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I was heading to the blackberry field at my favorite farm recently when I heard the old iron gate above swinging in the wind. It opened with an awkward squeak, then graduated to rich middle notes, then closed to a low baritone, jabbing its voice through the clear day and green landscape.

A 360-degree view of the August farm showed spring asparagus gone to seed and a few weeks off from another appearance, ripe blackberries, raspberries, corn, squash, and more crops beyond. I stood in the middle of LIFE, in exhilaration and exultation.

But the thing is, a farm isn’t a still frame of lush beauty. It’s hundreds of still frames that make up a continuous feature. A farmer knows that, but it just occurred to me that day when the gate whined back and forth, open and shut. A farm is the whole life cycle. It is both lovers’ bed and deathbed, nursery and graveyard.

In spring, the farm is fragile and palest green, a greenhouse full of teeny shoots a few weeks off from being planted because the soil is still too cold.

In late spring and early summer, it’s stretching its legs, testing boundaries, getting cheeky and rosy.

Now, in high summer, the farm is saturated with sun and rain and sugar and bite and intense color. Mid-life is when everything shines and bursts. Corn kernels pop when a fingernail is pressed into them. A ripe melon, at a single, infinitesimally small piercing, splits ahead of the blade wide open with a CRACK on the kitchen counter. Little potatoes dug from dusty soil are washed and roasted, and at first bite their skins, loose from the flesh, snap.

But as the crops lose the light bit by bit every day, that snap gives way to profound sweetness, softness, mellowness. Apples lose their sharp astringent bite, and are finally ready to pick. Tomatoes—boy, if the frost holds off and we can get tomatoes into September or even October, their flesh becomes deeper and richer than any July specimen. Green bell peppers turn lipstick red, and tender. Pumpkins become sweet and earthy. The farm is going to seed. It’s like everything is settling in to resignation, the innate knowing that the honeymoon is over, long over. But the farm is okay with it. We can actually taste that it’s okay with it.

Late Summer into Fall the farmer tosses spent squash and overripe tomatoes right into the fields to nourish them. Nothing is wasted; everything feeds everything else. Even the winter snow helps to fortify the soil. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s day, in the 19th century, farmers called fresh snow “poor man’s fertilizer,” and sent the kids out with the plow to turn it under the soil. They didn’t know why it did the job so well, but they knew it did. Now we know it’s full of nitrogen, the most essential ingredient for healthy plant development.

So in August, in the wind, that old gate was the farm’s mouthpiece, singing, reminding me of how it all works. The baby’s squeak to the young adult’s call to the elder’s hum, it’s all a song. It gets sung every year. We’re moving into the baritone hum. Enjoy time’s pendulum and the old iron gate swinging closed, and the flavors that come with them. I think they’re the best of the year.

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Midsummer, and we’re all starting to ooze into the fabric of our beach chairs (but today temps hit 90 again, so full disclosure: I’m oozing into my sofa as I write this).

A hazy, dreamy list of the not-to-be-missed—summer delights,`a la me.

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Beach rose in early evening light.

1. Go to the beach between 4 and 6p. The shadows are long, the sand has a golden glow, and the crowds have cleared. It’s the most beautiful time of day.

2. Or go to the beach between 7 and 9a when the ocean is sparkling in the morning sun. It’s the other most beautiful time of day. Dive in. You’re swimming in a big splashy tub of glitter.

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3. Eat locally grown fruit, picked perfectly ripe. To get the full flavor, resist refrigerating it. Trust me on this one.

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Sticky ripe plum.

4. Don’t put fresh basil in the fridge, either. Treat it like the plant it is: Trim the ends and stick the bunch in a jar filled with water. Use as needed. If flowers start to emerge, pinch them off to keep the leaves from getting bitter.

5. Go barefoot. Feel the differences between the textures of this or that sand, or this or that grass. Don’t freak over rough patches forming on your feet; they’re giving you the power to explore the summer world further.*

6. Make a pie. Any sensible pie crust comes together in the Cuisinart in 10 minutes, I promise, zip zip zip, and it won’t have any weird stuff in it. Then you can add anything summer gives you—blueberries, blackberries, late-season cherries. Doll them up or leave them alone.

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Peach custard pie.

7. Find a funnel cake and dive into that, too. Any will do, but I like ’em puff-tastic.

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From the very nearby Asbury Park, NJ boardwalk. I’m not 300 lbs., and it’s miraculous.

8. Slurp up an heirloom tomato—and go local on this one as well, too, for best flavor and price. All other tomatoes will seem like the soggy tube socks they are. Slurp at room temperature. A ripe uncut tomato will live happily on your kitchen table for a few days, if you can restrain yourself longer than I can.

