Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Schuuflie Boi

Shoo-fly pie is a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch molasses pie that gets it's name from the required "shooing away" of flies attracted to the sweet molasses and brown sugar that make up the bulk of this pastry. These pies are sold just about everywhere in southeastern Pennsylvania, including most supermarkets, where you will mostly find a dried out miserable version not worthy of being called Shoo-fly.

Shoo-fly pie is easy to make at home and worth the effort. Like any home made pie, that first still warm from the oven piece is something that can never be duplicated in a store bought version. A real Shoo-fly pie consists of three layers after it comes out of the oven...a dry crumb layer similar to coffee cake, a moist cake-like layer similar to gingerbread, and a gooey bottom layer similar to what you get in a Pecan Pie. The amount of gooey-ness in the pie can vary depending on cooking times and oven temperatures, and you will sometimes hear the term Wet Bottom to distinguish a gooey bottom pie from a typical more cake-like pie. Wet or dry, a home made pie is always best!

Here is a recipe from a 1960's Amish cookbook...

Pennsylvania Dutch Shoo-fly Pie

Crumb Topping:
4 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp spices: salt, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, mace
1/2 cup shortening (no butter)

Syrup Filling:
1 cup molasses- dark
1 cup hot water- and i level tsp. soda dissolved in the hot water
3 eggs

Stir syrup and let cool. Have two 9 inch pie shells ready. pour syrup filling into crusts, dividing portions equally. Sprinkle crumb topping over syrup mixture, dividing topping mixture evenly between the two shells. Leave a little "air" in the center of the pies to allow for expansion and to prevent mixture from boiling over. Bake 1 hour in 350 degree oven.

Serve with coffee...

and if you are feeling ambitious, the same cookbook has this recipe...

Shoo-Fly Pie (Schuuflie Boi)

Pie Dough:
8 lbs flour
6 tbsp salt
4 lbs shortening
4 qts water
Mix 5 minutes on dough machine adding water gradually

20 lbs barrel syrup
6 1/2 qts boiling water
stir well

4 lbs flour
2 tbsp soda
2 tbsp salt
2 lbs shortening
4 lbs brown sugar
8 tbsp cinnamon

Roll sugar fine- mix well, 2 1/4 cups liquid to each pie, 11 oz crumbs to each pie. Bake at 350 degrees until crust turns light brown.
Makes 48 pies.

Monday, August 24, 2009

drying time...


This is the time of year I start harvesting my herbs in order to dry them out so I can continue using them through the winter. Freshly dried herbs from your own garden can be just as good as using fresh cut summer herbs, and in some cases even better. Some of the herbs I dry have an even more intense flavor dried than they do fresh, especially Oregano and Mint. Drying your own herbs saves a ton of money, and provides a winter's worth of culinary spice that far exceeds store bought herbs.

There is nothing to it... just cut a nice bunch, wash off any dirt or insects, then tie with a string and hang them upside down in a well ventilated place out of direct sunlight. In a week or so they will be ready to crush the leaves and store in a jar.
I have some great ideas for herbal blends this year, a take on Herbes de Provence, and when I am finished drying this season's harvest I'll post the recipes for what I put together.

Lavender & Chives

Sunday, August 23, 2009

french babies...

I get so excited about tomatoes, I tend to forget about the other crops I grow. I planted French Baby Carrots and Detroit Red Beets in one of the new raised beds I built this year. That area of the yard doesn't get full sun, so the Beets didn't get very big, and some full sized carrots I grew haven't matured at all. But the French Babies are wonderful! Beautiful little carrots averaging around one inch long, but many of them are little marble sized balls. They are sweet and delicious! Next year I am going to cut down on the number of beets and double the amount of baby carrots!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday morning tomatoes....

Even with the terrible growing conditions and battling the Late Blight menace, the small crop of tomatoes that have made it to the harvest basket this season have been gorgeous! These are all local heirlooms from Amish Land Seeds and I have posted about my belief in the importance of growing local stock many times. Everything I grew this year has a long history of proven growth in Southeastern Pennsylvania gardens.These gorgeous results just confirm this philosophy for me, and I can't wait to see what these varieties will do in a summer of ideal growing conditions.

