Green hot sauce.

Serrano and jalapeno peppers

If you have ever thought of pepper-spraying your entire family, but didn’t have the nerve, well, I have an idea for you.

We are now in my very favourite time of the year, because it’s still hot enough to run around without sleeves but the produce is at its most awesome, and I can’t stop blowing my paycheque on ridiculous quantities of stone fruit, tomatoes, and peppers. Nick swore out loud on Sunday when I decided his penance for a weekend camping trip was to Tetris the hundred pounds of farm market bounty I’d managed to lug home into the fridge; there is simply no more room, and I can’t stop. It’s too good. It’s all too good.

“You have to do something about this,” he said, shoving the door closed. “No one needs this much damn zucchini.”

Well, I beg to differ. Let’s not even talk about everything that’s suddenly ripe in the garden. Nick certainly doesn’t want to talk about it.

So, because I am responsible and have an unlimited tolerance for a humid, sweltering apartment, I have been canning the many things I brought home, because the only thing that makes Nick happier than a fridge that won’t close are cupboards that can’t contain the groceries. I made hot sauce. It’s basically sriracha, but green.

We all paid a little bit for this, but it was worth it. Open a window if you do this; if you have a camp stove or a barbecue with a side burner, then cook this outside. Or, if everyone you live with is being a real jerk about the harvest season, then reduce a pound and a half of hot peppers with all their seeds right smack in the middle of your 900 square-foot apartment and listen to them whine and whine and whine.

They’ll forget all about it when they’re spooning green gold onto their sausages come February.

Note: Ideally you will make this using a food mill. If you don’t have a food mill, start by seeding the peppers (if you don’t want this hot-damn hot), then process in a blender or food processor before proceeding to the simmering/reduction stage. The finished product is not too too hot; it’s flavourful with a nice, slow burn.

Green hot sauce

Homemade green hot sauce

(Makes about five 250mL/1-cup jars.)

  • 1 1/2 lbs. serrano or jalapeño peppers, or a combination
  • 1 lb. onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
  • 3 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp. Kosher salt

Remove the stems from your peppers and chop them roughly. Throw them into a heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot (such as enameled cast iron or stainless steel) with all the other ingredients, and bring them to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Cover, and cook for 15 minutes until soft.

Meanwhile, sterilize 5 jars in a large stock pot; you’ll want to boil the jars in water that comes to about two inches over the tops of the jars. Boil for 20 minutes.

Remove the chilies from the heat, and spoon the peppers and liquid into a food mill positioned over a large glass bowl. Process through the food mill until there’s nothing more running through. Scrape the bottom of the food mill into the bowl.

Pour strained pepper mixture back into your pot, return to medium heat, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until reduced by about half.

Spoon into sterilized jars and wipe the rims with a piece of damp paper towel. Tap the jars to dislodge any trapped air. Place sterilized lids on top, then screw on the rings; you want them just tight enough that they’re closed, but that you could still unscrew using your thumb and finger. Process the sealed jars in boiling water for an additional ten minutes. Remove using canning tongs and let cool for 24 hours. Check that jars are sealed, and then store sealed jars in a cool, dark place. Spoon the vinegary, garlicky pungent stuff over February’s wintry food and relive the magic of a fridge brimming with life.

finished sauce

A perfect day for pickle-making.

Today we made 47 jars of pickles with Nick’s sister and brother-in-law. I haven’t had homemade pickles since my grandmother made them – it’s been too many years. And I hadn’t made them in the meantime because they are a lot of work, and because I had somehow elevated pickle-making to an “I’m a grown-up!” status symbol and I hadn’t felt competent enough with my canning pot to do that yet.

We brought home 12 jars of pickles, which should just about get me through the year if Nick only has one per jar.

This feels like an achievement, especially after buying so many disappointing jars of commercial dill pickles for so many years. I am crossing “make pickles!” off my life’s to-do list, and making plans for next year’s batch.

