What Were You Doing Last Night at 9:24?

We move across the continent in 21 days, My Man is completely immersed in finals, and I am suffering from some kind of severe back problem. Considering the circumstances, what do you think I was doing last night? Packing boxes? Resting the shooting pains in my back after a 14 hour day of full time parenting? Watching stupid movies with My Man in attempt to escape our workload? Sleeping?

No. I was canning strawberry jam. Is this a symptom of something more serious? Inability to travel without carefully packed jars of preserved local bounty? When we moved here from Alaska I flew with 70 pounds of frozen wild game and fish, packed into two enormous coolers, and I sent 5 boxes of home canned smoked salmon through the mail to meet us.

I will not return empty handed. Or empty jarred.

Food Post Directory

Apron Stringz is two years old! Over that time, the content has grown like a nursing baby with knee dimples. While much of what I write is just day-to-day flotsam, I do sometimes crank out a useful and, I feel, enduring post. And I hate that blogs (at least, free ones like mine) don’t support any decent kind of index for these posts. Blogs are ephemeral, meant to be enjoyed hot off the presses, I guess. But it bugs me to no end that our hard work, one week after publishing is more or less lost to the world.

So here is a directory of posts on the wide subject of food. These are all posts with a more practical edge, those that you might reference. There’s an equal number of my more journal-style posts which I have left out, particularly on the subject of gardening. They make an interesting read if you like that sort of thing (and if you read this blog, you probably do) but seemed less in need of reference-able indexing. If you’re going for the journal aspect, try the archives. A few brave souls have apparently read start to finish.

How to Make Home Cooking Work:

Kitchen Efficiency

Real Life Kitchens: Part One

Part Two: The Sink

Part Three: Work Zones

Part Four: Microzones

Cooking Efficiency

Not Menu Planners — solace for the rest of us

Dinner in Real Life

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen — summer cooking


Cast Iron Cookery

Rescuing and Seasoning Cast Iron

Cast Iron for the Rest of Us — taking care of your pans

What and How to Cook in Cast Iron


Caution: Martyr in the Kitchen

Sourcing Good Groceries:

Responsible Consumerism: How to Make it Work

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Part One

Part Two

Fair Trade is Fair

A Trip to the Grocery Store — peeping Tom my cart!

Whole Wheat Pasta Rises from the Grave

Punk Housewife Tip: Oil and Wine

Home Food Production:


Gardening for the Table

Harvest First, Cook Second

Planning an Efficient Garden — it’s all about follow-through

Self Irrigating Planters Made Easy


Just Wing It — build a half-assed coop and get by, if you need to

DIY Chicken Waterers

Egg Shells to Egg Shells

Preserving Local Bounties:

Bringing Home the Basil — how to make, store and use pesto

Monastery Marmalade — scavenged fruit and citrus pectin

Marmalade Redooo — note to self: it is entirely possible to make too much marmalade

Truly No-Nonsense Tomato Sauce

Ghee: Frying Local



Bread Evangelizing — the perfect cherry-popper bread recipe

Bread Every Day, Part One: Ingredients

Part Two: Techniques

Sprouted Wheat Bread: an exploration

Mastering Sprouted Wheat Bread!

Perfect Whole Grain Biscuits


Homemade Grape-Nuts — they’re just caramelized bread crumbs!

Grrr-nola: Make Your Own Breakfast Cereal and Stick it to Kellog Corp (from the old blog)

34 Times Round and a Recipe for German Pancakes

Bouquet of Choice: A Recipe for Swiss Chard Muffins

Anything But the Kitchen Sink — leftover granola muffins

Slow Cooker Leftover Granola Bread

If You Can’t Beet ‘Em — pink pancakes win major mama points

Leftover Easter Eggs to Savory Breakfast Pockets!

Food to Go (a well packed snack bag = less emergency food purchases)

Chewy Granola Bars

Surprising Kid Snacks — no recipe, just a plug for seaweed

A Problem of Sandwiches


Stop Buying Salad Dressing NOW

It’s What’s Fer Dinner — favorite quick meals

Baking Bonanza — home cooking in the real world, plus a recipe for easy lasagne

Good News For Half Beer Lovers — meat and/or mushroom carbonade

Green Tomato and Turkey Enchiladas

Swiss Chard Ravioli

Dinner Deconstructed: Ground Meat Patties, Brown Rice and Glazed Carrots — thorough instructions for beginner cooks

What to Feed Kids When You Really Need Them to Eat — at our house it’s macaroni and cheese’n’fish’n’peas

Sunday Dinner Any Day of the Week — pot roast your local grass fed carbon-neutral meat to melt-in-your-mouth perfection

Value Menu: Whole Chicken — get the most out of your $4/lb farmer’s market bird

Chicken an’ Bisket — my favorite roast chicken and what to do with the leftovers

Of Stock and Bullion (from the old blog)

Making Your Own “Canned” Soups (also the old blog)

Leftover Queen — savory vegetable pie

Empanadas: A Confession

Dinner Every Night: Pasta with Lentils

Not So Goaty Enchiladas

Dessert (which is to say mostly chocolate)

Chocolate: Cures What Ails Ya — the easiest way to stretch $9+/lb fair trade chocolate chips

The Best F***ing Brownies Ever

HOT Hot Chocolate — turn your thermostat down 5 degrees and whip up a batch!

