Cooking, Eat Good Food, Field Notes

Make Your Own Yogurt

Yogurt is downright magical. It’s packed with protein and with gut-friendly bacteria that aid in digestion. It goes from sweet to savory, from breakfast to dinner, like nobody’s business, and it stays fresh far longer than a carton of milk. Making your own batch of yogurt feels pretty magical too, and is simple to boot—all it takes is a quart of milk and a spoonful of yogurt.

Yes, you read that right—you need yogurt to make yogurt. Yogurt is the product of live bacterial cultures fermenting milk, and for your first batch you’ll need to borrow some of those cultures from a good storebought yogurt. Once you’ve had your first yogurt-making session you can save some of your homemade yogurt to inoculate the next batch, much like maintaining a sourdough starter or a kombucha mother.

Homemade yogurt without stabilizers or thickeners has a thinner texture than you might be used to—it will dribble, rather than dollop. If you prefer a thicker yogurt, strain your yogurt through a cheesecloth-lined colander for a few hours.

 

Ingredients

1/2 gallon fresh whole milk

1/4 cup plain, unsweetened full-fat yogurt with live active cultures

 

Instructions

Put milk in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Heat, stirring frequently until milk reaches a bare simmer. Milk should be between 180 and 200 degrees. Remove pot from heat and let cool to between 110 and 120 degrees.

Place yogurt in a small bowl and whisk in a bit of milk until smooth and liquidy. Stir the yogurt mixture into the pot of warm milk and cover with a lid. Wrap pot in a large towel and place in a warm place, such as in the oven with the light turned on or on top of the refrigerator. Let yogurt sit for 6-12 hours until thickened. The longer it sits, the tangier it will be.

At the end of fermentation, whisk the yogurt vigorously until smooth. Keep finished yogurt in the refrigerator, and be sure to save some for the next batch.

Preserve the Season

Fig Jam Recipe

fig jam

Making jam is one of our favorite ways to enjoy summer fruit all year round. Making fig jam is an effort to capture a passing moment in summer’s short glory. Figs flourish for a brief time in the American South, as they do in other warm climates.

Picked at their peak, figs will keep overnight, but not longer. Take care to select figs that are richly colored, already soft, but not bruised. Darker figs (such as Black Mission figs, which grow primarily in California) tend to last longer than the lighter-skinned varieties.

To enjoy, spread fig jam on a sandwich with country ham and goat cheese, or serve alongside a cheese platter.

Fig Jam
Makes 2½ pints

3 pounds just-ripe figs
2 scant cups turbinado, demerara, or organic sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of ½ lemon (optional)

Trim the stem end from the figs, quarter them and then cut the quarters crosswise to produce a textured but manageable jam.

Combine the fruit, sugar, lemon juice and zest, if using, in a mixing bowl. Stir to combine, then cover closely and place in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.

Turn the fruit and sugar mixture into a preserving pan and bring to a rapid boil. Stirring constantly, reduce over high heat until the hot jam is thickened, 6 to 8 minutes; then lower the heat to medium and reduce a few more minutes to the gel point.

Ladle into five prepared ½-pint jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Seal and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes.

Adapted from Saving the Season by Kevin West

Eat Good Food

How to Use Edible Flowers

Edible flowers, with their vibrant colors and fetching shapes, are not only attractive to pollinators such as bees and birds. For us, there is a special pleasure and almost intimacy about eating a flower, tuning in to a plant’s life cycle at its most seductive moment.

We grow edible flowers year-round at HomeFarm. All are easy to grow and look as beautiful in the garden as they do on the plate.

Harvest Note: Pick flowers in the morning on a dry day once the petals have opened. Flowers are very delicate and need careful handling.

Snip the blooms with small scissors, taking care not to touch the flower face. Place in a single layer in your harvest basket or tray.

Once back in the kitchen, check for bugs and use right away or store in a cool place.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Lightly minty with a note of licorice, this perennial’s leaves and striking purple flowers can be harvested over a long growing time. Trim the flower heads and leaves to use fresh or dried in a tisane (herb tea), or separate the tiny flowers from the main stem to scatter over the top of a fruit salad or garnish a summer cucumber soup.

