Posts in Category: Food

Red Hot Sauce

One of our family’s homemade gifts this Christmas was my Red Hot Sauce.   In “A Peck of Peppers“, I wrote about preparing the sauce from Fresno Chiles fresh from the garden, which I did at the end of September.   Then I put the sauce in a charred oak barrel and let it sit until the week before Christmas.   I strained it and put it in bottles.   I was particularly pleased with the deep red color of the sauce.

Red Hot Sauce

This is a fermented sauce — the only thing added to the peppers is salt.    The smell is strong, and it has a slightly smoky, sour taste.  In addition to making gifts, I used the sauce in a marinade for elk steaks that we had at Christmas dinner.  I also added it to baked beans I made.   I think of this red hot sauce less as a table condiment and more as a set of rich flavors that can enhance any number of dishes — it’s earthy, yet with a call-to-attention bright flavor, just like a pepper.   It stays with you.


From the Redwood Forests to the Dungeness Crab

Last Sunday, I had a — this land was made for me for you and me — kind of day in Sonoma County. My nephew, Chase, was nearing the end of his visit so I wanted to show him the redwoods in Armstrong Woods. We went out for a drive through Guerneville to the park and took a lovely walk among the large redwoods.

I like this photo I took, which seems to invite you to go off the path and make your own way, climbing over fallen branches.

Redwoods at Armstrong Woods

Redwoods at Armstrong Woods

Chase easily fit inside the hollow of a redwood. He was fascinated that redwoods are able to survive forest fires with their thick bark. He was amazed that the largest tree, named Colonel Armstrong, was as tall as football field is long.

Chase fit inside a redwood hollow

Chase fit inside a redwood hollow

After our time among the giant trees, we went to Santa Rosa Seafood store to buy Dungeness Crab for dinner. When we arrived, we learned that the crab were still on the truck making its way from the coast. The commercial crab fishing season had opened earlier in the week. We weren’t the only ones eager to have crab for dinner.

When we came back to the store, the clerk told us that the crabs were here but we’d have to cook them at home or wait another hour. I asked for some advice on cooking crab because I had never done it before. The clerk said to throw them in a large pot of water. “For eight crabs, you’ll need about nine pounds of salt.” That seemed like a lot of salt but the process itself seemed doable.

At home, I studied up on how much salt to put in. I found many recipes for cooking live crab that did not add salt. Yet the clerk’s insistence that it really mattered for flavor made me follow her guidance. I ended up putting in a cup of salt per gallon of water. The large pans we used to cook the crab came from our brew room.

The crab were placed in boiling water and cooked for about 20 minutes.

  • The Crab Just Before Boiling
  • Crab in Boiling Water
  • The crabs in the sink ready to be cleaned.

Once removed from the water, the crab were cooled down in the sink by running cold water over them. The next step was to clean them by removing the shell, scraping the gills and other gunk out and running more water over the bodies. Cleaning was fairly easy.

The crabs were soon on the table, served with a home-cooked succotash and my own Ceasar salad. We celebrated Ryan’s birthday and wished Chase well on his return home to Kentucky.

A walk in the redwoods followed by cooking and cracking crab, what a nice day.

A Peck of Peppers

I had a lot of peppers ready in the garden. A peck? Probably not but about 10 pounds or so. I had six pounds of Fresno chile peppers, and the rest were red cherry peppers, cayenne and Anaheim.

Peck of Peppers

I have made hot sauce in the past. There are two basic methods, one is using vinegar up front, mashing the peppers and extracting the juice after cooking them. The other is fermenting the peppers by adding salt. I prefer the latter approach. However, I have wanted to try aging the hot sauce in a charred oak barrel and I found someone who wrote about his experience in this article.

The article described using a juice to extract the juice and I decided to try it. It worked really well. I ended up with a very red juice and a bin of pulp.

Juicing peppers

I poured the juice into the 3-gallon barrel, along with some water and salt. I should add the pulp back to the juice but it was difficult to get that pulp through a funnel into the barrel so I decided to let it ferment on its own. I’ll see if I get very much additional liquid. I will check the barrel in about a month and see how it turns out.

Making Applesauce

We have a new reason to do canning this year — baby Henry! Katie came by and we made applesauce from red Gravensteins. She wants to have fresh applesauce in the pantry for when Henry starts to eat real food. I am glad to see that Katie wants to learn canning and she said it was easier than she thought. Like many things, the more you do it, the process gets to be familiar, which makes it easier. Still I have my copy of the book “Putting Food By” nearby.

Making Applesauce-3

We used the Italian food mill that I regular use to make tomato sauce. We cook the apples enough to soften them and then put them through the mill, which removes the seeds and skin. What came out was applesauce with a tint of red. We had more than enough for a dozen half-cup jars. I can’t wait until Henry gets to taste it for himself.

By the Bushel

Tomatoes are coming in by the bushel basket and plastic bins. I need to can as many as I can today before heading out tomorrow for Maker Faire NYC. Not enough time in the day…

A bushel, according to Wikipedia, is a measure of dry volume, the equivalent of eight gallons or four pecks.


