Thursday, October 27, 2011

Last Harvest and Free Eggs!

It's that time again. I put it off as long as I could but after a week of cool, gray and rainy days I took advantage of a slight break in the weather and yanked out the rest of my garden. I gleaned one last round of still green hot and sweet peppers and a handful of undersized tomatillas. I used up these and the last of the ripe tomatoes for a batch of end of season salsa. The few plants with reasonable sized green tomatoes are slowly ripening in the sunporch

I left the brussel sprouts still in the ground but everything else is in the composter now. I still have to empty the rain barrel (if it ever stops raining long enough) and put away the hoses. It looks so barren from up here...

I did it just in time tho- not only are we expected sub zero temps this weekend but Monday morning I woke up to this:

That's the city works crew repairing the laneway behind my house. My garden is now a construction site which is a tad unnerving since I've put a lot of time and money into building up my soil. Not to worry, I had a brief conversation with the foreman and it turns out he's a farmer himself! He raises a few head of beef cattle, some pigs and chicken on a few acres very close to where we attended Foodstock last week. I gave him a jar of my pear chutney and he promised to look out for my dirt and veggies. This morning I opend up the composter to find these hidden inside!

Best harvest ever- thanks Frank!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Food Storage Friday - The Headcold Edition

We've been a bunch of sickies this week- just annoying headcolds for myself and our temporary roommate but the Russian has been really sick and it turns out he has pneumonia. Which means there's been a lot of soups and teas on the menu this week. And since the weather's been lousy and I'm not feeling so great, I haven't done any shopping at all. We did a pork roast on Sunday so there were a couple days of leftovers and some nice pork stock to which I added bacon, brussel sprouts and kale. A big pot of homemade chicken soup lasted a couple days as well. The last of the greens from the garden, some homemade pierogies and pork paprikish rounded out the week. The most processed thing we ate all week was probably the sour cream!

One thing I noted this week is how depleted my medicinal herbs are! I managed to forage some rosehips which I've been adding to hot lemon with ginger, honey and cayenne. I have fresh sage and thyme but I have no slippery elm bark for coughs and a lot of the other herbs are either depleted or too old to be any use. Looks like a trip to the herbalist is in order. I don't know if my usual trusted cold remedies may have been able to prevent the Russian from ending up as sick as he was but having to make a trip to the ER is something we both prefer to avoid. If you aren't already sick when you get there you're sure to be exposed to a lot of ugly germs!

As for me, in addition to feeling physically sick, I'm also a bit sick of canning. I have one last batch of tomatoes and some apples to deal with and then I think I need a break, at least at home. Thankfully the growing season here is all but done so there's not much left to can anyhow. The preserving workshops I teach are scheduled to go till mid Nov and I'll still need to do some pickled beets for us once we've had a frost but at the moment I'm longing to be finished. And when I need something else to keep my hands busy, there's a whole lot of yarn waiting patiently for knitting season to begin!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Last Pick of the year- Ginkgo Nuts!

Yesterday I did what is likely my last pick of the season with Not Far From The Tree and the object of the pick was a new one for me- ginkgo nuts! Which we prompty decided should be renamed stinko nuts - oh boy do these things reek!

I got a crash course on ginkgo today. First off, nuts are only found on female trees (I can think of so many inappropiate remarks here but lets just stick to the part where trees have gender- who knew?)The term for this is dioecious, from Greek meaning "two households" and only the female trees give off that overwhelming stench - maybe to attract the male trees?

Secondly ginkgo nuts aren't really nuts. They're more like an edible pit. The fruit surrounding the pit is also apparently edible but since that's what emits the odor there's no way I'm attempting it. There's also the fact that the flesh contains an oil known as urushiol, the same substance that causes some people to react to poison ivy and similar plants. Thankfully I am not one of those people but since picking ginkgo fruit barehanded can result in an irritation that ranges from a mild rash to full blown contact dermatitis, I decided to don those lovely gloves just in case.

If all of that isn't enough to scare you off, the nuts themselves contain MPN (4-methoxypyridoxine) which is toxic. In small doses (10 or less nuts /day) it's considered harmless but larger amounts can cause nausea, cramping, vomiting, convulsions and even death (although you'd have to consume an awful lot of them!)

Even the process of making them edible is tricky.
First you have to clean off the gucky fruit (while not getting any on your skin).

Next you crack open the shell and remove the nut.

Then you need to remove the membrane

And finally you have to cook them.

Instant gratification they are not! It took me a few hours to prepare a mere handful.

