Not All the Pick Box is Edible

Sunflowers from Frog Song Organics.
Sunflowers from Frog Song Organics.
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Guava Jelly

Guava Jelly cooling on the kitchen window sill.
Guava Jelly cooling on the kitchen window sill. I like to listen for the plinks as the jar lids seal.

CSA is great, but there is nothing like food from your own back garden, or in this case, Mark Anderson’s garden. Mark gave us a big bag of guavas this weekend. Guavas in Florida are like zucchini in the Midwest, once  they come, they really come. So we gorged ourselves on fresh guava and as the heady olor de la guayaba filled the house I decided to make jelly.

Guava Jelly

  • As many guava as you can get, washed and quartered.
  • Sugar
  • Lime juice.

Put the guava in a large non-reactive pot. No need to remove the skins, seeds, just cut them up and dump them in there. Add just enough  water to barely cover the fruit. Bring to the boil and, on an active simmer, cook for 30 minutes covered, or until the fruit is very soft and the seeds and pulp are separating from the cascos, the shells. If you have a jelly bag and stand pour the cooked fruit into it over a bowl. If you don’t, then place a large sheet of cheese cloth over a large bowl. Pour the fruit into the center of the cheese cloth and tie the cloth closed with enough spare to tie the cheese cloth bag to a wooden spoon (or two) so that you can suspend it over the bowl. Let the juice drip from the bag. Do not press on the fruit pulp or stir it in any way. If you do, the jelly will be cloudy. Let it drip until the single drips are at least 30 seconds apart. This may take all afternoon, or you can leave it overnight. Discard the pulp in the  compost.

OK, now we are ready to make the jelly. Measure the amount of juice you have. Pour it into the large non-reactive pot (having cleaned the pot.) Add the same amount of sugar to the pot. This being the US, I did it in cups. So, I got five cups of juice and added five cups of sugar. Also add one tablespoon of lime juice for each cup of juice. Bring the mixture to the boil stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Watch the pot, it can easily boil over. Turn the heat down until you can maintain a rolling boil. A white foam will form at the sides of the pot, skim as much of this off as you can and discard. This will improve the clarity of the jelly. If you have a kitchen thermometer set it to 225 degrees F. If you don’t, check the  jelly in one of the two traditional ways; coat a wooden spoon in the jelly, hold the spoon horizontally, and watch it drip off. If the drips fall from one spot it is not ready, keep boiling until the drips fall from two spots. Or pour a small amount of jelly on to a saucer. Place the saucer in the freeze for 30 seconds. Push the jelly with your finger. If it wrinkles, it is ready. Once ready pour the jelly into jars. I store mine in the fridge.

 

Corn Fritters

Organic corn, non-GMO, is prone to attack from worms. This is not really a problem. The worms are not dangerous, they just like corn kernels as much as we do. When you take the husk from the corn you tend to see a trail of munched kernels. Just remove the worm if it is are still there and carry on.  Frog Song must have had a bit of an infestation this week because our corn came pre-husked and trimmed. Even so there was an occasional missing kernel. So it was not the perfect corn cob, to be briefly boiled, slathered in butter and eaten. What to do?

Stripping the kernels from the cobs leaves you with a lovely pile of fresh, crunchy, kernels. There are a thousand ways to prepare corn kernels. One of my favorites is corn fritters. The sweetness of the butter and the creaminess of the eggs both amplify the same qualities of the corn.

Corn Fritters.

Corn fritters almost done.
Corn fritters almost done.
  • Half a small onion, diced.
  • Corn kernels from about four cobs.
  • Two eggs, lightly beaten.
  • 2 tbsps of butter.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Papalo for garnish.

 

Melt the butter in a skillet until it foams. Mix the corn into the eggs with the onion  and seasoning. Place large tablespoonfuls of the mixture in the hot skillet. You will probably have room for four or five. Don’t crowd them. As the egg sets and you see the edges beginning to brown, turn them once and brown on the other side. About three minutes per side. Lift from the skillet and place in a warm serving dish. Continue with the remainder of the mixture until finished. Mine made seven fritters. Garnish with papalo, or parsley if you have either.

Lett’s talk a bit  more about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO.)  I am not opposed to GMO food. Humans have been genetically modifying food, both animal and vegetable, since the Neolithic agricultural revolution. I see no reason to stop now just because we are using new genetic techniques for doing so. We have seven billion people (and growing) on this planet to feed and we have to do so in a sustainable way that does not have too much of a negative impact upon the environment. If GMO crops can reduce the use of herbicides or pesticides, increase yields, or create varieties able to survive and thrive in what had been adverse temperature and moisture conditions; great. Go for it. I also think the health concerns about GMO foods are bogus.

