Summer into autumn

At Victory View Vineyard, La Crescent grapes cluster on the vines before picking, September.

Summer foraging is over, the pickles are made, tomatoes roasted and canned. Now all those berries I picked while it was too hot to cook have to go into pots for jam.

Late season ramps from early June, now curried pickles.

This year was my first for  pickling – starting with late season ramps in June. The greens die back but the bulbs are at their biggest, if you can find them.

The French cucumber seeds I ordered yield little cukes, perfect when picked small for classic cornichon pickles.

A handfull of cukes for cornichon

A few cucumbers always managed to evade my search, growing too large for pickling but great for salads.  I had only six plants survive to maturity, not enough to yield a jar a day. I did learn to wash them and wrap in a thick cotton towel in the fridge to keep them crisp enough until I had a full batch. Next year I’ll triple my plantings and make sure each of them has a protective ring around the base to the seedlings.

Peak tomato season - ready for roasting

In our garden it was a very good year for tomatoes. Loads went in the oven for roasting – very few of which were really sauce tomatoes. Roasting slicing tomatoes produces a lot of juice and dramatically little sauce. To roast, I tossed in fresh herbs, garlic, spicy peppers, set to 325 for an hour or until soft, then pureed them for freezing. All winter they will be a base for soups, sauces, or cook on the stove to reduce the juices and serve as is.

Though the blasting heat burned up all the wold black raspberries, summer offered up  a lot of magnificent harvesting days, days with friends, days in quiet communion with nature, and one big weekend out at Victory View Vineyard in Easton, helping them pick three of their wine varietal. The company, the easy rhythms of picking and conversations, great lunches and wine to take home – that weekend merits a much longer description. Plan to join the harvest next year and find out for yourself. They sent me home with grapes, two reds, Marshall Foch and Marquette, and one white, La Crescent for jellies. The juice smells sweet, intensely grape. The weekend’s cool rainy weather will be perfect for warming up the kitchen with  jams and jellies for canning.

Posted in Adventures in cooking, Gardening, Jams and other canning | Tagged , , | 7 Comments


Ok, you can’t see the granola for the berries in this shot, but it’s under there.  While berries are in season I can’t get enough of them so breakfast is equal portions of cereal and fruit.

As much as I love experimenting with new flavors, combinations, and techniques, I’m consistent to the point of boring about breakfast. In winter it’s steel cut oats with maple and pecans, in diners it’s scrambled eggs with cheddar and a side of crisp bacon. Now I have a summer staple: homemade almond granola with fresh berries. Plus a tall glass of cold brewed iced coffee.

At some point the recipe will change a bit: I may use only maple syrup and add ½ c pecans and tiny dried currants. Or switch from almond (or cashew) butter to a freshly ground peanut butter and add tiny chunks of good dark chocolate for granola that nearly stands in as a dessert and will chase off winter blues.

The basic recipe yields a satisfying granola that is easy to make, slightly sweet and filling. Since I started working on this recipe I happily eat it most mornings, topped with a half cup of fresh berries. Sadly strawberries season has ended, but this coincides with the ripening of wild black (or black-capped )raspberries, with some of the bright red raspberries are ripening as well.  Blueberries and wild blackberries are already starting, and if you can find local peaches – at this point I can talk myself out of the cereal altogether and just eat a bowl of fresh fruit.  However – the protein, insoluble fiber and a little fat in each meal ensures that I feel full and energized through the day. I won’t skip the balance in breakfast. Continue reading

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One pickle at a time

Because of the mild winter and untimely warm days before the equinox, ramps were up early in our region. Instead of the usual April 15 to early June; we started harvesting in early March. But my inner ramp calendar has me heading back to the woods in June.

Once the leaves die back (starting at about the 5th week of their growth cycle the leaves yellow and wilt, breaking down quickly) ramps are impossible to see until they sprout the long stem of their pending blossom.

But for the first week of June I was been digging in familiar spots, using last year’s dried seed heads as a sign, and then raking away the leafy mulch to dig out the fat white bulbs. The season for cooking ramps is past, now the fattest white bulbs are going into a curry pickle and the slenderest are brining for a future as cocktail onions.

