Spicy-Hot-Peppers

Spicy Hot Peppers

I love spicy food. Not the kind of spicy that leaves you teary-eyed, wounded and begging for mercy. But a good heat that leaves your lips tingling for little while afterwards. I have an affinity for pickled jalapenos and hot sauce. I conquered pickled jalapeno rings many years ago but had yet to attempt hot sauce. A lot of the recipes for canning hot sauce I found were tomato based with hot pepper as an ingredient at the bottom of the list.

Fermenting-Hot-Sauce

Fermenting Hot Sauce

I needed a recipe that made hot peppers the star of the show; the hot peppers are the only vegetable besides a few hardy herbs still lingering from my Summer garden. I found a recipe for fermenting hot sauce and was able to incorporate my fish pepper and red jalapeno harvest.

Not only have I never attempted my own hot sauce, but this is my first experiment with fermentation, to which I have been fairly tentative. I started the mix a few days ago, but the process can take around a month to complete.

At the end of it all, it’s supposed to taste like classic Louisiana hot sauce. I’ll check back in at the end of the experiment.

I was also lucky enough, by my standards, to have acquired four giant puffball mushrooms this week. I remember as a child kicking the small puffballs and watching them puff a little black cloud after they had gone to spore. Keep in mind once again that I am not an expert in wild mushroom foraging. However, the giant puffball mushrooms I found are edible. As long as when sliced in half they are pure white with no signs of spores they are generally safe to consume. I have only four wild edible mushrooms that I am confident in consuming as they are easy to identify and recognize. If you are interested in learning more on this, please do ample research that also includes guidance from an expert or mycology association.

Noggin-Sized-Puffball-Mushroom

Noggin Sized Puffball Mushroom

I shamelessly picked three of the giant mushrooms myself, one of which was even larger than my head. After picking enough of these to feed a small village, it was time to get creative on usage.

So far we’ve had a couple of suppers, dehydrated some and frozen several bags of sautéed strips for omelets and casseroles this Winter. I’ve read that cut into ¾” disks and lightly grilled, they can be used as gluten free and vegetarian pizza crust substitutions.

I decided to make homemade Puffball Parmesan and it was legitimately fantastic. The canned spaghetti sauce my best friend and I made together earlier this season was a perfect accompaniment. I prepared it in the same fashion as either eggplant or chicken parmesan would be. I would imagine that store bought mushrooms such as large white button mushrooms or another variety of a large and fleshy white mushroom could also be substituted.

Puffball-Parmesan

Puffball Parmesan

Puffball Parmesan
Serves 4-6

6 Chicken Breast Sized slabs of Puffball Mushroom, cut 1” thick
2 C Breadcrumbs
1 ½ C All Purpose or Whole Wheat Flour
3 Large Eggs
1 jar Favorite Pasta Sauce
1 Ball Fresh Mozzarella; sliced
1 Lb Angel Hair Pasta; cooked
2 Tbsp each butter and olive oil
Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set up three mixing bowls separately containing the flour seasoned with salt and pepper, eggs whisked and breadcrumbs also seasoned. Dip each slab respectively in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs. Once all pieces are coated, in a large skillet, pan fry until golden brown on both sides. Lay in a single layer in a baking dish. Cover evenly with sauce and slices of mozzarella. Bake uncovered in oven for about 25 minutes until bubbly and brown. Serve over angel hair pasta.

Much like eggplant, the puffballs are very porous and will soak in the oil. They can be placed on paper towels to pull some of the oil before putting into the baking dish if desired. Once cooked, the consistency of the mushroom was very much like fresh mozzarella.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Weekend Road Trip

weekend-road-trip

Weekend Road Trip

This past weekend, my husband and I took a road trip. Well, actually, we just got in the car and started driving with no place in mind. We stopped first at a local auction. We used to go to these all the time, where they sell an entire house full of stuff right on the property.

Been a long time but it all came back to me how much fun it is to find treasures. I ended up with a great wash tub that I think might make a fairy garden this Spring. It really got me thinking of all the things you can find around your home to use to make container gardens.

We finally left before I got in too much trouble and bought things I truly did not need. Hey wait, we all need a old cast iron pan, lantern, or clock right? Then we were off again. Ended up near Greencastle , PA on every back road we could find. Saw this cute little log cabin that my husband told me could be a great get away for weekends.

I sure hope he was kidding. We really enjoyed the beautiful Fall leaves. All and all we had a lot of fun. I hope you can take the time these next few weeks to take a drive to nowhere and enjoy this wonderful season.

