It’s fresh asparagus season – one of my favorite times of the year! We eat lots of asparagus every spring; in stir-fries, grilled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, steamed with lemon-pepper, even on pizza. But I always like to put some up as pickles too.
Pickled Vegetables For Good Health
Over the years I have shared many pickling recipes, like Pickled Cauliflower, Pickled Carrots, and my all-time favorite, Pickled Brussels sprouts. Pickled vegetables are a great way to jazz up your meals, especially in the late winter - early spring time when the grocery store vegetables are looking a little worse for the wear. Pickles have other benefits too. Eating pickles helps you lose weight – the sourness decreases your appetite – and many people swear that the vinegar helps to keep them healthy by boosting immunity. Pickled asparagus and other vegetables make a quick, easy, and unusual appetizer. Plus, your guests will think you are brilliant when they find the pickled asparagus is homemade. Just bask in the glow – they don’t have to know how easy it is! Of course, some days the pickling gods are just grouchy. Read about my less-than-perfect pickling experience on my Seed to Pantry blog.
Home Canning Safety Guidelines
Before starting any canning project, it’s always a good idea to brush up on home canning safety tips. MOTHER EARTH NEWS has published many canning articles that help keep us up-to-date, including the very helpful Home Canning Guide.
Pickled Asparagus Recipe
This particular recipe is adapted from the Pickled Asparagus with Mustard Seed recipe found in Put ‘em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton. I was fortunate to hear Ms. Brooks-Vinton speak at the Mother Earth News Fair a few years ago. She was friendly and engaging with an obvious love of all things preserving. Yield 3 quarts.
8 lbs. asparagus, washed and trimmed
8 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
1/2 cup pickling salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp celery seed
2 tbsp mustard seed
2 tsp peppercorns
Trim the asparagus to lengths about 1 inch shorter than the quart jars. Tip the clean jars on their side and pack with the asparagus. Note: I use tongs for this step. Add one peeled garlic clove to each jar. In a medium saucepan (not aluminum) combine vinegar, water, salt, sugar, celery seed, mustard seed, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from heat. Using a ladle and funnel, fill the jars with the water/vinegar brine mix. Leave 1/2 inch of head space. Carefully run a nonmetallic utensil down inside of jars to remove trapped air bubbles. Wipe jar tops and threads clean. Place lids on jars and screw bands on firmly. Process in boiling water canner for 20 minutes. Remove from canner. Let the jars cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours. Make sure jars have sealed, remove screw bands, and store in a cool, dark place. Let sit for 2-3 weeks before enjoying!
It’s a flower. It’s a legume. It’s several kinds of medicine. It’s flour to bake with, an infusion to sip, something to kick up the nitrogen in your soil, it’s … (drumroll, please) … Red Clover!
Red Clover: Nitrogen Fixer
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a perennial plant that is in peak bloom right now through early July. It’s leaflets come in groupings of 3 (no 4-leafed clovers here), and often sport a whitish, chevron-shaped mark. The flowers look like pink or pinkish-purple pompoms made up of many tiny individual florets. The whole flower heads are 1/2 to 1 1/4 inches in diameter. The plants usually get to be about 16 inches tall.
Trifolium pratense is in the Fabaceae, also known as the legume family. It is often planted by farmers as a cover crop because it has the super power of being able to fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil and make that biologically available to nourish other plants.
Medicinal Properties of Red Clover
That’s not the only super power red clover has. Medicinally, it is used for respiratory complaints, and for chronic skin ailments such as eczema. Isoflavone compounds in red clover act as phytoestrogens and are used to relieve menopausal symptoms. There are a few studies out there (and hopefully more will be done) that indicate red clover may be useful in preventing and treating breast cancer.
And on top of all of that awesomeness, red clover flowers taste good.
It’s the flowers, along with the top leaves attached to the stems near the base of the flowers, that you want to harvest. Okay, okay: food snobs will skip the leaves completely and just go for the flowers. Try harvesting that way in quantity; I dare you. You'll probably end up doing what I do and simply ignoring the occasional leaf that end up in your collection container along with the flowers.