Everything I have been picking so far has not only looked beautiful, but has tasted wonderful. I think my favorite so far for taste has been the Harfeuer. The Schimmieg Creg is the hands down winner for appearance. I haven't tasted a Howard German yet, the one shown below was just picked this morning and it is the first harvest of the season. The surprise of the season have been the yellow tomatoes shown below. I didn't order any yellow tomatoes from Amish Land Seed, so there must have been an errant yellow seed or two among my seed packets. (not at all unusual for a small home based seed saving company) I checked the Amish Land Seed website and I think these are Hahnstown Yellow. The closest resemblance I could find to the photos on the website. They are really nice little fruits and I would definitely grow them again!


Howard German

Schimmieg Creg

Hahnstown Yellow

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cari Chay

It's easy to fall in love with a gorgeous eggplant at the farmer's market... the only problem is what to do with it when you bring it home. You can always make a wonderful eggplant parmesan, or add it to a pasta sauce that includes the tomatoes you are trying to find inventive uses for. But this beautiful grapefruit sized Asian Eggplant had Curry written all over it. I was going to use this eggplant in a tomato based curry until I remembered a simple Vietnamese Cari Chay (Vegetable and Tofu Curry) that I had seen in one of my curry books.

This is a simple curry that is just a Coconut Milk broth spiced with Indian Curry Powder and sweetened with Palm Sugar. There are no hot spices or curry pastes in this dish...

Start by frying some onions, garlic, and sweet peppers in oil...

When the onions are golden brown, add the Curry Powder and Palm Sugar. Allow this to fry for another five minutes while the palm sugar melts and slightly caramelizes...

Now add the Coconut Milk, and a few splashes of Fish Sauce. Bring to a slow boil...

Now add diced Tofu...

Add diced Eggplant and some fresh Thai Basil. Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the Eggplant is tender...

Serve over Jasmine Rice and enjoy!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

world's greatest sandwich...

simply the best

It need not be said that the world is full of fantastic sandwiches... the Hoagie, the Hamburger, the Banh Mi, the Philly Cheesesteak... but the hands down winner for world's greatest has to be the simple Tomato Sandwich.

Maybe it's because this delicacy can only really be made during the short but sweet weeks of summertime tomato harvesting. The incredible taste but a lingering memory for the remainder of the year. Who in their right mind would make one of these with a wintertime hothouse tomato? (ewww)

The freshest bread of choice... (classic old school white bread is actually preferred), thinly sliced tomatoes directly from the garden, a layer of just snipped basil leaves, and the defining ingredients... a thick slathering of Mayo and a good sprinkle of Jane's Mixed-Up Salt. It's how I've made this culinary masterpiece since I can remember.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

summer bounty

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

lazy way Marinara...

Last night I brought home three pounds of hybrid tomatoes from my CSA, and decided to make a batch of Marinara Sauce because it doesn't look like there will be any large abundance of tomatoes this season for canning or freezing. I typically start making sauces with my tomatoes much later in the season after I am literally sick of eating them fresh. But this season all bets are off as we all know, and after bringing home six pounds of tomatoes yesterday it just seemed like a good night to make some sauce!

Every ingredient in this Marinara Sauce came straight from Pennypack Farm and was cooked on the same day as harvest. (all except the Garlic and Anchovies) Couldn't be any fresher!

Start with a slow saute of Onions and a few cloves of Garlic. Nice low flame...

Add some dice green Pepper...

Now a few Anchovies.(Do it! Even if you hate Anchovies. It adds a nice complexity and slight saltiness to the sauce) Stir them around until they melt...

Now begin adding diced tomatoes. This is where the lazy factor comes in. I don't peel my tomatoes. I simply cut off the top, squeeze out most of the seeds over a bowl, and then dice them. Peeling tomatoes is an added step I usually avoid. I do not mind the texture of skins in my pasta sauce, and I am a firm believer that most of the nutrition of fruits and vegetables is in the skin. I never peel potatoes or carrots, and I would only peel tomatoes if I was making a concentrated paste or very traditional sauce.

