We got a glimpse of Jack Frost earlier this week, but tonight he’s making his big entrance. He’s fashionably late this year, and we are ready to greet him. All the squash and pumpkins are in, plus all we could glean from the tender plants, and the field corn is as big as we could have hoped for. Goodbye, basil, peppers, and green tomatoes. Hasn’t it been a good run? Feedback from members confirms my own opinion that the produce was exceptionally tasty this year. Mark always says that a dry year will do that, on the same principle that makes fertilizer-pushed greenhouse-grown produce taste wishy-washy: making plants struggle a little bit concentrates their nutrients and flavor. Like character in people, perhaps.
I got lots of good feedback from last week’s note about cooking from the share, so I thought I’d do it again this week. This time, we’re going to discuss what-shall-not-be-called leftovers. That word has yucky connotations, and rightly so. Nobody really wants to see the same meatloaf for three dinners in a row, no matter how good it was the first time. On the other hand I don’t know anyone who has the time to build 21 meals every week from the ground up. (If you do, have him come help us harvest the potatoes instead.) Which leads to this idea of cooking large amounts of certain things, and repurposing them throughout the week. I usually have a week’s worth of cooked beans in the fridge, ready to be used for chili, bean dip, refried beans, hummus, veggie burgers, or on their own for a side. If they are there you will find a way to use them. Here’s another example. This week, I roasted a load of squash, plus a whole bunch of eggplant all at the same time on Monday morning. (Remember that 30% of food’s total energy bill is spent after you get it home, so it’s good to fully optimize big-ticket energy items like oven usage.) The first day, we had hot roasted squash with butter and sage as a side dish. The next day, I featured squash bisque. The day after that, I scraped the remaining squash into a batch of croquettes, which leant them an appealing sweetness and bright color. I didn’t use the eggplants for a day or two after they were cooked, but they were perfectly happy in the fridge until they got transformed into a rocking roasted eggplant curry. No leftovers there, and an almost-instant meal to boot.
One of my favorite ways to recombine different elements from the fridge is the fritter or croquette. Actually, the way I make them, they’re not technically fritters or croquettes, but more like savory pancakes. I serve them for a hearty breakfast, for a main course at lunch, or for a fast dinner. Believe me, no matter what you call them or when you serve them, nobody in the family is going to complain when you make these. As a bonus, they are easy, forgiving, and endlessly versatile. Begin with what you already have in the fridge. For me this week, it was a bit of wheat porridge, some meatloaf, cooked broccoli, a little finely chopped raw kale, and the aforementioned squash. Mix your own leftovers elements up in a big bowl, and add enough eggs, flour and buttermilk to make a batter, plus enough baking soda to give it a bit of fluff. (As a rough guideline, I’d guess that for every three to four cups of elements, you’ll want two to three large eggs, a cup of flour, a cup of buttermilk and a teaspoon of baking soda.) Now, the key to making these puppies sing is all in the seasoning. Without seasoning, they are bland and boring. No matter what you’re starting with, I think onion is essential. Half to one grated onion would work for the example we’re using. (That’s grated, not chopped. These won’t cook long enough to get rid of raw onion flavor if it’s chopped.) Add plenty of salt (taste the batter before you cook and correct if necessary!) and some pepper. And if you have them, add some finely chopped fresh herbs or chives for color and flavor. If this whole thing sounds too potluck-hodgepodge for you, remember to unify the theme with your seasoning. E.g., go toward India with turmeric, garam masala, ginger and garlic, costal with Old Bay seasoning, Mediterranean with fines herbes, etcetera.
Cook these just as you would pancakes, but with a more oil or lard in the skillet, since there is no fat in the mix and it’s nice when they get a little crisp. Err on the small side, and spread the batter out with your ladle so it cooks through. Wait for the edges to dry and the bubbles on the surface to pop before you flip. If it’s getting too dark on the first side before that happens, your skillet is too hot. Serve them with an interesting topping. Sour cream is a favorite at our house when we have it, and chutneys or compotes work well too. This is pretty dense food, so a light side is all that is necessary – bitter greens salad or grated carrot with vinaigrette would be perfect. If you make awesome fritters this week, send me a picture and a description.
In other news, Mark and I would like to run an idea by you members to gauge your interest. We’re planning to start an Essex Farm firewood share next year. We envision a windrow of split, cured wood from which you can take your supply when you need it. It will be free choice, with price for your share based on your estimated usage for the season. We are still working on numbers, but figure about $300 per cord. The logs will come from the farm and be pulled out by the horses. If we have some interest on this we’ll use first revenues for a horse-powered splitter. You can see one powered by Jason Rutledge’s Suffolk on You Tube, here: http://tinyurl.com/97klo7t Please let us know if this share is something you think you’d be interested in. We will need to start now, to cure wood for next winter.
In a related note, Chad Vogel, our erstwhile farmer and ax man extraordinaire, is offering horse powered logging, lumber, and firewood services. Chad, Fern and Arch give free assessments. You can reach Chad at 540-270-7610 or by email email@example.com.
And that is the news from Essex Farm for this nippy 41st week of 2012.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball