Tag: food

The Beekman Boys Explain How Goats Transformed their Lives

“Life gives you goats you make goat milk soap,

goat milk cheese and goat milk,

whatever you can make.”

If you’ve been on my Facebook page, you may have noticed some of the fun challenges we’ve been doing with people like Lisa Steele of Fresh Eggs Daily, Justin and Amy of The Chubby Vegetarians, Georgia Pellegrini, and the Beekman Boys. It’s a way for us to all work together on projects which have been really fun.

Most recently, the Beekman Boys stopped by the farm. If you don’t know their story Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge were two Manhattanites who moved from the big city to a farm in upstate New York. While at the farm we did some filming, cooking, a little turkey wrangling, and then threw a summer bash out under the Big Sister oak. It was a blast!

Big Sister Oak at Moss Mountain Farm

After dinner we held a panel discussion about local food, heirloom vegetables and heritage livestock breeds. The evening ended with a Q&A session.

Here are a few of the questions Josh and Brent answered.

How long have you guys had your farm?

Josh: Well we bought our farm in 2007. And we call ourselves accidental farmers because we were Manhattanites, obnoxious Manhattanites, who would drive up to upstate New York and bother all the locals and buy their apples on the weekends. And we found this farm and we fell in love with it and purchased it thinking it would be a nice weekend place. And then we got a letter in our mailbox from a man named Farmer John who was losing his farm and he said, “I’ve got 80 goats and can I come put them on your farm?” And we thought, still obnoxious Manhattanites at that time, we thought “Oh great! We’ve got a petting zoo.” So he came in with his goats. So that was 2007. In 2008 us obnoxious Manhattanites lost our fancy-pants Manhattan jobs; both within 30 days of each other. And when life hands you lemons you make lemonade. Life gives you goats you make goat milk soap, goat milk cheese and goat milk whatever you can make. That’s how we became accidental farmers.

You guys are doing a great job getting the message out about local farming and buying local. What’s that like? Do you ever feel pressure about the message you have to deliver?

Josh: One of the things we realized in moving to a small community was everyone has their own unique gift to offer. They really do. And when we first moved there we were like, we’re going to have a goat farm and we’re going to make the soap, and then we’re going to make jam and we’re going to sell all this stuff and then we realized we weren’t really good farmers at heart. When the goats would shy away from us every time we’d try to go milk we’d be, “You know, that’s Farmer John’s strength.” And so we had this community of all these great people who were doing great things and it took us a long time to realize that the reason we were there was we had come from a marketing background. Brent worked for Martha Stewart. I worked in advertising. The thing that we could give to them was we knew how to take their talents and bring them out to the world. That was the only thing we could do.

Tell us about the new cookbook.

Josh:Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook So the cookbook that just came out is the Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook. We’ve done three cookbooks – the original Heirloom Cookbook, the Heirloom Dessert Cookbook and the Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook. And we’re like you with the heritage breeds… there is so much history in farming and gardening that’s been lost in the last 50 years. And to bring back not just the heirloom varieties of plants but heritage breeds. And it’s not just a quaint fad. It’s not just a trend. It’s something that’s really vital for us to continue our food supply. Having more than three commercial tomato varieties available is vital. Because just like human beings, animals and plants, they need to have genetic diversity.

Allen: That’s the whole reason that we have the heirloom vegetables that we are growing in our vegetable garden here. We save the seeds, the Heritage Poultry Conservancy is all about preserving genetics of these brave old breeds. They are out of work! And the way to put them back to work is to put them on your plate.

Josh: If you look at a garden catalogue from the turn of the century there used to be over 100 different varieties of garden peas that you could choose from. There are now only eight commercial varieties of peas. So if there was a disease that came along and wiped out those peas, we’d have no more peas on the planet. So in order to save these different old heirloom varieties, it’s just genetic diversity. It’s just nature.

