Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Idea Sharpener

One of the side effects of being a person compelled to do everything is mind altering loss of sleep.   I spend much of the night obsessing over processes and possibilities.  I’ve tried everything.  I’ve gotten too good at counting backwards from 100.  I can say the states in alphabetical order.  I can even say the alphabet backwards.  None of it works.  The only thing that really works is to write down my ideas as they come to me.  I wake up and rummage in the dark for a scrap of paper and writing utensil of any kind to sooth my thoughts and help me sleep.  As a result, my night stand is a tumbling waterfall of receipts with scribbles on them, bookmarks carelessly torn out of pages, and post-its with half written words scrolled in eyeliner.   All these hasty documents are meant to be read again at a later date, inspiration for brilliant projects.  But really, they fall to the floor and end up sucked into the vacuum. 
One night I reached into the drawer and pulled out an unused role of receipt tape that I had brought home from work.  My co-workers were kind enough to save all the roles of paper that no longer fit the new register in the gift shop.  I believe the conversation went something like this: 
“What should we do with these?”
 “I don’t know.  Give them to Emily.”

The receipt tape prompted another concept: an idea roll.   All my nights ramblings contained in one place to be sorted through and deciphered later.  No more world changing inventions lost under the bed, only to be pawns in a game of cat and dust bunny.  I just needed a place to keep it.  Fortunately, I had a pencil sharpener, some bolts, and a part from an adding machine my neighbors gave me for my birthday.  Together, with my new welding and braising skills, The Idea Sharpener was built.

Come to the Nokomis Gallery in Minneapolis from 2pm-4pm today, Dec 10th, 2011 to interact with The Idea Sharpener in person along with other works by Emily Organ.  What dreamy sculpture would you like to see next?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kringla, Versatile and Amazing Little Pastry

    It’s the day before Thanksgiving.  It’s time. 
    I climb on the kitchen stool and open the cabinets in my 30’s kitchen.  After a sigh over the disarray, I reach for the top shelf.  Out comes a half package of spaghetti, the Dutch cocoa in the pretty tin, the excess corn husks from a tamale experiment, a lost BBQ spice blend, and six open boxes of toothpicks.  There it is, next to a sandwich bag of half used birthday candles.  The chipped, dark brown recipe box still has floury finger prints from when I stowed it away last year.
     I really only bring out the box around the holidays.  Most of my recipes are digitized and searchable or clipped from magazines and stashed in three ringed binders.  But, around the holidays, that annual nostalgia for familial comforts must be satisfied and grandmas old recipes are resurrected.  I open the box.  There it is, printed on bright yellow paper and given to me by my aunt years ago.  The recipe for Kringla.  An upper Midwestern mainstay, this Norwegian pastry is an enigma, both dense and fluffy.   The slight sweetness is like no other and immediately evokes memories of stocking footed mornings watching Sunday Morning and cozy evenings playing Rummikub.   My grandmother served Kringla with butter and a dish of jam.   They are frequent additions to after dinner cookie trays on my aunt’s coffee table.  My dad likes them with coffee in the morning.  When I asked him how Grandpa liked to eat them, he smiled though the phone and said, “Quickly.”
      My grandma always made perfect little knots.  It took me years to get even reasonable at it.  Still, most of my kringla look like pastry tumors with ears.  Never the less, I still consider this one of my go to holiday recipes.  Every year, I make a huge batch of them and freeze them by the dozen.  They make a unique host’s gift.  They also match surprisingly well with a glass of champagne as an elegant cocktail accompaniment or a late night snack.  What?  You don’t have champagne as a late night snack?

Recipe for Kringla
½ cup butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp soda
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Beat all the above together thoroughly.
Add 1 cup buttermilk and 4 cups flour alternately a little at a time.  Make sure it is thoroughly mixed but don’t over beat. 
Chill overnight.  This is an important step.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Roll out in logs about 13 inches long and the thickness of your ring finger.  Shape like a pretzel and move to a parchment covered cookie sheet.  Leave about an inch between each kringla.  Bake until lightly brown on the bottom edges, about 15 min.  Cool completely and store in an air tight container. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Protective Goggles and Kinetics

