Pesto! It's the herbal culinary equivalent of yelling 'VOILA' and ripping the table cloth off of a set table. Nothing screams 'You'll make it to another spring' like the taste of summer on dreary February nights. In my humble gustatory opinion, pesto is the savory emotional equal of home canned peaches. Both taste of sunshine and long days. Cooking with pesto is as gourmet as I get, the fresh complex flavor makes me feel very Williams Sonoma.
Cooking With Pesto
Here are a few ways I utilize pesto, always to rave reviews.
Pesto on homemade chewy skillet pizzas, amazing with just mozzarella, or throw on pine nuts & fungi. Pesto to season minestrone. Some of those late season frozen tomatoes, skinned, kidney beans and whatever veggies you have buried in the deep freeze. Tossed with spaghetti, add broccoli if you're feeling unlazy, maybe a sprinkle of parm and nuts. Spread on sourdough and grilled with mozzarella, toss on some sun dried tomatoes for your all time fave grilled cheese. Mixed with any tomato product for instant Italian flavor and fresh seasoning.
Since pesto has oil and cheese, no canning allowed. I have committed, due to ease and great results, to freezing mine in ice cube trays and storing in freezer containers or bags. I can thaw a couple of cubes for Friday night pizzas in 30 seconds or so by nuking it. This is gourmet, sun-shiney, healthy convenience food! So here's my recipe, tweak to your tastes, enjoy!
Homemade Pesto Recipe
2 cups washed basil, packed (this is a loose pile is my big colander, a gently packed full size food processor bowl, or about 3 plants average serial harvesting.)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pinenuts
3 minced garlic cloves
a generous grind of pepper and sprinkle of good salt
I layer the ingredients in no particular order in my food processor, grind coarsely, scrape the sides and grind again. I like a coarse toothsome texture-make it your own! Spoon whatever you don't consume fresh into ice trays and freeze overnight. Pop the cubes into bags for the freezer, use a fork to pop them out if they are stubborn. Mine lasts a year without losing flavor.
Sometimes food heritage is sitting right under our noses, in an old family photograph that “has always been there.” Like this one of a large group standing in front of a farmhouse, circa 1915. The sepia picture hung for decades in that same farmhouse on Jonestown Road in Wallace, North Carolina.
This image would not have been remarkable back in the day. According to Ag in the Classroom, in 1910 the farm population comprised one third of all Americans.
Note the mule in the picture, ( we think!) on the far right, an important part of this farm family, or maybe simply a favorite of the bearded man holding the reins, Henry Jones. Born in 1890, Jones built the house he stands in front of, and established his farm on 80 acres of land. Like so many smallholdings, the farm raised a variety of crops, including corn, tobacco and assorted vegetables, as well as chickens, hogs and some cows. The family owned a horse, as well as the mule pictured.
Henry’s wife, Annie Walker, is to his right, dressed in dark colors, while her siblings may include the three young women dressed in white. At the far left is likely one of Henry’s sons. Look carefully and you can see that the boy has his arms around a heifer. Hard to see, but the boy next to him appears to be clutching a piglet or some such close to his chest. From his other hand hangs a brass cowbell.
Since photography of this kind cost money, and since those posing were expected to remain motionless for some time, it’s especially pleasing to see that animals clearly prized by those involved were considered important enough to be pictured.
The Jones name is as common in Wales as is Smith in England. Welsh settlers came first to Pennsylvania and Delaware in the 1680s and it may have been their Welsh-American descendants who established farms near the North Carolina coast beginning about 1730. (Some were given land in exchange for providing the British Navy with “stores,” materials for ship building and repair derived from pine trees abundant in the area.)
It took many hands to run a farm, of course, and Henry and his wife, Annie had nine children. The last, Amada, born in 1925, was the mother of the woman who recently took another careful look at this photograph.
Amada and her husband, Jack, restored and preserved the Jones farmhouse for years, spending summers there while based outside of Washington, DC. By the 1960’s, while still actively farmed, its acreage was down to 3 1/2, as Henry and Annie had deeded small parcels of the land to their assorted offspring long since.
Today the little farm has passed out of the family, along with the large kitchen table Henry built for the place. But this photograph remains, to remind us of what a typical American farm family once looked like.
For more on food history and food heritage, visit The Food Museum.
Hawthorn's bright red fruits caught my eye this past weekend when I was leading a foraging tour. Sometimes snubbed because of its mealy texture, hawthorn fruit makes spectacular liqueurs, jellies, fruit sauce, and chutney.While you're enjoying the rosy color and gentle sweetness of this late summer and early fall fruit, you may also be getting some health benefits: hawthorn has a long history of use as an herbal medicine for the heart, especially for arrhythmia. It is useful for both high and low blood pressure, acting as a balancing tonic.
Hawthorns are small trees with leaves that are 1-2 inches long and usually lobed. The leaves can have different shapes from one tree to the next, but are always alternate with toothed margins.The lovely white to pale pink flowers look like clusters of apple or cherry blossoms and bloom in mid-spring.
Hawthorn fruits look like little apples, usually red but sometimes closer to purple. You might think you've found an apple or a crabapple tree...until you notice the wickedly long, stout, and sharp thorns. Those thorns are your ID clincher. Also, apples always have 5 seeds per fruit in a pentacle pattern, whereas the number of seeds in hawthorn fruit can vary from 1 to 5.
Collecting Hawthorn Fruit
Look for hawthorn on open hillsides, near pastures and stream banks. It is also widely planted as an ornamental in city parks.
Poking around around hawthorn's spiky branches is no fun, and the fruit that has already fallen to the ground quickly becomes bug-infested. Instead, wait until the fruit has started falling from the tree. Lay down a drop cloth and carefully (watch out for those thorns) shake the reachable branches. The ripe fruit will fall onto your drop cloth.
Go for recipes that skip the tedious work of removing hawthorn's seeds, while making the most of the lovely color the fruit's skin imparts. Hawthorn-infused vodka or brandy, hawthorn jelly, hawthorn syrup...you get the idea. You can also run the fruit, unpeeled, through a food mill to remove the stems and then use the pulp to make hawthorn sauce (similar to apple sauce).
When guests ask what's in their blush-colored digestif, I joke with them that it's strictly for medicinal purposes. But the truth is that although my heart may benefit from hawthorn's tonic properties, I simply enjoy the taste.
How to Make Hawthorn Liqueur
Wash ripe hawthorn fruits. Lightly smash each fruit with the bottom of a mason jar or a potato masher. Put the smashed fruit into a clean glass jar and cover it with brandy or vodka. Put the lid on the jar and let the hawthorn steep for one month. Strain out the fruit and add honey to taste (I like just a teaspoon per cup of hawthorn extract, but you may want it sweeter).
Leda Meredith is the author of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. You can watch her foraging and food preservation videos, and find her food preservation recipes and tips. Her latest book is Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke...and More.
Do you have an abundance of fresh peppers? If so, this simple freezer preservation method may be for you.
1. For bell peppers, take and slice off all sides. For me, this usually is four slices per pepper. For banana peppers, I usually slice from the bottom, making little rings. You can also follow this method with bell peppers, for a pretty look.
2. Place slices in a freezer-safe quart bag, taking care to make sure as much air is out as possible.
3. Add quart bags to a gallon freezer-safe bag. Place in freezer.
NOTE: You will be able to add a few quart bags to one gallon bag. Adding quart bags to a gallon bag keeps the peppers extra freezer-safe and makes storage handier.
This is such a simple method to preserve peppers. My favorite part about it is that I can pull out a not-yet-full quart bag from the freezer and add pepper slices as I have them ready. Sometimes, I only have slices from a couple of peppers to start a quart bag with. Using this technique though, I can add to my stores as needed. The beauty of this is that it’s a very non-overwhelming way to stay afloat of your food preservation, and you don’t have to wait until you have tons of peppers to do something with them.