I am less happy about proprietary control by corporations of GMO seeds

Corn fritters.
Corn fritters.

etc. In my day job, as an information professional, I am a proponent of open access (providing access to information at no cost of the end user and in ways that enable information to be used, reused, and modified at will.)  I think we also need to be as open with seeds. So that farmers can collect seeds and sow them the next season, can modify them, and so that governments and others can create generic GMOs, as they can with generic drugs (that are no longer patented.) if we don’t do this, I worry that we give too much power to transnational agribusiness corporations.

 

How do I love thee, watermelon?

With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, let’s talk about watermelon.

Watermelon is one of those iconic American foods and the ones we have got from Frog Song Organics every week have been delicious. Often the ones I have bought in the store have been too large and lacking in flavor. You grow bored of their wateriness and the rest rots in the fridge. Not these ones. They aren’t too big and the flavor is sweet, fruity and refreshing. Still, there is a limit to how many watermelon slices you can eat. So here are some others things we have done with them.

Watermelon, Green Bean, and Feta Salad

This was inspired by a recent recipe in the New York Times, which, in an epic librarian fail, I cannot find. Anyway.

Watermelon, green bean, and feta salad
Watermelon, green bean, and feta salad
  • A good amount of watermelon, cubed.
  • 8 oz of green beans (we used yard long beans from the garden, but regular green beans would work as well) cut into 2 inch lengths.
  • 2 oz of feta cheese, crumbled.
  • Sliced almonds (the NYT used pistachios, but I prefer almonds.)
  • Good olive oil and a little lemon juice.
  • Very little salt and enough pepper to taste.

With a bowl of iced water to hand, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the beans for 2 to 3 minutes until they turn bright green. Strain the beans and immediately plunge into the iced water. They turn and remain a gorgeous vibrant green that complements the red water melon beautifully. Set aside. Add the cubed watermelon to the salad bowl. Strain the beans and add them. Gently toss with oil, lemon, salt and pepper. Crumble the feta on top and sprinkle with almonds. Serve chilled.

Watermelon Margaritas

Bethany enjoying a watermelon margarita
Bethany enjoying a watermelon margarita

 

Place two large tumblers filled with ice in the freezer.

In a cocktail shaker add 4 oz of reposada tequila, 1 oz of triple sec, the juice of half a lime, and the cup of watermelon juice. Add a dash of Angostura bitters. Shake. Strain into the tumblers and garnish with a small wedge of watermelon. Some like a salt rim. I don’t.

Watermelon Pickles

This recipe is a variation on one Sam introduced me to from John Currence’s Pickles, Pigs, and Whiskey. Strangely, because I have never made watermelon rind pickles before, I peeled the dark green skin from the rind. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but it tastes good. Maybe next time I will try it with the skin.

Watermelon Rind Pickle in the fridge.
Watermelon Rind Pickle in the fridge.
  • As you use the watermelon throughout the week, retain the rinds, peel them, or not, and cut them into strips (half an inch by two inches.) place in a bowl of water with a good handful of salt in the fridge. You should end up with about 4 cups of watermelon rinds.
  • 2 cups of sugar.
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of vinegar (Currence calls for Apple cider, I just use distilled.)
  • 2 tsp of mustard seeds.
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes.
  • 6 lemon slices.
  • 1 tsp whole cloves.
  • 1 cinnamon stick, crushed.
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns.

 

Mix the sugar, vinegar, mustard seeds, pepper flakes, and 1 cup of water in a large non-reactive pot. Once simmering, lower the heat. Tie the lemon slices, cloves, cinnamon, and peppercorns in a coffee filter or cheese clothe and place in the pot with developing the syrup. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the strained watermelon rind and bring back to the boil. Remove the spice packet. Ladle the mixture into quart jars, so that the syrup covers the rind. Fill to just below the neck of the jars. Screw on the lids and store in the refrigerator. Let them mature for a week.  Currence says they last for 6 to 8 months, but mine get eaten long before that!

These are sweet and sour and pretty spicy, so adjust the spices according to your taste.

Jimmy Nardello Peppers

Yet another thing I had never heard of. I regard myself as a reasonably knowledgeable gardener and eater, but that is now twice in four weeks that the folks at Frog Song
have stumped me. First with papalo and now with this sweet pepper. This was not in the CSA box this week, we just picked it up at the market.

Jimmy Nardello peppers
Jimmy Nardello peppers

John assured us that this was a sweet pepper. But come on! Look at them, they look just like a red hot pepper, maybe an Anaheim or a fresh arbol. So, somewhat dubious, we brought them home. I nibbled the end of one, no heat. So I sliced one and ate a seed. Most of the heat of a pepper is in the pith and the seeds, not the flesh. Still no heat. So this is what we did with them.