This was a pretty thrilling sight. I don’t think I would have enjoyed doing it alone, but four people made quick work of 40 pounds of pickling cukes – we took the afternoon, and there was plenty of time for a leisurely dinner and a bowl of ice cream afterward. It was easier than I thought it would be, and I recommend you try it, especially with an eager group to help.

Some talk about cherries.

On Friday evening I went with Grace to her mother’s house to pick cherries, which we did quite successfully last year, and which we were determined to do quite successfully once again.

This year, the cherries returned in abundance! I think we must have gotten to them a little later this year, because by the time we arrived the cherries on the main tree had darkened until they were almost black. They had a caramel taste to them, and they begged me to eat so many of them, and I did.

What squishy feelings come from eating too many cherries all at once.

They became jam, sort of, and a lovely dark sauce for steak, and a tart that sparkled like something much more valuable than the sum of graham crackers, cherries, sugar, and rum.

I even tried to paint one of them. Tried being the operative word, and maybe my evil beast of a high school art teacher was right – I don’t apply myself or seem to care, and all I’ll ever have is wasted potential, especially with this attitude.

But what did she know, anyway? I really, really care about cherries.

There aren’t really recipes for any of the dishes that wound up – there is for the jam, and it comes from David Liebovitz, and even he claims there’s no real recipe. Mine didn’t set, which is just as well, because now I have six jars of cherries in a rich rummy caramel, and that’s just fine. They will be lovely in ramekin-sized cobblers come Christmas.

And the steak. You ought to know all about this.

When you pan-fry a steak, right after you move it to a foil-covered plate to rest, while the pan’s still hot, dump a cup of cherries per person into it, let them melt into the meat juices, and when the pan looks dry, deglaze with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Add chili flakes if you feel like it. You’ll know when it’s done – the sauce will be sticky, not runny, and will smell fantastic.

And the tart. There’s nothing to the tart.

Macerate two pounds or so of cherries in about a half a cup of sugar  and a quarter cup of your favourite rum or bourbon, and give it 30 minutes, or 60 if you’ve got ’em. Bourbon’s better, but sometimes you’re out because it’s hot and you like bourbon and lemonade almost better than anything in the world, and my goodness your liver must be tough. Is it hard around the edges? Fine work. Really well done. What?

Right.

Tart. Take a tart pan. Pack it full of one cup graham cracker crumbs mixed with a quarter cup of melted butter and two tablespoons of brown sugar. Bake at 400°F for ten minutes. Remove from oven, and cool.

Fill with cherries. If you have a lot of liquid, thicken it on the stove with a bit of cornstarch. If you don’t, that’s fine too. I just poured it back over the cherries.

Serve immediately to salivating guests. Pile so much whipped cream on top.

Tomorrow I’m going to a blueberry festival at work and should have a flat or two to do something with, and then Grace and I are going on a pink wine picnic followed by berry picking on Sunday. So much excitement! I can’t wait to tell you all about it. But for now, think about cherries. I still am. If for no other reason than they’ve permanently grubbied my fingernails and I’m painfully self-conscious about it.

Burdock pickles.

Right now, at this very moment, I am making the brightest-tasting tart ever to be enjoyed in February, but there’s a lull in the process as my crust and my custard are cooling. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

I say that a lot. I said it about the burdock. So, lest you think I am being evasive and not sharing the magnificent joys of burdock root, I pickled it. All eight feet, which amounts to three little jars of spicy, garlicky pickles, all cooling on my windowsill.

They’re a lot like carrot pickles, which is exciting. Actually, they’re a lot like David Liebovitz’s carrot pickles, because I adapted the recipe from his site. Except that instead of two cloves of garlic smashed, I used four whole cloves of garlic per jar, and instead of cider vinegar, I used rice vinegar and a tasty drop or ten of mirin. ALSO, they’re spiced with one minced hot red pepper, and not fennel. Pretty good, at least based on the initial round of tasting – once they’ve stewed in their juices for three to six weeks, I am sure they will be awesome.

So there you have it. Follow through, late as usual, but enthusiastic nonetheless.

These are a few of my favourite things.

