In which I wonder: are you kidding me?

In which I wonder: are you kidding me?

From all over the place and Originally posted in the Daily Journal, Kankakee, Michigan.

 Can this be? Is somebody somewhere having a huge laugh watching this thing go viral? Or is this truly possible in our alternate American universe?

I would never believe that this was anything but a joke except for one thing. I actually know people struggling to maintain this kind of convoluted relationship between their brain, reality and food. Most of them would never go this far  but they can get pretty riled up in their heated rants against hunting.

Of course, I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t understand that somehow the package of plastic wrapped meat they found at the grocery store was at one time a living, breathing animal. They just choose to press that bit of fact out of their rational everyday thoughts.

For a long time, one of my pet peeves has been misleading marketing. As I’ve grown older and hopefully matured, I find my understanding and beliefs about marketing have deepened and evolved. Having spent much of my adult life working in sales and marketing, boy do I understand the spinning of a message. And the power of an image.

Today, I’m reading Kitchen Literacy by Ann Vileisis. While I’m not finished yet and have much more to say about the book, I couldn’t wait to mention it in relation to this classified ad (hoax or not) because it does much to explain how such ignorance could actually exist in our “smart” modern society.

Successful marketing consists of things like appealing display cases, helpful FAQS, buying guides, recipes and romanticized stories. Since the eating of animals is something we feel squeamish about, marketers know that we will grasp at the flimsiest evidence to either push the whole idea out of our heads completely or to support our belief that what we are doing is OK.

And they are more than happy to make full use of our desire to not know.

Marketers know that a pretty description including very little factual information, or an invented certification seal is usually all it takes to get us to turn a blind eye (whew!) to industry practices that no one would ever feel comfortable performing in their own home.

Marketers also know we no longer have any deep food knowledge with which to judge their products. We have no memory of what makes one cut of beef better than another. We are more than willing to be herded towards the most convenient solution offering the “best” of limited choices, mainly due to our preference to not know the back story.

Meat made at the store, where no animals were harmed…

Friends, pleaseBy far, the unkindest cut of all is willful ignorance.  It’s not cute when you giggle, “Don’t tell me, or I won’t be able to eat it” about your meat and dairy. If you can’t stand the knowledge, then you shouldn’t buy it or eat it. Delegating the dirty work isn’t innocence, and it’s not funny or charming.

I have to quote my meat hero, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of The River Cottage Meat Book fame; no thinking carnivore should be without this Bible in the kitchen.  Hugh says:

“The cruel practices I have mentioned have been increasingly publicized and clearly do not have popular support. Numerous polls and surveys indicate that the vast majority of the public objects to them and would like to see them banned. So surely they soon will be. Won’t they?


Not just yet, it seems. Because the same moral majority of the pollster’s main street becomes the immoral majority, once they get behind the wheels of a shopping cart. They continue to buy the products they are so quick to condemn. So these appalling, abusive practices, it turns out, do have popular support – albeit that the supporters are in denial (it seems that nothing suppresses the exercise of conscience as effectively as the words ‘Buy one, get one free’). But there’s no getting away from it: if you buy something, you support the system that produces it.”


I’m sorry,  I haven’t been much fun lately, but back to the original point. Is it a hoax, or is it genuine? I suppose it doesn’t really matter. It, and the scorn and ridicule it has attracted on the internet has reminded me of our complicated relationship with our food and the natural world.

Looks like a long, hard road ahead Ladies…..

This post is part of Fresh Foods Wednesday, a lively blog hop hosted by our friends at Gastronomical Sovereignty. If you’re looking for tips, recipes, projects and ideas about real food and farming, you need to get over there.


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 trot out that old chestnut (jam) once again…

In which we trot out that old chestnut (jam) once again…


Sometimes Nature wraps her treasures in tricky packaging.  Wrapped like this,  she must think pretty highly of chestnuts…


One thing I’m accepting as I learn more about turn of the century food ways is that I can’t expect to whiz in at the last minute, open a can of this and a jar of that and whip up a throwback masterpiece.

