An Eggplant Garden

Some of the eggplant are in pots.
We planted an eggplant garden this year.  Twenty-six eggplant plants, nine varieties.  There are Japanese eggplants, Chinese eggplants, Thai eggplants, Italian globe eggplants.  There are Little Fingers, Black Beauties, Oriental Longs, Kermits, Rosa Bianca, Pingtung Long, and Oriental Gourmet. We are not growing any African eggplant, because these are too tropical for our climate. 

Eggplants are an Old World nightshade, unlike the tomato, chile, and potato, also nightshades but of New World origins.  The earliest records of eggplant in Chinese and Sanskrit date back 2000 years, according to Elizabeth Schneider’s excellent reference book, Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini.  She explains that the eggplant was introduced to Japan in the eight century and to Europe in the thirteenth.  The variety that was introduced to North America was indeed white and egg-shaped and valued more as an ornamental than a vegetable.  Which may explain why Americans have been so slow to adopt eggplants.

But thanks to the influence of immigrants and their cuisines, Americans are now growing some sixty-six different varieties of the eggplant berry (eggplant is a berry), of which we are growing a sampling.  You’d think we’d be planning to do some seed saving, but the fact is, most of these varieties are hybrids.  And, it seems that eggplant cross-pollinates quite readily, so any seeds we saved would be unlikely to breed true.  But from a cook’s point of view, I wouldn’t have wanted to be a seed saver.  Because the dreaded bitterness for which the eggplant is known and despised is a function of fully developed seeds.

This row of eggplant is in front of a trellis of pole beans.
Indeed, much of what I learned about cooking eggplant is just plain wrong, as I have come to appreciate since growing my own.  Eggplant fresh from the garden doesn’t have to be peeled, unlike some supermarket specimens that have been waxed to extend its shelf life.  And a fresh, young eggplant doesn’t require salting to drain away bitter juices, because it isn’t bitter.   Finally, eggplant do much better sitting on a kitchen counter than being placed in the refrigerator.  At 50°F or lower, the eggplant flesh will turn brown.  

It mystifies me when someone tells me that don’t like eggplant, because the eggplant flesh is mild, hardly something that should inspire a distaste.  But oh, it is a sponge for flavors, which is why we can’t get enough of my Soy-Sesame Eggplant, sometimes served up plain (with rice, of course) and sometimes combined with a stir-fried meat.  (Just prepare the Soy-Sesame Eggplant and set it aside to marinate in its dressing.  Stir-fry matchsticks of chicken, pork, beef, or whole shrimp and dump in the eggplant at the end.)

The original version works with grilled or broiled eggplant.  It's all good.  

Soy-Sesame Eggplant

Soy-Sesame Garlic
When you are looking for a make-ahead vegetable dish that can be served at room temperature, consider the eggplant.  In this case, slices of eggplant are grilled or broiled, then combined with a spicy marinade featuring soy sauce and Chinese chili paste with garlic.  It’s not the most beautiful dish in the world, but a scattering of cilantro and scallions brightens the dark colors of soy and eggplant.  The flavor is intense and delicious.

Three pounds of eggplant is about two large globe eggplant.  This dish works well with any variety of eggplant.  If the eggplant is long and curved, like some varieties are, it may be more convenient to slice the eggplant horizontally.  


3 pounds eggplant, cut into cubes

3 tablespoons peanut or canola oil


5 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons mirin, rice wine, or sake

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 tablespoon chili paste with garlic

1 tablespoon sugar

2 garlic cloves, minced


3 scallions, whites and tender greens, finely chopped

3 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

1.  Heat a wok over very high heat.  Add the oil and heat until it shimmers.  Add the eggplant and stir-fry until cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a medium-sized bowl.

2, Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, vinegar, chili paste, sugar, garlic, and in a small bowl.  Mix well.  Pour over the eggplant and toss to mix.

3.  Let stand at least 30 minutes to allow the eggplant to absorb the flavors of the marinade.  You can hold this dish in the refrigerator for up to day, but bring to room temperature. Just before serving, sprinkle with the scallions and cilantro.    

Adapted From Serving Up the Harvest by Andrea Chesman.  ©2007, 2009 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.


On Slow Cookers, Beans, and Greens

I was a slow adapter of the slow cooker.  What can a slow cooker do that a Dutch oven and a low oven temperature can’t accomplish?  Not much, actually.  But the slow cooker can allow you to fix dinner and forget it, walk away, even leave the house.  Even garden if it ever stops raining.  And the slow cooker won’t heat the whole house – if it ever gets warm enough to matter.


Heat the whole house isn’t a bad idea in this season that is not summer, not yet anyhow.  Tonight the low temperature will be 48°, tomorrow it will be 39°, the next day 43°F.  We’ve planted the garden, except for the eggplant, which we are still babying in pots.  The basil will brown or even die.  The beans will lie inert in the soil.  The tomatoes are barely hanging in there.  Spinach is on hold. The weather is dispiriting.

 Middlebury Farmer's Market.

So I will be forgiven for making a slow-cooked, out-of-season Tuscan White Beans and Kale stew.  We needed it to fortify our spirits.  What inspired the dish was a trip to the Middlebury Farmer’s Market, where Jon Folger of Pine Wood’s Farm of West Pawlet, Vermont, was selling his heritage beef and pork.  He had pork neck bones, which I had never cooked with.


“What do you do with neck bones?” I asked.  He suggested simmering it in tomato sauce for pasta.  “The meat will just melt off the bones.”


Pasta sauce made me think Italian.  Italian made me think Tuscan.  Tuscan made me think of white beans and kale, a dish my family loves.  This version, the simplest one yet, was also the best I've ever had.  It really does make a difference to start with dried beans.  The meat adds a silken texture and meaty background flavor.  Any cut of pork will do, but something bony like neck bones or trotters are best.


Oh, and to make it more seasonal?  Substitute spinach for the kale—if your garden grows.

 Substitute spinach or another green for the kale if you prefer.

Tuscan White Beans and Kale

Serves 8 to 10


2 cups cannellini beans, soaked overnight and drained

2 to 3 pounds pork neck or trotters

4 cups chicken broth or water

4 cups water

1 whole head garlic, cloves separated and peeled

1 large sprig sage, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 large sprig rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 large bunch kale, stems removed and discarded, leaves chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

Grilled or toasted bread, to serve


1.  Combine the beans, pork, broth, water, garlic, sage, rosemary, and 1 teaspoon salt in a slow cooker.  Set on high and cook for 6 hours, or until the beans are tender.  (If you combine the beans, pork, broth, water, garlic, sage, rosemary, and 1 teaspoon salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil before transferring to the slow cooker, you can knock off 1 to 2 hours of cooking time.  Or combine in a large Dutch oven, bring to a boil on the stovetop, then cover and bake at 250°F for 4 to 6 hours.)  Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, if needed, and pepper.


2.  About 15 minutes before serving, reheat, if necessary.  Stir in the kale and cook on High in a slow cooker or on top of the stove in a Dutch oven until the kale is wilted and tender, about 10 minutes.


3.  Place two slices of bread in each shallow pasta bowl.  Ladle the stew on top.


© 2013  Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.

For the Love of Green

Pasta with spinach, sausage, cannellini, and garlic

When my husband was little, he would eat spinach directly out of the can.  It wasn’t a Popeye thing—he just loved spinach.  He was shocked—shocked!—to learn that his fellow kindergarteners didn’t share his love for this leafy green.

