I have a bit of an obsession with salt. I went through a phase tasting every kind of salt I could find, and I still get excited when I come across new types in specialty food stores. Last summer we happened upon a store called The Meadow in New York’s West Village that carries over 100 types of salt and I know this sounds a bit twee and hyperbolic, but I was pretty overtaken by the thrill of a wall of exotic salt from all over the world.
I’m not sure when I made the transition from rose-hater to rose-eater. These days I have several roses planted in my garden, most of which have been chosen specifically for their eat- and use-ability. All roses are edible, but only those that smell fragrant taste good. Scentless roses are flavourless.
I recently returned from a long trip to an explosion of fresh blooms specifically from the three climbing roses that are planted in front of my ramshackle shed. Two of the three were planted last season and are doing well, but the third, a beautifully scented orange and golden variety called ‘Westerland’ that is now in its third year here has gone absolutely gangbusters. I have been harvesting a generous basketful of fresh blooms every day since my return and it doesn’t seem to be stopping. Once this flush is done there will be at least one more smaller flush later in the season.
I preserve the blooms in several ways, but today I thought I’d share the quickest and easiest method: drying.
Indeed they do. Or at least I do. We like spinach and we eat a lot of it, so it’s a good thing I sowed a nice-sized crop this spring. I grew two varieties: ‘Bordeaux,’ a stunning variety with bright pink stems and leaf veining, and ‘Monstrueux de Viroflay,’ an heirloom with monster-sized leaves.
For the Cook:
Schmidt Brothers – 15 PC. Knife Set with Block $165.32 CAD: This sleek knife set probably won’t cut it in a professional kitchen, but it is a good deal and well above average for the home cook who doesn’t mind putting in the extra care that is needed to preserve the beautiful acacia wood handles and block.
Cuisinart Cast Iron Enamaled Dutch Oven $60-130 US: If you want the best dutch oven that will last a lifetime, get a Le Cruset. You really do get what you pay for. But for those of us who can’t make that investment, a more affordable Cusinart pot is a reasonable alternative. I have two: a 3-quart and a 5-quart that I got on sale at Winners, the Canadian TJ Maxx. I honestly didn’t realize how useful these pots would be until I got them. The smaller of the two quickly became my go-to pot and is used daily, if not multiple times per day. The white enamel interior has suffered some staining from added use as a jam making pot (I hear that Le Cruset pots don’t stain as easily as they have more layers), but other than that it is in really good condition and I expect to get plenty more years out of it.
GreenPan Non-Stick Fry-Pan Set $82.77 CAD We’ve tried a handful of “eco-friendly” ceramic, non-stick pans over the years and like all cookware it comes down to this: you get what you pay for. All of the cheaper pans we tried were crap, losing their coating quickly with careful use, or simply not working at all. We bought a 2-piece set of GreenPans very similar to this about 3 years back and they’ve been great. Although, there is some noticeable wear and tear, it’s in keeping with what you’d expect with daily use. I do agree with some consumers that they can be difficult to clean, but beyond that we’ve been really happy with ours.
For the Home Baker
Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours by Kim Boyce $19.77 US: This is our go-to book when we are baking from a recipe at home. No other baking book has seen nearly as much use as this one. While I have been baking primarily with spelt flour for years now, when I bought it in 2010, this book really pushed me to start experimenting with other overlooked grains such as buckwheat and barley. I also like that many of the recipes aren’t sugar-heavy. P.S. I have tried all of the scone recipes and while I tend to cut back further on the amount of sugar used, they are all really exceptional. This book is worth it for those recipes alone
One of the first homemade brews I made last year when the bug for fermenting things caught me was a jug of hard apple cider. I played it safe that first time out of fear and trepidation, which in hindsight could have entirely ruined those good bottles of expensive, unpasteurized, organic cider had it not worked out in the end. The process I followed had me boil the cider to kill off any naturally occurring yeasts and then add grains of commercial yeast. The reasoning behind this process is that the commercial yeasts are a known quantity, while allowing the cider to ferment from the yeasts that naturally occur in it and the air in your home is an unknown that can result in a nasty, undrinkable batch of hooch.
Since then every natural yeast brew I have made in this house has turned out wonderfully so I’m moving away from a dependancy on the commercial stuff and prefer to give over to the magic and surprise of the unknown.
Despite those early fumblings, my first batch of hard cider was a hit with friends and I was eager to make more this fall. Unfortunately, local apple crops suffered this year due to an abnormally warm early spring followed by a sudden and severe cold snap. Cider hasn’t hit any of the markets that I frequent yet. Fortuitously, I discovered a couple of large crabapple trees on derelict land this year. The fruit had recently fallen off of the trees but were still in very good shape with only light bruising and few that were too far gone or rotten to bother. They smelled sweet and were only slightly sour — not great for eating, but certainly worth foraging and brewing into some kind of apple wine/cider-like drink. Worst case scenario I waste time, but the actual cost to try is pretty much negligible.
I don’t have a cider press and did not have the ambition to construct one. My goal with this brew was to go as simple and straight forward as possible. No fuss and minimal work. I consulted my country wine making books and found Andy Hamilton’s Sort of Cider in his fantastic homebrew manual, Booze for Free [Note that this is a yet-to-be-released paperback and Kindle edition. I was able to get the original on Kindle but could not find it on Amazon.]. You can see the ‘Sort of Cider’ recipe online here. I did not follow Andy’s instruction exactly. I did not want to use packaged yeast and I did not want to add flavouring (although the ginger does sound good).
Here’s how I did it: