I love to make pies! This one was an experiment about a month before Thanksgiving. It’s an apple pie sweetened with a combination of white chocolate and quince jelly and it tasted fine.
More than 12 days ago, I took on a seven-photos-in-seven-days challenge, put up a post about it, and faded. Recovering from major surgery hasn’t been all that hard, but I have slept a lot more than I usually do. Unfortunately, whenever I try to focus on writing, I suddenly get drowsy. When I wake up an hour or three later, the muse has left me… or there’s some other thing to do.
It took me 12 days to review my photos from 2015. I selected way more than I can use in three “seven-photos” challenges… and I’m packing six of them into this blog post.
Some of these photos are favorites because they call back good times, others because they capture stuff I’ve published in the local newspaper but haven’t been able to share with my social networks.
Two Japanese students lived with us for nearly three weeks in 2015. The visit included an evening at a county fair, hiking on a gorgeous nature trail, a day trip into New York City, and many home-cooked meals. One evening I gave pie-making lessons and our Japanese daughters assembled a delicious peach and blueberry pie.
Indian cuisine is one of my favorites, and the nearest Indian restaurant is about an hour’s drive. To compensate, I’ve learned some basics and have settled on certain standard dishes—but I also experiment, trying to produce passable versions of a few challenging dishes. Paneer (a cheese that doesn’t melt) is a key ingredient in some of those dishes, and when I can find it in stores, it’s ridiculously expensive. So, I make my own. This block drained for several hours under the weight of a heavy pot of water. It’s ready to be cut up into cubes and gently fried in oil before being added to a spinach-based curried gravy.
A friend who had recently become vegetarian was coming to dinner and I didn’t have a plan. Shopping inspired me to make yeast bread and curried sweet potato soup. I could have added more liquid to the soup, but it was rich and delicious and I featured it in an article I wrote for our local newspaper. Curried squash and curried sweet potato soups are among my favorite meals.
Apparently, in early September I intended to publish something about homemade tomato sauce—for pasta or pizza. I posed some ingredients and captured photos, but things didn’t progress beyond that. The upshot: this representation of garden-fresh ingredients I’d use to flavor a skillet of pasta.
This stretches the “food” theme a tad, but it captures one of my favorite food experiences of all: the annual sour cherry harvest. Sour cherries have a dramatically more intense cherry flavor than that of sweet cherries and they’re crucial for making jams, jellies, preserves, and baked goods that involve cherries. Most people aren’t at all familiar with sour cherries. There’s a grower near us that opens its orchard for “you-pick” customers a few days before harvesting what’s left for commercial buyers and I love going with my wife (picking here in her sour cherry camouflage) to strip handfuls of fruit from the heavily-laden branches.
I keep seeing members of my social network posting photos in response to one or another challenge, but no one has invited me to play. Oh, well. The contest looks like a great excuse to highlight some of my favorite moments of the year – or of the last several years.
I’m recovering from super-de-duper major surgery, so I’ll be doing a lot of sitting over the next two or three weeks. Painkillers have me tilting often on the edge of consciousness. I imagine browsing photos and posting favorites won’t be too challenging a task.
I’ll try to come up with 7 of each, but I won’t promise to deliver daily. Oh, and no nominations. If you want to participate in a seven photos in seven days challenge, please do. If you’d rather not, that’s a-OK.
Jellies made from well-strained fruit juice glow when illuminated from behind by late-morning sunshine.
Sweet pepper relish on cream cheese makes an attractive addition to an hors d’oeuvres table. Learn how to make your own at my blog post, Red Pepper Relish from Your Home Kitchen Garden
My Mother-in-law had guests. She served the delicious sweet pepper relish with cream cheese and crackers that I wrote about over at Home Kitchen Garden (and included in my book about home preserving—which you can buy by clicking the book cover in the left margin of this page). I got the recipe from my Mother-in-law in the first place, and over the past several years I’ve been her supplier: I give her a case of 4oz jars when we visit my in-laws or they visit us.
When I first wrote about this relish I called it Red Pepper Relish. Since then I’ve taken to making it with various fully-ripe sweet peppers—red, yellow, orange, and even purple (which, given time, turn red as they ripen). A 4 ounce jar of relish, a block of cream cheese, and crackers make a fine appetizer.
But credit for this post goes to one of my Mother-in-Law’s guests who, apparently, suggested an alternative to the classic “relish-on-cream-cheese-on-crackers” service. She thought simply to mix a four ounce jar of relish into eight ounces of cream cheese and serve it as a spread.
Simple. Genius. Should have been obvious.
The procedure is as you’d expect: Set out an 8oz block of cream cheese or neufchatel to soften at room temperature for at least an hour. Use a fork to combine the cream cheese and a jar of pepper relish; be thorough. If you prefer, use an electric mixer to stir the two ingredients together. Load a small serving bowl with the mixture and set it out with a butter knife or two and some crackers.