Holiday Baking Party — German Christmas bread and super easy truffles

Food Recycling: Lickety Split Leftover Apple Pie — with the easiest ever pie crust

Flaky Whole Wheat Pie Crust — not the easiest, but so good


Do let me know if you find this index useful, it will help motivate me to keep it updated!

Truly No-Nonsense Tomato Sauce

Brianne over at the ever hilarious Real Mountain Values issued a plea for help yesterday. She is growing (her first?) garden and facing an oncoming glut of tomatoes. On the one hand I want to slap her, what with my own apparent inability to produce tomatoes. On the other hand I want to help a girl out.

Here’s the deal. That whole blanching and peeling business? I understand that some people feel it’s necessary, but I suspect they don’t have little squealers underfoot. In my personal, cowgirl Calamity opinion, blanching, peeling and seeding tomatoes in the hot of summer sounds like a curse akin to serpents and apples.

If you want some nicely peeled tomatoes for canning, save out your bigger babies and lavish them with the extra care. Then throw the rest of the sons-a-bitches in a big pot with half cup of water, stick a lid on, simmer until very soft, then blender the shit out of them. I love my stick blender for this, but a regular old blender will work fine so long as you let the ‘maters cool first to avoid explosions of boiling hot tomato all over your kitchen (seriously).

pesky little cherries and bigger tomatoes with a blemish on one side are prime candidates for this no-nonsense sauce

Make sure you process until they’re very smooth. I do find little bits of skin in my sauce, but it doesn’t bother me near so much as standing over a pot of boiling water for 40 minutes, dunking tomatoes three at a time. And the seeds have just never bothered me, though if they bother you, seeding fresh tomatoes is easy– cut in half across the equator, hold over your chicken bucket and squeeze. There, done.

As far as storage goes, you can freeze tomatoes whole, as in– throw those suckers in a bag and stick it in the freezer to process later. It works surprising well, but I don’t recommend it (unless you’re 9 months pregnant) because in my humble experience “later” is a faulty concept in homesteading endeavors. Like armagedon, “later” just never seems to come.

But what I do recommend if you have the freezer space is freezing the processed sauce. You can use plastic tupperware containers, straight sided jars (leave about 3/4 inch of space at the top for expansion) or even zip lock bags. I use wide-mouthed pint jars. I will admit to thawing them in the microwave when I’m in a hurry for dinner, but you can also stick them in a bowl of warm water to quick thaw. The advantage of tupperware is that you can pop the big square tomatosicle right out into the pot when you want it. Still, I feel funny about storing acidic foods in plastic, even though I apparently feel no compunction about the microwave. Go figure.

One last note, this no-nonsense sauce probably won’t be as thick and strongly tomato flavored as what you might be used to. An extra hour of simmering the puree will concentrate it, and a little spoon of sugar is never a bad idea with tomatoes. But if the tomato flavor still isn’t blowing your skirt up, and you aren’t yet producing your family’s entire yearly tomato supply anyway, why not just scrap the hard core ideals and stir in a can of store bought tomato paste? I’ve done it.

It’s How You Play

You aren’t even reading this. You’re skipping right down to see if you won, aren’t you. Bad girl. Don’t you know, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game?

You all played your hearts out. Many a sad story was told. Many a project promised. One shameless reader posted a second comment to see if she could up her odds by pleading 50 pounds of frozen plums and eight months pregnant.


And yes, Anisa, I’ll bite. I do love me a shameless dame. You win.

The other 9 winners are: Kylie, Terri, Heather, Amanda, Inner Pickle, Jill, Holli, Kelsey and Jenn. Email me your addresses, ladies. scarletfevir (at) yahoo (dot) com

For the rest of you. Harriet gave out a whopping ten dvds. Can her commitment to the Hallows of Preserving be questioned? Go buy her damn video already. It’s only $35.

And here is a link to an old pesto making post. To get your juices flowing. Pesto is a great beginner project, it stores beautifully in the freezer, no canning involved. Like the fridge pickles, nothing whatsoever to worry about. Except using it up! I will admit to you that the massive pesto expedition described ended somewhat anti-climactically with an overly strong tasting pesto, because the basil was past it’s prime (fully flowering). I’ve used it up slowly, but I do believe there’s still one jar left in the freezer.

