Eat Mendocino

2 women, 365 days, 3,878 square miles


3 Comments

How to make pesto out of anything

When you’re eating with the seasons, spring and early summer are FULL of greens. Like, too many greens. In the garden, at the farm stand, in the CSA box, and growing wild everywhere.

Pesto is a great way to process large amounts of greens and have a great spread at the ready, or frozen for later. It seems fresh pesto keeps getting more expensive in the store, especially the more obscure the recipe. The irony is pesto can be made with whatever you have around and usually what is abundant is actually cheaper. I think the price markup is for creativity as much as convenience.

What is pesto, really?

Yes, pesto is often made out of basil and in Italy some believe that Pesto alla genovese  made with Genovese basil is the only true pesto. The word pesto literally means “I beat” in Italian, referring to how pesto is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle.

I adore the passion of Italian food culture but, if you’re willing to venture outside the basil box, pesto can be a fun universe of options. Spoiler alert: you don’t need a mortar and pestle either for this heathen recipe.

I was inspired to get more adventurous with this simple & highly adaptable recipe from local life coach Ruby Christine. She makes it easy and non-intimidating to play around with pesto ingredients.

Plus she shares the one secret that makes all the difference.

Pictured is some experimental Parsley + Pumpkin Seed Pesto following her guidelines, which came out great!

parsley pepito pesto

Simple Pesto
by Ruby Christine @therubychristine

2 cups greens or fresh herbs
1 cup olive oil
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
1/2-1 tsp salt
1/2 cup nuts or seeds
1/4 – 1/2 cup hard cheese (optional)

Here’s the secret: you must use fresh lemon juice and you must toast the nuts or seeds!

Instructions:

Blend or food process everything but the cheese, it will be easier to add in after it’s a little bit mixed!

Taste and add more olive oil (or even a little water) to consistency! To get it a little more bright add more lemon and salt!

Ruby’s coaching on what to use for your pesto:

You can get super creative with the greens! 

This week I did radish greens w/ sprouted toasted pumpkin seeds pesto: It’s super bright, a little bitter (good for digestion) and brilliant chlorophyll green. <Not for the faint of heart.>

You can go super typical with basil and pine nuts (I prefer walnuts) or get a little south of the border with cilantro (lovely with pumpkin seeds, or do a blend of basil and 2 Tbsp fresh oregano, I love stinging nettle walnut pesto! And this winter I got super into a blanched kale or chard sunflower seed pesto!

Follow Ruby for more recipe inspiration @therubychristine on Instagram or @rubychristine on Facebook. And do let us know what your favorite pesto combos are!

UPDATE 6/27/20:

A reader (and local writer) used this recipe to make 5 jars of 3 types of pesto with greens and herbs picked from her garden, and then sent me the pictures of this beautiful homemade pesto pizza!

pesto_pizza_sliced

Nicole shares her pizza pesto combo: This one was made with (bitter) greens + olive oil, lemon juice, toasted pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan and salt. All in food processor. Extra olive oil works well if using on pizza so not too dry.

And, while we’re getting things done let’s all take a moment to demand justice for Breonna Taylor. Because if I have time to make pesto, I have time to stand for #blacklivesmatter.

It’s been over 100 days since Breonna Taylor was killed, and the police who murdered her have still not been arrested. Say her name and take action here.

  • Sign the Change.org petition
  • Sign the Fight for Breonna petition
  • Call Attorney General Daniel Cameron who is now leading the internal investigation: 502-696-5300
  • Call Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear 502-564-2611
  • Call Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer: 502-574-2003
  • Call Interim Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert Schroeder: 502-574-7660


2 Comments

The Solace of Food: 3 lessons from my year as a locavore

At the culmination of the year of eating local, I was invited to write a retrospective piece for a local magazine. Due to publishing delays, they invited me to share the article with you here. This article was written in January 2014.

If you had asked me a year ago what I expected things to be like at the end of this project, I probably would have been wrong. The unknown has characterized this project from Day One. If we had known what we would endure in the roughest times, we might not have signed up for this. Similarly unknown was the profound impact of this mammoth undertaking.

For exactly one year, my fierce farmer friend Gowan Batist and I embarked on a radical plan to eat locally for one year. In the past twelve months, our siblings both married, our friends raised children, and we wed local food.

The rules were inspired and unforgiving. The goal was to eat food produced within Mendocino County, exclusively. This meant all of the raw inputs, from the grain to the oil, salt, and spices we consumed. No chocolate, no Sri Racha sauce, no coconut water, no avocados – no exceptions whatsoever. After 365 days of this extreme locavorism, I am a changed woman.

Now that the project is officially over and I am stumbling around the grocery store aisles like Encino Man, I am struggling to assimilate back into society. Everyone is wondering what post-project freedom looks like. It’s been strange. The first time I went grocery shopping, I left the store without buying anything, overwhelmed at the entirety of the experience.