Well, not fully true; if I have the foresight to plan ahead and make sure the cans and jars have been put up well in advance, the last-minute slam dunk is still possible. That’s why I’m doing my farm-ly duty by reminding you that September is winding down, October means Halloween is just a few short weeks away and Thanksgiving is hot on its heels.

I say that not to make you hyperventilate in a state of overwhelm, but to inspire you to deliberately avoid said state of overwhelm and plan to enjoy a slower, more purposeful holiday season.

There’s no denying it; the leaves are beginning to turn and that unmistakable spicy smell of fall is in the air. In our area, it’s time for apples, crab apples, black walnuts, hickory nuts, grapes and chestnuts. All exciting and good, but it’s the chestnuts that are on my mind today.

Soon enough, the smell of roasting chestnuts will be teasing from city streets, those glossy nuts in their prickly coats will hit the ground and squirrels will be in a tail flicking frenzy of gathering and burying. Visions of varnished turkeys bursting with chestnut stuffing will be served in magazines across the land. But, did you know that the chestnuts you’ll be eating this holiday will not be from the mighty American Chestnut trees once so abundant, but instead from Oriental or European varieties and hybrids?

The Venerable American Chestnut today….

Today, we consider the Oak to be the outstanding example of great North American trees, but the American Chestnut once was mightier. Before 1904, when a horrible air-borne blight arrived from the Orient in a shipment of plants, the American chestnut was treasured for both its excellent hardwood timber and nut production.

These valuable trees grew huge and wild and made up nearly half of the national forests between Maine and Georgia. In addition, there were also large commercial chestnut orchards dedicated to growing highly valued “tree corn”. Sadly, after the arrival of the infested Oriental plants, the defenseless American chestnuts all died with devastating effect to already strapped Appalachian homesteaders. They were reliant on the chestnut’s starchy sustenance; chestnuts make a good flour, are excellent roasted and make yummy candy and sweets.

Last year, I took on the chestnut challenge. And yes, it is a challenge. Sometimes Nature wraps her treasures in tricky packaging and all I can say is that chestnuts must be pretty valuable to Her. Of course, my chestnuts were the free kind, gathered from a friend’s yard. I have aspirations for Marrons Glace (fancy for candied chestnuts) this year and will confess to thinking springing for these already peeled babies from Chestnut Growers, Inc. is a pretty fine idea.

Chestnut Jam is an impressive, unique and deliciously sweet spread. While it is very good served simply on crusty bread, I enjoyed it most combined with a tiny bit of chocolate in dessert-y ways like over vanilla ice cream (with fudge sauce), as filling for tarts, chocolate cake or on meringue topped with whipped cream. This recipe is once again from one of my favorites, Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No 2.; Pam Corbin’s contribution to the excellent River Cottage Handbooks series. Have I mentioned how much I love Pam Corbin? I don’t actually know Pam but all the same….

The printable recipe is here in our archives.

And so, such is the sad tale of the once grand American Chestnut. A very real example of the results of our human need to rearrange the universe’s furniture, not being satisfied until we eventually jam up the works. If you’d like to learn more, this is a surprisingly enjoyable read by Susan Freinkel: American Chestnut: The Life, Death and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree.

And to give due respect to the deceased, why not make this the fall you show the chestnuts the love they deserve? I promise, once you’ve got a chestnut habit, there’s no going back…

Curiously addictive and unique: Chestnut Jam


Update: A couple of you have expressed concern about the photo of the “chestnut” at the top. It is clip art, and since I do not have chestnut trees I was not sensitive to the nuances of look-alikes. Renee’s comment ‘splains it best:

“I just wanted point out that the first chesnut pictured is actually a Horse Chestnut, and it is toxic. You can tell because the pod is not hairy/prickly. They have a terrible bitterness about them, but they taste fine for the first 30 seconds of chewing…that’s the dangerous part, by the time they taste toxic, most people have already swallowed some. If swallowed, one will not die, but they will experience some pretty painful GI distress and vomiting.”

