Here in Michigan, cherries are in full swing. Whether you are in the southern part of the state or in the northwest where orchards and vineyards abound, you will find cherries. My favorite place to buy them is from a roadside stand out in the middle of nowhere. It is fun to stop in and talk with the people who labored to grow such an important food. They are the perfect fruit to incorporate in a variation of dishes.
Cherry crostata is a simple, delicious way to use summer’s rubies. I prefer to make my own crust, that way I can choice the best ingredients for my family and me. This recipe calls for coconut sugar, but feel free to use what best suits you.
Cherry Crostata Recipe
Yields two 7” crostatas or one 15” crostata
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 tablespoon coconut sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1/4 cup vegetable shortening, cold
5-6 tablespoons very cold water
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
2 1/2 - 3 pounds fresh cherries, pitted
1 tablespoon coconut sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
For the crust, in a food processor pulse flour, salt, sugar until well combined. Next, add butter and shortening and pulse until butter and shortening resemble small peas. Slowly pour in ice water and pulse until dough comes together in a ball. Be careful not to over mix. Pour onto floured surface. Shape into a flattened ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
Once the dough has cooled, roll on floured surface until it is about 14”-15” around or make two 7”. Transfer to baking sheet.
Toss the cherries with sugar and pour onto rolled outdough, arranging them in an even layer, leaving about an inch border. Fold dough border over the outer edge of cherries. Brush dough with melted butter and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.
Bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Many, but not enough, food heritage sites are included in the US National Registry of Historic sites. One we came across recently entirely by chance, enticed along the way by farm stands overflowing with blueberries, is Whitesbog Village in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. The coastal plain Pine Barrens of South Jersey comprise over one million sandy acres, peppered with bog lands.
On a late weekday afternoon, the quiet of the Village, featuring small roads built from what the locals call “sugar sand,” is compelling. It is immediately evident that teams of thoughtful dedicated volunteers from the Whitesbog Preservation Trust have labored long to keep this unique food historic site and its mission of education largely intact.
Established in the early 1900’s by Joseph J White as a “company” town dedicated to cranberry growing, Whitesbog was the largest cranberry farm in New Jersey. Even today New Jersey is the third largest producer of cranberries in the US.
White’s daughter, Elizabeth C. White, was a plant pioneer who developed the first cultivated high bush blueberry at Whitesbog in 1916, working with USDA scientist Dr. Frederick A. Coville, a hybridization expert. Together they developed the first successful plantings derived from local varieties that had grown for millennia in the pine woods.
Visitors today can stand at their pioneering blueberry patch adjacent to the home Elizabeth White lived in all her adult life. Her work not only produced a commercially viable blueberry, it also began the propagating, marketing and sale of blueberry bushes, an altogether new business.
Both cranberries and blueberries thrive on acidic soils, so combining the two plants in extensive production of the two made sense.
The White family was enlightened for its time, and sought to benefit the knowledgable locals who worked hard to make the endeavor succeed. According to the Whitesbog website, “Elizabeth devised a plan to tap this knowledge in order to locate the best possible plants in the area – in effect, to locate one bush out of 10,000 having exceptionally fine characteristics for propagation. …Only bushes having berries 5/8 inch or larger were sought. The effort was rewarded at $2.00 per bush plus the time required for relocating each plant and bringing it back. In addition, the finders enjoyed the distinction of having the bushes which they found named after them. Thus it was that the last generation of the highly skilled woodsmen-gatherers gave their names to the first cultivated blueberries.”
According to White herself, “Finally, Rube Leek of Chatsworth found a bush. I did not know it was anything special at that time and I used the full name in my notes….Coville called it the Rube which I thought was a poor name for an aristocratic bush. He finally suggested that we call it the Rubel. And the Rubel bush has really been the keystone of blueberry breeding. It is the one bush of which there are hundreds of acres planted just by divisions.”
Elizabeth White is included in the New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail.
New Jersey apparently is among the first states to identify and officially promote the role of specific women in the state’s history.
