Quacking from Rappahannock (our blog)

A Black Currant Streusel Cake With Black Currant Compote

So far, it’s been a good year for berries! A cold winter and abundant spring rains have given the plants what they want.  You will not hear me complain about the past winter nor about the rains (yet, at least…) I am actually harvesting red […]

Signs of Spring

  March 30:  black currant leaves just visible. April 2: 14F (14F!!!!!!) at night. Forecast called for 24. I did not cover my newly planted brassicas. A week later they show damage – the outer leaves show large whitish spots. April 3: spotted the first […]

Restarting The Kitchen Garden

I wish I could say that year-round gardening is the way of life here. But it has not been true for the last couple of years when several things have – ahem! – come in the way of winter gardening. So it’s spring, and I am planting!

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Lower Garden on March 23, 2014

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Postcard from the Winter Kitchen

Simple comforting lunch on this gray day: tomato soup (with canned tomato from last summer), buttermilk biscuits, grits & manchego souffle, roasted Hatch pepper & tomatillo salsa (peppers & tomatillo from last summer)

The Bees in Winter

It’s been a hard winter for the bees. Harder than usual. We have lost 1 of our 3 colonies and it’ll be a few more weeks at best till we see reliably clement temperatures and blossoms for them. How can we help them?

Winter Tomato Soup

winter tomato soupAs far as I am concerned, I grow tomatoes for winter eating. In fact, this year, I am mostly growing paste tomatoes: Roma, Amish Paste, San Marzano, and Grandma Mary’s Paste

Tomatoes in summer? oh, sure, I like a good tomato sandwich as much as anyone (they are a summer staple lunch in fact). And roasted tomatoes, fast or slow, as well as tomato salad or gazpacho or the occasional tomato sorbet.

But in February nothing beats a lasagna redolent with garlicky and rosemary tomato sauce (unless it’s one with mushroom & bechamel) nor homemade pizza with thick red sauce. Or a piping hot tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwich. All perfect comfort food that’s warming and delicious. A pleasure to eat when it’s gray and cold. And that is why I bother and can tomatoes.

The soup is easy, comforting and delicious. (more…)

Local For the Holidays… Of Course!

Heirloom vegetables are a familiar term – conveying the idea of plants bred and selected over years of patient work for specific traits and local conditions, as well as the resulting seeds carefully passed down generations.  The livestock equivalent is “heritage” breed. When it comes […]

On Cardoon

My husband says “cardoon” sounds like something out of The Lord of The Rings. I say it’s more like Deep Space 9. Either way, we love it here. It’s beautiful in the garden and it’s delicious (recipe at the end of the post) While I […]

The Other Quince

Japanese quince flowers are truly enchanting in the spring. But the fruit that ripen in mid-fall sure aren’t pretty: hard to the touch and to the teeth, gnarly, pitted, inhabited often. Raw they are so tart that they’ll make your mouth puckers (if you don’t break a tooth first biting into it)  and your stomach  revolts if you manage to swallow. So why do I want anything to do with them?

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Because, when managed correctly, you’ve got some pretty tasty treats. That’s why!

European quince (of which I have written, here, and here) turn into hauntingly floral soft fruit once cooked, making them great as side dish to rich meat, as sauce, in baked desserts, ice-cream, jam, jelly, booze etc.

Japanese quince are viewed almost purely as ornamental in the Western world and their culinary use is much more limited. (If you are interested, do check out this page on the medicinal properties of Japanese quince). Because of their incredible tartness I have only used them with lots of sugar: jam, jelly, syrups & cordials. Or honey – it’s a wonderful combination.  And their aroma? Think sharp lemon jam with floral undertones and none of the bitterness. As they cook with sugar they turn a perfectly beautiful red hue.

Now isn’t that something you could use? Tart, beautiful color, fragrant? I thought so: don’t let your Japanese quince go to waste!

Granted, it’s some work to get it all done – but think about it: how much time did you spend taking care of the shrub? Zilch would be my bet! So get your knives out and get going.

You can turn the fruit into an exquisite jam (recipe for Japanese Quince Jam below). Or you can cook it and strain it: the resulting juice is absolutely wonderful in jelly (Recipe for Japanese Quince Jelly below), and the remaining purée can be used for jam or rustic fruit paste (less nice than if you also use the juice, but still nice). But here is my triumph – and I came to it accidentally. I had been chopping hot peppers – without gloves – while a pot of jelly was simmering. I used my finger to taste the jelly… and I had this most wonderful spicy hot, sweet and tart taste… the best hot pepper jelly.

Now, I like some hot pepper jellies – the one made by my friend Jennifer, as well as the one made by the Turners through their Virginia Chutney Company. But too often the jelly is over-sweet and too rubbery. It’s because one must use lots of pectin since peppers don’t have any to talk of. One must also use vinegar for acidity – and sometimes sub-par vinegar is used. But here I’ve got this incredibly tart juice that naturally so full of pectin that it jells if you look at it wrong. In fact that when I tried to make a syrup, it jelled solid over night.

Anyway… that’s my triumph: Japanese Quince Hot Pepper Jelly. Try it – you won’t regret it.

japanese Quince Jelly (more…)

Chestnuts?

Chestnut time! Yes, it is time consuming to shell fresh chestnuts. There, I said it. But if it’s not difficult – provided you blanch the chestnuts and peel them while still warm. Besides chestnuts are a treat, made all the rarer because the trees take […]