I got a lot of strange looks today.  At the grocery, the teenager at the deli counter kept covertly pointing at her head.   I thought she liked my hair.  I made sure to say thank you.   It wasn’t until I got in the shower and was lathering oatmeal-lavender soap through my hands that I realized my protective goggles from welding class where still nestled into my taciturn locks.  This isn’t the first time this has happened this week.  My husband is beginning to believe I have added protective goggles to my wardrobe along with a regular dose of soot smear on my face.  The soot is never in a romantic-hardworking-damsel type of place, like accentuating a high cheekbone.  No.  It usually extends at an awkward angle from the corner of my mouth, or leads straight out of my nose towards the left side of my lip.  Despite my efforts to unknowingly match them to pairs of vintage heels, protective goggles have not caught on.  I’ve just gotten so used to wearing them.   
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the welding class I’m taking.   It’s at the Chicago Ave Fire Arts Center in Minneapolis.  And, I honestly think, welding might be the most enlightening process I have ever tried to learn.   I feel about welding like I did when I first started cooking.  It’s become an obsession that holds court in my psyche.  There’s something about taking a pile of cast away metal and using fire to transform it into that thing you’ve always wanted.  That great idea you had in 1997 that you thought was always out of reach.  That problem solving technique you used to use when you where seven that started with “You could make a …”
Not to say Oxy-acetylene welding doesn’t have its limits.  This week I learned what pot metal is.  It’s pretty much a bunch of zinc and other cheap, quick melting alloys used in inexpensive manufacturing.  I believe it has been used extensively since the 1940’s to make Slinkys.   If you can imagine what metal would look like if it turned into foam instead of melting into a puddle, that’s what it looks like when you hold a torch to pot metal.  No matter.  There are always bolts. 
So, my first project stemmed from a shovel off a cultivator I dug out of the ground in our old yard, a pile of nuts (the metal kind), and a solder pin.  Being a lover of contradictions, I added a folded bit of paper from an old book that had lost its cover long ago.  I love a challenge so I made it kinetic.  

The class is once a week, so I will lay awake now, mind trilling with rusted springs and steel cranks.   Saying, “You could make a …”
I should take a moment to thank my parents for teaching me not to be afraid of power tools.  All those days Dad asked me to steady a piece of wood while it was fed through the table saw and watching Mom wield farming implements has given me approachable access to any tool I might need to follow my whims.  

What should it be named?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chocolate-Pear Jam

     I love jam.  I love it for cooking.  I love it for sauces.  I love it dripping down my hand as it slips off warm toast.  It makes that AM rush out the door, toast balanced on the coffee mug and trying to scrape frost of the car, routine bearable.
     Jam often evokes the image of moo-mooed grandmas in hot kitchens, elbow deep in pulp.  I, on the other hand, have been on a recent mission to upscale jam.  I'm convinced jam deserves a place in gourmet kitchens next to smoked paprika and pink salt.  But it retains a timeless quality that corn foam lacks.  
     I tried a few experiments.  I put salt in blueberry jam.  The first batch was like what you might imagine a blueberry would taste like if it washed up on the shores of New Jersey.  The next batch was fantastic and I served it with roasted marshmallows and Graham crackers.  I made jam from Shallots and port and served it with goat cheese. I considered these successes.   Then I was seduced by the Top Chef bandwagon and tried to create a bacon jam.  I put it in a BLT.  It was a weird pap of a surrogate. It was less jam and more fat spread.  I should have just used bacon.
      I tried not to be discouraged.  I kept trying to add a little this or that to a classic jam recipe until I found what I wanted.  Then I found some windfall pears at the farmer's market. I made Chocolate- Pear Jam.

Chocolate pear Jam:
5-7 very ripe pears
3 cups sugar
Half a vanilla bean
4 oz good quality chocolate, like Valhrona, chopped into small pieces
4 sterilized pt jars or a container for storing

     Peel and chop the pears into small pieces.  Depending on the variety of pear you use, the pieces may not cook down completely, so you will have small chunks in your jam.   Chop the pears so that you will still be able to spread the jam.  Put the pears into a heavy bottomed pot.
     Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.  Add seeds and pod to the pot. How to split a vanilla bean
     Add the sugar.  Boil until the mixture gels.  There are tons of techniques for telling if a jam is ready.  Dripping it off a spoon, dropping it on a cold plate, bringing it a Voodoo priestess, use what ever technique you prefer.  If you don't have a preferred method, use a thermometer.  Jams should start to gel at 120 degrees Fahrenheit. 
     Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate.  When the chocolate melts, remove the vanilla bean and poor into jars.  Continue with the canning process or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. 
                                   Anyone had an amazing jam?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mead Bottled!

     Bottled the mead today!   I ended up with around 3 gal of mead, (and a sticky floor).  About 2 cases of Grolsh style bottles plus a couple of recycled flip top wine bottles.  It has a beautiful pale honey color with a heady floral aroma.  Its hard to wait to taste it.

To bottle you will need:
2-3 cases Grolsh style bottles- sterilized
6 ft plastic tubing
a five gallon bucket with a spigot at the bottom -the priming bucket
1/4 cup priming sugar boiled in 1 cup non-chlorinated water for 5 min.
a bottling wand

     Sterilize all your equipment. (Refer to Mead and a Story About Urban Foraging for directions on how to sterilize and the first steps in making mead.)
Let the sugar mixture cool to room temperature.  Add to the sterilized priming bucket.  Make sure the spigot is closed.  Siphon the mead into the priming bucket and give it a little swirl to mix.  At this point, the mead is alcoholic but not carbonated.  The priming sugar will ferment in time and carbonate the mead.  You can skip the priming sugar if you like, but I think it adds a nice sparkle and cuts some of the cloying sweetness that can come with mead.

     Set the priming bucket up on a counter.  Attach the bottling wand to the tubing and the tubing to the spigot.  Set your bottles on the floor.  I like to lay down a couple of towels first.  It can get messy. You'll have onion peels sticking to your floor for weeks if you're not careful.  Open the spigot.  The mead will begin to fill the tube.  Insert the bottling wand into a bottle.  Touch the tip of the wand to the bottom of the bottle.  A small piece of plastic inside the wand will move away and release the mead.  Ingenious little contraption.  When the mead fills the bottle all the way to the top, remove the wand.  This should give it enough head room for fermenting.  Repeat with the remaining bottles.  Snap all the bottles shut.  LABEL IT with the date and content.  I have had many an evening staring at bottles in the cellar trying to remember what was what.
     Move the bottles to a cool but not freezing location.  The bottom of a hall closet, a basement, or a cellar would work.  Don't put it directly on a cold cement floor and don't put it in a garage that freezes or the temperature fluctuates in.  Too cold and it won't ferment.  Don't put it on the top shelf of your coat closet.  Too hot and it could explode alcoholic honey and glass all over your wool coat and moon boots.   I shoot for around 62 degrees.
     Now for the hard part.  You need to wait.  A good 3 months, but 5 months would be better.  I suggest you open a bottle after 3 months and taste it.  Then open one in 5 months.  Then 7.  See what you think.  The flavor will change as time goes on.  Hide a couple bottles from yourself.  You don't want one of those regretful nights where you run out of beer and your stash of too young mead proves too tempting. 
     The anticipation is part of the fun.  Enjoy it.

 Mead is usually relegated to Renaissance festivals and Victorian sagas about faeries.  Does it have a place as a modern libation or is it just a novelty for D&D players and crazy people like me who feel the need to ferment everything?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sort Of Fearless

     I am, by no means, a timid person.  I have no problem talking to anyone, no matter what they are wearing.  I am the resident tick remover.  I have peed in a parking lot.    I have walked through downtown St Paul fully decked out in frontier garb carrying a chicken.  But, what most people don’t know is that being outgoing is a learned trait for me.  I was never the kid who wanted to be picked to be an example.  I sat quietly in class, hoping not to be called on.  I hid my shyness in high school behind plaid shirts and grunge music and only let in a select few confidants.   I fancied myself a misunderstood youth, casting a perimeter of mystery toward my peers.  But, in reality, I was just shy. 

      Most people prefer safety in numbers.  Learning something along with a peer gives you the opportunity to laugh at your mistakes.   But the idea of others watching me fail used to terrify me.  It felt fine to fail in private.  Brave even.  But to try and fail in public was like exposing to the world my rattiest pair of panties.   So I learned to self educate.  I made up an entire lesson plan for learning to bake.  I read countless magazine articles.  I bought a ‘teach yourself to grow mushrooms’ DVD by the most celebrated mycologist in the country / bearded hippy.    I watched online tutorials about making cheese taught by women who probably smelled a lot like the Roquefort they were making.  While many of my attempts succeeded, a failure was something I could share at my own discretion.  A party trick or a story I could tell at dinners. 

