Archive for the ‘Fruit’ Category

I haven’t really addressed the food-elephant in the room of this time of year.

Thanksgiving!

This year, the gathering around our Thanksgiving table was rather small, just little old Brad and me, in fact. But that didn’t stop us from preparing a full-scale Thanksgiving feast. There was cornbread stuffing (well, dressing), broccoli casserole, warm cream biscuits, mashed potatoes, a three-legged turkey with no wings, smooth brown gravy, mini pumpkin cream pies

and cranberry sauce.

For me, cranberry sauce as a kid was one of two things: a can-shaped block of cranberry plopped on a small serving dish, or my grandma’s favorite cranberry salad. I was never a particularly big fan of either. But as usual, Deb over at Smitten Kitchen piqued my curiosity to try a homemade, incredibly simple cranberry sauce, and I doubt I’ll ever go back. It’s tart and lovely and full of little orange peel surprises all the way through.

Cranberry and orange are two of my favorite holiday flavors, and when combined, they only improve one another. So instead of making a teeny tiny batch for our teeny tiny guest list, I opted for the full batch so that I could play with the leftovers.

But what to make?

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And now, for something completely out of the blue, a fresh berry jam.

No, I’m not so far behind that I’m posting recipes I made this summer.

Seriously. I went to the farmers market last week, and nestled between the butternut squash and dark, leafy greens sat some of the most fabulous raspberries I have ever seen.

I talked a lot about strawberries when I started this blog, just as they were ripening here. One might assume from so much strawberry talk that they held the highest honor in my berry kingdom.

But oh.

Raspberries.

Be still, my heart.

Luscious, tart, and totally worth the seeds that will get stuck in your teeth.


There is little to complain about with the North Carolina growing season. It’s long, it allows for multiple plantings of cool weather plants, and an enormous variety of fruits and vegetables grow here quite happily. But I have been stymied ALL SUMMER, waiting for baskets of brilliant red raspberries that would never arrive.

Until November, apparently.

Grown under passive tunnels that gather warmth without requiring electricity (as greenhouses typically do), these gorgeous gems of fruit are coming into their own when most other berries have long since disappeared from the market stands.

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The time has come:

For apples!

After a few weeks of rather slim pickings of fruit at the farmers market, I’m happy to say I am now set for months, with a fridge full of the fresh, juicy apples. For breakfasts, for lunches, for sauce, for pie, for crisp, for… everything!

Obtaining these apples is so much more fun than the grocery store, or even my other pick-your-own adventures. Rather than making an early morning solo march into a strawberry field or a blueberry patch, I worked a drive to a Maryland apple orchard into my whirlwind trip to DC to visit friends.

And it’s actually becoming a bit of a tradition. For three years running, anywhere from two to four of us have made our way out to Homestead Farm in Poolesville, Maryland for apple picking.

And we could not have asked for a more perfect day! Blue skies, pleasant sunshine, and a cool autumn breeze set the scene as we arrived.

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It’s the Fourth of July.

I know it’s actually the 2nd. But the Fourth of July is one of those holidays that gets a whole weekend. Some get a day, some get a break, this one gets a weekend.

What are you doing for the Fourth? Traveling? Cookouts? Blowing your yard to bits with fireworks?

Making a patriotic dessert?

Of course you are!

And how lucky that a holiday to celebrate the birth of our nation falls in a season ripe with berries that match our national colors.

This dessert is essentially three components: shortbread, berries, and cream. You can dress them up however you want to.

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In a moment, I’ll show you how to make this tasty dessert. It’s easy. It’s delicious. It’s summer in a ramekin. I’m horrified that I’ve never made it before.

But first, a public service announcement.

Don’t be scared of ugly fruit.

A blemish, a torn bit of skin, or an asymmetrical shape do not a bad fruit make. Just like a frizzy hair day (read: every day I spend in the South) doesn’t make me a bad person. Contrary to what grocery stores would have you believe, not all squash produce pops out of the ground coated in wax and uniform in shape and size. Embrace variety.

“Seconds”, as you’ll see and hear them called, can provide an extremely economical way to buy fresh, local produce in bulk. While Grade A  (code for pretty freakin’ perfect) produce is usually sold at the farmers market by the quart, pint, or pound,  seconds are usually sold in bulk for a very low price so the farmer can avoid trucking home boxes of excess, super-ripe produce.The first batch of peaches I bought this season (about a month ago, amazingly… NC peaches ripened in mid-May) were seconds, and instead of paying $5 a quart, I paid $2 for an entire bagful that is now mostly sliced and in the freezer. This week was even better: the peach lady only had seconds available by the time I made it to the market, asked me how many I wanted, and wouldn’t let me pay her a dime for the eight peaches she placed gently in a bag.

Not too shabby, right?

If you frequent farmers markets or buy directly from farm stands, keep your eye out for seconds. Some vendors will have a seconds section, others keep them to the side until the Grade A produce is sold. If you don’t see any, ask! Chances are you’ll get a sweet deal.

End of announcement. On to dessert.

