Bookshelf

Spring by the Pint

Preserving the taste of spring, one small batch at a time

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TM_BK_PRESPINT_AP_001Table Matters readers will recognize Marisa McClellan from her columns here – The Larder and The Whole Chicken Project – and from her much-loved blog about canning and more, Food in Jars. Her latest book, Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces focuses on canning, not bushels of vegetables, but pounds and pints – amounts we can all get at the farmers’ market. Preserving by the Pint is available now on Amazon and at your local bookstore.

There is a year-round farmers’ market just a couple of blocks from my apartment. I go to it nearly every Saturday morning to pick up eggs, honey, and whatever local, seasonal produce is available. In the summer and fall, the bounty is downright flamboyant, with tables piled high to overflowing with lettuces, zucchini, and peaches. Winter means pears, Brussels sprouts, and sturdy orange squash. The most meager time of year is very early spring. The storage apples are sad and good only for baking, and there are still weeks to go before the first stalks of asparagus arrive. It can be a challenge to keep up the weekly market visit when so little is new and truly fresh.
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One of my fondest fall memories from childhood is that of driving out to an agricultural island near our house in Portland. There was an antique apple orchard on the grounds of an old farm turned park, and visitors were allowed to pick any windfall apples from the grounds.

We’d fill paper grocery bags until they were nearly ready to split open and then head home to make applesauce. I’d help my mom with the peeling and chopping, until we had enough to fill our very largest pot.
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During my early life, my exposure to sauerkraut was limited to the rare occasions when my dad took me to a baseball game. We’d get Dodger dogs with yellow mustard, relish, chopped onions and a dab of sauerkraut.

The next time I had sauerkraut with any regularity was in college. Every couple of weeks, the cafeteria would do a German theme night, complete with sausage, pierogi, dark brown bread, and lots of sauerkraut. I’d load my plate up with a pile of that krauty goodness.

However, it wasn’t until my twenties that I found a groove with sauerkraut. MORE

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If you’re like most of the English-speaking world, when you hear the word jam, your mind goes first to a sugary sweet fruit spread that is best spread on toast or stirred into yogurt.

However, I’d like to float an entirely different idea of jam. I propose that we open up our minds to a world of jams that includes spicy, tangy, and even savory flavors. These are jams (and butters) that can enhance grilled cheese sandwiches. They can enliven roast chicken. They can even take the place of ketchup as a burger and roasted potato topping. MORE

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Grape tomatoes. Most of year they are readily available and entirely average. But as soon as the hotter days arrive, truly exceptional tiny tomatoes start trickling into local markets. By high summer, it’s a welcome deluge.

I buy a pint or two every time I shop, to have on hand for quick meals. I toss them into salads, scramble them into eggs, and dip them into hummus. I also have a few favorite recipes in which I make repeatedly over the summer months, in order to get my fill before the season ends. MORE

Bookshelf

East Meets South

Korea meets Kentucky in Edward Lee's Smoke and Pickles

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One of the things I’ve learned over my long career as a cookbook appreciator (I started buying cookbooks with my allowance when I was eleven) is that some cookbooks feature terrific stories and lousy recipes. Others offer the reverse. They are bursting with highly usable, carefully written recipes, but offer very little in the way of personality and humanity.

It’s a rare cookbook that manages to walk the line between good storytelling and an accessible recipe collection that truly works. Smoke & Pickles, a recently released volume by former Top Chef “cheftestant” Edward Lee, straddles that line with ease. MORE

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When I was very young, I was entirely preoccupied by the color pink. I wanted all my clothes to be pink, played only with my Strawberry Shortcake doll, and longed for my meals to be exclusively pink. My parents responded to this phase by dyeing my pajamas pink, buying me a pair of inexpensive Strawberry Shortcake sneakers, and serving me a dish of strawberries with nearly every meal.