Not remotely incidental to the subject of preserving is the subject of failure. Read up on that post too, before you get into the kitchen. Not to intimidate you, on the contrary. Let the reality of failure embolden you! Yes, you will fuck up at some point. Better get on with it, so you can discover how and when.

And if you really want to waste some time, err, learn more by video, search youT*be for Sandor Katz. I know there’s at least one saurkraut how-to on there.

Now, let’s get hot in the kitchen.

Refrigerator Pickles

Wow. Nothing makes folks line up like a free anything, really smokes ’em out of the dark corners. Where have all you people been? I have to give you something (besides wise ass mama wisdom) for you to make yourselves known? Note to new commenters: stick around. Don’t be a stranger.

So far 24 of you poor sops have lined up with your cute little ‘pick me, pick me’ stories. Lucky for you, Harriet Fasenfest is a terrible capitalist. The whole point here was to promote her dvd so that you people would go out and buy it. As in, spend your hard earned money on it and make the world go round. But she left a note in amongst the pleas, err– comments, that she would donate 10 dvds to the greater cause of Getting Folks into the Preserving Kitchen.

Harriet. You need to go watch some F*x News. Money, and the exchange of it in a competitive capitalist system, is what is going to save us from economic catastrophe. Are you trying to sabotage America? Go now, do your due penance.

I thought I’d leave the comments open on the giveaway for a few more days, in case there are some worthy mamas too busy wiping noses, asses and floors to check in here.

In the meantime, since you all seem to be clamoring for some spark in the preserving department, I thought we’d do a little excercise. Refrigerator pickles. Just about the easiest preserving project I can think of, and a good gateway drug.

Not to taunt anyone, but summer is here in New Orleans– the cucumbers I planted along the front fence at our new fantabulous house are starting to come on. I’m so excited! The 3YO is a pickle fiend, and so naturally I planted a pickling variety of cukes. But don’t be put off, you can pickle any kind cucumber or any other vegetable for that matter.

Eventually you’ll learn how to make pickles fermented the old fashioned way or canned with vinegar. But for a first timer, refrigerator pickles are the easiest of all. There is nothing whatsoever to fear. You can make a single jar if you just want to test your meddle. No sterilization is required. The results are pretty predictable. This is basically just like marinated cucumbers, and they last for months.

So. You. Print this page out. Go buy some thin skinned cucumbers, or asparagus or whatever your fave pickled veg is (brussel sprouts anyone?) and a big jug of apple cider or plain white vinegar. Find a jar with a lid in your cupboard, any old jar. Maybe two.

Cut your cukes however you like, I do lengthwise quarters. Pack them, cold and raw, into your jar. Peel two cloves of garlic and throw those in along with some fresh or dried dill weed and pickling spices if you have them. Boil 1 cup vinegar, 3 cups water and 1/4 cup non-iodized salt and pour over cukes.

That’s it.


You can taste one after a few days if you want, no harm, except that they don’t taste like much right away. They’re overly salty and not sour enough. I suspect some small fermentation is happening because they get sourer over the next month or so.

There! You’ve made pickles! See? Thus emboldened, aren’t you ready to take over the world?

There were a few comments about fermenting, so I feel compelled to offer what I think is an essential piece of advice. I haven’t done all that much fermenting, but sometimes beginners give the best beginner advice. So here it is– Taste your ferment every single day, no cheating. Ferments are living things, constantly growing through their own lifecycle. My beloved Sandor Katz might like his sauerkraut at every age, but it took me some failures to find out that I myself only like it fresh out of high school. Bright, slightly tart, perky, thinking it knows everything. The window is narrow, and if I don’t taste my kraut every day, or even twice a day, I’ll miss it. Once it gets ripely satisfied with life, and humbles down to a softer, skunkier flavor, I just don’t like it anymore. Another day or two in this heat and it’s a disgusting mess. Fermenting is easy, getting the flavor you want out of your ferment is a bit trickier. Timing is everything!

As far as canning, I’ve done it all. I even wrote a two part zine article on it, back in the day. I wrote a post on canning jam the super easy way on my last blog Subsist/Resist. Apart from figs and tomatoes, there’s nothing to worry about when canning fruit. The worst that can happen is you lose a jar to mold. Really. Go fuck around. Have fun. You can break a lot of the rules if you want, so long as you’re canning fruit and don’t mind risking a botched jar. But if you follow the rules, you’ll definitely be fine.

Pressure canning is certainly more complicated, and important to get right. But those things are gold! If you have one, the world is your oyster. Low acid foods are not the place to wing it, but follow the instructions and you’ll be completely safe. Believe me, the USDA has made sure the rules cover all levels of intelligence. If you have any questions, ask me! Really! Email me at scarletfevir (at) yahoo. If I had my pressure cooker here in New Orleans I’d do a big post about it.

Culinate has a more thorough refrigerator pickle recipe, if you want more details. Non-iodized salt is easy to get at any grocery store. Pickling salt, kosher salt or sea salt are all good. Though there are some iodized sea salts. It will say right on the label, no tricks. Pickling spices too are easy to find in any spice section.

Cut! Boil! Pour! Refrigerate! Enjoy!

Red Gold: Of Strawberry Jam and House Hurricanes

On Tuesday, still half sick and under the constraints of my No-Frills Five, I went to the farmer’s market. List in hand, I dutifully got eggs, milk and beets. As for a treat (I’ve cultivated the bad habit of always getting us a treat there) The Toddler got a free sample of chocolate milk from the dairy folks.

I was quaffling on strawberries, in my head, knowing they’d be there. My No-Frills concept does not exclude grocery shopping, but it does limit me to things that are on my list of staples. Fruit is a staple. Local, in-season fruit is even noble, right? But we did already have tangerines and a pineapple (not local, but fair trade! was on sale at Whole Foods) at home to use up….

Then I saw the strawberry stand. My eyes instantly lit to the price sign, I’ve been waiting for the price to come down, end of the season style. Uh-oh. $12 for a flat?! Last week it was $28! Holy Shicksa baby!

Can’t pass that up, and why should I? That’s why I don’t believe in strict rule following. You’ve got to be open to opportunity!

In addition to the whole flat, I also finally got to do me some dumpster diving, of sorts. One of the stands I regularly buy from had a tub behind the counter, obvious culls. I asked if they were throwing it away, and whether I could take them. “Still good for cooking!” I said brightly. I offered to pay a small price, but they just let me take them. Sadly, they didn’t seem very happy about averting their waste stream. Oh well. Enthusiasm would be nice, but hey–I’m not proud, I’ll settle for permission. I dug out all the strawberries, and even a big bunch of green onions and a rutabaga.

Home, still half sick remember, I surveyed the contents of my compulsive hoarder larder. Entire flat of strawberries, plus a few extra pints. Onions needing cleaning. Heap of collards still in the fridge from the garden needing cooking, maybe even some for freezing. Beets for roasting for salads. Eeep. I’m gonna go take a nap.

Fortunately the strawberries needed a day to ripen up. Then I took two days to complete the jamming project. Wednesday I cut ’em all up (pureed half, diced the other half) and yesterday I set out to Jam.

Now. Citrus is all new to me. Marmalade might have me confounded Sunday through Monday. But berries, I know. It felt nice to do something I know. And, praise somebody-er-other, Whole Foods even had my beloved Pomona’s Pectin, which I hardly want to jam without.

The magic about yesterday though, was the kiddlets. The Toddler slept till 10!!! She normally gets up at 8. Not sure why this happened, but hey, why look a gift horse in the mouth? The Babe did his part by taking a two hour nap in the morning. There wasn’t much overlap there, but that’s okay. The Babe is the main speedbump anyway, Toddler is usually good to play at my feet for hours in the kitchen. Especially if I figure ways to let her help. She loves measuring stuff, turning the mixer on and off, and eating dough.

In my classic way I had thought it through like so, “Okay, gonna make jam. So, well, I might as well make granola, cuz we’re out, and then the jars can sterilize in the oven while the ‘nola bakes. And, I guess since the oven is on, I may as well make bread, cuz we’re almost out, and it’s getting so hot lately, this might be one of the last days I can really run the oven. But before I do anything, I’d better clean up the kitchen….”

So, by noon I was sitting down to lunch. I had made a shit-ton of jam, strawberry syrup, a double batch of granola and two loaves of bread. Now before you go thinking I’m some kind of One of Those People, let me inform you that the house, and especially the kitchen, were a complete disaster. It looked like a hurricane had hit, And I don’t mean that figuratively. I don’t mean like, oh I haven’t mopped yet, and there’s a sink full of dirty dishes. I mean, every single square inch of counter space stacked three things high. The floor a pathway through precarious piles of toys, laundry, empty boxes, pots and pans pulled out by the Toddler, shredded toilet paper. The sink was full of cooling jam (where else was there to put it?) amidst dirty dishes. The stove slopped with sticky bright red cooked on goo. The counter, and floor beneath, a roach trap of spilled granola thanks to the Toddler’s “help.” The dining room was also breaking into Aisles Through Piles territory since I had moved all the crap out of the kitchen to make a space to work in.

(Our kitchen has lately developed an ‘island.’ I don’t mean a useful variety, with a nice bench-top or a bar sink or anything, I mean a line-up of the Babe’s excersaucer, the Toddlers kitchen stool, and a variety of toys. They all get shoved into the middle of the room, so’s us “groin-up” folks can get to what we consider the useful kitchen stuff around the outside. Needless to say, our kitchen is not properly sized for an island…)

I surveyed the hurricane wreckage around me, and counted my jars. 17 half pints of gorgeous red gold. Plus two pints of syrup, and two pints of berries in the freezer. Screw the house, I feel victorious.