So why would anyone want to eat them? Well they are very nutritious, containing potassium, phosphorus, folate and vitamin A, and traces of zinc, copper and manganese. They also have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and vasodilatory properties and in traditional Chinese medicine they are used for a variety of ailments, particularly for conditions concerning circulation, heart and lungs. Which is great but not really enough incentive to go through all of that if you aren't sick. Luckily they also taste delcious!

I boiled the first bunch with salt until the water evapourated and they turned bright green.

They taste bit like edamame, which they resemble, but more chewy and rich. I would have liked to eat the entire batch but decided to stop at a few to make sure I didn't over indulge. I think I'll roast the next batch with oil and salt; the cooked nuts can also be added to soup and other dishes.

Once cooked the nuts can be also be stored in the fridge for about a month. And thankfully they no longer smell like rotting milk!

Now if only my house didn't.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Yesterday we made our way to the heart of Ontario farmland to attend Foodstock. It was a marvellous event featuring samples of scrumptious Ontario foods prepared by over 100 Canadian chefs. All the produce and labour was donated; the event itself was located on one of the few remaining farms that wasn't bought up by the group that hopes to develop a Mega Quarry on this wonderfully fertile land.

The estimated attendance of over 28000 included people from all walks of life and it was amazing to see local farmers mingling with foodies, city folk, musicians and chefs, all with one purpose- to keep the land that grows our food intact.

Some random images of the day- sadly not many of the food (because I ate it!)

I spoke with one woman whose family still farms nearby and she was astonished by how many people came to show their support. We talked about the impact the mine would have on the people who live and farm in the area; blasting 24 hours a day, 300 heavy trucks per day barreling through small communities, and the unknown effects on the water table if 600 million litres a day were pumped out of the ground. We talked of how far people had travelled to attend the event and she appeared delighted by the sheer volume of people who had descended, causing traffic to back up and creating parking lots on the side of the road for miles in all directions. The usual big city vs country awkwardness was nowhere to be found; we were united by a cause that affects us all. I was happy to acknowledge that we urban dwellers are becoming more aware that we don't live in a bubble, and if the voices of the 800 local inhabitants weren't loud enough to be heard, then we'll eagerly join in until the powers that be are forced to pay attention. Because it does no good to preach about eating local food while selling out the people who grow it for us!

Michael Stadlander of Eigensinn Farm, seen here speaking to the crowd who stuck it out despite the cold and rain, was the driving force behind Foodstock. It is a testament to his passionate belief in the land that feeds us that he was able to recruit so many people behind this cause. Thanks and praise to all involved with making this day both a fabulous event and a sobering reminder that we all need to work together to keep our farmers and the land doing what they do best- feeding us all!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Food Storage Friday - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

So it was an up and down kinda week. It started on a high note, being Thanksgiving and the most perfect weather imaginable and it could't help but go downhill from there. My intentions to eat unprocessed were also a bit like a roller coaster- we had some highs, some lows and a bit of inbetween- here's the round up.

The Good:
Preserving continues- this week I did more tomato sauce, tomato salsa, tomato jam (sensing a theme here?) and red onion jam.

Last week's drying experiments all seemed to work out well so there are more trays in the oven and more jars filling out the shelves.
The most fun and interesting projects are the vinegars. I love having science experiments in the kitchen! I used the last of the white grapes, a bag of frozen purple grapes and some homegrown cider (from the apples I picked on Sunday) and set them to ferment on top of the fridge- all are bubbling like mad as the yeasts go to work on them. The screw caps are only loosely on; the gases produced as the sugars ferment into alcohol must be able to escape or they'd blow up!

The bad:

Thanksgiving was a chance to go to two different turkey dinners- one on Sunday and one Monday. I had no say in the preparation of either turkeys (as it should be when one is a guest) and could only contribute sides. For Sunday I prepared two pumpkin pies, made from whole pumpkins which I roasted and pureed, and homemade pastry made from store bought flour and lard- we'll call that one a draw.

For Monday's dinner we shopped at the Sorauren market for local veggies in the afternoon and prepared a roasted cauliflower dish, a root vegetable casserole featuring local carrots, beets and kholrabi, and baked sweet potatoes.

But at the dinner I also indulged in store made veggie and dip platter, cheese and crackers, pumpkin cheese cake, and gravy made from a packaged mix among other things. All of this was lovingly prepared by my sisters who spent the better part of two days preparing to feed a large group of people. In our family of 13 kids, we were brought up to eat what is put in front of us, and it is not good manners to critique someone else's food choices while scarfing them. Count this as a delicious fail.