Allen: And everyone can participate in this movement just by supporting local producers. I think it’s so important to connect the producer to the consumer and the more that we can do that the more this movement will grow.

I’d like to hear about your experience on The Amazing Race.

Brent: The Amazing Race experience. It is was the worst three weeks of our lives. Except for that very last moment when we won. That was the best. For those of you don’t know, in addition to our life on the farm, two years ago we were on this TV show called The Amazing Race. The premise of The Amazing Race is that teams of two people race around the world and the team that is last one standing wins a million dollars. And so we won. And we always talk about our life and opening yourself up to the universe and taking opportunities when they are in front of you. So many times there are opportunities in front of you and they are knocking but you aren’t answering the door. For us we always are opening the door. People often ask, “Why did you decide to run The Amazing Race?” We, that was not a life goal, we had certainly seen the show.

When our first cookbook came out we were in Santa Monica, at the Santa Monica library doing a book signing. And this little old lady came up. She was like 80 years old. She had her oxygen tank that she was carrying with her. We were signing her book and she was like, “Oh I just love your TV show The Fabulous Beekman Boys and every week my next door neighbor comes over and we watch your show together. And that’s our bonding time.” We were like “Well that’s so nice.” And she’s like, “And she’s the president of CBS reality TV.” And honestly I did not believe her. So really flippantly I asked, “If she’s such a big fan, why aren’t we on The Amazing Race?” And she’s like, “I’m going to tell her.” And honestly we didn’t think another thing of it. Two days later we were at home and the phone rang. I picked it up and someone said, “Hi, we’re calling from The Amazing Race. We heard you want to run. And that’s how we got on the show. And for those who have watched our story unfold on The Fabulous Beekman Boys; that show really chronicled our attempts to start the farm and start a business that was successful enough that Josh could be there full time. And you know, I’m sure there are entrepreneurs in this group, any time you’re starting your own business you are overly optimistic. You think I’ll be successful in a few months. So we said. Josh ended up getting another job in the city which was helping cover the mortgage and we said, “Oh it will just be a year of sacrifice. We’ll live apart for a year.” Well, that turned into five years of sacrifice because if you are trying to grow a business there are always things that you don’t anticipate that you are going to have to do. It wasn’t until we ran The Amazing Race and won it that we could pay off our mortgage on the farm and he could move to the farm full time. And so as of last February he’s been at the farm full time.

P. Allen Smith with Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge

You got us started on the Marshall Strawberry Project and it’s going very strongly on our farm in Fayetteville. I want you to tell everyone because it’s the most amazing thing ever. So would you explain?

Josh: Sure, actually Allen you should be doing this too. The Marshall Strawberry Project. There’s a strawberry called the Marshall strawberry that James Beard declared the best tasting strawberry in the world. This was probably in the 1950s when he would have said this. And it fell out of production completely. It was not a commercially viable strawberry. So you know those terrible strawberries you get at the supermarket today? When those took over the world the Marshall disappeared except for one plant that was at the University of Oregon as a saved specimen. This woman got the university to loan it to her so she could grow out a runner and start another Marshall and now she is sending Marshalls all over the country to have different farms grow them out. I tell you, we planted them last year. This was the first year we had fruit and they are the best strawberries I’ve ever had. So look it up If anybody loves to good strawberry, the Marshall Strawberry Project.

P. Allen Smith, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brent Ridge

Tell us the story about how the three of you met.

Allen: I had been invited to participate in an event at Sotheby’s called the Art of Farming that Brent was very involved in and I guess you were too Josh. It was really exciting. It was a black tie event at Sotheby’s to raise awareness about local food and to benefit the schools in the inner city to teach children where food comes from. I only participated in that I provided some art and we sold some fowl. We actually shipped the birds to the winner bidders. And all I have to tell you is that I wish I could sell chickens every day for the price we sold them at Sotheby’s!

Brent: That project, it was the first time that Sotheby’s had ever auctioned off vegetables and probably live chickens. It was actually a really amazing evening and we ended up raising about half a million dollars. Allen gave one of his paintings. It was really amazing.

Brent Ridge, P. Allen Smith and Josh Kilmer-Purcell

I’m just wondering if there will be another Beekman television program.

Brent: Yes, so the question is whether we are going to do another show and we are always working on new ideas. So you never know. Maybe we’ll do a show with Allen? You never know. Maybe we’ll take over his farm and he’ll come up and take over our farm. You never know.

What an enchanting night with the Beekman Boys. It was a beautiful blissfully cool evening.

Our next farm to table dinner will be on October 15, 2014. That’s a Wednesday night. It will be with Regina Charboneau from Natchez Mississippi. She’ll be cooking up some recipes from her latest book Mississippi Current. And our special guest will be Rebecca Darwin from Garden and Gun magazine. So I hope you can join us. Find out more about the event and purchase tickets.

Destination Northwest Arkansas

I know I know… You’re headed up to Bentonville, Arkansas to visit the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. And you’re going to love it because it’s one of the most amazing places in Arkansas. But did you know the whole northwest portion of the state is filled with exciting things to do as well as some of the best food the region has to offer? In fact four Bentonville restaurant chefs where invited to cook at the James Beard Foundation in New York because, well, they’re just that good!

Boston Mountains in Northwest Arkansas

To help you get the most out of the trip I’ve created a Northwest Arkansas itinerary for you, which includes art, gardens, and of course food!

  1. Pig Trail Scenic Byway – If it’s on your route be sure to take the short cut between Ozark and Fayetteville lovingly referred to as the Pig Trail. This winding two-lane highway through the Ozark Mountains offers spectacular views, especially in spring and fall. Jump on Highway 23 just past Ozark and enjoy 19 miles of beautiful scenery. To get to Fayetteville take a left on Highway 16 at Brashears.
  2. Coffee Break – The first stop on your way to Crystal Bridges is Fayetteville. It’s a university town with lots of charm. I always like to take a coffee break on my road trips so I can stretch my legs. At Mama Carmen’s Café I can do some good while I’m at it. Mama Carmen’s was born out of a partnership with the namesake who runs an orphanage in Guatemala City. The café purchases the beans grown on Mama Carmen’s farm as well as donating 10% of the profits to the orphanage. And the coffee is good to boot. www.mamacarmen.com
  3. Garden Tour – While in Fayetteville be sure to visit the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. There are 12 gardens to discover plus a butterfly house. www.bgozarks.org
  4. Lunch – The next town you’ll pass through on your way to Bentonville is Rogers. The historic downtown area is delightful with brick roads and classic storefronts. There are a number of wonderful restaurants, but I suggest Heirloom Food + Wine. Everything is made from scratch using only fresh, local ingredients – they even make the bread and condiments! Every day they create a soup, salad and sandwich based on what’s in season. www.heirloomfoodandwine.com
  5. Garden Tour and Crystal Bridges – From Rogers it’s just a 15 minute drive to Bentonville home of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Either before or after visiting the museum take a stroll along the woodland trail at Compton Gardens. This public park is open from dawn to dusk and is a wonderful place to pick up ideas for using native plants. www.peelcompton.org  crystalbridges.org
  6. Dinner – At this point you’re probably looking to sit back, relax with a good meal. Petit Bistro is a French Mediterranean restaurant that is sure to please. Delicious 5 star recipes that is the perfect way to end a great day in northwest Arkansas. petitbistro.biz

Whew, that’s one very big day. If you decide to make it a weekend trip, I suggest the 21c Museum Hotel. It’s within walking distance of the museum and located right on the town square. Remember, there are so many more things to do here and all over Arkansas. The best way to find them is to visit Arkansas.com.

Arkansas Eats

As an Arkansas native I’ve always known that we have some stellar places to eat. Everywhere I go in the state there is a fantastic feast waiting at a restaurant, diner or roadside stand. Which is good because I love food.