I’ve been digging ramps for about a decade and I’ve stayed away from making pickles until now. I always thought that there were far more interesting things to do with ramps than soak them in vinegar. And though I love to extend the season, I did so by freezing, making pestos, white purees and butters to use through fall. But this year, having made sauerkraut and reading more about the fermenting craze (and the benefits of adding these  good bacteria to the diet)*, I decided to try pickling– classic dill, curry and cocktail style.

*As a follow-up to my earlier posting, Jennifer C educated me on the difference between vinegar pickling and lacto-fermentation. I can see in my future a bit of study on wild fermentation.

My first batch of curry-pickled ramps is just 3 weeks old and we’ve already dug in: served along side cheese for an appetizer at a dinner party, plated with a pastrami sandwich, and diced into curried turkey or potato salads. This batch has a delicate balance of bright curry, sweet and tart, without heat or overbearing garlic-ramp. With a delicate onion essence, and the firm crunch of a perfect pickle.

If you live further north of us (or at higher elevations) you may still be able to harvest ramps – bulbs only, before they begin send up their stems.

Curry Pickled Ramps

1.5 c rice vinegar
1 c filtered water
¼ c sugar
2 T kosher salt (use just 1 T if you only have table sale)
1 T curry powder
1 t whole cumin seeds
1 t whole black mustard seeds*
½ t turmeric
8 ounces whites only – roots removed and stem trimmed

*If you can’t find black mustard seeds you can substitute the whole yellow mustard seeds.

Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, curry powder, cumin, mustard seeds and turmeric in a non-reactive saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the ramps and cook for exactly one minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and submerge it in a large bowl of cold water and ice until it has cooled down. Or use a strainer to scoop ramps out of the pot into a bowl set in ice to cool. You will want the mustard and cumin seeds but not the cloudy powder of the curry.

To filter out the powder: Line a strainer with a fine cloth or coffee filter to strain the liquid into a measuring cup. I scoop out most of the seeds, spooning them into the jars, trying to leave the powdery residue in the cheesecloth.

Place the ramps with seeds and brine in a jar, making certain the ramps are just covered by brine. If you find you run short on liquid you can top off the jar with a little more vinegar. Allow the ramps to pickle for at least one week before eating.

If you plan to seal the ramps in a canning process, follow the manufacturer or cooperative extension directions for sterilizing the jars and lids prior to filling them.

These pickles will stay crisp and improve in flavor over many weeks. We’ll continue to test them and report on how long they store.

You can double or triple this recipe.

Posted in Appetizers, Wild | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Variations on a wild ramp

The season for ramps started early this year after the March warm up. While walking our yard to see what little flowering bulbs were up, I noticed that all the ramps I had planted in earlier years were already green. Since I am still trying to cultivate my ramp patches and I wasn’t prepare to harvest any at home, I grabbed David for his one trek of the year to the woods along the Cambridge Battenkill road to dig ramps.

The earliest ramps are milder in flavor than the later harvest, but still rich in aroma (ok – they stink). The first batch had a tender white base, slimmer than a pencil; they cooked up in a minute. I slivered the first greens into ribbons and stirred into omelets. Others were coarsely chopped and tossed into olive oil and sliced potatoes for a variation on potato Lyonnaise.

Next weekend with guests arriving we’ll dig a fresh supply and work on a few more new recipes, starting with some from this year’s list.

A couple notes of caution. The first is that ramps truly do stink. After giving them a good cleaning in the kitchen sink, be sure to move all the waste to your compost or outdoor trash. Dropping any leavings in your kitchen trash will swiftly yield a house ripe with ramp. When storing ramps in the fridge, double bag them and make sure any delicate food items that pick up flavors (like cream or butter) are thoroughly sealed. The same goes for ramps in the freezer.

