Book: Fruits of the Earth

two-cookbooks

Ever since the idea of starting this blog entered my mind (many months before I actually committed pixel to template), I’ve been acquiring books about canning, pickling and preserving at a steady clip. Since my collection of cookbooks is already stored in every room of the apartment (this in large part thanks to the tide of preview copies I got for Slashfood’s Cookbook of the Day feature), I need to put the kibosh on this habit quickly (it’s also getting painfully expensive).

I haven’t been buying these books for general canning information, as I’ve found that any comprehensive cookbook written in the last 75 years has a more-than-ample section on canning (and I’ve got plenty of those from every era as well). I’m particularly fond of the no-nonsense language found in the 1942 edition of the The Good Housekeeping Cook Book, as the instructions don’t coddle or baby the reader, but instead assume that any cook worth their pickling spices has some working knowledge of homemade preserves.

No, I buy these glossy new cookbooks for their ideas and images, as well as for the sense of comradeship they lend (there just aren’t that many people out there interested in investing the bulk of their disposable income in canning jars, vinegar and pectin, especially in Center City Philadelphia), so I need all the community I can muster.

One such inspiration book that I picked up just today (I need to learn to stay away from the cookbook stall at Reading Terminal Market) is called Fruits of the Earth and was written by Gloria Nicol. Ms. Nicol lives in the UK, runs a company that trades in vintage homewares and writes a charming blog (unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated since the end of 2008).

It contains 100 recipes for jams, jellies, curds, marmalades and compotes. Since I’ve been on a marmalade kick of late, I found that section particularly inspiring, as she suggests a series of unconventional pairings that set my brain spinning (Apple and Black Currant Marmalade, for instance). I’m also intrigued by her recipe for Rhubarb and Lime Jam, particularly since I nearly squeeze lime instead of lemon into my last batch of rhubarb.

The pictures in this book are also breathtakingly lovely, full of gem-like jellies lovingly preserved in vintage jars and breakfast tables I long to join.

I haven’t made anything from this book yet, but I’ll be certain to share it here as soon as I do!

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Cumin Cabbage Slaw

cumin cabbage slaw

Yes, I realize there isn’t a jar in sight in the picture above. But I’ll have you know that the leftovers of that cabbage slaw are currently tucked away in a wide-mouth quart jar in my fridge, so at the very least, the recipe has come in contact with a jar. Also, the dressing is made by pouring everything into a pint jar and shaking vigorously. And, I’ve found that it continues to get more flavorful and delicious over time in cold storage, so it makes for an excellent keep-on-hand-in-a-jar salad.

I made this to go along with the turkey tacos I keep raving about (really, they are best), but it could go alongside any number of dishes. If you wanted to transform it from side dish to the main event, you could toss in some shredded chicken and chopped peanuts for a Mexican/Vietnamese flavor mash-up.

However you serve it, I’m certain it will taste good. And isn’t that the whole point? More specific recipe after the jump.

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Rhubarb Jam Winner

rhubarb-random-number The comments have been tallied and the randomizer has been consulted. The lucky winner of this week’s giveaway, a jar of delicious (if I do say so myself) Vanilla-Rhubard Jam, is Jessica, one of the lovely bloggers over at A Bit Better.

As for what’s coming next, I have a few ideas bubbling away. I bought a huge hunk of fresh ginger a couple of days ago, with the intention of trying a candying technique my friend Erin told me about. It’s a process in which you peel and thinly slice the ginger, and then pack it into a jar in layers, spreading a few spoonfuls of sugar out between each level of ginger. You pop it into the fridge and let it mellow for a couple of days, until the ginger releases its liquid and starts to crystallize. She recommends using it in fruit salad or scones.

Additionally, I’m still hoping to see some local asparagus at the farmers market this weekend and I’ve also got a batch of honey lemon marmalade in my mental hopper.

Anyone have any good cooking/canning/pickling plans for the weekend?

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A pint of Salsa Fresca

salsa fresca

I was 13 when I first learned that salsa was something one could make at home. Up until that point, I functioned under the belief that salsa was the product of some mysterious alchemy, making it something that could only be purchased at Safeway or Trader Joe’s. This culinary revelation came when my parents decided to go to Europe for work/vacation and left my sister and me with the older daughter of a family friend.

Deliah had a completely different approach to food than the 3 balanced meals a day routine that Raina and I were familiar with. She used lots of bright, vivid flavors and believed that dinner could consist of fresh salsa, tortilla chips and a dollop of sour cream. Needless to say, we adored her.

