Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Storing Eggplant

As our cold weather season approaches, the warm weather crops must be harvested before the first frost. Dealing with the resulting glut of fresh veggies takes many forms around our house. The tomatoes picked green, set out on a table and covered with newspapers, will eventually ripen enough to be canned or otherwise processed; the cucumbers are pickled or fermented; the winter squashes and onions cured for storage.

Many gardeners don't realize eggplant, the big round Italian types, can be stored for a couple of months in the pantry. Pick your eggplants at the peak of ripeness, when the skin has a glossy sheen. Once in the house, trim the stem as close as possible to the top of the fruit, without cutting into the flesh. Lift and break off the "petals" of the green cap so the spines won't pierce the wrapping, taking care not to break the flesh. Then wrap the fruit as snugly as possible in plastic wrap, and store at room temperature, or a bit cooler. A shelf in my pantry works best in my house.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chickens 101

I'm not a big television watcher. I'm bored by most programming today - I'd just as soon have music as my "background noise." However, there are a few TV shows I do like to watch. One of those is Survivor. I'm an adventurer at heart - I wonder how I'd "survive" (I'm too old and slow now - they'd vote me out first thing). I also like watching the personal interactions, the machinations and manipulations, the internal struggles. I was a bartender for years - I'm a veteran people-watcher. Nothing shocks or surprises me all that much.

But last night, watching the show, was a first. I was totally aghast at what happened.

One of the teams won two hens and a rooster in a cage to take back to their camp. Usually when this happens, I'm waiting for the first idiot to let them escape, and the ensuing antics as they try to catch them again. In daylight, chickens can see very well, and are extremely quick. Without a fence corner to corral them against (or Grandma's wire leg hook to snag one) they can be practically impossible to catch when running free. But once night comes, they squat down and don't move. If you just wait until dusk, watch them settle down (and quite often, if allowed, they'll come back "home" to roost), you can then just walk over, pick them up, and put them back in the cage.

But last night, they'd just got the chickens back to camp - no one yet had the chance to talk baby-talk to their little pets, or mess around and let them get loose. They were ready to eat one. Those people are hungry - I can understand they'd want to eat one right away; I'd agree to that. But one person made the comment that they should keep an egg a day coming in for a steady supply of protein; that's a good plan too. But then, I just couldn't believe it when they reached in and grabbed one of the hens to butcher. Could they not see the difference between a rooster and the hens? Did they think they needed the rooster to get eggs? Have we so vilified science and sex education in our country that an entire group of grown adults knows nothing about "the birds and the bees" anymore? Are we that distanced from our food, and where it comes from?

Ok folks, here's the deal: hens lay eggs even when there isn't a rooster around. The only time a rooster is necessary is if you're planning on hatching out your own homegrown baby chicks. I really find it hard to believe that of all those adults there, not one seemed to know that. The game only goes for, tops, 39 days - they know that. They're not really marooned forever - they don't need to be raising a self-perpetuating flock of chickens. Listen, people: next time, eat the rooster, keep the hens, and you can be eating two eggs a day.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Janan's Jalapeno Jelly

I didn't get many jalapeno peppers this year. Summer was late, and then it never did get really hot this year (plus, our visiting Bambi reached his nose down inside the plant cages and ate the tops of the plants, spitting out deer-slobbered chewed peppers, until we finally got a tall enough fence up). But I did get a small bowlful, so started thinking about what to do with them.

Last year, I planted extra jalapenos, and then smoke-dried them into chipotles (tutorial here), enough to last for 3-4 years. I still have a couple jars of nacho slices, and besides, there weren't enough this year to bother getting out the pressure canner. I've run out of jalapeno hot sauce, but like my cayenne and habanero/orange hot sauces better anyway.

And then, my friend Janan in Tennessee posted a beautifully staged photo of a cracker with a smear of cream cheese, topped with a dollop of jalapeno jelly, on her FaceBook page. Bingo! It looked sooo good, I asked for her recipe. She was kind enough to send it to me. And when it turned out as good as it looked, I asked if I could put it on my blog. "Go ahead," she said, "make me famous."

Janan's Jalapeno Jelly

2½ cups roughly chopped peppers (I use approx. 20 smaller jalapenos = 1½ c. jalapenos, + 1 c. bell peppers)
2 cups apple cider vinegar (divided)
7 cups sugar
2 packets liquid pectin
optional - a couple of drops green food coloring

WEARING GLOVES! (I've been working my way through a box of latex surgical gloves for the past six years, and probably still have enough to last me a couple more years - definitely a worthwhile investment), remove stems, seeds, and inside ribs from jalapenos. In a blender, liquefy peppers with one cup vinegar. Combine with sugar and remaining cup of vinegar. Heat to boiling, then continue to boil for 10 minutes. Add pectin and, stirring constantly, continue to boil one minute more. Remove from heat, and stir in food coloring if using. Fill hot, sterilized jars to 1/4" headspace, seal, and process in a hot water bath 10 minutes (I did mine 15 minutes, since I'm at 5,000 feet altitude).

Janan says this recipe makes 10 half-pints, but I average six to seven. Even so, mine does have the perfect balance of heat and sweet, and the jelly, while firm enough to hold its shape in the jar, is still "spreadable" too. My jalapenos averaged a little over 2", which I figured were on the small side - Janan said hers were more like 4 inches. I've since edited the recipe include my notes over the years.

In the photo above, the jelly is on the right (I did add the food coloring), and then a few jars of tomatillos on the left. There's more information about growing and canning tomatillos here, in my post on the Simple Green Frugal Co-op blog.