One of the best ways to use red clover both medicinally and as a pleasant beverage is to make an infusion of it. Red clover tastes mildly sweet to me, and combines well with nettles, red raspberry leaf, and/or mint. To prepare, pour boiling hot water over the herbs, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes. Strain and serve hot or chilled. If you like your tea sweet, honey pairs better with red clover than sugar or agave does.
You can strip the tender florets off of the tough flower head base and use them, fresh or dried, in grain recipes such as rice salads. Fresh red clover florets with barley and a little mint is an especially tasty combination.
Dried, the florets can be used to replace up to 25% of the wheat or other grain flour in recipes for baked goods. The red clover flowers add a lightly spongy texture, mild sweetness, and a dash of protein to whatever bread, muffin, etc. you are baking.
And here's one last fact about this fantastic plant: red clover is the state flower of Vermont.
Red Clover Buttermilk Soda Bread Recipe
Yield one round loaf.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment paper or a silpat mat.
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (pastry flour makes this bread more tender. If you can’t get whole wheat pastry flour, use a mix of half all-purpose and half whole wheat flours)
1/2 cup red clover blossom florets (stripped off of the tough bases/cores)
1 tsp. baking powder½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp caraway or anise seeds (optional)
2/3 cup buttermilk
¼ cup melted butter, plus one more tablespoon reserved for brushing on finished loaf
1 tbsp. honey
Whisk the dry ingredients (including the fresh or dried red clover blossom florets) together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones. Stir to incorporate the flour. Don’t stir too much though—it’s okay if there is still a little dry flour here and there, and for this dough lumpy is good. You want the dough to still be somewhat soft and sticky, but coherent enough that you can shape it into a loaf. If the dough seems too goopy, add more flour a little at a time. I sometimes need to add as much as 1/3 c. additional flour. Some cracks on top are okay and actually make the finished loaf more attractive in a rustic way. Scrape the dough out onto your baking sheet. Shape it into a disk approximately five to six inches in diameter. Bake 25-35 minutes until golden. While still hot, brush with remaining tablespoon of butter. Let cool on a rack.
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.
I admit it, I am a lazy gardener. The weeds take over, we knock them back, they regroup and attack again and so it goes: the never-ending battle … I wish my garden was pristine year round, but it is not. We just have other things to do …
A well-mulched and weeded garden is a joy to behold ... But all too briefly!
When garden produce does begin to come in, we live like kings and surplus is dutifully canned/preserved/shared. Asparagus season is short, greens come and go. Tomatoes seem to produce forever- once they begin to come in that is. Nothing takes longer in a garden’s year than the first tomato to ripen!
Canning Tomatoes and Canning Tomato Sauce
As the bounty begins, canning tomatoes and tomato sauce is my priority. Some days I will pick a few, or lots- it is always a mystery and it is easy for us to get overwhelmed. Also, if I am going to the trouble to can sauce, I want to CAN SAUCE in large batches as it takes just as much effort to do 6 quarts as 12 quarts. I have found an easy way to save tomatoes for sauce and process large batches without spoilage or waste; the lazy gardener’s tomato sauce.
Basically, during the summer all you do is rinse and dry your ripe tomatoes, put them in (clean) used grocery bags and place in your chest freezer. When you are ready for sauce-making (October? December? March?), dump the tomatoes out of the bags and thaw overnight in your sink. (If it is humid, be sure to put a couple old towels under your sink to collect dripping condensation) The tomatoes will “deflate” as they thaw and leak water. I have read that some people say this is losing too much flavor, but for pizza or spaghetti sauce, we don’t notice a major difference, plus the lost water is what I would be boiling out of the sauce anyway, so it is a shortcut of sorts.
Put the deflated tomatoes into your food strainer and grind out the seeds/skins, cutting the tomatoes in half if needed. Collect the pulpy liquid in your large stock pot. The juice is much thicker than juice from fresh tomatoes and the chickens will love the skins/seeds.
