Categories
Kitchen Garden

No Cookbook for Us

Primary cookbooks on Jan. 20, 2023.

During the coronavirus pandemic I began cooking most of the dinners in our home. There were challenges, yet after leaving paid outside work on April 28, 2020, I adapted. My repertory is not huge, yet with a substantial kitchen garden, there are always good ingredients on hand for meals.

Regular readers may recall my recent posts about cookbooks. To what extent do we rely on other people’s recipes and techniques? Once one gets practice, not much.

I posted on Facebook about baking bread:

I’m getting off store-bought bread, maybe permanently: baking my own. It’s been a thing to practice and develop a recipe I like. I found mixing the water, yeast and sugar in a separate container to let them proof, then pouring it into a bowl on top of the flour and salt produced bread with a nice crumb. Am working on oven temperature, yet I start it on 400 degrees for ten minutes or so, then lower to 375 degrees to finish.

What are your tips for bread-making?

Paul Deaton Facebook page, Jan. 19, 2023.

In a day I got 26 comments in which people shared how they make bread. There were ingredients, and recipes, and much personal information about process. Importantly, I learned how bread fits into my friends’ lives. These kinds of posts are the best part of being on Facebook.

Part of my interest in bread making is the process of waking up, washing my hands, and having the dough rising in the oven by 3:30 – 4 a.m. I enjoy kneading dough very much, so I wouldn’t consider a bread machine or other process that did not include kneading. Instead of personal grooming, or putting on makeup to be ready for my day, I knead dough as a way of waking up into a world where much work is required. Bread making is part of a process of crafting a livable life going forward. When I’m finished re-inventing my bread making I won’t need a cookbook very often, if at all.

I cooked meals with my maternal grandmother many times. She never once used a cookbook. From a young age, she worked as a cook in private homes, and in restaurants. She also cooked for her five children, and when she had one, her husband. She learned how to incorporate a kitchen garden into her menus, and later, ingredients available at the Walgreens within walking distance of her apartment. That’s something I aspire to.

Grandmother made lemon chicken for me when I returned from military service on leave. The kitchen in her one-room apartment was minimal and she used an electric frying pan rather than a stove. I enjoyed talking with her as she prepared our meal. These meals are among my fondest memories.

After supper, I asked her to write down the recipe for lemon chicken so I could prepare it. The funny part was she forgot to include lemon as an ingredient on the written recipe. No cookbook for her.

You can’t take it with you, so my cookbook collection will be reduced in number to a few to pass on to our progeny. I donated more than 200 to the local library book sale and to Goodwill. I have a couple hundred more to deal with. At some point this cookbook collecting got away from me.

I hope to get to the point where I can say, “No cookbook for me.”

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Straying from Recipes

Go-to Summer Meal – Sliced tomato, toasted whole grain bread, basil pesto , salt and pepper.

We make about two dozen regular meals based on what is available from a well-stocked pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. In season, we adjust meals to include fresh vegetables from the garden. Cooking has become ingredient-driven in our kitchen garden. If we have an ingredient on hand, it is likely to go into a meal. That is different from the way Mother put food on the table when I lived at her home.

I do seek new recipes. If one comes along requiring a special ingredient we don’t stock, it is usually discarded as I move on to one that fits into our food universe. Seldom do we adopt new recipes without modification to accommodate our outlook about cooking process and vegetarian cuisine. Our meals are pretty basic and that is a good thing.

For example, I don’t follow a recipe for making bread. Water, all purpose flour, yeast, sugar, and salt can make a decent loaf. I start by measuring hot water from the tap into a bowl. I measure a teaspoon or so of dried active yeast and a scant teaspoon of sugar, whisk, and let sit for the yeast to activate. Then I add the flour with a pinch of salt, and knead it into a ball for the first rising. After it doubles in size, I turn it out on the counter and knead a few minutes. I form it into a loaf and put the bread pan into a warm oven for the second rising. Once doubled in size, I take the pans out, turn the heat to 375 degrees, and bake for 30-35 minutes. The result is almost always good.

There isn’t a bread recipe, yet maybe there is. The picture I have of myself while making bread is of interaction with ingredients rather than following a recipe.