     But eventually, the inevitable happened.  I grew interested in something I couldn’t teach myself.   The first thing was pottery.  I read a dozen books about throwing a bowl on a wheel, but nothing I did worked.  This had truly never happened to me before.   I became frustrated and pushed the potter’s wheel into the back corner of the basement, to collect dust and be a creepy shape to torment me from the shadows every time I went down to do laundry.    I intended to go back to it again one day, but in reality, I gave up.  Until we moved to a smaller house and I had to down size.  I needed to make a decision.  Keep the huge iron source of my disdain, or get rid of it.  In my mind, that meant putting the idea of being a master potter out of my head forever.  I kept it.  It was time to face my fears.  I would need to take a class. 
     So I did.  The first pot I completed didn’t turn out.  It looked like a hollowed out celadon colored cow pie.  But, to my surprise, no one in the class cast me shameful looks.  No one cried out, “Dear God!  What is that Thing!   And I….…laughed.  Then, I tried again.   After that first course, I felt like nothing was unapproachable.  I followed with another ceramics class.  Then silver smithing.  And now, Oxy-acetylene welding.   
     But the hour before the first day of class, my old friend Fear began to seep in through the drafty windows in my dining room.  Maybe it was the prospect of branding a 6,000 degree torch.  Maybe, it was the fear of accidentally starting a chain reaction resulting in a fiery explosion that would bring a molten metal wrath down on the whole of South Minneapolis.    This time though, there was no out.  I had told everyone I know that I was going to take a welding class.   So, I went, and once I was there, fell in love with the possibilities that unfolded before me. 
     This week, I joined my first pieces of metal.   Then, we took a field trip to the scrap yard.  I spent two hours uncovering rusted cogs and climbing over old radiators.  I proudly branded my trusty magnet, using it to check treasures for enough iron to be welded.   Every corner I turned held a new source of inspiration, decked out with patina and grease residue.   I toted home some iron clips, a beautiful gear, the handle to an old spigot, a long rusty doohickey with a hook at the end, and some teal colored machine part that the owner didn’t remember but quickly decided would cost ten bucks.   It is like every impractical contraption I’ve ever imagined has become possible. 
     I still keep the celadon poo pot in my bedroom as a reminder of fear overcome.  I’d love to tell you all that I am as fearless as the title of my blog suggests, but fear still tries to thwart me sometimes.  But, once overcome, fear has also propelled me to many new opportunities. 

Chicago Ave Fire Arts Center - Link to where I am taking my class

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mead and a story about urban foraging

Urban foraging seems like something only crazy people do.  Because of my interest in urban farming and sustainable gardening, I’ve read a number of books with titles like, “Lawn’s are for Satan”, or “Live on a chicken, some worms, and a Five Gallon Bucket” or “Apocalypse what now?”  Many of them have a chapter on urban foraging.  Most of them have a final chapter about how technology is going to collapse and the world will be taken over by immorality, human-machine hybrids, or maybe China.  We’ll all be forced to regress back to the lives of our primitive ancestors.   I glean all the interesting projects from these books and then sit back and smile at the rest. 
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term Urban Foraging, it’s a practice in which you wonder around your neighborhood or city and look for edibles that grow wild, are going to waste in vacant lots, or even pick fruit from a neglected tree in a neighbor’s yard.  Really, it’s not a bad idea, but I’ve heard terrible stories about the lines being blurred.  Being ballsy enough to walk into someone’s yard and ask for some tomatoes is one thing.  Just taking them because they’re growing within reach is another.  I know that isn’t the urban forager’s credo, but I’m just saying.  It happens.  

But, when my neighbor’s grapes started to grow what looked like it would be a bumper crop of amazing grapes, I started to wonder.  His garden is really quite incredible and by no means neglected.  (It was on the garden tour this year.)  I had no right to covet them.  Still, every time I drove through the ally I saw those grapes get plumper and the bees dance and buzz around them patting them with their little wings like they were gently coaxing the sweetness into them.   
 So when the time came to harvest them and I got an email from him saying, “Come pick whatever you want,”  I was delighted.  Urban foraging didn’t seem so crazy after all.    I grabbed my largest bowl, a galvanized bucket and a sharp knife.  I climbed up the retaining wall and started cutting.  I stopped to take a few pictures as I went.  When he drove up behind me on his bike and said, “Stop photographing and pick!”  I jumped.  My guilt over lusting after them all summer made it feel like I was doing something wrong.  Even with his unsolicited permission to harvest.  After my vessels tumbled over with grapes I hopped down and brought them home.  Now, what to do with them….