Fresh Basil and Parsley...

Course chopped and added to the simmering tomatoes...

All that's let is a very slow simmer. Maybe a splash of really good Olive Oil and a touch of Balsamic Vinegar. The entire sauce can be pasta ready in less than 30 minutes if you are in a hurry, or you can let it simmer and thicken a bit and then put it into the fridge or freezer. This sauce is just as good the next day or thawed from the freezer as it is fresh. Enjoy!

Monday, August 17, 2009

CSA to the rescue!

CSA Week 12

Just when I was getting really bummed out about the state of the tomato season, my CSA had a really nice harvest of fruit today. In previous weeks, everyone was limited to one 3 lb. unit of tomatoes. Today we were allowed to take two units! So I got three lbs of Heirloom Ox Hearts for slicing and salads, and three lbs of hybrids. I made an excellent Marinara sauce with the hybrids, and I'll post photos of the sauce making process tomorrow...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Late Blight Blues...

I've been feeling pretty damn smug about escaping the wide spread Late Blight that is attacking Tomato beds throughout the Northeast. I was certain that my small suburban garden was well out of reach of any airborne spores that might be flying around, and the fact that I was growing only plants started from my own seed starts. I have been obsessively checking my plants every day, and all of my fruits look nice and healthy, even though they are way late in the ripening department.

To my dismay however, I have been watching a couple plants deteriorate very quickly in the past two weeks. I have been cutting off withering leaves on a daily basis, but the plants have just increasingly withered and yellowed. They also have developed lots of brown spots on the leaves and stems.

This morning I found this tomato sitting on the ground....

Here is the row of plants that have quickly grown sick. Notice how nice the plants behind them look in comparison...

So, while I hated to do it, I yanked out the entire row to try to prevent this blight from spreading. I put the plants into a garbage bag and into the trash. (never put any diseased plants into the compost pile)

The Tomato Season of 2009.... sigh.

Sambal Balachan

It is amazing what the addition of one ingredient can do to the complexity and flavor of a simple chili sauce. In a previous post I described the process of making a basic Sambal. A reader from Malaysia commented that she usually adds Balachan, or Shrimp Paste, to her home made Sambals, and that it was a very popular condiment in her country.

This sounded intriguing to me and I thought I would give it a try. Balachan is made from tiny shrimp that have been salted, dried, pounded and then left to ferment in the hot humid conditions of southeast Asia. It is sold in it's raw state of ultra pungent, rotten fish smelling goodness. It can be used directly as is if it will be added as a cooking ingredient or marinade, but if it is going to be added to a finished sauce or salad dressing, it must be cooked first. I found a great way to do this in one of my Asian cookbooks.

By cooking the Balachan in a foil packet, you eliminate most of the very strong smell that is given off by the process. And I say most of, because even this method of cooking the Balachan fills the air with a not entirely unpleasant, but very strong and distinct odor. Both of my sons wandered into the kitchen asking what the heck I was cooking? I can't imagine what the house would have smelled like if I had not used this method...

...about 4-5 minutes over a low flame turns the Balachan into a deep roasted brown color...

..add about 1 tsp of the roasted Shrimp Paste to a basic Sambal paste (Red Chili Peppers, Salt, Lemon Grass) Process in a food processor or use a traditional mortar & pestle method...

The addition of Balachan dramatically changes the flavor of Sambal. Like all Sambals, this is extremely hot and should be used sparingly. The addition of the salty and fishy Shrimp Paste nicely balances the heat of the Chili Peppers. Even my oldest son, who is a notoriously picky eater, tasted this and while he didn't love it, he agreed that it was pleasantly unique.
My younger son held up the jar of raw Shrimp Paste and taunted his older brother by saying, "You just ate this stuff !?!"

5 Minute Sambal

Note- Balachan is also known as Blachan, Belachan, Terasi, Trassi, Kapi, and Ngapi

Friday, August 14, 2009

What's for Lunch?

