Friday, July 29, 2011

What a Crock

I gifted Tristan a crock for the holidays. It has been sitting patiently on the shelf for over half a year, waiting to be put into service. Today we finally took it for a test drive with our first batch of pickles for the season.

Last year's, we made simple pickles using an old-world lacto-fermented recipe. The resulting pickles were serviceable, but frankly waaaaay too salty for my taste, and the recipe didn't call for dill or other traditional pickling spices. This year we are using Sandor Katz's recipe from Wild Fermentation. If they come out anything like the description, they should be traditional sour dills, like the kind you would find in a good Jewish deli.

Both of us were surprised that the recipe called for a handful of grape leaves. Supposedly the tannins in the leaves help keep the pickles crunchy.

I've always made pickles in mason jars in the past. I'm excited to see how the crock does, and I'm hoping that it will lend itself to continuous additions. When we get more cukes from the CSA, we should be able to add them to the crock, along with beans and other garden veggies. Has anyone else had success with a continuous pickle-crock-in-progress?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

New (to us) wild food: Sumac

Until about two months ago, I thought that this plant was poison sumac.

Poison as in definitely not edible, gives you a giant rash. It turns out I'd been missing out on some real tastiness all these years. This is staghorn sumac. Poison sumac is a completely different plant, which grows only in swamps and is apparently very uncommon. For a comparison check out this handy site:

Lucky for us, local forager Blanche Derby set us straight. A friend tipped us off to this local art teacher's amazing collection of foraging videos. They are quite...something. It's quirky public access TV at its finest. See for yourself:

Tell me you're not hooked.

Enough preamble. Here's Tristan's take on discovering this new wild food:

Today I collected a bushel of sumac drupes. I hope that will keep us covered for the rest of the year. We are using them to make sumac-ade, a traditional Native American preparation that's very similar to lemonade. The sticky coating of the sumac berry is high in malic and citric acid, and also contains ascorbic acid, making it fit for a summer drink. Most of us grew up drinking lemonade, the American classic. It's one of those traditions that's so pervasive - like milkshakes and classic cars - that people attribute to it an unimpeachable wholesomeness. Many would probably say they just couldn't go without it. To do so would be Un-American! But like Henry David Thoreau, who was also dubious of the industrial economy, I have to ask myself with all sobriety "do we really need tea and coffee and meat?", do we really need lemonade if it means trucking lemons from Florida or California or even somewhere in South American to my little town in Western Massachusetts? 

Instead, I strolled down my block to the edge of a wooded area and plucked an ample supply of sumac drupes.

Total cost: a bucket of sweat, and a dozen mosquito bites. Not too bad when you consider the scale of industry behind a single lemon.

Just because a product is pretty cheap on the shelves doesn't mean that it's so inexpensive down the road. When you take into account the long term effects of how it got there: the large scale manufacturing operations and their waste, the criminal and inhumane "employment" of downtrodden peoples, the huge trucking infrastructure and their carbon emissions - these have their hidden costs, absent from the budget sheets strewn about the desks of corporate headquarters. What is the true cost of a $1.50 carton of eggs at Walmart? Does anyone really know? Instead I can go for a stroll, get some sun, and experience the true and immediate weight of the exchange: sweat for sumac. And hey, it's kind of fun.

On my collection adventure I also had a chance to spy upon future fruits for harvest in the upcoming months. Scores of plump blackberry bushes laden with fruit are just beginning to ripen. Also the wild grape vines are covered with good sized fruits which will make for a good harvest this year I hope. For the blackberries, jams and preserves will be their eventual fate. Though I haven't tried it, I'm hoping to make wine with the grapes. Mwahaha!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

CSA Day--Going for the Gold

Wednesdays are CSA pickup days for us. When I get home from work, Tristan and I walk out the back door and along the dyke separating our neighborhood from low-lying fields. Our CSA farm, Town Farm, is just a 5 minute mosey along the path. This week, we rushed our goodies home and went to work making a delicious dinner and putting up three different kinds of ferments to enjoy later. 

Dinner was a mutton pita concoction, with CSA cucumber yogurt sauce, CSA lettuce and tomato, and mutton sausage from the farmer's market. Yum!
Then it was on to the pickled beets. We put up two pints of a simple refrigerator pickle with 1/2 c. homemade apple cider vinegar, 1/2 c. white vinegar, 1 c. water, and some salt. CSA beets and half a regular yellow onion went in the brine.

Mysteriously energized by all this productive food preservation, we moved on to sauerkraut. We don't have a mandolin, so Tristan did all that fine shredding by hand, with the great Japanese knife my uncle sent me from Tokyo (thanks Uncle Jim!). We followed Sandor Katz's classic kraut recipe from Wild Fermentation--we had two heads of cabbage from the CSA (about 4 lbs) and added a few tablespoons of salt. The two heads of cabbage fit perfectly into a half gallon jar once they were crammed in with a wooden spoon. We added a small jar filled with water to the top as a weight--this morning the kraut is covered in a good inch or two of cabbage juice.

Wait, more cabbage? Oh yes. In addition to two heads of green cabbage, we also had a neglected head of napa cabbage languishing in the fridge from a previous CSA pickup. We whipped up a batch of my personal favorite--kimchi. I start by halfing the cabbage and spreading salt on each leaf (more on the stems than the leaves) and let it wilt for several hours. I also wilted a handful of sliced turnips in lieu of daikon radish. After they wilted, we rinsed the veggies thoroughly. To these I added a mixture of: 1/4 c. red chili flakes, 1/4 c. fish sauce, 6 scallions from the CSA, 2 inches of ginger - minced, 5 cloves of garlic - minced, and 1 tsp. honey. Into a jar they went!
Oh yeah, and half a cuke's worth of fridge pickles!
Everything but the kimchi was done within about 2.5 hours, and we even managed to clean up as we went. And the timing couldn't be better--we're headed out of town on a mini wagon tour. When we return, we'll have fully fermented beets, kraut, and kimchi waiting for us, instead of wilted, moldy beets and cabbage.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Changes to the Whittled Down Caravan

We left New Mexico in the gypsy wagon just about a year ago. It's hard to believe. Now that the wagon is entering it's second year, it's high time we got around to putting on some finishing touches. We always intended to finish the interior, to protect the wood and add some color. 

It was really difficult for us to decide on a color scheme, and even harder to make that first stroke. But now that we've started, the changes are growing on me. The wagon was looking pretty dirty and beat up inside. A coat of fresh paint makes a big difference.