The second time I went, I bought a half-gallon of organic milk. It was the first time I’d bought milk in a carton in over a year; my milk has been coming in glass mason jars, straight from the cow. Coincidentally, the cow that has been providing for us dried up the week that the project ended, and there won’t be more fresh milk until spring – or I befriend a new cow. I stood in the aisle bewildered by the fluorescent lights and bright cartons, and was surprised that the cost of milk in the store was actually the same as what I’ve been paying for fresh local milk.

Standing there I realized that I really did not want to buy that carton of organic milk. And then I wondered if that may be the most pretentious thought I’ve ever had. The point wasn’t just that the milk didn’t have the same unadulterated richness and a thick layer of cream on the top. It felt uncomfortably foreign to just go to the store and take a generic carton off the shelf. I would never know where the milk actually came from, nor where the carton would end up. These seem like inconsequential details, but they staggeringly matter to me now. I have become so intimately involved with the lifecycle of every single item that came into my kitchen for a year that I now see this carton as part of a profoundly complex and fragmented food system where the cow is separated from the consumer and the cream is separated from the milk.

I waited until there were exactly four squares of toilet paper left in my house before I forced myself to go to the grocery store again. I pondered the week-old Christmas cookies (I’d been lusting after them during the holidays) but they just didn’t look that appetizing. Most things don’t even look like food to me anymore and the ingredients lists confirm that. I came home empty handed and made improvisational butternut squash ice cream and muffins, which were delicious. I have become so accustomed to the DIY lifestyle – and it being better than anything you can buy (and cheaper) – that I think I’ve passed a point of no return.

My Cupboards Contain Multitudes

The first few months of 2013 were stark and trying. Yet, by the end of last year I was well prepared for the winter. We have become food-sourcing samurais and my fridge, freezer and pantry are fully stocked with a collection of stories in the form of foodstuffs. My shelves hold an assortment of pickled veggies, tomato sauce, peaches, grape juice and applesauce canned by neighbors and friends. From the woods, dried hedgehog, bolete and candy cap mushrooms, and roasted bay laurel nuts. From the sea, I have a collection of dried kombu, wakame and sea palm seaweeds, and some canned tuna. The spice rack holds dried bay leaves, oregano, sage, dill, cayenne peppers, lots of garlic, alongside a wedge of fresh honeycomb and Lovers Lane Farm wildflower honey. The olive oil comes from Terra Savia, the apple cider vinegar from the Apple Farm, and I fermented the red wine vinegar using Frey biodynamic wine. The tea section is comprised of wildcrafted nettle leaves, peppermint, elderberries and chamomile.

In the grain department I have whole grain rye, purple pearl barley, oats, and wheatberries, cereal mix, and Red Fife wheat flour from the Mendocino Grain Project. We helped harvest the heirloom Green Dent Oaxacan corn from Mendocino Organics, and the quinoa was cultivated at the Ecology Action garden at the Stanford Inn. The bin of speckled bayo beans from McFadden Farms couldn’t fit in my miniscule kitchen, so I stowed it in the laundry room in my building. Thankfully my neighbors are really understanding of my food sprawl – and sometimes even bake me local pies.
It took an entire County and many hands, many seeds, and many bees to fill these jars. It took two women an entire year to track down all this food, process and store it, and learn what to do with it. These are some of the most important lessons I learned in doing so.

Lesson #1 Eat whole foods.

Many people ask how I feel on the local food diet. I tell them I feel like superwoman, and that cannot be attributed to my minimalist exercise regime. Yet, I have never been physically healthier. I know it, on a cellular level. I even defied certain self-imposed dietary restrictions and began eating wheat and more fruit and honey than I would normally allow myself. What I found is that my body told me what it wanted and needed, and I listened. The seasons provide perfect balance and have a natural way of moderating excess and abundance.

I believe that most modern “diets” miss the point entirely by creating an artificial food ritual that involves constantly counting, eliminating, worrying, and encourages eating highly processed fractured foods. I believe that we have lost our intuition when it comes to food due to a highly predatory food system. I think the single best way to rediscover an intuitive relationship with nutrition is to eat more whole foods, before you go for the supplements and miracle shakes. Many chronic health issues actually disappeared this year and I was able to reintroduce gluten in moderation, eating the local heirloom grain that is delivered whole or freshly milled. Much of the contamination and degradation of our food happens in the processing and the closer we eat to the source, the more nutritional return.

Lesson #2 You don’t need a recipe.

