A few years ago, Pete and I started saving beef bones, chicken, duck and turkey carcasses and all sorts of vegetable ends for stocks. During the winters, when everyone stays home and farts, simmering stocks humidify the house and freshen up stale smells. During the summer, though, simmering stocks and boiling them a second time to jar in New Jersey tends to make a body feel sweaty and homicidal. We needed stocks for good meals and to make the most of our hard-won resources, so skipping the step and moving directly to the cocktail hour was out of the question. We needed a better system.
Shrimp stock, vegetable stock, still steaming.
During the summers, we freeze our ends, bones and carcasses. Once the weather cools off, we make stocks, use some and pressure can the rest. Our house is more humid and smells better. No one is extra-murdery. We make excellent use of expensive foodstuffs, first in a meal, then in leftovers, then in stocks. If the stock is vegetarian, the used vegetables can go into the composter to later enrich our soils and gardens. Today, we jarred three quarts of shrimp and three more of vegetable stock. Our future meals will be better. The house smells far less farty than in other Decembers. It’s a total win-win. Bonus: soup!
Mom called and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and finally, I said, “Okay, Mom. Pete and I will go pick figs.” As I hung up the phone, I immediately forgot about this until after dinner, when the sun was setting. Pete put on his shoes and we took credit cards and ID, in case we were also getting arrested. We drove over to Mom’s house in the dark. Pete brought two flashlights. I brought a colander and lefthanded scissors, because the hometown police would know that – obviously – no one brings lefthanded scissors to a B & E.
The fig tree is as tall as I am, about seven feet wide, with branches low to the ground. I have no attention span, so trying to judge the ripeness of each and every fig was tricky. Pete has even less of an attention span, so he must’ve said, “Look at that one!” half a dozen times, which might’ve been charming if it didn’t leave me totally in the dark. But then his cell rang when I was about one-third of the way around the tree and he put the flashlights under his arm to tell whoever it was that he couldn’t talk. My lefthanded scissors were sticky by then and definitely had my fingerprints on them and no one would have believed we had a terrible fig-picking accident, so Pete remained unstabbed. Naturally, there was no time tonight to write a churlish blog post. You get this picture from our bike ride through Colonial Park on Sunday, where we rode bikes over a Walk Bikes Over Bridge-bridge because: rebels! somewhere in East Millstone that runs into Amwell Road. I was good and lost then; now I have figs. Bon appetit!
It’s idyllic, right? Wish I had a sandwich.
I learned a whole lot on Saturday afternoon. First: I boiled some of the larger potatoes we grew, slid them out of their skins and – following the directions of Marcella Hazan, Italian food queen – put them through the food mill. Then the learning began. Marcella said to mill them directly onto the work surface. It seemed awkward, but I threw some AP flour on the work surface and started milling. Three potato halves later, I was like, ‘Torturing myself is fun and all, but I need a way to stand this thing above this surface. If only I had a sturdy tube.’ I rested the food mill on top of the empty angel food form et voila! The food mill produced a whole lot more potato than I expected. Marcella’s recipe uses only potato and AP flour. The potato had nice flavor, so I went with it. I kneaded the flour and potato and it became a dough. I cut it into quarters and rolled it into long tubes. I tried out cutting 3/4 inch bits but they seemed large. Smaller turned out to be better. I have a gnocchi form and at first using it was strange, but very quickly I learned a smooth motion. That by itself was very encouraging. I put the formed gnocchi on a 1/2 sheet pan lined with wax paper and dusted with AP flour. The filled tray went into the freezer, for a little extra insurance. Later, we dropped them into boiling salted water and they came back to the top immediately. I expected this to take a few minutes, but no. Steve was concerned about how soft they were so were plated them directly from the boiling water. He mixed the gnocchi with sauce very carefully. The texture was extremely light but too light. Steve remembered that his grandmother would rice the potatoes and let them dry for a few hours or overnight.
I made terrible gnocchi! From scratch!
1. Station the food mill over an empty angel food pan and a base of AP flour.
2. Mill potatoes and let ‘em get some air.
3. Add salt.
4. Roll the dough smaller than you want to and cut the little chunks small.
5. You WILL get the forming motion, so quit whining.
6. Some time on a lined, floured cookie sheet in the freezer helps.
I had worried this would be hard to do, but it is not. It is completely easy. Can’t wait to try again.
Heirloom tomatoes roasted with olive oil and salt on the left; roasted red tomatoes with olive oil and salt. We jar whole tomatoes from organic farm girls who humor me about my unusual art supplies.
Six years ago, I started thinking about food preservation as a way to test whether my brain would let me learn again after the whole wacky memory loss episode. Congratulations to me! If I really work at it, I can absorb new things. I wanted to try jarring as many different kinds of things as I could to learn as much as I could about what I was doing. The upside of that plan was that invested time, money and effort paid off in some beautiful jars and exciting meals. The downside was that, since I don’t usually cook our dinners, the food in jars ages in the pantry, often beyond what might be safe to eat.
This year, I’m much stronger than I have been since food school started. Today, we went on a 12 mile bike ride on gravel at a good clip two months after Pete’s knee surgery. Afterward, I needed a glass of wine and a nap, but it was completely great and we’re planning more challenging rides. This of course takes time.
This year, I’m thinking about narrowing my focus – STOP LAUGHING! I have focus! – to tomatoes, beets, apples, peaches, raspberries. I would like to find time to get red peppers into jars whole and as red pepper spread, which I love all winter, but if not, I’m going to try not to be heartbreaky about it. I’m finished with beets. We almost can’t get enough tomatoes and tomato sauce into jars, but we’re pushing that rock uphill. I’m excited about moving into fruit soon.
Anyhoo, this is all very promising. We’re on bicycles and out of the kitchen! We’re in the kitchen and on the prowl. I do hear blueberries calling my name…
Whole red beets are both beautiful and slightly spooky.