We are a family of spinach lovers—fresh or frozen (not canned!).  At this time of year we anxiously await the first harvest.  A cold frame or greenhouse is needed to get a good crop of early spinach.  That’s not me.  Instead, I plant my spinach under an apple tree.  My spinach isn’t early,

 My spinach is slow to grow in this crazy weather.

but it will be slow to bolt when other gardens have given up on the crop.  But the waiting?  Easily solved by the professionals at the farmer’s market.

My first introduction to raw spinach was with the ubiquitous spinach and raw mushroom (yuck!) salad in the 1970s.  Alton Brown thinks the salad originated among the Pennsylvania Dutch.  That salad, with bacon and hard-boiled eggs, soon morphed into a spinach and canned mandarin orange salad, then a spinach and berry salad with raspberry vinaigrette.  I avoid them all, but I love cooked spinach.

According to nutritionists, cooked spinach provides greater amounts of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron than raw spinach. Heating spinach also helps free up beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, along with other carotenoids.

When I’m cooking spinach, I like to allow 1/2 pound per person; that’s 6 to 12 cups per person, depending on how you pack it and whether you are measuring baby spinach or fully mature leaves, flat leaves or crinkled ones.  Mature Savoy leaves yield more cups per pound than flat leaves or baby leaves.  A half pound sounds like a lot, but spinach cooks down to almost nothing. 

Sometimes I sauté a little garlic in olive oil, add the spinach, cover, and cook until the spinach is wilted, about 4 minutes.  Or I turn the sautéed spinach into creamed spinach just by adding a little cream or half-and-half.  Then I turn the creamed spinach into eggs Florentine by adding freshly grated Parmesan cheese and topping it with a poached egg.  Sometimes I even remember to take photographs…

This past week I made my first batch of feta cheese with goat milk.  Because I was slow to make the cheese, the flavor of the feta is a little strong.  It called for the mellowing with other strong flavors. 

My first batch of feta cheese.
Fortunately, Elmer Farm had beautiful spinach at the farmer’s market, so I picked up three pounds.  Half went into the pasta, along with the feta cheese, some sausage, garlic, and cannellini beans.  I blanched the garlic cloves for 6 minutes in boiling water and added the mellowed whole cloves to the finished dish.  

Here’s a tip for you if your spinach is coming on faster than you can eat it:  Cook it.  Wilt the spinach in a large pot of salted boiling water.  Lift the spinach out of the boiling water and into ice water to stop the cooking.  Drain well, then refrigerate.  It will hold well for up to 5 days, ready to be added to a recipe and taking up a lot less space than uncooked spinach.


Woodchuck Stew

The time has come

The gardener said

To post unpleasant blogs

Of does and bucks 

And slugs and flies

And ravenous groundhogs.


Groundhog AKA woodchuck AKA PEST!
I have experienced rage, pure murderous, blinding rage only once in my life.  It was provoked by a woodchuck.

This woodchuck, or ground hog as some would call it, could distinguish among the different sounds of various car motors and knew when a car pulled into the driveway whether it was one of the roommates who had a dog that would go after the woodchuck.  It also knew which car was driven by someone who would go after the woodchuck with a shovel.  And it knew the sound of my car.  When I pulled in, he would stand on his hind legs and laugh at me.  I swear it.

We tumbled rocks down the existing woodchuck holes.  We contemplated pouring gasoline down the holes and throwing in burning sticks of wood.  We contemplated dynamite.  The lettuce was gone.  The spinach was gone.  The broccoli was sorely nibbled.  

We built a fence around the garden.  We buried the chicken wire a foot deep in the hard clay soil and swore no woodchuck would breech our defenses. Two new woodchuck holes opened up—right in the middle of the corn patch.  

That’s when I experienced rage.  I did go after that woodchuck with a shovel.  But I never caught up to it.  There was always another hole for it to escape into.  Eventually, we both moved away.

My friend Jane is a woodchuck warrior of great skill and creativity. Jane lives in town, where woodchucks are particularly voracious and preys on backyard gardens.  These gardens are not large enough to share with critters, so she has gathered all the neighbors together and enlisted them as well.  

To begin with, Jane makes a woodchuck-hole sachet consisting four layers of 1-inch nylon netting (two layers are 3-feet square, the other layers are scraps.  They netting is wrapped around rocks that are bigger than grapefruits. The netting is gathered around the rocks to resemble a purse, or sachet.   She stuffs the netting sachet (she calls in a bon-bon) in each hole she finds.  Jane also lays that same netting around the perimeter of her garden in sheets that are 25 feet long and 6 feet wide; the woodchucks don't like to cross it. She installed a solar-powered sound emitter that repels woodchucks.  And she has electric fencing -- with one strand low enough to also deter rabbits. 

I asked Jane how much she has spent on her woodchuck war.  "Oh, I don't even want to guess," she said.

I don’t worry about woodchucks anymore.  My son has a .22 and he knows how to use it.  He is pretty firm in his conviction that you only kill what you eat, and I am firm in my conviction that I would rather eat a woodchuck than see one, so it all works out.

He looked huge but weighs only 2.14 pounds.
Woodchucks, for all their mass, don’t yield that much meat.  The woodchucks average around 2 pounds after all the fur and organs are discarded.  That 2-foot critter was mostly just voracious appetite and fur.  It should be noted that woodchucks, as well as most other small food animals such as squirrel, have scent glands that should be cut out as soon as possible to avoid tainting the meat. When dressing woodchucks, look for and carefully remove without damaging any small gray or reddish brown kernels of fat located under the forelegs, on top of the shoulder blades, along the spine in the small of the back, and around the anus.

I have no family tradition to lean back on when it comes to cooking woodchuck, so I use my beef stew recipe.  Here I made it with the last of my root-cellared carrots and potatoes, but any root vegetables are in stew.  Also any meat.

The meat tastes more like squirrel or rabbit than anything else – they are all rodents, after all.  I did not weep to see the stew disappear.


Mystery meat stew? No! It's woodchuck stew!

Woodchuck Stew 

Serves 4 to 6
This recipe is adapted from a beef stew recipe from Recipes from the Root Cellar.  A similar recipe appears in Serving up the Harvest.  

2 pounds woodchuck, cut into serving pieces

It's pretty obvious how to cut the critter up.

1/2 to 2/3 cup all-purpose unbleached flour

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups beef broth 

2 cups home-canned or store-bought diced tomatoes with juice

1 cup red wine

2 garlic cloves, minced

12 to 16 ounces rutabaga or turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

12 to 16 ounces carrots, peeled cut into 1-inch cubes 

12 to 16 ounces parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

16 ounces thin-skinned potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1. Pat the meat dry. Combine the flour, 1 teaspoon of the thyme, and oregano in a shallow bowl.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Add the meat and toss to coat.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan or Dutch oven.  Lift the meat out of the flour, shaking off the excess, and add a single layer to the pot.  Do not crowd the pot.  Let the meat brown, turning as needed, about 5 minutes.  Remove the meat as it browns and set aside.  Continue cooking until all the meat is browned.

3.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and onion to the Dutch oven and sauté until the onion is soft, about 3 minutes.  Add the broth, tomatoes, wine,  garlic, and remaining 2 teaspoons thyme.  Stir to scrape up any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer.  Return the meat to the pan.  Partially cover the pan and let simmer until the meat is tender, 2 to 3 hours.

4.  Add the rutabagas, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes to the pan and let simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 1 hour.  

5.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  Serve hot. 


Recipe adapted from Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman.  ©2010 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.

Gratitude for Spring

Daffodils are having a banner year.
What a spectacular—albeit dry—spring is unfolding in the Northeast. The sunny weather is exceptional, nothing to take for granted.  We are all in a frenzy of planting.