The constantly changing flow of seasonal ingredients required nothing less than fearless improvisation on a daily basis. In a reversal of our usual relationship with a meal, we started with the available ingredients and shaped the meal accordingly. I usually start with a general concept, consult my favorite cookbooks and the all-knowing Google. Recipes served as inspiration and guidance in terms of temperature, ratios and flavor combinations, but much of our cooking was intuitive and experimental, with ingredients limited by the seasons. When I post pictures of meals online and people ask for a recipe, I often feel bewildered. Each meal is an original creation, probably imperfect, and will never be recreated in quite the same way. To me, cooking is less about the recipe than it is about the process of learning how to be resourceful and creative. Which is why I’m terrible at baking. My takeaway here is that you don’t need to be a genius in the kitchen to prepare delicious food, especially when you’re working with real, fresh, tasty ingredients). You don’t need a dishwasher either, or even an adult-sized kitchen to cook regularly (though I dream of having both when I grow up). You do need courage, and a lot of mason jars.

Lesson #3 Friends are those who feed you.

We owe our survival to the farmers, ranchers, and foragers who provided our sustenance. We can name these people off one by one, and I have come to see every food transaction as a life-giving act. To be a farmer or rancher today is an act of righteous faith. Growing real food is an investment in our collective future, and the people who choose to do so are my heroes. I can name them by the first names, and many of them have invited us into their homes, shared of their pantries, or met me on the side of the highway to give me bacon. We supported many local growers and we also received many generous gifts, from strangers and neighbors alike, of everything from home canned goods to abalone and shiitake mushrooms. Our friends fed us, and those who fed us became friends.

It is a test of a friendship to have a devout locavore around. It is an extraordinary friend who will bake you a 100% local carrot cake for your birthday (sans baking powder) because it’s what you want the most. It is a patient friend who will teach you how to can even though you’re really afraid of it. It is a generous friend who lets you take over their kitchen with your huge cooler, mobile pantry, and lots of dirty dishes every time you come for a visit. It is a gracious relative who will halt holiday preparations to help you track down a local chicken on Christmas Eve. I am beyond lucky to have many such people who tolerated my lifestyle, fed me, and made this pioneering journey more delicious and less lonely.

The Solace of Food

In reflecting on this outrageous, profound experience only a week and a half since the finish date, many of my thoughts are still lost in translation. One thing I know, for sure: this project wasn’t really about food. It’s about what we found through food. Things that I don’t want to give up, even when the rules no longer apply. What I have found is more than just how to cook spare ribs, make meringue or, bake bread. It is Intimacy. Connection. Limits. Abundance.Standing now in the freedom of the future, I find myself wanting to be home in my kitchen, stirring the milk to make yogurt, existing in the solace of food. In learning how to feed myself, I feel I learned how to truly nourish myself – which may be the greatest lesson of all.

As the seasons go, winter leads to spring and our endeavor will not end with the calendar year, but transition into a new beginning. Living and eating with the seasons is a way of life, and it’s a really good life. In a world of seemingly endless choices, the best choice may actually be the simpler choice. We will continue to eat close to home, to be fed by our neighbors, and to believe in a different agricultural future, where all people can be healthy and nourished. We can take a step toward that every day, with every meal.

Much has been compromised for this food mission, and other pursuits will surely reshape my rhythm. But, I have channeled my inner pioneer woman, and she’s here to stay. She will continue to stock the fridge and pantry with local goods, pull over on the side of the road to pick berries or nuts, and she will keep cooking without recipes. The days ahead will also hold a little more spontaneity, a lot more tea parties with friends, some traveling, plus the addition of exotic spices and leavening agents.

Sarah Bodnar is a consultant and writer living in Mendocino, CA. When not cooking or foraging, she can be found on her yoga mat or throwing an axe. Follow her on Twitter @sarahebodnar.


Leave a comment

Baking pumpkin bread from scratch with mom’s recipe

Everyone wanted to know what we would eat when the year was over. We didn’t really know how to answer that question, or what to expect. The only way you can do something like what we’ve done is to give up on the alternative and stay singularly focused on the day and the meal directly in front of you. Instead of thinking about what we couldn’t have, we directed all of our energy on what we could discover, create, and improvise. This was necessary for survival, and also for joy and creativity. So, I began this year with a fridge and pantry stuffed with local food, and I could have easily glided into another week, month, or year with the same modus operandi. Not only that, but I have actually found it difficult to transition away from our food routine – which I didn’t exactly expect. The rhythm of living and eating this way has been grounding, cozy, and private, and I am emerging from it with a sense of being an alien from another food planet. During my first trip to the grocery store, I got so overwhelmed that I left without buying anything. I don’t love to cook – I love to eat. But, now I find a profound comfort in preparing food for myself. That said, I also have a lot of other things that I want and need to do in life, and look forward to having more time for life outside of food, once I adjust.

