Zacusca! A tasty way to preserve eggplants

The first few times we went to a potluck dinner at the community down the road, we were served a savory treat called zacusca. It was brought out from the pantry in pint jars and reverently placed on the table, next to the precious homemade goat cheese. Clearly, this was something special.

We broke bread, spread goat cheese, and then topped it with zacusca.  Wow! I had never tasted anything quite like it. It’s not baba ganoush exactly, not a caponata sauce exactly, but somewhat similar.  Apparently it is Romanian in origin, and is a great way to preserve an abundant harvest of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and onion.

My friend Beth and I decided to tackle some zacusca this year.  We purchased two large banana boxes full of eggplant, peppers, and onion (which cost less than $13 for over 20 lbs of produce – unbelievable!) from our Amish neighbor, and got some huge paste tomatoes from another neighbor.  We followed this recipe on Food.com, but adjusted it according to the amounts of produce we had and changed around some of the directions. I figured it was hard to mess up such a dish.

Please do check out the recipe on Food.com for full instructions, but the basic gist of zacusca-making is as follows:

  • Blacken eggplant over a grill or fire
  • Dice, then saute peppers and onions
  • (I also made tomato paste, but you could easily purchase it in cans)
  • Food process EVERYTHING and then,
  • Mix thoroughly, adding salt and pepper and lots of olive oil to taste.
  • (We decided to saute the vegetables prior to food processing, so we did not cook it again)
  • Pressure can for 45 minutes in sterilized mason jars

Zacusca1 Zacusca2 Zacusca3

I have to admit: this was an enormous job. The steps for preparing each vegetable took time and effort and I was very happy to have two adults (sometimes three) on the job. But the flavor is rich, savory, and intense, perfect for use as a dip with pita, a spread for bread, or a topping for polenta or pasta. I imagine cracking open a precious jar in February and tasting the end-of-summer harvest.

Peach Peel Jelly

I am happy to welcome Heather, of The Homesteading Hippy.  Heather has such a great selection of blog posts about urban farming, canning, raising livestock, recipes.  She is also the author of two (!!) eBooks – The Urban Chicken, which I reviewed earlier this year, and a new (free) eBook called Cooking From Scratch.

Today, she shares with us her recipe for Peach Peel Jelly. Welcome, Heather!

With the “waste not, want not” mentality that I like to have and with peaches in full season, this recipe for peach peel jelly is one you’ll want to keep nearby!  First, start by getting some ripe, delicious peaches and rinsing them off.

As you are canning your peaches, and removing the skins and other parts you don’t want to can (brown spots or soft spots) save them into a large pot.  When you are done with the peaches, fill the pot with the scraps with water to cover.  Bring to a boil for 30 minutes, and then let sit covered, overnight.

The next day, strain the peachy water through a cheesecloth or jelly bag.  Don’t squeeze!  This could make your jelly cloudy.

This is what will come out…gorgeous color, right???

Take 3 cups of your peachy water and add 1 box of pectin.  Bring to a rolling boil, then add 3 cups of sugar.  Bring back to a boil and set the timer for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Spoon the foam off the top, and ladle the hot syrup into hot pint jars.  Water bath for 20 minutes, remove and let cool.  Store up to a year.

Enjoy that peachy goodness!!

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Heather of The Homesteading Hippy is living the rural life, in an urban setting.  She and her family live in a small town in Northern Indiana where they garden, keep assorted poultry and rabbits.  Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest,and  Google+.

Naturally Fermented Sauerkraut and Pickles

If your garden is anything like mine, you probably have cucumbers coming out your ears right now!  Our outdoor kitchen counter top is chock-full of quart-sized mason jars, filled to the brim with sliced cucumbers, spices, and brine, and bubbling away.  Because pickles are so on my mind, I thought I’d re-share this post from last August, in hopes that it might inspire your own pickle making.

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The art of fermentation

We have been inspired for years by “fermentation revivalist” Sandor Ellix Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, and most recently, The Art of Fermentation. Way back in 2000, my husband came across a small fermentation zine written by Sandor.  That zine launched Brian into full-scale fermentation mode for a number of years.  I can’t even count the number of strange fermented foods that resided in my fridge and on my table for a time. While we have not continued to ferment with such wild abandon, there are a number of fermented foods that continue to play a regular part in our lives: sourdough bread, homemade wine, goat cheeses, salami, sauerkraut, and pickles.