Beginning after World War II, changes in the availability of processed food and the rise of community cookbooks reflected a new era of home cooking. Review some of the recipes in these cookbooks and find reference to gelatin, shortening, instant pudding, boxed cake mixes, sweetened condensed milk, and other processed foods. Ingredient measurements for a recipe assumed a certain sized bag of frozen vegetables or can of beans before a time of larger purchases from wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club. In part, this is due to the rise of larger grocery stores with diverse supply chains. In part, it is due to a growing population influenced by television advertising and national brands. As we are coming to recognize, it is part of a movement toward consolidation of the food production industry into a small number of large, integrated companies. We had 15.5 ounce cans of beans because that is what the manufacturer made and was available at the local grocer. It is easier to use canned beans than preparing dried beans, so we did. Having read dozens of community cookbooks, I found recipes in them were often quite similar to one another.

The advent of short-form video about cooking may be influencing how we cook. I viewed hundreds of cooking videos on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. What I found is while some of the ingredients changed, common threads run through a majority of them. The substance of food preparation was similar and came from a relatively small list of ingredients. Additionally, a video presentation was not a “recipe” but more the idea of a recipe. I wrote about this in September. I believe our cuisine is poorer for dealing with ideas rather than the taste and economics of actual dishes on our plates.

There is a dynamic between a new recipe, our habitual cuisine and our pantry. Because of my experience as a cook, I am more likely to take the idea of a recipe and use it to make a meal than I am to use a recipe as a starting point for grocery shopping and process control. Making three meals a day is not that complicated, nor does it take a large variety of recipes.

It is normal to adjust recipes. A well-known recipe is for Toll House cookies printed on the Nestle brand of semi-sweet chocolate chips. When I made this recipe, I added a tablespoon of flour to the cookie dough to produce a firmer cookie. Cooks everywhere make such minor adjustments to recipes.

The key transformation as a cook is to stray from recipes completely. To become like that bread-making cook I described and visualize what the dish will look like using techniques needed to create the dish. They say we shouldn’t stray too far from the reservation. Straying from recipes may be the best way to cook.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Do We Need Cookbooks?

Not for recipes on how to prepare your pet dog or cat. It comes from the PET milk company.

Clearing space to put large format signs and maps piled on top of boxes of cookbooks was a start. I had the project of reducing the number of my cookbooks in mind for a while. It began with a question. How many cookbooks does a home cook need? Not as many as I currently have.

The end result will be a shelving unit in the dining area with the consolidated collection nearer to the kitchen. The goal is to review hundreds of cookbooks one last time, reduce them to as few as 20, and sell the rest at a garage sale, donate them to the library, or give them away. The project forces me to think about what cookbooks mean in my kitchen garden.

According to author Nichole Burke, “The kitchen garden is a small-scale version of the vegetable garden that enables you to experience the magic of growing and enjoying some of your own homegrown herbs, greens, and vegetables, but that gives you the convenience of requiring just a few minutes or hours of your time each week.”

My idea of a kitchen garden is different. I seek to incorporate what goes on in the kitchen more closely with the garden so they become one coherent whole. I began a couple of years ago and each season the two entities are closer to integration. As a result, more of what our household eats comes from the garden.

My garden is larger than what Burke suggests. In addition to patches gleaned for daily meals as she suggests, there are rows designed to grow and preserve vegetables for winter. Examples are peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions and broccoli. Cookbooks are useful as a way to help determine which vegetables should be grown in larger quantities for preservation and storage.

The Inspired Vegetarian by Louise Pickford is a themed cookbook. The theme is eating vegetarian meals and it is designed to provide examples of a variety of vegetarian dishes for adoption in a home kitchen. It seems unlikely I would follow her recipes exactly, yet when she presents the idea of a vegetable cassoulet, for example, I know what that is and can take it as a starting point to create a version that fits into the world view and produce of my kitchen garden. The recipes may encourage me to grow different vegetables so I can prepare dishes we like.

Big decisions are easy. I’ll keep Joy of Cooking, Julia Child and company’s The Art of French Cooking, and Larousse Traditional French Cooking. There will be one or two “American” cookbooks even if there is not really an American cuisine outside fast food. The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion is essential, along with one or two other baking references. These alone would be enough for endless meals.

When on long-term work assignments in South Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas I spend idle hours watching Food Network. I expect to keep volumes by Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless and Giada Di Laurentiis. Also in the mix will be Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet), Ming Tsai, Martin Yan and José Andrés. Celebrity chef cookbooks have accessible recipes. I expect them to be a third of the final collection.