Using Your Frozen Peppers
Simply remove desired amount of pepper slices from a quart bag. Reseal the quart bag immediately and return it to the freezer. Rinse the peppers with warm water, and it will quickly thaw them out. You can even place them in a bowl of warm of water for a few minutes, if desired. Take your peppers and chop into tiny pieces or long strips, depending on your need. Add to chili, spaghetti, soup, etc.
From ancient to modern times and across cultures, healers have used the nourishing and medicinal powers of broth, especially bone broth. A homemade, long-simmered bone broth benefits the sick and weak, as well as for anyone suffering from an ailment involving the connective tissues—including the digestive system, joints, skin, and blood. Naturopathic doctors, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, and those in the traditional foods movement consider long-simmered bone broths to be a classic example of “food as medicine.”
Bones Are Rich in Minerals and More
Bones are mineral storehouses: They are made up of 65% minerals and contain 99% of the body's calcium and 85% of its phosphorus. They also contain concentrated amounts of other important minerals like magnesium and zinc. Bones also contain collagen and glycosaminoglycans—substances found in no other foods. Bones are about 35% collagen (gelatin), a protein that makes the broth gel when it is cooled. Collagen is also found in cartilage, tendons, and skin and is what allows these tissues, as well as bones, to be flexible.
The Benefits of Collagen: Joint and Digestive Health
Gelatin and other forms of collagen are marketed as popular supplements for joints and other connective tissues like hair, skin, and nails, and there is some evidence in the scientific literature supporting these claims.[1,2] Most of the research has been conducted not with bone broths, but with gelatin itself and other forms of collagen for treating the most common cause of joint pain, osteoarthritis. There is good evidence from clinical studies that regular gelatin consumption improves joint pain in people with osteoarthritis. Because of its very high gelatin content, it is generally assumed that bone broth benefits joint pain as well.
Because of their incredibly high gelatin content, bone broths have also been used traditionally as natural therapy for digestive ailments, as a way to coat and soothe the gastrointestinal lining and improve digestion. Historically, it was studied as a way to improve milk and protein digestion and treat indigestion. More recently, studies have shown that that glycine, (one of gelatin’s main ingredients) stimulates hydrochloric acid secretion in the stomach and that gelatin protects the gastrointestinal mucosa from damage.[4,5]
In addition, bone broth benefits leaky gut syndrome, according to a number of modern integrative physicians who specialize in treating this common condition. Leaky gut, the condition in which intestinal permeability is abnormally increased, is now considered an underlying cause of many chronic diseases, including autoimmune disease. Because of its ability to heal leaky gut, well known integrative physician and author of the bestseller Clean, Alejandro Junger, MD, calls grass-fed beef bone broth “one of the most digestively healing, nourishing and building foods available.”
The Role of Glycosaminoglycans
Bone broth also contains two very important glycosaminoglycans, chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid, also important for the health of connective tissues like joints and skin. These compounds are found mostly in cartilage and are used by the body as lubricants and shock absorbers. Cartilage extracts containing these two compounds have been found in clinical studies to improve osteoarthritis-related symptoms and to counteract natural photo aging processes to reduce visible aging signs in the human face.[2,8] Bone broths can be an excellent source of chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid, especially when they are made with high-cartilage-containing bones, such as knuckles or chicken feet.
How to Get Bone Broth Benefits
When making bone broth, two factors appear to help the bones release their minerals into the broth: the length of cooking and the addition of an acidic component to the cooking liquid. Simmer grass-fed bones for up to 24 hours in acidic liquid (for instance, by adding some vinegar or lemon juice to the water) to make the minerals more available. For a general, customizable bone broth recipe, see Dr. Allison Siebecker’s version, available here in her article, “Traditional Bone Broth in Modern Health and Disease.”
 Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2012 Aug;20(8):809-21.
 Clin Interv Aging. 2012; 7: 267–273.
 Townsend Ltr. 2005 Feb/Mar.
 Am J Physiol. 1982 Feb;242(2):G85-8.
 Pathophysiology. 2000 Apr;7(1):69-73.
 Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2012 Feb;42(1):71-8.
 Clean Gut. p. 191.
 J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Apr 25;60(16):4096-101.
 Calcif Tissue Int. 1994 Jun;54(6):486-8.