Posted by: Stephanie Fleming

Jessica’s Garden: Giving Chutney a Chance

Persimmon Close Up

Persimmon Close Up

I think that Summer time is mistakenly labeled the time of year when fresh produce and vegetable gardening are at their best. Understandably, the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available during the Summer months is outstanding. Who can forget a tomato fresh picked from the vine and sprinkled with a little salt; still warm from the sun. After the tomato season I just endured, like I knew I would, I miss it already. However that being said, there is also a wide selection of garden edibles available now. To name only a few– Fall and Winter squash, pumpkins, apples, pears, grapes, quince, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, leeks, carrots and parsnips.

About two weeks ago, my mother and I spotted a wild persimmon (not on private property) and have been watching it carefully. Just a few days ago, the road was splattered with over-ripe and fallen fruit. Prepared with buckets in hand and rain boots on, as of course it had to be pouring with rain, we pulled the car over and threw our shame and dignity out the window. Hopping around as quickly and gracefully as possible as rush hour traffic whizzed by staring, we managed to collect enough persimmons to fill a large kitchen bowl.

Bowlful of Persimmons

Bowlful of Persimmons

I do not have any prior experience with persimmons other than this side-of-the-road adventure. Under-ripe, this beautiful little fruit will make you pucker and suck every ounce of water out of every single cell in your body; however, ripe and over-ripe, they are sweet and reminded me very much of a ripe apricot in flavor and consistency. I read up on canning persimmons and the general consensus appeared to be that their acidity was unsafe for traditional canning and was much more appropriate for making freezer jam.

Chutney Spices and Ingredients

Chutney Spices and Ingredients

Persimmons, like pears, will ripen off the tree. So after a couple days on the counter, I made persimmon freezer jam spiced with Chinese Five Spice.

I have never made freezer jam for fear of using up precious freezer space. But with no other apparent choice I took a chance. And now I know why people make freezer jam.

The whole process from fruit preparation to canning in jars was less than 30 minutes; it doesn’t get much better than that. Admittedly, the persimmon jam is not among my favorite jam creations.

It ended up still having a little puckering effect which I suspect is from a couple less ripe persimmons making it into the mix. But it is quite exotic and I was thinking it could be cut with soy sauce and orange juice for a glaze on grilled chicken; another project for another day.

Quince-Ready-for-Chutney

Quince Ready for Chutney

I also got to work on canning some more quinces that were gifted to me from a client a couple of weeks ago. The next round had begun to yellow and needed attention.

This time, to diversify my canning cupboard bounty I tried a new recipe for Quince Chutney. I have been resisting the urge to taste test as the recipe recommended leaving 1-2 months for flavors to develop. By the holidays, it should be ready for gifting and eating.

I firmly believe that chutneys generally have a bad reputation. I think that people envision a stereotypical and unappealing hard-as-a-rock English fruitcake or something of the like in their minds.

Generally speaking, chutneys are qualified as a mix of fresh fruit with a dried fruit such as raisins, onions and usually malt or cider vinegar. I see how this may be turning some people away, but stick with me. Truthfully, chutneys are my absolute favorite thing to can. I love how they enable the savory to delicately entwine with the sweet side of canning.

We use them regularly as a condiment on cheese and cracker trays or with a Ploughman’s Lunch. My aunt introduced me to her recipe for green tomato chutney a few summers ago. It’s an absolutely delicious and rich concoction that counter-balances sweet with tangy. I have also made fig chutney from my grandparent’s fig tree and pear chutney from a gifting of pears from my sister.

The pear chutney is definitely a great starter chutney for someone who might be tentative about trying it; it tastes just like Christmas in a jar. Most are fantastic paired with a sharp cheese or as a condiment on a leftover roast meat sandwich. I also made a papaya, apple and jalapeno chutney once upon a time that was my least favorite of my chutney creations, but awesome combined with a bottle of BBQ sauce in a crock pot with a pork shoulder for pulled pork. Don’t give up on the harvest season yet, there’s still a lot of garden goodness to be had. Enjoy Fall, as Winter will be here before we know it.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Jessica’s Garden: Gift of Quince

Making-Quince-Paste-with-Grayson

Making Quince Paste with Grayson

This week was fairly low key, much less the Russian roulette that was last week with the wild mushroom foraging and consumption. Although, I will not lie—I did attempt more foraging this week. I found a different wild edible mushroom commonly known as the Wine Cap Stropharia. But by the time I had it officially identified, it had unfortunately spoiled and was inedible. However, I now know for next time.

One of our work clients generously gave me about 25 pounds of quince this week. Last year, we were at her home and we noticed her quince bush was fruiting. She had let me harvest as much as I could carry between mine and my mother’s coat pockets. This year we were much better prepared with buckets and able to haul away the entire harvest. When we pulled into her driveway, we could smell the bush from her backyard, it was that fragrant. She enjoys the plant as a flowering shrub, but does not use the fruit. I will surprise her with a few jars of the finished products as a ‘thank you.’