Well, not quite a frenzy.  It is time to plant greens and peas—and water them, too.  We don’t set out tender plants, such as tomatoes, until Memorial Day weekend.  Freezes will still come, if past springs, even last year, has taught us.

I heard of a woman who used to live in Virginia, then moved to Vermont.  Each spring she takes her children down to Virginia, just to experience spring.  Spring in Vermont, she says, is too fleeting.  It isn’t a real season, just a moment between winter and summer.

I’m taking a moment to express gratitude for the way spring unfolds in Vermont.  It is less fleeting than it is subtle. You just have to know when to start looking for it. 

Spring begins with the maple syrup run, which starts with snow still on the ground.  In my household, we made a record five gallons this year.  It was an unusual season with a long, long stretch of ideal cold nights and warmer days when the sap boiled down to fancy for a prolonged period.  This was followed by a stretch when the sap didn’t run at all because it was too cold, then another stretch of ideal weather.  I am glad to be done with sugaring, but also delighted with all the wonderful syrup that will make great gifts year-round.

I am grateful for the ramps and fiddleheads that are springing up in the woods.

There was enough snow pack for fiddleheads and ramps, but mushrooms are not to found.
I am grateful for daffodils and the other spring bulbs that brighten the garden and the migrating birds that stop at the bird feeder. I am grateful for the rhubarb and raspberries and blueberries that are just breaking dormancy and promising another season of desserts and jam making.

Raspberries are just breaking dormancy.Dependable rhubarb is just breaking dormancy.
I am grateful for an energetic son who is digging a new asparagus bed and who has declared war on the bishops weed that invaded the garden a few years back and won’t be controlled by digging, weeding, soil sifting.  This years plan: a 1-foot trench around the affected bed, to be followed by black plastic for a year or more.  

Bishops weed -- a more pernicious invader I have never seen.
I am not grateful for bishops weed that invaded the garden, moles that ate my tulips, cluster flies that invaded the house, and black flies that attack me. Even gratitude has its limits.

First Harvests!

It’s mid-April.  The ground is still mostly frozen up here in Ripton.  But the harvest season has begun.  

One month into sugaring and still boiling light syrup.
The first harvest is always maple syrup, and no, we haven’t pulled our taps yet.  We tapped early in March – on Town Meeting Day (first Monday in March) as is traditional.  This year we ended up with 17 taps on 7 trees – more is more. We have almost reached the three-gallon mark and are still boiling light or Grade A. And, it is cold enough to enjoy the added heat from the kitchen stoves. 

Last week spring peepers started singing in our neighbor’s pond.  We thought that meant the end of sugaring because once the frogs sing, the trees bud.  But the cold weather that returned put a stop to all that spring springing, and the sap is flowing like crazy.  My son just poked his head in the door and said that he was going to collect.  “Hope you like an endless sugaring season,” he said.  I do!

Freshly harvested Jerusalem artichokes.
Meanwhile, second big sign of spring: Jerusalem artichoke harvest.  From our one-pound planting a few years ago, we harvested about ten pounds this year (leaving plenty in the ground to grow for next year’s harvest).  Still, it is more than enough to roast and turn into pickles.   That’s about the extent of my cooking with Jerusalem artichokes.  Sure, they can be made into soups, added to stews, and generally substituted for potatoes or parsnips in any cooked dish.  Raw, think of them as a North American jicama and julienne them and dress with lime, or just add their crisp, white flesh to any salad for some bland crunch.  They won’t go to waste.

There is going to be a pretty long stretch between now and the first asparagus, so having something to harvest feels pretty good – even if it isn’t the green foods I crave.

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes
Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes
Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 to 2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes
2 tablespoons walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil
Coarse or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 500° F.  Lightly oil a half sheet pan (preferred) or shallow roasting pan large enough to hold the Jerusalem artichokes in a single layer.
2. Peel the artichokes or scrub them well.  Cut into 1-inch pieces.  Put them on the baking sheet, sprinkle the oil over, and toss with two rubber spatulas until well-coated.  Spread out in a single layer.  
3. Roast for about 15 minutes, or until the chokes are tender and well-browned, shaking the pan occasionally for even cooking.  Shake the pan more frequently toward the end of the roasting time as they will go from well-browned to burned rather quickly. Sprinkle with salt and serve at once.  

He Was a Mean Ol' Rooster

He was a mean old bird, but quite handsome. 


My neighbor Robert has a flock of lovely hens and a couple of mean ol’ roosters who work those ladies hard.  Too hard.  The roosters had to go and one of them came to me – live, in a large box.


I’d never cooked a rooster before and I was more than curious. 


It fell to my son to reach a swift hand into the box and grab that rooster by the feet.  He quickly swung the bird onto the counter, on top of a long sheet of plastic wrap, holding the wing against the bird’s body.  I reached over to hold down the bird’s wing and we wrapped that bird in a snug Saran wrap blanket.  We’ve done this before.  It is a good way to immobilize a bird if you don’t have a cone.


Then outside went Sam and the bird and…


Back in the kitchen (it was minus 6°F) outside, we scalded the bird in my 5-gallon stock pot and placed it in a large plastic bin.  In minutes we plucked that bird clean as we marveled at its long, narrow anatomy and beautiful feathers.  Back onto the sanitized counter, Sam eviscerated the bird.  I gave it a good wash in the sink, patted it dry, and bagged it.


Take your time with roosters, and they are more than worth eating, as are older birds.  Roosters differ from older hens in that their bones are larger and sturdier (harder to cut) with more cartilage and denser muscles.  Also the breasts are much smaller, and there is a greater proportion of dark meat.  But the cooking rules are the same.


*Let the bird age in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 days.  You can keep them in a container of water or just wrapped in plastic (after washing and drying well).

* Marinate for at least 12 and up to 48 hours, if you are planning to eat the meat. This isn’t necessary if you are simply making stock.

* Cook long and slow.  In a Dutch oven with a lid, cook at 200° for at least 6 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone.  The manual for my slow cooker says High equals 212°F, Low equals 200°F, Simmer equals 185°F, and Keep Warm equals 165°F.  If you are going to use a slow cooker, it is worth checking to make sure that Low is the proper temperature for your slow cooker; many run higher than that.

* Old birds vary!  This is not a standardized piece of meat.  Do not plan to serve the day you are cooking the bird, unless you plan to start very, very early in the morning.  Far safer is to cook the bird a day in advance and give it as much time as it requires to become tender.  Then skim off the fat, reheat, and serve.

 It was marinated for 12 hours in pinot noir.

I used a pretty classic coq au vin recipe, coq being French for rooster, or cock.  I cut the bird the bird into serving-size pieces and marinated it in pinot noir with a shallot, carrot, garlic, and celery for about 12 hours in the refrigerator. Next, I browned the pieces while I reduced the marinade.  Then I strained the marinade and used it as the base of the cooking liquid, along with additional broth to keep the bird covered.  When the meat was almost tender enough, I added sautéed mushrooms and garlic, sliced celery and carrots and pearl onions.

 Veggies are added when the meat is tender.

Parslied potatoes were the perfect accompaniment.  I’ve never enjoyed a better coq au vin, and it was so satisfying to know that I was turning a mean old rooster into a dish that was created with just that in mind.

Coq au vin with parslied potatoes, bread, and more wine.

Winter Salads II

Spring is coming


I know spring is coming because we have tapped the maple trees. 

and like most gardeners, I am dreaming of the garden season to come.  But in the harsh light of day, or rather the lengthening hours of soft afternoon light, I am contemplating what preserved foods need to be used up.  Not much as it turns out.


The last of the vegetables in the root cellar and what’s this?  Another bag of frozen green beans? And frozen peas?