When you grow cabbages as big as this one, what can you possibly do but turn them into delicious and nutritious sauerkraut? 

Naturally fermented, or lacto-fermented sauerkraut is one of the simplest fermented foods you can make.  By packing cabbage and sea salt into a crock and letting it ferment naturally, you can preserve your homegrown vegetables, retaining vitamins, minerals, and enzymes in the process.  Naturally fermented sauerkraut is a living, raw food, laden with probiotics, so it is great for your digestive system.  Plus it tastes amazing. Seriously – it’s the best sauerkraut you will ever eat.

The essence of the recipe is this: slice up some cabbage; for every 5 lbs of sliced cabbage, sprinkle 3 tbsp. of salt over the top.  Mix it up, pack it tightly in a glass jar or ceramic crock, and let the wild fermentation begin!  If you’d like to follow a more detailed plan, the Wild Fermentation website has a great recipe.

After living with my fermentation-obsessed husband for many years, I have picked up some fermenting skills of my own, and I’m proud to say that I am the resident pickle maker in this home.  I love creating new blends of spice and flavor for each batch. This particular blend includes black peppercorns, lots of garlic (about 3 cloves per quart jar), coriander, dried red hot peppers, some fresh dill, and a grape leaf to keep things crisp).

If I have smaller cucumbers, I like to keep them whole in the jars.  But you can also cut them into spears, or bread-and-butter style.  Simply add your garlic and spices to the jar, arrange the cucumbers, and cover completely with brine. The brine is the essential part, so you do need to get this part right: to make one gallon of brine, dissolve 3/4 cup of salt in one gallon of water.

I like to leave my pickles on the counter, with a lid slightly ajar.  Each day I tighten the lid, turn the jar over to make sure all of the cukes are moistened with the salt brine, and then return them back to their original position.  After a few days, you will begin to see small fizzy bubbles form in the jar, as fermentation begins.  After a week or so, I sample a pickle to see if it’s reached my desired level of sour flavor, then pop the jars in the fridge for storage.  They will keep for months, but trust me, they will not last that long!

If you’d like to learn more about lactic-acid fermentation, I highly recommend Sandor’s books Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation.  And do listen to him on NPR’s Fresh Air (part one and part two), as he is as articulate and inspiring as someone can possibly be about a pickle.

Now go on and ferment!

Eat, Cook, and Preserve Peaches: Ten Delicious Recipes

Peach TitlePeaches are one of my family’s favorite summer fruits, and we eat them by the dozens when they are in season. Last week, my husband Brian brought home 3/4 of a bushel of ripe Missouri peaches that are dripping with juice, and sweet with a bit of tart.  I was not quite sure what I’d do with so many peaches – somehow the idea of canning in the 90 degree heat just did not appeal to me.  So I asked some of my homestead blogging friends for their favorite recipes, and compiled this list of ten different ways to enjoy peaches, fresh, cooked, and preserved.

FRESH PEACH RECIPES
Peach Basil SalsaFirst, a Fresh Peach Basil Salsa that we’ve been making every day because I am so in love with the flavor.  Brian actually told me he thought it was the most delicious non-tomato salsa that he’d ever tasted. I created it with inspiration from a few similar recipes online, and it is perfect on grilled white fish, or as a dip for tortilla chips.

4 ripe Peaches, pitted and diced

3 tbsp fresh Basil, minced

1/4 Red Onion, minced

a splash of Balsamic Vinegar (around 1 tsp)

Salt to taste

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Dani of The Adventure Bite shared her recipe for a Sweet Marscarpone Peach Tart, one of the most popular on her blog.  It is truly beautiful in appearance, and would be perfect for a summer celebration.


COOKED PEACH RECIPES

What is summer without cobblers and crisps? Here are a few tasty looking recipes to try:

Angi at Schneiderpeeps.com shared a simple Peach Cobbler recipe.

Julie at Growing Days adapted her Peach Crisp recipe from one by Alice Waters; it’s simple, but decadent.