It’s persimmon season. Did you know that? Have you ever tasted a persimmon? They look like orange tomatoes with floppy hats and they’re almost too sweet to eat. Fortunately, it’s also cranberry season.

I would have offered you a recipe for cranberry sauce with persimmons, but, to be honest, I’ve noticed that everyone’s own recipe for cranberry sauce is the best and I am sure my own mother would chime in here with reasons why I’ve done it wrong. Cranberry sauce is cranberry sauce, so just do what you’ve always done and it will be marvelous, even if all you do is open a can and plonk the stuff onto a plate, can-rings and all. But chutney.

Chutney is something else. It’s far more versatile, and the reason I like it better is that it’s something you can eat with cheese. In these chilly, early-winter months, I like nothing more some nights than to put on a holiday movie and eat a loaf of bread and a bit of very good cheese with warm chutney. A fresh bottle of Beaujolais doesn’t hurt either.

Chutney is sweet and savoury, and goes well with meats and cheeses and fishes, and it’s a lovely colour and a great gift item. People don’t make it like they make jam, so it’s a nice thing to offer as a hostess gift, or to give to someone you quite like. Or, you can make a whole bunch of it and just keep it all for yourself, and that’s fine too. It’s not greedy.

This is my chutney recipe, and it makes somewhere around a ton of the stuff (actual amount: about five cups), but I can it. You don’t have to do that, if you don’t want – just make a little bit and stash it in the fridge if all you want is enough for you. But the ingredients are cheap, especially if you received a bag of glowing orange persimmons from your boss, who received them as a gift from someone’s garden somewhere close by. Even if you didn’t, persimmons are very reasonable. And use rosemary. It’s a December herb – you can even buy it now, tied up like little Christmas trees, each sprig like an exaggerated branch of pine.

Anyway. Chutney.

Cranberry persimmon chutney

(Makes about five cups.)

  • 1 1/2 lbs. diced persimmons
  • 1 lb. fresh cranberries
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. orange zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (from one large navel orange)
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (Ooh – or dry red wine!)
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary

If you want to can this stuff, use the procedure for shorter time processing at Epicurious. Okay. Good.

So. Heat up your olive oil on high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in your cranberries and persimmons, and reduce to medium. Add orange zest, juice, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Simmer for 40 to 45 minutes, until berries have popped, persimmons have turned to mush, and the whole mixture resembles a loose cranberry sauce. It should not be smooth, however. Nobody ever liked a smooth chutney.

Stir in rosemary, and check your seasonings. I added more pepper, because I like it, and a pinch more salt. You can do whatever you like.

Taste. It’s good, right? I know.

Simmer for five to ten minutes, and then spoon into jars. If not canning using high heat, seal them tightly and throw them in the fridge. If canning, process as usual.

Serve with very good, very creamy cheese. This is a tart, sweet, herbacious thing, and you may be unsure about the combinations at first read, but I promise that once you plop this stuff onto a crusty piece of bread with all that very good cheese (I’m thinking something strong, like Roquefort or Gorgonzola, or something creamy, like Camembert), you’ll see what I mean when I say that this is one of my favourite things, made from a few of my favourite things.

Also, I’m sorry. I’m having a hell of a time trying to upload images, so there aren’t as many pictures this time as I’d have liked. It’s still two weeks until someone comes to install the cables that’ll give us proper Internet. I’m doing what I can with stolen signals. Anyway. Time to go buy some cheese. This chutney’s not going to eat itself, you know.

Strawberries. Vanilla beans. Burning. And I am not allowed to can anymore.

So, this week I was going to tell you all about bountiful harvests and glorious home-cooking, but everything kind of went to hell and I’m going to be out of town for a few days and I decided that there was no point in cooking and The Three Lions Café on Broadway at Ontario makes a fantastic order of bangers and mash and Kayla, the waitress there, is pretty much my favourite server ever and since everything I was doing at home this week made me tired or marred me, I decided to quit and let someone else do the cooking. And the pouring, of course, which is why I feel infinitely better. That, and Kayla’s impression of a dying giraffe. Awesome.