Sausage with mushrooms, peppers, and onions

  • 2 mild Italian sausages (Wholefoods or The Meat House have good ones.)
  • 2 red onions, sliced radially (stem to root.)
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped.
  • 8 oz crimini mushrooms, quartered.
  • 8 oz Nardello peppers, cut in half with the pith and seeds removed.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil. More if necessary.
  • Fresh thyme.
  • 1/2 cup of red wine.
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Brown the sausage in the oil in a skillet. Remove, slice, and set aside.
Sauté the onions in the same pan until beginning to brown. Remove and set aside. Add the peppers to the pan, try and keep as much of the skins on the skillet bottom as possible so that the skins brown and blister. Add the onions back in and the garlic until they are thoroughly cooked through. Add salt and pepper. Remove everything and set aside. Add the mushrooms and sausage to the pan. Add the thyme. You may need to add a little more oil. Cook covered until the mushrooms are cooked. Add the wine and reduce. Then put back the peppers and onions and cook until the favors meld. Not long. At this point you can leave the dish on a warm stove top, or simmering, covered until you are ready to serve. Correct the seasoning, serve in a large serving dish with a splash of balsamic vinegar. It is great with crusty bread and a green salad.

Jimmy Nardello peppers came from Italy in the 19th century. Jimmy Nardello donated them to the Seed Savers Exchange. They are a lovely Italian frying pepper.

Sweet and Sour Okra (Kutchhi bhindi.)

One of my oldest and most beloved cookbooks is Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery which Bethany and I must have bought in London back in the mid eighties. The pages of favorite recipes are stained with the rich colors of Indian spices and splattered with oil.

Here is her lovely way to prepare okra, or as they were traditionally known in Britain, ladies fingers (yuck) and, much more evocatively called by Jaffrey, bhindi.

Sweet and Sour Okra.

Sweet and Sour Okra
Sweet and Sour Okra
  • 14 oz okra
  • 7 cloves of garlic
  • 1 whole dried hot red chili
  • 7 tbsp of water.
  • 2 tsp of ground cumin.
  • 1 tsp of ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp of turmeric
  • 4 tbsp of vegetable oil.
  • 1 tsp of cumin seeds.
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 4 tsp lemon juice.

Cut the okra into 3/4 inch rounds. Put the garlic and chilli in a blender with 3 tsp of water. Blend to a paste. Add the ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric, blend briefly to mix.
Heat the oil to medium in a skillet. When hot, add the whole cumin seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to sizzle, turn the heat down and add the spice paste. Stir and fry for a minute. Add the okra, salt, sugar and lemon juice and the rest of the water. Stir to mix and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover tightly and cook until the okra is tender, no more than ten minutes.

Papalo (Porophyllum ruderale spp macrocephalum)

This herb was unknown to us when it appeared in our Pick box last week. Frog Song called it Bolivian Coriander and one sniff tells you why. You can definitely get the cilantro like smell of it. So we used it as a garnish on an okra frittata, in banana wrapped fish, and in a mango salsa.

Bethany and Sam described it as lemony, citrus, pungent, medicinal. I think I prefer cilantro overall. This herb is a bit stronger. It lasts well in the fridge standing in a glass of water.

Here is what I found out about it. It is native to Central America and the southwest of the US. The USDA plant profile is here.

Eliza Lord at Appalachian Feethas a good post on growing the herb and has a number of recipes and Victoria Challancin at Flavors of the Sun adds a few more, and finally Gina Ruiz adds a dose of enthusiasm for the herb at Doña Lupe’s Kitchen. On page 190 of Diana Kennedy’s classic book The Essential Cuisines of Mexico she mentions this herb in her recipe for Pueblan Semitas (a sandwich) and calls it  papaloquelite.

I would love love to find one of those sandwiches.

Week three pick box

Watermelon, Chinese eggplant, okra, peppers, red onions, Malabar spinach, and corn.
Watermelon, Chinese eggplant, okra, peppers, red onions, Malabar spinach, and corn.

Here is what we got in the box this week. John kindly swapped out the yard long beans for some malabar spinach, since we have so many of the beans from our own garden. By the way, here is the recipe I use for pickled yard long beans. You curl them into the jars whole so they look great in the jar and they come out like a Slinky.

Tilapia with Mango Salsa.

This was Bethany’s idea for papalo. This is a variation on a recipe supplied by Sam. Here is the recipe.

Tilapia with Mango Salsa

The salsa

One Florida mango, diced.
One small sweet onion, thinly sliced.
One diced sweet pepper.
Juice of one lime.
One tablespoon of chopped papalo leaves.

Mix all the ingredients together and set aside for the flavors to blend.

The Tilapia

Two tilapia fillets
Juice of one lemon.
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste.

Marinade the tilapia in the other ingredients. Heat skillet to medium high add olive oil. Pan fry the tilapia, two minutes on one side, turn it over, add rest of marinade liquid, cover, turn the heat down low and cook for a few minutes (until the fish flakes.)

Place the fish on a serving dish, and top with salsa. It was delicious.

Tilapia with mango salsa
Tilapia with mango salsa