Blogs are buzzing about USA Today nutritionist Elizabeth Ward's suggestions for finding "healthy" food on the road, which is mostly the same old tired attempts at finding healthy choices from the menus at McDonalds and Burger King, KFC, etc., clearly suggesting that people are too stupid or lazy to seek out food sources other than fast food restaurants. (or heaven forbid, pack a home prepared cooler of real food)

Steer Toward Healthy Road Food

Just for kicks, let's take a look at the ingredient list of two of Ward's healthy suggestions...

McDonald's Scrambled Eggs-

Pasteurized whole eggs with sodium acid pyrophosphate, citric acid and monosodium phosphate (added to preserve color), nisin (preservative). Prepared with Liquid Margarine: Liquid soybean oil, water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, hydrogenated cottonseed oil, soy lecithin, mono-and diglycerides, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (preservatives), artificial flavor, citric acid, vitamin A palmitate, beta carotene (color).

KFC Grilled Chicken-

Fresh Chicken Marinated with: Salt, Sodium Phosphate, and Monosodium Glutamate. Seasoned with: Maltodextrin, Salt, Bleached Wheat Flour, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oil, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Secret Kentucky Grilled Chicken Spices, Palm Oil, Natural Flavor, Garlic Powder, Soy Sauce (Soybean, Wheat, Salt), Chicken Fat, Chicken Broth, Autolyzed Yeast, Beef Powder, Rendered Beef Fat, Extractives of Turmeric, Dehydrated Carrot, Onion Powder, and Not More Than 2% Each of Calcium Silicate and Silicon Dioxide Added as Anticaking Agents. Contains Wheat and Soy.

How Yummo !! Doesn't everyone use Rendered Beef Fat when they make grilled chicken at home? Show of hands please...

If you want an eye opening and stomach churning experience, check out the official ingredient statements from some of the major fast food chains...

McDonalds Ingredients

KFC Ingredients

Burger King Ingredients

Taco Bell Ingredients

Wendy's Ingredients

Thursday, August 13, 2009

5 Minute Sambal

My first real introduction to Sambal was during a trip to Amsterdam. I had lunch at a little restaurant called Sampurna that serves traditional Indonesian Rijsttafel

Rijsttafel , a Dutch word that literally translates to "rice table", is an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch from the Indonesian feast called nasi padang. It consists of many (forty is not an unusual number) side dishes served in small portions, accompanied by rice prepared in several different ways. Popular side dishes include egg rolls, sambals, satay, fish, fruit, vegetables, pickles, and nuts. It was the one and only time I have experienced Rijsttafel, but the wonderful variety of tastes, especially the various Sambals that were on the table, have led me to experiment with Indonesian style cooking and flavors.

I currently have several varieties of hot peppers growing in the garden that are perfect for making Sambals, my Thai Dragon and Tabasco peppers are going to be excellent choices, but they have not yet turned from green to red. I do however have plenty of Red Cherry Peppers. While I am not sure if these are a traditional pepper to use in a Sambal, I decided to give it a try. I adapted several different recipes for basic Sambal that I found in Asian cookbooks I own. Here is the ingredient list I ended up using...

4-5 Red Cherry Peppers
1 tsp chopped fresh Lemon Grass
6 leaves fresh Thai Basil
3 cloves fresh Garlic
1 tsp fresh minced Ginger
2 tsp Sugar
2 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and grind into a fine paste...

Takes no more than 5 minutes to have a very spicy condiment that can be enjoyed on just about anything. Wonderful when added to a bowl of plain old rice! The flavor of the Ginger and Lemon Grass really come through and balance out the heat of the peppers. I recommend using it very sparingly at first if you are new to Sambals because the heat can get very intense depending on the type of peppers used.

Don't forget that there are hundreds of varieties of Sambal from many culinary regions of Asia. Experiment with other ingredients. If you prefer a milder version, just remove the seeds from the peppers before processing the Sambal.

Wikipedia has a great page with more about Sambal

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tomato Report

Seems everywhere you turn, the garden talk is about how bad the tomato season is. The early season weather was cool and wet, gardeners had to wait until very late in the spring to set out plants, and now Late Blight is reeking havoc on tomato crops throughout the Northeast.

My own tomato crop is at least three weeks behind last year's in terms of fruit maturity and ripening schedule. I am also seeing smaller plants, quite a few yellow leaves, and about half the amount of fruit this year as compared to last year. Last season, with fewer plants, I was swimming in tomatoes by this time. I was eating tomatoes at every meal, and giving bags of extras to my neighbors and family.

Things could be much worse, however, and I am very glad I decided to go with the tomato varieties I picked. Way back in mid-Winter, I did some research and found a small owner operated company in Lancaster, Pa., Amish Land Seeds. This is a small, one woman operation that provides hand selected heirloom seeds from the Amish and Mennonite farms throughout Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They have a fantastic website with excellent photos and descriptions of all of the seed varieties they sell.

I think that several factors helped me out tremendously this year and helped salvage what could have been a total crop failure. First, I am growing only seed started heirloom tomatoes that were developed to grow successfully in my own region. I have always been a fan of starting my own tomato plants from seed, but many years I will also buy some starts from my local garden supply center if I see something interesting. Even in the poor growing conditions we have had, my plants have maintained nice steady growth and reasonable fruit production. The few tomatoes I have harvested so far have been delicious!

I am completely sold on this idea of growing locally developed heirloom varieties, and I am looking forward to seeing how well they do in what will hopefully be a better weather season next year and in years to come.

Here are photos I took this morning of the varieties I am growing. Looks like I should be getting some nice harvests in the next few weeks...

Howard German (Amish Heirloom)

Glicks 18 Mennonite (Mennonite Heirloom)

Harzfeuer (German Heirloom)

Schmmeig Creg (German Heirloom)

Amish Land Seed website

*Edit*... When I wrote this post I had not seen this fantastic Op-Ed in the 8/8/09 New York Times...

You Say Tomato, I say Agricultural Disaster, by Dan Barber

Barber spells out many of the things that have contributed to the current harvest problems...

It’s important to note, too, that this year there have been many more hosts than in the past as more and more Americans have taken to gardening. Credit the recession or Michelle Obama or both, but there’s been an increased awareness of the benefits of growing your own food. According to the National Gardening Association, 43 million households planned a backyard garden or put a stake in a share of a community garden in 2009, up from 36 million in 2008. That’s quite a few home gardeners who — given the popularity of the humble tomato — probably planted a starter or two this summer.

Here’s the unhappy twist: the explosion of home gardeners — the very people most conscious of buying local food and opting out of the conventional food chain — has paradoxically set the stage for the worst local tomato harvest in memory.

So what do we do?

For starters, if you’re planning a garden (and not growing from seed — the preferable, if less convenient, choice), then buy starter plants from a local grower or nursery. A tomato plant that travels 2,000 miles is no different from a tomato that has traveled 2,000 miles to your plate. It’s an effective way to help local growers, who rely on sales of these plants before the harvest arrives. It’s also a way to protect agriculture. If late blight occurs in a small nursery it’s relatively easy to recognize, as straightforward as being able to see the plant, recognize its symptoms and isolate it before it has a chance to spread.

... and there is a great follow up to the Barber Op-Ed on Slow Food's Blog...

So, when we start thinking about what next to grow in our gardens, let’s search out place-based varieties, buy plants from local farmers and nurseries and buy seeds from regional seed companies. This will ensure those seeds are adapted to our particular climate needs

Slow Food USA blog

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

CSA Week 11

My Pennypack Farm CSA share for this week included really wonderful Sweet Green Peppers, Kale, Onions, Cabbage, Cucumbers, and three varieties of Tomatoes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Philadelphia Farmers Markets

As we approach the height of the harvest season, here is a list of Farmers Markets in the City of Philadelphia...

Reading Terminal Market: Open Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.12th & Arch Streets, (215) 922-2317

The Italian Market: Closed Sunday afternoons and Monday. 9th Street between Catharine & Wharton Streets, (215) 922-5557
Second Street Farmers’ Market: Many unusual farmers, including goat cheese farmer and organic growers. Open June-mid-November, Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. 2nd & South Streets, (215) 568-0830

South & Passyunk Farmers’ Market: Small market with produce, flowers and plants. Open mid-May-Thanksgiving, Tuesday from 2-7 p.m. South Street & Passyunk Avenue, (215) 733-9599

South Street West Farmers’ Market: Apples, peaches, organic growers, baked foods, preserves and more. Open June-mid-November, Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. 16th & South Streets, (215) 568-0830

Clark Park Farmers’ Market: Organic produce, flowers, bedding plants, herbs and baked goods. Open June-mid-November, Thursday from 3-7 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. 43rd Street & Baltimore Avenue, (215) 243-0555

Cliveden Park Farmers’ Market: Baker and a produce vendor with cider, jam, canned goods and vegetables. Wednesday from 2-6 p.m. Chew Avenue & Johnson Street, (215) 568-0830
12th Street Farmers' Market: Small market with produce and flowers. Open June-mid-October, Tuesday from 3-7 p.m. 12th Street between Walnut & Locust Streets, (215) 568-0830

Fitler Square Farmers’ Market: Small market with organic produce and flowers. Open May-mid-November, Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. 23rd & Pine Streets, (215) 568-0830

Firehouse Farmers’ Market: Located in a former Victorian Firehouse; offers produce, meats, dairy products, flowers and breakfast. Open year-round, Tuesday-Saturday from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. 701 S. 50th Street at Baltimore Avenue, (215) 724-7660.

Dutch Country Farmers’ Market: Six vendors selling produce, deli goods, hot sandwiches, pretzels, Jewish breads and rotisserie meats. Open year-round, Wednesday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday from 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. 2031 Cottman Avenue, (215) 745-6008

Lancaster County Farmers’ Market: More than a dozen booths, including fresh and smoked meats, pretzels, produce and baked goods. Open year-round, Tuesday from 7 a.m.-4 p.m.; Friday from 7 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. 5942 Germantown Avenue, (215) 843-9564

Chestnut Hill Farmers’ Market: More than a dozen vendors selling cut-to-order meats, produce, dairy and ethnic cuisine. Open Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 8229 Germantown & Southampton Avenues, (215) 248-3336

Palmer Park Farmers’ Market: Small market with large variety of produce. Open June-November, Thursday from 2-6 p.m. Frankford Avenue & E. Palmer Street, (215) 568-0830

Lincoln High School Farmers’ Market: Approximately six farmers offering organic produce, goat cheese, fresh fruit and Amish baked goods. Open June-October, Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Roland Avenue near Ryan Avenue, (215) 733-9599

Ridge & Girard Farmers’ Market: Small market with produce grown by area teens, as well as fresh cut flowers, Lancaster County fruits and vegetables, herb and flower seedlings. Open June-October, Friday from 2-6 p.m. Ridge & Girard Avenues, (215) 733-9599

Park & Grange Farmers’ Market: Small market with Lancaster County fruits and vegetables. Open June-October, Thursday from 2-6 p.m. Park & Grange Avenues, near Broad & Olney Streets, (215) 733-9599

Freedom Square Farmers’ Market: Small market with locally grown fruits and vegetables, Amish baked goods and barbecue chicken and ribs. Open June-October, Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Germantown Avenue & Wister Street, (215) 733-9599

Lancaster Avenue Farmers’ Market: Small market with organic produce and breads, flowers and pastured meats. Open June-October, Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Lancaster & Powelton Avenues, (215) 733-9599

Spruce & 33rd Farmers’ Market: Small market featuring organic produce. Open June-October, Thursday from 12 noon-6 p.m. 33rd & Spruce Streets, (215) 733-9599

This list compiled from

Here are some additional markets sent in from Angie... Thanks Crafty!

