Laszlo and crabapples

Laszlo’s munching explorations has had me in stitches more than once this summer. When I trimmed and bundled garlic, the puppy was sitting underneath the patio table chewing on leaves and stalks that fell down. I did not realize that a big fat garlic clove had dropped down as well, until my husband, who was lying down with a headache and cuddled with Laszlo for comfort, wondered about the puppy’s intense garlic smell, which made him feel even worse.

Walks are a rare occurrence for us in spring and summer when there is too much outdoor work to do. But now most of it is done, and our 4-month-old puppy gives us a pressing reason to go for a long stroll on our grounds every day.

And every walk with Laszlo has its excitements. We have to stop him when he pesters his 14-year-old mate Woody too much (for that purpose, we usually go equipped with a spray bottle of water), and that he does not munch on anything that could harm him.

Laszlo with stick

Milkweed, which grows wild in big patches on our property, has been a favorite of his since the beginning. In the fall, the seed pods are filled with fluff and he still eats them. The seed threads fly right and left out of his mouth as he chases away from us because he understands that he should not eat them.

Our daily walks with Laszlo have led to two discoveries: that we have a native crabapple tree growing in a briar patch, the only tree of its kind we have ever found on our property; and that the fruit of the autumn olive, aka autumn berries, are absolutely delicious.

Crabapples

My husband had planted the fast-growing autumn olives many years ago as a wind break, not knowing how invasive they are. He was in the best company – the U.S. Soil Conservation Service also widely distributed and planted the shrub.

Autumn olives had spread all over our property. Last fall, we made it a weekend project to pull as many as we could. I had always wondered about the bright red berries. I read up about them and learned that the berries are indeed edible, actually more than merely edible – extremely nutritious too. The tricky thing about harvesting them, I also learned, is to pick the berries when they are fully ripe yet before the birds eat them all.

On our daily walk I kept an eye on the berries because this year, I wanted to try them. When I tasted a berry a couple of days ago, it seemed just right, tart but fruity. So yesterday I went picking, or better, I removed a few branches loaded with berries from the shrub and stripped it. Of course Laszlo had to stick his nose in the bowl, and I had to make sure that he did not get hurt by the thorns of the branches.

Laszlo and autumn berries

Picking autumn berries

Autumn berries contain a high amount of lycopene, a photonutrient that can prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease: 40 to 50 mg per 100 g, compared to 3 mg per 100 g in fresh raw tomato. And indeed, when I processed the autumn berries, the color and consistency reminded me a lot of tomatoes.

Yet the similarities end right here. The pulp is delicious, although the taste is hard to describe: like a blend of cranberry, raspberry and pomegranate. The sauce tastes great straight from the jar, but I can also imagine it with vanilla ice cream, rice pudding, panna cotta or pancakes.

Without Laszlo, I would have certainly missed the moment to harvest those berries.

Autumn berry sauce

Autumn Berry Sauce

Not at all sure what the yield would be I picked about three pounds and got a little less than 2.5 pounds of pulp out of it, which made three pints of sauce. This is more than we can eat soon, and I know in the depth of winter we will appreciate this super fruity treat, so I processed two of the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

3 pounds autumn berries

2 cups raw organic cane sugar, as needed

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon natural orange extract

1. Cook the berries over low to medium heat until they start to release their juice, stirring often. Bring to a boil and cook until mushy. Cool slightly, then pass through a food mill with a fine plate. Weigh the pulp and add one third of the amount in sugar.

2. Rinse the pot and return the pulp to the pot. Add the sugar and cook over low to medium heat until fully dissolved. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired. Fill in sterilized jars and refrigerate, or process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Makes 3 pint jars

Autumn berry fruit leather

Autumn Berry Fruit Leather

1½ pounds autum berry pulp (prepared as described in step 1 above, but omit the sugar)

½ cup honey

1. Warm the pulp in a saucepan over low heat. Add the honey and stir until fully dissolved.

2. Line two jelly roll sheets with parchment paper (I used a large and a small sheet; if using two large ones, you won’t fill the second sheet entirely). Pour the puree onto the sheets and distribute it evenly by tilting the sheets, or using a dinner knife or a spatula.

3. Place the sheets on the first and third or second and fourth rack of the oven to allow for ample air circulation. Set the oven at the lowest possible temperature, 140 to 170 degrees F, and dry for 10 to 12 hours, until the fruit leather is still tacky but when you touch it, no fruit pulp sticks to your finger. Turn off the oven and let it sit for several hours, or better overnight, with the oven door closed.

4. The next day, gently peel off the parchment paper. If you cannot remove it at once, do it in pieces. Place a piece of wax paper large enough to hold the fruit leather on a clean dry work surface. Place the fruit leather on top and roll it up with the wax paper from the long side. Do not roll it too tightly or it may crack.

5. Place the roll on a large cutting board. With a finely serrated knife make a deep cut into the roll every ¾ inch or so,  then cut the roll into pieces using a chef’s knife. Store the fruit leather in an airtight container and refrigerate. It keeps for up to 5 months.