Two gallons of seeds/skins from 10 or so bags of tomatoes (I told you I was lazy…)
On medium high heat, reduce down by one third or so, till the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Watch for scorching! I add spices to the sauce while it cooks down.
Prepare your jars and lids per manufacturers’ instructions- my canner holds about 14 quarts.
Process at 10 pounds pressure for 15 minutes.
And voila! Homemade tomato sauce done at your leisure.
In the winter when the humidity is much lower from the wood stove, the added steam is welcomed. In more humid times, I use the hood vent to keep the added moisture to a minimum. Pizza, lasagna, pasta or spaghetti- we are now covered in sauce!
The recipe below is the result of perfecting a simple recipe and tinkering with it by adding ingredients that suit personal tastes. It is based on a recipe in an earlier post, has improved texture, lasts longer and has more protein than the "base" recipe. The addition of vital wheat gluten makes for a lighter bread and prolongs the life of the loaf. The loaves made with the “Basic Artisan Loaf” are good for about 36 hours before they start to get stale. With this recipe, I’ve had a loaf live to see its third day.
Adding the flax seed provides an extra protein boost and, along with the cornmeal, provides a different texture than the standard Four-ingredient loaf. The extra steps in this recipe are well worth the rewards, and it is also a great example of how becoming good at a simple recipe can provide room for experimentation in the kitchen.
Large mixing bowl
Measuring spoons and cups
Medium-sized bowl or colander
3 cups white unbleached flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1.5 tbsp dry active yeast
1.5 tbsp salt
2 tbsp vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup flax seed
3.5 cups warm water
Combine all the dry ingredients in the bowl. Slowly add the water to the dry ingredients, stirring frequently, until there is nothing dry left in the bowl. Cover the bowl and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours. After the dough has risen, it is ready to be used or can be stored in the refrigerator.
Take a 1-lb. ball of dough (about the size of a grapefruit) and place it on a lightly floured, non-stick surface and cover it (I usually use a large bowl or colander). Let dough sit for 1 hour. When the hour is almost up, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and make sure the baking stone is inside. Before the loaf is ready for the oven, it may need some reshaping. It is advised to do so with wet hands. After the oven has preheated, take the baking stone out, and place the loaf on it. Slice diagonally four times across the length of the loaf.
Place the stone back in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. When time is up, remove the loaf from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Let the loaf cool for ten minutes. (Cooling is an important step. The baking process is not complete without it).
Making a calzone is not much different or difficult than making a pizza. The exact same ingredients are used; they are just appropriated differently. In the recipe below, the main difference between in preparing the ingredients for the calzone versus pizza is sautéing the toppings. Baking with mushrooms, peppers, and onions can be a tricky proposition because of their water content. Using these veggies as a pizza topping gives the water a chance to evaporate in the oven. As a calzone filling, the water is trapped by the closed dough and may affect the consistency and cook time of the dish. Sautéing the vegetables before placing them in the calzone lets a great deal of water cook out before it gets placed in the closed dough.
I personally enjoy making calzones because the cook has flexibility regarding the filling. There is plenty of room for experimentation with types and amounts of cheese, meat and veggie combinations, and even types of flour used in the dough. Here is an easy recipe based on a previous post I wrote about a PIZZA DOUGH recipe. Enjoy.
slotted or wooden spoon
1 ball pizza dough
1.5-2 cups mozzarella cheese
4 oz mushrooms
1 pepper (any color)
1/2 medium onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup tomato sauce
Follow these instructions to create the calzone dough. As the dough is rising, dice the vegetables and sautéed them in the olive oil on medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until they are soft. Remove from the burner when done.
While the veggies cook, grate the cheese. After the dough has risen (about 20 minutes), place it on the baking stone, kneed it, and flatten it to about 1/4-1/2 inch thickness. Preheat oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
On one half of the dough, spread out 2/3 of the cheese. (It may be helpful to carve a light line down the middle of the dough with a knife to make sure there is enough dough to cover the toppings.) With the slotted or wooden spoon, scoop the veggies out of the pan and place them on top of the cheese. Top the veggies with the remaining cheese. Feel free to adjust the amount of cheese according to personal taste.
