Monday, November 28, 2011

When fall gives you apples, make hard cider.

"Brew Tang" aka apple beer bottled and almost ready to go
We are officially well into fall and some may even say peeking at winter.  The temperatures have dropped—It’s jacket and hat time. Thanksgiving and Halloween have passed and Christmas decorations are showing up on people’s lawns and adorn storefronts and (some thing else?). You know you live in a small town in Maine when the public Christmas tree is made out of lobster traps!  With winter encroaching, it’s temping  to hold on to the flavors of fall for just a little while longer and what better way to do that than with homemade hard apple cider.  

Shaking just a few of the apples we collected from a tree
            A few months ago I went out to Isle au Haut with some friends to visit Tucker and the trees were full of apples, so we thought we should seize the opportunity and see what kind of hard cider the island apples could make. There were  apples of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I brought my trusty steed (AKA my greenstar juicer! Because that’s just what one must use when you have no cider press!). We gallivanted around the island from tree to tree, shaking, plucking and jumping to get apples from them. We filled what I am guessing was 150+ pounds of apples into buckets, bags and tubs. It was beautiful, only a few mild head injuries occurred during the shaking process but other then that it was all smiles and laughs. 

Apple trees are strewn all over the island and no two are the same, we had small tart green apples all the way to large green and pink striped apples with pink flesh that were incredibly sweet and juicy, the whole gamut. The weather was a bit grey with some sprinkles of rain so it was a perfect day to plant ourselves inside (post picking of course) with a few cutting boards, a juicer, some music and the wood stove blazing. 

Let the cutting begin!
We propped the juicer on the table and quickly realized that A- we had picked about 125 pounds too many and B- this was going to take a while! We needed to fill a 5 gallon carboy to make a nice big batch of hard cider, so the pressing began at 2:30, we pressed, and pressed, and chopped, and pressed, and took a break, the juicer over heating only mildly, and then pressed and chopped some more. At about 6 o’clock we were done, with an hour break in the middle, this better be some good cider!  

There are so many wonderful treats you can make with apples and apple cider. Another that I have been experimenting with is cider syrup, or, in my case, more like cider caramel. All you do is get a few gallons (yes a few, it reduces a TON!) of cider, or juice your own, and put it on the stove, let it simmer for a few hours and slowly it will reduce into this amazingly intense apple cider goodness, tart and sweet, delicious in a hot toddy, on a spoon alone or even with chocolate, I made truffles with the syrup last week, yum! We then decided to take this cider syrup to the real test; a few weekends ago we brewed a batch of beer replacing part of the malt with this cider caramel. We have either created something absolutely foul or we could be onto something amazing! 

Hand made Brew Tang labels

We bottled both the hard cider and the cider beer just before Thanksgiving now all we have to do is wait! Hopefully in a few weeks when the snow is falling and the holiday lights are bright we will be enjoying some delicious fall treats.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Can Can Can You Do The Can Can!

Roasting tomatoes

     *When the smell of roasting garlic and tomatoes fill your house these are signs that a good winter is to come. Yesterday I woke up, having the day off with thoughts of Irene on my mind, hurricane Irene that is. The skies were filled with a thick fog this morning and all I could think was could there be a more perfect day for canning? After walking the dogs around the block I decided to head to the farmers market in Camden to find something can worthy. 


     After walking up and down the market a few times I began talking to some of the farmers, one told me that they had a bunch of #2 (aka bruised, punctures or not that pretty) tomatoes that were $20 for a 25# box, sold, that was easy! Who doesn’t love a good deal on organic heirloom tomatoes? No need for these to be pretty they would soon become a pot of bubbling maroon sauce. So I bought two, I mean if your going to buy one box of tomatoes why not buy two, better for the winter months and holidays! 

Herbs and tomatoes, nothing better!

     I came home and prepped by kitchen for what was soon to be a fiesta of tomatoes all over. First I cleaned the tomatoes, then put them in a pan with garlic, onions, olive oil, salt and pepper, cranked the oven to 500 and watched the skins blister and crinkle away from the juicy meat of the tomato. I proceeded to put the roasted gems into my large pot, puree, add fresh herbs from my garden and simmer. The tomato sauce went on at 4pm and came off at 11pm going straight into the oven at a low temperature overnight to let the juices reduce just a little more. I woke up this morning to put the finishing touches on my overnight tomato sauce. Sterilize the jars, check, pour sauce into jars, check, cover jars and boil, check. And done, could it be any easier and gratifying? Well I guess if I had grown those tomatoes yes, but one step at a time!