As it turns out, most of what I’ve eaten in the first few days of 2014 is basically what I was eating last week, with a few additions. Like bubbles in my water, and cinnamon and leavening agents in my baking. Today I baked pumpkin bread, and it was not totally gross at all! That’s because I uncharacteristically used a recipe this time. When I realized we could use baking powder & soda again, I excitedly texted my mom and asked for her pumpkin bread recipe, ASAP. I guess it was on my mind since ’tis the season and I had to watch everyone else eat loaves of it during Christmas. Of course, I still improvised a few things and used mostly local ingredients, but it was a baking success! One of the hallmarks of mom’s recipe is that the bread is super moist and yummy. I think you’ll love it.

I got the pumpkin for this one from Adam and Paula Gaska at Mendocino Organics in Redwood Valley. I roasted it and then pureed the pulp in the Vitamix to get the right consistency (sometimes you need to strain it if it’s super juicy). A tip on winter squash: Most farmers are sitting on more squash than they can store right now, and are feeding it to the pigs. If you want a good deal on winter squash, approach a farmer about purchasing larger quantities directly from them. You will get a much better price than at the store or the Farmers’ Market.

Fresh pumpkin puree

Mom’s Pumpkin Bread Recipe

1.5 cup & 2 Tbsp. flour  
(I used Red Fife wheat from Mendocino Grain Project, because that’s what I had)
1.5 cup sugar or substitute  
(I used honey to taste, much less than 1.5 cups – honey is ultra sweet in baking)

1 tsp. baking soda
.5 tsp. cinnamon
.5 tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup water
.5 cup oil   (I would have used local butter if I’d had enough, instead used coconut oil)
2 eggs  
(I used local duck eggs only because I’m allergic to chicken eggs, but many people swear are the best for baking due to added loft)

Sift dry ingredients together.

Sifting the flour

I have never sifted anything, ever, so I asked mom if I had to and she said she always sifts, and I didn’t want to be the one to make this recipe look bad. I remembered I had bought a tiny vintage sifter at a thrift store because I thought it was cute, so I excavated my kitchen to find it.

Hello cinnamon!

I find following a recipe more tolerable when using heart-shaped measuring spoons. I think Mom got me these, too.

Beat all other ingredients in a separate bowl and then add all together.

Adding the wet ingredients for pumpkin bread

Honey trick: I heated up the coconut oil and then stirred the honey into that to make them both easier to mix in.

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. Enjoy!

Mom's pumpkin bread

Since I don’t know anything about baking with leavening agents, I didn’t want to overfill the bread pan, so I also made some little cupcakes, and then froze most of them for a rainy day (a smart thing that I never do, but my mom does it all the time and it is her recipe afterall).

Pumpkin bread cupcakes


6 Comments

Cup of tea.

I woke up with a sore throat in Sarah’s house this morning. She’s driving in from Ukiah today, so I was solo in her kitchen and opened her cabinets to find something to make tea.
I was overwhelmed by affection, pride, and connection. I made a very strong throat coating tea with dried elderberry that Melinda and Sarah gathered and I dried for her, oregano her mom grew and dried, nettle chef Matt and I gathered and Sarah dried, lavender from my garden, a hot chili from my greenhouse, slices of lemon from Rachel, and a big dollop of raw honey from Keith.
My community is represented in a cup of herbs, water, and fruit, supporting my health like they’ve supported my physical existence for a calendar year.

image

There’s a quote on Sarah’s cork board in her swirly hand writing that says:

Hold the sadness and pain of samsara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea. -Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

In my Western brain this translates to me all too easily what this project has been about. We believe in an ethic of positive social change; rather than rail against Monsanto we want to celebrate and promote their opposite. But in my heart this whole year has been a deep sadness in knowing, as food and primal connections to people and place pull me ever deeper into my ecological womb, that most of us in this country are orphans wandering in food deserts. Its not their fault, many upper class writers might decry the laziness and ignorance of people’s consumption of processed and toxic food, but I believe that is a major injustice and cruelty. Massive systems of oppression are stacked against all of us putting up barriers between us and our own sustenance. We pay so much in taxes toward corporate subsidies for grain that arguably we’ve already paid a large amount of the cost of a processed food item whether we buy it or not. Having to bear those costs again by directing your purchases to local farmers is outside of many people’s reach. We need to do everything in our power to change this. On the ground level by sliding scale CSA, farm-to-school, and WIC at the farmers market, and on the legislative level by pushing to end grain subsidies and hold big ag responsible for their pollution. If they had to bear their own costs, the seemingly cheap flow of junk food would collapse.
At the same time these thoughts swirl in my head, my daily reality is hope and change. Farming is one of the most concrete forms of philosophy- what I believe is under my feet, in my hands, in my body. I know we can feed ourselves and each other. I’m alive and well after a year, and so is Sarah – more alive and well then I could have imagined, sore throat notwithstanding. We can reclaim this communal, ecological, animal birthright. No corporation fed me this year. My friends fed me. I fed a lot of them right back. I think this is a viable model for the survival of our species,  seeing as it’s worked just fine for untold thousands of years. We’re in a tiny blip of history where a few corporate entities want to take control of our food and therefore our lives. Its a brief experiment and I don’t believe it will last. The sun is rising while I sip my tea.