My heart doesn’t soar looking at the last of the vegetables in cold storage, but I do crave green food – be it fresh or frozen. Turning not-fresh vegetables into salads will be the challenge of the day.

 Roasted Vegetable Salad with Maple-Soy Vinaigrette

When I was working my way through college, I briefly held a job in the kitchen of an assisted living residence.  My boss—the meal planner—was old enough to be a resident herself, and salads tended to be easy on dentures – a scoop of cottage cheese garnished with canned peach slices or a square of lime jello in which shredded carrots were suspended, topped with a dollop of mayo.  All served on a limp leaf of iceberg lettuce. Yum. 


But there was one salad I liked (minus the iceberg): frozen peas, sour cream, and dried dill or dill seed.  I like it still, and it makes a fine salad for this time of year.

 A simple salad of just three ingredients: frozen peas, sour cream, and dill seeds. And, of course, salt and pepper.

What else? Frozen green beans will make a fine salad with canned white beans and the last of the pickled roasted peppers.  Sure, it is close to the original three-bean salad made with canned green beans, canned wax beans, and canned kidney beans in an overly sweet dressing.  But this iteration makes really fine use of frozen green beans (or wax beans, if you have them).  I am sure it will add to everyone’s enjoyment to know that this salad, which dates back to the 1800s, was J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite salad and believed to be one of the final dishes he ate before his death.

 Two bean salad. Choose any vinaigrette to dress this.

The last few turnips, carrots, and beets in the root cellar are a little soft, and here and there are browned, decay spots.  Not a problem—I’ll just cut them away.  The vegetables will be fine roasted.  They will be even tastier tossed with a maple-soy vinaigrette and bedded on some winter greens.  That maple-soy vinaigrette makes every vegetable delicious.  The combination of the umami characteristics of soy sauce matched with the sweetness of maple syrup and rounded out with balsamic vinegar—I don’t think I have a finer salad dressing in my repertoire…


Roasted Vegetable Salad

Serves 4


1 large beet, peeled and diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 parsnip, peeled and diced

1 rutabaga, peeled and diced

1 whole garlic head, cloves separated and peeled

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 to 6 cups mixed tender winter greens (Belgian endive, escarole, frisée, napa cabbage, or Savoy cabbage), thinly sliced

Maple-Soy Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Preheat the oven to 450° F.   Lightly oil a large shallow roasting pan or half sheet pan.

2.  In a large bowl, combine the beet, carrots, parsnip, rutabaga, and garlic. Add the oil and toss well.  Transfer to the pan and arrange in a shallow (preferably single) layer.  

3. Roast the vegetables for 35 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally for even cooking. 

4. Just before serving, on a large platter, toss the greens with about 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette. Arrange the vegetables on top and drizzle with another 1/4 cup of the remaining dressing and toss again. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at once, passing the remaining vinaigrette at the table. 


Recipe adapted from Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman.  ©2010 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.


Maple-Soy Vinaigrette

About 2/3 cup


2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2-inch ginger, peeled and minced

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, maple syrup, garlic, and ginger until combined. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the oil until the mixture emulsifies. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.


Recipe from Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman.  ©2010 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.


Dried Kale Chips


Kale again?

 Here I am massaging the oil and seasonings into the kale.

No kidding.  Besides the fact that I really like kale, I love to feed people.  That means when I give a class, you can expect samples.  Here I am making a batch of dried kale chips.


Last weekend, I taught a couple of workshops on the many faces of food preservation at the Vermont NOFA winter conference.  Saturday’s workshop was an overview of the pros and cons of the various different food preservation methods. Most of the folks at the workshop were new to food preservation, I had to deliver the idea that each method involves a trade-off – whether it is time, storage space, dependence on electricity, use of plastic, or nutrition.  There is no perfect method of food preservation for all foods in all conditions and at all times.


I brought samples of dried kale chips, which may be the best reason to explore dehydration.  Dehydrators are great for wild mushrooms and all manner of snack foods, from seasoned seaweed (more on that at another time) to dried berries.  Unfortunately, my dehydrator (bought at a yard sale for $10) is a small-capacity dryer, and just doesn’t seem practical for serious food preservation.


No matter, the kale chips are delicious – the perfect snack for a long car ride.  Tomorrow I am off to the Rhode Island Flower Show to talk about making pickles and winter salads.


Dried Kale Chips

Makes about 8 cups

 Don't crowd the kale on the dehydrator sheets. I have both lacinato and curly kale here.

Any type of kale can be used.  I have a slight preference for lacinato kale because it is flatter and fits better in the narrow space between trays in the dehydrator.  Don’t overdo the salt; it doesn’t require a lot.


1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped (about 8 cups packed)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder


Toss the kale with the oil until well coated.  Sprinkle the salt, garlic powder, and onion powder over the kale and toss to distribute. 


Spread out on dehydrator trays.  Dry for 4 to 5 hours at 125°F. 


Store in glass jars. 


It isn't the most beautiful food in the world, but it is delicious.

Playing Ketchup

Playing Ketchup

 We grew about six different varieties of cherry tomatoes, including some black, some currant, some grape, some yellow.

I’m always playing catch-up with my garden and my life.  So one of my best tricks for keeping up with my tomato harvest is to freeze the tomatoes as they ripen and make sauces and salsas when I am ready.  Why mention it now?


Because I just turned a 10 pound bag of cherry tomatoes into sauce.  So I figure while you are contemplating how many tomato seeds to order, I will tell you how to tame sugary sweet, amazingly prolific cherry tomatoes into sauce.

 The finished sauce.

There are, of course, plenty of things to do with cherry tomatoes as they ripen.  And because they tend to ripen earlier than beefsteaks or Romas, I do find myself giving over a large portion of my tomato “orchard” to cherries.  Cherry tomatoes are dependable, even when the weather is not.


At some point, a daily harvest of cherry tomatoes yields more than one household could ever eat fresh. Not a problem. I buy jumbo-size plastic bags and the cherry tomatoes go directly into the bag, unwashed, unstemmed, and the bag goes into the freezer.  If the bag isn’t completely filled, I can add more as the tomatoes ripen.


At some point (like now), I’m ready to can them.  The tomatoes go from bag to colander for a rinse, and then from colander to pot to cook them enough to break them down.  Then I run the tomatoes through a food mill, which takes care of the skins and stems and most of the seeds.  The resulting puree is much less than expected, since cherries are mostly seed and skin, but at least they were harvested and put to use, rather than popping up as volunteers next season (though there will be plenty of those).

 First I cook the tomatoes to break them down.Then I run the sauce through a food mill.

I cook the puree down to a consistency good for sauce.  If I’m in the mood to pressure can, and no reason not to, I’ll add lots of sautéed onions, garlic, bell peppers, and herbs-- either frozen pesto or dried or frozen basil leaves, plus dried oregano, thyme, and rosemary.  Salt and pepper, of course.  If the sauce is still too sweet, some balsamic vinegar tones down the sweetness nicely, as does a little soy sauce.  Of course, with no added vegetables, it would be fine to can the tomatoes in a boiling water bath.  But the reason to master using a pressure canner is to be able to have foods that are ready to be heated and served.

 The sauce is cooked down until it has a nice consistency.

The sauce is still sweet but it pairs particularly well with sausage, I think.  Its just fine on pasta, on pizza, on toasted bread with cheese. Maybe it is a little sweet for all applications, but it is just fine for an occasional meal.

 Dinner is served!

The cherry tomatoes could have gone into ketchup, with the natural sugars in the cherry tomatoes replacing some of the added sweetener in the recipe. 