One afternoon, I watched as she made the salsa, dragging the colander of tomatoes out to the living room coffee table, along with a cutting board, mixing bowl, sharp knife and salt shaker. She set up her tools in front of the TV and I observed as she chopped the tomatoes and added diced onion, minced jalapeno, torn cilantro, lime juice and lots of salt. She set the bowl aside for awhile, to let the flavors mingle and later we feasted until our lips blistered from the acids.

Later, I taught my mom how to make salsa and we would make batch after batch from the tomatoes that grew in the backyard, using it to top scrambled eggs or digging in with chips. The first year I was living in Philadelphia, my dad and sister came to visit me for Thanksgiving. My mom couldn’t fly that year, so in her place, she sent a quart jar of homemade salsa in her place, triple wrapped and tucked into my dad’s checked luggage. It wasn’t quite as good as seeing her, but nearly.

These days, fresh salsa is one of my summertime refrigerator staples. I make it at least once or twice a week, alternating between spiking it with jalapeƱo/cilantro/lime or black pepper/basil/olive oil (for an italian flavor instead of a Mexican one). It’s not something I typically make on a larger scale and can (although I am planning on canning some cooked salsas and tomatillo condiments this summer), but I always stash it in a canning jar for temporary storage.

Last night, I made Molly Watson’s Turkey Tacos for dinner and they cried out to be accompanied by some fresh salsa. Tomatoes aren’t even remotely in season at the moment, and so I stood in the aisle of Sue’s Produce for a moment, tortillas, limes and jalapeƱos heaped in the crook of my arm, debating whether to indulge or not. The craving won out and I picked up a single Ugly-branded tomato. It didn’t come close to the tomatoes I get in the summer, but it did the job.

My very basic recipe is after the jump…

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Vanilla-Rhubarb Jam

Rhubarb stalks

During the years I was in middle school, my family lived in a house just off Canyon Drive, in SW Portland. It was an isolating neighborhood, without sidewalks and with very few kids of similar age. One of the few things the house had going for it was the fact that it had an enormous yard (more than a quarter of an acre) that had been carefully tended during the sixties and seventies by a botanist.

Chopped rhubarb

The back yard was dotted with interesting trees (many of them fruit-bearing) and shrubs, featured a row multi-colored lilac trees (forever endearing me to those springtime flowers) and had a hidden rhubarb patch right up against the neighbor’s fence. Each spring, the refrigerator would fill up with vibrant, pink stalks, as my dad felt it was his duty to harvest all edible items from the yard. My mom would try to keep up with the bounty, but the sheer volume would overwhelm her and bags of the rhubarb would get passed out to neighbors and co-workers.

10~ cups chopped rhubarb

Now I mourn for all the rhubarb that we didn’t use and dream about a life that includes a prolific rhubarb patch, as it is one of my favorite spring treats. I love the fresh, apple-y scent it has when you cut into it, and I adore the electricity of its color. After a winter of dark greens and root vegetables, seeing that vivid pink on the cutting board feels like salvation.

Into the pot

Unfortunately, rhubarb doesn’t actually appear to be in season in the Philadelphia-area quite yet, so I broke down and made this jam with stalks from Washington State (I give my local produce store credit for having the origin so clearly marked). The first batch I made didn’t set particularly well after 24 hours, so I made another round, only to have that one become nearly solid (I used a full package of Sure-Jell powdered pectin that time and remembered why I don’t like it). I found that with refrigeration, the first batch finally firmed up a bit and achieved a really nice, if slightly loose texture. That’s the recipe I’ve included here. If you like your jam a bit firmer, use two packets of liquid pectin instead of one and skip the Sure-Jell.

Cooking rhubarb

And, of course, I’ll be giving away a half-pint of this jam to one lucky person. If you want a chance to be the winner, leave a comment (and if you feel so moved, share any rhubarb memories you might have). I’ll pick a winner on Friday, March 27th at 12 noon and post/Twitter the lucky individual sometime shortly after that. The recipe is after the jump.

Filling jars

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Marmalade Winner!

marmalade-random-number According to the random number generator, the winner of this week’s jar of Orange-Ginger Marmalade is the lovely E. She is an extremely talented baker (you can check our her cakes at Northern Liberties’ A Full Plate Cafe) and blogger (find her at Foodaphilia and The Sugar). Her win is particularly lucky for me, as I’ll be seeing her tonight at the Philly Food Blogger potluck (oh how I love me a good potluck!).

This weekend, depending on what the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market yields, I’ll either be making Pickled Asparagus (using a recipe based on the one in Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling) or Vanilla-Rhubard Jam (recipe plucked from the depths of my brain). If they have both, well then, good times will truly be had by all.

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