Fairmount Farmers Market
Thursday afternoons, from 3 to 7pm
22nd and Fairmount Ave

UPenn Farmers Market
Wednesdays from 10am to 2pm
36th and Walnut Streets,
Cafe Bon Appetit

Drexel Green Farmers Market
Tuesdays through October 27, 2009
11 am -3 pm in front of MacAlister Hall
33rd and Chestnut Streets

Schuylkill Farmers Market
Wednesdays, from 3:00pm - 7:00pm
Schuylkill River Park
S 25th St & Spruce St

Corrections and/or additions to this list would be greatly appreciated. Leave them in comments and I will update as needed.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Produce Care

Besides the fantastic vegetables and fruits that I get on a weekly basis, another great thing about being a CSA member has been the newsletters I get from Pennypack Farm and North Star Orchard. Each newsletter always contains well written information about the struggles and rewards of farming, suggestions for cooking the weekly harvest, and other valuable news and information.

Today's newsletter from North Star Orchard contains this great article on storing and caring for fruits and vegetables once you bring them home...

Many folks don’t give much thought to what they do to store produce. If they were taught to put it in the fridge, they do. If they were taught it should go in the fruit bowl, they do. But sometimes what we’re taught and/or what we habitually do with produce we bring home is not the optimal thing to do in order to keep it fresh and tasting its best. So how do you know what to do?

There is actually a bit of science behind this. I know I just probably lost some of you already, but please try to bear with me. A vegetable or fruit is a living thing. As such, it respires (takes in oxygen) and respires (gives off carbon dioxide and heat), even after it is picked. Additionally, produce gives off moisture (transpiration). For most produce, refrigeration slows all of those things down, which will keep it fresher and tasting better for a longer period of time.

Slowing transpiration (loss of water from the produce) is what using ‘crisper’ drawer or plastic bags/containers are all about. If you think about it, produce is made up of a lot of water. When produce starts to lose that water, it becomes limp or wilted or floppy. Some produce has thick skin, like apples, squash, and citrus; those items lose water at a slower rate than more delicate items like lettuces, various greens, and even carrots. Left loose in the fridge (and sometimes even in the crisper drawer), those items get floppy in no time at all. Keeping delicates wrapped or packaged tightly will ensure their freshness for a long time. Fresh lettuces and greens should easily keep for a week or more if you store them in a tight plastic bag (pushing out all the air).

Of course, there are other things to consider, such as chilling injury, which can destroy flavor …but only in certain items. As most folks know, if you chill a tomato down to the temperature most refrigerators run at, the flavor is gone…kaput! This is just another in a long series of reasons why grocery store tomatoes don’t taste like anything. Other produce items which are sensitive to chilling injury include peaches, eggplant, and basil. That isn’t to say you can’t refrigerate them…but you must do so with caution (except for tomatoes, that is….just say no!).

So how is one to know? Well, if you don’t know, ask! Your tastebuds and wallet will be glad for it. In general, you should:

Never refrigerate: tomatoes, dry onions, garlic, bananas, or potatoes (and you don’t need to refrigerate ‘winter’ squash such as acorn, delicate, buttercup, etc., although you can if you really want to.)

Refrigerate briefly (i.e. remove and use within 2 or 3 days if possible): cucumbers, eggplant, melons

Refrigerate: most everything else (AND keep them tightly wrapped or packaged up so you don’t lose moisture!), including apples, Asian pears, citrus, beets, greens and lettuces, carrots, etc.

SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT STONE FRUITS (peaches, plums, and nectarines): In general, let them sit out for a few days until soft. Then, either eat them, cut them up and freeze them (with a bit of ascorbic acid to prevent browning) or put them in the fridge. You can store firm peaches and plums in the fridge for a little while and then bring them out to soften up, but the longer they are in the fridge (like if you forget about them for 2 weeks in a dark corner), the more likely it is they’ll be mushy and flavorless when you soften them up.

And that ‘paper bag’ thing? Skip it! The notion of using a paper bag to ripen things up started as a way to try to get those grocery store peaches and apples to soften up and taste like something. But in general, if you’re getting those items fresh from a local farmer, rather than from California, Argentina, or China, those peaches and tomatoes should be ripe enough to soften up just fine in a day or two or three just sitting out there all by their lonesome. No paper bag needed! They’ll be prettier to look at in the process, and you’re less likely to forget about them (only to come return to a sticky mass of goo in that paper bag on the counter. Ick).

North Star Orchards