Friday, June 22, 2012

Put Up or Just Be Quiet

Today was one of those days that start out really fun and productive and then never seem to end.  It began with a trip to the Findley Avenue Farmer's Market and ended in the kitchen well after midnight , freezing, feeding the pantry,putting food up, or whatever term you use for preparing the summer's produce for use in the winter.

 Millie and I had a little "venture" ( as her young niece calls it) traipsing through the produce at the market.  OK so we didn't even begin to traipse, at least we were there supporting local farms and farmers with the intent of buying more than we needed for today.  We officially jumped into the "Slow Food Movement" feet first.  We not only bought from local farmers, but we got to talk with them and hear their stories.  When I buy a bell pepper at Publix I have no idea where it came from,  I know the things we bought were from Chilton county, when they were picked and who raised them.

 A lot of people like to buy at the produce stands in various parts of the city ( Andy's and Murphee's in particular).  I have nothing against buying there and go to them weekly, but sometimes I want okra by the basket or a bushel of corn and at their prices it just isn't practical.  I also want my produce to be as fresh as possible before I freeze it, and sometimes the local marts refrigerate it overnight. I want something that spent most of the previous day on the vine.

The prices today were not at good as they will be a little later when the produce starts flooding in, but the things I got were certainly beneath what I would pay elsewhere and the product was better.  A bushel of sweet corn was 15 dollars, but that bushel has over 60 ears.  At Andy's I recently paid 50 cents per ear, so doing the simple math I got these for half of their price.  Millie and I split it so we each had  only 1/2 bushel to process.  I can't speak for Millie, but after shucking all of my corn I only had an inch or so loss off of a couple of ears of corn.   We ate 3 ears for supper, so that leaves 27 processed and resting in my freezer.  While sweet corn is available I will continue to buy it fresh, but sometime this winter when I am dying for some summer goodness, I will slip out an ear  and remember how good it tasted.

I also found a basket of okra for 15 dollars.  I know it sounds like a lot of money for a basket of okra and it is, but it is a little early for okra.  I paid a premium for something we love.  After fixing a mess ( I do love Southern vernacular)  for supper, I processed and froze 3 bags for winter time oven fried okra.  There was also enough for 2 small bags  for boiling.  Only one of us eats the  vile slimy disgusting boiled stuff, but I am not naming names.  The best way I have found for freezing okra is to cut it like you are going to fry it, coat it in cornmeal , put it on a cookie sheet and pop it in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Take it out and bag it in freezer bags.  I know I am supposed to put the bag on ice to cool it but I never do.  I have a marble slab that I toss it on and it cools quickly that way.

I have the ultimate pan for okra in the oven.  During Christmas when most women are asking for baubles and gems and furs and beautiful people stuff,  I was asking for a stainless steel cookie sheet.  I actually asked my parents, and after opening gifts they had to tell me there was no such thing as a stainless cookie sheet but they bought the next best thing.  It is a huge odd shaped jelly rollish pan, but way to big for a jelly roll, with a tiny waffle design stamped in the bottom.  It is  weird pan and I only use it for oven fried okra, but it is perfect for it.  ( I should have expected an odd item from the folks.  When I was in college I asked them for a styrofoam ice bucket.  My dorm had crunchy ice in the cafeteria and if you had an ice bucket you could fill it up after dinner was served.  Who would not want to eat crunchy ice through the night?  I only asked for styrofoam because I wanted something inexpensive, not because I had a thing for the material.  Long story short, Christmas morning imagine my surprise when I opened, not an ice bucket, but a foam minnow bucket. Close but no cigars!

We found bargain peaches today, $6.00 for an overfull basket of ready right this second peaches.  The minute I got home I had to start processing them.  They were actually a tad ripe for slicing and freezing, so I sliced them and let them take a lemon juice bath.  Then they were smushed a little with a spoon, sugared and, discounting enough for a  dessert cobbler , there are 6 future cobbler packs in the freezer.  While I was peeling all of the little lovelies, I noticed they were creating this  beautiful puddle of juice. ( I am so glad I slice over a bowl and not  the sink)  Hmmmm, with all of the juice and the peels I thought why not make a little jelly.  Then I found 4 peaches that were too ripe to even slice.  I put the peels, juice, a little water and the ultra ripe peaches in a pot and let it simmer until the fruit was cooked and  all the color and juice had cooked from the peels.  After straining and sugaring the juice, I put it along with the very cooked peaches a large pot on  low heat.  I mashed the peach pulp with a potato masher and stirred everything together, then forgot about it.  I am not sure how it happened, but somehow or another I managed to remember it was cooking about the time I had this perfect caramel peach preserves.  Evidently I smelled it before the sugar burned just in time to salvage it.  If anyone asks I am going to swear I did it on purpose .  For the record it is a tad thick but delicious.  I now have one pint in the freezer and the other in the fridge ready for toast tomorrow,

Caramel Peach Preserves

Save the peels and peach juices from peeling a  basket of peaches.  ( If you ere not freezing peaches you could make a peel container in the freezer and just add  to it every time you had a peach.  When you have a boatload of them continue with the recipe.

Cook the peels and peach juices  in enough water to equal about 3 cups.  When all the color has cooked out of the peels strain the liquid and return it to the pot.  Add the flesh of about 4 peaches and cook until the fruit is mushy.  Mash it with a potato masher and add 2 cups of sugar and about 1/2 more cup of water.  Cook on heat  low until the mixture is thick.  This is where the caramel part gets tricky.  Check it every 5 minutes and pay attention to the smell.  When you smell a faint caramel smell remove from the heat and ladle into canning jars.  There is a fine line between caramel and burned sugar so pay attention to you nose.  Like I said before it was just sheer luck I thought about it before it burned.  Don't be like me!

Mine is a very dark ruby color, but whatever variety of peach I bought had a very rosy skin.  I would imagine the color would depend on the color of the peach skin.

Now I need someone who likes to clean to undo the mess I have made!

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