Loves,
Gowan


1 Comment

Honey-poached quince & apple pie

It seems like Christmas is a time to wear ugly sweaters, celebrate the white elephant, and cook things you’ve never attempted before. I have done all of the above in the last week. In this episode of, “It might be totally gross,” I decided to bake a pie, against my better judgment. I am not a baker, and I really have no business making pie. But, I had some quince patiently waiting in my fridge forever that I had purchased from one of my favorite vendors at the Farmers’ Market and I wanted to do right by them and to honor Lillian Drinkwater’s beautiful hands. So, I set out to make pie.

Quince

I loosely followed this Honey-poached quince pie recipe, with a lot of adaptations. The main reason I am not a baker is that I categorically defy recipes, even when I’m not limited by the local parameters. In this case, I substituted honey for sugar, which was no problem, and added apples to the mix. The crust is where things didn’t exactly work out. I fear pie crust, and I decided to use some previously made tortilla dough to roll into a crust, rather than starting from scratch and dealing with diced butter, ice water and other delicate maneuvers. I don’t even own a rolling pin so I used a bottle of olive oil to roll it out.

Honey-poached quince apple pie

I think it would have worked out OK if I had had enough of the dough, but the amount was only sufficient for a very thin bottom crust, leaving the top exposed and the edges sparse. It smelled like a proper pie, but didn’t quite come out like a masterpiece. The thin crust got too crispy around the edges and I think it got too dry due to being topless.

I was planning to bring the pie to a White Elephant party, but I got too self-conscious at the last minute, so I left it in the car. It tasted pretty good based on my low baking standards, but it wasn’t anything to brag about. And then I got to eat it for breakfast for many days, topped with yogurt and honey so I guess it’s a success of sorts.

Quince & apple pie

A bigger success was the gift exchange at the party. My first gift was tiny bottles of Patron tequila (my fave) and Bulleit bourbon, and I unwrapped them with wide-eyed amazement at the existence of hard liquor and the realization that I could actually consume it in fewer days than I could count on my fingers. As white elephant parties go, this gift was of course stolen from me, despite my dramatic pleas. It was, ultimately, a happy ending. I scored some beautiful handmade beeswax candles from Carson & Bees, and then in a most un-Grinchlike act, the winner of the tequila gifted it to me!

Beeswax candles & tequila!

In the next installment I will share the wonderful adventures of making 100% local Christmas pozole in Santa Barbara with my family, with the assistance of my pug-niece, Lola.

Lola the pug-blogger

Merry merry to all!


2 Comments

Gnocchi and friends

My dear friend Stephanie has been letting me crash at her place every so often- I gave up my rental house a month ago to save money… I have a big huge project in the works I need my pennies for! I’ve been staying at a beautiful friend’s farm, where another friend is helping me with my goats and letting me share the tiny, off-grid cabin.

But I work late nights too, so having friends in town is excellent.

Last night, we made gnocchi, and I was shocked by how good it was. Every other time it’s come out too dense, but it was like little potato pillows.

1203131946

First, we boiled potatoes until they were soft, shocked them in cold water and slipped off their skins. Then we mixed in about one and a half beaten eggs, and some salt, and just barely enough of Doug’s flour to hold it together. 1203131947

We rolled giant potato noodles. At this point I worried about how well it was holding together- that we’d activated the gluey starch in the potato, but it turned out great, so no worries.

1203131947c

We cut the giant potato noodle into bite sized chunks, and marked them with a fork. Much debate over proper technique ensued- an actual Italian was present who said the best thing to do is roll them off a fork, leaving a deep impression in the gnocchi. He ultimately decided that while that worked great for ricotta gnocchi, the potato gnocchi might fall apart if we rolled them that hard. So we stuck to squishing with the flat of the times. 1203131953a

Once they were all squished, we dunked them in simmering water a handful at a time. When they’re done, they float to the surface of the pot and can be skimmed out with a big ladle and dunked immediately in cold water to shock them. We then smothered them in an amazing all local herb sauce my friend Leu made, some Pennyroyal Boont’s Corners, and chunks of roasted winter squash. 1203132013a

It was pretty amazing. Its so nice to have friends on cold nights.

Loves,

-Gowan


Leave a comment

Getting it done: world’s easiest tomato sauce

In the words of Elizabeth, if there is only ONE THING that you are putting away for the winter, it should be tomatoes. Here’s her advice on how to get it done.

My Ukiah

When I research recipes for preserving food, I find so many refined options. And by refined, I mean complicated. They call for a long list of ingredients and a zillion steps. While I appreciate that these exist, and that people exist who like to make them (people that I wish would feed me their delicious creations), I’m just not that kind of cook. I like to take 50 lbs of tomatoes and turn it into 10 quarts of sauce in 2 hours.