With frozen cherry tomatoes and long, cold winter nights, there’s no reason not to get some canning done when the extra heat in the kitchen is more than welcome.     

An On-going Love Affair with Kale

Call me Kale Woman.  I just love the stuff. 

Kale and me

I love the way it grows tall, allowing the grower to snap off the lower leaves as it continues to grow taller and put out more leaves (just don’t cut off the tip of the plant).  I love the way it is hardy up to 10°F in the garden—even under a layer of snow.  I love the way it has all these healthful properties (high in vitamins A and D, calcium, and fiber).  I love the way it is so versatile in the kitchen, lending itself to steaming, sautéing, and stir-frying. But most of all, I love the way it tastes—so green and just slightly bitter.


So whenever someone approaches me about a cooking class, I suggest a class on cooking with kale.  Which is what I found myself doing this past Wednesday for City Market Co-op Burlington, Vermont.  The class was held in the kitchen of Sustainability Academy, an elementary school in the Old North End.  I’ve taught cooking classes there before—it always feeds my fantasy of becoming a school lunch lady.


The class was titled, Kale Three Ways, and the students were both kale lovers and kale virgins.  All were aware that kale is very good for you and available from local growers through much of the winter.  And although the class was promised three dishes, we actually prepared four.

 Red kale tastes the same as curly kale or Lacinato kale.

We worked with curly kale, lacinato kale, and red kale—and I assured them there was no difference in flavor or texture once the kale was cooked.  First, we started a minestrone soup which featured kale, then we roasted some, then we massaged some kale with a soy vinaigrette until it was tender enough to be enjoyed raw, then I sautéed some with garlic.

 Everything tastes better with garlic--especially kale.

The point of sautéing the kale was to go over a few salient points.  First, in my opinion, everything tastes better with garlic (and a little salt).  Second, the skillet was preheated with olive oil until it shimmered, which is how we knew it was hot enough.  Third, the kale was added in batches; as the first batch wilted, the second batch was added, and so on, until all fit in the pan.   Then I sautéed the kale for about 8 minutes, until it was tender.


Finally, I encouraged everyone to drizzle a little extra flavoring onto the finished kale: either balsamic glaze (available in supermarkets), pomegranate molasses (ditto), or a little soy sauce and sesame oil.  As I wrote in a March 2012 entry about cooking winter greens, Chinese black vinegar also makes a tasty drizzle.


Here’s the recipe for roasted kale.  This is a pretty foolproof recipe, unless you are the type to get easily distracted.  If kids are underfoot, and you don’t have a working timer, roast the kale at 250°F for 20 to 25 minutes, instead of roasting at 450°F for 10 minutes.  The color of the chips will be brighter and the flavor and texture will be just as wonderful.


Crispy Kale Chips

Serves 1 to 4


            Potato chips: be gone! Roasted kale is so delicious, you never need to turn to them again for a hit of crisp and salt.  Like potato chips or popcorn, this is more appropriate as a snack or hors d’oeuvre than a side dish because of the high volume of the pieces.                           

1 bunch curly kale, leaves chopped in 1-inch pieces and tough stems discarded

About 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Coarse sea salt or kosher salt


            1.  Preheat the oven to 425°F.

            2.  Measure the kale and transfer to a large bowl.  For every 4 cups of firmly packed leaves, add 1 tablespoon oil.  Mix well with your hands to make sure the leaves are evenly coated.  Spread out on a large sheet pan into a single layer.

            3.  Roast for about 10 minutes, until the curly tips of the leaves are darkened and the interior of the leaves are a bright green.  The leaves should be mostly crunchy, but not blackened.

            4.  Toss with salt and serve.


Recipe adapted from Recipes from the Root Cellar.  © 2010 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.


Absolutely Basic, Absolutely Perfect, All-American Pie

I saw some strawberries in the supermarket yesterday.  Strawberries in January!  I didn’t stop to look at the labels to see where they came from: not near Vermont, that’s for sure.  

Okay, I will admit to the occasional Valentine’s Day splurge for strawberries from Texas or California. But early January? Who needs them?

What we need—all we need—when the sweet tooth beckons is apple: apple eaten out of the hand, in a cake, in a tart, and most certainly in an apple pie. There is nothing more satisfying than apple pie, whether it is served hot from the oven with coffee in the gloom of a wintry afternoon, reheated gently and topped with ice cream for an indulgent dessert, or eaten without apology for breakfast.

What we need is apple pie.

Early New Englanders ate apple pie daily and by the 1830s, apple orchards were considered as standard a feature on the average farm as a flock of chickens.  New Englanders consumed prodigious amounts of apples in the form of apple cider and apple jack.  Fresh, unpasteurized apple cider naturally ferments into hard apple cider; if allowed to freeze, the water separates from the cider, resulting in a more concentrated, alcoholic drink, or applejack.

I digress.  Apples are almost always available: fresh and local.  Over 1000 varieties of apples have been developed in the US, though only about 250 varieties can be found in commercial heirloom orchards these days.  Before refrigeration was developed, before railroads and roads crisscrossed the US, before supermarkets eliminated regional favorites in favor of uniform, ship-anywhere varieties, New Englanders planted varieties of apples that produced apples from late summer through late fall, with the late fall varieties good for keeping in root cellars and springhouses—some, like the Northern Spy, especially good for pies.

I make pie whenever the apples I have bought seem to be languishing in the refrigerator.  McIntosh, Gala, Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Northern Spy, Maiden’s Blush. Cortland, Granny Smith, Honeygold, Pink Lady, Rome.  It is all good in a pie.   

The first slice always falls apart.

The pie disappears all too quickly.

Apple Pie
Serves 8

Use 4 pounds of apples so you can mound the apples generously in the pan.  This recipe makes an absolutely basic, absolutely perfect, all-American pie. 

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie, homemade or store-bought

¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, or more to taste

2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3½ to 4 pounds tart, crisp apples, peeled, cored, sliced ¼-inch thick (8 cups)

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon milk

Cheddar cheese or vanilla ice cream, to serve

1. If you are making your own pastry, prepare the pie dough and refrigerate. 

2. In a large bowl, combine ¾ cup of the sugar, the flour, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Add the apples; sprinkle with the lemon zest and lemon juice. Toss together to mix thoroughly. If the apples are too tart, add a little extra sugar.

3. Preheat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the lower third of the oven.

4. To prepare the pie shell, lightly flour a work surface. Roll out the larger portion of the chilled dough to a thickness of about 1/8-inch. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate, leaving a 1-inch overhang. (Fit purchased pastry into the pie pan.) Spoon the apple mixture into the pastry, mounding it higher in the center. Dot with butter. Roll out the remaining dough into a circle about 1 inch larger than the pie plate. Moisten the edge of the bottom crust with water. Fold the dough circle in half, lift off the work surface, place the pastry across the center of the filled pie, and unfold. Trim the edge ½ inch larger than the pie plate and tuck the overhang under the edge of the bottom crust. Crimp the edges with a fork or make a fluted pattern with your fingers. Make several decorative slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Place the pie on a baking sheet to catch any juices that overflow.

5. Bake the pie in the lower third of the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350°F and continue to bake for 30 minutes. Brush the top of the pie with the milk and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbly.

6. Cool the pie on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with slices of Cheddar cheese or vanilla ice cream.

Recipe adapted from 250 Trasured Country Desserts by Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff.  ©2009 Andrea Chesman and Fran Raboff.  All rights reserved. 