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9. Ride your bike. It’s just as you remember—like flying.

10. Go to a playground and swing on the swings. Go at night. Even better.

11. Find an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and order something retro. The one near me, in business since 1901, offers a really sweet, really kaleidoscopically colored soda called a cherry-lime rickey. Or go back just as far as the boomers, who order butter pecan, black raspberry, and cherry vanilla.

12. Collect wildflowers and let them brighten your counter or night stand. Tiger-lilies, false Queen Anne’s lace, and many others grow in profusion in meadows and along roadsides. If you pull the latter up fully, smell the roots; they smell like carrots (a cousin). Cool, right?

13. Buy a melon from a farm stand. Be sure it’s local for best ripeness. You can eat it in slices or chop it up and make a smoothie or an agua fresca out of it. Use a knife; a melon baller wastes too much fruit.

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I inserted a sharp knife one half-inch into this Sugar Baby and it cracked itself right open. That’s ripe, my dear friends. That’s how melon should be, and taste.

14. Sleep with the windows open. Falling asleep and waking up to a breeze is beauteous.

15. Find something yummy growing somewhere wild and have a little snack. Then tell me about it. Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.

*Gabrielle Reece, pro beach volleyball player, has said she isn’t ashamed of her weight—she is grateful for it, because she needs every pound to play with the force she wants. I feel the same about callouses on my feet; I’m proud of every one because I need every one.

 

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Soft-shell crab season begins in spring on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Nearly the whole bugger can be eaten.

So here’s me snooping around on a restaurant’s About page, and I see this: ‘With locally sourced fresh ingredients. Our menu changes seasonally: we always serve what is in season.’ Heart so warmed. Then I saw out-of-season ingredients on the menu, and called the chef to ask when he’d be updating it.

That’s when he said the menu was current. And consequently that’s when the Warm in my heart turned to Grrrr.

I was polite, don’t worry. But I was ticked. It’s not right to tell customers how important seasonal ingredients are at your restaurant and then put butternut pasta and corn/watermelon salad on your spring menu. Which is what I told him.

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Asparagus, mid-spring.

He squirmed. I heard it over the phone.* Then he told me he would like to use spring vegetables, but his hands were tied, you see: ‘There just aren’t that many,’ he sighed mournfully.

First of all, yes, there are. Second of all, huh? You can’t go throw a rock at a farmers market right now without hitting snow peas, asparagus, tiny radishes.** He thought I’d roll over and agree?

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Cherries, early summer.

It’s true there are no spring fruits here until around Memorial Day (strawberries are first). But you better believe there are lots upon lots of spring vegetables. I cheerfully took his assertion as a cue to rattle off every single one I could think of. Maybe eight vegetables in as many seconds. He squirmed some more and soaked the back of his chef’s coat.***

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Potatoes, summer. They keep well, but they’re born in the summer.

I have three problems with chefs who lie about offering local and seasonal produce on their menus.

You’re Lying

Look, the people you lie to are operating under fakery, and eventually it goes all London Bridge on you. It does. That’s the impractical end of lying.

But the insidious end is this: it implies contempt. At this restaurant and others of its ilk, with every bite of that butternut pasta in April comes a glaring lack of respect. It’s no way to eat. Then they want $24 for it.****

Some of Us Know Better, See ‘Ticked’ Above

Not everyone is a food writer who knows when produce comes into season, granted. Others are restauranteurs themselves. Or farmers, in this, the Garden State. Or ag students. Or home gardeners, or bio teachers, or hey wait COOKS.

Honestly? I don’t know this stuff because I’m a food writer. I know it because I cook. And I may be the first person who calls you on this lie, but I promise you with fairy dust and butterfly kisses that I won’t be the last.

It’s Your Job To Teach

People may disagree with me on this one, but I stand by it.

You, Sir Chef, chose to work with and present food to the public. With that choice comes the responsibility to go by it, and your customers, ethically. But there’s more.

Yes, there are lots of us who know corn isn’t in season in May. But there are far more who don’t; most people, sadly, have become detached from the earth and what and when it produces. You’re supposed to be enamored enough with what the earth produces that you chose it as your life’s work. Right? And thus…you are in the unique position of educating people and sharing that passion.

So educate us. Share it. Saute baby artichokes in fresh lemon juice and olive oil until they’re so tender they’ll halfway dissolve on our tongues. Slice up some Chioggia beets paper thin, and let your youngest customers giggle at the candy cane stripes and sweet taste.

This problem—it’s easily fixed. You just have to care.