I believe that these complex recipes overwhelm many people, making them feel like they couldn’t possibly put up cans of food worth eating. To those people, I have some refreshing news: NONE OF THAT COMPLEXITY MATTERS. Sure, you still have to follow the rules to safely preserve the food, but what’s inside those jars doesn’t have to take hours to prepare.

Ingredient lists are suggestions at best. I’m…

View original post 685 more words

Preserving Food, Part II: How to can everything

2 Comments

The second installment by sisterwife Elizabeth, pictured here with me at the Mendocino County Fair this weekend. Because sometimes we are not in the kitchen and also, you are never too old to get your face/body painted.

 

Painted faces at the Mendocino County Fair

Preserving Food, Part II: Can It!

Canning is not as hard as people think it is. It can be time consuming depending on what you’re making, but it’s not a difficult process. I didn’t even start canning by myself until this year, but I already feel like a natural.

Last time, I wrote about making pickles. To make those pickles shelf-stable, follow these simple directions. (Not short, but simple.) Note that some foods are not safe to process in a water bath and need to be done in a pressure canner to be shelf-stable. Always check a recipe (or three) to find out if what you want to make is appropriate for the water bath method.

Equipment for Canning

You will need:

  • A big pot
  • A canning rack or something that fits in the bottom of your pot (a round roasting or cooling rack often works). This is to protect the jars from the bottom of the pot and reduce the possibility of them exploding.
  • Some Mason/canning jars (Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest)
  • NEW canning lids (lids must be new or the seal might not form)
  • Rings to adhere the lid to the jar (can be old)
  • Jar tongs

Here’s how you do it. This applies to everything, not just pickles.

1)     Prepare a water bath. Take your biggest pot and fill it so that the jars will be covered by at least 1 inch of water. Put the canning rack in the bottom, cover, and bring to a boil.

2)     Put all your lids (not the rings) in a small saucepan with some water, and turn it to low heat. This loosens the rubber and helps form a better seal. These should sit in hot water for at least 10 minutes, but keep an eye on them – you don’t want them to boil.

3)     While the water is heating up, prepare the pickles. Note that many recipes instruct you to first boil the jars – you certainly can do this, but as long as the jars are clean it’s not necessary since they’ll be boiled (and therefore sterilized) momentarily. (There is some wisdom to the idea that hot jars are less likely to crack/explode in a boiling water bath, but often by the time I take my jars out of the hot water and fill them, they’re cold before I put them back in anyway.)

Canning marathon

4)     Once the jars are filled with goods and you’ve added the brine (see Part I), use a chopstick to try to dislodge any air pockets. Add more brine if necessary.

5)     Remove the lids from the saucepan (I have a little magnetic wand, but you can just drain them). VERY IMPORTANT: Before you put the lids on the jars, wipe the rims with a wet cloth. If there’s anything on the rim, it might prevent a seal. (Vinegar probably won’t mess it up, but sugar definitely will.)

6)     Place the lids on the just-wiped-clean rims, add the rings, and tighten until they’re on pretty well but not so tight that your grandma couldn’t get them off.

7)     Turn the heat on the water pot down so it stops boiling. This will help you not get burned.

8)     Using jar tongs, gently place the jars in the pot. It’s okay if the jars touch, but you don’t want them to be so crowded that they won’t be able to move a little under the boiling water. If you have more jars to can than room in the pot, just do a second round.

9)     Bring the heat back up to high, cover, and wait for it to boil again.

10)  Once the water is boiling, set the timer. Some recipes will tell you 10 minutes, some 15, some 20 – I usually do pickles for 15, but you can do a quick Google search for whatever vegetable you used to check the recommended time. (Fruit and bigger jars take longer.)

11)  When the time is up, remove the lid and turn off the heat. Leave the jars in there for 5-10 minutes (if you take them straight from boiling water to room temperature, the jars are more likely to break).

12)  Remove the jars using tongs. I always line them up on a towel on my counter. Wait for the delightful “ping!” noise that tells you a jar has sealed. (This sound never gets old.)

13)  A few hours later or the next day, press down on the tops of the jars. If they don’t bounce back, congratulations! You made shelf-stable food. Remove the rings and gently lift the jar off the counter a few inches by the edge of the lid just to make sure the seal is good. Store without the rings (so they don’t rust) in a cool, dark place. Conventional wisdom is that these are good for a year, but I’ve had 2-3 year old canned goods that were just fine. Always inspect newly opened jars with your eyes and nose when you open it. If it looks fine and smells fine, it’s fine. Do not open jars with bulging lids – this is a sign of botulism, which is very rare. This is a good resource for more on canning and food safety.

14)  If the lids do pop back when you press down, it’s ok! Just stick them in the fridge. There are many reasons a seal might not form, and none of them means the food is bad.

