Saffron

If you’re using saffron primarily for its golden color rather than flavor, you can cut costs by using turmeric or even plain yellow food coloring. If you want the proper taste, though, stick with the real thing and avoid the grocery store. Not only can a specialty shop or website (Buck’s and Penzey’s both have good reputations) save you a lot of money, their saffron will be much fresher.

Although some sources recommend lightly roasting saffron for more flavor, the traditional method is to soak it in some of whatever liquid you’re using in the dish you’re making, ideally warm or hot, for a few minutes before adding both saffron and liquid to the dish.

Saffron grows as a beautiful fall crocus that will actually do quite well in our climate, given a sunny spot and very well-drained soil — and reasonable safety from wildlife (a generous sprinkle of chili powder will keep the squirrels from eating all the bulbs). The harvest is a bit labor-intensive but not particularly difficult once you figure out which little bit of flower you’re looking for.

The WSU Extension has a very nice .pdf about growing saffron, written pretty much with Eastern Washington in mind but still useful for those of us on “The Wet Side.” To download it, find the “Miscellaneous” section at the bottom of their listing for Benton and Franklin Counties and click “Grow your own saffron.”

Hey, vendors! I’d love to see locally-grown saffron at the market, even just briefly and in limited amounts. I wonder if it could be sold as whole flowers to make things easier, kind of like shelling peas…

Paella recipe (but I’d leave out the chorizo, especially since they don’t say which kind, and peel the tomatoes)

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Measurements

Measurements vary from country to country Many places not only use metric but weigh the ingredients rather than measuring by volume. The good news is that many recipes are forgiving enough that the difference won’t matter, or can be corrected by adding a little flour or liquid until it feels right (a phrase I normally despise, but there we are).

You can find conversion sites online, and there are also apps for tablets and, probably, phones. The trick is figuring out whether that “cup” the recipe calls for is US or metric, that tablespoon US or imperial. If the recipe calls for you to weigh things you’re used to measuring, like flour or sugar, it’s probably European of some kind (get a good-quality kitchen scale that does grams as well as ounces if you’re going to try many of these). The publisher’s location is also a good guide, if you can determine that, but watch out for books that are written in the UK (or Australia) and published in the US without editing.

By the way, what Americans call “corn starch” the English call “corn flour.” I’ll be posting a sort of mini-glossary later this winter, but thought you might want to know about that detail now, if you’re playing with international recipes.

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Newsletters: 29 June, 2011

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 29 June, 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

In the belly
Fresh strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin c (1 cup supplies 140% of the RDA), fiber, folate and potassium. They have been linked with lower blood pressure and may help against cancer, memory loss, diabetes, gout, constipation, and sluggish liver. They contain flavinoids that help cholestrol from damaging artery walls, and antioxidants that also have anti-inflamatory properties. They’re even good for the eyes. The Romans acknowledged the medicinal properties of strawberries, and Native Americans treated digestive complaints with strawberry leaf tea.

Although strawberries have been eaten in Europe since ancient times, the modern commercial strawberry is a mix of varieties from the Americas and Europe. Defining “berry” popularly, the strawberry is the world’s most popular berry (defined technically, the banana is the most popular, and strawberries aren’t really berries at all).

You can find more info at World’s Healthiest Foods and Organic facts.net.

In the kitchen
As I promised (or threatened) last week, I checked Dalby and Grainger for pea recipes, but they only give one. However, I found two medieval recipes in good ol’ Pleyn Delit, so you still get historic pea recipes this week.