But, anyway.

Remember a couple of days ago when I was all, “DIY revolution!” and “Canning is cool and fun!” and it seemed like I was finally getting into a Gen. Y-groove, with all the frugality and doing-it-myselfness? Well, fuck that shit, if I may put it delicately. Last night I burned my face off. And it sucked. And I cried a little on the kitchen floor, face to the cool laminate, and then realized that I burned myself for what amounted to three cups of strawberry vanilla bean preserves. Beyond fantastic (the preserves), for the record, but it’s hard to look past the fact that my right eye is basically a giant scab. A face scab. SUPER sexy. I’m sure in two weeks when I’m less deformed I’ll call this a battle scar, but for now, I hate everything. Except my strawberries. I’m not mad at them … just … disappointed. I was really hoping they would amount to more.

This is the burn, fresh. I wanted to show you it fresh because it's kind of gross now, all brown and scabby, like a crusty birth mark.
This is the burn, fresh. I wanted to show you it fresh because it's kind of gross now, all brown and scabby, like a crusty birth mark, but puckered and shiny.

At this point, I can’t help but think that I sure sound like a whiner. Time to switch gears, perhaps, and tell you all about the strawberries and the vanilla beans?

Sure thing.

And here you go.

About a month and a half ago, I stumbled across  I Have a Knife and a recipe for Homemade Strawberry Vanilla Bean Preserves. Good stuff, this, and I was saddened to have only seconds before completed a batch of my own strawberries, sans vanilla bean. Well. There’s a market in Surrey near my parents’ house that sells exceptionally fresh produce, and they just so happened to have a few local strawberries left. I bought some, intending to make something out of them, and then forgot about them. Until last night. I’m going away this weekend and didn’t want to see them die – I needed to do something with them. And I have vanilla beans.

I halved Knife’s recipe, as I only had about four cups of berries, but I’ll give you the full thing. The full recipe should make about six cups of jam. I’ve tweaked this some, so I’m including those adjustments here.

Strawberry Vanilla Bean Preserves

  • 8 cups strawberries, hulled, rinsed, and sliced
  • 4 cups white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

I keep linking to Epicurious’ Procedure for Shorter Time Processing, but that’s because I like it and it works. Prepare the jars in this way.

In a large non-reactive or stainless steel pot, mix together strawberries, sugar, vanilla bean, and vinegar. Mash with a potato masher, and cook over high heat. You’re going to want to bring these to a boil, and keep them boiling aggressively until they reach 220°F on a candy thermometer, which is the temperature at which the jam will gel. It should take between twenty and forty minutes depending on the size of your pot and the depth of the berries in the pot.

Remove the beans, and pour the mixture into your prepared jars. Do not allow a large dollop of boiling water to assault your face as you remove the jars from their own aggressive pot of water, or you will feel a tremendous amount of pain, and you will say the kind of swears that even truckers will hesitate over, lest they seem uncouth. And then you will sob on your floor for a few minutes, and your version of Nick will be all, “You’re not allowed to can anymore.” Because he doesn’t care a whack about revolution, DIY or otherwise.

Process as per Epicurious’ instructions.

And you know how I know they’re awesome? When I stumbled home this evening, I found myself a tad ravenous, as one gets, and the only thing that could fill the void was dessert. And it’s too late to make pudding, so I am, as I write, spooning fresh strawberry vanilla bean jam into my mouth from the jar, and it is divine. I imagine that it will age well, given a few weeks or months, and then I will like it even more. Too bad I only have two jars.

Dark red.Also, don’t be wary about the vinegar. I promise you, you’ll like it. Vanilla can add a cloying sort of taste when added to stuff that’s already on the sweet side, and the vinegar is a nice counterbalance to that. You’re not actually going to taste vinegar, or even sour. The vinegar will add a bit of depth, umami, if you will, and will do little more than linger in the background, preventing the sweetness from taking off and/or seeming fluffy and excessive. It grounds it. It’s almost smokey, but it’s so subtle that anyone who doesn’t know it’s an ingredient will never know it’s there. I’ve never lied to you before.