The second warning, and I always forget this with the first ramp meal – some people are more sensitive to gastric upset than others. The quantity eaten can have a direct impact on your feeling of unwellness. Don’t start the season with a plate full of sautéed ramps. Stir a handful into a recipe and enjoy them. There are 6 weeks of fresh ramp harvesting – which can easily be extended into summer after the greens whither by digging the bulbs before flowering, and with freezing and preserving methods.

I have two recipes in the new Ramp cookbook pictured here – available at Amazon.

Ramp recipes for 2012

Ramp and fingerling Lyonnaise

Braised Belgian Endive and ramps

Gruyere gougeres with smoky bacon and chopped ramps

Cream of baby portobello mushrooms with drizzled with emulsified ramps

Slow cooked rapini and ramps (with spicy Italian sausage)

Dry-cooked curried ramps bulbs and cauliflower

Ramp rub for grilled pork

Ramp butters: compound, white, and green

Pickled ramps: sweet and sour, sweet and spicy, and chutney-style

Tapenade of ramps with green olives and capers

Relish of oil-cured ramp whites and roasted red peppers

Peppered and ramp-wrapped and roasted sustainable catfish or artic char or cod

recipes to come….

And please always harvest sustainably. Read more about it here before you go foraging:

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Raspberry Oscar Cake

Go Hugo!

Sunday night of a cold weekend, having stayed in both days doing the usual winter weekend activities, which, despite my promise to myself to take weekends off, turned out to be late breakfasts, David drawing and me working on editing projects at the computer.  Here it is after 8 pm, the Oscars are starting shortly and we want something sweet. The fridge and pantry options are slim as, having stayed in all weekend, I skipped the food shopping, too.

Cakes are chemistry – you need the right balance of leavening, fats, proteins, sugar and flour to succeed, so it’s not a good idea to casually mess with substitutions. And yet I can seldom resist the impulse to do so.  Short on key ingredients I came up with the following:

  • ¾ c light whole-wheat flour combined with ¾ semolina flour.
  • 3 tablespoons of butter plus 3 tablespoons of homemade lard
  • ½ c plain yogurt with 2 T water instead of milk.
  • 2.5 c frozen raspberries instead of strawberries.

Come June when I start freezing strawberries I’ll be careful to grade them into large and small, and then cut all the large ones in half. It won’t make any difference for the berries that make it into batches of jam but it will be a huge help when I want to make crisps or cakes, and the smaller berries work better in pancakes. Fortunately, I have a bag of flash frozen raspberries (thanks to Ed the Mailman) ready to go.

This single layer cake recipe works well just as written below  – but it also worked beautifully with the substitutions. It is similar to my cornmeal lemon cake, but with a softer crumb.


6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for cake pan

1 1/2 cups  all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup less 2 tablespoons granulated sugar – (set aside the 2T for sprinkling)
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound strawberries, hulled and halved or 2.5 cups of raspberries or black berries

Heat oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9- or 10-inch spring form or cake pan. The 10-inch will make a cake of lower height (which reminds me that Randy Newman is missing in action this year.)

Whisk flour or flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.

In a larger bowl using  an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry ingredients gradually, mixing until just smooth, but not longer.

Pour into prepared cake pan. Arrange berries on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F (to avoid drying out the berries) and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out clean, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. (The extra moisture from the berries accounts for a longer baking time but the cake should be fully set). Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Cut into wedges. Serve with or without lightly whipped cream (but with cream is always preferred!) in time for the best supporting actor award.

And the leftovers make a great coffee cake for the morning after.

Posted in Breakfast, Desserts and other sweets | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Cornmeal Lemon Cake


Warm cornmeal cake with caramelized almond topping. without a fire place, we share dessert with tea by the glow of the TV

An upside down skillet cake made with yogurt

This upside down cake combines the sticky, crunchiness of a sugar-glaze with  cornmeal and lemon made extra moist with yogurt.  The intensity of citrus can be enhanced with lemon extract. Without it, add the zest of a second lemon. In any case, layering the flavors makes a difference, combining juice, zest and either lemon extract or oil. However, don’t bother buying imitation lemon extract – it will never taste right.