The state is famous for southern staples such as fried catfish, barbeque and pie but our food is also influenced by our proximity to the southwestern flair of Texas. As we are an agricultural community a traditional Arkansas meal always includes a generous helping of something that was grown nearby. Purple hull peas slow cooked with a ham hock, cornbread, sliced tomatoes and fried okra are all sides you’ll find on the dinner table in Arkansas.

We’ve never strayed far from our culinary roots, but the national trend for locally sourced ingredients has produced a number of sensational restaurants that specialize in home-style cooking with a contemporary twist. How about catfish served over a bed of hoppin’ John and fried okra? Or perhaps a grilled pork chop with creamed corn, peppers and almonds. Are you hungry yet?

Arkansans aren’t the only folks who recognize what our state has to offer. Recently Forbes Travel Guides included our capital city Little Rock as one of five secret foodie spots with shot outs to Ashley’s, Ciao Baci, ZaZa’s Fine Salad + Wood-Oven Pizza Co. and Whole Hog Cafe.

Arkansas Farm to Table Restaurants

In addition to these recommendations I have a few others that I suggest you try for a plate full of local flavor featuring seasonal ingredients.

Brave New Restaurant – Get the mixed grill that includes a variety of grilled meats served with an herbed demi glace.

South on Main – This is where you will find the fried catfish and hoppin’ John. Yum!

Trio’s – In the summer they have a farmers’ market plate with seasonal vegetables that’s wonderful.

Table 28 – The restaurant offers unusual interpretations of southern favorites. Make reservations for a seat at the chef’s table (table 28) for an exclusive 6-course meal prepared and served by Chef Rains.

The Root Café – Great burgers and sweet potato fries. A definite must if you have a hankering for breakfast on a Saturday morning.

Capital Hotel Bar and Grill – The Friday lunch special is red sauce braised brisket with rice bread and chow chow. That’s what I’m talking about!

The Hive – If you love a good pork chop this is the place to go. Chef Matthew McClure sources the pork from a local farmer raising heritage pigs known for their exceptionally tender and flavorful meat. Oh, and be sure to stop in at the nearby Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The current exhibit is a collection of French modern masters including Matisse, Cezanne and Degas. It will be on view until July 7, 2014.

28 Springs – You can’t come south and not eat chicken and dumplings. Savory herb gravy and a flaky biscuit crust make these some of the best chicken and dumplings to be had.

The Farmer’s Table Café – One look at the breakfast menu and you’ll know why this place is the talk of the town. The Hash Skillet is to die for.

HEIRLOOM food + wine – A glass of wine and a platter filled with artisanal cheeses, seasonal fruit, walnuts, honeycomb and fig-rosemary crackers plus an amiable companion? Is there a better way to end the day?

Special thanks to Lyndi over at NWAFoodie.com for recommending some great restaurants in northwest Arkansas!

Fried Dill Pickles


It’s astounding to me but it wasn’t until 1963 that someone thought to fry a dill pickle. I know, right? Bernell “Fatman” Austin was the first to serve these treats at the Duchess Drive In in Atkins, Arkansas and they’ve been a southern staple ever since. If you don’t believe me try them and get back to me. Here’s a recipe that is similar to those served at a local catfish joint.

Ingredients
1 quart jar dill pickle slices
2 teaspoon red pepper
2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon black pepper
1 eggs
8 ounces milk
5 – 6 drops hot sauce
2 cups flour
vegetable oil

Instructions
Mix egg, milk, hot sauce, and 1 tablespoon of flour in bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl combine the red pepper, paprika, black pepper and 2 cups of flour.

In a large, deep skillet or fry cooker heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.

Dip the pickle slices in the egg and milk mixture, then dredge them through the flour and spices, then the egg and milk again and then the flour once more.

