I recently found myself with a surplus of beets. I like beets, but I also know that they will last for weeks in the fridge, so I tend to overlook them, eating the more perishable items from my CSA box … Continue reading
I must now confess that I ordered too many beets for my root cellar this year. However, I’m stubborn and the beets are still firm and I am just as determined as ever to eat ALL of them. And thus … Continue reading
Today’s post comes to us from Food Action Committee volunteer, Tori Hessian… Well, hello there fellow food friends. I am not sure about the rest of you but I am getting the winter blues. I know we have been lucky … Continue reading
Now that the root cellar is built and the temperature has dropped, it’s time to buy vegetables for the root cellar! We – the five Ecology Action Centre (EAC) root cellar members and I – got together to figure out … Continue reading
This post comes from Megan, neurotic first-time canner turned pro!
A few weeks ago I inadvertently volunteered to do a preserving demonstration at the Maritime Fall Fair. Inadvertently because I’d thought I was volunteering to man a booth, standing by while folks look at a display or pamphlets, and maybe answering some questions. Having never preserved anything in my life, I likely would not have volunteered had I understood I’d be demonstrating lacto-fermentation and canning to a seated audience. On a kitchen platform. With a microphone headset. Eep!
(This misunderstanding was no fault of the requester; I need to read my emails more closely and make fewer assumptions).
Realizing what I got myself into I figured I’d better learn in a hurry. Mixing up sauerkraut was easy – chop, salt, pound, wait. I texted a friend who’d taken the sauerkraut workshop: could it be that easy? I was forgetting something, right? But as with many of the foods that we’re used to harvesting from grocery shelves, it really isn’t complicated; we’ve just gotten out of the habit of doing things for ourselves. Lacto-fermentation, check.
Next: canning. Much more intimidating. In preparation I borrowed a book on canning and bought myself a canner and the appropriate utensils (all for less than ~$40 new). I got home and set out all of my equipment, along with my jars and a bag of valley apples I’d picked up, and got busy reading through all the steps. After going through it four times I felt ready to give’r.
After an hour of peeling and chopping I had a pot of apples and spices simmering into applesauce on the stove and I began heating water in my canner with the jars and lids. This was the first important safety step in the manual: making sure that your jars are hot enough that they don’t break when you add your hot food. Check. Within little time my apples were turning to frothy, foaming, pillowy goodness. I carefully removed a jar from the canner, filled it with applesauce, removed air bubbles and checked the “headspace” as directed, placed a lid and sealing ring, making it “fingertip tight” (another important safety step), and put it back in the canner. Ditto the second and third jar, add enough water to completely surround them, and they were on their way. Voila!
At this point I grew skeptical; this was too easy. So I started worrying about whether they would actually seal – did I get the headspace right? What exactly is “fingertip tight”? Did I get out all the air bubbles? And if I got any of these steps even minutely wrong, could it work?
As I pondered this something startling began to happen – boiling water began shooting from the canner and cascading down its sides, creating an alarming sizzling and popping noise akin to a tiny fireworks display. I leapt into action with tea towels, trying to avoid the boiling water droplets flying through the air while attempting to stop the water from running down between the stove and wall to areas unreachable – already late in the evening, I didn’t fancy ending my night by having to pull the stove into the middle of the kitchen to mop, knowing that such an endeavor might uncover a much scarier mess. Standing as far from the stove as possible, arm out-stretched and oven-mitt protected, a quick assessment told me that while my canner was tall enough for the jars I’d chosen, with the steamer insert (used to keep the jars off the direct heat source – another important safety step) there wasn’t enough room to completely cover them with water, and once boiled it had boiled over.
Okay. Time for a quick decision. Remove enough water to stop the overflow (but then the jars wouldn’t be completely surrounded!), turn the jars on their side so they could remain completely immersed (but the directions said not to tilt the jars!), or completely abandon the process? I went for option two, thinking it was probably the wrong choice but going for it anyway. I tipped them on their sides, took out a bit of water; the effluence stopped. As I waited for them to process I lamented that my instructions hadn’t told me which steps are fudge-able and which aren’t. Not being science-minded, I figured the process was probably pretty picky. Twenty minutes later I removed the jars from the canner half-heartedly and stood them back up on the counter, believing that they wouldn’t seal and my foray into canning would be a failure.