This treatment is tidier than serving a block of cream cheese with relish dumped on it… and every crackerful is delicious.
Thoroughly blending a jar of sweet pepper relish with an 8oz block of cream cheese makes a delicious spread. The spread is easier to handle than the more traditional service, and it tastes just as good.
Harvest sweet potatoes after blossoms emerge on the vines. That’s the rule of thumb, but it can create timing issues: Ideally, you harvest while there are still some hot days left on the calendar; sweet potatoes should cure at 80 humid degrees for ten days before you put them in storage. On the other hand, vines need a very long season to produce flowers—sometimes long enough there aren’t any hot, humid days left in the year.
We had dinner guests last weekend and there was a catch. One of our visitors was having discomfort with her teeth. She reported that she was on a soup-only diet; chewing was out. I was excited to make up a pot of curried squash soup.
There was a problem. I visited the community garden and harvested what was ready, but not one of my winter squashes was ripe. On my way home, I passed two farm stands selling winter squash but decided not to stop. Eight miles north I’d visit the flea market where one of my favorite produce vendors would, no doubt, have a decent selection of squashes. Or not.
There was no winter squash at the flea market. I got involved with a familiar vendor in a discussion about winter squash timing. It’s still summer, he pointed out. I should shop for winter squash in winter. Then he asked what type I wanted and assured me he could have it for me on Wednesday at the farmers’ market. Except, I told him, I was going to eat the squash tomorrow (Sunday), so Wednesday just wouldn’t do, thank you.
He suggested I visit a grocery store, but I had another thought: Forget winter squash, instead I’d make curried sweet potato soup.
I didn’t plant the cucumber in a sweet potato patch. No, the sweet potatoes were so happy in their patch they decided to take more ground, surrounding cucumbers, zucchinis, and peas.
Sweet Potato Harvest
My sweet potato patch is one of the season’s great successes. You can’t see the mulch for the vines, and tendrils reach into the pea patch, the cucumber and zucchini patches, and through the garden fence onto the lawn. Flowers emerged about a week ago, so by the rule of thumb (don’t harvest until the vines flower), there must be sweet potatoes ready to dig.
I think I dug up two plants. The vines are such a mess, it’s hard to tell where one plant ends and the next begins. In any case, I ended up with two large sweet potatoes, one of medium size, and several small ones that together might have made up one large one. I’m so looking forward to harvesting the entire bed; there must be more than 50 pounds of food in it.
Curried Sweet Potato Soup
The soup was amazing. I made it up as I went along, and it was a tad complicated but worth the effort. Here’s about what I did, written as a recipe:
What was probably two plants yielded about three pounds of gorgeous sweet potatoes. Every tuber in this photo went into the curried sweet potato soup described in this post.
Ingredients for Soup
~3 lbs of sweet potatoes
1 medium onion
16 ozs of mango pieces (I used a pint jar of home-canned mangoes)
1 pint of heavy cream
1 – 2 cups milk
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garam masala (or substitute curry powder)
¼ tsp beri-beri seasoning or cayenne pepper
1 tbs amchur powder (if you can find some)
Wash and skin the sweet potatoes and slice them into ½-inch thick filets. Brush these with olive oil and grill for about 3 minutes on each side. You’re trying to develop a little char, but don’t worry about cooking the tubers all the way through. Set them aside while you work on the curry.
Set a one-gallon pot on the shy side of medium heat and add the butter. As the butter melts, chop the onion and stir in the pieces. Grate a chunk of fresh ginger into the pot—½ inch of a piece the thickness of your index finger—and mix it with the onion and butter.
Stir in each of the seasonings in the order listed in the ingredients box, letting each cook for about a minute before adding the next seasoning.
Stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to keep things from sticking and add the grilled sweet potatoes. Stir thoroughly to coat every piece with the curry mixture.
Add the mangoes and the liquid in which they were canned (if you’ve used fresh mangoes, add about ½ cup of water at this point), stir it all together, cover the pot, and lower the heat so it simmers without burning. Cook until the sweet potatoes are soft—about 15 minutes.
Transfer the hot curried sweet potatoes and mangoes to a blender and puree until the mixture is very smooth. Add some of the cream if necessary to make it blend.
Rinse the pot to remove any chunks of food and return the pureed sweet potatoes and mangoes to it (for a perfectly creamy soup, work it through a sieve on its way back to the pot). Raise the heat and combine the cream into the pureed sweet potatoes and mangoes. Stir to prevent burning.
The combined cream and curry mixture is likely too thick to serve as soup. So, stir in milk to achieve an appropriate consistency. I like it crazy thick, but it’s a very rich soup, so you can cut it quite a bit and retain its character.
Serve the soup hot. While we didn’t eat it this way, I imagine the soup would be very nice served over a mound of basmati rice.