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Acorns!

Shelled acorns. Most are good but some have bad spots that need to be cut out.

The acorns are ripe! They look a bit smaller than usual to me this year. Maybe the dry, hot weather? Check them over carefully to get good ones.

So how do you get the good ones?  You are looking for nuts that aren’t super bitter, don’t have a lot of worm holes in them and are a light color without cracks.  You can also float them in water and the good ones should sink.  Do be absolutely sure that the tree has not been sprayed with any pesticides.  Oaks can be sprayed with long acting chemicals to reduce aphids; when in doubt ask!

What makes acorns bitter is tannic acid and some varieties have more than others.  If you want to use the acorns as a mordant for wool or for dying then the really bitter ones are perfect.  If you are looking to eat them then taste test until you find a milder variety.  In the white oak family, the Live Oak’s, (Quercus virginiana), acorns are among the mildest one can collect.

Pick the acorns when they are brown.

Some linguistic fun:   The English word “oak” is some 1,260 years old. In German it was “eih” ending up “eiche” The Dutch extended it to “eychen” or ” eychenboom.”

Acorns are quite nutritious. The nutritional breakdown of acorns is 50.4% carbohydrates, 34.7% water, 4.7% fat, 4.4.% protein, 4.2% fiber, 1.6% ash. A pound of shelled acorns provide 1,265 calories, a 100 grams (3.5 ounces) has 500 calories and 30 grams of oil.

The first part of processing is shelling. Wear gloves to avoid staining your hands. It can be a bit of a task to get the shells off but letting them dry a bit or freezing them first can help to loosen the covering.

To rid the acorns of tannic acid Native Americans would put them in baskets in streams.  My version is to put them in a pillow case in the top part of the toilet tank.  It sounds gross but the water in the tank is clean. It can stain the bowl a bit but hey, it’s the only running water I have.  After a week in the tank you can put them in a 350 degree oven and roast them for an hour.  Once they are dried out I grind them to flour in a food processor then ziplock them and put them in the freezer to be added to foods later.

Roasted, leached acorns

Here are some recipes:

Apache acorn cakes:

  • 1 cup acorn meal, ground fine
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ¼ cup honey
  • pinch of salt

Mix together and fry on a greased griddle until done.

Acorn Stew

  • 1 lb stewing beef
  • 1/2 C finely ground acorn meal (tannin removed)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place beef in heavy pan and add water to cover. Cover with lid and simmer until very tender. Return meat to the liquid. Stir in the acorn meal. Heat until thickened and serve.

If you find a good recipe please share!

Let’s Get Hoppy

Almost ripe!

Almost ripe!

What to do with those hop cones ripening on your vine?  Making beer is the first thing that comes to people’s minds as this plant is what gives brews their distinctive bitter flavor but there’s a lot more you can do!

What exactly is hops?

  • Hops are hardy perennials that can grow up to 26 feet in a season.
  • The name hop comes from the Anglo-Saxon hoppan, to climb.
  • Female hops (Humulus lupulus) bear cone shaped flowers, also called strobiles.  When ready to harvest these are yellowish green, papery to the touch and have a strong smell.  Pick the cones and dry them until they snap when bent in half and shatter.  For storage put them into freezer bags and freeze until used.
  • The bittering agent in the cones is called lupulin.
  • Hops grows best at 38 to 51 degrees latitude which is why 75% of the crop is grown in eastern Washington.

Be careful where you situate this plant.  I happily planted my variegated variety to tastefully cover an archway only to discover that contact with the trailing branches makes me itch like crazy. In addition to climbing high, the roots go very deep so make sure that wherever you plant it you want it to stay because eradicating it can be very difficult – from a now wary hops planter.

Drying for pillow making.

Drying for pillow making.

How to Use Hops

  • The most common use today is in brewing beer where the cones impart a bitter flavor and potentially inhibit the growth of undesired yeast during brewing.
  • The young shoots can be eaten like asparagus in the spring.  (This can also be a good way to keep this rambunctious plant under control in a small garden.)
  • The leaves and flowers can be used to make a delicate light brown dye.
  • A pillow made of the dried cones is said to promote sleep.
  • A tincture of the cones is used in herbal medicine to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.  (As dosage can vary depending on growing conditions only take hops internally when prescribed and prepared by someone who is well versed in their use.)

How do you use this versatile plant?  I would love to hear!

 

Cider Pressing

This year we had a record number of apples. What to do? Make cider of course!

I called City Fruit and rented their great press for a few days. We drank some of the cider then decided to ferment the rest. I’ll let you know how it goes.

First we chopped up the apples and cut out the brown pieces.

First we chopped up the apples and cut out the brown pieces.

Next they went into the chopper.

Next they went into the chopper.

The pulp goes into the bucket to be pressed.

The pulp goes into the bucket to be pressed.

Sweet and tangy cider!

Sweet and tangy cider!

Dill Pickles

My family loves pickles. We like them with bowls of steaming brown rice, on fresh crusty bread and sometime just straight up from the jar. They are easy to make and full of healthful probiotics.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup pickling salt
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1.5 pounds pickling cucumbers
  • 1/2 T red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 t dill seed
  • 1/2 t coriander seed
  • 1 t mustard seed
  • 1 bunch fresh dill
  • Several fresh grape leaves (to promote crispness)

Directions:

Make the brine solution by combining the salt and water and stirring until the salt is dissolved.

Put the spices and grape leaves in the bottom of a crock or jar.

Rinse the cucumbers and cut off the blossom end, (to prevent soft pickles). Pack the cukes into the container and cover the contents completely with brine solution. Weight the cukes to be sure they are submerged in the liquid. Anything not covered by brine could rot.

Check in a few days and skim off any scum. Begin tasting your pickles; if you like half sours then they need to ferment about 4 days, for full sours one to two weeks is usually needed. The liquid will turn from clear to cloudy and may fizz.

Place in the fridge when done to slow fermentation. Enjoy!!!

september-2016-8

Fresh dill, garlic, mustard seed, grape leaves, salt, coriander, dill seed

september-2016-7

Wash cucumbers and trim off blossom end.

september-2016-4

Put herbs and spices in bottom of jar.

Pack cucumbers in tightly and fill with brine.

Pack cucumbers in tightly and fill with brine.

Add rock or bag filled with brine to weight down contents.

Add rock or bag filled with brine to weight down contents.

Finished pickles!

Finished pickles!

Sun Tea with Fresh Herbs

Sunday it’s supposed to hit 90 degrees!!!  Pure heaven for this Arizona desert rat and high time to make sun tea.  My favorite way to make this popular summer drink is to take a couple of bags of high quality black tea and throw in a generous handful of fresh herbs.  You can use traditional mint or go wild with oregano or a fennel blend is nice too.  Let steep until a honey color then put in the fridge and serve over ice.

Fresh mint, lemon balm and Lady Jane Grey tea

Fresh mint, lemon balm and Lady Jane Grey tea

Steeping tea

Steeping tea

Ready to refresh!

Ready to refresh!

Zingy Dried Tomatoes

Our hot summer is bringing on the tomatoes early and in great quantity.  There are so many that for the first year in a while my family can’t keep up with the bounty.  The cherry variety is especially sweet and tangy dried.  These little gems can then be used in sauces, marinades, soups or any other place you need a little burst of summer flavor.

Red, orange or yellow varieties all dry beautifully.

Red, orange or yellow varieties all dry beautifully.

Cut them in half and place them on your dehydrator flesh side down.

Cut them in half and place them on your dehydrator flesh side down.

Dry for about 12 hours or until they are hard to the touch.

Dry for about 12 hours or until they are hard to the touch.

I like to store dried foods in a mason jar kept in a dark place to prevent discoloration.

I like to store dried foods in a mason jar kept in a dark place to prevent discoloration.

 

Herbal Caramels

Fennel seeds for a new taste.

Fennel seeds for a new taste.

I have been experimenting with herbal caramels for a while and the possibilities are endless.  You can use almost any herb such as rosemary, thyme or lavender.  I tried using green fennel seeds and the buttery sweet licorice result is delectable.

You can add herbal flavor either by infusing or by sprinkling the setting pan with dried seeds or dried leaves.  To infuse, melt the butter in the cream, put in the herb, remove from heat and let sit for 50 minutes.  Take out the herb and the resulting mixture will have a lovely herbal flavor.  (The easiest way to do this is to drop a whole sprig in.  If you just have dried herbs then place in a small square of cheesecloth before steeping for easy removal.)
To sprinkle, wait until the caramel begins to set then add the seeds on top so they just sink in to the top layer.  This is really gilding the lily but I like to sprinkle a small amount of sea salt on top as well.  (If you like chunky bits in your candies try the sprinkle route if you really like the smooth creaminess of caramels then I’d go the infusion route.)
Here is the recipe I like to use:
Herbal Caramels

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, (one stick)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated or regular milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Your favorite herbs

Directions

Grease a 9 inch square pan.
 
