Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Wilkes-Barre Farmers' Market

Tents set up on W-B public square looking past a sculpture
towards the Chamber of Commerce and bank buildings
I grew up in Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania and lived there until our family moved to Edison NJ. The area always had a great sense of community and residents from Pittston to Nanticoke to Back Mtn identified with "The Valley". Going back 30 years or more, every Thursday from June through October, there is a farmer's market on Wilkes-Barre's public square and many of the same farms and stands still set up and sell locally grown vegetables, fruits, and honey. In town to visit family last Thursday, I made that familiar trip to the market in search of fresh corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, and hopefully, plums.  

Public square looking toward the Kirby Center. Farmer's tents
line two sides of the square, a bandshell is in the center.
 When I was a young mother, I often took my kids to the square to buy fresh vegetables, have lunch and listen to the bands entertain the crowds. In the photo at right, you can see that tradition continue. One of our favorites, Hillside Farms, was a local dairy farm known for its delicious ice cream. Now "The Lands at Hillside Farms", they are a proponent of organic, sustainable living and have a vision and a mission explained on their website http://www.thelandsathillsidefarms.org/  Recently, there are new CSA (community supported agriculture) farms which are increasing the ability of people to buy locally grown food.
I asked the man at O'Malia's tent how the heavy rains had affected their harvest. The tomatoes suffered the most, as the rain caused their skins to crack and split open, allowing insect and mold to spoil the fruit. Despite the weather, the tables were piled up with plenty of vegetables and it was hard to resist the large baskets of peppers, tomatoes, etc. But I had come to buy a quantity of a particular variety of cucumber, the kirby, which is the best one for making pickles, because of its thin skin, crisp flesh, and medium size. Then I walked around the whole line of stands looking for a particular red plum for my plum jam. Only one stand, Dymonds, was selling them and I was able to buy the last 3 quarts. Happy, I left behind bushels of beautiful apples, beets, tomatoes and more for another day.

A plate holds the cucumbers down.

After soaking in brine and syrup.
found a recipe I like on page 268 of Linda Arendt’s book Blue Ribbon Preserves. I took home the 20 kirby cucumbers from the farmer's market. I washed them well, removed the blossom ends ( typically this has a little scar, opposite the stem end which has the rough stub of a stem). I put them whole in a large bowl and covered them with a brine solution of 1/2cup pickling salt dissolved in 3 quarts of water. I placed a plate on top of the cukes and weighed  it down with a jar of water. The cukes must be submerged and soak for 24 hours. The next day I drained and rinsed the cukes, and put them back into the bowl.  I made a syrup with 4 cups of white vinegar, 1 cup of sugar and a spice bag containing 1 teaspoon each of dill seed, mustard seed, celery seed, coriander seed, and peppercorns. for good measure I added a bay leaf. This solution I brought to a boil for 5 minutes and took off the heat and removed the spice bag. Then pour this boiling hot syrup over the cucumbers. Cover the bowl again with a plate and jar making sure the cucumbers are completely submerged. Let them stand another 24 hours. The next day remove the cucumbers and put the syrup in a pot. Bring the syrup to a boil. Pack 3-4 cucumbers per pint jar, adding 3 sprigs of fresh dill to each jar. Ladle the hot syrup into the jars, with 1/2 inch headspace. With a flat blade of a plastic knife, for example, free any air bubbles trapped in the jars. Wipe the rims with a clean damp paper towel, adjust the lids and rings. Process in a water bath canner at 185 degrees for 30 minutes. Note: for Kosher Dills, add one peeled clove of garlic per jar.
Kosher Dills, pint jars
Packed and ready for syrup.
If the cucumbers are too large, you may cut them in half and / or cut them shorter. Pack about 3 cukes per pint jar. Yield: 7 pints.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Cardamom, pepper, tarragon and mint, Part 2

There is one of my motivations for making jam: the appearance of the jars in the sunlight. You see from the top: peach-jalepano jelly, apple-peppermint jelly; cherry tarragon preserves; peach jam with cardamom. 
If you are enamored of the flavor of Mint: mint choc-chip ice cream; mint patties; mint juleps; spearmint jelly slices; I have a great recipe for you! Apple mint jelly, mmm, as shown second from the top, each jar has a small mint leaf to distinguish it. This is a variation on the herb jelly recipe in the BH&G Canning magazine. I have a garden with lots of fresh peppermint and other herbs. It is much much nicer than a jar of commercial mint jelly and of course, it is all natural with nothing artificial, not even green food coloring.
4 cups fresh apple juice                               
2 handfuls fresh mint leaves and stems, well washed
4 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup dry pectin, or one package
Combine the apple juice and mint and bring to a boil. Let the "decoction" boil for 10 minutes, turn off the heat, and cover. After it cools, remove the mint and strain through a sieve lined with a paper towel. Measure 3 cups of the flavored juice, and add the lemon juice and the dry pectin; bring to a boil. Add the sugar, stirring constantly, and bring to a full rolling boil. Time for one minute and then check the jelling point. Skim the foam, which will rise to the top and begin to jell on the surface. Ladle the hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe the rims and adjust the lids. Process in the  water bath canner at 200 degrees for 10 minutes for a half pint jar.
Sweet Cherry Tarragon Preserves
but the fruit is not well distributed.
Cherries are a pleasure; the season for fresh sweet cherries is only a few weeks. Cherries have a firmer texture, they keep their shape well when cooked, and thus lend themselves for preserves and conserves where a chunky or whole fruit is desirable. Sweet black cherries are yummy popped in your mouth, but in a plain jam or preserves, the flavor is a little one-dimensional. An herb is needed! Tarragon, with its sweet flavor of anise, complements the dark cherry's. 

Pitted cherries fall into the tray at right.
Here I have set up the new cherry pitter machine. It is easy to use and saves a lot of time. You can pit about 30 cherries a minute as they roll down the tray and into the trap. You can eat them just as fast, too. Regardless, measure 4 cups of pitted cherries. In a large bowl, layer 2 cups of cherries, then 2 cups of sugar, and repeat. Let stand for an hour, or a morning, as the sugar draws the juice out of the cherries. This helps the fruit keep its whole shape as it cooks, and prevent it from floating as it jells ( that might happen anyway, see the photo above). After you let it stand, transfer the cherries/sugar mixture to the large pot and begin to cook it over medium heat, stirring to dissolve all the sugar. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice,10 sprigs of tarragon tied up, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook at a simmer for about 10 minutes stirring to keep the fruit from sticking.
Remove the tarragon and raise the heat to boiling. Add one pouch of liquid pectin, and cook at a boil for 1 minute. Test for jell, it will probably be rather thin, which is ok since preserves are large pieces of fruit suspended in a thick clear syrup. Stir the hot preserves in the pot for 5 minutes, and skim the foam before ladling into hot jars. Wipe the rims well with a damp paper towel and top with lid and ring. Process in the  water bath canner at 200 degrees for 10 minutes for a half pint jar.