Fold the empty half of the dough over so it covers the cheese and veggies. Press around the perimeter of the dough, sealing the edges off. Cut diagonal slices across the top of the calzone.
When baking is complete, remove from oven and let the calzone cool for 10 minutes. Cut in quarters and serve with tomato sauce on the side for dipping.
It is the time of the year when the berries are coming on strong in our area. I love fresh berries. I also love breakfast for dinner on hot summer nights. Waffles are so simple and easy for any age.
What is so great about this recipe is when you have a little bit of sourdough starter left over, waffles are a great option. Then to add fresh picked berries - how can you go wrong with this?
I also suggest that you try different kinds of waffles. Maybe whole-wheat with our South African sourdough starter or a different flour that may sound good. What I have learned about sourdough is that part of the fun is trying different things.Yield 10 to 12 waffles
Keith’s Extra-Fluffy Sourdough Waffles Recipe
2 cups very active sourdough starter
1 pint cream
8 egg yolks
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup whole spelt flour½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
8 egg whites
Mix wet ingredients. Mix dry ingredients, add to wet ingredients. Beat 8 egg whites and fold into mixture. Add enough buttermilk to achieve optimal batter thickness. Serve with huckleberries and maple syrup.
Hope you enjoy and happy baking!!!!
You know those annoying cackle burr plants that reach out to grab you when you’re hiking or taking the dog for a stroll? Little balls of velcro grabbers perched high on their stalks snag you at the merest touch. Meet burdock, a bi-annual plant that doubles alternately as a versatile wild vegetable and annoying weed. They are great to forage for both roots and stalks. Harvest the roots in early spring the when the first rosette of leaves emerge. Or collect the new stalks that shoot up from the plant in their second year before they flower. The rangy, adaptable and pernicious plants spout from rock piles, cracked asphalt and in between demolished housing debris.
While I have foraged both roots and stalks (see my post foraging burdock roots here), I much prefer the stalks. The plants have large, oblong, soft furry leaves that send up a flower spike in their second year. I often find burdock along the roadside or, as I did this year, in my back yard. The flowers eventually become the cackle burr seeds. A relative of the artichoke, the stalks make a wonderful vegetable. The best size to forage are quarter-sized thick stalks. Cut them at the base near the leaf rosette.
Preparing and Cooking Burdock Stalks
To prepare burdock stalks, strip off the leaves from the burdock, then, starting at the large end, pull off the strings (similar to tough celery strings). Their fibrous skins are much like cardoons, another relative of the artichoke. The cut part quickly oxidizes, turning purplish brown, so each stalk should go into a bowl of water with lemon juice or vinegar to keep them from browning. The largest stalks are easy to strip, revealing a solid, non-fibrous core. Use diced stalks in vegetable dishes as you would diced carrots or celery. The burdock stalk add an artichoke character to the dish, with a texture much like peeled broccoli stem. Below is a spring couscous recipe with all the best seasonal vegetables, including burdock stem.
Spring Couscous with Burdock Stalk Recipe
1 cup burdock stem, peeled & diced
1/2 cup baby turnips, chopped
1/2 cup fresh shelled peas or diced snap peas
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
1/2 cup baby fennel, chopped, or regular fennel, diced
1/2 garlic scapes or 1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 cup couscous
1 3/4 water
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/2 lemon, juiced
tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Boil the water along with the juice from half a lemon, the juiced lemon rind and 1 teaspoon salt. When the water boils, remove lemon half and add the couscous. Turn off the heat and cover for 15 minutes. Sauté the burdock and turnip in olive oil until just crisp-tender. Add the peas, fennel, green onions, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking until all else is just cooked, keeping things green and bright. To serve, turn the couscous into bowl and fluff with a fork. Add the vegetables and almonds and toss, adjusting the seasonings in the bowl. Serve with a wedge of lemon at the table.