Mad skills…

Homemade broth is not only nourishing to the body, but also the soul.

If you spend any amount of time w my friend Heather, you’ll hear her refer to someone and their mad skills, usually referring to their cooking skills. If you have “mad skills’, you can cook just about anything and make it taste good.

We aren’t born with these skills. I’m fortunate enough to have mentors, such as my great-aunt, that love food as much as I do.

Using vegetable scraps in broth are a great way to reduce food waste and save money, but not all scraps are created equal.

She had a huge bookcase full of cookbooks and we’d read them on lazy Summer days, commenting on what looked good. She was my cooking mentor before OPB and Julia Child. I’ve always loved food and cooking and learning about it, using it in my daily life, and sharing it come easily to me. Do what you love, and the rest will fall into place, right? What if you don’t have a mentor, or someone to share your love of cooking? Well…that’s where we come in. The Master Food Preserver volunteers and staff in Clackamas County wanted to try something new and created skill sheets for folks and the farmers that feed them.

Green Sauces can be made from greens as well as herbs.

I’ve mentioned our stellar volunteer group. They’ve been patient during the pandemic, asking for ways to participate with the Family and Community Health program when we can’t provide in-person classes. Early this Spring we met via Zoom to discuss ways to support farmers selling their produce. I alluded to it in this post.

In case you thought pesto was the only green sauce.

We didn’t want to step on our well-respected peers toes, so we decided to focus on skills. Skill sheets are open-ended so you can apply them to many different foods. It opens up a world of options and decreases food waste. This idea originated with Zenger Farm’s CSA for Prescription Health program.

Fall and Winter root vegetables bring richness, flavor, and sweetness to your cooking. Try celery root this year!

Creating something simple and easy to use is harder than it sounds. These sheets represent months of brainstorming, researching, testing, editing, countless emails, and printing.

Big shout out to all of the Clackamas County volunteers that contributed, (I won’t list them here for privacy reasons), as well as Kelly, my friend and

Simple and tasty cooking ideas to help get you started. 

neighbor Kristina (lady, you have mad editing skills!) and Bryan and the Zenger peeps…y’all are rock stars. Thank you!!

 

 

 

Please, please, please, share. These aren’t meant to be a “best-kept secret”. A downloadable pdf is available on our webpage under Culinary Skill Sheets as well as our social media pages. If you find them useful, or not, please share your (constructive) feedback in the comments.

 

I can personally verify that trimmed basil stems kept in a glass of water will eventually sprout. 

 

As always my friends, keep up the good work. You’re doing a great job. I have to remind myself that 100% today may look different from yesterday’s (or tomorrow’s) 100%. Be kind to yourself. It’s been a little rough lately, but as Samwise Gamgee said to Frodo, “There’s some good in this world, Mr Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Do yourself a favor, if you have access to green (unripe) coriander seeds, keep them.  They freeze well and are great in a next veggie saute, green sauce, or curry. Mine are pickling in a fermented hot sauce. 🙂

Stay curious and be excellent to each other.

Buffy Rhoades| mom. forager. gardener. volunteer turned program assistant. a real busy beaver

instagram icon download 24x24 - curved Healthy Together Newsletter  Website

 

It’s okay to be a little corny…

Nasturtiums “from my garden” was listed as a salad ingredient and were peppery and delicious.
Photo from Buffy Rhoades. (Yes, these are from my garden.)

A couple weeks ago my husband and I celebrated our anniversary with a fancy-schmancy dinner at a local restaurant. They featured seafood and seasonal produce, and to my delight, corn was one of the highlights of the menu. (Corn pudding or majarete, is delightful! Who’d have known?!) 

Photo courtesy of Julian Scholl on Unsplash

Now listen, I’m dating myself here, but I have childhood memories of a large wooden crate of freshly harvested corn on the side of the road with a hand-painted sign advertising “CORN 4 ears for $1”. My family would bring some home for dindin, but also to preserve for the rest of the year, because in-season produce is not only best quality, it’s also more affordable.

Lucky for us, Oregon State University Extension has a number of food preservation publications for individual foods, such as Preserving Corn. If you don’t care to pressure can your corn, but would really like to freeze it, they share everything you need to know about how to get the best results. (I did not know that you need to blanch corn before freezing it until I began training as a volunteer for OSU Extension. This explains my previously disappointing results!)

Photo courtesy of Mohd Hafiz Yahya on Unsplash

The season is winding down, but it’s not too late. I’ll be dreaming of my beloved great-aunt Barbara’s corn chowder while cleaning, blanching, and freezing ears of corn this weekend. Also, don’t forget OSU Extension’s Food Hero site for more recipes, facts, and kid activities. 