Italian Wedding Soup

 Italian Wedding Soup

My cooking tends to the one-dish supper – it’s easy to fix and clean up, it satisfies, and it enables me to plan around a specific vegetable without too much fuss.  But in my writing

I haven’t been giving enough love to Mom’s Best One-Dish Suppers, a book I wrote in 2005.  Why not?  I think because this type of cooking is so deeply ingrained, I rarely refer to a recipe and rarely think to write about it.

 I wrote Mom's Best One-Dish Suppers in 2005

It’s soup weather now (as I write, we are deep in a blizzard), and I’ve been thinking about Italian Wedding Soup for a while. Greens and soup – particularly this combination of greens and meatballs in a clear broth – make a marriage made in heaven.  Hence, minestra maritata has been translated as Italian wedding soup, though it was not necessarily served at wedding celebrations in Italy, where this particular combination was developed. 

 Greens and meatballs in soup -- a marriage made in heaven.

I was at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op the other day and saw some gorgeous heads of escarole and knew it is time to make that family favorite.  Escarole is in the chicory family, along with curly endive (frisée), Belgian endive, and radicchio.  Much less bitter than other chicories, its taste is quite similar to radicchio.  You might also note it is less beautiful than radicchio and definitely less expensive to buy.

 A tempting head of escarole

Traditionally, the leafy chicories, such as curly endive and escarole, are grown under covers to deprive the heads of sunlight, resulting in a paler, less bitter head.  I think that custom is falling away, but I don’t mind; I like my greens bitter.


The escarole in this soup can be replaced with mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, chard, spinach, or cabbage, so feel free to substitute.  The meat can be the more traditional ground pork or half ground pork and half ground beef.

 Feeling lazy, I made the meatballs a little larger than usual.

Italian Wedding Soup


12 cups chicken broth (homemade is best)

1 pound ground turkey

2 eggs

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 garlic cloves, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 to 1/2 cup pastina or orzo (small pasta shapes)

1 1/2 pounds greens, chopped


1.  Bring the chicken broth to a simmer.


2.  To make the meatballs, combine the ground turkey, eggs, bread crumbs, Parmesan, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a food processor.  Process until well mixed.  Alternatively, mix by hand in a large bowl.  Form the meat mixture into 1/2-inch meat balls (the size of marbles) and add to the simmering soup.  Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about 30 minutes. 


3.  Increase the heat slightly, add the pasta, and boil gently until the pasta is cooked, about 10 minutes. 


4. Add the greens and continue to boil gently until the greens are tender, 3 to 10 more minutes, depending on the type of greens.  Taste and adjust the seasoning, remove from the heat, and serve.


Adapted from Mom’s Best One-Dish Suppers. @2005 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.             

Onions and More Onions

 Turns out 50 pounds of onions will probably only last through January

I bought 50 pounds of unsorted onions from Elmer Farm, my CSA farmers this fall.  I figured unsorted meant that the onions varied in size, but I didn’t know that they would also vary in likelihood of storing well.

Some of the onions didn't cure properly. 

Some of the onions had soft necks where the leaves had not fully dried.  Each layer of an onion is actually a leaf, and some leaves dry better than others—no matter how well they are handled post harvest.  So before storing, I had to sort the onions, setting aside those with thick and/or soft necks for using immediately. Turns out, about 15 pounds were destined to be used quickly.  Any by using quickly, I mean, discarding any slimy brown layers, but utilizing the rest of the onion.

 I could feel the onions with soft necks, alerting me to the fact they wouldn't store well.

You’d think that would be a daunting situation, but it wasn’t.  First, 6 pounds or so went into making Rosemary Onion Confit (see March Madness 2012).  Some went into the dehydrator, some went into a beef and onion stir-fry with black bean sauce, some went into onion soup.  And the rest were fried—not something I recommend doing but often, what a wonderful once-a-year treat!


About the stir-fry, I followed my basic recipe for a stir-fry (see Serving Up the Harvest, pages 35-35), using beef and 8 cups of slivered onions, substituting black bean sauce and 1 tablespoon chopped fermented black beans for the oyster sauce, and omitting the broth and cornstarch.  When I returned the stir-fried beef to the wok with the seared onions, I added 6 sliced scallions.  The only trick with an onion-based stir-fry is to use a really, really hot wok and get a good sear on the onions.

 Beef and Onion Stir-Fry with Black Bean Sauce

For the onion soup, trust me, you don’t need a recipe.  Also, you don’t need to serve it with a cheese layer on top—you can melt cheese on toast under the broiler and then ladle the soup on top.  It is much easier to eat that way.  To make onion soup, just slice several pounds of onions; you’ll want 8 to 12 cups of sliced onions.  Then pour beef broth on top—could be homemade from roasted soup bones, could be from bouillon, or canned—using enough to cover the onions, 8 to 12 cups, and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Season with soy sauce, which has that umami quality and darkens the color of the broth nicely, and pepper.

 Ladling onion soup onto cheese toasts.

And finally, the fried onion rings.  I went for a simple seasoned flour for a coating, dipping the onions first in buttermilk, then in flour, then into the hot onion in batches until browned.  They turned out great—crunchy, sweet, salty—and maybe just a little too good.  So as with all good seasonal foods, enjoy fried onions as a celebration of the harvest, and don’t worry if your onions haven’t cured as well as you would have liked.

 Deep frying onions.

Oh, and where are all those onions stored?  In an unheated upstairs closet.  I don’t know what people do who have heat in the upstairs bedrooms. An unheated closet is the perfect place to store onions. How do they store their onions?  How do they sleep?

Winter Salads

One of the pleasures of my life is feeding the bands that come to play at the Ripton Community Coffee House every month.  After the sound check, I send dinner over to the community house to feed the coffeehouse crew, and the band comes over to my house to have dinner and relax before their set begins.

I always point with pride to the photograph on the wall of Robert Frost enjoying tea with Agnes and Eunice Billings.  The Billings sisters used to own this old farmhouse where Frost took his meals while living across the road and teaching at the Breadloaf Campus.  The photograph means that the band is being served in the Robert Frost Memorial Dining Room.

Robert Frost in my dining room!
What to serve the band is always a dilemma. It has to be made in quantity to feed both crew and band.  It has to be transportable and tasty even if sound check runs long or the band gets lost.  There is always at least one vegetarian in the group.  There is always at least one singer who would prefer not to eat dairy before a performance.  Vegans?  Of course.  And wheat free, gluten free, soy free.  It is a dilemma okay, but hey, that’s expected with modern diets, isn’t it?

This past Saturday, Laura Cortese played with a back-up band.  All in all, the band included 3 fiddle players, a cellist, a sound man, and a merch person.  And all diet preferences and limitations were represented.  What to make?

I quickly decided on a trio of salads—carrots, because of the abundance of carrots in the root cellar (see previous entry), wild rice salad with roasted vegetables, and lentil salad made with a jar of my Rosemary-Onion Confit (see March 29, 2012, March Market Madness).  

Carrot Salad with Lime Dressing

The carrot salad is one I’ve been playing with lately, and I don’t have the recipe firmed up.  It is simply grated carrots, chopped scallions, minced cilantro, olive oil, lime juice, a touch of sugar, and salt and pepper.  It is done when the carrots, cilantro, scallions, lime juice, and olive oil are in perfect balance, and you can taste each one. Make it yourself.

wild rice salad with roasted vegetables
The wild rice salad?  Easy as can be.  Cook up some wild rice.  Roast up some root vegetables and/or winter squash and an onion.  Make a dressing with olive oil, cranberry sauce, and sherry vinegar.  Toss with roasted almonds and dried cranberries.  How seasonal can you be?

lentil salad
The lentil salad is made with French green lentils—lentiles du Puy—because they hold their shape so well.  Add something crunchy (usually I add carrots, but that seemed redundant, and besides I had celery leftover from Thanksgiving).  Then dress with a jar of Rosemary Onion Confit and a touch more apple cide vinegar.  