Another section of retained cookbooks will be those created by a community of which I was a part. My collection includes cookbooks from the hospital where I was born, the church where I was baptized, and other coherent groups to which I belonged as I proceeded through life. I read The Iowa Writers’ Workshop Cookbook edited by Connie Brothers over the weekend. It is an example of why certain communities shouldn’t produce a cookbook. I mean, some of the recipes seemed like outrageous inside jokes. I did enjoy seeking out authors with whom I interacted or saw at events in Iowa City in the cookbook. Most of the workshop mainstays provided recipes a person could actually use.

Another main use of cookbooks is in my writing. I intend to write about a trip I took to New Orleans. I read Lucy Hanley’s book New Orleans: Cookin’ in the Big Easy, which provides simple recipes of classic New Orleans dishes along with a list of local restaurants. The recipes and images evoked memories in a way that will be useful to my writing. While I spent only a few days there in 1981, the cookbook helps me remember. The same holds true for other regional or city-specific cookbooks.

With the rise of internet search engines, one questions whether cookbooks are needed at all. When I’m looking for ways to use radicchio, for example, it is easier to do an internet search than pore through a number of general purpose cookbooks searching for recipes. At the same time, there is something about having a book.

For now, I’ll be keeping some cookbooks.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

End of Apple Season

Gold Rush apples at Wilson’s Orchard and Farm Oct. 22, 2022.

On Saturday I made the last trip to the orchard this season. There were lots of Gold Rush on the trees and I picked 32 of them. The refrigerator bin is now full of apples, enough to last into 2023.

There are also a few Honeycrisp and Snow Sweet apples in the bin, yet Gold Rush is the main event for storage. They keep surprisingly well for fresh eating. As long as the orchard continues to operate, I needn’t plant my own trees.

It is noteworthy the fate of orchards isn’t always growing apples and other fruit. When we were married, well before Wilson’s Orchard and Farm was planted, we went to the Sand Road Orchard south of Iowa City. A family of Dutch immigrants operated it and featured Dutch chocolate as an added item for sale. The property was sold for development. It appears Wilson’s Orchard and Farm is sustainable. It is always an open question when development seeks to fill in all the blank spaces on the fringes of the county seat, and farming can be a dicey business.

We live in the present, and this year there are Gold Rush apples.

My spouse has been at her sister’s home for three days now. The main change is the quiet, which I don’t relish. My diet has turned to using more hot peppers along with the contents of the pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

I ground up most of the remaining hot peppers from the garden and froze them in a cupcake pan. The small portions are just right to use in dishes that call for hot peppers. I also froze the remaining fresh parsley in the cupcake pan, covered with water. A couple of these parsley cakes will go well in winter soups. There are two bags of Winterbor kale and with the warmer weather there may be another harvest. I have to use up the sweet bell peppers, yet there were so many of them this year, if a few go bad I’ll tolerate it. I struck the third garden patch yesterday. Four more to go.

Laundry is caught up, even the garage rags. Rain is forecast today. That may enable me to burn the brush pile tomorrow. For now, there is plenty to do before she returns home later this week.

Categories
Writing

Gleaning Before the Frost

Hot peppers gleaned from the garden before frost.

I’m slowly striking the tomato patch where garlic will soon be planted. Each beautiful, fall day is of bright sun, cool temperatures, and the promise of winter. Time spent outdoors offers a chance to clear my thoughts and commune with our patch of life. Younger me would already have the garlic in. Today I am savoring time in the garden.

I gleaned vegetables yesterday and there was a hard frost last night. It yielded tomatoes and peppers. I picked a big bunch of parsley and left the kale, collards and chard out to weather the cold. It has been a great year for bell peppers and tomatoes, for most everything.

It is time to put wool blankets on the bed and get out sweatshirts and woolen socks. Yesterday I walked on the state park trail in a t-shirt yet that won’t continue long. I’m ready for winter and it is coming.

I finished my goal of reading 40 books this year. It’s time to return to my autobiography as soon as the garlic is in and the garden prepped for winter. I’m looking forward to picking up where I left off with new ideas about approach and how to cover topics already on the outline.