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Melons, mid- to late summer.

Please note: I’m not saying every restaurant needs to serve local and seasonal produce. I mean it would be great, but I know it’s not the case. I go to places all the time that serve good meals with produce from all over the calendar. But they dont claim to be local and seasonal. My beef is with those who do, those who want to get on the trendy-phrase bandwagon and make some fat money off calling themselves local and seasonal…and it’s actually a total head fake.

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Figs, late summer into early fall. I picked these off the trees an hour before I shot this, then promptly ate them for lunch.

I called the above chef because I had hoped to feature his restaurant in an article. And who knows—his food, such as it is, might be good. But without integrity? Like at the very heart of the place, like at the very heart of the chef himself? No. If his heart’s not in it, he can’t expect mine to be.

Just checked their site again and was genuinely hoping to see a change, either with new copy that doesn’t tout how seasonal they are, or with an actual spring menu.

Psht.

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Persimmons, late fall.

*Yes, you can.

**Don’t throw rocks at farmers markets. It’s a bad idea. Same with caution to the wind.

***Didn’t have to be in the room. He did. And may I say, good.

****I swear to you this is what they’re charging. For a dish featuring squash picked seven months ago.

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A few days ago my favorite organic farm posted a shot on Facebook of one of their workers holding a ripe melon. The caption announced that customers could come and pick watermelons. Of course I had to go.

(I need to take a pause here and switch to normal brain—a place I visited one rainy Thursday in 1978, and it was dullsville, and I ducked out early—and acknowledge what many are thinking: that melons are available dust-, bug-, dirt-, relentless sunshine-, and hassle-free at the supermarket. Now I’m musing on what what would compel me to put on boots and pick my own. Now I’m lost. Oh wait—flavor. And fun :))

I followed Alaina, the worker in the photo, out to the watermelon patch, and she asked if I knew how to tell if a melon is ripe and ready to pick. This was a nope. She leaned over one and held up the stem, still attached to the vine. ‘See this little curlicue, just opposite the stem? When that’s totally brown, it’s ripe.’

So much for thumping it.*

She took off and I went hunting for totally brown curlicues. Found a couple of green ones, then came upon this.

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Score!

It was a very cute melon, the size of your own, and I brought it home.

By the way, the other sure sign that you have a ripe melon happens on top of the cutting board, and I didn’t even know this until I started buying melons from a farm, picked at their peak. Watermelons in particular are over 90% water. When you leave them to drink up rain all summer and then pick them when the curlicue is brown, they’re a taut as Goodyear tire. All they need is the smallest knife incision into the rind, one little 1/8th of an inch of pressure, and the melon will instantly crack open, sometimes right in half. Those who buy their melons at a supermarket, picked unripe, will never know the utter coolness of this.

My melon was seedless and powder pink inside. The flesh closest to the center is sweetest, the case for any melon, I’m pretty sure. I ate some for dessert last night. Today I’m pureeing it into juice and adding a couple of squeezes of lime.

September bliss.

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*Do people still do that? What are they expecting to hear—someone from the inside thumping back?

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It’s high summer, so last week I jumped at the chance to make faithful reader Katerina’s beautiful jam recipes from her native Athens, Greece. With its average summer temperatures in the low 90s (F) and very little rainfall, local fruit has the chance to go all Greta Garbo on the vine or tree and just get sweeter by the day. People who are used to such luxuries know how best to enjoy them, so like a good girl I followed Katerina’s recipes to the letter.

First one, and here’s Katerina:

Melon Jam

I made this recipe because I found myself with lots of melons. I have done many attempts to find the best way of treating the fruits. Please have in mind that the taste of the jam depends on the variety of the fruit.

Melons (I use the ones of August – they have the best taste and aroma)*

Granulated sugar (depending on taste)

I do not give exact quantity of sugar since the fruits can be very sweet. The best approach I have found is to melt the fruits in a food processor and add sugar in small quantities, let it dissolve and taste the result. When satisfied, put the mixture of fruits and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and let it boil at medium temperature, stirring occasionally. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per pint of jam. When thick, it is ready. Put it in sterilized jars, turn them upside down in order for them to be sealed, and during the winter you’ll have a taste of summer.

*

Me again. It’s true that you won’t know what the jam needs until you taste the fruit, and it can vary pretty widely. Melons are desert natives. Here in temperate NJ, if the summers are sunny and dry and Gobi-like, our local melons are better than a candy store. But if we get too much rain, they’ll taste like their cucumber cousins and depress the crap out of your peanut butter sandwich.