And don’t give up on canning. I won’t. I’m just going to buy a much smaller pot and tongs that don’t slip and drop hot glass bombs that injure my face with their fallout. In the meantime, America? I’m coming back. And Trader Joe’s? Please have your shelves stocked. Back in a few days!

Beet pickles, zucchini relish, and my fingernails are still stained purple.

Rose gave me a bag of zucchini this week, and a five-pound bag of beets. And that’s quite a lot of produce, especially around here, where there’s just the two of us, and two very small apartment-kitchen counters, and all our dishes were dirty. So I didn’t cook it all right away, and by Saturday it was time to deal with it all, lest it perish and disintegrate in the crisper. And I really like beets and pickles. And relish.

So I’m giving you two recipes today, because it’s been a busy food week. Yesterday there was pattypan squash and soufflé and we picked blackberries, and today I made jam. Tomorrow, tomato sauce and something to do with strawberries. Here are Saturday’s recipes.

First, beet pickles. Bittersweet spicy magenta pickles. Wonderful with crusty bread, soft cheese, and thin slices of raw onion, or between stained pink fingers, straight out of the jar.

Beet pickles

(Makes four to five 500mL/2-cup jars)

  • 5 lbs. beets
  • 3.5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. whole cloves
  • 1 tbsp. whole green cardamom
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Boil whole beets, unpeeled, with tops and roots still attached, for 20 to 25 minutes. They should be just soft enough for the first millimetres of the prongs of a fork to just pierce the skin. Drain the beets, and dump them immediately into a sink full of ice water.

I want to say “shuck the beets.” Because shuck seems like the right word, though I don’t think it really is. You are going to peel the beets using your hands to strip the peels. Cut the tops and roots off, then strip the peel from each beet, pushing with your thumbs to rub the peel away from the flesh, then running a knife over any spots where the peel won’t tear away. I learned this week that I can record video using my camera, so I’ve taped a demo so you can see what I mean. I thought it was silent, so I didn’t bother talking.

Prepare your jars, using the Procedure for Shorter Time Processing.

Once the beets are peeled, cut them into slices, no thinner than 1/2 an inch thick. Set aside.

Beets. Resting.In a large stainless steel or otherwise non-reactive pot, combine your vinegar, water, sugar, spices, and salt. Bring to a boil, then add your beets. You’ll want to boil your beets for four to five minutes, just as your jars are about ready to come out of their boiling water and be filled.

Spoon beets into jars, and fill with liquid. Don’t worry about filtering out your spices. Add them to the jars too.

Once you seal the jars, process them as per the instructions linked above. Label them with the date you pickled, and be sure not to open them for six to eight weeks. They will need to soak up all that spicy pickle juice. And then they will be marvelous.

Beet pickles!Since the pot was boiling jars anyway, I also made five little jars of zucchini relish. Each jar held 250mL/2 cups. Easy, and very fresh-tasting, not too vinegary, and gently spiced.

This recipe comes from Epicurious, because I’d never made relish before and thought it’d be a good place to start. The Epicurious recipe makes ten jars; I halved the recipe because I only had half the zucchini. I didn’t peel it or seed it, because my zucchini were very small, with thin skins and soft seeds. Here’s my adaptation:

Zucchini relish

  • 2 lbs. zucchini, grated
  • 1 medium white onion, grated
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper

In a large bowl, combine your zucchini, onion, and bell pepper. Salt, and refrigerate at least four hours. Drain well, and rinse.

Once drained, put your vegetables into a large stainless steel or nonreactive pot.

Relish, pre-relish.Add your vinegar, water, sugar, celery seeds, nutmeg, and white pepper, and bring to a boil. Boil for ten minutes, and then place into prepared jars. Process as usual.

Zucchini relish.Give this a couple of weeks to sit in a cool, dark place, stewing in its juices. It will be very nice with burgers at the end of the summer, and meats and cheeses into the fall. And perhaps even the winter, if you don’t gobble it all up by then.