Tomato Season

By Labor Day weekend, there are more than enough tomatoes to start canning but more will come in September, especially the Roma and San Marzano varieties. The cold fog of August seems to delay ripening. Elsewhere I would expect that Labor Day would be closer to the end of season for tomatoes. Here at Pillow Road it is not quite peak season but there’s certainly a good mix of varieties to do things with.

I first made salsa because a lot of peppers are ripe. For me, one of the keys to salsa is getting the right texture, as well as taste. I use a food processor but instead of throwing everything in at once, I like to do peppers and onions together and then do the tomatoes separately. The tomatoes need only a few presses of the pulse button. Tomatillos are also ready so I made a green salsa as well.

I had enough tomatoes to can seven quarts of sauce. I use an Italian food mill to process the tomatoes. I filled a 12 quart pot with the raw sauce and I cook it for several hours to reduce it. (The raw sauce froths initially and you have to watch for that, and then it settles down to a simmering boil.) Boiling off water gives me a sauce that has more body to it.

I had never studied the ratio before: 12 quarts reducing down to seven. Seven is also the number of quart jars that fit in the pot I use for the boiling water bath. Things do get easier when you know the capacity of the related equipment you have.

I had maybe a quarter cup of sauce leftover after canning. I added some balsamic vinegar, salt and thyme to make a sauce for grilled pork chops.


Packing Away Pesto in Portions

The basil plants in the garden in midsummer are large — over three feet tall. It is time to pick them and make pesto. I made a double-batch last night. Our time-tested recipe comes from The Moosewood Cookbook, which practically opens to that page. Because I was also making plum jelly, I looked up pesto in another favorite old cookbook, Putting Foods By. It didn’t have a pesto recipe but the book offered a great tip. It suggested that a way to store fresh pesto was to spoon it on to a cookie sheet, and stick it into the freezer for about twenty minutes. Then wrap up the mounds of pesto individually and place them in a freezer bag. This gives us single or double portions of pesto, full of fresh summer basil and garlic, safely packed away for future meals.


Oh Boysenberry

The boysenberries are ripe and it looks like a great year for them. The boysenberry is a cross between a raspberry, blackberry and logan berry. The berries are usually large, bigger than an ordinary blackberry. While they turn black when ripe, they are much redder inside, like a raspberry. In my garden, they ripen at the same time as the raspberries in early June, a month or so before blackberries. They have a distinctive flavor as well as color.

The Boysenberry is a true California product, developed in Napa by Rudolph Boysen who was unsuccessful commercializing it and then Walter Knott brought it to Southern California and established it at Knott’s Berry Farm. Here’s the Rudolph Boysen story from Wikipedia:

Rudolph Boysen experimented with various berry crosses in Napa, California in the 1920s. In 1923, his hybrid successfully grew and bore fruit. However, unable to make his new berry a commercial success, Boysen abandoned his crop after breaking his back in an accident. When Boysen moved to Orange County, he brought with him what was described by the consulted Coolidge Rare Plant Nursery of Altedena as “the sensation berry of the 20th Century.” Years later, a fellow grower named Walter Knott heard about the berry and tracked down Boysen. Walter Knott was able to bring a few dying vines back to life at his farm, now known as Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. Knott named the fruit after Boysen.

I remember going to Knott’s Berry Farm maybe fifty years ago with my family.

I made boysenberry jam from the first batch of berries this season. I picked about four pounds of berries. I crushed them, strained about half of the batch to reduce the number of seeds that end up in the jam, recombined the juice with the other half of pulp, and then cooked the jam. I used a new pressure cooker to process the seven half-pint jars in just a couple of minutes time. Always a sticky process but satisfying to finish.




What to do with an abundant crop of cherries? Sure, you can eat them but they will go bad fast. Last year, we froze a large bag of cherries. I got them out in December and once again I had the same question. What to do with them? I discovered a recipe for a French dessert by the name of clafoutis. I made it two different ways, one on the stove top in a round pan and the other baked in Pyrex dish. It was delicious, although the frozen cherries turned dark as they thawed. The clafoutis was very good, kind of like a crepe batter cooked with cherries and also like a custard. The cherries and the dessert on the whole are not overly sweet, which is the usual treatment with cherries.

With a new crop of cherries, I was anxious to try the recipe again this spring. Nancy followed a recipe for clafoutis from Julia Child. It was also delicious and the cherries had a brighter look and better flavor. This picture below was taken before the dish was put in the oven to bake.

Nonetheless, we will freeze another bag of cherries, just to enjoy this fancy, flavorful dessert again in the middle of winter.

A Hawk in View

Yesterday, was a very windy day. I was out in the garden picking artichokes and looked up to see a red-tailed hawk overhead holding his own against the wind. Hawks like to sit atop the trees on the east end of the property and then soar over the sloping pasture below. By the time, I took this picture, the hawk had swooped down and moved away. This photo does a better job of capturing the view than the hawk in flight. Framing the view are the tall-growing cardoons and the vines of Concord grapes.