Anise hyssop really shines in sweets; the leaves and flowers can be infused into custards for créme anglaise or ice cream, cooked with sugar to make a simple syrup for flavoring lemonade, or cooked with fruit for syrups, sauces, and jams.

Borage (Borago officinialis)
Borage, also known as starflower, is a familiar annual herb with furry leaves and small, star-shaped blossoms in the most delectable shade of blue. With a taste reminiscent of cucumber, borage flowers are excellent tossed into salads and make a beautiful garnish for cold potato, pea, or cucumber soups.

They are also attractive floated on cordials and cocktails, such as Pimm’s Cup or gin and tonics. If you have time and want to impress, freeze the flowers in ice cubes.

Add a few borage flowers to lemonade, and it will turn pink from the acid of the citrus, a delightful trick for a child’s party!

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Also called “pot marigolds,” this easy-to-grow annual is strongly flavored: use only the golden- to orange-hued petals. The flowers range from spicy to bitter, tangy to peppery, and can be used to color and flavor salads, butter, eggs, pasta, and rice dishes, much like saffron but with a lighter touch.

The petals can be dried and stored for winter, and make for an especially colorful addition to leek and potato or butternut squash soups.

Chive Blossoms (Allium schoenoprasum)
The smallest member of the onion family, the common chive is a hardy perennial that happily comes back each year in the garden, offering early blooms in the spring. The purple pompom flower heads are made up of individual florets that can be pulled apart and scattered on a potato salad, mixed into an herb butter, or used as a garnish on any dish where the flavor is warranted — like creamy soups, deviled eggs, or salads.

The blossom heads can also be used to infuse vinegar, making a gorgeous blush-colored chive-flavored vinegar in just a few days.

Cornflower (Centaurea cynaus)
Also known as Bachelor’s Buttons, the cornflower is a tall, slender plant with blossoms resembling tiny carnations with pointed petals. The petals of traditional blue cornflowers look beautiful in a green salad, but its vivid shades of crimson, pink, and purple are nearly as eye-catching. They have a slightly spicy, clove-like flavor with a subtle sweetness.

Cornflowers have varied uses — providing a colorful element in vibrant summer salads, adding appeal to soft cheeses, or for making natural food coloring for icings. They are often crystallized or used fresh as decoration for cakes and desserts.

Dianthus (Dianthus caryophyllus)
Dianthus are the miniature member of the carnation family with a light clove-like or nutmeg scent. To use the surprisingly sweet petals, cut them away from the bitter white base of the flower. The bright red and pink petals can then be added to fruit salads or used as an elegant garnish for desserts.

Carnation petals are one of secret ingredients that have been used to make Chartreuse, a French liqueur, since the 17th century.

Johnny Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor)
This plant produces masses of small yellow, white, and purple blooms that make wonderfully dainty decorations for cakes, puddings, and other desserts. These edible flowers are among the first of spring, and their fresh, faintly wintergreen flavor is good in mixed green salads or winter citrus compotes.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
One of the tastiest of all edible flowers, nasturtium blossoms are boldly colored in gorgeous shades of sunshine, red, peach, and pink.

The pungent-flavored blossoms and green lily pad-shaped leaves have a sweet, peppery flavor akin to watercress and are said to have exceptional antioxidant qualities. Whole blossoms can be stuffed with herbed goat cheese, sliced thinly and added to quesadillas, or chopped with shallots to make a compound butter.

You can also pickle the fat green seed pods that appear in late summer and use them as you would capers. Both the flowers and leaves can be served as a tangy salad on their own, or as part of a mixed salad.

Preserve the Season

Preserving Fish

Curing, smoking, and pickling are all excellent methods of preserving fish.

With the addition of olive oil or salt, anchovies and sardines can be kept throughout the year. Some of our favorites include brandade, smoked black cod, and pickled herring.

Curing

Here is a basic recipe for Salted Fish from one of our favorite books, My Pantry by Alice Waters. Fish salted this way will keep for a week or so, and almost any firm, lean, white fish will do the trick.

Choose fresh, sweet-smelling fillets. Scatter a ¼ inch layer of either sea salt or kosher salt over the bottom of a nonreactive dish or pan. Lay the fish on the salt, making sure no pieces are touching one another, and cover the fillets completely with salt. Refrigerate the fish for two days.