The Ugly:

The Russian and I both worked a long physical day yesterday. When we got home at 9 pm neither of us felt like cooking. We still had some leftovers we brought home from Monday's dinner and hot turkey sandwiches seemed like the perfect solution, except we had no bread. I sent the Russian to the corner store and this is what he came home with:

Yeah that's Wonderbread. The epitomy of processed food. We weren't even allowed to eat this when we were kids- my mom had the sense to recognize that the amount of sugar and refined flour in it exceeds any possible nutritional value so we never bought it, even on sale. But if you're hungry and this is what's available, you eat it. Which is why things the October Unprocessed kinda bug me sometimes. It's all well and good to talk about eating unprocessed foods but many people just don't have access to these kinds of choices. Did you know if you get your food from a food bank KD (Kraft Dinner mac and cheese) is considered a protein source? And Beefaroni is both a protein and a vegetable source. I'm not suggesting this is a good thing by any means but choosing not to eat those things and then being smug about it seems a bit holier-than-thou sometimes. Most food banks can't provide perishables like fresh vegetables or dairy. And if you have to chose between paying rent or buying fresh veggies, which do you chose? Our weekly Farmer's market is full of locally grown, mostly organic crops but I sometimes can't afford to shop there. I know how lucky I am to have the time and the know how to make much of my food from scratch but if I had kids to think about, I know my priorities would change in a heartbeat. I know at least one participant in this challenge (Canadian Doomer) has small children (and a lean food budget) so her efforts to keep to it are much more impressive than mine.

Today find me in a bit of a riled up mood- this weekend has two major protest events going on in the Toronto area. Tomorrow,Oct 15th, the Occupy Wall St movement moves north to Toronto and Montreal among other Canadian cities. I haven't decided yet if I plan to attend. I support the idea of people making their voices heard and there are certainly many issues in this country that need to be addressed. However the lack of a unified message is troubling and the city as a whole is gearing up for this like it will be a repeat of the disasterous protests that occurred during the G20 summit last year.

Sunday's rally has a much clearer purpose and purposes to be an amazing event- Foodstock is a fundraising gathering to protest the building of a mega quarry in the heart of Ontario farmland and will feature over a hundred of Canada's top chefs serving up local fare accompanied by a program of great Canadian bands- all for a minum donation of $10. This event I'll be attending rain or shine!

But back to Wonderbread-we eat so little bread in this house that I've never bothered to bake our own. Last night made me realize that having a homemade loaf of bread (or even an unbaked one) in the freezer for just such times might not be a bad thing. Anyone have a good beginners recipe for bread?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wordless Wednesday- Apple Foraging

What Delicious apples should actually look like.

The apple tree that grows on Dundas St W where I picked them

The pole I had to borrow to reach them!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Food Storage Friday

Back in March we participated in a Pantry Challenge, a month long experiment of trying to eat entirely from the food we had on hand without buying any more. This month there's another challenge, called October Unprocessed. The idea is to try to avoid using any kind of processed foods for the entire month and my fellow Pantry Challenge participants Canadian Doomer and FarmGal are playing along. I decided not to do the full challenge for a number of reasons but since I support the idea behind it, I'm aiming to add a few thoughts of my own periodically. Everyone has different definitions of what constitutes unprocessed - for example I would never buy things like premade pastry and I make my pumpkin pie from actual pumpkins, not canned, but I'm not about to grind my own flour to make pie crusts with!

The Russian and I are a DIY household on many fronts- partially because we like the experience of making things but also because we often have more time than income. Challenges like these are interesting for me because they draw attention to things we may not have considered and often provide ideas of how to do things better. The Pantry Challenge was a great example of this and one of things I quickly became aware of was how dependent we are on our freezer for much of our food storage. As this blog demonstrates, I do a lot of hot water bath canning but the majority of it is condiments and sauces. Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl calls it "Junk food for the Apocolypse" which is a fairly accurate portrayal. In a pinch it's somewhat nutritious food but not exactly the kind of meals that will sustain us for long. Not having a pressure canner means I don't have the ability to preserve any type of meat or low acid veggies in jars. Soup is also out unless is frozen. But being dependent on the freezer means we are also dependent on electricity and even in Toronto that can be an issue at times. In the Blackout of 2003 I was lucky- my block was on the same grid as a nearby hospital and we had power restored in under 6 hours and everything in my freezer survived. Others areas of my neighbourhood didn't see power for 3-5 days during one of the hottest Augusts on record! In 2009 we lost power for 3 days in the dead of winter and had to put the contents of the freezer in a cooler outside; everything survived thanks to the cold temps. We only have the usual sized refrigerator freezer but even that small space contains a good portion of our stored food, in the form of soups and stocks, fruit and vegetables, fresh meat and homemade prepared food like pierogies and gnocchi. To lose power for any length of time could mean the loss of a considerable amount of food. Finding alternate methods of storing food is frequently on my mind.