Quince-Jelly

Quince Jelly

I made quince jelly for the first time last season. It is an easy preparation but an unfriendly fruit to have to pick, peel and core. We waited until the fruit had dropped from the bush on its own. I still have the battle scars from reaching through its thorny branches for its delicious and aromatic fruit hiding under fallen leaves and ivy. It was totally worth it.

On its own, fresh and raw, quince is rather puckering and sour. However, canned and preserved or cooked down with the help of sugar, it becomes exotic, fragrant and delicious.

Over the past few days, the quince began to yellow slightly and ripen. Much like Asian Pears, they will continue to ripen off the plant. It was time to get to concocting. Once canned, quince’s flavor is reminiscent of an apple. But then you notice the honey and floral notes also; they’re really quite a complex flavor.

Grayson-Scrubbing-Quince

Grayson Scrubbing-Quince

Yesterday Grayson and I began to tackle the two buckets worth of fruit. We only made it about a third of the way through, and are leaving the rest to continue to ripen on the counter. Grayson helped me fill up the sink and scrub the fruit with vegetable brushes before prepping it for canning.

I assure you, you’ve never seen someone so excited about a sink-full of water, a scrub brush and some fruit to clean-up as he was. First we made quince paste. After the fruit was peeled, cored and chopped, Grayson managed to put down the scrub brush and get to the real work.

Only after a quick wardrobe change, as obviously the previous task required getting soaking wet. He helped combine the fruit with sugar and water and stir periodically over a couple hours until it was ready for canning. The end result was a cloudy looking soft-set jelly, speckled with a very delicate pulp; perfect for pairing with soft goat’s milk or cow’s milk cheeses.

Ploughman's-Cheese-Tray

Ploughman’s Cheese Tray

We made a ploughman’s cheese tray for supper last night, just so we could have an excuse to try out the quince paste. Although the recipe suggested pairing with soft cheeses, we used a smoked mozzarella and a sharp cheddar; to which it paired with both beautifully. It was perfect drizzled on a wedge of sharp cheddar on a slice of sourdough with smoked turkey and hard salami. Understandably, Grayson’s attention dwindled drastically towards to end of this task.

When it came to making the quince jelly, I waited until after his bedtime to get to work. Quince jelly reminds me a lot of apple jelly, but if it also had honey. It is a rich amber in color and sweet and floral; delicious as an everyday kind of jelly on scones and toast. At the end of the day, about a third of the harvest ended up yielding twenty-nine jars of jelly and paste; perfect for Christmas and holiday gifts.

Gin-Infused-with-Quince-and-Garden-Herbs

Gin Infused with Quince and Garden Herbs

I also experimented with infusing gin with quince and thyme as well as quince and rosemary. This week, I once again harvested a few large bouquets of fresh herbs. The basil did not survive the first couple of frosts very nicely and is on its last leg. But the hardier herbs are still abundant. I coarsely chopped a few large fistfuls of fresh garden herbs and tossed them with coarse seal salt.

Seasoned Sea Salt

Seasoned-Sea-Salt

The salt should draw the moisture from the herbs and hopefully make a savory seasoned sea salt for cooking or rubbing on meat roasts this winter. I ended up combining nasturtium and pineapple sage flowers, sage, basil and thyme with the salt. Sometimes coming up with your own visions in the kitchen is what works out best. I try to not be afraid or hold back in the kitchen—because when it comes to cooking, there are no rules and it should be fun.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

Jessica’s Garden: Backyard Bounty

Morel Foraging in the Spring

Morel Foraging in the Spring

Well, I felt adventurous this week. Amongst many other mini adventures, my main excitement came from foraging in the backyard. I spent a little time scouring the trees, plants and grass for potential crafting materials while Grayson tortured wildflowers and swung around big sticks. This time of year, once the weather starts to cool, I find that all kinds of new stuff start popping up to save and craft with later. I picked up a few handfuls of acorn hats, as we call them, out of the lawn and combed the yard for bright fall leaves for pressing. For the sake of experimentation, I also picked a handful of gooseberry and black nasturtium leaves out of the garden for pressing.

Nasturtium-and-Gooseberry-Leaves-for-Pressing

Nasturtium and Gooseberry Leaves for Pressing

But the biggest excitement of all was certainly of the fungal variety. I was combing the woodpile, looking for funky fungi when I spotted about four clumps of an alluringly bright mushroom growing from the oak logs.

Something in my head sparked and I felt like I had seen and heard of this particular mushroom before. I checked with a few reliable resources and did quite a bit of research online, and sure enough, it was exactly what I had hoped it was.

It turned out to be an edible wild mushroom commonly called Chicken of the Woods but also referred to as Shelf mushrooms. I’ve only in very recent years gotten into foraging for wild edibles, so I am naturally still tentative and suspicious.