Okay friends, be sure to practice safe chestnut, K?

In which we stockpile Hope

In which we stockpile Hope

Organic tomatoes straight from the backyard. What to make to preserve their summery essence to enjoy this winter?

I’m in over my head, I admit it. Those old school farm wives; how did they get it all done? I suppose it helps to be free of distraction from Blackberries (I don’t mean the tasty kind), cable and high-speed internet and maybe having a workforce of hard-working children helped a little too.

Anyway, being the farmer and the wife may just be more than I can handle. Something’s got to give… and so it will. For this year, it will have to be preserves. I just don’t have time for the many consuming preserving projects I managed last year.  Instead, I’ve got fences to build, pastures to clear, trees to remove and roofs to mend. Next year we’ll be back in the preserving saddle with produce harvested from our own land – very exciting.

But today a welcome rainy Sunday gave me the perfect excuse to catch up with the guilt-inducing tomato stockpile on my porch. Since fancy extras like ketchup and sauce are out, I have to be really selective and spend my time making the one tomato-y thing that will make me the happiest. What might that be?? I’m a girl who likes possibilities, so picking just one of anything is a painful prospect.

So, I think back to the darkest days of frigid winter and try to remember what quick, simple home-grown tomato dish gave me the greatest surge of Hope when I really needed it.

A fresh batch of Hope draining away

Hope  with a capital H that soon enough the dark, frozen nights will turn gentle, soft and dewy and my porch will once again be filled with buckets of tomatoes, still warm from the garden.

Well, that kind of thinking made my decision easy; so easy in fact, no decision-making was necessary.   So, here it is, my recipe for Hope.

Before beginning, I’d like to make this one plea: Resist the urge to chef this one up until you’ve made it once exactly as it is. Yes, it’s a VERY simple, plain recipe, but therein lies the charm. The simplicity allows the special summertime quality of the tomatoes to shine which is exactly why I love it so much. Oh, and this sauce is beautiful with fresh mozzarella…

After rinsing and weighing the tomatoes, cut an x in the bottom of each with a sharp knife and toss into a pot of boiling water for a minute to loosen the skins.

With a slotted spoon, fish tomatoes out of boiling water and drop into cold water. You don’t want to cook the tomatoes, just loosen the skin.

The split skins will peel right away – then toss into your food mill. I use a Roma and run the tomatoes through two or three times to extract every last drop… If you don’t have a food mill, just do your best to skin, seed and chop as finely as you can. The texture won’t be exactly the same, but don’t let that stop you – it’s still going to be awesome.

The tomatoes after processing. Add kosher salt and ladle into your cheesecloth lined colander.

Maybe you’re not like me with large pieces of cheesecloth lying around. Not to worry, you can use a simple cotton dish towel or pillow case but be prepared for it to be forever stained. I toss my clean cheesecloth into the boiling water for a few minutes before using. Line a colander with the cheesecloth and you’re ready to pour in your tomato mixture. Place the colander over a large bowl or bucket and drain for at least a couple of hours or overnight.

The finished sauce. I freeze this in one cup portions in small freezer bags to use all winter. Thaw it in the bag and gently spoon over cooked pasta tossed with olive oil or butter. If you must heat the sauce, simply warm a little olive oil in a sauce pan and stir in the sauce until just warmed.

Home made pasta, uncooked fresh tomato sauce frozen from last summer’s harvest and some good quality parmesan or pecorino – perfection in its simplicity!

This recipe makes four servings to be eaten right away but is also very simple to repeat as many times as you like ( I just figure out how many pounds of tomatoes I have and work it backwards), throw the milled batches together into one large colander, drain over a large bucket then freeze the concentrated sauce in single serving portions.