The recipe is very flexible: using light whole-wheat flour will yield a slightly heavier and dryer texture. However, a good cake flour or a gluten-free AP-blend triple-sifted with a tablespoon of cornstarch, results in a perfectly textured cake. Substitute a half cup of almond flour for the cornmeal to bring the almond notes forward. Reduce the sugar by ¼c for a breakfast cake to be served with fresh fruit.

Furthermore, because this is a classic upside down cake, you could layer the buttered and sugared pan (without the nuts) with plums pitted and cut into 1/8ths, or peeled and sliced peaches (other stone fruit will work as well) and bake until the cake sets and the fruit is soft and bubbling. Using fresh cranberries will result in a perfect alternative dessert for Thanksgiving.

In its simplest form – skip entirely the almond/brown sugar topping. Just butter the pan, and bake the cake. Serve it warm all by itself, with a dollop of honey sweetened whipped cream, a spoonful of good jam or with a compote of warm berries, peaches or caramelized apples.

When using whole wheat or a gluten free flour this cake is at its best served warm or on the day it is baked.

The cake

¾ cup cake flour (sift before measuring)

1 cup cornmeal, preferably stone-ground

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs, warmed in shell in hot water 5 minutes

1 1/3 cups low-fat plain yogurt

Juice of ½ lemon

Zest of 1 lemon

½ t pure lemon extract (only use pure lemon – not artificial)

1/2 t vanilla extract

The topping

2 to 3 T butter

¼ c light brown sugar

1 c sliced or slivered almonds or 2 c sliced fruit

Prepare the pan

Set oven to 350, baking rack set in the middle of the oven. Melt 2-3 T unsalted butter in 10” cake pan or cast iron skillet. The extra 1T of butter will ensure that the topping doesn’t stick as the pan cools. Brush the butter up the sides. Sprinkle pan with ¼ c brown sugar and the sliced or slivered almonds. (Skip this step if you want to make a plain cake, just generously butter the pan.)

Make the cake: Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and soda, and salt. In a separate bowl beat butter, sugar, and eggs with an electric mix on medium speed until pale and creamy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, zest, and the lemon and vanilla extract.

Add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the yogurt, just until blended, scraping down side of bowl as needed. Do not over mix. Spread batter evenly over nuts/fruit.

Bake until cake is golden, and tests dry when a wooden pick is inserted into center, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then invert onto a plate and serve warm.

If, after turning the warm cake out, some of the sugar sticks to the pan, simply place the pan on a warm stove burner for a few seconds until the butter and sugar soften, then use an angled spatula to carefully spread the hot mixture on top of the cake.

If served right out of the oven, the topping with be soft. As the cake cools the caramelized almond topping becomes crunchy.

Posted in Breakfast, Cakes, Gluten Free | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grits and Greens: Holiday breakfast for overnight guests

New Year’s day breakfast

After holiday nights indulging in sweets and alcohol, breakfast needs to be an antidote: hearty and umume, but also nourishing and comforting. Hot cereals like oatmeal or grits are warming to the core and carry us through the afternoon until we return tot he kitchen to prepare early festive suppers. On these days of celebrating two meals are enough – leaving a little room for nibbles from the many trays of cookies and candies both home-baked and gifted.

Christmas morning breakfast we made this breakfast, one of our favorite menus, a sort of rustic elegance (inspired by Susan Quillio of Spoonful Catering), flexible to the ingredients readily available to you, and can be made with animal products or vegan. It makes us so happy we repeated it a second morning, without guests.

About the hot cereal:

I don’t like to take too long getting breakfast ready while everyone drinks the first pot of coffee or tea. Grits are fast cooking, made savory with whatever flavors appeal to you – herbs, sharp or creamy cheeses (even blue cheese), chicken stock or other broths. Polenta is another luscious option, but it takes longer to simmer and open up, the slow stirring dissipates an initial bitterness. Make a batch the night before or set up a crock-pot to cook overnight. Consider making risotto for dinner the night before, then reheat with extra stock and stir in a sharp cheese to serve in place of grits.

Breakfast for 4 to 6

Continue reading

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