I used a really ripe, local, organic cantaloupe. If you can do the same, I heartily endorse it. Unless your supermarket carries local melons (and read the fine print on what they consider local; it still might be from 1,892 miles away), they just aren’t going to have the sweetness and character of fruits that were grown close by and allowed to ripen on the vine. Mine needed only a bit of sugar. I added some fresh grated nutmeg, too.** It cooked down to a luminous orange and tasted remarkably of pumpkin (another cousin). But it’s a more cheerful version of pumpkin, as pumpkin would taste after getting the top car on a Ferris Wheel and swinging it back and forth, much to the consternation of its little sister.

The next jam is even yummier. I make peach goo*** every summer, but loved the idea of adding stuff that hadn’t occurred to me.

Peach Jam with Ginger

700g. (about 1.5 lbs) peaches

500g. (about 1 cup)  granulated sugar

50g. (about 1.5 ounces) fresh ginger root

2 cinnamon sticks

1/2 tsp cloves

Juice of 1 small lemon

Wash fruit. Cut peaches into small pieces and crush them lightly with a fork. Peel and then grate the ginger on a coarse grater. Put the peaches and ginger in a saucepan with a thick bottom and sprinkle with sugar. Allow to soak in the juice until sugar is completely dissolved. Place the pot over high heat and add the spices and lemon juice. Allow to boil 5 minutes, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon and removing the foam from the surface. Lower heat and let boil for 3-4 minutes more. Remove the foam and cinnamon sticks and fill sterilized jars with the hot jam. Shut tight and push up the lids. Turn the jars upside down till the jam reaches room temperature.

*

At the tippy top of the post are the peaches I used. They’re local, ‘light spray’ (it’s hard to find an organic peach in NJ), and look the way peaches look when the farmer doesn’t fuss over them. Russeting and some marring is good. In my many years of picking and eating peaches, I can say with some authority that the ones that are a little rough around the edges will be sweeter. The difference in flavor is striking enough that last year I blogged about it here.

The peaches cook down to an mellow-tasting amber mixture, and the spicy hit of fresh ginger, then cloves and cinnamon, is surprisingly fun. I’ve been eating this stuff out of a Tupperware for the past week.

Both recipes are good on sandwiches, on toast, or on the fantastic bagels brought by your summer visitors from the city.  Bonus: They can be made after a day of fun at the beach, or dreariness at the office, or vice versa, allowing you to go all Greta Garbo—a perfectly acceptable way to be this time of year.

Thanks to Katerina Papaspiliopoulou 🙂

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Melon (cantaloupe) at top; peach ginger at bottom.

*Absolutely true, and in NJ,  September melons can be even better.

**Angie Wink, that one’s for you.

***Sometimes jam, sometimes compote, we had this discussion.

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Gonna be even purtier when they’re tipsy.

The first thing I want to say is WOW, and the second thing I want to say is grazie. You sent recipes from as close by as across the lake and as far away as South Africa. I selected 25 of them. Stoked doesn’t come close!

I chose the recipes for this project after having exhaustively researched the origins and ingredients for each, creating a map across my studio wall with pins stuck in various countries, burning up Google, and whipping up a spreadsheet outlining…okay, no, that never happened, it’s more like I was just mouth-open intrigued by every one. That’s pretty much all of the rhyme and reason involved here. Some recipes are ones I’ve never tried before and have always wanted to, some are ones I’ve never heard of, and some are classics. And I’ve never made any before, which was a major selling point. Some of you sent more than one recipe. That’s cool. I’m a game kind of girl.

As I make each recipe I’ll be documenting the whys, wherefores, and holy-craps here. Along those lines, come on and cook one recipe or all with me. When you do, write in and tell me how it went. I think one of the best ways to get under the skin of a country and its people is to taste its native cuisine. Food and the stories that accompany it can be transporting. They can carry us to another time and place as well as or even better than an airplane can—or in some cases, a time machine.* Your kitchen is your cockpit. This will be an education for all of us.

I’m still waiting on an official go from some of you, and some I’m not sure I can swing,** but here are my choices.