It’s been a long while since my last post. Be assured, more topics are on the horizon, but in the meantime, if you haven’t already subscribed to our YouTube channel, followed us on Instagram and Facebook, or visited our webpage, please do so. We share all kinds of things relating to the Family and Community Health program. Mostly about life and getting good at it. (I love that quote!)

Sunflowers from the garden have been a source of joy this season. 
Photo by Buffy Rhoades

As always my friends, keep up the good work. Get your pressure canner gauge tested at an Extension office, stay curious and be excellent to each other.

Buffy Rhoades| mom. forager. gardener. volunteer turned program assistant. a real busy beaver

instagram icon download 24x24 - curved Healthy Together Newsletter  Website

 

Tiny Bubbles

Photo by Buffy Rhoades

I harvested the last peppers from my garden two weeks ago. Earlier this Spring, the stellar staff at Naomi’s Organic Garden Supply recommended a yellow chili pepper varietal that I planned to use in ferments. Sarit Gat, a slim, yellow, hot chili from Kosovo and a steady producer, provided colorful heat to my spicy dill pickles and was intended to become a base for fermented hot sauce.

Coriander blossoms and seeds are aromatic and interesting. So much better than dried… Image from Buffy Rhoades.

I’d planned on pairing it with the seemingly ever present green coriander seeds in the garden, along with ginger and garlic. I congratulated myself on planning holiday gifts while purchasing the seeds last February. *pat on the back*

Well…my first two batches failed. I wasn’t alone. Friends reported that their sauerkraut or pickles weren’t bubbling and were way too salty.

Ready for brine…
Image buy Buffy Rhoades

 

Failed batches are a learning opportunity, but we were following tested recipes, so I wasn’t sure what went wrong. Did any of you have issues with your ferments being too salty this year? Did Kahm yeast, that white film that ruins the flavor of ferments, colonize in your jars? Raise your hand if that happened to you too. *hand raised*

It’s important to understand how fermentation occurs so you can learn from your experiences. The subject of fermentation is diverse (pickles, wet-brine, dry-brine, vinegar, wine, beer, kombucha, sourdough, yogurt, cheese, charcuterie…) and is well covered by knowledgeable authors of famous books and university publications that provide step-by-step instructions, equipment recommendations, and trouble-shooting help.

All brined up and no where to go.
Image from Buffy Rhoades

We can’t review all these topics in one post, but will dig deeper in the future. (My friend, Kristina, is recommending a multi-part series to cover this topic.) Let me know if you’re interested in more fermenting content. For now, let’s take a look at evaluating pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut.

This may be putting the cart before the horse, but understanding the principles- the How It Works and Why We Do What We Do- can help you answer your own questions during the process. Every batch, every season, is different and knowing how to respond to this living project may be helpful as you get started.

So this is the low-down:

I purchased a new airlock system with glass weight to see if it prevented yeast development.
Image by Buffy Rhoades

Salt: It creates a beneficial environment for certain bacteria to grow and discourages growth of undesirable bacteria. It’s used to pull liquid from vegetables when dry-salting, a technique used when making sauerkraut, or as a brine to submerge vegetables, such as when making pickles. Only use pickling/canning salt, as not all salts are the same weight by volume and recipes are tested use this salt. It’s also free of additives.

Containers: Glass, food-grade plastic, and ceramic is okay. Avoid metal clasp-top lids because the acidity you’re striving for will eventually ruin them. I like glass containers because the tiny bubbles show active fermenting and I can see if all the bubbles have been released daily. Quart and half-gallon jars are great; place on a non-metal plate or pie tin to catch drips. 

A jelly jar fits nicely in wide-mouth quart jars. Image from Buffy Rhoades

 

Weights: You need something to keep your fermenting ingredients under liquid. This can be easier said than done, as little wispy things like to float. It’s important though, because fermentation bacteria thrive in anaerobic (air-free) environments. Large cabbage leaves or even a couple onion slices can act as the first layer to corral small vegetables or spices. You can go low-tech and use a zip-close bag or jelly jar filled with brine (or jelly), or ceramic or glass weights. I have zero luck using a plate. If it works for you… awesome-sauce. Please tell me what you do in the comments. FYI, The Joy of Pickling suggests using brine instead of water, just in case the bag leaks or the jar spills in your product. By the way, it’s not a matter of if it will leak. It’s a matter of when.