As the final step was to check the seal 24 hours later, I put the venture to rest for the night. All the following day at work my mind would return to the jars of applesauce on my counter, waiting for me to come home and do my check, mocking me as the lids would lift easily from the jars. I’m not sure if I would have been so wrapped up in their success or failure if I hadn’t been aware that in one week I’d be doing it in front of a group of folks who would probably know better and I would be revealed as a preserving fraud. The ego is a powerful thing.
But sometimes miracles happen. They sealed! I’d googled “seal test” earlier in the day and tried four methods, just to be sure. I was elated! It worked! I’d canned something! I celebrated by promptly opening one and diving in.
Over the next week I stoked my confidence by preparing jars of lacto-fermented kimchi and dill pickles, and pickling and canning the last of my summer carrots. The satisfaction of chopping and mixing, bubbling and boiling, setting aside and tasting, is addictive. Part science experiment, part artisan craft, and results that celebrate our local harvest well into the winter.
And I avoided appearing as a complete novice at the demonstration. I was paired with someone with plenty of experience – a whiz with preserving – who took the lead while I played the role of assistant / beginner, demonstrating that you don’t need to be a kitchen or harvesting expert to make the most of our local produce – you don’t! It was fun – and I added pickled beets and salsa to my list of Things I’ve Preserved. What will be next?
Beets are a versatile – and delicious vegetable! Both the beet and its greens are edible and can be used in a variety of tasty and simple dishes. Beets come in a red-purple colour, as well as in a golden-yellow colour. Beets are a good source of potassium, a nutrient that helps the body maintain a healthy blood pressure; and folate, a nutrient that is especially important for pregnant women and women who could become pregnant. Adding beets to your diet, along with a variety of other vegetables can help to ensure you meet your folate needs!
Once you get beets home, cut the greens off (leaving only 1-2 inches of stem) and refrigerate both the beets and the greens. The beets will last up to a week in the fridge, but the greens should be used within 2 days. Both the purple-red and golden beets are great served sliced up in a salad or on their own. Typically beets are cooked before eating them. To keep the colour from seeping out, clean them thoroughly and then cook them with the skins on. Once cooked, you can remove the skin with minimal colour leaking. Beets can also be roasted with potatoes and carrots or other vegetables – just use a little olive oil and pepper and wrap them up in tin foil – they can be cooked in the oven, or on the barbeque. Raw beets can also be grated over salads, which adds nice colour to the dish. The greens are a nice addition to salad, but they can also be sautéed with a little canola or olive oil and seasoned with pepper and garlic for a unique side dish!
Here’s a simple recipe to add some colour and zest to your summer, autumn or winter menu:
Roasted Root Vegetables
• 6 small red new potatoes
• 4 baby Yukon gold potatoes or fingerling potatoes
• 1 cup whole baby carrots, peeled
• 2 turnips, peeled
• 6 whole shallots, peeled
• 6 small white boiling onions, peeled
• 4 baby beets, scrubbed and stemmed
• 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
• 1/8 cup olive oil
• 1 teaspoon dried sweet marjoram
• Fresh ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, combine red potatoes, gold potatoes, carrots, turnips, shallots, onions, and beets. In a small bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and sweet marjoram. Pour over vegetables and toss so they are evenly coated. Transfer vegetables to a large, deep roasting pan and spread in a single layer. Sprinkle with fresh-ground pepper. Roast vegetables uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning the vegetables 2 to 3 times during the process.
Serves 4 – 6.
Wednesday, November 10th was the last Fall Cooking Class. Our terrific teacher, Yvette, suggested a menu loaded with delicious root vegetables – squash, sweet potatoes, beets, and pumpkin! Sounds good already huh? Well, here is the menu:
Butternut Squash Soup topped with Goat Yogurt
Sweet Potato Pudding AND Sweet-Sour Apple Beets
Stove Top Pumpkin Pie with a Red Fife Crust
Butternut Squash Soup
1 tbsp butter
½ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon curry powder
1-1/2 cups broth [we used homemade veggie stock]
½ cup apple cider
4 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash
1 cup peeled, chopped pears
¼ teaspoon salt
Goat yogurt to top
Fresh parsley to top
Directions: Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add onions and cook over medium heat until tender (about 5 minutes). Sprinkle curry powder over onions and cook one more minute.
Add broth, apple cider, squash and pears. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes (until squash is tender).