I’ve never been a big fan of Minnesota wines.  There.  I said it.  They just don’t stand up.  But, we do so many other things well.  Like mead. 
Brewing really isn’t difficult.  You just need to remember a few key rules.  Keep everything clean AND sterilized.   And, pay attention to the thermometer.  To get started with brewing mead, or beer and wine for that matter, you will need to take a trip to the brew shop.  Most major cities have one.  Or, you can order online.  I like to use . (Formerly Midwest Brewer)
You will need:
2 brewing vessels or fermenters- glass carboys are great, but 5 gal buckets with a spigot and a lid will do
An air lock
A carboy bung (if your using a carboy)
A very large pot
A good thermometer
A long stainless steal or plastic spoon- don’t use wood
Powdered Sterilizer- this can be purchased at the brew shop.  You can also use 1/4c bleach to 4 gal of water, but rinse well after sterilizing
A piece of 6 ft tubing
Bottles- I use Belgian style bottles with the flip tops, about 3 cases
 and a bottling wand
Midwest supply sells all sorts of starter kits.

I followed a recipe I took from (Aren’t the interwebs amazing?)  I adapted it some for what I had available.  It really is a pyment and not a true mead.  Pyments are meads fermented with grape or grape juice.  I used local honey I traded from a farmer, but you can get large quantities of honey from the co-op or the brew shop.
1 gal + 1 cup clover honey
5 gal bottles water- not tap (avoid any city water with chlorine)
12 lb grapes-I used white grapes
2 tsp yeast nutrient
Wyeast dry mead yeast
First thing, wash and rinse all your equipment well.  Then soak in the sterilizer for 30 min. (Or follow the directions on the package).  Keep some sterilizer handy for dipping spoons in between uses. 
Dissolve the honey in 2-3 gallons of water in a large pot.  Bring to a boil and skim any foam that rises.
Remove the grapes from the stem and wash.  Sort out the bad ones.  Only perfect grapes will do for your mead.  Crush them with your (clean) hands.  This can be done in an unsterilized bowl, but why risk it? Give the bowl a quick rinse in the sterilizer before you use it anyway.
When the honey-water mixture is hot, add yeast nutrient and grapes, and stir well.
Bring the temperature to 160 degrees F.  Hold at 160F for 30 min.
Remove from heat and let cool some.  Poor into the fermentor, grapes and all.   Top with the remaining water until the volume reaches 5 to 5 ½ gal.  Let cool to 80F.  (You can speed this process up some by adding a bag purchased ice to the pot before pouring it into the fermentor. )
Pitch in the yeast. (Follow the directions on the packet).  Top with the carboy bung and the airlock with a bit of water in it. 

Store in an out of the way place at about 60-70 degrees.  I use my kitchen floor or in an unused shower. Do not put it directly on a cement basement floor.  It will get too cold.   Wait 2 weeks.  

After a couple of days, the mixture will begin to ferment.  The airlock will bubble and release gasses.  My husband loves this part.  The gurgling sound coming from the kitchen always gives it a homey feel.

  After 2 weeks, you’ll need to rack off the mead into a second (sterilized) container for a secondary fermentation.  This will give the mead a clearer look and enrich the flavor some.
To rack off your mead:  Sterilize the tube and the second fermenter.   Move the full fermenter to a counter or higher position. Remove the carboy bung and the airlock.  Set the empty fermentor on the floor in front of it.  Put one end of the tube into the full fermenter.  Kneel down on the floor next to the empty formenter.  Suck on the end of the tube until the mead begins to flow.  Then, quickly put the tube into the empty fermentor.  Gravity will do the rest of the work.  Try not to suck up too many grapes.  At this stage you can taste a little of the mead as well.  Remember that the flavor will change as it sits.  I racked mine off today and it had a dry Riesling flavor.  When the second fermenter is mostly full, remove the tube and put the carboy bung and airlock on the fermentor.  Put the second fermenter back in its resting place and wait another 10 days.  Pitch what was left in the first fermentor.  
After 10 days it will be time for bottling.  More on that in a future blog.  (About 10 days from now.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Just before the frost, an end of season cocktail

