Move over Ocean Spray! Not all cranberries come from Cape Cod.
I was surprised to learn that Maine has it’s own century long heritage of growing and harvesting the tart fruit. A bog or marsh is a beautiful and special ecosystem, formed by glaciers and layered with gravel, sand and peat, attracting many different flora and fauna that thrive with the wetlands. Growing on trailing vines which can live up to 200 years, the garnet red berries are a favorite with deer.
Cranberries need cold and sunshine to develop their color. It’s tricky when it’s close to harvest because it’s a waiting game of developing the deep color without suffering a deep freeze, which ruins the crop. In a Maine summer such as the one we just had, the Maine cranberry crop suffered a pale outcome due to too much rain and not enough sun! A white cranberry can still taste good, but is less marketable. Hey, could that be a marketing angle?
A bog is typically about 18 inches deep and flooded just prior to harvest. Because the berry is built to float due to four air pockets internally in each tiny berry, they are easy to gather with the help of a special contraption called an “eggbeater” which loosens the berry from the vine and allows it to float to the top of the water. They’re then vacuumed up by way or a hose into trucks.
The American cranberry or Vaccinium Macrocarpon grows wild from Georgia to to the Canadian Maritimes and into parts of the midwest. In fact, Wisconsin produces more berries than any other state in America leading in world production. Massachusetts is second. Fun fact, they are sold by weight in units called “barrels” a throwback to days of yore when that was also the prime shipping method .
In Maine expect to find most bogs Downeast, comprised of 30 growers with 80 % located in Washington County. Evidently the warm days and cool nights are a perfect recipe for a very marketable crop combined with an acid soil. Maine now enjoys a multimillion dollar cranberry business. Each barrel is generally worth just under $100…although prices took a dive this season due to poor growing conditions. The buzz is that the niche market and local chefs desiring a local, sustainable and healthy ingredient may make the difference in survival of the industry. So let’s use some Maine cranberries this winter!
There are many reasons to love cranberries. Not only are they rich in fiber, but they support health in the urinary tract and immune system. They’re also very high in antioxidants. Tough to stomach raw, their sourness comes from a high tannin content so they are usually consumed sweetened.Their many uses extend to cooking, baking, smoothies and drinks, even wine.
Maine cranberries during an optimal year are the envy of growers all over the US for the deep color and the especially fine taste they offer. If you do forage and find cranberries, wash them well before eating. They are perfectly safe and healthful raw but should be taken in moderation as they can upset your stomach.
With the holidays upon us, seek out Maine-made ingredients from Maine farmers and growers. Let’s give these hard-working (cranberry) farmers a boost and be good to our bodies too!
Bight Blessing for a Happy Holiday Season, Laura Cabot
2 CUPS FRESH COARSLY CHOPPED CRANBERRIES
1/2 CUP SUGAR
1 TSP ORANGE ZEST
1/2 CUP CHOPPED TOASTED WALNUTS
3/4 CUP MELTED BUTTER
3/4 WHITE SUGAR
2 LARGE EGGS, ROOM TEMPERATURE
1 TSP. VANILLA ZEST OF ONE SMALL ORANGE
1 CUP FLOUR
PINCH SEA SALT
PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 DEGREES
GREASE A 9 IN SPRINGFORM PAN
IN A BOWL COMBINE CRANBERRIES, WALNITS, SUGAR AND ZEST. TOSS WELL. POUR INTO THE PAN.
IN ANOTHER BOWL, COMBINE SUGAR AND BUTTER. MIX WELL. ADD EGGS, BEATING WELL.
THEN ADD VANILLA AND REMAINING ORANGE ZEST.
ADD FLOUR AND SALT, MIXING TILL SMOOTH.
BATTER SHOULD BE QUITE THICK , SPREAD CAREFULLY OVER THE FRUIT/NUT MIXTURE UNTIL COMPLETELY COVERED
BAKE ON A PARCHMENT SHEET FOR 30-35 MINUTES.
LET THE BAKED CAKE COOL FOR 15 MINUTES, THEN LOOSEN THE PERIMETER WITH A KNIFE, CAREFULLY RELEASING THE SIDES OF THE PAN. REMOVE THE RING SLOWLY AND REMOVE.
GENTLY INVERT ONTO A PLATE USING A BUTTER KNIFE TO ASSIST WITH THE EDGES, IF NEEDED.
YOU’VE GOT A BEAUTIFUL AND FESTIVE HOLIDAY DESSERT, LUSCIOUS ENOUGH TO SHARE WITH COMPANY!
Actually originating as a slave dish, it jumped the fence into plantation homes due to sheer goodness and clever cooks. Many say that”pot likkur” or the rich stock remaining from the cooked greens actually sustained many slave families as it is the most nutritious part and was undervalued by the whites.