And this Roasted Apricot Tart from Jennifer at Black Fox Homestead could just as easily use peaches – oh my, does it look good!

PRESERVED PEACH RECIPES
I was amazed at some of the innovative recipes that were shared with me. I’m usually just a peach and honey or sugar kind of preserving gal, but these recipes are making me reconsider!

For instance, this Pickled Peach Recipe from Jenn at Frugal Upstate.  The pickling spices are cinnamon, clove, and ginger.  Yum!

Jennifer at Black Fox Homestead contributed this unique jam recipe – a Peach Rosemary Jam that she says would make a great poultry glaze, or topping for a croissant or scone.

Untrained Housewife‘s how-to post on Home Canned Peaches walks you through some of the basics of canning fresh peaches, with the skin on.

Peach-Refrigerator-Jam-Recipeimage courtesy of Erica Mueller

Erica from MomPrepares shared her very simple Refrigerator Peach Jam that only has four ingredients and can be made in under an hour. I love freezer and refrigerator jams because they capture the very essence of the fruit.

Peaches-to-Freeze

Finally, the method of preserving that I opt for most frequently – Frozen Sliced Peaches.  After quickly blanching peaches in boiling water, I peel, pit, and slices them.  They get a splash of lemon juice and some sweetener – either honey or sugar.  Then I place them in quart sized Ziploc bags until it’s smoothie making time!

Ten ways to eat and preserve peaches. Which shall I try next?

What is your favorite Peach Recipe? 

If you like, you can share in the comments below.

This post was shared on the Homeacre Hop, Homestead Bloggers Network, From the Farm Blog Hop.

Solar Oven Blueberry Banana Mini Muffins

BlueberryPicker

It’s blueberry season here in Northeast Missouri, and we’ve been picking!  Three visits to the local U-Pick, and many more visits to the bushes at our friend’s house.  I like to go into the winter months with at least 6 to 8 gallons of frozen berries for baking, smoothies, pancakes, and eating.  And of course eating them fresh is one of the true joys of summertime.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I am a big time baker – cookies, muffins, granola, and quick breads are my favorites.  Camping on our land has made food selection and preparation somewhat trickier – for instance, it’s really hard to keep meat for more than a day with no refrigeration (we use coolers filled with frozen jugs of water that we change out every day or two).  But baking on hot sunny days is easy, fun, and almost effortless thanks to our Sun Oven. (And no, I’m not getting paid to say this – I just truly adore my Sun Oven).

Using a Sun Oven on a hot sunny day is pretty much exactly like baking in your home oven.  I make sure to move the Sun Oven periodically so it tracks the sun, and thus achieves maximum temperatures (which for me is usually around 300 – 325 degrees on a very sunny day). I have also learned to use smaller pans for more even cooking – pie tins, small loaf pans, and mini muffins work great.

When I found myself with a brown mushy banana and a cup of fresh blueberries the other day, I threw together this recipe.  Moist and naturally sweet, with bites of tart berry.  Delicious!

Mini Muffins

1/4 cup butter

1/3 cup honey

1/2 tsp vanilla

1 overripe banana, mushed

1 large egg

1/4 cup milk

1 1/4 cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half white)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3/4  cup fresh blueberries

Prepare mini muffin tin by greasing with oil of your choice.  Melt butter and honey in your solar oven (or on the stovetop). Add this mixture to mashed banana, egg, vanilla, and milk. Combine wet ingredients.

In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients – flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add dry ingredients to wet mixture and stir just to combine.  Fold in blueberries, taking care not to overmix.

Bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes (or adjust as necessary if you’re using a solar oven).

This amount of batter made 12 mini muffins, plus one mini loaf bread.

Enjoy!

 

This post was shared on the Homestead Bloggers Network, Homestead Barn Hop, From the Farm Blog Hop, and Natural Living Monday.

“I Can’t Wait Any Longer” Salsa Recipe

Around this time of year, my taste buds get a hankering for the fresh, piquant taste of homemade salsa.  While I do can tomato and tomatillo salsa for year-round use, there is nothing like walking into the garden to select a ripe red tomato, dicing it into chunks, adding some cilantro, salt, onion, and a jalapeno and devouring an entire bowl of salsa fresca in one sitting. It is something we do on a daily basis during peak tomato season.

