thus far.

Last year I bought some Red Star peaches from a farmer up in Romeo, Michigan, home of the Romeo Peach Festival. Always held Labor Day weekend for over 70 years, the festival is always a good time, with plenty of peach shortcake and a peach queen and a beer tent. Romeo is our side of the state's answer to west Michigan's fruit belt. I was going to buy some Red Havens, but the farmer said to try the Red Stars, because "everyone's growing them now". They were great.

Monday, August 10, 2009

White Bean and Tomato Soup

What to make when you bought too much at the farmstand and/or the basil's about ready to bolt. I'm making this for my lunch tomorrow. 

 White Bean and Tomato Soup
2 tsp olive oil
 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 19-ounce can of cannellini or any kind of white beans, drained and rinsed
1 can chicken broth 2 ripe tomatoes, chopped and seeded
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, minced
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
A couple handfuls of baby spinach leaves (optional)

 Heat a medium saucepan. Swirl in the oil, then add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans and the broth. Heat, and then use a masher to coarsely mash up most of the beans. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat and simmer for four or five minutes. Add tomatoes and basil and spinach leaves, if using, and heat through. Serve with cheese sprinkled on top.