Note the onion slices acting as a first layer and the cloudy brine. Cloudy brine is normal.
Photo by Buffy Rhoades

Temperature: This is pretty cool to know. As a general rule of thumb, a slow ferment produces the most interesting flavor. The beginning bacteria like to start out around 60F and 72F. Too low and they have a hard time waking up. Temps higher than 80F and they’re likely to be soft and can skyrocket into what I think of as the Fast Track lactobacillus and can become very acidic, but not have much depth of flavor. Temps over 90F can result in rotting. Sometimes low temps are a good thing, like if you’re going away for the weekend and have no one to babysit your batch, you can pop it in the fridge, but is not ideal at the beginning of your ferment or for long term storage. 

Sequential growth of bacterial species with acid production during fermentation. Image from the amazing resource book Food Preservation and Safety: Principles and Practice.
by Shirley J. VanGarde and Margy Woodburn

What’s Happening In There? The initial fermenters, the first bacteria, are naturally present on the surface of the vegetables. (Yes, you should still wash the veggies before starting.) Salt, water, temperature, and providing an anaerobic environment help them outgrow the competition. They consume carbohydrates and convert them to acid. That conversion creates a new, optimum (acidic), environment for the next set of microbes, and so on. As they expire, they release gas (CO2) resulting in bubbles. 

Managing Brine: Now listen, this is important. Brine is not just salt water. Its the juices pulled from your vegetables. It’s the accumulation of different bacteria converting sugar to acid. It’s valuable stuff. It evolves with your vegetables. When your product is full of bubbles, don’t let them just sit there. Gently shake them out. They create pockets of air, something we want to avoid. Plus it’s a fun way to start the morning. Either way, you don’t want to lose this stuff. (Unless it’s thick and slimy, in which case you toss the contents, note what you did wrong and start over.) Which brings me to the major reason for loss of brine…

See that? Thats not enough headspace. Image by Buffy Rhoades

Headspace: Do not overfill the jar or container. It can be tempting to add “just a little bit more” to a nearly full jar. Please, I beg of you, learn from me and don’t do it. As your ferment becomes more active, it will overflow and if you’ve overfilled the jar, you’ll lose that valuable brine. (This is where the non-reactive plate or pie pan comes in handy.) Some overflow is natural and to be expected, but you don’t want to lose so much that you don’t have enough to cover your ingredients. When this happened I tried to push it down. Guess what. It didn’t work. I had to remove some kraut. Adding new brine at this point is too late, because the microbes have been hard at work creating a whole new environment. I called that failure a “teachable moment.”

Recipes: This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Imagine growing peppers from seed and reserved limited garden space to let your coriander plants go to seed, but for some reason used an untested recipe and, instead of fermenting, it became a salty host for Kahm yeast. Do yourself a favor, save time, money, and effort and use extension resources. OSU Extension’s Pickling Vegetables publication is a great place to start!

These take up quite a bit of fridge space. Image from Buffy Rhoades

Now What Do I Do? If left under the same conditions, your product will continue to ferment, but will move beyond peak quality and begin to deteriorate. You have a couple of options: 

  1. Store in the fridge. Eat it. Gift it.  It’ll be at peak flavor and texture for about 6-9 months, depending on the temperature of your fridge, but will be fine for about a year. The color will fade and texture will become softer but it won’t be unsafe.  Depending on how many ferments you have, this may take up a substantial amount of fridge space. Plan accordingly 🙂
  2. Preserve: If you eat fermented foods for its probiotic benefits, you won’t be interested in canning your sauerkraut, as it kills the probiotics. But did you know it’s possible to do so? If you decide to Boiling Water Can fermented pickles, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, OSU’s Pickling Vegetables, and other university publications have recipes to safely do so. Half-fermented products, like half-sours, cannot be processed because they haven’t developed the acid necessary to make it a safe product. Also, fully fermented pickles made from a tested recipe can be safely processed using Low Temperature Pasteurization, if indicated in the recipe.

With guidance from OSU Extension and Master Food Preserver Volunteer Program, I learned the science behind fermentation and gained confidence from my amazing teachers, but still make mistakes. We talk them over, share ideas, experiences, theories and learn from each other. In hindsight, I should have sanitized my equipment, since Kahm yeast likes to stick around a while. I managed to save the failed peppers by rinsing them and applying different preservation techniques. One batch went into the dehydrator to become powder, using the technique mentioned in Tomatoes and Autumn Sweaters, and the other batch is in 5% strength apple cider vinegar. It smells amazing and is nicely spicy. I see pickled onions in my future!

Sarit Gat gifts 2.0
Image by Buffy Rhoades

 

Don’t be discouraged by failure. If we’re lucky, we learn from it, right? 

Until next time friends… please comment, share, and visit the OSU Extension Clackamas County Family and Community Health (FCH) program’s Facebook and Instagram pages, learn new skills on our YouTube channel, read the latest installment of holiday topics in our newsletter, Healthy Together, and more on our website.  

 
Keep exploring, stay curious, and be excellent to each other!
 
Buffy Rhoades | mom. gardener. volunteer turned program assistant. a real busy beaver

Winter Squash and Wild Mushrooms

Kabocha and Butternut curing on the porch
Testukabuto squash samples at the Culinary Breeding Network

February 16th, I attended OSU’s Culinary Breeding Network Variety Showcase event, sadly one of my last public events before COVID-19, and sampled a Tetsukabuto cream filled Purple Karma barley waffle cone. It blew my mind. Creamy texture and not-too-sweet, the squash was a perfect marriage with the dark chocolate-lined barley waffle cone. I planted Kabocha seeds and plan to attempt to replicate this dish.

Folks love the comfort-food quality of pumpkin and warm spices, and often ask how they can preserve their winter squash. Unfortunately, pressure canning pumpkin (or other winter squash) puree is unsafe. The density of the low-acid puree prevents thorough heat penetration, creating a serious food-safety risk of Botulism. If your “Charlie Brown Pumpkin Patch” has produced more than your freezer can accommodate, consider canning them in cubes and puree after opening the jar. Also, check out Food Hero’s winter squash and pumpkin recipes, nutrition information, coloring sheets…so much goodness… on their website

Pumpkin soup and pepitas. Photo courtesy of Tina Vanhove on Unsplash.

Can’t find jars or lids? Remember the dehydrator and powder technique I shared in the last post, Tomatoes and Autumn Sweaters? This technique works for winter squash too. Wash, cut in half and roast, leaving the skin on, until soft. Scoop out the flesh and mash or puree. Gently cook it down to the consistency of canned pumpkin and add spices to the pulp for pie filling or soup base. Dehydrate on a leather tray at 135 degrees f until crispy. Break into shards and grind into powder and store in an airtight container. Don’t waste the seeds! Toasted Pumpkin seeds, aka Pepitas, are delicious and full of nutrients. Instructions here.

Golden Chanterelle photo by Buffy Rhoades

My favorite seasonal treat, wild mushrooms, present a similar issue when it comes to preserving. Freezing and dehydrating are the only research-based, university-approved methods to preserve wild mushrooms. Mushrooms have a low pH (6.2) and are a food safety risk for Botulism. Due to their uniform size and density, commercially-grown button mushrooms have been researched, resulting in safe, tested recipes. Chanterelles and other edible fungi have not been tested. (I would love to see research on other safe ways to preserve Oregon’s state mushroom.) Until then, I’ll happily forage, freeze, and dehydrate.

I like the effect of dry sautéing mushrooms. It releases their juices and yields a beautifully caramelized mushroom, perfect for dehydrating or freezing. Instead of boiling away the mushroom juices, I save them in a container to use as broth for freezing. (Or mushroom gravy.) If freezing, I add a tiny amount of butter or olive oil at the end of cooking so the mushrooms get somewhat crispy, but I don’t add fat during the cooking process if dehydrating them. (The oil can become rancid over time.) 

When fully cooked, cool, label, and store in the freezer

 

FYI, button mushrooms do not need to be cooked before drying, but due to the fibrous nature of chanterelles, they benefit from pre-cooking. Our Master Food Preserver dehydrating guru, Don Wiley, explained that the cell structure of most vegetables, and this includes fibrous mushrooms like chanterelles, needs to be broken down before drying so they aren’t tough and rubbery when reconstituted. (Steaming is a fine method of pre-treatment.) After dehydrating, consider grinding them up for an easy mushroom soup base, perfect for backpacking or camping, or leave whole. Sealed in an airtight container or vacuum sealer, they’ll keep for months to years. Thank you Don!

 

Until next time, friends… enjoy the beautiful Autumn weather and fruits of the season. Look for more information on the OSU Extension Family and Community Health program on FacebookInstagramYouTube, our website, and newsletter.

Keep exploring, stay curious, and be excellent to each other!
 