Pour off the accumulating liquids after the first day. After day two, remove the fish from the salt and quickly rinse it. Pat the fish dry and put it in a clean dish on a rack covered with a clean towel. Cover with another towel and cover lightly with a lid or plastic wrap. Change the towels every couple days until they are no longer dampened by the fish.

The salted fish can be used as soon as it comes out of the salt pack or held for up to 10 days. Before using, soak the fish for two hours or longer. The fish is ready when pliable, but don’t soak it so long that it becomes mushy. Change the soaking water every hour or so to speed up the process.

Smoking

Smoking fish is similar to salt curing because it creates an environment where bacteria can’t multiply. Smoking works best with fillets, but can also be done with whole fish.

Either take fresh, cleaned fish and smoke it as is, or brine the fish for a time before smoking. Remember to use hardwoods, such as hickory or fruitwoods, rather than resinous evergreens, which have a high sap content.

Pickling

Most pickling recipes involve a two-step process of cooking or brining the fish, and then immersing in a pickling mixture. One of the benefits of pickling brine is that the vinegar works to dissolve and soften any bones in the fish.

Pickled fish must be refrigerated or kept cool in some way at 36-40℉ and the safest shelf life is two weeks or less.

To begin, brine cleaned fish for about one week in a solution of salt and vinegar before soaking in pickling brine for three days. Common pickling spices for fish include yellow mustard seeds, coriander, allspice, black peppercorn, fennel seed, dill seed, cloves, and bay leaves.

Preserve the Season

Making Umeboshi

Making umeboshi is a simple and satisfying exercise and a lovely way to save the season.

Umeboshi are salted sour plums made from ume, a Japanese fruit related to the apricot family. Long regarded as a tonic, they are part of the traditional Japanese breakfast.

Ume ripen quickly, so look for them in early June and harvest before they turn yellow.

Here in the U.S., ume trees are abundant in areas settled by Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s, including California, Washington, and Oregon. A more common find at the farmers’ market, shiro plums can be substituted for ume. (Shiro are also well-suited for making plum wine.)

Umeboshi improve with age as they continue to ferment, and author Nancy Singleton Hachisu (Preserving the Japanese Way) says that she usually doesn’t start eating hers until at least one year has elapsed.

Her recipe, adapted below, results in umeboshi that can be enjoyed straight out of the jar with hot teas or rice dishes.

Umeboshi
Yields 5 pounds

10 pounds sour plums — ume or shiro variety
13 ounces coarse sea salt (8% of the weight of the ume)
Salted red shiso leaves (optional)

Place the ume in a pail and run cold water over them to fill. Soak overnight in a cool spot.

Pour off the water the following day (be mindful- you can reserve and reuse the water). Using a large, wide-mouth wooden, ceramic, or glass jar, start with a layer of coarse salt, cover with a layer of ume plums, then add a bit of the shiso. Repeat the salt-ume-shiso layers, until the ume are used up.

Place a clean cotton towel across the surface of the salted ume and drape it down the sides of the tub. Place a lid that drops down into the jar on top of the sheet and weight with rocks or similar heavy items equaling the weight of the ume.

Store these salt-weighted ume in a cool dark spot, but check after 2 or 3 days to make sure the brine has surfaced. If it has not, massage any residual bottom salt up to the top fruit.

The ume should remain in the brine for several weeks, but check periodically to make sure no mold is forming (if it has, pick the mold off carefully).

After brining for at least 3 weeks (2 weeks for small ume), dry the ume for 3 days in the bright sunlight on bamboo or rattan mats (or the equivalent) stretched across a wooden frame for good air circulation.

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On the last day of drying, strain the brine leftover in the bottom of the salting tub through a fine-mesh strainer and store in a clean jar or bottle to use for another application. It makes an excellent plum vinegar.

Pack the dried umeboshi in a re-sealable gallon-sized freezer bags or a glass jar or ceramic crock with a tight fitting lid. A dark, syrupy liquid will pool at the bottom of the container; don’t discard as it aids in the long-term preservation of umeboshi.

Umeboshi keep indefinitely at room temperature packed in an airtight container.