Mexican-style pickled carrots

If you have jars that break during the water bath, that’s a bummer but it’s not the end of the world. It happens sometimes, usually due to a scratch or other imperfection in the glass. It’s only ever happened to me once. All the other jars of food are still perfectly good, so remove them, let the rest of it cool, and then deal with it like you would any broken glass.

This might seem like a lot, and at first it IS a lot. Think of it like playing Risk or Settlers of Cataan or some other complicated board game. The first time, it’s better to play with someone who’s done it before. But after a few times, you know exactly how to play and probably even feel comfortable teaching others. Also like a board game, canning is a lot better with friends.

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have, and if you live in Mendocino county, come over any time for a lesson. I’ll also be teaching a canning class in Ukiah in September.

You can contact Elizabeth at her blog, My Ukiah.

This gallery contains 14 photos


3 Comments

Birthday Dinner at the Mendo Bistro

How August did fly! Summer’s trials are the inverse of winter’s; instead of putting all of our energy into searching for food,  you must deal with the overwhelming abundance of fruit, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes. I learned how to do a bunch of new things, out of middle-of-the-night fear that anything would rot in my home. I made fruit leather, compote out of every kind of dangerously ripe fruit I could get my hands on, lots of pie, fermented pickles, fermented beets, zucchini chips, gallons of goat milk yogurt, and shoved a bunch of stuff in the freezer. Yet, things did go bad, and I feel the weight of every un-canned tomato and un-pickled cucumber in my bones. When I don’t have time to process things, I frantically try to consume everything. Waste feels sinful when I think of last winter… I’ve been eating an entire melon every day and feel like a little sugarplum fairy. We are certainly putting on our winter coats for the sparer days ahead.

On the last day of the month, I celebrated my 30th birthday in the best possible way; by someone else doing the cooking! Nicholas Petti agreed to be the chef du jour and hosted my birthday dinner party at the Mendo Bistro. This has long been my favorite place to dine out on the coast, and truly, there is no better man for the job. The event required a week of collaboration and shuttling ingredients his way, including salt, apple cider vinegar, olive oil and goat milk. We met at the Mendocino Farmers’ Market the day before to shop for the produce and make some final decisions. A few days before, I actually felt guilty about putting someone else through all this work, and wondered if I should have just cooked the meal myself. Then I realized that I don’t even have a dining table, nor enough plates to feed ten people. And, that I wouldn’t have to do the dishes. Plus, that Nicholas is a CHEF and this is what he loves to do. So I decided to let it happen and enjoy. It certainly was five courses of love.

My parents arrived that afternoon, and I wanted to put them right to work in true locavore style. My mom insisted that we open presents first, and then we moved all the wrapping paper out of the way to make two batches of fermented pickles, chop fruit for a peach-berry compote and make lavender goat milk ice-cream for birthday dessert. Of course I wore my new red apron and sassy birthday hat all the while.

Birthday Menu

Broccoli Soup, Broccoli Carpaccio

Roasted Carrots, Carrot-Honeycomb Puree, Carrot Chips, Carrot Top Agrodolce

Zucchini pasta and Meatball

Roasted Beets, Grilled Kale, Feta Dressing, Beet Top Pesto

Poached Salmon, Mashed Potatoes, Dill Aioli, Braised Greens

Turning 30 doesn’t feel particularly significant, but it was a wonderful and delicious day. Click below to view a slideshow of the day in pictures.


Leave a comment

easy summer dessert: brown butter peaches w/ chevre

Introducing our beloved sisterwife Melinda, writer of this blog entry and creator of the world’s loveliest desserts. We love it when she comes home to surround us with her love and sweetness.

i am a winter girl.  everyone who knows me well knows that i’d rather live in january than june, and i’d rather wear sweaters than sundresses.  but summer has a few perks, reasons to keep me on the rotating… and chief among these is stone fruit.  the smell of the season is wrapped in the fuzzy fur of peaches, the baby’s cheeks of apricots, the silky, sexy skin of plums.  have you ever poached a peach, to remove its skin?  it comes off in a slippery, sensual sheath… leaving behind a glowing orb of sweetness, the colour of a july sunset late – nearly bedtime.  [stone fruit are one of the worst fruits for pesticides.  if you’re unconvinced about the ickiness of conventional growing practices, try poaching an inorganic peach.  the chemical-smelling scum that rises to the top of the water will have you running for the nearest farmers market in search of sanctuary.]

anyway, this weekend was a quintessential assortment of summer days; lovely enough to mollify me with regards to the heat (yes, i think 75 degrees is ‘hot’).  on friday i spent the night with a friend who was housesitting inland, and i spent the morning perched in trees (first plum, then apricot) tossing fruit into my bag below.  ‘i should stop,’ i thought, when i had about ten pounds, but then i stood back and looked at the trees and you could barely tell that they’d been harvested.  so i went in for another ten.  the drive home was heavenly; my car blissfully redolent of sunshine and sugar.

