Friday, July 24, 2009

All the difference

I wasn't planning on posting anything today since I didn't really bake or pick anything, but as I was munching on the last of the currants I noticed something. If you're lucky, you might find fresh currants at a store by you, but what you'll find are usually loooong strands with sparsely dispersed berries, like ornaments on a Charlie Brown tree. My friend and I picked these ourselves, so we not only got to see how they grow, but we also got to pick the very best bunches...just like the one in the picture. I'll bet you'll never be able to find currants like these at any old store and I just had to share...and maybe brag a little.

P.S. Please ignore my poor thumb in the picture. It still hasn't forgiven me for accidentally slamming the car door on it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Berry Delightful


I think my subconscious goal for this summer is to ferret out every single pick-your-own farm within reasonable driving distance and sample each season's offerings en masse straight from the ground, bush or tree one weekend morning at a time. This past weekend I found the only farm in this whole state that boasted gooseberries that would be ready for picking. I have only seen gooseberries once since I left Ukraine and that was last summer in Ireland, in the garden of a mansion, at the end of the row with something like 30 different varieties of potatoes. You can be sure that the little bush in the picture above was a bit lighter after I snuck away trying to hide the plump berries in my cheeks like a chipmunk. It was a long day of sight seeing and I needed a snack, so don't judge me!

I was all set to relive that experience again with a friend, who I picked up bright and early on my way to the farm, but once we got there we were told that the gooseberries were almost all gone, but that the currants were plentiful. Life is hard. We grabbed a little red radio flier-type wagon and some cartons and set out to pick what was there to be picked. I left my friend to pick the currants, grabbed a carton and set out to collect each and every single gooseberry that might still be hiding within the barren shrubs. I don't know if you've ever picked gooseberries, but if you come late in the season those bushes REALLY don't want you to have those last few berries. The branches are starting to dry up and the thorns are extra prickly. After walking the whole row I had a little bit over a pint of these tart and sweet berries, every single shrub was picked clean, and my arms were scratched from my fingernails to my elbows. Ouch! Don't they look lovely though?


By the time I got back my friend had picked a bunch of lovely red currants, so I just added a handful more (you can never have too much) and we headed back. Now, while Garden Patch Farms, the place where we went, is a bit overpriced all things considered, they have a fantastic variety of produce available for picking. On our way back we encountered the green bean vines, peas, green peppers, broccoli, and lovely rose shaped red cabbages. I wasn't planning on getting any veggies, but the cabbages just looked so good, I just couldn't walk past them, which led to my second learning experience of the day. I think assassins practice their skills on cabbages. After pulling and twisting I learned that the best way to pick a cabbage (aside from bringing a knife) is to sneak up behind it, grab it with both hands and sharply twist. The snap felt strangely like what I'd imagine a person's neck would feel like under similar treatment. Gah! At least this "bounty" will make a wonderful red cabbage cole slaw tomorrow and in the mean time I'll just put aside the blood-lust and munch on these:


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cherry Picking

When I was little I used to climb trees. Tall ones, short ones, ones with branches really low to the ground and those that you really had to work to get anywhere. While it usually wasn't a requirement, I loved to climb fruit bearing trees mainly because they came with snacks. I'd climb a tree full of still-green plums and hang out and munch until my belly ached. Then I'd pick whatever would fit into the skirt of the dress my mom would send me out in, hoping that for once I'd keep it clean, and I'd lug the loot home for homemade punch, jam or whatever else my mother was inspired to make. Inevitably, I fell out of more trees then I can recall, but I always came back for more. There's just no better vantage point from which to observe the world then from the quiet solitude of a tall leafy branch.

When we moved to the states, the suburbs no less, my tree climbing days were abruptly cut short. I tried to pick up where I had left off, but after a few neighbors complained, I was firmly asked to keep my feet on the ground, which is more or less where I've kept them for many years. Now you rightfully ask, why would I tell you this? Well, because it turns out my tree climbing days aren't quite as behind me as I had feared. I have been wanting to go sour cherry picking for many years and two weeks ago I found a spot in Rockford, IL and drove a little over an hour early in the morning to do just that. Some of the trees were already picked over as this was not the first day and I was not the first one to come, but after I grabbed four large bags back at the front desk, where a large dog washed my feet with his tongue, all part of the service, I turned left where others turned right and I was able to find some nice trees where I promptly got to work. After going through most of the tree and barely filling up one bag I looked up and saw....tons and tons of unpicked cherries hanging off of the hard to reach branches way above my head:

"Aha! If I just climb up there, I'll be able fill up my bags in no time," I thought to myself. I hesitated for a moment, remembering all those pesky neighbors, slung my camera over my shoulder, hung the bags over one of the higher branches and climbed up higher where I was literally surrounded by dozens of crowded bunches of sun warmed red cherries, which basically jumped into my bags on their own. Aside from one startled Polish lady that didn't see me up there when she picked my tree to pick her harvest until I dropped a few cherries, narrowly missing her head, no one complained and I came away with a huge load of cherries to work with.

I gave one of the bags to my mom, just as I used to in the old days, and she promptly churned out dozens and dozens of cherry filled buns and cookies. Yummy! I shared a large bowl of them with a friend and took the rest home for experimentation. First up came sour cherry sorbet using a recipe I found on this site. It was very good, but next time I think I'll cut the sugar by quite a bit as it was too sweet to my taste.

The next batch went into a large jar with several liters of vodka with the hope that in a few months I'll have a lovely sour cherry liquor to give out as gifts for the holidays. I'll post pictures once the mixture gets a bit more saturated.

And finally, skipping the ones that I ate right out of the bag, the rest were turned into a "no recipe" sour cherry jam I read about on David Lebovitz's site:

I think next time I'll save more for just eating :)