Vitellian peas
8 oz. marrowfat or other dried peas, or substitute 1 lb. fresh fava beans
3/4 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
2 tsp. chopped lovage or celery leaves
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 egg yolks, cooked
3 Tbsp. honey (+ more to taste)
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
2/3 c white wine
1/3 c white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Soak peas overnight in cold water, strain, and cover again with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until tender, 1 to 1.5 hours, adding more water if needed. Drain and beat (or puree in a food processer) until smooth. If using broad beans, boil 4-6 min., until tender, drain and puree. Pound ginger, lovage, and pepper in a mortar. Add egg yolks and pound until a smooth paste forms. Stir in honey and fish sauce until smooth. Flush out the mortar into a saucepan with the wine and vinegar; add oil and simmer gently for a few minutes. Add the peas and reheat. Add more honey if desired.
From: The classical cookbook / Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger. J. Paul Getty Museum, c1996.

Grene pesen (Green peas)
3 lb fresh shelled peas, or 20 oz. frozen peas
1 c beef broth
2 sprigs parsley
a few leaves of fresh mint, or 1/2 tsp. dried
1-2 fresh sage leaves (1/8 to 1/4 tsp. dried)
sprig of savory (1/8 to 1/4 tsp. dried)
1 slice bread, crusts removed
Boil peas about 12 min until almost done (less for frozen). Blend herbs and bread with enough broth to moisten. Drain peas and add about 1/2 c to the herbs; blend into a smooth, fairly thick sauce, adding more broth as needed. Gently reheat remaining peas in this sauce

Pois en cosse (Peasecods)
2 lb. young peas in the pod, untrimmed
2 Tbsp butter
salt to taste
Boil peapods in salted water 10-15 min., until done. Stir in butter and serve.
From: Pleyn delit : medieval cookery for modern cooks / Constance B. Hieatt, Brenda Hosington, and Sharon Butler. University of Toronto Press, c1996.

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Newsletters: 30 June, 2010

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 23 June, 2010. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

Cooking, and reading about cooking
This week’s recipe is from Sue Lundy of Daisy Chain, who will have scapes as well as her distinctive bouquets this week.

Garlic scape and almond pesto
Makes about 1 cup
10 garlic scapes, finely chopped
1/3 to 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan (to taste and texture)
1/3 cup slivered almonds (you could toast them lightly, if you’d like)
About 1/2 cup olive oil
Sea salt
Put the scapes, 1/3 cup of the cheese, almonds and half the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor (or use a blender or a mortar and pestle). Whir to chop and blend all the ingredients and then add the remainder of the oil and, if you want, more cheese. If you like the texture, stop; if you’d like it a little thinner, add some more oil. Season with salt.

If you’re not going to use the pesto immediately, press a piece of plastic against the surface to keep it from oxidizing. The pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days or packed airtight and frozen for a couple of months, by which time tomatoes should be at their juiciest.

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Newsletters: 22 June, 2011

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 22 June, 2011. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

In the belly
Peas are a good source of vitamin K1 and folic acid, needed for bone mineralization, and B6, which is good for both bones and nerves. They also have lots of B1, 2, and 3, C, iron, protein, and fiber. Edible-pod peas (snow and snap peas) don’t have quite as much protein as shelling peas, but they’re quicker to prepare and you get more edible stuff per pound. I personally prefer shelling peas, but I also think that canned peas aren’t actually a food and sweet peas are a kind of flower, so my opinions are not necessarily mainstream.

Peas are native to a region from the near East to central Asia, and admirably suited to our cool Northwest summers. There is evidence that peas were eaten in Asia as early as 9750 BCE, in Iraq by 6000 BCE, and in Switzerland during the Bronze age. Apicius, I’m told, wrote about nine pea dishes… maybe I’ll look a few of those up for next week’s recipes.

In the kitchen
To coordinate with the whole steak/4th of July/barbecue thing, here are some barbecue recipes.

Homemade barbecue sauce
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 med. onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
large pinch of dried thyme
2 lbs. tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
3 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, to taste
3 Tbsp. honey
1/3 c red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon-style mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce
Saute onion, garlic, basil, and thyme in oil 5-7 min., until onion is softened slightly. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, 20-30 min., until thickened. Adjust seasonings. Sauce will keep, refrigerated, several weeks.
From: From the farmers’ market : wonderful things to do with fresh-from-the-farm food with recipes and recollections from farm kitchens / Richard Sax with Sandra Gluck. Harper & Row, c1986.