Cooked with a ham hock or smoked turkey leg the dish is delightfully smokey. Vinegar and pepper adds a kick, chicken stock, time and a slow flame work the rest of the magic.
Let’s warm up the kitchen….
1 LARGE BUNCH COLLARD GREENS,
RIBS OR STEMS REMOVED, LEAVES WELL RINSED
CHOP INTO MEDIUM SQUARES
CHICKEN BROTH, 1 QT.
1 SMOKED TURKEY LEG
1 LG CHOPPED WHITE ONION
SALT, PEPPER AND RED PEPPER FLAKES TO TASTE
OIL TO SAUTE
A DASH OF CIDER VINEGAR
CHOOSE A HEAVY POT WITH A HEAVY LID.
PLACE ON A MEDIUM FLAME
ADD OLIVE OIL TO THE POT, MAYBE A 1/4 CUP
ADD ONION AND SEASONINGS AND SAUTE UNTIL TRANSLUCENT.
ADD GREENS AND TOSS TO COAT
ADD TURKEY LEG AND CHICKEN STOCK, GIVE A STIR.
COVER AND COOK OVER LOW FLAME FOR A FEW HOURS, STIR OCCASIONALLY.
THE MEAT OF THE TURKEY LEG MAY BE CHOPPED AND RETURNED TO THE POT.
KEEP COVERED AND BE SURE THERE IS ADEQUATE LIQUID FOR THE LONG COOKING PROCESS WITHIN.ADD ADDITIONAL IF NEEDED.
SERVE WITH HOT CORNBREAD AND HONEY BUTTER. ADD A PILE OF BBQ RIBS OR BEANS! A GREAT NOVEMBER MEAL.
NOTE: the ribs of the collards mat be saved, chopped and started sauteeing first ( if you prefer not to waste them). They take a little longer to cook ,so give them a head start!
If you tour Maine’s farm stands right about now you will find a lot of root vegetables, potatoes, onions, baked goods and donuts….but most notably BRASSICAS.
This plant genus covers all things cabbage-y from Brussel sprouts, so impressive on their thick stalks, to broccolini and broccoli , mustard greens and the many variations of cauliflower…. to my personal favorite, the Collard Greens.
I love them so much that I grow my own. Revered in the Deep South they are wonderful stewed or long cooked with onion a piece of “side meat” which is a fatty cut like bacon, or cut into a chiffonade and blanched to an emerald green. A great side for pork ribs and a nice addition to a vegetable soup.
Collards come into their own after the first frost, which sweetens and tenderizes them making them perfect November fodder. I wait until the frost subsides from the leaves and harvest them in the afternoon for the evening meal. Eating “live” food is a particular joy!
Cook up some cornbread in a spider ( a large cast iron fry pan) and serve up a mess o’ greens with beans or ribs. You will be popular. Promise!
These are the Seckel pairs pickled as my Great Grandmother Ida taught me to cherish when I was a boy. She was born in 1871 and lived to 1972. They are an important part of many dinners and especially Holidays in my family. I make them as presents for my 9 brother and sisters. When I would make them with Grammy I would always tell her that I can’t wait to eat some with Thanksgiving Turkey or with a big slice of Extra sharp cheddar. She lived her whole life in Vermont so cheddar cheese was always around. She would smile and say she was glad I liked them and would always comment that after a long hard Vermont winter the jars in her pantry of seckel pears might be the only thing to get them thru the winter in the 1800s. Even today almost every farm in Vermont and infanct much of all New England had at least one seckel pear tree. My dad had two I have one. Slice a few and try them with the sharpest cheddar you can find. We eat them with beef, turkey, even salmon. Place them on a cedar wrapped salmon and cook on grill. Awesome. When the jar is empty of pairs I use the juice as a base for my bbq sauce or smoking bath/ glaze.
He does many things well, so I wasn’t really that surprised to taste some fantastic pickled pears and learn that he had prepared them.
They were served with toasted walnuts and a good Bleu on an inspired chessboard one evening at dinner at their ocean view home. An invitation to Bob and Patience’s lovely home for dinner never ever disappointed. Good wine, good conversation, great food and always some incredible handmade elements are their signatures . Luck to have their friendship…in Friendship!
Like these pickled Bosc pears, good things are often worth the wait, these delicacies fall into that category. Not that hard to make, it’s more like waiting for a good pear season. Those seem to come every other year or so.
When it rains, it pours pears, at least here in the mid-coast where often old farmsteads had a few fruit trees, usually apples and pears. Pear trees are distinctive in their upright profile, quite different from other fruit trees. I am lucky enough to have one in my yard which is laden with fruit this year! So….let’s pickle some pears!
BOB’S PICKLED PEARS
Save some of these for your charcuterie plates or to accompany game or fowl at festive meals.Good with a pork chop!
6 pounds of small firm pears, peeled and cored
2 tb whole cloves
6 star anise pods
4 cinnamon sticks
1 large knob ginger peeled and sliced thin
3 cups water
2 cups white vinegar
2.5 cups sugar, white
1 cup brown sugar
Dash of salt
Tie all spices into a small muslin bag.
In a large stainless steel pot, mix together the water, sugars and salt and cinnamon sticks and spice bag…bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and simmer for 7 minutes.
Add the pears in batches, one layer at a time, cooking until barely tender, 12 minutes or so.
Once the pears are all cooked transfer them to smaller Mason jars or one larger glass gallon jug(s).
Pour the hot pickling liquid over them and make sure to add another cinnamon stick and star anise to each.
Clean up any drips for a clean edge being sure to leave some headspace it you are actually canning these in a hot water bath. I use many at a time in my catering work, so I put mine up in large glass jars and refrigerate them cool, capping tightly.
These also make a dandy Holiday gift…always a welcome addition to the table or larder!
Stop by any farmstand in Maine in September and be prepared for a gorgeous and colorful bounty! Black Krim, German Stripe, Cherokee Purple, Yellow taxi, Brandywine, Green Zebra, Amish Paste, Ox Heart, Black Prince, Big Rainbow….these are all names of Heritage or Heirloom tomatoes.
Known to gourmands and seed savers alike, these varieties are lacking a gene favored since commercialization back in the forties that offers uniformity. Which is helpful in shipping. But heirlooms are far superior in old fashioned flavor and are just so much fun to work with! And to eat.
Nicely balanced with ample acids to offset sugars, the heirlooms’s classic tang and flavor reign supreme!
Half my growing area every season is given over to the cultivation of garlic (allium sativum). I plant mine in compost enriched raised beds and I prefer the stiff neck type. I enjoy the variety MUSIC, which is both sharp and mild and has about four large cloves in each head of garlic, making it easy to use.
Garlic, like all of the allium family are essentially bulbs. Like a tulip bulb, garlic is planted in the fall at a depth of about 3 to 4 inches and 5 to 6 inches apart. I then cover the garlic beds with a thick layer of straw to protect them from the winter cold as well as the thaws.
It’s always encouraging to see the first green shoots of garlic poke forth before most anything else in Springtime.
When I’m convinced that the weather has warmed and settled, off comes the straw and the garlic shoots quickly thicken. We enjoy using the young, or green, garlic in stir frys and other preparations.
About mid-June it’s time to cut off the curly scapes, which resemble goosenecks. These would develop into a blossom if not cut. The idea is to send the energy of the growing plant downwards to increase the size of the bulb, not divert it upward into flowers and seeds.
About the third week of July, it’s time to pull the garlic out and let it dry in an airy place, eventually clipping the stem off for storage. The fun of growing your own garlic and superior flavor far exceed anything grown commercially
Garlic may be used fresh, cooked, stored, pickled or fermented. Black garlic, which is fermented, and essential in Korean cuisine, is gaining in popularity for reasons of unique umami flavors and health benefits.
Try something unique and satisfying and try planting some garlic yourself this Autumn! You’ll be glad you did.
Looking for a seasonal dinner with “wow factor” that can be prepared in 3 minutes?
If you have a food processor and garlic growing in your garden, you’re in luck! Try garlic scape pesto. Pesto can be made with almost any green herb but when it’s mid-summer in Maine, we have gorgeous scapes for two minutes. So let’s use them on pasta, baguette, grains…or whatever!
SCAPE TIPS (the tender part) 1 CUP (you may blanch these to tame the flavor, if preferred)
1/2 CUP TOASTED PINE NUTS OR WALNUTS
1/2 CUP XVOO
1/4 CUP PARMESAN
1/2 CUP BASIL TOPS, OPTIONAL
A FEW DROPS OF LEMON JUICE AT TIME OF SERVICE, TO BRIGHTEN THE FLAVORS.
THIS IS A SIMPLE RECIPE, BUT THE ORDER OF INGREDIENTS INTO THE FOOD PROCESSOR MATTERS.
FIRST PULSE THE SCAPES IN PROCESSOR FOR 30 SECONDS.ADD BASIL HERE, IF DESIRED
ADD NUTS AND PROCESS FOR ANOTHER 30 SECONDS. SCRAPE DOWN THE BOWL
ADD THE OLIVE OIL AND PROCESS FOR 1 MINUTE ON HIGH
ADD THE CHEESE AND PULSE UNTIL ALL IS COMBINED
ADD SALT AND PEPPER TO TASTE.
SERVE IMMEDIATELY TOPPING WITH A SQUEEZE OF LEMON.