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Soft-Boiled Eggs with Dippy Soldiers

Curry-baked Chicken with Vegetable Curry and Green Pea Rice

Jenny Davies

jennyeatwellsrhubarbginger.blogspot.co.uk

*

Melon Jam

Peach Jam with Ginger

Octopus with Pasta

Katerina Papaspiliopoulou

Athens, Greece

*

Sauerbraten

Kay Coppola

West Long Branch, NJ

USA

*

Fried Zucchini Flowers with Mozzarella and Anchovy

Daniela Cassoni

Rome, Italy

*

Eggs Daffodil

Louis Rousseau

Santa Cruz, CA

USA

*

Toad of Toad Hole

Cheese Marmite Muffins

Mike Batho

Manchester, England

*

Applesauce Cake

Plum Pudding sauce

Kim Raynor

Wanamassa, NJ

USA

*

One-Gallon Daviess County Kentucky Burgoo

Mary B. Goetz

Owensboro, KY

USA

*

Oatmeal Cardamom Chocolate Cookies

Anita Burns

Corona, CA

USA

*

Homemade Maraschino Cherries

Linda Lavalle

New York, NY

USA

*

Rose Liqueur

Ladyfingers

Letizia Mattiacci

Umbria, Italy

*

Turkish-Inspired Leek Meatballs

Liz Reuven

kosherlikeme.com

*

Cornbread with Warm Buttermilk and Honey

Constance Moylan

USA

*

TMC Chicken POMOrado with Habanero

TMC Baked Rabbit with Mustard and Habanero Glaze

Johnnie Walker

Logan County, CO

USA

*

Grilled Pimiento Cheese

Sarah Lansky

Sarasota, FL

USA

*

Malva Pudding

Sauce

Richard Key

Ocean Basket N1 City Mall

South Africa

*

Hoppin’ John

Weena Perry

Keyport, NJ

USA

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Oh, and…

If you or any home cooks you know have authentic recipes from Asia, Australia, South America or other parts of Europe or North America, please hit me up at mcproco@gmail.com. The thought of cooking myself around the world gets me really jazzed. And I think we established long ago that I’m just a mite cracked in the head, so I might as well give in to it.***

*It’s true, but it’s also a gratuitous Doctor Who reference. So you know.

**Whether I will make the rose liqueur, for example, depends on whether I can find a sweet-tasting, unsprayed bush. And it has to be on public property, because making the recipe after having avoided a felony charge will only make it that much more enjoyable. I’ve tasted petals from about six different wild bushes that range from neutral tasting to bitter. Cross them fingers for me.

Cropped beach rose

Lettucey. Bummer.

***Two concussions strong!

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I’m feeling inspired.

Many, many of you have generously offered up your gorgeous recipes since I started writing a couple of years ago. I’d love more.

So here’s what I propose: A cooking tour—your recipes, me cooking and writing about them here on Eve’s Apple, and both of us talking about them afterward. I want to celebrate home cooks and what they make. And I think it would be fun to cook my way around the world if I can.

Here’s how you come in:

1) Send me your favorite recipe if you haven’t already.

A photo would be great, too, so I know what I’m shooting for. If I like it, I will add it to my list and cheerfully contact you to let you know. Please, no follow ups.

2) Stick to simple home cooking.

Most of you know this about me, but just to emphasize: I am far, far less impressed by the fancy, the fussy, the contrived and the eye-popping than in authentic, regional, humble dishes that focus on quality ingredients.

Soft-boiled eggs with dippy soldiers from Great Britain, melon jam from Greece, and fried zucchini blossoms from Rome are ideal examples of what I’m looking to cook (and I’ve received wonderful recipes of all three—thank you).

3) Send clear instructions of the recipe and the history behind it.

In other words, please tell me this sauce was your mother’s or grandmother’s favorite, or that your cousin has been making this potato salad for your family Labor Day picnic since 1956. I do love a story.

4) Allow me to do some light editing of the recipe if necessary.

5) Perimeters and no-go’s:

Please avoid…

-Recipes that call for cake mixes, MSG, processed foods and other artificial stuff. Chemicals can give me migraines.

-Anything too pricey, huge or difficult to find. If you’re a Laplander and want to offer your recipe for reindeer steaks, please know I’d dearly love to try it, but unfortunately, suburban New Jersey, USA doesn’t feature such things.

-Recipes that were found online, from a magazine, etc. I’d like ones from your own collection.

I’ll eat most foods. But some I won’t, because of flavor, politics or allergies, like: fennel/anise, veal, Chilean sea bass, swordfish, turnips, mint, eggplant and red radishes.

And p.s., I don’t own a grill or a microwave. I have an oven and 4 stove top jets. Old beach house.

6) Provide your name, city and country.

Message me one of two ways: via LinkedIn, or via email at mcproco@gmail.com. If your recipe is selected, I will credit you with your first name only, city and country.

*

Just an FYI: I will not be cooking a new recipe every single day of the year because I gave up masochism for Lent. My plan is to cook as many as I can in a year’s time. But I’ll balance writing about this project with writing about other topics so nobody gets burned out and everybody stays chomping at the bit.

Deadline for recipe submissions is midnight EST, June 27, 2013.

Sound good?

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