The only problem is that I don’t have ripe red tomatoes (yet)!  But I do have beautiful cilantro from the garden I manage, sweet onions in my spring garden, garlic from last summer in Oregon, and just-ripening Gypsy sweet peppers.  In a moment of salsa desperation, I thought maybe, just maybe I could cheat a little bit and use canned tomatoes and achieve a similar taste sensation? Give it a try and see for yourself!

Salsa Recipe

1 16 oz can of diced tomatoes (I used Muir Glen Organics Fire Roasted)

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1 small sweet onion, minced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 small sweet or hot pepper of your choice

Salt to flavor

Lime Juice to flavor

Combine all ingredients, sample until you’re satisfied with the flavor, and enjoy!

 

Shared on Homestead Barn Hop, Natural Living Monday, Homestead Bloggers Network, From the Farm Blog Hop, and The Backyard Farming Connection.

Making a Wedding Cake: Part Four – The Big Day

Saturday was the Big Day.  We made our lists and checked them twice, gathered our supplies, took the cake out of the fridge Friday night, and the icing out on Saturday morning.  We loaded the cake layers, lemon curd, and icing into large coolers and headed over to the wedding site.

Despite pounding rain and thunder, everyone involved in wedding preparation was in great spirits, and we busily got to work with more than one interested onlooker.  Our first task was whipping the cold icing back into warm fluffiness with our hand mixer.  I had read that this would be no problem – just give it a little beating to restore the texture.  I readied the first layer while Brian beat, until he stopped, gave me a panicked look and said, “Something is wrong!” Our gorgeous, creamy Swiss Buttercream icing was weeping liquid. Oozing, really, and it was the texture that of runny scrambled eggs.  Not good. And of course, the radiant bride walked in at that very moment to check how things were going.  Brian literally hid the bowl and muttered, “Great!” We smiled, continued beating and hoped for the best.  After a tense five minutes, the icing returned to a smooth creamy texture, thank goodness. (A more experienced baker friend told us today that we probably broke our meringue!)

The rest of the cake assembly seemed like, well, like cake!  Layer after layer of cake was edged with icing, and the center was filled with alternating layers of jam or lemon curd.

WeddingCake2

And stacked very, very high…

WeddingCake3

Our two naked cakes, ready for decoration!

After the ceremony (for which the rain stopped and the sun shone!), I gathered lemon balm, lavender, violet leaves, chamomile blossoms, and roses, which were arranged on the cake like so…

WeddingCake4

And like so…

Wedding-Cake

It’s funny how this cake almost took on a life of its own. Part of that is probably my doing. I have to admit that I got a bit obsessive about making this cake.  It just seemed so important to make the most delicious, most beautiful cake we possibly could.  And, not to brag too much, but it really was one of the most delicious cakes I’ve ever tasted.  So moist, flavorful, tangy, and sweet.

WeddingCake5

WeddingCake6

The kids agreed!

As we were preparing to leave, I went into the dining room to check if I left anything behind.  There sat the remainder of the cake – just a quarter of a tier, really – calling out to me.  I found myself a Ziploc bag, cut off a small chunk, and took it home to eat for breakfast today.  Just perfect.

If you feel inspired to make your very own Lemon Wedding Cake, here are links to the recipes we used:

Lemon Cake: From Martha Stewart Weddings  We multiplied the recipe by six for enough batter for two of the following: 8, 10, 12 and 11 inch rounds. We sifted almond meal and used it in place of 1/4 of the flour called for in the recipe.

Lemon Curd: Another Martha Stewart recipe. We made seven batches and still had plenty left over.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream: Martha again!  We doubled the recipe to make 10 cups.  Read the tutorial on this site if you’re planning on trying this recipe for the first time!

Simple Syrup: We brushed this on the cake sides to keep them moist.  Bring 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar to a boil.  When the liquid cools, add 1 tsp vanilla or lemon juice.

Jam: Take your pick!  We used Blueberry, Apricot and a Blueberry-Strawberry mixture.  Divine!

 

Making a Wedding Cake: Part One – Planning

Making a Wedding Cake: Part Two – Tasting

Making a Wedding Cake: Part Three – Baking