I  store one cup portions in freezer bags. This size will feed the two of us dinner with plenty of  leftovers for the next few days.  Looking at the chicken scratch I wrote on my recipe, apparently I used 24 pounds of tomatoes last year and today I know it was not nearly enough. A word of warning: a little of this sauce goes a long way. I use 2 or 3 Tablespoons to dress a serving of pasta. Really.

Because you are straining away most of the water, the volume will be greatly reduced.  I started with a nearly full 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes, and ended up with about 5 cups of sauce. This will vary based on the water content of the tomatoes and the amount of time you leave them drain.

Tomato water, tomato essence, plasma – it’s all in the name. This tasty cast off from our sauce is a treasure too!

What a treat to whip a container of this out of the freezer for a quick, fresh pasta, pizza or bruschetta that tastes like the tomatoes were literally just picked warm from the summer sun. The only thing that can improve it is home-made pasta and a really good Parmesan or pecorino.  Eating a steaming bowl while looking at a foot of snow on the ground outside is guaranteed to give you the encouragement you need to make it through ’till next tomato season, I promise!

When you’ve finished making this sauce, especially if you made a bunch for freezing, you’ll have lots of nutritious tomato essence (the water left after straining the tomato solids for the sauce) left.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know it’s a thrill for me when the throwaway from one dish can advance to star in another.  For example I’m currently smitten with the idea of heirloom tomatoes suspended in tomato water essence from Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand. My relationship with this dish is limited to the mind opening, jaw dropping awe I felt just reading about it in black and white and then, a couple of weeks later the total crush I have on this post with full color photo from Jake when he made it for his inspiring and entertaining blog, Leave Me the Oink.

Jake from Leave Me the Oink made these gorgeous heirloom tomatoes suspended in tomato water aspic – WOW!  Tell me you’re not impressed! 

How often will you have all this fresh tomato essence just lying around begging to become an epic dish like Jake’s aspic? Come on, you can do it!  Ok, I admit the aspic may be a little ambitious.  How about one of these easier but still great summery uses from Sue Veed at then?

* As a base for Bloody Marys

* As an added flavoring for beer or vodka

* As a base for gazpacho or cocktail sauce

* As a poaching liquid for shrimp, calamari or lobster

* As a dressing for fresh oysters

* As a marinade for white fish

* As a vinaigrette mix-in

* As a rice seasoner

* Chilled and over ice, with basil

Or, simply use it in place of any liquid next time you make stock, bread, rice, bulgur, barley or risotto. These are kitchen basics you know you’re going to do anyway, so why not add a little free oomph? But, whatever you do, please, please don’t let me find out you poured all that great home-grown organic tomato water down the drain!

An icy glass of tomato essence…. yummy and refreshing straight up, and so many great uses in coctails…

In which we can’t stop thinking about apples

In which we can’t stop thinking about apples

'Tis the season for windfalls

I have an ongoing romance with the notion of apples. Maybe even more than with the apples themselves. Ruddy cheeked and fragrant, apples are a treat for both the eye and the palate. And the variety of projects apples inspire in us: festivals, cider hard and sweet, sauce, butter, pie, dried, spiced, stuffed, baked, fried, vinegar, wine, cakes, the possibilities truly are endless.

I realize I’m jumping ahead with the apple talk just when the long-awaited peaches are hitting their stride.  Apples are the fruit of fall here in Pennsylvania. Crisp, snappy days = crisp, tart apples. Trust me; I’m never one to rush a seasonal moment, but there is a timely reason I’d like to talk about apples today.

Bling raiding the apples again....She thinks nobody knows...Who's she fooling?

Raising great apples is an art that fortunately is practiced with care by knowledgeable orchardists around here. I’m not one of them, but I am enthusiastic about the possibility. Fortunately for me, apples are pretty tough and for the most part want to thrive. If I can just figure out how to stay out of their way, I should have more than enough for our needs. That is if I can keep some cloven hooved Ladies we know out of the trees….