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is, Part 2

When To Buy Organic

Of course, it would be great if everything we bought was organic. But if you’re short on cash, and aren’t we all, there is a significant difference between crops. This chart is awesome for sussing out you fresh fruits and veggies. I first discovered this two years ago, and was especially interested in the apples being second. Yikes! They seem so innocuous. Potatoes are at about the midway mark, so I make an effort to get them organic. I was surprised to see broccoli and cabbage so low on the list, because they’re prone to a lot of disease and things in the home garden, so I expected they’d be high. And it’s a relief not to worry about onions, we go through tons of ’em! I had remembered carrots being low though, and they’re not. I had been buying those at the Winn-Dixie, and I guess I’d better knock it off.

1 (worst) Peach 100 (highest pesticide load)
2 Apple 93
3 Sweet Bell Pepper 83
4 Celery 82
5 Nectarine 81
6 Strawberries 80
7 Cherries 73
8 Kale 69
9 Lettuce 67
10 Grapes – Imported 66
11 Carrot 63
12 Pear 63
13 Collard Greens 60
14 Spinach 58
15 Potato 56
16 Green Beans 53
17 Summer Squash 53
18 Pepper 51
19 Cucumber 50
20 Raspberries 46
21 Grapes – Domestic 44
22 Plum 44
23 Orange 44
24 Cauliflower 39
25 Tangerine 37
26 Mushrooms 36
27 Banana 34
28 Winter Squash 34
29 Cantaloupe 33
30 Cranberries 33
31 Honeydew Melon 30
32 Grapefruit 29
33 Sweet Potato 29
34 Tomato 29
35 Broccoli 28
36 Watermelon 26
37 Papaya 20
38 Eggplant 20
39 Cabbage 17
40 Kiwi 13
41 Sweet Peas – Frozen 10
42 Asparagus 10
43 Mango 9
44 Pineapple 7
45 Sweet Corn – Frozen 2
46 Avocado 1
47 (best) Onion 1 (lowest pesticide load)

What I haven’t been able to find out about is dry goods. Wheat flour, rice, oatmeal, beans. I’d really like to know, so if anyone out there has any info on the respective “bad-ness” of said crops, please let me know. I’ve been buying non-organic wheat flour lately, because I don’t have a bulk source available, and 5 lb bags are so expensive!

If you eat much soy, check out this Soy Report from the same folks who did that organic dairy review, The Cornucopia Institute.

Buying Bulk

Back in Cordova, I used to order from a company called Azure Standard. They carry most everything that you’d find in a health food store. If you live in the Pacific Northwest they deliver for free (the minimum order is $500, but that is surprisingly easy to fill, especially if you get a few friends in on it). If you live anywhere near to, you might be able to have your order shipped for a reasonable price, via a trucking company. Living in Alaska I had my orders shipped up by barge and even though for heavy stuff like flour the shipping almost doubled the price, it was still worth it. A 50 lb bag of organic high protein whole wheat flour cost $25, add on (for Cordova) $30 for shipping. That’s still only about $1/lb, which was cheaper than the local health food store that only sold flour in 5 lb bags.

I haven’t gotten myself together here yet. There is a food co-op that does bulk orders, I really need to sign up. I asked around and the prices are usually slightly cheaper than Whole Foods. If you have an opportunity to buy bulk, even if the savings do not appear much, they add up. Often if you’re willing to get a ton at once, you can get the organic version for the same price as a little bag of standard stuff at the grocery store. It also instills a different way of thinking about your pantry, and your cooking, which cuts down on trips to the store and impulse buys. These bulk ordering gigs are usually called “Buyer’s Clubs.”

I have to admit, Costco has a very large selection of organic stuff. Of course, I wouldn’t trust ’em farther than I could throw ’em, but it’s gotta be a bit better….?

Lastly, if you’re just starting out buying in bulk, a word of caution. Do not buy 50 lbs of something unless you are sure you’re going to use it! This sounds obvious, but I myself have occasionally wasted some food buying bulk. Just be careful, and plan it out.

I have one last offering for this topic, coming soon:

Solace and Support for Non-Menu Planners!

Marmalade Redooo

The good news: It worked! I gelled a batch of marmalade!

The bad news: I have no idea why it worked.

I did put the seeds in a little cheesecloth baggie, and boiled with the rest, as some recipes suggested. But there weren’t very many seeds, I can’t imagine it was that. I also let the boiled till tender peels and everything (pre-sugar adding) sit overnight to “develop” the pectin, as some other recipes suggested. Was that it? Or was it that I made a smaller batch? One recipe did say it was hard to get a big batch to reach temperature…

Whatever it was, I sure was excited when the roiling, boiling mass of orangey goodeness started to look right. And just so’s you know, even on a plate that had been in the freezer, a dab still looked a little too soft when it was, in fact, ready.