I love fruit butters. They are easy to make, in fact – they are almost foolproof. They allow for a little more creativity than many soft spread recipes. There is no worry about reaching the gelling point. If half way through the cooking process I decide to run an errand, I can just turn off the burner, cover the cooking fruit and pick up where I left off in an hour or so with no ill effects.
That said, there are a few considerations when making fruit butters:
They can take a long time to cook, up to an hour or more.
They must be stirred often to prevent scorching.
Some things are worth the time though. Fruit butter is one of those things.
What is Fruit Butter?
At its most basic, fruit butter is a combination of fruit puree and sugar, cooked until thick. Fruit butters can be made from almost any fruit, although apple and pear are the most commonly used fruits. Fruit butters are particularly well suited to added spices and other flavorings like vanilla or extracts. I have made several different combinations in the past like rosehip-apple butter, cherry-almond butter, spiced apricot-plum butter, delicious peach butter, and my new favorite, port-wine plum butter.
Fruit butter is also a good way to use up odds and ends of fruit by combining complimentary flavors. Plums can be pureed with nectarines, apples with cranberries, and rose hips with mango.
Since fruit butters are “cooked-down” instead of “set-up,” they don’t require as much sugar as most soft spreads. There is no concern about adding pectin or making sure that some of the fruit is under-ripe to attain a perfect gel. This makes fruit butter a good choice when you have a box of over-ripe fruit that has to be dealt with NOW. Fruit butters can also be cooked in larger batches than jams, jellies, and preserves, limited only by pot size and how long we want to stir the puree-sugar combination.
What Is The Difference Between Fruit Butter And Jam?
Soft fruit spreads are like cousins; similar but different.
Jam – combination of crushed or chopped fruit and sugar cooked until gelling point
Jelly – combination of fruit juice and sugar cooked until gelling point
Preserves – chopped fruit pieces preserved in sugar and cooked until gelling point
Conserves – combination of fruit and nuts or raisins and sugar cooked until gelling point
Marmalade – usually citrus fruit peel and pieces and sugar cooked until gelling point
Butter – combination of fruit puree and sugar cooked until thickened
Jams, jellies, preserves, conserves and marmalade must be made from fruits that are high in acid and pectin to reach the gelling point. Most fruits don’t have a suitable amount of both natural acid and pectin to set-up without a little help. That is why so many soft spread recipes include adding commercial pectin and/or lemon juice. Even long cooking jams without added pectin recommend using a combination of ripe and under-ripe fruit as under-ripe fruit is more acidic.
Acid and pectin levels are not something we have to worry about when making fruit butters though. Since we don’t want fruit butters to gel, we just want to cook enough liquid out of them to thicken, pectin level is not a consideration.
Acid level remains a consideration though if we are planning to can our fruit butter. Like any other canned soft spread, butters are processed with a water bath, which means the fruit must have a pH below 4.6. Don’t worry, most of our everyday fruits fall into this category. However, pumpkin or winter squash butter should be frozen or kept in the refrigerator. No safe processing time for pumpkin or squash butter has been determined.
How To Make Fruit Butter
As I mention above, making fruit butter is almost foolproof. I usually start with 3-4 lbs. of fruit.
Wash and chop fruit, removing pits. Peel the fruit if you wish, but it is not necessary for most fruits – pumpkins would be an exception here.
Add the chopped fruit to a large pot or Dutch oven. Add a little bit of water, just enough to keep the fruit from burning.
Cook over medium heat until the fruit is soft. Remove from heat.
Puree the cooked fruit using a blender or food processor. You can also push the fruit through a sieve or food mill if you wish, but I find this too much work.
Measure the fruit puree and return it to the cooking pot.
Add half as much sugar as puree. For example, if you have 8 cups of puree, add 4 cups of sugar.
Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often until mixture starts to thicken.
Add optional flavorings if desired. Flavorings can be adjusted to taste. Start with about 1 tsp of spices like cinnamon or ginger, or ½ tsp of extract like vanilla or almond, or 1 Tbsp of liqueur like brandy or Cognac, or ¼ cup of wine or cider.
