Thursday, May 26, 2011

Strawberries: saving the taste of summer

Finally - berry season! There are strawberries everywhere. The last time I went to the farmers' market, one of the farmers was selling flats of 12 pints of strawberries for $15. Why the good deal? These were berries that were super ripe from all the rain we'd gotten, so the farmer had to sell them quickly before they spoiled. Buying this type of produce in bulk is a great way to get the most out of farmers' markets.

Now what? This is way too many for a normal person to eat, although I have definitely tried. The majority I can freeze so that I will have them any time I want. You cofuld also preserve them, but that cooks out most of the nutrients and requires a lot of sugar. Freezing is definitely the healthier option.


  • 12 pints strawberries


Step One

Portion out what you think you'd be able to eat in a week. Remove them from the horrible plastic containers that cut into them. Place them into a small paper bag. This will help keep them from dehydrating, but also gives them the air circulation they need to keep them from rotting.

Step Two

Frozen fruits and veggies can actually be more nutritious than fresh if you freeze them immediately. Every day fruits and vegetables sit in the fridge they lose nutrients. So as soon as you get home from the market, start by rinsing them off.

Step Three

Cut off the tops and place in freezer bags. Try to put about two pints of berries per one gallon freezer bag.

Step Four

The bag is full when you can create a single layer of berries in the bag. You want to make sure to have a single layer so that when they freeze they don't create a gigantic lump. 

Step Five

Take all those horrible plastic containers back to your farmer. That's yet another benefit of going straight to the farmer.

Effort: Easy
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time:0minutes
Total time:45minutes

Friday, May 20, 2011

Shelling peas, a meditation

Before shopping at farmers' markets, I never bought peas. My grandmother always served peas from a can, so I never considered them a real vegetable. Shelling peas is very time consuming, so don't buy them unless you have time or lots of tiny hands to help you. Shelling a pound of peas took me about a half hour and yielded only one large bowl. But I was on a vacation in the mountains so had the time to sit on the porch and really get in the shelling zone, which, as it turns out, is about as close as I have gotten to meditation in a while. So sit back, get in the pea zone, and let your mind wander.


  • 1 lb English peas


Step One

Split the pod along the seam. With your thumb, gently scrape out all the peas into a bowl. Repeat. A lot.

Step Two

Just when you've developed what appears to be a permanent green thumb, you'll be about done. You can eat these beauties raw, straight from the bowl. I basically put these in front of a bunch of my fellow travelers after a long day hiking and they dug right into them as if they were chips and dips. If that's not your thing, blanche for a few minutes in boiling water and serve with a touch of salt.

Effort: Easy
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 0 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fava beans on fresh bread

Hannibal Lecter introduced me (and the rest of the world) to fava beans in Silence of the Lambs. And now that I've actually prepared them, I have to wonder if it was easier for him to harvest the liver from that census taker than to shell these gorgeous green beans. In the end, they're worth the effort. Harvested in that magic moment between spring and summer, they are the ultimate harbingers of wonderful things to come.


  • 1 lb fava bean pods

  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 1 oz pecorino Romano (optional)

  • 4 slices crusty bread


Step One

I believe that the fuzz-filled pod of a fava could be used to package delicate computer equipment. You first have to remove the beans from their padded resting place. Split the pod to reveal the beans. Then pull the beans out.

Step Two

Fava beans are doubly protected. To remove the second casing and reveal the full fava glory, blanche the beans in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Drain and cool to room temperature.

Step Three

Pull off the green stem, tearing the white casing. Then simply pop the fava out.

Step Four

Season the beans with olive oil, fleur de sal, and cracked pepper. To make it even more authentic Italian, or more specifically, Roman, add a bit of pecorino.

Step Five

Serve atop some fresh, crusty bread.

Effort: Medium
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 2 servings

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tastecation: Blackberry Farm

I recently traveled to Walland, TN to watch my cousin get married to his lovely bride at the almost equally lovely Blackberry Farm. To be honest, I assumed there wasn't going to be much to do on the farm, but little did I know the food adventures that I would stumble upon.

I took a tour of the property with my family and we happened upon the farmhouse and Farmer John. The chefs at Blackberry pride themselves on creating spectacular culinary creations based on a good deal of food produced right on the farm so it was amazing to see where it all happened.

Farmer John described himself as a simple man with no use for email or blogs or cell phones. But that attitude belied the crucially important movement to which he contributes. He showed us some gorgeous beans and I asked if they were heirloom. He told me they were and that he participates to the Seed Savers Exchange and Blackberry Farm even sells some of the seeds online.

In fact, all around the farmhouse were jars and baskets all filled with seeds. One even contained a friendly barn cat.

This is not a case of obsessive-compulsive hoarding. The farmers, like John, who participate in the Seed Saver Exchange are trying to maintain and propagate genetic diversity in the face of increasing monoculture and genetically modified crops. They are truly the antidote to typical agribusiness. So when something threatens our mass produced food supply, we will have a bank of genetically diverse seed stock to save the day. He might not wear tights and a cape, but I believe that Farmer John is an overall-clad food superhero.

Note: While I usually take most of the pictures for my blog, for this post, I was lucky to have my extremely talented father behind the camera. Thanks Dad.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Curing olives

I'm surrounded by them - olive trees.

They're everywhere in California. I don't have much need to cure my own because I can always get tasty olives at the market, but I couldn't resist. I cured olives back late last year, but just broke into my first jar just this week.


  • 4 C fresh green olives

  • Lots of water

  • 1/8 C Kosher salt(1/4C salt per quart of water for the brine)

  • 2 C vinegar

  • 1 lemon, quartered and sliced

  • 6 cloves garlic

  • 2 cayenne peppers, thick chopped

  • 1 t oregano (optional)


Step One

Olives are pretty much inedible until you cure them. They are extremely bitter and the chemical that causes that must be leached out. Most people do this with lye, but I have enough dangers in the kitchen so I opted to try another method. First, you must crack the skins of all the olives.

Step Two

The easiest way to do this is to lay them on a cutting board and strike them with a rolling pin. Start kinda soft and work up to whacking them because they're more delicate than they look.

Step Three

Place the cracked olives in a quart mason jar (or some other food safe storage container). Cover completely with water.

Step Four

Use something to keep the olives from popping up above the water level - they have to be completely submerged to keep from oxygen and rot. I used a small plastic bag with about a 1/4 C of water in it. If your container is large enough, you can use a small plate to push the olives under the water.

Step Five

Store in a cool dark place. Empty and refresh the water every day. Many recipes use salt water for this, but I saw a few that used plain water and decided to try that (I didn't want to waste all that salt). Each time you change the water, you'll notice that it's kinda oily and the water is discolored. This is the natural oil (you know, like olive oil) and the bitter chemical leaching out. Continue to change the water till the olives start to lose the green color and the water that you pour off is relatively clear (about 1 week to 10 days).

Step Six

The last time you pour off the water, measure it. Use this to gauge how much of the final brine to make. Boil water and add Kosher salt. Stir till it dissolves. Mix a half and half solution of the brine with vinegar.

Step Seven

Mix the olives with the lemon, garlic, peppers, and spices.

Step Eight

Put in sterile pint jars and cover with the brine, clean the rims of the jars, and cover with canning lids. Process in a hot water bath (20 min) or pressure canner (10 min). If you don't have a canner, store in the fridge. After about 3 weeks, the olives should be pickled and ready to eat.

Effort: Difficult
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 month
Total time: 1 month
Yield: 2 pint jars