Today you can visit Whitesbog, “ the village and the surrounding 3,000 acres of cranberry bogs, blueberry fields, reservoirs, sugar sand roads and Pine Barren’s forests,” every day of the year, from dawn to dusk, as their website points out, but buildings are open only for special events, tours, or by special request.
In addition to Elizabeth White’s house, you can explore the general store, a worker’s house, a cranberry sub-station, and the agricultural museum.
Interested visitors are invited to call the office, (609) 893-4646, to schedule a special visit.
The site is part of the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest.
Photos by The Food Museum
I was writing as a guest blogger for my friend Sheryl, when I came up with this idea for two strawberry sauces. These recipes resulted from the unfortunate situation of having too many strawberries, and I didn’t want to just freeze them.
The berries in question came from a local farm stand, Miller’s Bay, and are fabulous berries, so, the question became, what to do. I’d already gone the jam, shortcake, with cream, route. In a way, they ended up getting treated almost the same way tomatoes get treated around here, or applesauce: Simmered. A low, slow simmer with just sugar or apples added to the mix, comes up with a brilliant ruby red, super yummy strawberry deliciousness.
The sauces can be used over ice cream, cake, or anything that tickles your fancy, in short, anything that needs a touch of summer sunshine. In doing research for these two, I quickly realized that most recipes called for a ton of sugar, as much sugar as berry. My feeling was that all you would taste is a fruity sweetness, but not much berry. So, I set to work. What I found was that an almost than 2:1 berry to sugar ration worked pretty good, and you could even do with less sugar. It will all become clear below.
Strawberry Sauce Recipes
Strawberry Sauce Recipe 1
6 cups washed, hulled strawberries
1 ½ cups sugar
I small unpeeled apple, finely chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice
Strawberry Sauce Recipe 2
6 cups washed, hulled strawberries
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 tbsp lemon juice
½ to 1 tsp. almond extract, depending on taste
The method for both recipes is the same. Using a large pot, place berries into pot, cutting the really large ones into chunks. Add the sugar and let them sit for about 15 minutes. Turn on the heat at low, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, until the juices are syrupy. Remove from heat and add lemon juice, and the almond extract (I went for the 1 tsp amount) in Recipe 2. You can also remove the cinnamon stick. Let cool. You now have the most delicious amount of strawberry heaven imaginable.
The next question could be: Which one did I like better? I really liked the almond flavor in Recipe 2, but the little bits of crunchy apple in Recipe 1 was really enjoyable too. Tough decision, but try them both and see what you think.
You can follow the adventures of Sue Van Slooten at www.SVanSlooten.com.
Miller’s Bay Farm, www.MillersBayFarm.com
You can check out what Sheryl is up to at Gold & Treasure Coast SlowFood, www.SlowFoodGTC.org.
Tomato season is finally upon us. You have no idea how giddy this makes me. Yesterday I pulled off two Sungold cherries, two Jaune Flamme saladettes and who knows what the other red variety was. I've lost track. And my peppers are not far behind. It's time to start thinking about salsa!
It's easy to create a signature garden salsa of your own. While you can use raw vegetables, I find fire roasting is the key to incredibly flavorful canned salsa. There's nothing like opening up a jar of fire roasted tomato salsa on a Polar Votex night in January to make you feel all warm and cozy.
My tried and true canned salsa recipe works for me every year. It uses weight instead of volume for measurements. The only rule is that you DO NOT CHANGE THE RATIO of tomatoes, peppers, onions/garlic and vinegar. This recipe has strict proportions to keep it safe for canning, as everything but the tomatoes are low acid vegetables which can harbor botulism. See the USDA's recommended ratios for canning salsa for even more information. As long as you keep the total weight for each category of vegetables the same, and use all the 5% vinegar (no substitutes), you can vary the varieties of each produce, like more hot peppers for sweet, or cherry tomatoes for slicers.