Only one of the dozen plus jars that came out of the canning fest
  * After a brief hiatus from posting I wrote this about 2 months ago and finally got it together to put up!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Martha Would Be Proud

          It is true, I have moved, first in December from California to Vermont and again in April from Vermont to the Rockland Maine area. I moved up here to work at a restaurant, I mean I did just go to school for a culinary degree right? For the last few weeks the “spring” weather has been quite dreary and grey, but it has finally started to turn around. The sun is shining and the garden has been calling my name. There is just one slight problem; I have no patch of land to make into a garden. That would be a silly reason to stop me. Now is the time to be resourceful because when you are at the farmers’ market and heirloom tomatoes, herbs and leafy green plants are staring you in the face how can you say no? This can be a problem, I think  - I am officially an addict - but I suppose there are worse things than gardening to be addicted to.

After you drill holes fill your jars with potting soil

            After my first garden in California in 2009 I just can’t get enough; it is so gratifying to plant a little seedling, water, feed it, watch it grow and then pick and eat it, literally enjoying the fruits of your labor. In California this was easy.  I am pretty sure that any old black thumb could have a bountiful harvest in the Napa Valley (so let’s hope my black thumb doesn’t poke back through here on the other coast). Well before I knew it I was standing at the market with a giant box full of seedlings. I had 5 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, an array of herbs, a 6 pack of kale, a 6 pack of lettuces, Brussels sprouts, chard, lemon geranium (if you have never smelled this, get straight to your nursery and ask where the scented geraniums are because lemon and rose geraniums have just about the most amazing smell and taste ever!), tangerine gem marigolds, strawberries galore and who knows what else was in there. Still unsure of where I was going to plant all of these goodies I was off to the nursery to buy potting soil and after all the essential tools were in tow it was time to get creative. I went to one of the antique markets in Rockland and combed the shelves looking for any and all vintage containers that might be great vessels for plants. I found the perfect antique mason jars, ranging from clear to turquoise glass and then for the tomatoes I was lucky enough to find an old metal milk crate.

It is not to late to plant your garden!

These I love anyway but I figured this would be a perfect vessel for one of the tomatoes. Now only four more homes to find.  So I hit up about 4 more antique stores and hit the royal jackpot with one that had milk crates and antique wooden boxes stashed all over. So there I was, plants – check, soil – check, water – check, “planters” – check (they may not be the conventional planters but where is the fun in that?), and of course possibly the most important ingredient of all, a whole lot of love. So I have begun operation traveling plant menagerie and if I can do it while working 10-12 hr days then surely anyone can.

Just the beginning of my garden

To make a personalized garden full of vintage character:

1.     Find all the amazing seedlings you want  -  I personally like heirloom ones more -  unique varieties that you can’t find in the store because it makes them that much more special. I also like to make sure that the plants I buy are organic (or at least grown without pesticides), and locally grown, to support your local economy!

The start of gathering my supplies

2.      Go antiquing, or hit up all the yard sales early Saturday morning to find containers to plant in -  remember -  everything that could hold water and soil could be your friend -  jars, pots, tins, anything! Also remember that plants like tomatoes get pretty tall and heavy, so make sure the container isn’t going to topple over and that the plants will have enough room for their roots to grow, and if you can manage to put holes in the bottom of your containers this makes everything much easier (you know they sell drill bits for glass…)

Herbs (only a few!)
3.     Pick up some potting soil. I like to stay with the organic and also as local as possible. Right now I am using “Coast of Maine Bar Harbor Blend.” It is full of all sorts of good nutrient dense compost - lobster shells, aspen bark, and peat moss.

4.     Put soil into your containers, pack it down lightly, dig a hole in the center and gently break up the roots on the plant you are planting. Put it in the hole and then cover it with potting soil, gently pat down again, water, and watch it grow.

You can find all sorts of unique containers at antique stores

            Depending on your environment you may need to give your plants more TLC. I found in California that the first few weeks I spent a lot of time in the garden making sure everything was happy and healthy and as the baby plants grew and were more well established I had to spend less and less time.
Antique tool box that is now a home for my herbs, anise hyssop, marjoram, rosemary, garlic chives, salad burnet, curry, spicy basil, chives, and golden variegated sage!
          Who knows how this box and bottle garden will do? I think I might keep a lot of it indoors, that will add an extra challenge, but it is well worth it because if nothing else I got my hands in the dirt for a little while, some sunshine on my face and if all goes well then I will have beautiful produce in a few months. So go free, find some awesome antique jars and boxes and plant yourself an herb garden for your windowsill or line a walkway. Anywhere you put it I am pretty sure Martha would be proud.

Picking the first salad of the season

Martha (of course!)
Maine farmers markets