Next drop the battered pickles into the hot oil and fry until they float to the surface and turn a nice golden brown.

Serve immediately.

We Eat A Lot of Pie in Arkansas

I’ve heard that food and music hold the personality of a region most strongly. After a recent road trip  I feel safe in taking it one step further and specify that a local favorite dessert really shows off a place’s personality.

Whether they’re fruit, nut, cream, meringue or cheese, baked, fried or frozen — pies come in a dazzling range of combinations. We like our pie in the south. The baker who masters the perfect flour to butter ratio in a crust is spoken about with the utmost reverence, given a place of honor in the community and undoubtedly, asked to bring a pie to every gathering until the end of time. While pies can be graham cracker or cookie crusted, hot or cold, latticed or exposed on top, they must all be delicious to survive in these parts.

Now you’ve probably heard the phrase easy as pie, but I’m not a fan. It strikes me as flippant. The creation of pies shouldn’t be reduced to anything less than an art. Bakers mix a tremendous amount care, thought and tradition into their pies, and most of them have worked on their technique for years. Respect for my favorite dessert led me to travel from Little Rock to Northwest Arkansas along Highway 65 in a quest to experience Arkansas’ pies.

Banana Split Pie

We first stopped at the Wagon Wheel in Greenbrier. Restaurants like these work as anchors and a hub of community life in small towns— a place to connect at lunch or celebrate with the team after a game. Don’t be fooled by this restaurant’s nondescript exterior. It boasts a spectacular spread and is known for its meringue pies. The bakers in this kitchen know how to whip egg whites and sugar into heavenly bliss. I had a banana split pie that had about three inches of meringue on top. So decadent!

Strawberry Pie

Every one of the restaurants we visited has a top pie, a pie that’s flavor is discussed like a legend, and at the Skylark Café in Leslie, that pie is strawberry pie. Cool and refreshing with impeccable balance between sweet and tangy, this dessert is a summer staple not easily forgotten. The filling is just the right consistency, not too thick and packed with juicy strawberry pieces. I dined on the porch and took in the café’s equally charming exterior. Originally a home, they remodeled the building into a restaurant, painted the outside turquoise with red trim and surrounded it with garden art and potted plants. Save me a seat on the porch. I’ll be back.

In addition to the sugary ecstasy, I also experienced a treat for the eyes. Highway 65 winds elaborately, offering dramatic views of the mountains and valleys, and the October leaf display has earned the region the nickname the New England of the Ozarks.

We detoured to Gilbert, an old railroad town with one sign that reads ‘population 33’ and another that reads ‘coolest in the state.’ They’re referring to temperature, but it works on multiple levels. The little town sits right on the edge of the pristine Buffalo National River. We had to pull over, not for pie, but for a view of the water.

The production crew and I stopped for lunch at Big Springs Barbecue in St. Joe after that, and I ate a bacon-filled “sammwhich.” It was nice to taste something fat-laden and savory to break up all the sweet. Plus they roast the meat themselves. I sampled an apple pie, and tried to wheedle the crust recipe out of the baker to no avail.

Apple Pie

In Jasper, we stopped at the Arkansas House, a restaurant that uses organic, locally produced ingredients, to learn the subtleties of the nut pie. Janet Morgan, the owner, showed me how to make her signature black walnut pie. Time, she said, makes all the difference between a mediocre dessert and a perfect dessert.

Black Walnut Pie

Tomato Tales

This is an excerpt from my column in AY Magazine. Read the entire article here.

Long before social media was even a spark in our collective conscious, bits of “wisdom” have been going viral via word of mouth in the form of old wives tales and folklore.

For me, these stories are interesting because they are part of our oral tradition. For instance, how many of you have heard that it is bad luck to place a hat on a bed or that going out in the cold with wet hair will make you sick?

Of course, my favorite anecdotes are about gardening and some of the best are related to growing tomatoes. It seems everyone’s grandmother had a pearl of wisdom about getting the growing the best tasting tomato.