Put all the ingredients but the vanilla in a heavy bottomed pan and heat until mixture comes to a boil and the butter melts. 
Put all ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan. The mixture will boil up as it heats so make sure the pan is big enough.

Put all ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan. The mixture will boil up as it heats so make sure the pan is big enough.

Keep cooking, 25-30 minutes or until a thermometer reaches 244°.  If you don’t have a thermometer you can drop a small amount into ice water and when it forms a soft ball it’s ready.

Butter is just beginning to melt.

Butter is just beginning to melt.

Almost there! It takes 20 to 25 minutes to reach 244 and the last few degrees can rise quickly.

Almost there! It takes 20 to 25 minutes to reach 244 and the last few degrees can rise quickly.

Remove from heat; stir in vanilla and pour into your buttered pan.  Once cooled slightly add herbs on top.

Fennel seeds and salt.

Fennel seeds and salt.

When cool, cut into squares and wrap in waxed paper.  These keep best in the fridge.

These are wrapped in parchment paper but waxed paper works better.

These are wrapped in parchment paper but waxed paper works better.

 

Dried Apples

The apples on my front parking strip are starting to fall and it’s time to do something with those apples!  Over the years I have made apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie filling and several other types of apple based products.  The thing that my family likes the most are dried apples.  These can be added to morning oatmeal, put in cookies and muffins or just grabbed as a quick snack.  What I like about going the dried apple route is that they are quick and easy to make.

First pick your apples.  It's ok if they have blemishes or worm holes.  You can cut these out.

First pick your apples. It’s ok if they have blemishes or worm holes. You can cut these out.

I like to use this apple peeler and slicer.  It really cuts down on time and is great fun to use.

I like to use this apple peeler and slicer. It really cuts down on time and is great fun to use.

Here is what the apple looks like fresh from the machine.

Here is what the apple looks like fresh from the machine.

Lay the slices out on your dehydrator racks and fire them up.

Lay the slices out on your dehydrator racks and fire them up.

Here are the dried slices.  It takes about 5 hours for thin slices, more for thick ones.  You want them dry but not hard and brittle.  Once they are dried put them in Tupperware or mason jars.

Here are the dried slices. It takes about 5 hours for thin slices, more for thick ones. You want them dry but not hard and brittle. Once they are dried put them in Tupperware or mason jars.

 

 

 

Making Pickled Beets

It’s wonderful to pull out a jar of home-grown, home-canned pickled beets for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  They are very easy to make, so get your canning supplies ready…

First you pick the beets.

Medium sized beets work best. 

Then you either cut the tops off to stir fry or, if you have goats or chickens, they love them too!

Yum 

Once you’ve removed the tops and trimmed off the long tap root, simmer the beets until they are tender, which you can test by piercing them with a fork.  Peel them, then cut them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick slices.  I have a tool that gives them a pretty wavy edge.

I got this tool at Fred Myers. 

Pack the slices into sterile jars and add in about a teaspoon of pickling spice.  Make up a pickling solution of 3 1/2 cups vinegar to 1 1/2 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons of pickling salt.  Be sure to use 5%, store bought vinegar as acidity levels can vary in homemade vinegar.  It’s the acid in the solution that will keep your food safe.

Toasting the spices first can bring out the flavors.

Fill to within about a half inch of the top.  Then seal up and boil in a water bath for 30 minutes.  This will help to ensure that the beets are truly safe to eat.

Let sit for at least two weeks for flavors to blend.

Enjoy!

A Great Cracker Recipe!

This is still one of my favorite recipes! These crackers rival the 5 dollar a bag ones from the market and you can experiment with all sorts of herbs and flavors.

Panzanella Croccatini

  • 1.5 cups of flour
  • .5 cup very cold water
  • 1 tsp salt, play with this so it is to your taste, I am using less salt
  • dash sugar
  • 1/8 c rosemary chopped
  • 1/8 c olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees and put a pan for water in the bottom of the oven.

First put flour, salt, sugar and rosemary in a food processor fitted with the cutting blade and pulse to blend.

Next add the oil and pulse to blend.  Add the water in a stream until the dough comes together and run for about twenty seconds.

Turn the dough out and knead to a smooth ball.  Divide it into four pieces and cover with a cloth to let rest for five minutes.

Roll each section in a pasta roller.  The next to thinnest one tastes very good.

Cut into sheets and place on parchment paper.  Spray with water water and sprinkle with herbs.

Put parchment paper directly into the oven on a baking stone, add a half cup of water to the pan in the bottom.  Turn crackers from front to back after about two minutes.  Watch them closely as they burn easily.  You just want a hint of brown.

Enjoy!