If you want a thick salsa, use plum or paste tomatoes. If you like a thinner salsa, use heirlooms slicers or beefsteaks. You can also switch out tomatillos for tomatoes for a salsa verde. Feel free to change up the types and colors of peppers, too, by mixing the sweet and the hot to suit your taste. For instance poblanos have great deep flavor, especially when roasted. Sweet red and orange peppers mixed with a few habaneros make a tasty tropical salsa.
Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa Recipe
5 lbs paste tomatoes, preferably from your garden or local farmers market
2 lb mix hot & sweet peppers (adjust ratio to suit your taste)
1 lb mixed white onions with 1 head garlic (not to exceed 1 lb total)
1 cup apple cider or white vinegar (must be 5 percent acidity)
1 tbsp salt
For extra fire roasted flavor, fire up your charcoal grill. Place the whole tomatoes, peppers, skin-on onions and the whole head of garlic on the bbq until their skins are blistered and burnt. Flip the vegetables and grill them on the other side.
Remove from the bbq to rest until cool. Core the tomatoes, if necessary, and remove the stems from the peppers. Remove the peels from the onion and garlic. Weigh the remaining ingredients, and add more raw veggies to equal the total amount required for each vegetable. It's important to keep your ratios the same for safe acid levels.
In a food processor, blend all the roasted vegetables to desired consistency of chunkiness. Add the puree, vinegar and salt to a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the salsa for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the salsa is simmering, prepare a hot water bath. Heat pint jars and lids. Ladle hot salsa into clean, hot pint jars, leaving 1/2” headspace. Wipe rims and add the lids. Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes at a full rolling boil. Yields 6-7 pints.
Today is July 14, Bastille Day, France’s Fête Nationale, so here’s a shoutout to that nation’s serious appreciation of food heritage.
Dedicated “foodies” will not be surprised to learn that France, considered by many to be the mother country of Western cuisine, is the home of more museums about food, and more initiatives to preserve food heritage traditions and sites, than any other. Food and drink matter to the French, even if they do stop off at the traiteur to pick up a moist serving of ratatouille and a creamy slab of pommes de terre dauphinoises, of a work night. Despite the inroads of fast food, and the presence of “le micro,” the microwave, in many French kitchens, region by region and town by town, people are coming together to preserve and protect the country’s food heritage.
“History celebrates the battlefields whereon we meet our death, but scorns to speak of the plowed fields whereby we thrive; it knows the names of the kings' bastards but cannot tell us the origin of wheat. That is the way of human folly." Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre, 1823-1915
Photo: Le Moulin de la Falaise, Batz sur Mer
If you had a Euro for every French place name that includes moulin you would be very rich indeed. The Babylonians pumped water using windmills about 4,000 years ago but the use of wind power to grind grain came later, and may not have reached France until the 11th century. Under the creaking arms of this restored 16th century windmill, near the sea where the wind almost always blows, you can buy the freshly ground organic buckwheat flour, or ble noir, of the miller himself, Xavier Phulpin. His recipe of flour, Guerande salt, an egg and water, well stirred, makes fine galettes. Galettes are buckwheat crepes.
The sign invites families to visit, to hear “the mill turn and sing with the wind,” as it grinds flour.
From our book Gastronomie! Food Museums and Heritage Sites of France, Bunker Hill Publishing, 2006.
Summer is in full swing. Picnics, BBQs, outdoor gaming events… Perfect time to start making your own hamburger buns. What a great surprise it will be for your family and friends when you place those perfect hamburgers straight off the grill onto a homemade sourdough hamburger bun.
We are in a period that we want to know what goes into what we are putting into our mouths. Making our own bread is a perfect solution. We decide the flours and what kind we want to make.
I can’t wait to try these out on my guests. I am wanting to try them with our wheat culture (Sourdoughs International South African) and our rye culture (Sourdoughs International Polish). What a great variety of hamburger buns!
Sourdough Hamburger Bun Recipe
Yield 8 buns.