A good trick for busy mamas:

By the time it had finished cooking and was ready to jar, it was late, all I wanted to do was go to bed. And anyway I hadn’t made it to the hardware store to get the smaller jars. So I let it sit overnight (also gave me the opportunity to see how gelled it had really gotten) then the next day reheated it and poured into my sterilized jars.

Bad trick: letting it burn a teeny bit while reheating. It doesn’t really need to reach a boil. It sterilized last night, and if you covered it, should still be sterile, besides it’s packed with sugar, I doubt this stuff is capable of supporting mold. So don’t overdo it whilst simultaneously eating lunch, oblivious to stirring, as some people might have done. That said, the little bit of burny didn’t make a bad flavor at all.

So, now that you have jar upon jar of marmalade, dear girl, what do you intend to do with it?

For starters I’ve discovered I like marmalade way better than milder fruit jams. I was never a huge jam fan. It’s fun to make (quite easy to make too much, in fact) and I do enjoy stirring it into yogurt, and the occasional PB&J. But I’ve always found jam to be either too sweet or too bland. Wasn’t till I tried my homemade marmalade that I realized fruit you would eat out of hand just doesn’t have enough flavor to carry the sugar it takes to make jam as sweet as I want it to be. But take something like orange peels, add a ton of sugar and you get something with real gusto! Wowza. Zing-orama!

Saw on another blog in my marm research that one woman’s family called it Mama-lade, because she was the only one who would touch the stuff. I like that, and suspect it will be true in our household as well. It is a very unusual taste to an American taste bud. We do tend to scorn the bitter.

In addition to smearing it on homemade toasted wheat bread with butter, I think it’s going to rock for cooking with.

For starters, I followed Riana’s non-recipe for Moroccan Chocolate Tangerine Tart. I love how she cooks exactly like I do, and is therefore incapable of conveying a real recipe, because anyway you’d have to have on hand whatever weird concoction she pulls out of her freezer to substitute for whatever she doesn’t have on hand. It’s impossible to imitate truly resource based cooking.

I did her non-recipe justice by paying very little attention to any part of it, except the concept– bittersweet whole orange puree (I just used marmalade whizzed up in the food processor), thickened with egg, on a pastry crust, with chocolate on top. I made mine bars, cuz I don’t have even a pie dish here, let alone a tart dish. They are intriguing little numbers. Exotic. I added cinnamon to play up the Moroccan flavor, and vanilla. I wouldn’t say they’re my new fave, the bitterness of the marmalade is kind of overpowering in such quantity, but well worth making.

More than star attraction cooking, I’m thinking the marm will be a good ‘punch up the flavor by the spoonful’ addition to lots of yummie things. It’d go great in almost any dessert. How about marm replacing a few tablespoons of the sugar in a chocolate cake? Stirred into the filling of an apple pie? Marmalade ice cream? But savory things too often benefit from a little sweetness– spaghetti sauce? (I once knew a real slimeball who, after asking me if I was a dancer and reading my palm made me spaghetti by his grandmother’s “secret” recipe, which included a big spoonful of grape jelly… I was young.) How about stir fry? It’d be a fab glaze for any kind of meat or fish, I can hardly wait to try it on one of our lovingly brought from Cordova salmon fillets.

So many ideas, and plenty of marmalade to try them all! The neighbor just brought another bag of Satsumas, so I’ll be on to my fourth batch. I’ll figure this thing out yet!



Monastery Marmalade

Oh yes, you read me right. I’m quite excited about this one. For some reason it took me more than a month living here to realize we lived one and a half blocks from a monastery. I guess in my life up till now, monasteries are the stuff of fairy tales. Maybe they really exist, in Tibet or some such equally fairy tale-ish place. But not just down the street!

Our neighborhood monastery has a big gate that’s usually open, with a sign that says Monastery Gift Shop, as welcoming as an iron gate on a ten foot tall brick wall can be. We kept meaning to check it out, but hadn’t.

Anyway, two days ago walking back from the park I saw some strangely bulging trash bags, right next to the trash can out back of the monastery’s tall brick wall. The strange way they were bulging said to me– oranges! Or maybe, grapefruit. Unless they were throwing out three bags full of softballs…. I ripped one open. Indeed some kind of citrus, but what? Yellow and sourer smelling than grapefruit. Whatever they were, surely I could marmalade them! I marmaladed a big box of limes from the dumpster once, so I know that it’s not just for oranges.


But I couldn’t do anything that involved the peels until I found out if they had been sprayed. I had to venture past the iron gate, into the mysterious, walled off lair of the monastery. Would there be nuns or monks inside? Would they be adorably kind and gentle, or tight lipped, harsh and in need of a good lay? Only one way to find out.

With my Toddler and Babe in tow, brandishing my wedding ring like a shield (in case they should suspect my virtue), I entered the iron gate and scaled the wide marble steps to the open door. Inside it was, predictably, completely silent– all dark wood and effigies. There was a sign that said, “for gift shop, ring bell” (the bell was, sadly, just the push button type). I rang and waited. A few moments later a deep-set wooden window opened. I suddenly wondered if I had anything to confess.

It was a woman. Not in any penguin outfit, but nun-looking none-the-less. Older, and definitely the sweet variety.

I apologized for the interruption (of course I imagined she’d been deep in prayer, but more likely she was just balancing the books and contemplating how to lure more shoppers into the gift shop) and then explained myself. Her eyes lit up when she understood my question. She said they were lemons. That they’d had the tree for years, for grafting onto, but never did. The lemons weren’t very good, though they’d gotten better in recent years. No, they hadn’t been sprayed, and yes, I could have as many as I wanted.

I left with a gleam in my mind’s eye. Behind that tall wall was a lemon tree. All the lemons I could want (well, how many lemons can a person want anyway?). But what else? What else were those industrious nuns growing for God back there? What other secrets did they have to discover? I found myself burning with obsessive desire to see behind the wall. I had an instant little fantasy, where I bring them back a jar of their lemons turned marmalade, and they invite me in. They give me tea. They show me around to all their unused fruit. Trees. They let me pick their lemons.

Yikes! Let’s get back to the marmalade!

The bags, which I collected the next day with my bike trailer, were full of lemons, yes. But these were the fallen fruits. They were almost all split open on one side, and having sat in the sun for a day or two, soft and fermenty around the split. I took a few in the house and cut them in half, the good half was still perfectly firm and fresh. I juiced them and tasted the juice, as delicious as lemon juice straight up can be! I foraged online for a recipe, and trialed a batch of marmalade. Unfortunately, since I didn’t have a scale, I didn’t actually follow the recipe, just the technique.

Okay, not really the technique either. I’m one of those notorious recipe disregarders. I always look at two or three recipes when I’m cooking something new, I write at least one down. And then proceed to completely disregard it. It’s like a dysfunction. I always have excuses. ‘I don’t have a scale’ or, ‘But these lemons are only half good, I can’t boil them whole.’ Sometimes I get arrogant and second guess the recipe writer. Or I combine recipes heedless of the importance of one ingredient to another.

For a dysfunction it’s fairly functional. I occasionally have disasters, but most often things work out fine. Not perfect, but good enough. I do learn things. Like why you should follow recipes.

At any rate. My first batch of lemon marmalade candied. Maybe I added too much sugar, or not enough liquid. Either way I let it boil down too much, and got a very soft ball stage. I got a combo of syrup and candied lemon peel. I whizzed it up in the food processor to get a somewhat better texture. It’s actually surprisingly good. I had some on my toast this morning.

In the middle of making my second batch, I willed into reality our neighbor bringing by a big bag of Satsumas. These little mandarins are ubiquitous here this time of year. I personally find them too sweet to be very satisfying. But I had dreamed that the best marmalade would be made from both satsumas and lemons, for a perfect balance of sweet, sour and bitter.

Satsuma Love

The proof will be in the pudding. I have some bubbling away on the stove, and some in the crock pot (I’ve been using the crock pot for canning type projects which need a low simmer for a long time. Works great, and there’s less waste heat) I did have one taste when I tested for sugar content, and wowza. Yu-um!

Marmalade is all about peel. The original definition in fact was just a preserve thickened with pectin from fruit peels. Many fruits have pectin in the peel and seeds. Now marmalade is generally considered to be just citrus, but the antiquated practice of using the peel for pectin remains. It’s a real old school jam!

I worked off of three recipes. The most complete and thorough from Delia Online (I don’t know who Delia is, but the recipe sounds British). This was the one where you boil the whole fruits first, and as I mentioned, that was not an option for me. It was also specifically for Seville oranges, the traditional British marmalading fruit.

Here is the recipe for lemon marmalade from Local Foods, that I more or less attempted to follow. With both batches now done, I can say I don’t know why the hell mine would not gel, and didn’t look remotely “creamy” as the recipe promises. True I didn’t weigh my fruit or measure my sugar, but the recipe gives a fairly large range for sugar, implying it’s not so critical…

And lastly, here’s a recipe and cute blog post from Pots and Pins about Satsuma marmalade.  I might try truly following this one next. If I can manage to.

And yes, as you may have gathered, my second batch is now done. I can tell you that marmalade is not exactly easy. But it depends on your standards. What I got is not like a jelly, it’s like soft sweet peel in a thick syrup. You have to use a spoon, but really the toast sucks up the extra moisture and it works just fine, and tastes… wow.