Buffy | mom. gardener. volunteer turned program assistant. a real busy beaver
 

Tomatoes and Autumn Sweaters

As last week’s morning fog can attest, Autumn has arrived in the Pacific Northwest. It brings to mind garden clean up, and one of my favorite songs by Yo La Tengo, Autumn Sweater.

End of season tomatoes on a misty Oregon morning.

As the weather cools and Summer crops fade, it’s tempting to let tomatoes stay on the vine, but if you’re going to be canning them you might want to reconsider. Tomatoes from dead or frost-killed vines in your garden are unsafe to can. (Yes, it’s true!) Why? The pH in tomatoes attached to dead or frost killed vines change to a less acidic level that is unsafe for safe canning directions. Despair not, they’re still great for drying, pickling, freezing, and eating fresh! 

Pickled tomatoes w edible flowers and whole spices. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Schockley via #fermentation on Instagram.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation has some great ideas on uses for green tomatoes here. (Pickled green tomatoes are going into this year’s holiday gift baskets as part of a Bloody Mary kit.)

 

Clackamas County Master Food Preservers utilize every bit of their tomatoes by dehydrating the skins left over after peeling tomatoes for canning. It’s an easy, no-waste method of Extending the Harvest. Dehydrated tomato skins, leftover pulp, and seeds become delicious tomato powder. Powder can be used in soup, sauce base, or paste, and is a perfect backpacking/camping food. Bonus, it doesn’t require jars. (Jar and lid shortage is a real thing!)

Blended tomatoes, dried herbs and garlic for dehydrated pizza sauce. Photo by Buffy Rhoades

To make: Blend cooked skins, or whole cooked tomatoes into a sauce and spread on lightly oiled leather trays. Caution! Let the sauce cool before blending in a blender! Dry at 135°F for approximately 10 hours. After about six hours, the tomato leather should be dry enough to remove from the leather trays. Flip onto mesh drying trays and finish dehydrating until brittle.

 

Blended tomato skins. Photo from Buffy Rhoades.
When completely dry, you should be able to easily snap or tear it into smaller pieces. Blend with a blender or food processor until powder. Store in an airtight container and shake to condition. To make into a thick sauce, add 1/2 cup of boiling water to 2 1/2 T of powder. It’ll thicken slowly. If you want a thinner sauce, gradually add water.
 
Hopefully you’re enjoying the warm afternoons, getting time in the kitchen and garden, stocking the pantry, and eating well. Meanwhile, look for the OSU Extension Family and Community Health program on FacebookInstagramYouTube, our website, and monthly newsletter.
Keep exploring, stay curious, and be excellent to each other!
 
Buffy | mom. gardener. volunteer turned program assistant. a real busy beaver
 

Buckle up Buttercup, it’s Harvest Season!

Photo courtesy of Buffy Rhoades

 

It’s Harvest Season in the Willamette Valley and a busy time of year for anyone involved in local and seasonal food. This year has shown renewed interest in gardening and preserving and we’re all cooking at home more. Farms, farmer’s markets, local fishing industry, and consumers are in the midst of peak-season crops and harvest. But what do you do with all those tomatoes or peppers, or giant zucchini your neighbor left on your porch?

As my friend and mentor, Lin, is wont to say, “It’s Harvest Season Baby! Our day calendars are full of to-do lists. (They look different in 2020, but are still lists.) Today’s list includes canning peaches and dehydrating last year’s bread and butter pickles. Yes, dehydrate your pickles! Especially if they’re softer than you like, or you need the jars. We’re also waiting for our tuna fisherman to call back and say he has our order. (Stay tuned for a video on shopping the dock and canning tuna!)

I’ve been thinking about mentors a lot. We all need one. Some folks grew up with family members that preserved the season’s bounty but may need a refresher course on safe methods and recipes. Others are new to preserving and don’t know where to look or how to begin. Videos are helpful.

In addition to preserving, we like to eat and live well. OSU Extension’s Family and Community Health program is a great place to find budget-friendly, healthy recipes and cooking videos. Or exercise activities for your young ones. We’re part of Oregon State University’s Extension Services, a FREE, safe, and reliable public resource. Let us be your mentor instead of a “well kept secret.”

Extending the Harvest is a bi-weekly selection of science-based resources promoting food preservation, food safety, nutrition, wellness, using food dollars wisely, and strengthening local community food systems. With the help and support of Clackamas County Master Food Preserver/Family Food Educator volunteers, I’m looking forward to sharing stories, knowledge, and helping you Extend your Harvest.

Please look for us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, our website, and monthly newsletter.

Buffy Rhoades | mom. gardener. volunteer turned program assistant. a real busy beaver

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