My garden has begun to brown at the edges like lace carelessly dipped in coffee.   The sumac has tips of red.  The end of summer is here.   I sit, listening to the pop of canning jars just pulled from the pot, brimming red with the last tomato harvest.   I reflect on the summer and its stormy changes.
I need a drink.
With the first frost in my garden comes the conflicted feeling of regret and release.   The garden season is over.  No more picking Japanese beetles.  No more weed burns on my hands and cursing at bunnies.    But, no more garden phlox on the table.  No more fresh herbs or tomatoes still warm off the vine.   I try to do what I can to extend my season.  Use the cold frame.  Cover some of the herbs at night.  I spend evenings checking weather sites to see if there will be frost.  Then I check again an hour later.  (It could have changed you know.)  I fret over whether I should bring in the last of the cucumbers.   But, no matter what I do, the dahlias still get spots, and the basil just isn’t as green as it once was.  
So I harvest.  I harvest like there will never be a summer again.  My fridge is full.  My kitchen floor is covered in boxes of tomatoes.  Soon, cabbages will join them.  My husband stands in the kitchen door, eyes watering from boiling vinegar, and picks at a tomato seed stuck to the trim.  He sighs and turns to use the front door instead.    What do you do when you have too much to do and too little time?  Make a cocktail, of course. 
 I had a lot of mint this year.  It was a mint hedge, really.   I tried to give mint away to anyone who walked by.  Every guest who came had a handful of mint shoved at them on the way out.  Mint adorned packages.  Mint garnished cocktails, desserts, and once a bowl of cereal.
The following is a recipe for a Cucumber Mint Martini that my good friend and I devised.  It is a great way to use up end of season mint and cucumbers, as the cucumbers don’t have to look pretty.  Scars and blemishes are fine.  

For two Cucumber Mint Martinis (because who ever needs just one)
You will need:  
One cucumber, sliced, skin still on                  

1 handful mint (I prefer chocolate mint for this one)
1 lime wedge, about 1/8 of a lime                        2 tsp simple syrup (recipe below)
2 shots (or more) citrus vodka                                club soda
A shaker                                                                            muddler or a fat wood spoon
Ice                                                                                         2 pretty glasses

Simple syrup: Mix equal parts sugar and water in a non reactive pot.  Heat and boil 2 min.  Remove from heat and cool.
Martini:  Put 8 slices of cucumber, 4 sprigs mint, 1 wedge lime, and 2 tsp simple syrup (more if you prefer) into the shaker.  Muddle until the juices start to flow from the cucumber and the lime.  Add 2 Shots vodka and top with ice.  Secure the lid and shake.  Pour equally into 2 glasses and top with club soda.  Sit back and enjoy September.  Or, November.  Or, anytime.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


"What the hell is that?"  A common utterance from guests who open my fridge looking for a place to put their beer.  This time, referring to the green baseball sized fruits floating in a pungent red brine.  "Is that string?"
I sweetly reply, "Mangoes.  Its a type of pickle."
Mangoeing actually refers to a 19th century method for pickling unripe melons, green tomatoes, peppers, or even unripe peaches. It has nothing to do with the tropical mangoes you can find in the store.  The fruit is hollowed out and put into a salt brine overnight.  Then, its stuffed with a mixture of chopped veggie, sewn shut with a needle and thread, then pickled in a strong vinegar.  I first ran across a reference to it in a cookbook published in 1877 called Buckeye Cookery and Practical House Keeping.   Written before canning was widely used, this book is full of ways to preserve your harvest.  None of the recipes have any water in the preserving brine.  Just straight vinegar.  So strong it could cure an embarrassing rash.   More potent than political rhetoric. This is my version of the recipe, streamlined and updated. 
If you live somewhere like Minnesota, as I do, its not uncommon to have melons on the vine that will never ripen before the frost.  This is a good way to use them up.  I used a variety of melon that is specifically grown for mangoeing called a mango melon.  Its a tasteless heirloom melon, so I didn't feel like I was wasting anything by using them.
The first day, you will need:
   1-2gallons of unripe melons or green peppers      1 gallon water
   1 cup salt                                                            needle and white thread
   a pairing knife and a small spoon                         a large jar or bowl to submerge the fruits in

 Wash the fruits and look them over for scars and soft spots.  The general rule in pickling is that the pickling subject needs to be perfect. 

 Select a fruit.  Cut a wedge out of the side of the fruit.   Make sure its a wedge and isn't halved.  This will keep them in place later.  If you are using peppers, you can cut off the top.

 Hollow out the fruit forming a little box.  Hollow out the inside and the top.

Thread the needle.  Push the needle through the lid and through the fruit.  Cut the tread and tie the ends together.  The purpose here is to tie the two pieces together so they don't float away from each other in the brine.  Repeat with the remaining fruits.

Make a salt brine:  The 19th century definition of salt brine is salty enough water to float an egg.  That's a lot of salt.  I mixed 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water.  It worked fine.  Submerge the fruits in the brine.  You could use a plate to keep them under the brine.  Let sit overnight or up to 2 days.

The Filling
You will need:
  1/2 a small head of red cabbage, sliced thin                          1 red onion, sliced thin
  1 cucumber, seeded, halved and sliced thin                           1 cup red grapes, halved
  1/4 cup kosher salt                                                               1 T mustard seed
  Cotton kitchen string                                                            4 cups cidar vinegar
  4 cups water                                                                        3 T sugar
  1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced                                3-5 chilies pierced with a sharp knife.

 To make the filling, combine cabbage, onion, cucumber and the salt in a non-reactive bowl.  Let stand 1 hour. Rinse and drain the mixture twice.  Add mustard seed and grapes.  Mix well and set aside.

 Drain the fruit from the salt brine.  Rinse well  and drain again.  Take one fruit and remove the thread connecting the pieces.  Stuff the fruit with the cabbage mixture.  Use enough to fill it tightly but do not over fill.

 Put on the lid.  Wrap a piece of kitchen string around the melon twice and tie tightly.  Repeat with the remaining melons.   Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, ginger and chilies in a deep non-reactive pot.  Add fruits and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 30 min.  Stir gently as not to loose the string.

Remove from the stove and let cool.  When they are cool enough to handle, pack the fruits in a jar or crock.  Pour the cooking liquid over them, making sure they are covered.  Refrigerate for up to 2 months.
As for how to serve them, well, the 19th century recipe doesn't explain that.  I sliced them and put them on a relish dish.  I pull one out and eat it as a snack once in a while.  I also think they'd be great with as a container for a Bloody Mary Shooter.   Get creative!  You could stuff them with almost anything.  (except cheese.  Trust me.)  I love to hear how you've adapted the recipe!

Couple of great references:
Baker Creek Heirlooms sells Mango Melon seeds:
Visit The Oliver Kelley Farm in late summer and maybe have a chance to see 19th century pickling and the mangoeing process done the traditional way.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Playing without a full deck.

    Dealing a hand of poker recently, we realized the deck of cards was short. (I wondered why that ace never came up.)  My husband got up to throw them out and I chased after him like some hero in a movie trying to catch a vile of antidote before it hit the ground, pushing our guests and spilling 2 glasses of wine and a cheese plate along the way.    Despite protests from my him, I pushed aside the trodden Gruyere and wrote, "Not a Full Deck" on the box and kept it.  I've since used it for table settings, labels on jam, and now, little boxes.  Here is a tutorial in how I made them.  (If you don't feel like making your own, visit my Etsy shop and buys some to impress your friends with.)

Find yourself some used playing cards with nice used texture and an interesting pattern on the back.  Select 3 playing cards, one for the bottom and two for the lid.  Use the nicest one for the bottom of the box.  It will be the one that shows the most when the box is opened.

 Cut from each corner to the center box.  About 2 cm.  You can change the dimensions of the box by cutting the corners shorter or longer.  just make sure they're all the same length and and at a 45 degree angle.

                 Turn the card number side up and fold up the sides.  Repeat with the top and bottom.

                                          Fold all the points inward.  These will be the corners.

           Fold all the sides upward.  The short sides should fold inward to keep them from snagging on the lid.

Glue the points in place using a power bond roller adhesive, like Tombo, from the paper supply store.  Be sure to use a strong adhesive.  Now you have completed the bottom of the box. 

 To make the lid:  The lid will work like a match box cover and slide off and on from the sides.  Take one playing card and place it face up.  Set the bottom of the box in the middle of the card and mark the width with a pencil.  Fold  along the pencil line.

Set the box on the playing card again and measure the height of the box.  Mark with a pencil and fold along the pencil line.  The card won't reach all the way around the box, but because we measured from the middle, there will be space to glue another piece in place.

Cut a piece of playing card the width of your box using the third playing card.  Glue it to the tabs we've made on the box lid.  This will be the bottom of the lid.

                                  Slip the box bottom into the lid and impress everyone you know.