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The berries have been picked, sliced, sugared, and cooked. Each jar has announced with a satisfying little pop! of the lid that it is sealed and ready to be stored until it is opened, its contents slathered onto someone’s breakfast. Maybe mine, maybe yours.

The final step in my eight-flavor experiment in strawberry jam (who knew there was so much variety?) was definitely the most relaxing: the tasting! Sampling each variety was hugely important, you see. I mean, how else could I tell you which ones worked and which ones didn’t? Trust me, there was no other reason to open so many jars of jam at one time.

I made a date of it. Made some biscuits, sat on the balcony, even grabbed a notepad to record my initial reactions to each jar. It was fancy. I may or may not have pretended I was a snooty judge on a Food Network show.

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Soooooo, twenty-0ne pounds of strawberries. Now what?

I wish you could have seen the faces of other customers entering the strawberry field as I was attempting to tote these boxes out. Most of them looked at me with a bizarre look of pity. Like I’d gone off the deep end. And/or had a serious strawberry addiction.

In case you’re just now tuning in, I spent the early hours of sunshine last Saturday picking strawberries to transform into jam, and after arriving home with my loot, it was time to start preserving.

Freezing Fresh Berries

While most would agree that berries are best when eaten fresh & ripe, they also freeze really well. In my stubborn attempt to avoid purchasing produce when it is incredibly out of season, freezing berries opens up many possibilities to enjoy fruit when it’s snowy (or, in my current location, semi-cold and gray). Berries can be frozen in a syrup or juice, but I prefer to freeze them whole.

What You Need

cookie sheets (make sure they fit in your freezer… trust me on this one and test the space with an empty sheet before you start)
parchment paper
freezer
berries (if you don’t have those, you’re doing the wrooooong project)

It’s pretty straight forward. Sort through your berries and find the beauty queens. Freezing berries with soft spots isn’t the best idea, so find the nicest, firmest, most beautiful berries in the bunch. Wash them, pop off their tops and if you can, pop out the hull (the white firm spot right beneath the green leaves). Arrange them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper so that they aren’t touching. Then freeze ‘em!

I froze one sheet for about three hours and another tray for twenty-four, so I’ll keep you posted about any difference between them when I actually use them on some dreary winter day in the future. Why did I not just freeze them in their container and skip the teetering tray of berries step? This way, I will be able to pull out exactly the number of berries I want rather than one giant clump of them fused together. Just planning ahead. For smoothies. Who needs ice when you have frozen strawberries?

Anyway. Moving on.

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Strawberry jam: the first recipe in food preservation cookbooks, the poster child for all things homemade, and glistening ruby red in quilted glass jars and wrapped with a ribbon of twine.

And you can make it with tools you probably have in your kitchen already.

Now, baskets of still-earthy vegetables from the farmer’s market seem to provide the standard imagery for the local food movement, but my goal is to eat as locally as possible all year long, which involves learning how to preserve food when it is plentiful to get through months when it is not. And while jam is not the most necessary of foods, it is a great starting point if you want to learn to can. Which I do.

I’m sure you can tell where this is going: I made some jam! Okay; I made a lot of jam. So let’s rewind from this spoonful of crimson goodness, and I’ll tell you all about it.

Pick-Your-Own Strawberries

A key ingredient of strawberry jam, as you might imagine, is a hefty amount of fresh strawberries. You can go about procuring these berries however you want, but I chose to find a local farm where I could pick them myself.

The premise of a pick-your-own farm, or a “u-pick”, as they are commonly called, is simple: a grower plants their crop, then instead of harvesting it and selling it in turquoise paper baskets, they invite customers to the farm to pick it themselves at a much lower price. While most pick-your-owns also offer some pre-picked goods for sale at the farm stand, the labor burden is significantly reduced since the majority of harvesting is done by the customers themselves. They get free labor, you get a good price on berries, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

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One day, I marched home from a nearby orchard, pink-cheeked and grinning, with thirty pounds of apples. I shoved them precariously onto the bottom shelf of my refrigerator, accompanied only by the water pitcher squashed against the left side wall.

I ate fresh, local fruit all winter. And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to expand my horizons (or, technically, shrink them), draw more and more of my food directly from my local surroundings, and possibly even grow some of it myself.

If you had told me ten years ago, or even three years ago, that I would be launching a food blog on Earth Day this year, I would never have believed it. Ever.

Well.

Here we are!

Now, I could just make my dinner and be done with it, but I like sharing! And since I can’t have you all over for dinner every night, this seems like the best way I can share my adventures with you. Who knows! Maybe a recipe on this site will give you something new to try in your own kitchen. Maybe you’ll take comfort in reading my tales not only of success, but of the occasional disaster (I’m talking to you, homemade caramel sauce). Maybe the garden on my balcony will inspire a new plant or two in your own spot of sunlight. Maybe picking thirty pounds of apples on a brisk October day will be for you what it was for me: a place to start.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I embark on this tasty journey. And I’d love to hear from you as you eat & cook your way toward your own culinary goals.

So keep reading! Subscribe. Share, like, tweet, comment, e-mail, add to reader, follow… pick your internet verb(s) of choice and stick around for the fun. And the food, don’t ever leave before the food.

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