in which we lament: don’t hate us because we’re (not) beautiful!

in which we lament: don’t hate us because we’re (not) beautiful!

A continuation of my series about  foraging at the farm and what I’ve done with my bounty.  Haw berries first, today the apples and you’ll have to stay tuned for the black walnuts. Includes links to the recipes.

Apples from  one of my favorite trees – crisp, tart and spicy.  But, wild as can be, not so waxed and polished.

Face it, we Americans are harsh when it comes to our demand for physical perfection.

Oh sure,  we all know the do-good-character-building salvos like “Beauty is skin deep”, and “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but we all know too it’s not really that simple.

We also know we should not be blinded by mere physical beauty and should instead value those precious inner beauties which are more rare. Of course knowing that doesn’t mean we don’t all lose our hearts and good sense to selfish, cruel yet beautiful loves who use us callously before tossing us aside from time to time.

I have to also, in a fit of indecision contradiction, acknowledge the kernel of truth in this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson; “Beauty is an outward gift, which is seldom despised, except by those to whom it has been refused.”

Who among us doesn’t have a single physical blemish? My knobby little apples are juicy with inner beauty…

Who among us doesn’t have a single physical blemish? Come on, admit it’s true! But no matter, I’m not talking about love today; I’ve got apples on my mind. My apples are blessed with more than a few wormholes and scabs but the Ladies and I don’t mind. Our apples are juicy with inner beauty.

I love what Terra Brockman has to say about imperfect peaches in The Seasons on Henry’s Farm: A Year of Food and Life on a Sustainable Farm:

“I confess that I have a soft spot for soft spots. Just as they reveal genuine, sensitive human beings, they are a reliable way of showing that a fruit has not been sprayed with poisons, and that it is at its peak of ripeness, of flavor and nutrition, of juiciness and pleasure. The quest for cosmetically perfect fruit has resulted in the loss of vibrant tastes – the sharpness and depths that make great fruit great. Fruits in the supermarket are glossy and perfect on the outside, but insipid on the inside – watery, at best, and permeated with the stale taste of long-refrigerated storage, at worst.”

I’ve enjoyed sampling apples from all over our new pastures and am thrilled with the diversity and flavors. It will take a long time before I am able to identify the varieties, but I already know where to find my favorites.

Because these apples have grown wild and unappreciated by anyone with fewer than 4 legs for a long time, they are as organic as apples can be. Which means they are not beautiful in our modern retail-jaded eyes.

But, they are beautiful to me. And to the Ladies (and Men – yes, you’re right; they don’t get enough mention around here).

I was determined that my spiced apples would be rings. And so they are…

To make the most festive use of the apples I harvested from my favorite little tree, I made a holiday relish tray favorite of mine, spiced apple rings. I love spiced apple rings but have never had any other than the commercial ones. And sometimes, they’re hard to find.  And forget local and organic.

I adapted my recipe from the Apple Wedges in Cinnamon Red Hot Syrup in the cheap and ever-useful Ball Blue Book of Preserving. Of course, I made some changes to sass it up a bit and make it more versatile, but I guess the name gives away the secret weapon – cinnamon red hots.  Have I mentioned how much I love cinnamon red hots?

The not-so secret weapon – Cinnamon Red Hots. You wouldn’t guess it eating the finished spiced apples, but your spiced apple rings wouldn’t be the same without them…. have I mentioned how much I LOVE cinnamon red hots?

I’ve been eating these spiced rings all week with cheddar cheese & grainy mustard, in risotto, on chicken and even chopped some with celery, garlic and onion in a relish (I’m more than a little excited about that relish).

I’m not tired of them yet and I’m not really an apple-y sort.  The recipe calls for peeled apple wedges, but I was determined that mine would be rings. With the skin on. And so they are.  Click here for a link to the full recipe.

I’m beaming with motherly pride over my knobby little apples all dressed up – you wouldn’t let a scab or knob here or there scare you away from some tasty, nourishing, spicy-syrupy red fruit would you?

Bling wants me to tell you that  the apple situation is getting desperate here.  She’s hoping maybe you’ll send her some.  They have mostly been eaten, are rotten or are high up in the trees beyond grasping tongues and tree shaking farmers.  There’s begging, hiding, running, fighting and growling (I didn’t know cows would growl – it’s really something to see) over the last of the apples.  Not pretty and sometimes a little scary if you find yourself standing between two cows holding one apple…


What’s your secret apple-enhancing weapon?

in which we say: My Haw!

in which we say: My Haw!

A drizzly morning spent foraging on our new pastures. My haul? Black walnuts, crisp tart apples and Hawthorne berries.

I’m a girl who likes to explore the other side. For example, do you think that irritating neighbor or coworker is that way for a reason?  Walk in their shoes a mile and you’ll find compassion, I say.  Well, let me tell you, I have given these mean-spirited trees my best. Am I beaten? Time will tell.

Our new pastures have many, many things that make me really happy. Sadly, Hawthorne trees aren’t one of them. What makes it a problem is that we have so, so many. And, like all true plagues, they reproduce like bunnies.

