Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Apples From Orchards, and Grapes From the Vine

        The jewels of September. See how they glow. Crab Apple. Apple-Maple and Wild Grape. Jelly and jam. Essence of Autumn. This is an abundance year. Some years are not so. This spring the blossoms smothered the branches. This fall the apples and grapes hang pendulous.

        Apple blossoms are like brides. Ethereal, blushing, full of sweetness. Fleeting beauty. The petals fall, carpeting the earth. The while, buds are forming, growing, maturing, becoming small, hard nubs, then ripening to full blown fruit.

           " As the apple tree among the trees of the wood...I sit down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit is sweet to my taste." sings the Song of Solomon.

         A hat full of wild grapes is the perfect amount to make Jam. I know this, because I raised free range children. Their play ground was the woods, and the streams and the meadows. They had two rules. One was, when you catch a brook trout, you run home with it as fast as possible. So I can cook and eat it while it still carries the taste of hilly brooks and granite shoals. The other was this. If you find wild grapes while exploring, mark that spot in your memory. And when they are ripe, turn your hat up, and fill it. Because who has a bucket on an explore? And many an adventure was had, high up in the trees, swinging and jumping to fill those hats. When they got older, there was pick ups to stand on, and reach grape vines, too.
        Long ago, when New Hampshire belonged to the deer and the Indians. Before these granite hills knew about September. When days were measured by moons and harvests. Already then the grape vines twisted around the mighty trees, God grew grapes. 
         On winter mornings, when you open a jar of wild grape jam, you are a part of the ages. There is the scent of warm autumn sunshine. The flash of blue sky. The light of the harvest moon. The taste on your tongue holds the tang of living, and dying. The sweetness of birth. The memory of other years.

       The essentials of jelly making. It's not hard. I use powdered pectin, and you just follow the directions in the box. So I don't need to go into that.

         This Foley Food Mill is the best thing if you make grape jam, rather than jelly. I see it now in antique shops, so it is old fashioned, but I like mine. A few turns of the crank and all the seeds and skins are separated from the pulp.

                                              Jewels, indeed!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Cod Cakes and History

        This is the story of Cod Cakes. I made them the other night, and they were delicious. A cod fish is really quite an ugly fish. But, like an alluring woman, the cod has made men wander far from home, searching for them. Nations were made, and lost because of them. Ships were built, sailed, lost at sea. Some even came back home loaded with them. Our country flourished because of them. Wars were fought over them.

     This story begins with a cute little wooden box. Of salt cod. And two young men who had recently fledged their nests. Awesome find at the grocery store, this little wooden box. It definitely has possibilities. And salt cod? Surely it's much like beef jerky. You can gnaw on it. No refrigeration, no cooking. Right? Especially if you live the young mans dream. The perfect bachelor life in the carriage shed of a house. A house with a name, even. A wood stove and a lantern? You are all set.
     Much to their surprise, chagrin, even, salt cod is not like beef jerky. In its just out of the box state it is actually inedible. Yep. That is why they made salt cod. Long before the colonists came to Cape Cod, long before the Vikings came to North America, the Basques came. They came chasing the glorious cod fish. They stayed, and salted the fish to fill their boats and then brought them back to Europe. Salt cod fed the medieval peasants.
     Any way, this Gramma came to the rescue, and made them cod cakes, to show them how you use salt cod.

        This is a one pound box, so it ends up being a lot of fish. After you soak it! I put it in a stainless steel bowl, covered it with cold water and put it in the refrigerator for twenty four hours. During that time, I poured all the water off, rinsed the fish and covered it with fresh water four times. This takes out the salt and plumps up the fish, which miraculously looks like fresh filets again. Put it in a colander to drain.

      Wash, peel and dice fairly small, five medium potatoes. Boil them until soft. Drain. Now comes the tedious part. You need to shred the fish. its a little tough, but you can do it! This step would be much easier with fresh, boiled cod. Put the potatoes and shredded cod in a large bowl. Add one medium onion, diced small.

      The onions go in with the fish and potatoes. Add two beaten eggs, four tablespoons of flour ( I used Gluten free), a squeeze of lemon juice, or lemon thyme, and mash them all together with a potato masher. Shape them into patties. Beat an egg with a little water in a shallow bowl. Dip each patty in the egg wash, then in crumbs of your choice.. panko, ritz, I used GF cornflakes that I pulverized in my blender.  I put them on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet. I made about twenty patties. Put them in the refrigerator to firm up, as this makes it easier to handle when you fry them.  At this point you can also freeze them, or some of them if you don't think you can eat that many.
       Now you're free to go read a book or whatever, til supper time!

       When you are ready to cook them, get out the old cast iron. Heat up about an inch deep  oil of choice. I saved some bacon grease from breakfast and added that for extra flavor. In my ten inch pan, I could do five patties at a time, two minutes per side.  We had tiny red skin potatoes and over easy eggs with ours. I made tartar sauce for them, too. ( Mix some mayo with a nice glob of relish and a drop of maple syrup.)

       The early colonists used every part of the cod fish. Skin, bones, insides. Not just the prize pieces of fish. I am sure they would be horrified at our wastefulness. Thanks to the iron horse cowboy, who just happened to be reading a book about the history of cod fishing. Jakob and Dillion got a good meal, and a history lesson along with it. You can't beat that!