I just finished Jann Wenner’s memoir and OMG! I’m not a rich guy, so I can do better than inventory all the homes, aircraft, and celebrity friendships I have. (That would take less than a page). Reading Wenner convinced me to make my story shorter. I envision the first part, up to my leaving Davenport, as chronological history. After that I expect to depart chronology to write thematic sections. I do want to finish the book so I can move on to other projects. If I keep nose to the wheel, I may be able to get a draft out to my editors by Spring 2024. I saw my medical practitioner Thursday and based on our conversation, my health should hold steady until then.

In these pre-dawn hours I’m anxious to get outdoors. If all goes well, I’ll finish clearing the tomato patch so I can prep the soil and plant garlic in the next few days.

I’ll have a fresh tomato for breakfast… because I can.

Categories
Sustainability

A Vision For the Future of Iowa Food Systems

Wilson’s Orchard

I worked for seven seasons at what is now Wilson’s Orchard and Farm near Iowa City. At the time it was mostly an apple orchard with seasonal imports of cherries, peaches, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries from other farms.

During the coronavirus pandemic they expanded their offerings and yesterday announced they bought a 115-acre farm near Des Moines as a further expansion of what is proving to be a successful local food concept.

The grand opening of the Des Moines farm is spring 2023 with the strawberry season. Paul Rasch, owner and grand poobah of the farm described his first strawberry crop in Iowa City to me as “money.”

I don’t know if the proposed transition is possible, yet it may be our best hope to break the cycle of growing row crops in Iowa. Wilson’s Orchard and Farm is an idea whose time has come.

Here is the announcement video released this week that describes Paul’s vision of an Iowa food system transformed.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

2022 Garden Summary

Garden on May 31, 2021

The gardening season flashed by. The main issue this year was weeding: I didn’t keep up. Nonetheless the garden produced an abundance of vegetables and the integration of garden with kitchen and our local food bank yielded less wasted produce. Despite the failures, things are heading in a positive direction.

Suppression of weeds is done mostly by landscape fabric and grass clippings. I tried reusing landscape fabric from last year, yet it allowed too many weeds to penetrate the porous membrane. Likewise, my yard doesn’t produce enough grass clippings to mulch all the plants. This fall I plan to harvest enough grass clippings to over winter the garlic and then figure out what to do about next year.

Among the most successful crops were garlic, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli, herbs, eggplant, leafy green vegetables, and potatoes. Almost everything I grew under row cover did well. Marginal crops were celery (which didn’t get as big as I like it), peas (not enough yield), and tomatillos (did not grow large enough). Failures were onions, cauliflower, and beets, which produced no crop at all.

This was an off year for apples, although I harvest some of each of four kinds. I need to do something different to grow pears that are shaped the way they should be. The pears are one of the sweetest things we eat all year. Even with their deformities they are satisfying.

There was a lot of learning, although my experiences get incorporated with others I’ve had and are hard to attribute to a single season. More than anything this year, I noticed the abundance of insect life. I saw many more species than in previous years. I don’t know if they have been there all along or are expanding into the environment provided by my overgrown weeds. In any case, there seemed to be more beneficial insects and less enemies and that’s a good thing.

The weeds attracted significant small bird life. They perch on the tomato supports and fencing to feed on weed seeds and insects. The birds are particularly welcome.

The garden is big enough to offer a varying landscape for wildlife. Deer no longer jump the fence to eat plants. Rabbits are staying away as there is plenty of clover and other food in the yard for them. The presence of rodents is minimal (planting potatoes in containers helped). Squirrels are busy harvesting acorns from the oak trees. In many respects, this is what I have been working toward.

It is time to begin deconstruction of the garden and store the stakes and fencing. Soon it will be time to order seeds for next year. I need a solid few days to consider what happened this year and improve on next. It is a cycle, one in which we enjoy being a part. The 2022 garden was a success.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

TikTok Cooking

Pasta with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, garlic, basil, extra virgin olive oil, red chili flakes, salt and pepper inspired by social media posts on TikTok.

Between order by mail book clubs, online retailers, book stores, yard sales, and thrift stores, I acquired hundreds of cookbooks. With the rise of the internet I don’t need any of them.

The attraction of browsing hundreds of cookbooks may serve some writing project, but it is not how we live now. It’s not how we cook. What matters more is producing local food, with fresh and local ingredients as an expression of character and personality, rather than that of the scion of a family kitchen disconnected from here and now.

Cookbooks Galore by Paul Deaton, Aug. 5, 2013.

