Friday, August 20, 2010

Lovely French Cantaloupe...Oui!

D’Alger – French Cantaloupe, with highly perfumed, smooth and creamy flesh…now I ask you, how could one resist a French cantaloupe with a description like that! Well, I couldn’t and when I purchased my seeds this year that was one of my choices. I was a little worried, as I planted the seeds a bit late, that I would not have any success, but when the little green leaves started to appear I was hopeful. Then came a few pretty little yellow flowers, sort of miniature versions of squash blossoms, now I was excited. And then the bees got into the act…as the flowers multiplied, the vine was abuzz!
In fact I watched as several bees practically tipped over trying to stand on their heads in the little flowers. I actually had to stick my face into the vine to see what all the commotion was about…did the flowers smell? When my nose was right on top of the flower I could smell the sweetest fragrance almost like honeysuckle, no wonder the bees were excited! Pretty soon melons started to form – the bees had done their job…and the melons grew, and grew and grew…no more worries about no melons! But how to tell if the melons were ripe? These big black-green gourds were hard as a rock and since they looked nothing like anything I had seen before I had no reference point. Finally, after they had bathed in the sun several weeks I thought I should risk it and pick one…well, okay so big does not a ripe melon make! But it was close, the flesh was beginning to turn orange and there was a bit of cantaloupe flavor but we weren’t there yet. What to do with this big not quite ripe melon? I couldn’t quite bring myself to giving it up to the compost pile…it was so close! Then I remembered a recipe I had seen for pickled cantaloupe and it had suggested using slightly under ripe melon! Yippee! I dug out the recipe and although it called for 15 cups of cubed cantaloupe, I certainly wasn’t going to pick more under ripe fruit to make something that could potentially be something that no one would want to eat… but my melon produced 7 cups of fruit and half the recipe seemed like plenty.

Adapted from Ball Blue Book
Guide to Preserving

1 ½ C Vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)

1C Water

1 Cinnamon stick

1tsp Whole cloves

½ tsp Whole allspice

1tsp Slivered, whole nutmeg

7C 1inch cubed cantaloupe

2 ¼ C Sugar

Combine vinegar and water in a large sauce pan. Tie spices in a spice bag (or make a little bag using cheesecloth and kitchen twine)and add to vinegar mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add melon; let stand 1 ½ - 2 hours. Add sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat; simmer until cantaloupe becomes slightly transparent (I found that took about 20 minutes). Pack hot melon into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Ladle hot pickling liquid over melon, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Clean rims of jars. Put two piece lids in place. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

The half recipe produced 2 pint jars, which I figured would be plenty…until I tasted one little piece of cantaloupe I saved out of the jars…now I realize these will be better after they have a chance to sit, like all homemade pickles do, but I am here to tell you these things are great! The sweetness of the spices, fruit and sugar with the tang of the vinegar are super yummy. So my experiment in thriftiness paid off…who would-da thunk…

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Can you believe it's time for Cranberry Beans!?

Oh my gosh! I am so behind! I haven’t posted to the blog in weeks! Not a good thing, but now I am back and ready to roll…

So on that note…You know how when you need a new coat, and you know you need to go to try on that WOOL coat in AUGUST, because you know that’s the best time to look, because that’s when the new styles are in the stores, but you are having trouble getting your head around winter clothes in the summer…okay, so when the cranberry beans showed up in the farmer’s market this week I had a bit of that feeling come over me. For those unfamiliar with these beans, they are wonderful in hearty stews, soups and all foods winter. Cranberry beans have a slightly nutty flavor, are rich and creamy and don’t get mushy when cooked in a stew or soup. A real winter food and about the last thing I am thinking about when there are loads of summer fruits and vegetables to be had! I was introduced to these beans a few years ago by a man at the farmers market…he was purchasing as many as he could get in his basket!
When I asked him what was the big deal he went on and on about the virtues of these beans, to the point that I thought I needed to give them a whirl. I’ve never looked back. They are my ‘go to bean’…the problem is that they are an heirloom and are not a bean that shows up in every store as a dried bean.
Soooo, when they appear at the farmers market, I jump on them – I’ve become that guy, buying up all the beans in town. Actually I purchase them during a few trips to the market since they need to be shelled and that can get a little tedious in huge doses. These beans freeze well, so getting them fresh, shelling them and putting them into packages, say 2 cups per bag and then putting them in the freezer is pretty perfect. Fresh beans don’t need any soaking to get them ready for cooking and they cook more quickly, so when you decide at say 5:30 on Saturday that you want a hearty soup for dinner, it’s no big deal! I have used them for everything from minestrone soup, to chili and lots of other concoctions I have dreamed up out of all the tidbits in the refrigerator. There is a wonderful recipe for minestrone soup in
Alice Waters’ book The Art of Simple Food. She has four variations, one for each season and the one for fall is my personal favorite and one of my favorite places for Cranberry Beans.

Fall Minestrone
Adapted from Alice Waters – The Art of Simple Food

2 cup of fresh Cranberry Beans
1/4 cup olive oil plus more for garnish
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped sage
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups water
1 leek, diced
1 Qt. jar of tomatoes – I use a Qt. jar of the tomatoes I can in the summer which is really
1 bunch of kale, washed, stemmed, and chopped
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Heat in a heavy bottomed pan over low heat:
olive oil, carrots, onion
Cook for 15 minutes or until tender

garlic, rosemary, sage, salt, bay leaf, tomatoes, kale
Cook for 5 minutes

Add beans and 3 cups of water, and bring to a boil
When boiling, add the leeks and squash
Cook for 15 minutes, or until the squash and beans are tender

Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with olive oil and Parmesan.

So when the weather gets cool enough to even think about this recipe, I encourage you to try it!