Actually, I had hardly ever eaten marmalade before and I think I might have a new obsession. I can imagine it’s not for everyone, at least not the stuff I made. It’s quite bitter. I don’t normally go in much for the bitter flavor. I always wish I would, since many wild greens are bitter. But the marmalade is bitter-sweet. And this is somehow incredibly alluring, seductive. Like the monastery itself, I feel this marmalade has a secret I am compelled to discover.

And I will, oh, I will.

Bringing Home The Basil

a bushel of basil

A few days ago a friend called to ask if I wanted any basil. He grows veggies for sale at a local market, and was pulling up his summer’s overgrowth of basil to plant a winter crop. He and his partner had already made enough pesto to satiate their palates, the rest was mine.

I grabbed a garbage bag and some sturdy scissors and headed out the door, thrilled by the prospect of my first New Orleans harvest/scavenge.

Boy was I the naive Alaskan.

He had said there was three plants left. Although he told me they were three feet tall, and the stalk an inch and a half in diameter, and had explained where the pruning shears were, I just couldn’t really hear him. My attempts (and I did try, valiently, year after year) to grow basil in Cordova had never yielded a plant more than 8 inches tall. With one stem, and a handful of leaves.

When I arrived at his garden, kiddie-entourage in tow, I realized the full scope of the situation.

For anyone else out there who doesn’t know, basil is a bush, and I don’t exagerate. Each “plant” had a one inch stalk, yes, but also half a dozen 3/4 inch stalks spreading out around it. By the time I’d wrestled all three bushes to the ground, I had a pile of basil branches the size of a shopping cart. So much for the garbage bag! I somehow managed to cram it all into the car, and drove home to get started on a truly epic pesto project.

The real work of it was getting all the leaves off. This took a few hours, and I wasn’t even very careful about it. I tried to pick out the very brown leaves, and all the flowers, but I didn’t worry much, I had too much to do! And don’t forget the toddler and three week old baby!

the toddler helps
the toddler helps

The pesto making went relatively easy, excepting a second trip to the store for more olive oil, garlic and parmesan. I used to put up a lot of pesto back home, made not from my wimpy basil, but from a wild sorrel that grows in the mountains. Plus I recently got a food processor from my mother-in-law, which makes pesto-ing way easier than the blender I’d always used at home.

I’d offer a recipe, but I’ve never followed one. Here’s the basic idea:

  • Olive oil, garlic, basil (or your favorite wild herb), and salt. That’s the essentials. The oil, garlic and salt act to preserve the basil, and pesto can last for weeks in the fridge, or months in the freezer.
  • This basic pesto is versatile. Don’t limit yourself to thinking it’s only good in Italian food. What about that beloved Thai basil curry? Just stir the pesto in at the end of cooking, for a fresh basil (and garlic) flavor. I also love toast with pesto and a fried egg for breakfast. Yummie.
  • If you want to up the deliciousness, you can add parmesan and/or walnuts or pine nuts.
  • If you’re using a blender, put the olive oil in first (a good half cup or so) then pre-crushed garlic (the blender just doesn’t cut it for garlic) then a handful of leaves. Keep adding the leaves a few at a time while the blender’s going. Add some salt. Keep adding leaves until the blades won’t suck them down anymore. Taste, and add more salt or garlic as you like.
  • In the food processor, the order is not so critical. But then, I noticed there seemed to be no cap on how much leaves the oil would hold, meaning I think you could add too many leaves and you’re pesto would spoil faster. As a rough guide, your oil should make 2-3 times as much pesto. ie: one cup of oil should make 2-3 cups pesto. I think.
  • Either way, you want to
    see the dark green color it starts out as?
    see the dark green color it starts out as?

    blend the shit outa that pesto. There seems to be an emulsion effect going on. It starts out dark green and gets kind of yellowish-green. That’s what you want. The first time I made pesto we didn’t have electricity, and I used my ulu to chopchopchop it all together. It really wasn’t the same. It was just minced leaves and oil, not the ambrosial paste pesto is supposed to be.

see now how it's creamy-yellowish-green?
see now how it's creamy-yellowish-green?

Now what to do with all that ambrosial stuff?

I don’t like storing acidic or otherwise corrosive stuff in plastic. So I put my pesto in half-pint glass canning jars, and then into the freezer. The jars have to have straight sides so the freezing/expanding thing doesn’t break them (leave extra head space at the top too). Pesto keeps beautifully frozen. The flavor is hardly compromised at all. And when you take a jar out, you can use part, and put the rest in the fridge, no problem. Bear in mind that any pesto exposed to the air will turn brown. It’s no big deal.

Make sure you label your jars! And then, make sure you remember they’re there and actually take them out and use them up! Pasta, pizza, curry, toast, and just throw a spoonful or two in whatever for a flavor boost.

Or, if you wanna trade me for some of mine, just let me know. Looks like I’m going to have plenty.