2 cups sourdough culture
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
Pour the culture into a mixing bowl. Melt the butter and add the milk, eggs, salt, and sugar. Beat with a fork to mix and add to the culture. Add the flour a cup at a time until the dough is too stiff to mix by hand. Turn out onto a floured board and knead in the remaining flour until the dough is smooth and satiny. Roll the dough out to a ½ -inch thickness and cut with a 4-inch round cutter (a can with the top cut out works well). Place the buns on a baking sheet and proof at 85 degrees Fahrenheit in a proofing box for 2 to 4 hours, or until doubled in bulk. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes, or until browned. Let cool on a wire rack.
You could top with sesame seeds, or onion bits, whatever your taste buds might find desirable. That is the wonderful thing about baking your own items, you can be as creative as you want to be. Kids would love to help you with these also. Happy baking.
Black pepper, the ubiquitous seasoning that grows mainly on India’s Malabar Coast, is not a plant you will find growing wild in North America. But there is another “pepper” that you can find for free in almost every sunny area of parks, gardens, and even empty lots. Peppergrass, also called poor man’s pepper (Lepidium virginicum) is a native species in the mustard family. Its flavor sneaks up on you. When I give folks on my foraging tours some of the seeds to nibble, I always instruct them to chew a little longer than they might usually. At first they just give me a ho-hum look, and I know they aren’t too impressed with the flavor…yet. A few more seconds of chewing and their eyes widen and heads start to nod in appreciation. I know that they are tasting the mildly hot, mustard-y flavor of one of my favorite wild spices.
The seeds are the most flavorful part of the plant (I’m saying “seeds,” but really I’m referring to the whole edible seedpod disc). But the leaves are also edible, with a light arugula-like pungency. If you decide to use the leaves, go for the rosette of leaves near the bottom of the plant. These are up to 3-inches long and lobed. As you go up the stalks of the approximately foot-high plants the leaves get simpler and smaller. Near the top they are just narrow, linear strips an inch long or less, usually with teeth along the leaf margins. At the tips of the branching stems you’ll find the seed heads, often with a few of the minute, four-petaled white flowers on their tips. The seedpods are tiny flat discs with a notch on one side, and they are arranged along the stalks like the bristles of a brush.
The optimal stage to harvest peppergrass seeds for flavor is when they are still green . They are easy to strip off the stalks: Just hold the growing tip (where the flowers are) with one hand and gently pull downwards along the stem with your other hand. With this method, you can strip off a good quantity of peppergrass in very little time. Remember what I told you about how the flavor of peppergrass isn’t noticeable until you’ve chewed it for a while? For that reason, I don’t use it whole in soups, but either grind it or use the whole seeds in recipes that require some chewing.
You can dry peppergrass for winter use. To do this, leave the seeds on the stalks. Fasten small bundles of the stalks with rubberbands and hang them to dry someplace away from direct light or heat. In about a week, strip the seedpods off as described above. Store them in clean, dry jars for up to 6 months.
Although Lepidium virginicum is a native plant, it is not intentionally planted in parks or gardens. Instead, it shows up as a “weed.” Nonetheless, so that that the peppergrass population can replenish itself, I am always careful to leave a few seed heads on each plant that I harvest from. This not only helps the plant species, but ensures that there will be future harvests for me to find.
Peppergrass Chermoula Recipe
Chermoula is a North African marinade that is usually used with seafood. It is also wonderful on steamed vegetables and mixed into whole grain salads.
1 large clove garlic, peeled OR several underground field garlic bulbs
1 tbsp fresh green peppergrass seedpod discs
1 small hot pepper
1/2 cup fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves
1/4 – 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
Place the garlic, peppergrass, chile pepper, and cilantro in a food processor and pulse to finely chop. Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl with a spatula and pulse again (repeat a few times to end up with a more or less evenly minced mixture). Alternatively, finely chop the garlic, chile and cilantro. Pound them together with the peppergrass with a mortar and pestle. 2. Add the salt and 1/4 cup of the olive oil and blend. You want to have a slightly liquid paste. Add more olive oil if needed. Chermoula will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
Leda Meredith teaches foraging and food preservation skills internationally. You can watch her foraging and food preservation videos, and find her food preservation recipes and tips. Her latest book is Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries.