Monday, June 8, 2015

Eating Omily: Confessions of a Kitchen Witch

Ah, these precious early days of the growing season are so fleeting...a friend of mine's daughter recently turned two, and in her mix of nostalgia, awe, and bittersweetness, I detected a reflection of what I felt today when I a friend asked me if I was still seeing ramps anywhere in the market, I couldn't find any asparagus, and my farmer friend Ed warned me that he thought there would only be two more weeks of strawberries.

No more asparagus and strawberries?? How can it be?! Oh, it can. And it's a big part of what makes strawberries so sweet, and asparagus so scrumptious. And, it's why preserving is such a big part of the lifestyle if you're living la vida local!

Frozen asparagus, pickled ramps, and strawberry jam...they're all deals with the devil. Magical alchemy that turns vinegar and/or sugar, heat and/or cold into time capsules of a specific time of year.

If you do much preserving, you just might believe in witchcraft...or take the title for yourself. I mean, it's pretty though to think of it as a metaphor when you're stirring a bubbling caldron!

Participating in the cycles of nature feels incredibly empowering, and preserving foods in season isn't the only way to do it.

Composting feels great, too, and doesn't have to entail a heap in your backyard, or a bin of worms in your kitchen. I keep a gallon bag in my freezer, and put all my kitchen scraps in there. Once it's full, I take it to the Farmer's Market, where there's a compost drop-off. I buy compost and compost-enriched potting soil back for $1/pound! You might be surprised to learn that a compost drop-off program, or even a compost pick-up program, exists where you live. Do some googling!

Doing a little foraging can be a fun exercise in connecting to nature, too. There's a certain patch of raspberries I spotted a few years ago in Prospect Park, and each year I try to time it just right to pick a ripe basket-full before birds and other Brooklynites scoop them all up. Thankfully, raspberries being the tenacious plants they are, that little patch is getting bigger and more fruitful every year!

This coming Saturday, I'll be doing some witchcraft/kitchen alchemy/preserving myself: making a couple different kinds of strawberry jam, and some rhubarb chutney!! I'll have lots of fun pictures for you in my next Eating Omily Post, but if you can't wait that long, you should start following my on instagram: @Emily.Hursh, and vine: Emily Hursh. You'll get to see the magic by Saturday afternoon!

Of course, making jam and pickles from scratch, and then canning those things for shelf-stabilization is a somewhat complicated process requiring very specific techniques and tools. Freezing is more accessible, and a great way to start!

You'll want to freeze your produce individually, spread out in a single layer on baking sheets, so that you can take a little or a lot, as you need it, any time. Give your produce at least twelve hours to freeze all the way through. You can let it hang out on the cookie sheets in the freezer for up to forty-eight hours. Don't leave it much longer, or it will start to dehydrate, and absorb flavors from the air in there, both of which do not make for tasty alchemy. Move the produce to an air-tight container, and remove as much air as possible from the container. Zip-top bags are the easiest way to do this. I reuse them for compost until the zipper wears out, then rinse them out thoroughly, and drop them off at Whole Foods, where there's a recycling container especially for plastic bags and other stretch plastics.

Got specific questions about preserving the magic? Speak now, or forever hold your peace! Or, just ask about preserving cherries, and peas! Those are what's next on the horizon!! :-D

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