Do you really need recipes for dishes this simple? 

Love Your Roots!

My son took over a large part of my vegetable garden this year.  The plan was that he would grow storage crops, while I got to experience life as a CSA member.  Both experiences were great.

But now we are flooded with roots.  There are sixty pounds of carrots chilling in my extra refrigerator (The basement steps where I’ll store my root vegetables is not cold enough yet.).  I have onions, potatoes, beets, and Gilfeather turnips – some farm-bought, some homegrown.  

The carrots are weighing heavily on my mind right now.  I usually use up about one pound a week.  The sixty pounds he harvested?  More than we need.  My son thinks I should make carrot soup more often.  I’ll be roasting them for sure, adding them to soups, grating them into salads, and even pickling some of them them.  Turns out the rest of the family really loves cooked carrots (though not met) and would be happy to have them show up more frequently at the dinner table.

Sixty pounds of carrots

But back to the carrots. I wasn’t aware of the varieties, or I would have plundered the Little Fingers and Tonda di Parigi earlier this summer when they were at their optimal sizes.  You see, my son swapped seeds with friends and didn’t tell me he was chosing to grow some of the carrot varieties past optimum size because he couldn’t figure out how he would store them. In any case, here’s what I know about the carrots he grew:

Little Finger.  Developed in France for canning and pickling.  Nice orange color; should have been harvested when about 3 inches long.  

Tonda di Parigi Carrot. A 19th-century Parisian heirloom, deep orange, best harvested young, creamy and sweet when cooked.  

Kuroda.  An 8-inch long, deep orange, carrot with a blunt tip. Supposedly very good for juicing. 


This one is a monster.

Danvers 126 Half Long Carrot.  The Danvers variety dates back to the 1870s, and this strain was developed in the 1940s.  It’s an American classic. 

Red Core Chatenay.  No red core at all, but a standard, classic 5- to 7-inch carrot with smooth sides that taper to a blunt tip. 

Atomic Red Carrot.  It’s beauty is only skin deep, but the carrot is theoretically very high in lycopene, which has been shown in studies to help prevent several types of cancer. 

Scarlet Keeper Carrot.  A lovely orange carrot that is supposed to store very well. 

Napoli Hybrid. An extra-sweet carrot with a fine texture. 

As my son harvested the carrots, he carefully separated them in trays, casually rinsed them with water from the hose, and refrigerated as many as he could.  The remainder went onto the too-warm basement stairs.  I thought the dirt that was clinging to them was sucking out moisture.  So I washed them and bagged them, and in so doing, destroyed his classification system, and now we aren’t sure which carrots are which. 

Last night I was cooking some Chinese dishes, so I made a carrot pickle to go with it all.  I usually make this pickle with a mixture of carrots and daikon radish, but our daikon radishes all went into the compost pile.  These daikon grew to enormous size, bolted in the heat, and developed all the sharp, sulfurous flavors of a turnip and none of the sweetness that would balance it. No problem, though; carrots only work just fine.


Chinese Spicy-Sweet Pickled Carrots.

Chinese Spicy-Sweet Pickled Carrots
Makes about 1 quart 
1 pound carrots, cut into matchsticks2 teaspoons salt1 cup water½ cup sugar1/3 cup mirin1/3 cup rice vinegar¼ cup distilled white vinegar6 thin slices fresh ginger 1 clove garlic, sliced1 dried red chile

1. Combine the carrot with the salt in a bowl and mix well.  Cover with ice water and let sit for at least 2 hours, up to 6 hours.

2.  Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and heat, stirring, until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from the heat and stir in the mirin, rice vinegar, white vinegar, ginger, garlic, and chile. Let cool to room temperature.

3. Drain the carrots and pack into a clean pint jar. Strain the brine, discarding the ginger and garlic and pour in.  Add the dried chile, if desired. Seal.  Best flavor will develop if you can allow it to cure for at least 1 week before eating.  

Adapted from The Pickled Pantry.©2012 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved.

On the Road with Pickles

I’ve been taking my pickle show on the road ever since the Pickled Pantry hit the bookstores in June.  I’ve visited bookstores, taught cooking classes, and performed demos at festivals. 


 Part of my show on the road. These are Dill Chips

People who want to promote their cookbooks must bring samples with them of foods to taste.  (One envies the novelists who simply have to read from their works.)  But bring pickles I do.  For most of the summer I have brought my No-Fail Half-Sour Pickles (see post, June 8), not the least because it is a no-fail recipe.  It also makes a darn fine pickle.  But now that it is fall my attention turns to recipes utilizing cabbages, carrots, and daikon radish.

When I take my show on the road, I find myself explaining why I wrote another book on making pickles when my 1983 book, Pickles and Relishes, still sells well and contains some very fine recipes.  (Hopefully, I recycled all the good ones in the new book—or at least all the favorites).  Pickles haven’t changed over the years, but our interest in pickles have. For every pickler who just wants recipes to deal with garden excess, there are picklers who are interested in exploring traditional ways vegetables and fruits are pickled in other cuisines.  


On a pickle trip to Montreal's Chinatown, I loaded up my cart with mysterious looking pickled vegetables—all research for The Pickled Pantry

Curtido is my favorite pickle of the moment.  It is called the Salvadoran version of sauerkraut but the flavor profile is so different that calling it “sauerkraut” does not do it justice. Curtido is a lightly fermented cabbage and flavored with onion and oregano.  It is the traditional Salvadoran accompaniment to pupusas, which are cheese- or meat-stuffed pancakes made from masa harina (the same dough from which torillas and tamales are made).  Not surprisingly, curtido makes a great topping for fish tacos – it also makes a wonderful salad.


A bowl of Curtido

Makes 1 1/2 to 2 quarts

2 pounds green cabbage (1 small to medium head), cored and grated or thinly sliced 

2 carrots, grated

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 fresh red or green jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped

2 teaspoons pickling or fine salt

2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)

Optional Brine

1 teaspoon pickling or fine sea salt

1 cup water

1. Combine the cabbage, carrots, onion, and jalapeños in a large bowl. Add the salt and mix well.  Let stand for 30 minutes.

2. Using a potato masher or your fists, pound and press the vegetables until they release their liquid and are quite wet. Add the oregano and toss to distribute. Pack the mixture tightly into one or two clean quart canning jars or crocks, tamping down on the vegetables with a wooden dowel or your fingertips with as much force as you can until the level of liquid rises above the vegetables. 

3. If the vegetables do not make enough liquid to cover the vegetables, add the optional brine.  To make the brine, combine the salt and water.  Heat until the salt dissolves.  Let cool to room temperature before adding to the jar; you should not need more than a couple of tablespoons, but it depends on the surface area of your container.

4. Weight the vegetables to keep them submerged. Cover the jar to exclude air. Set the jar where the temperature remains constant; 65° to 75°F is ideal. Let ferment for 2 to 3 days.  Taste; when pleasingly sour, refrigerate.


Our tomato crop is abundant.  While others around us have had diminished yields due to blight and drought, our garden has never been better.  And it has never been better tended.  My son dug new beds this year, added plenty of compost and manure, and tested and balanced the soil nutrients and pH.  He watered faithfully til the plants started to fruit.  It all paid off.


A few of the rosy-blushed, yellow pineapple tomatoes have weighed in at more than two pounds. And are virtually seedless.  What an amazing tomato!  

