This summer, a farmer I know had a box of these little plums on sale. They made for good fresh eating, but their size and rusty purple color made me think instantly of umeboshi. They’re not the same fruit—ume plums are more like apricots, and are picked yellow-green and not fully ripe—but I figured it would be worth giving them the same treatment.
After a sublimely warm and clear September, October’s colder and wetter demeanor imparted an urgency to my hitherto lackluster gleaning in the garden. It’s nice again now, but in my tizzy of frantic autumnal gathering I did manage to get a fair amount of food harvested and arrayed on various surfaces to dry out for storage.
Espelette peppers, named for the town in Basque France that made them famous, are a unique food. Dried and ground, they have a particular aromatic quality: earthy and yet bright at the same time, with a fairly gentle but insistent heat that represents (in general, based on my own anecdotal experience) the upper limit of most French palates’ tolerance for spiciness. The great hams of Bayonne are cured with copious pepper, and it gives them a gorgeous flavor and tint. It’s not really a cooking spice, but rather a finishing one, especially given how much money a small jar commands. A pinch sprinkled on top of fish, chicken, or potatoes (or a hundred other things) adds an irresistible trebly zing and a not insignificant coloristic bump.
One of the things the garden forcefully teaches is the vivd difference in flavor between things we grow ourselves and even those things we pay the full yuppie markup for at the local health/organic emporium. For years I bought the herbes de Provence blend at the local Health Mart™ and used it, often liberally, in many dishes. The blend of thyme, rosemary, oregano (and/or marjoram) and lavender (and sometimes fennel, and more) is pretty much Mediterranean in a jar when it comes to giving your meats and sauces that certain fragrant, resinous quality that’s instantly recognizable. Add a few fat pinches to a pan of tomato purée, and it’s pizza sauce. Like that. Read the Post Cut And Dried
This time every year I order lots of Blue Beech tomatoes for making purée and sauce to get us through until the beginning of the next tomato season. Blue Beech are a variety of paste tomato that can be cooked with skins and seeds and still remain wonderfully sweet, so processing them is dead easy: I trim the stem end, halve them , and throw them in the pot to cook down and disintegrate. Then I stick-blend the whole thing and run it in batches through the food mill to catch the skin fragments and seeds. It saves a lot of time, especially when dealing with a hundred pounds of them at a time as I did recently.
There are dozens of posts out there about preserved lemons, so to avoid redundancy I thought I’d take the idea one step further and share an idea I had a while back. Preserved lemons are an item that my pantry is never without. They’re easy to make and keep forever, and their bright, unmistakeable flavor is essential to a variety of dishes, particularly Moroccan. What I love about them is that to the nose, they smell candied; it’s impossible to tell that it’s salt that has concentrated their flavors rather than sugar. That sweet, lemony aroma permeates any dish they’re added to, but when the lemons are gone the salt that worked its osmotic magic on them has accrued a great deal of interest in the process. This may already be a thing, but I haven’t heard of it before: preserved lemon salt.
Right before Irene hit I went into the garden and preemptively picked all the ripe and semi-ripe tomatoes and peppers, figuring that the winds might bring down the trellises and damage the fragile fruit. It turned out to be prescient, since though the paste tomato trellis is still standing, the other one took the brunt of the tree’s impact and there’s not much left but a few bright cherry tomatoes visible through a tangle of busted-up vines. On the plus side, I had a big pile of beautiful nightshades just begging to be transformed into one of my late-summer specialties: smoked salsa.