Continue cooking and stirring until butter is thick and rounds up on a spoon.
Fill clean ½ pint canning jars, leaving ¼ inch headroom and using two-piece lids.
Process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes. Fruit butter also may be frozen instead of processed. Pumpkin, winter squash, or other vegetable butters MUST be frozen instead of processed.
Fruit Butter Made In A Slow Cooker Or Oven
Making fruit butter is a creative endeavor, but it isn’t a quick product. There are ways to reduce your stirring time though. Instead of returning the fruit puree to the cooking pot in step 5 above, add it to a slow cooker. Stir in the sugar and set the slow cooker on low for 10 – 12 hours. Add optional flavorings during the last hour or so of cooking. When the butter is thick, pick up and follow the above directions at step 10.
Alternatively, the fruit puree can be cooked in the oven instead of the stovetop. At step 6 above, pour the puree-sugar mixture into a shallow baking dish. Place in the oven and set the temperature at 275 degrees. Stir the mixture occasionally, adding optional ingredients during the final ½ hour. Fruit butters cooked in the oven may take as little as one hour to thicken, or as long as 6 hours, depending upon the fruit used. Once thickened, pick up and follow the above directions at step 10.
Safe Canning Practices
Fruit butters allow for a bit more flexibility than many canning projects. Do remember to follow basic canning safety rules though. Creative butters like pumpkin, squash, carrot, or sweet potato are not acidic enough to meet water bath canning guidelines and should be frozen, not processed in either a water bath or pressure canner. Adding fruit to any of the above, e.g. carrot-apple butter or apricot-squash butter does not make it an acidic product. These combination butters must still be frozen, not processed, for long-term storage.
Have you made any creative fruit butters? What is your favorite combination?
Food heritage fans quickly are drawn to the category “drinkeries,” parallel with the category “eateries,” of course, and why not? Every colonial town in the US boasts it is the home of America’s “oldest tavern,” and some of these claims are dubious indeed, dare we say. But we are not here to choose a winner. Rather, we want to underscore that places where people have long gathered to eat and drink are among the most pleasing, and most easily identified food heritage sites.
One of the oldest such places we know of is in Salzburg, Austria, built inside a monastery, and welcoming custom since 803, apparently. In its earliest days, this ancient beer cellar, St. Peter Stiftskeller, may have served up a brew or two to Charlemagne, king of the Franks, and later, Chris Columbus, the 1492 guy. Since then, it has expanded well beyond the cave level and features a range of banquet rooms, as well as "lavish" public dining areas. It offers a Mozart lunch and dinner special menu with musical performers, though, curiously, does not assert in any write-ups that that most famous of Austrians supped or imbibed here.
Another oldie but goodie is in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Sheep Heid Inn, established in 1360. Its name derives from a snuffbox given by then James VI to the landlord, the box decorated with a sheep or ram’s head, known as heid, pronounced “heed” in Scotland. James and his mum, Mary Queen of Scots, both were said to be regulars here, but then, George Washington slept in far more beds during the Revolutionary War than were days in the calendar. In fact, poor Mary had little chance to visit inns, as she was a prisoner more or less non stop from 1566, the year her son was born, until she lost her head in 1587.
The Inn clearly operated under another name up to the time James made his gift, sometime in the late 1500s, or early 1600s, and once he became King of England in 1603 he doubtless did not frequent his old haunt.
And so we come to Boston, Massachusetts, and the Bell-in-Hand Tavern, “since 1795.” Jimmy Wilson, the town crier for 50 years, finally retired and opened his tavern, which featured only frothy ale, no spirits. According to the record, the brew was served up in two mugs, one for the ale, and one for the froth. Ask Paul Revere, a big fan.
For those unfamiliar with the Town Crier concept, he, and occasionally she, walked the streets in pre-electronic times, carrying a brass hand bell, ringing it to gain attention, prior to delivering announcements at the behest of the court. Proud to have been such a crier, Wilson included the image of a hand with a bell in his tavern’s sign.
For more about food history and heritage visit The Food Museum.