What?? Who, me?

One little considered industrial use for apples is the making of commercial pectin. This pectin is mostly imported in bulk from Europe and packaged in the United States. But really, what is it? As it turns out, pectin is a water-soluble substance found in the tissues of all fruits, though some have much more than others. It acts as a thickening and jelling agent. Typically, pectin is extracted either from tart apples or the white pith found under the peel of citrus fruit, both naturally high in pectin. As the citrus pith tends to retain a bit of bitterness, most commercial pectin is derived from apples. Commercial pectin was a great boon to many overworked home preservers upon its introduction in the early 1900’s. It’s use made preserving much more forgiving and yielded more standard, reliable results.

Ever useful apple pectin stock.

The great pectin debate among jammers is an interesting one. Myself, I tend to pass on the commercial pectin, but I don’t really have any super scientific reason for my avoidance.  I just really don’t like stiff, rubbery jam or jelly and going without commercial pectin gives a gentle, softer texture that I love. And, a failed batch of jam isn’t really a crises in my book – I love ice cream topping, glazes and syrup almost as much, so what’s the big deal?

Smugly confident with my anti-commercial pectin decision, I read Linda Amendt’s most helpful book, Blue Ribbon Preserves.  Linda is firmly in favor of using commercial pectin, particularly in its liquid form. She is also decidedly against the use of homemade pectin stock. If you haven’t read her book, and you are a student of the science of preserving, you really should. It’s indispensable in my kitchen not just for the recipes (which are plentiful and good) but for the why’s and insider tips that help me deviate safely. Needless to say, Linda cast more than a shadow of doubt on my opinionated prejudice against commercial pectin.

I think of making jam and jelly as a Devotion and form of gratitude rather than an assembly line process. Commercial pectin is a shortcut, an equalizer that lowers the quality of the excellent and raises the quality of the poor to achieve a consistent good enough. A bailout of sorts.

It makes me sad that consistent has come to define good with regard to food in America. Agreed, embracing true regional and artisanal food means risking a really disappointing experience from time to time. Maybe even the occasional bellyache. But, that’s the price I’m willing to pay to enjoy that sublime surprise you’ll rarely find at any chain restaurant or grocery.

Ruthless thinning makes the remaining apples healthier and larger. For healthy organic apples, it's important to pick up the windfalls anyway so you may as well make jelly, right?

If you have an apple tree of your own, or a friend willing to share theirs, apple pectin stock is a great way to use the immature, tart apples that fall or are thinned mid summer. Losing excess apples makes the remaining crop healthier and the fruits larger. Using the unripe green apples to make home-made pectin stock makes sure nothing goes to waste.

Forgive my geekiness, but I think that’s pretty exciting in spite of what Linda Amendt thinks. I use the apple pectin stock to glaze sweet pastries and savory roasted meats and make preserves and jelly from fruits, herbs or veggies without enough pectin to jell on their own. And, it’s already jelly, so if I never make anything further from it, it’s still good on toast or in cocktails. But my most pressing reason for making it is so I can use it later to make onion marmalade.

Pectin stock is not so much a recipe as a formula; learn the proportions and the procedure is easily adaptable.  I’m thinking of tart green apples today, but stock can be made from other fruits as well; crabapple, red currant, citrus, certain plums, quince, gooseberries – anything with a high natural pectin content. The thing about apples that makes them so useful is that their flavor is mild and willing to take a back seat so other flavors can shine.

I love that I’m not importing something from afar, I know my apples haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and they’re free – my favorite price! I accept the variability of the levels of starch in my apples and the varying content of pectin from one apple to the next. If the worst penalty is using up a batch as ice cream topping or syrup when my jam didn’t set, that’s a penalty I can happily accept. Honestly, it’s rarely happened.

What about you? Commercial pectin or no? I’d love to hear your enlightened opinions in the comments below…..

Quirky, knobby, high pectin windfalls