We’ve been foraging morels at my parent’s house now for a couple years. They have an extensive patch of earth that sprouts these nutty and delicious wild mushrooms in the Spring. My aunt and uncle introduced me to morel hunting several years ago. Keeping in mind that I am not an expert in wild edibles, particularly foraging for wild mushrooms as this can be very dangerous, I’d like to share a bit of my newly gained knowledge.

Note from the Editor at Behnke Nurseries: We would like to emphasize strongly that you Must Know What You Are Doing if you are foraging for wild mushrooms/fungi. There are many mushrooms out there that can make you very ill or even kill you. Take a class, take a field guide, and make sure your will is written. Just sayin’. Larry Hurley

Fresh-Chicken-of-the-Woods

Fresh Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods are proposed to be a great mushroom for beginner foragers. There is no other look-a-like mushroom that could confuse someone into eating a potentially dangerous version; they range from bright yellow-orange to orange to salmon in color and fade as they age.

Usually Chickens grow in clumps on decaying hardwood. You will never find a shelf mushroom growing out of the earth; it will always be on a tree or stump. Most commonly, they are spotted on hardwood trees such as oaks but are known to grow on other trees.

The research I encountered all advised not eating if harvested from a conifer, cedar or eucalyptus tree, as this may cause stomach upset. These mushrooms must be cooked before consumption – they should not be consumed raw. Also, research also advised going easy the first try as some people are inclined to gastro upset if too much is ingested. If you are interested in trying one, I highly advise it, but also do a little of your own research first, of course.

As we had never tried this variety before and were heeding the warnings of taking it easy during the first encounter, I mixed the Chickens with Shiitake mushrooms for my meal. I was amazed at how delicious and meaty they were. The rumors are true; they did taste and look a lot like slices of cooked chicken. I had also read in my research that they are a number one vegetarian choice for a chicken substitute, and I can definitely understand why. Everyone in the family enjoyed them and no one experienced any sort of gastro upset.

I have had two harvests now from different locations. The first harvest contained four clumps. I cooked fresh with one cluster and cleaned and sliced the other three into strips and laid them out in the dehydrator for cooking with in the winter. They can be used as a chicken substitute in most recipes. In addition to dehydrating which they seem to do very nicely, they can be sautéed in oil or butter and frozen. The second harvest is patiently waiting in a paper bag in the fridge for inspiration to strike. But last night’s supper was truly delicious.

Wild-Mushroom-in-Red-Wine-Sauce

Wild Mushroom in Red Wine Sauce

Wild Mushrooms in Red Wine Sauce over Fettuccini
Serves 2-3

1 C Wild Mushrooms; sliced (I used ½ C Chickens and ½ C Shiitake)
1 Red onion; diced
1 ½ Tbsp each olive oil and butter
Spring of Fresh Thyme
1-2 Cloves Garlic; minced
¼ C + some for garnishing; Shaved Parmesan Cheese
½ Lb Fettuccini Noodles; cooked
¼ C Red Wine
½ C Fat Free Half & Half
1 ½ C Vegetable Broth (Reserve 1 Tbsp)
1 Tbsp Flour
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter and olive oil together in cast iron pan. Caramelize onions and mushrooms on medium to medium/high heat; let them get nice color to them by not turning too often. Add garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and thyme. Turn down heat to medium/low. Make slurry with 1 Tbsp vegetable broth and flour; set aside. Deglaze pan with red wine. Add remaining stock and half and half; Simmer, do not boil as dairy may curdle. Slowly add about half of slurry while stirring.

Wait to see if the stock thickens a bit. Add Parmesan and gently stir in. If sauce is not to desired thickness, add more slurry and let cook to thicken. Serve over fettuccini and with more Parmesan. You can substitute any mushroom you are comfortable with consuming. I imagine oyster, beech or baby portabellas would also be tasty. We had fresh steamed green beans and a slice of rosemary bread on the side.

PepperHarvest

Pepper Harvest

In addition to the Chickens, I also dehydrated a number of jalapenos and fish peppers as well as a volunteer pepper that spouted from the compost that I showed mercy and let thrive. I am unsure of the volunteer pepper variety, but it has a very mild flavor similar to a green bell pepper with thinner flesh and a pointier shape. This should be an easy addition to homemade spaghetti sauce this winter and the hot peppers will be great for chili.

Coffee-Sack-Memo-Board

Coffee Sack Memo Board

My mother rescued a vintage frame from the side of the road for me a couple weeks ago. This week it was transformed from a rather filthy and dingy grey to a distressed and bright sky blue. I made a hemp criss-cross with vintage-style upholstery pins, a flea market coffee bean sack and corkboard. What was a shabby frame last week is a now shabby-chic-meets-coffee-shop memo and cork board this week. The moral of this week story is you never know the amazing things you can find in your own back yard…or your neighbor’s trash.

Posted By: Jessica J. Crawford Behnkes Garden Blogger

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