said the woodpile to my chest, ‘at least one of us is well-stacked.’ saturday my parents and i put in the better part of the coming winter’s firewood – massive rounds of old growth fir that we loaded into, and then out of, the back of the truck.  our arms and backs and knees ached, and from finger to bicep we were covered in pitch that smelled like christmas.  when my father swung the maul over his head and brought it down on the largest rounds, my face was splattered – kissed – with fir water; not sticky yet as sap, but fresh and cool and delicately sweet.  seeing the pile that will warm you over the months to come is something to relish.  with that wood my mother will bake bread, i will mull cider, my rabbit will sleep under the stove, and our home will be warm and welcoming.  and in the broader spectrum of Eat Mendocino, our fuel source for food and warmth will be local, and its harvesting made us stronger in body and spirit both.

sunday was jam day – one of the best days of the year, ‘christmas of summertime.’  the 14 pounds of plums were ceremoniously cooked down with the last meyer lemons of the season, and safely canned into their mason jars, away from prying tongues.  if there is anything more delicious than plum jam, i haven’t yet met it.  as it is, we put by enough that all through the gray of winter we’ll have the tang and joy of summer for our hearth-baked bread.  i would like to name a daughter ‘plum,’ but erika says she’ll end up a stripper.  but then, look at me!

Peaches!

and that brings us to today.  a bus ride brought me to sarah’s door, and when gowan appeared in the afternoon she came bearing treasure:  a box of peaches that practically glowed with internal light, like souls all lined up in a row.  showing up at sarah or gowan’s is always a treat because i’m inevitably treated to a feast of epic proportions, created from colours and flavours no grocery store’s produce aisle can compile.  i rarely have anything to contribute to the meal beyond a dirty joke, since they move with the practiced dance of those who are intimately familiar with their ingredients and their purpose, but tonight i volunteered to take on dessert, since the SECOND thing people who know me well know is that i love to make dessert.  like, LOVE it.  i usually like to make it more than i like to eat it.  which is weird, i know… but in my family food is a source and sign of love, so cooking for someone is akin to making them an edible valentine.

sarah’s kitchen does not readily accept more than one cook, so i was tasked with making dessert that could be assembled while dinner (stuffed squash, purple potatoes, greek corn salad, mixed green salad…) cooked.

Sisterwife Melinda
(me)
Eat Mendocino Dinner

(dinner)

 

my grandmother had a magnet on her fridge that said ‘i love cooking with wine.  sometimes i even put it in the food.’  truer words were never written.  so it was with great fanfare that i opened a bottle of goldeneye’s jaw-dropping pinot gris, and divided it amongst the people and the pot.  i set that to simmer, reducing it until it was the colour of my favourite dark pink lipstick, and its flavours of berry and citrus had been concentrated.  at the last moment i stirred in a little honey, and then i turned to the cheese.

to some lovely Pennyroyal Farms chevre i added the zest of a meyer, as well as a squeeze of its juice, plus some honey and the chopped blossoms of some of the elegant french lavender that mendocino is so full of right now.

then came the peaches.  i heated a lovely large pat of local butter in cast iron, and when it was bubbly i put in four peach halves, cut sides down (leave the skin on or they’ll not be nearly as pretty in the end).  i fried these until the butter had browned  and the peaches were a lovely caramelized pale brown on the bottom.  i covered a serving bowl with sliced strawberries; little jewels that were almost sinfully crimson.  the peach halves rested on this bed of red, and into their pit holes (there has GOT to be a prettier word for that…) i scooped lovely little pillows of cheese.  the whole thing was bathed in the wine reduction, and garnished with lavender sprigs.  i would have liked some mint in with the berries, but the last of it had gone into the (amazingly delicious) greek salad, which was an excellent excuse.

 Brown butter peaches w/ chevre

anyway, the room was filled with mildly inappropriate moans of love as we licked our plates and wondered whether we could lick our own thighs when we dribbled nectar onto our jeans (we can’t.  oh well.).  and i am content to let summer swallow me, so long as it includes stone fruit, pink wine, and good friends.

recipe-ish:

if you’d like to recreate this magical concoction, here are some approximations:

fry 2 peaches (4 halves) in 3 tablespoons unsalted butter in cast iron, until the butter and peaches have both browned.

simmer 1.5 cups rosé until it’s reduced by half (at least.  more[which is really less] is better).  then add a spoonful of honey and stir to dissolve.

mix the zest of a meyer lemon and a generous squeeze of its juice into half a cup of soft cheese (chevre, ricotta, mascarpone…).  season with fresh chopped lavender and honey to taste.

strawberries.

and toast to the sun when you eat its glory. warning: you may find yourself inappropriately licking your plate. cheers!

Finger-lickin' good