So today, I decided to make peace with the Hawthornes. I’ll learn more about them, find the value, surely there must be a reason these berries are so well protected. They must be a culinary treasure or something, right?

Have you seen the thorns on these trees?? One word: Vicious. Must be some berries.....

It was a chilly, drizzly fall morning, and as good a day as any to spend foraging some of the treasures I’ve had my eye on all summer. I started with the easy one; a bucket of black walnuts. Then, I moved on to an especially tasty apple tree and finished with the haw berries. Unlike all those blackberries and raspberries I was never able to beat the deer and birds to, there is no competition for these berries. Why not and should I be worried??

A type of pome, haw berries share the little 5 pointed star on the fruit’s bottom you’ll find also on related apples, pears, quince, rowan, rosehips and crabapple. Haws have a peppery, lemon tartness and are dry and mealy in texture. That’s got possibility, don’t you think? I am determined; these miserable trees will convert me with their secret, special, and as yet uncelebrated culinary greatness. Or at least keep me from getting scurvy on a long, vitamin C deprived sea voyage.

Oh, I know Hawthornes have a few more merits than I’m giving them credit for. They are a source of hardwood useful for tool handles in particular, they do provide a nice shelter for birds and wildlife, and it seems they also have some pharmaceutical promise, potentially acting as a digestive aid and/or strengthening cardiovascular function. In the spring, they are at their prettiest, full of blossoms good for making mead. In salads, the flowers and young leaves are edible and nutritious.

In the day, they were also trained to act as living fences for livestock. Living fences are charming to look at and effective. When I first learned about such fences, I was revving my engines to start planting my own. They’re the ultimate green solution, right? But as with all too-obvious solutions, soon enough the down side was apparent. Woe to the farmer who neglects his living Hawthorne fences! These foul tempered hedges pack a sharp bite; equally vicious to tender skin and tractor tires. And in no time at all, they spread like wildfire through your pastures.

The little ones thought foraging was fun - they followed after me all morning. This is Spritzer thinking he's invisible.

Maybe it was just a reflection of the day: dreary, miserable, rainy, bone-chillingly damp. But that’s not it – my foraging expedition was enjoyable and invigorating. Aside from my chilled fingers, I had managed to dress perfectly – not too hot, not too cold and toasty dry in my rain gear. Plus, my little bovine spies made it a pretty amusing morning.

Or, maybe it’s just that these little berries are truly cursed and not going to give their secrets up so easily. What I’m trying to say is that once these berries hit my kitchen, my whole day took a turn for the worse.

Talk about jamming up the works!

First I struggled with my usually well-behaved food mill – these berries are so dry and hard they jammed it up. I had to adjust and re-anchor the mill again and again; then I had to fuss with the different screens to find one that was big enough for the dry mess to work through but small enough to keep the pernicious seeds out of the sauce. Finally I settled on a two screen system. Big holes first, then a second run through medium-small. Fuss, fuss, fuss. But I persisted.

Hindsight, my milling problem was likely due to the fact that my recipe called for boiling the berries with water and vinegar first – my recipe had no pictures or guidance for texture.  I’m pretty sure now I cooked too much of my liquid away; a more liquid mixture would have helped. Still I persisted.

Then, as if I wasn’t frustrated enough, I added the sugar to my berry mix and returned the pot to the stove for a short boil.  We already know my berries were too dry; next I overcooked the sugar a tad and it started to cross over into candy territory. So, my sauce is really, really, REALLY thick & sticky.

And you think Heinz is too slow... anticipation doesn't even come close!

GRRR! Frustrating day – one small jar of brown guck took almost an entire afternoon and most of my composure. Not willing to invest any longer, I passed on the water bath and popped it straight into the fridge.

Now, what do I really think of haw berries? Actually, believe it or not, I’m gearing up for another go. The flavor is intriguing and I know now how to correct the texture. I’ve since read that a frost or two improves the berries, so I’ll wait for that since it doesn’t look like there’s any need to rush to beat the fur and feather crowd.

Check out the printable recipe for Haw ketchup here.

I know you all must think I’m on the River Cottage payroll since I’m always mentioning Pam Corbin’s Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2  this and Pam Corbin’s Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No.2  that, but it takes a true Brit to include a hedgerow berry like Hawthorne in their cookbook.

Maybe I’m just a little too American to appreciate my Hawthornes’ dry British humor at first meeting, but I couldn’t resist tweaking this recipe a bit here and there to make it more savory. The end result has a subtle, intriguing peppery sort of flavor with a soft lemony undertone. Perfect for pork, venison, and promises to mix well with rich cheeses – promises, promises.

Hopefully I haven’t talked you out of trying haw berries yourself. At the very least it will give you a good tale that lets your co-workers know you ARE the loon they always thought you were.  Or, you could just try the other, easier haw option – Vodka Infusion. You’d have to be pretty hawful to screw that up, hardy haw haw.

Haw berries enjoying a gentler moment....