These days, I’m not nearly so mad for the color pink. In fact, the only vestige of my early obsession is the fact that come strawberry season, I go a little berry crazy. I buy pounds and pounds and make jams, purees, tarts, pies, salads, and dressings.
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When I was eleven years old, my family moved to a house that had once been owned by a botanist. She left behind antique apple trees, a row of lilac bushes and a rhubarb patch the size of a queen bed. Every April, the rhubarb would start to unfurl from the soil and I knew that spring was really and truly on its way.
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Raw shrimp, moss foam, pine oil, and unfamiliar herbs. These are the hallmarks of a bigger trend currently sweeping Nordic-inspired restaurants all around the world. As a Dane I tend to ask myself: are these really the only things people should associate with the New Nordic Cuisine?

I say, emphatically, no. In fact, I am on a mission to show the world what New Nordic Cuisine can mean to a home cook. I’ve been teaching cooking classes on the topic for several years, and I’m surrounded daily by the research and development of the New Nordic diet and cuisine at my home university in Copenhagen, where I’m a graduate student in Food Science and Technology. The research underway is mainly focused on the potential nutritional benefits of the New Nordic diet. MORE

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The first summer I started canning in earnest, I made a lot of jam. I used more than fifty pounds of sugar and filled hundreds of jars. Many of those half-pints became favors for my wedding, but even with all that giving away, I still had a whole lot of jam left to consume throughout the year.

As much as I liked having a full pantry, I came to realize that it was too darn much for the just one jam lover to manage (no matter how much I try to convince him of their virtues, my husband does not cotton to the sweet spreads). And with all that sugar, this girl just couldn’t live on jam alone. What was a newly obsessed canner to do?

I quickly discovered that the answer was to switch my allegiance from super sweetened jams to fruit butters. Fruit butters start life as fruit purees or sauces (no dairy products are involved). You cook them slowly over low heat, concentrating the sweetness of the fruit and creating a spreadable texture by evaporating out much of the water. In the end, they need only a touch of sweetener (sugar, honey or agave nectar all work). On occasion, I also add a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg. MORE

The Larder

Flavored Salts

Simple seasonings make a big difference

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I grew up in a household where there was just one kind of salt. It was your basic, run of the mill iodized table salt. My mom kept ours in a vintage ceramic shaker that lived by the stove. It didn’t then occur to me that salt could come in any other format.

I discovered kosher salt in my 20s. By that point, I was living in Philadelphia and had taken something of a shine to food television. I watched Nigella Lawson, Rachael Ray and Sara Moulton with something close to religious dedication. One thing I began to notice that they all had in common was the way they salted their food. They used kosher salt, kept it in a small bowl by the stove and added it by the pinch, not the shake.

Since those early days, I’ve added a number of different salts to my kitchen.  I use fine sea salt on popcorn and prepare a chicken for roasting with coarse sea salt. I add smoked salts to savory jams for a bit of campfire char and keep moist gray salt on the table for mealtimes. However, one of the very best things I learned about salt is that it takes nearly no effort to infuse it with various flavors right in your kitchen. MORE

The Larder

Tomato Time Capsule

It’s easier than you to think to take the taste of summer produce into fall

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Every year, I single-handedly preserve 100 pounds of tomatoes at the height of the season. I buy them from a local farmer and spend a week packing them in jars, moving them through my dehydrator, and cooking them in various ways to concentrate their sweetness and essential summer flavor.

When I first started this yearly preserving madness, my favorite way to condense the tomatoes was a slow-cooked Italian-style conserva. The finished product looked like grocery store tomato paste but tasted like pure sunny pleasure. That recipe’s one drawback was its need to be touched and tended regularly. I’d devote a weekend to a single batch, simmering, straining and finally cooking ten or fifteen pounds down to just two or three pints of brick-colored, tomato concentrate.

Two years ago, while I was working on my first cookbook, I found that I didn’t have the time or mental energy to make a product that needed to be stirred and smoothed every hour and went searching for a less intensive treatment. The winning technique was a long, slow roasted tomato. MORE