Colvin’s favorite round steak recipe
For about 1 lb. round steak sliced into finger-sized strips:
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup salad oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon salt
pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon basil
Combine all ingredients. Marinate 4-6 hours. Grill the steak strips at about 300F (not too hot) about 2 minutes to a side. With the oil on the steaks you may get some flare-up, which can be reduced by patting the meat dry with a paper towel before putting it on the grill.
From: the Colvin Ranch newsletter Cattle tales, Mon, Jun 6 2011.

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Newsletters: 23 June, 2010

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 23 June, 2010. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

Cooking, and reading about cooking
For this week’s recipes I have a couple of interesting things to do with honey from a little Bermudian cookbook in my collection: What’s cooking in Bermuda, by Betsy Ross, published by Mrs. Douglas Hunter starting in 1957, mine being the 1974 revision. Starry Lane Apiary has jars of lovely honey for sale at the market and I think the first onions will show up as soon as we get a little warm weather, but you’ll probably have to go into an actual store for the rum.

Honey onions
1 lb onions
1/4 cup rum
1/4 cup honey
2 Tbsp butter
Boil onions in salted water until tender-crisp; drain. Place in a large frying pan over low heat with remaining ingredients. Cook, turning often and spooning liquid over the onions, until onions are well glazed.

Honey Spice Cake
3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup honey
1/2 cup salad oil
juice and grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup very strong coffee, cooled
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup coarsely broken walnuts
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with foil. Beat egg yolks until thick; add sugar and beat until well mixed. Add honey and beat some more. Mix in oil. Stir in juice and rind. Sift flour with the other dry ingredients and use some of this mixture to flour the raisins. Add flour mixture and coffee alternately to honey mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Add nuts and raisins with the last of the flour. Beat egg whites until stiff; fold into batter. Pour into pan and bake 65 minutes or until done (when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean). Partially cool in the pan, then turn out on a cake rack and peel of the foil. If desired, frost with lemon-flavored butter icing when completely cooled.

Hmm, I wonder if us non-coffee drinkers could use rum instead.

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Persimmons

native to: the most popular varieties are native to China, although other areas also have native varieties
in season here: Novemberish

The persimmons you find in stores are most likely to be one of the Japanese varieties. There is a persimmon native to the U.S. but it’s mostly grown as an ornamental. The most common varieties are Fuyu, which is shaped like a flat tomato and is the best choice for peeling and eating raw, and Hachiya, which is more suited to baking and has a pointier shape. Other general types include the Indian Persimmon, Black Persimmon, and Date-Plum Tree. Technically, persimmons are berries. They’re all in the Diospyros genus, members of the Ebenaceae family and related to ebony. Persimmon wood is in fact sometimes used to make things like longbows, wooden flutes, and eating utensils, but it can be brittle and difficult to work with.

Persimmons are rather rare, commercially speaking, mostly because they’re best when very ripe. Some varieties are sweeter and reach edibility before becoming completely squishy, others are more astringent and should be cooked or eaten with a spoon.

Persimmons are rich in vitamins A, B6, C, and E, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and fiber. They also provide lots of phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants. They’re good for the skin, mucous membranes, and eyes, protect against mouth, lung, and breast cancers, boost the immune system, and generally help regulate the whole body. They even fight lipid uptake, which helps with weight loss.

Persimmons can lower blood pressure, which is great news if yours is high, but can be dangerous for those with low blood pressure. They’re also pretty high in fructose, which is turning out to be not as healthy as we’ve been told once you get into the higher dosages. Very high consumption of persimmons can lead to the formation of woody lumps in the stomach called bezoars, but we’re not likely to eat that many around here.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for raw Japanese persimmons
label-style nutrition information for raw native persimmons
Organic Facts
Web MD

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Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.