Photos by Ted Rosen

Almost ready

Recently I have been stalked in the kitchen by a little guy. His name is Laszlo, our new Vizsla puppy. Frankly, I have never tolerated well having others around when I cook. My kitchen is my castle! And now, in busy August of all months, when a constant flow of produce from my garden lands in my kitchen waiting to be processed, I have a puppy bouncing around, nibbling on my feet, exploring every inch of the kitchen, trying to open the refrigerator with his tiny paws and mouth.

Up until Laszlo’s arrival to our home two weeks ago, Woody, our 14-year-old Vizsla, has been my shadow – in the kitchen, in the garden, and everywhere else. While I am writing this, he is snuggled up next to me on the couch, sleeping. It took me more than two years to accept that with Woody getting older, it was a good idea to bring a puppy into the family. Woody and I have our established routine. As I am whirling around in the kitchen, he usually dozes on his cushion in the open pantry, or quietly watches me.

With Laszlo’s arrival and frenetic energy, Woody spends much less time with me in the kitchen. Instead, he seeks peace and quiet in other rooms.

These hours spent with Laszlo in the kitchen every day are important. Kitchen time is socialization and bonding time for the puppy and me. He is getting used to lots of cooking noises, smells, steam, heat, and my occasional outbursts when something goes wrong.

Yesterday afternoon I harvested green beans (Blue Lake pole beans) for pickling. I took Laszlo down to the garden for the first time. He was quite entertained, taking everything in and munching on a few beans.

 

Checking things out

 

Checking this out some more

Stealing a bean

The recipes I tried last year were so good that I wanted to make them again: Dilly Beans from Food in Jars and Emeril Lagasse’s Lemon Rosemary Pickled Beans (without the Bloody Mary; if I had one of those during the day, I would have to lie down right away for a nap with Laszlo on his cushion). I also tried a third, new recipe, Tarragon Beans from Linda Ziedrich’s The Joy of Pickling . Because I like to leave the beans uncut at their full length, I put them in quart jars instead of the pint jars used in the recipes.

By the time I poured the boiling vinegar mix over the jarred beans – a smell that made my husband gasp when he popped into the kitchen to check on us – Laszlo was soundly asleep in his crate. He did not even open his eyes.

A few days ago I still wondered how in the world I would deal with the intruder in my kitchen. Looking at the line-up of jars from yesterday I feel more confident that I can handle cooking with Laszlo.

And harvest season has just begun. Stay tuned.

Guarding the jars

Photos by Ted Rosen

Herbes de ProvenceThe French dried herb mix, Herbes de Provence, was ubiquitous in my mother’s cooking when I grew up. She added it to the simple tomato sauce she made often, and always from scratch, or rubbed roasts with it. When I smell Herbes de Provence, I immediately think of our kitchen in Frankfurt, Germany, with its ornate grapeleaf wallpaper.

For years I have made my own Herbes de Provence mix from herbs from my garden. I have never followed a recipe. Prompted by a recent blog post by my friend Linda Ziedrich about lavender being added to Herbes de Provence sometimes, I looked at the authentic formula for Herbes de Provence.

I do love lavender but I have never added it to Herbes de Provence. I find that it is best used in jams, jellies and desserts (check out Hope Hill Lavender Farm, which has featured some of my lavender recipes on its website).

The famous Label Rouge for Herbes de Provence includes only five herbs, and in precise amounts: summer savory (26%), rosemary (26%), thyme (19%), oregano (26%), and basil (3%). Because my scale only weighs in five-gram increments, I rounded off the amounts but got pretty close this time.

Drying Herbes de Provences is easy. The only thing that is time-consuming is stripping the leaves off the thyme sprigs and removing all of the sprigs, which get hard and spiky when dried. I am especially cautious about this because as a teenager I had once stuck one of those tiny spikes in the back of my throat and, after lots and lots of water did not help, had to go to an otolaryngologist to get it removed. The doc wondered what on earth my mother had fed me and he just gave me a puzzled look when I told him, Herbes de Provence.

We got a 2-month-old vizsla puppy a week ago, which means we spend extended periods of time in safe areas such as the kitchen or on the patio with him. While watching him explore the potted lavender and rosemary, and trying to teach him not to eat them, I had plenty of time to patiently strip the thyme leaves off the sprigs.

We both had a good time, and I got a tray of Herbes de Provence out of the afternoon.

Laszlo herbs1

Laszlo herbs2

Garlic scapes for freezing

Yesterday I cut off all the scapes from the garlic plants in my garden. This is done so the plants put their entire energy into the bulbs.

Garlic scapes are delicious but I can use only that many at a time. No reason to discard the rest, though! The chopped scapes are a great addition to soups, stir fries and other dishes so I freeze them.

I chop the stalks in the food processor (only briefly, otherwise it becomes a pulp), pack them into ice-cube trays, and put them in the freezer. Once they are solidly frozen, I carefully remove them from the ice-cube trays and put them in freezer bags. I double-bag them so the garlicky cubes don’t give off their smell to the other freezer contents. If the scapes are already very long and advanced, I also cut off the hard, fibrous ends. The part of the stalk that breaks easily in two is tender enough to eat.

As for cooking with fresh scapes, see my recipes here.

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