Matt's Wild Cherry Tomato

Here are a few tomato tales that I’m familiar with. Some are based in fact, while others are pure fiction.

  1. Sprinkle sugar in the planting hole or water your tomatoes with sugar water to make them sweeter. This is untrue. The sweetness of a tomato is determined by the variety. If you want a sweet tomato try planting ‘Sungold’ or ‘Mr. Stripey’.
  2. If you have a tomato plant that is lush, but doesn’t set fruit, beat it with a broom. The idea behind this tip is that the beating will stress the plant and prompt bloom. More blooms mean a better chance for tomatoes. I haven’t tried this one, but the old-timers swear by it.
  3. To prevent blossom end rot add crushed eggshells to the planting hole. This suggestion actually has legs to it. The eggshells are a good source of calcium, which helps reduce blossom end rot.How about you? What’s the best tomato growing “advice” you know? Have you tried any of these tips?

Old Traditions, New Recipes

 

During the holidays, I always look forward to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a Smith Family Christmas. The holiday traditions of my family have been carried throughout the years, and I love passing our family stories and recipes on to my nieces and nephews. This year, though, I’m hoping to create a new tradition around the dinner table with an alternative to our typical recipes- this year, I’m making Pekin Duck.

Pekin Duck is one of my favorite “sounds fancy, cooks easy” main dishes, and when paired with a citrus glaze it is a beautiful and delicious meal with a holiday twist. Long Island Ducks are what we know as “Pekin.” They were bred in China and in 1873, exported to Long Island. It’s the most common duck meat consumed in the U.S. and in my opinion, the tastiest. We tend to rely on the holiday meal staples, but I think trying out a different bird this year will be a hit and hopefully start a tradition of trying new recipes each holiday.

Pekin Duck with Mandarin Sauce

Say Happy Thanksgiving with Brussels Sprouts

Thanksgiving is the big holiday for my family- no matter where we host it, we’re all in a frenzy of activity. The kids are playing in the yard, uncles and aunts are enjoying the fire, and my cousins, siblings and I are busy catching up while also putting the finishing touches on lunch. When we finally sit down at the table, though, it’s hard to talk to everyone during lunch because everyone in my family loves to eat.

I find that it just takes one recipe to bridge the gap between the adult and kid’s table, though. Desserts are always a good go-to, but last year I tried fresh Brussels sprouts. I know what you’re thinking- “my kids would never eat Brussels sprouts!” But try this recipe and I bet you’ll be surprised just how many members of your family ask for seconds.

Tarragon Pimiento Brussels Sprouts

Heritage Apples Welcome Autumn

Do you want more information on heritage apples? Check out my column in this month’s AY Magazine. Click here to read it online.

 

This time of year sends my senses into a whirlwind. I love how so many of the sights, sounds and smells around me proudly announce autumn’s arrival. Heritage apples are the perfect example- come November, their colors are bright, their taste is crisp and fresh, and their smell… well, there is nothing better than the smell of baking apples wafting through the house.

 

The week leading up to Thanksgiving is one in which I don’t spend much time cooking, but I couldn’t help throwing together this 5-ingredient Apple Tart Tatin recipe yesterday. It is quick and easy to make, and I might even add it to the Thanksgiving menu because it certainly gets me in the mood for the holidays.

Ingredients

1 pre-made piecrust

1/2 cup sugar in the raw

6 apples, peeled cored and quartered

7 ounces butter

3/4 cup sugar

Instructions

In a heavy, oven safe, 9-inch skillet combine 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 cup sugar in the raw with 7 ounces of butter. Cook over a medium high heat until amber in color and brown around the edges. This should take about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat and carefully circle the apple wedges around the skillet positioning them so they all face in the same direction. Place the apples as tightly together as possible because they will shrink during cooking.

Top the apples with a round pie crust that overlaps the skillet by about 1/2 inch all around. Fold the crust overlap toward the center. Push the edge of the pie crust down into the skillet with a rubber spatula or something similar to seal all the apple goodness inside. Cut 3 or 4 vent holes in the top of the crust.

Bake in the pre-heated 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the skillet from the oven and cool. Place a dish at least 1-inch larger in diameter than the skillet on top of the skillet. Carefully flip the tart to where the pie crust is now on the bottom with the plate.

 

Pickling Punk Rock Style

I’d like to introduce you to my friend and fellow gardener Laura Mathews. She’s a garden writer and photographer who contributes to several websites including Punk Rock Gardens. She’s also the Northeast Garden Guru for Proven Winners. Laura attended our annual blogger event at the farm, Garden2Blog, in 2011.

While scouring the virtual garden for harvesting and preserving tips I discovered that Laura knew quite a bit on pickling. I asked her to share her knowledge, which she very graciously did. Plus a recipe for bread and butter pickles you can freeze. I can’t wait to try them.

If you have questions for Laura and just want to find out more good gardening information look her up on Twitter (@punkrockgardens) or Facebook or visit PunkRockGardens.com.

At times in the growing season, the bounty from our vegetable gardens can be a bit overwhelming. Many of our backyard vegetable garden favorites mature within weeks of each other. One way out to this annual pickle… is to pickle.

Pickling may seem like a frightening black art practiced only by women of the past with extraordinary quantities of technical kitchen skill, but it’s actually much less complex than say, maintaining a quality compost pile. With attention to a couple important things, pickling is easy. It also generates a lot of value. Pickling turns inexpensive homegrown vegetables into crunchy, tangy delights that cost far less than they would at the grocery.

The first thing to grasp is that pickling via canning is that it’s not cooking. You cannot safely fiddle with the recipes. Follow modern recipes to the letter. Make sure your source for the recipe is reputable. Consider as well, employing safer methods of pickling. Grandma’s recipe for refrigerator pickles – that may include letting the pickles stand at room temperature for hours – aren’t considered safe by the USDA. The trendy practice of pickling by fermentation is also best left for those with deep understanding of food safety. Canning your pickles or making easy freezer pickles is the safest way to start.

Next, your pickles will only be as good as the vegetables you use. Find or pick very fresh young cucumbers for pickles. The fresher the cuke, the more natural pectin it contains. This pectin will keep your pickles crisp. Some recipes call for products like pickle crisp or suggest ice baths to preserve the crunch. Make sure to cut off the blossom end of the cucumber because it contains enzymes that will soften the cucumber. If you’re purchasing cucumbers, don’t buy any that have been waxed. The wax will interfere with the pickling processes.

Vinegar is key to pickling. Acidity in the vinegar is what keeps microorganisms from spoiling food. Be sure to check your vinegar labels for acidity percentage. Recipes are tested using vinegar with 5 percent acidity. Don’t skimp on the salt or substitute table salt for canning salt. Additives in table salt will cause cloudy brine. Stay away from Kosher salt unless the recipe specifically calls for it. Kosher salt is measured differently and can cause your pickles to be too salty.

For canned pickles, look for fresh pack recipes. You’ll need sterile jars and a pot large enough to boil several jars at once. A rack or good tongs will be needed to take the hot jars from the canning bath. The steps are easy. The recipe will dictate how to slice the cucumbers. Add the spices and the slices to jars. Cover the vegetables with the hot pickling solution which is mostly comprised of specific proportions of water, vinegar and salt. Seal with hot canning lids and cook for a bit in a boiling water bath. Cooking times for pickles are less than other forms of vegetable canning. After the jars cool, flavors will develop in a matter of weeks and you’ve made your own pickles.

If you want a no heat and no worries place to start, try freezer pickles. This is also fun to do with children. This recipe comes from Martha Zepp, Lancaster County Food Preservation Consultant with Penn State Cooperative Extension.

Martha’s Freezer Bread and Butter Pickles

Step 1
7 cups thinly sliced cucumbers
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons canning salt

Layer cucumbers, onion, and salt in a glass bowl or non-metallic bowl. Weight down and cover. Do not add water. Let stand overnight in refrigerator.

Step 2
2 cups sugar
1 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon celery seed (this can be adjusted for taste. Try adding some mustard seed.)

Next morning, combine, but do not cook, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup white vinegar, and 1 teaspoon celery seed, Zepp says. Stir until very smooth and sugar is dissolved. Drain sliced cucumbers and rinse well. Return to bowl, add syrup and refrigerate an additional 24 hours. Place into freezer containers leaving 1/2 inch headspace and freeze.

Pickling is simply an artful mix of vegetable, acid, spices, sugar and salt. Don’t limit your pickling to cucumbers. Dilly beans are a personal favorite. Adding a little vinegar, some spices and salt to vegetables is really all that’s required to preserve your garden veggies while adding flavor and interest.

Happy Thanksgiving

As a child, I remember Thanksgiving meals at my grandparents’ house. My brothers, sister, cousins, and I would play outside all morning and eat peanuts we roasted over the old wood burning stove. My grandfather grew peanuts so there was always plenty to keep us going until lunch.

Red cheeked and hungry, we would run into a house full of mouth watering aromas. After washing up, we would all gather around for the meal – we small ones at the kids’ table on the back porch and the adults in the dining room.  Before dining in we would stand in a circle holding hands around the “big” table and my grandfather would say the blessing.  All the wonderful dishes made it hard to sit through the prayer, but as I grew older I learned to listen to what he was saying and now, as an adult, I hear his words  echoed around my own Thanksgiving table. That’s what this celebration is all about, being thankful for the blessings of the year and rejoicing in the bounty of the harvest.

Many members of my family are gone now, but their memories are very much alive and with us on Thanksgiving. Every year I dig out my grandmother’s recipe for corn bread dressing and my sister always makes mother’s cranberry relish. My young nieces and nephews have taken the place of my brothers, sister and cousins around the kids’ table and we’re passing on to them this very American tradition that each family has made into their own.

This recipe is included in my cookbook. Click on the book image to learn more.Josephine Foster’s Cornbread Dressing

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons bacon drippings

Cornbread:
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 cups buttermilk

Dressing:
1 (6 to 7 pound) roasting chicken
8 tablespoons butter
3 to 4 celery rind, including leaves, chapped
1 medium onion, chopped
5 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
12 slices day-old white bread, crumbled
1 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 level tablespoon rubbed sage
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
First, prepare the cornbread batter: Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg and buttermilk, stirring well to combine.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Add bacon drippings to a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet and place in the oven for 4 minutes, or until it is hot.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven, and spoon the batter into the sizzling bacon drippings. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cornbread is lightly browned. Remove the skillet from the oven and turn the cornbread out onto a wire rack to cool.

Remove the giblets from the cavity of the chicken (reserve them if you’ll be making gravy). Thoroughly rinse the chicken inside and out. Place it in a stockpot, and cover it with cold water by about 2 inches.  Bring the water to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1 to 1 ½ hours, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender. Remove the chicken and set aside while preparing the dressing. Reserve the broth.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 13 x 9-inch baking pan, and set it aside.

Crumble the cooled cornbread into a large bowl. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the celery, onions, and green onions, and cook until they are tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Then add the mixture to the bowl containing the cornbread. Also add the crumbled white bread, 2 ½ to 3 cups of the reserved chicken broth, the half-and-half, beaten eggs, salt, sage, and black pepper. Mix everything well to combine.  Taste for seasoning. Spoon the dressing mixture into the baking dish. Place the chicken on top of the dressing – either whole or cut in pieces. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the chicken is brown on top and the dressing bubbly around the edges. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.