One the things that I wish was possible in a apartment is access to a root cellar or cold storage. I grew up with one in my chidhood home and my dad still keeps it full of supplies even tho there's only 3 people living there currently. It's been a long standing tradition among my siblings that when you're totally broke you can always visit mom and dad's and 'grocery shop' in the root cellar. It's mostly full of store bought canned goods, my dad's preserves and pickles and some produce but you could probably feed a family of 4 decently for a couple months on what they have on hand. In the apartment we live in now, we are so lacking in storage I don't have anywhere to keep even the smallest amount of pantry supplies outside of the tiny kitchen cabinet space. Even if there were storage options, the lack of temperature control makes it's impossible to keep anything perishable anywhere but the fridge. Last year I tried to keep apples in the sunporch but even tho it's unheated, the temperature remains at or above the temps in the apartment- southwest windows and a blacktar roof keep it toasty all winter! Great for me and the plants, deadly to stored food.

This week the prices on local root veggies are at their yearly best- we picked up 2 x Ontario new potatoes, yellow onions and carrots for $1.67/ 10bl bag each. Red onions were slightly more at $2.99/ 10 lbs but I'm doing some red onion jam this week so we picked those up too. That means there is currently 50 lbs of vegetables rolling around on the kitchen floor and we need to get creative with our storage. Here's one solution we came up with!

We're considering building some kind of insulated wooden storage box to stay outside on the deck. If we can make it raccoon and squirrel proof it might hold us until winter but once the temps go below freezing it won't be viable for veggies.

In the meantime I'm experimenting with another form of food perservation- drying. We don't own a dehydrator but having a gas oven with a pilot light means I have a low cost drying option already built in. In actuality it's free for us since we don't pay for gas here and don't have the option of turning it off in any case. I've used it for tomatoes for years but never bothered to try much else. In the past few weeks I've been trying out other possibilites with some success- onions, both green and bulb seem to work well. Celery leaves dried in hours. Corn dried out okay but whether it will be edible when reconsituted is another story- it might be okay in soup or I may just grind it to corn meal.

I'm attempting to dry carrots for the first time today- given their density I suspect it will take few day so I'm not sure what to expect. The Russian inadvertantly demonstrated that potatoes can be dried this way too- I'd been hesitant to attempt potatoes because I was concerned that they'd turn brown and unappealing but these ones look fine for being left in the oven for two days by mistake! I think the trick here was that he partially cooked them at very high heat then shut the oven off. They're still a bit moist in the centre so I'll finish them at the same time as the carrots.

Along with the dried cherry tomatoes and the beans I grew this year, the shelf is filling with jars of dehydrated veggies. If nothing else at least I have the makings of some good soups!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Taking Stock

I don't know about you but September was a bit of blur around here and I can't believe it's October already. The gardens are almost bare, the shelves are filling up and there's a bit of room in the fridge again finally. Preserving season is winding down but there's still a lot to do!

As I mentioned previously my gardens were pretty much a bust this year- between the erratic weather and the ridiculous amount I lost to squirrels and raccoons, there wasn't much of a harvest to be had. I'm still picking a few tomatoes and peppers and the salad greens are enjoying all the rain and cooler temps but pickings are slim. Thankfully it's been a fabulous year for foraging and freebies!

Wanna stretch your food dollars? Got some time on your hands? Consider volunteering with local food initiatives and other food related events! Beside keeping in touch with what's happening in your community and giving a much needed hand, there's almost always leftovers to be shared amongst the people who stay behind to clean up! In the past few weeks I brought home 30 ears of cooked corn on the cob, thawed premade hamburger patties, a pound of barely opened butter, an unopened box of crackers, and more fruit and veggies than I can list here. Between this and all of the foraging I've been doing, there's been plenty of produce to put up for winter. Here's some of the preserving I've done recently, with recipes and links.

Corn Cob Stock:

After cutting the niblets off of 30 ears of corn for freezing, I chucked the cobs into a pot of water and left them to simmer for a few hours. When it was done I had 2 litres of rich corn stock which I froze for soup. The idea and directions came from Local Kitchen.