The brilliance of the TikTok cooking method is it reduces common dishes to a couple of minutes of video, freeing creative energy as we work in the kitchen. The recipe that produced the dish in the photo was not really a recipe but a technique of using available ingredients in the height of gardening season. The proof is TikTok pasta met expectations as a dish: in its flavors, as a way to use excess produce, and in its ease of preparation.

When my end of days arrives, I can’t take any cookbooks with me. With TikTok cooking, no worries. I can recycle my cookbooks now to others who might use them.

God’s in his heaven— All’s right with the world!

Categories
Kitchen Garden

First Year for San Marzano Tomatoes

Bowl of San Marzano tomatoes.

Now that I’ve grown San Marzano tomatoes, the challenge is what to do with them. I peeled and water bath canned the first couple of batches. That’s something: a lot of work for the yield. There have been fresh pasta sauces, salsa, and plain San Marzano tomato sauce. There is a lot to like about this variety of tomato and the exceptional flavor is just the beginning.

I didn’t know if my Iowa garden would grow Sam Marzanos as good as what is available from Italy in tin cans at local grocery stores. Canned tomatoes from the store are convenient. Mine are fresh and good enough to grow again next year. In our household, flavor wins over convenience almost every time.

I planted a row of twenty plants in ten cages on the west side of the tomato patch. It ensured there would be a substantial quantity and they would get adequate sunlight. That plan worked and there is lots of good-looking fruit through the season.

Where I landed for those not used fresh is straight forward: tomato sauce for canning or freezing.

My process to produce the sauce is one I developed over years. After washing and sorting the tomatoes, I core them, cut off bad spots and place them in a big stainless steel pan with a half cup of tomato juice or water. I bring them to a boil and then let them cook for two or three minutes until the skins are loosened. I turn off the burner and let them cool on the stove top for an hour or two.

Next, I scoop the parboiled tomatoes into my funnel and let them drain the tomato water. This takes an hour or so for most of it to seep out. Finally, I spoon the mixture into a blender and blend until as smooth as possible. Now we’re ready for use, canning or freezing.

A couple of notes:

No seasoning at this stage.

I no longer remove the skins in order to keep their nutritional value in the sauce. Blending chops the skins so they are hardly noticeable.

Well-ripened tomatoes produce the best flavor. If they come in from the garden and need ripening, it serves the goal of peak flavor to let them finish ripening on the counter.

The sauce is not really cooked. It is an ingredient for future dishes like pasta sauce and chili. San Marzanos benefit from a long, slow cooking process. That will come when I use the tomatoes in a dish.

Finally, I water bath can some jars of tomato sauce. In late summer an active kitchen garden is lacking refrigerator and freezer space. Having the tomato sauce in shelf-stable jars helps alleviate the space problem.

I will continue to process San Marzanos as a separate variety until they are gone. With the mix of canned wholes and sauce of this and other varieties we will be well on the way to year-round tomatoes in the kitchen.

It’s where we like to be.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Apple Season 2022

Apples from the garden and from Wilson’s Orchard on Aug. 26, 2022.

We spotted an apple in our trees from the kitchen window. I investigated and four Earliblaze apples were ready to pick. A handful of Red Delicious need ripening. The scent of autumn is in the air.

I drove to Wilson’s Orchard and picked Ginger Gold, Burgundy, Sansa, and Red Gravenstein apples. Trees were loaded with fruit and no one else was picking. It was like paradise without the serpent.

Our apple buying is pretty regimented. In the eight years I worked at the orchard I learned where the apples live and the order in which they ripen. I usually skip most of the early season apples, although I planted a Zestar! tree at home for future early use. When Ginger Gold is ripe, It’s time to start traveling to the orchard and get my exercise walking up and down those hills. I mostly know where all the varieties grow.

My favorites are Burgundy, Crimson Crisp, Honeycrisp, Gold Rush, and the various Jonathan varieties. I also like Red and Golden delicious picked from a tree. Who can stomach the ones sold at the grocer? Although the orchard reduced the amount of trees in the u-pick section, plenty of varieties continue to grow there. It looks to be an excellent harvest this year.

There is no mistaking the rapid approach of autumn. The beginning of the apple harvest, along with the appearance of squash bugs, withering cucumber vines, and weeds getting overgrown are telling a story if we would but listen.

Despite this year’s challenges, the cycle of renewal and growth continued for another year.