Transfer soup to a blender or food processor. Pulse on and off until mixture is pureed. Return to pot. Add salt.
Serve each bowl topped with a spoonful of goat yogurt and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.
Makes 4 servings.
The soup was AMAZING! I think everyone had at least two bowls of it before moving on to the main course dishes. The soup recipe includes pears which gives it a slightly sweet flavour. The goat’s yogurt (which we adapted from the suggested sour cream) added a delicious richness.
Jeremiah also used the opportunity to teach us a great way to prep a pear using a melon baller (a spoon could work as well, especially a metal teaspoon or tablespoon) to dig out the pit from the bottom. This way, you minimize waste … and look extremely professional!
Sweet Potato Pudding
2 sweet potatoes chopped
2-3 tsp of honey
1 tbsp sherry or brandy
2 tbsp butter
1 egg, separated
Rind and juice of one orange
Directions: Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Place the sweet potatoes in a pot of boiling water and cook until soft (about ten minutes). Drain, then pour the cooked potatoes into a bowl and mash.
Add all other ingredients, except the egg white, and mix them together.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg until it is stiff. Fold the egg white into the potato mixture.
Grease a casserole dish and spoon in the mixture. Bake until golden brown (about 45 minutes – 1 hour).
This meal, as you can see, was so colourful! Fall produce is full of colour!
Sweet-Sour Apple Beets
2 cups chopped cooked beets (I simply boiled them with their skins on)
2 cups chopped tart apples (we used a mix of local tart apples including Ida Red)
¼-½ cup thinly sliced onions
1½ tsp salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
2-3 tbsp butter
Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease a casserole dish.
Combine beets, apples, onion, salt, nutmeg and lemon juice. If your apples are very tart, also add 1 tbsp of sugar. Pour into the casserole dish.
Dot the top with cubes of butter.
Cover and bake for about one hour.
And onto dessert… The pie was a collaborative effort as Yvette taught us how to make the pumpkin pie filling over a double boiler and Barb, past cooking class teacher and current participant, taught us how to make a pie crust with Nova Scotia’s own Red Fife flour.
Stove Top Pumpkin Pie in a Red Fife Crust
Pie Crust (approx. 10 inches):
1 1/3 cups flour (we used Red Fife flour)
3/4 tsp salt
3/8 cup vegetable or canola oil
2 tbsp cold water
Directions: Measure flour and salt into a bowl. Add oil. Mix with a fork until particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle with water, one tablespoon at a time, until flour is moistened and dough almost cleans the side of the bowl.
Gather dough together and press firmly into a ball. Roll dough between two sheets of waxed paper. When your dough is rolled to the desired thickness, remove the top piece of wax paper. Lift up the dough by placing your hand(s) under the bottom piece of wax paper. Flip the dough over and lay into the pie pan. Remove the second sheet of wax paper which is now on top.
Bake approx. 8 minutes (keep an eye on the crust while it’s baking!).
The pumpkin for the pie filling has to be pre-cooked. I cooked it by simply cutting each in half and scooping out the pulp; baking the pumpkin in the oven (open face up) for about 40 minutes to 1 hour at 375-400 degrees (or until tender). When it was cooked, I scraped the flesh from the peel and mashed. (You may need to strain it.)
Pumpkin Pie Filling
In a double boiler, combine and cook (over hot water) until thick:
1½ cups cooked pumpkin (or squash)
1½ cups rich cream
6 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp white sugar
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
1/8 tsp cloves
½ cup molasses
3 slightly beaten eggs
Cool slightly and add:
1 tsp of vanilla OR 2 tbsp brandy or rum
Optional: ¾ cup black walnut meat
Pour the mixture into the baked pie shell and serve with whipped cream.
Makes one 9-10 inch pie.
We also had two guest speakers come by. Dave Bethune, a young farmer who has a stand outfront of Local Source Market (on Charles Street) most Wednesdays, stepped into the kitchen to say hello and tell us a bit about farming in Nova Scotia. The second guest speaker to drop by was Shannon Arnold, one of the Off the Hook Coordinators. She came by to tell us a bit about the community supported fisheries (CSF) enterprise, sustainable fishing practices and the joy of truly fresh fish.
All of this of course left us hungry as well as inspired. Soon the meal was ready and the table was set. We took our time savoring the food, the wine, and one another’s company. I am already looking forward to the Winter Cooking Class Series. Are you???
Yours in food, Keltie