Autumn olives or olive berries are so named because the leaves resemble olive leaves. They produce clusters of reddish orange berries that are higher in lycopene than tomatoes! These beautiful jewels make a really yummy tart jam- I did some alone and some with grapes.

Olive Berry Jam:
6 c ripe autumn olive berries.
1 c water
2 ½ cups of sugar
1/2 package liquid pectin

Add water to berries and bring to a boil then simmer for 20 minutes until berries are soft.
Mash and strain through a sieve to remove seeds- should make about 4 cups of pulp. Add sugar and heat till boiling. Add liquid pectin and heat to a rolling boil. Check for set at one minute. Fill sterilized jars (I used 125 ml ) leaving 1/2 inch headspace and process for 10 minutes.

Chilies,chilies and more chilies:
I love the hot stuff! The Russian however does not. We compromise by making almost everything mild and then I add heat to my portions after the fact. Of course different dishes call for different flavours so I like lots of choices in my hot condiments. Here are two very simple recipes for preserving hot chili peppers.

Peri Peri sauce (Portugues style hot sauce)
Use the long red hot peppers for best flavour but any hot pepper could be subbed.

12 large hot red peppers
1 1/2 tbsp course salt (or to taste)
2/3 cup vinegar.

Stem and seed peppers- wear gloves!

Chop into smaller pieces and puree in a blender or food processor. Add salt and vinegar and puree until smooth. In a large sauce pan heat puree until slightly boiling, allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to cool. This allows the air bubbles to dissipate. Stir thoroughly and reheat to a low simmer and pour in hot sterilized jars (I used 6 x 250 ml but this varies depending on the size of the peppers). Using a plastic or wooden tool, remove air bubbles. Leave 1/2 inch head space, seal and process for 15 minutes in hot water bath.

Peri peri sauce usually includes oil but you should never can anything containing oil as it can reduce the effectiveness of the canning process and allow spores to survive. Instead I add 1 tblsp of olive oil to a jar once it's opened and then refridgerate it.

Chili Garlic Paste (adapted from Viet World Kitchen)
Unlike the peri peri sauce I make small batches of this and don't bother to can it- just pop it in the fridge. It isn't acidic enough as it stands for safe waterbath canning.

1 cup hot chiles (e.g. cayenne, habanero, jalapeno, serrano, Thai, or a combination of them), stemmed and chopped- leave the seeds in for extra heat!
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp white vinegar

Put all the ingredients in food processor. Process to a coarse texture. Transfer to a small saucepan, bring to a vigorous simmer over medium heat, lower the heat to gently simmer for about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavor with add extra salt or sugar. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer to a jar and store in the refrigerator. Makes 1 x 250ml jar.

Green Tomatoes
As the warm weather winds down the chance of those last few tomatoes actually ripening on the vine gets less likely, but tomatoes that are picked totally green tend to get only partially ripened before they start to look shrivelled and unappetizing. By roasting the ones that are nearly ripened but not quite red, you can concentrate the available sugars and make a versatile sauce. You also get to use up bits of herbs and any other less than perfect veggies.

Roasted Nearly Ripened Tomato Sauce.
6- 10 partially ripened tomatoes (I sometimes use a few over ripened ones as well but not if they are already starting to go off).
Ends and stalks of herbs that you've harvested for other things- basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary all work well but tarragon, sage and savoury are also okay.
Carrot tops, celery leaves or bits of both cut up. You can also use sweet peppers.
1 onion cut in small chunks
2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed (don't worry about removing the paper skins)
1/2 tsp salt

Cut tomatoes in half or quarters and lay them in a baking dish. Cover with bits of herbs, onions, garlic and other veggies. Add 1/2 cup of water. Sprinkle with salt. Bake in 300 degrees F oven for 30 -40 minutes or until all veggies are soft.

Remove dish from oven and strain contents through a wire mesh strainer or use a food mill. (note if you have the time, you can allow the dish to cool and remove the skins from the tomatoes by hand prior to putting it through the strainer- it does make pushing the pulp through easier but it's not necessary)

Add pulp and juice to a saucepan and cook down over med heat. Taste and add salt , pepper and a bit of sugar if it seems too tart. Cook until it reaches a good sauce consistancy. Freeze as is, or can as tomato sauce (add 1 tbsp of acid per 500 ml jar- I like red wine vinegar but balsamic or lemon juice would work too.) Process in hot waterbath for 15 minutes.

As the daylight wanes and the temperature dips, it's nice to see all the jars lined up again.