We have Black Cherries, Red Currant Tomatoes, Sungolds, and Super-Sweet One-Hundreds.  We have Yellow Taxies and Purple Cherokees, Indigo Rose, Nyagous, Roma, Black Crim, and Amish Paste.  And we have plenty of Anaheim chiles.  Obviously, it is time to make salsa.

And more salsa.

Chipotle Salsa

But back to those tomatoes: Here’s a partial report.

As always, the cherries were earliest and continue to produce.  The Black Cherries have a very interesting, very rich flavor – very umami one might say. They are big – a two-bite cherry. Sungolds and Super-Sweet Hundreds – classic, super-sweet, great snacking tomatoes, very prolific. Red Currants –  need to be fully ripe for full flavor, really pretty in some salads, but just not worth the labor to harvest, though amazingly prolific.

Yellow taxi was early.  That is the strongest praise I can give this otherwise low-acid, low-flavor tomato. 

Can’t tell the Amish Paste from the Romas.  A paste is a paste is a paste – but always good, especially for cooking and canning.

The Nyagous, another “black tomato” also has that umami, that mysterious rich flavor.  The Indigo Rose tomato did not win my heart.  It is fully black when unripe, then goes to green, then red.  It spends too much effort on changing color, not enough on developing flavor.  We won’t plant it again.

There comes a point in the tomato harvest when we are doing less tasting and comparing varieties and more thinking about how and when to preserve.  That’s where I am right now.  Since I am doing a lot of demos and classes on making pickles, mostly I am throwing the tomatoes into bags and freezing – to be cooked into salsas and sauces when I have the time.

Here’s a favorite canned salsa recipe.  It’s from The Pickled Pantry, and I’ll be taking it to some of my tastings and demos.  It has been a house favorite for years!  I made more today.


Salsa and chips

Chipotle SalsaMakes 4 to 6 pints
Chipotle chiles (smoke-dried jalapenos) add a lick of fire to this otherwise simple salsa.

24 cups quartered ripe tomatoes8 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole2 to 4 chipotle chiles2 cups distilled white vinegar2 onions, finely minced1 cup finely minced fresh green chiles1 cup finely minced sweet bell pepperSalt

1.  Combine the tomatoes, white vinegar, and chipotles in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the tomatoes are very soft, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.

2.  Process the tomato mixture through a food mill, discarding the seeds and skins.

3.  Return the strained mixture to the saucepan and add the onions, fresh chiles, and bell pepper.  Boil gently until the salsa has reduced to a nice thick sauce, 1 to 2 hours.  Season to taste with salt.

4.  Ladle the hot salsa into clean hot pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.  Remove any air bubbles and seal.  

5. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, according to the directions for canning on page 000.  Let cool undisturbed for 12 hours.  Store in a cool dry place.

Kitchen Notes
* For a milder salsa, remove the seeds of the chipotle and fresh chiles before adding to the salsa. 
* Your yield will vary depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes.  Plum tomatoes tend to yield more than salad tomatoes because they have a higher flesh to juice ratio.
Recipe adapted from The Pickled Pantry by Andrea Chesman.  ©2012 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved. 

Dinner in Minutes

Chard and Raviol 

Life is busy.  Then it gets busier.  Tomatoes need canning, onions and carrots need harvesting, kids need lots of attention as they head back to school, summer has taken a toll on the cleanliness of the house, warmer clothes need digging out.  Then there is your usual busy life.  It adds up.


How perfect then, to have a healthy, veggie-rich dinner that every will enjoy.  This is one of my favorite dishes to make when time is short.  In the spring, substitute arugula or spinach for the chard; in the winter substitute kale or cabbage – and adjust times accordingly.  For as long as the harvest lasts, we are all happy to eat lots of Swiss chard.

 The garden keeps producing more chard.

A drizzle of a reduction of balsamic vinegar – balsamic vinegar and a little sugar cooked down until syrupy – makes elevates the dish to make it a dinner for special occasions.


Chard and Ravioli

Serves 4


A magic formula: Take two big bunches of chard from the garden. Combine with pantry and freezer staples. The result—so much greater than the sum of its parts—is an incredibly delicious, healthful one-dish vegetarian meal. It doesn’t get much better or much easier than this. This is a family favorite. Chard is one vegetable that everyone agrees goes well with pasta.

 Swiss chard ready for cooking

2 pounds (12–16 stems with leaves) red, green, or rainbow chard, leaves cut into 1-inch ribbons and stems diced

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 shallot, minced

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 package (30 ounces) frozen cheese-filled ravioli

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan 


1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the chard stems and boil for 2 minutes. Add the leaves and continue to boil until just wilted, about 30 seconds. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.


2. Bring the water back to a boil.


3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, shallot, and red pepper and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chard and continue to sauté until heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.   


4. Add the ravioli to the boiling water and simmer (do not boil) until the ravioli are all cooked through and rise to the surface of the water, about 5 minutes. Drain well.


5. In a large serving bowl or platter, combine the ravioli and chard and toss together. Sprinkle with half the Parmesan and toss again. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan on top and serve.


Recipe from Serving Up the Harvest by Andrea Chesman.  ©2005, 2007 Andrea Chesman.  All rights reserved. 

Swiss Chard: A Garden Stalwart

Swiss chard is a garden stalwart.  It likes water but takes a good measure of neglect.  It is slow to bolt and reasonably fast to grow. You can harvest only the outer leaves and then enjoy a long season of chard eating, even past the first couple of light frosts.  And with the rainbow chard variety, it is a beauty.  Actually, I think it is beautiful whether the stems be rainbowed, white, or red.
Chard’s botanical name is Beta vulgaris ssp cicla, showing its close relationship with beets (Beta vulgaris).  It’s numerous other names are leaf beet, silverbeet, white beet, spinach beet, strawberry spinach, seakale, Sicilian beet, Chilean beet, and Roman kale.  Since it has been cultivated at least since the hanging gardens of Babylon, it has had time to spread around and acquire regional names.  But by any name, it is a terrific vegetable.
Like any green, Swiss chard will wilt quickly and can be lightly cooked.  But I think chard really comes into its own when baked or braised until the texture is silky and its full flavor has been coaxed out.
I recently notice that when people flip through my book, Serving up the Harvest, they often comment on a recipe for Braised Chard Pizza.  Since the weather is a little cooler up here in Vermont, I risked turning on the oven recently for this tasty pizza.
Braised Chard Pizza 
Serves 6
Garlic-scented ricotta cheese makes a bed for silken Swiss chard in this lovely green-and-white pizza.
Dough for two 10-inch pizzas
2 pounds (12–16 stems with leaves) ruby, green, or rainbow chard, leaves cut into 1-inch ribbons and stems diced
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 
1/4 cup water
1 onion, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Prepare the pizza dough and set aside in a warm, draft-free place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, braise the chard.  Combine the Swiss chard, oil, water, and onion in a large Dutch oven or large, wide saucepan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook over medium heat until the chard is completely tender, 30 to 45 minutes.  Drain well (but reserve the cooking liquid for flavoring stocks or soups or cooking grains).
3. Preheat the oven to 500° F.  
4. Stir the garlic and oregano into the ricotta and season to taste with salt and pepper.  
5. Lightly oil two 10-inch or 12-inch round pizza pan or two 12-inch by 15-inch baking pans. Divide the dough in half.  Stretch each piece of dough to fit a prepared pan. Spread the half the ricotta over each pizza crust. Spoon the chard on top of the ricotta.  Top the pizza with the Parmesan.  
6. Bake the pizzas for 12 to 15 minutes, until the crust is golden and the Parmesan is melted.  
7.  Slice and serve warm. 
Adapted from Serving up the Harvest by Andrea Chesman.  @2005. 2007.  All rights reserved.