Fresh From the Farm – Katie Malich

Were you able to make it out to the Eat Real Festival this past weekend?  I certainly hope so.  Everyone I spoke to seemed to be having a great time.  I know I had a blast.  I was tickled pink to meet some Crossroads readers (thank you so much for your kind words and all those apples), run into an old friend and make some new ones.  Great music.  Great food.  Great energy.

 

How to describe the Festival?  Well, according to its January 2011 press release,  “Eat Real is a social venture business with an affiliated non-profit focused on promoting and teaching food craft. Eat Real’s mission is to help revitalize regional food systems, build public awareness of and respect for the craft of making good food, and to encourage the growth of American food entrepreneurs.”  Eat Real has hosted two festivals in Oakland, California, with a third Northern California event scheduled for September.  The first Southern California festival was right here in Culver City  in the Helms Bakery District. Let’s hope it becomes an annual tradition.

 

How to describe the experience of the Festival?

 

Part block party with great music on two separate stages, a children’s craft area, and places to   relax.  Part celebration of words celebrating food:  Saturday’s Foodwriting 2.0 panel; Sunday’s cookbook exchange; and a lively discussion about what is authentic Mexican food in this day and age of national fast food chains and Santa Ana’s Lonchero Lane – food trucks serving up Mexican regional specialities.

 

Part foodie hot spot, with artisanal beer, local wines, kombucha, fresh roasted coffee and espresso, fruit juices, iced tea, filtered water; around two dozen food trucks along with a superb selection of desert choices at booths inside the pavillion.  Not to mention stands offering shaved ice and gourmet snow cones  – a welcome treat during the sunny afternoons.  And yes, foodies who follow theirr favorite trucks on Twitter.  Both the food trucks and the festival staff were on Twitter throughout the weekend.

 

Part county fair, complete with real pigs and real chickens courtesy of Dare2Dream Farms;   culinary herbs and tomato plants from School Garden Coop; and demonstration gardens scaled for the urban lifestyle by landscaper-gardener Alistair Boase and Life on the Balcony’s Fern Richardson. One of the most popular places for picture-taking were the larger-than-life diagrams showing where different cuts of meat are found on cattle and pigs.  (Vegetarians, vegans, and nostalgic Angelinos could get their picture snapped with a Helms Bakery truck near the outside community oven.)  There were no Future Farmers of America or Four H Club displays in evidence, but Chef Paul Buchanan from Primal Alchemy told attendees at his meat preserving workshop that he’s buying a Four H Club pig which is currently being exhibited at the Orange County Fair.

 

Part hands-on learning, with Do It Yourself Workshops ranging from pizza and pretzel making to learning how to make watermelon rind pickles.  Part educational, with non-profit organizations, health and advocacy groups providing information and recruiting volunteers and activists.   And definitely supportive of local and regionalentrepreneurs.

 

I was struck by the generousity of spirit shown by so many knowledgeable presenters and friendly volunteers.  Eat Real’s commitment to local organizations, non-profits and entrepreneurs was evident throughout.  Local health and hunger outreach programs had booths in the vendor area.  Whole Foods, a lead sponsor, offered locally made items for sale in the merchant pavillion, while fellow lead sponsor  Chipolte Mexican Grill provided edible proof that regionally sourced fresh food is a viable (and tasty) alternative for chain casual restaurants.  Local television channels 2 (KCBS) and 9 (KCAL), and the Helms Bakery District added support as lead and presenting sponsors, respectively.

 

Eat Real’s commitment to sustainability was evident everywhere.  Event schedules and venues were posted, not printed.  Artisanal beer was served in glass jars, not plastic cups.   Bins labled “landfill” were next to the ubiquitous recycle bins.  Throughout the festival, volunteers posted a running tally of the amount of materials recycled and and trash headed to the landfill. Leftovers rinds and fruit from the Watermelon Pickle making workshop didn’t make it into the tally, though. Festival volunteers collected all the scraps and brought them over to the pig pen in the farm area.

 

As chance would have it, the person right next to me in the sauerkraut making workshop had entered her fusion-influenced sauerkraut in the Puttin’ It Up Contest, while I’d entered a very old recipe for green tomatoes.  She came in second and I came in third.  Congrats, Tani.  And a shout out to first place winner Kristina, whose lemon cucumber pickles looked incredible.  Sadly, only the judges got to sample the entries.

 

Crossroads editor Judith Martin-Straw has asked me to share the French Green Tomato pickle recipe.  It’s from the Mennonite Community Cookbook: Favorite Family Recipies by Mary Emma Showalter, first published in 1950.  The contributor, Mrs. Menno M. Brubacaker of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, notes that the recipe is “old” and makes “a rich pickle.”  Green tomato pickles were far more common than twenty-first century Californians can imagine.  Tomatoes on the vine won’t ripen after the first frost comes in, but in those days nothing went to waste.  Before the food industry started importing off-season produce from South and Central America, canning and preserving was the only way to get fruit and vegetables.

 

French Green Tomato pickle

 

First, a very important note:  green tomatoes for this pickle are unripe, rock hard, firm as an apple green tomatoes.  They are not the wonderful green hybrids and heirlooms like green zebra, which retain their green color after ripening.

 

Second, an equally important note about scale and yield.  As written, the recipe will yield around 30 pints of pickles.  A bit much for my small kitchen to handle, even if I could get my hands on that many tomatoes.  You’ll find that most modern recipes are scaled to yield around a quarter to a third of this amount.  I strongly suggest scaling the recipe down.  I used one eighth of the ingredients to produce three and a half pint of pickles.

 

Ingredients:

1 peck green tomatoes

(For those of us, myself included, who have no idea what a peck of tomatoes look like, one peck equals approximately 37 and one half cups.)

6 onions, sliced

1 c. salt

a little water

a small amount of vinegar

2 quarts vinegar (8 cups)

1 pound white sugar (1.8 cups, or slighly over 1 and three quarters cups)

2 t. powdered mustard

2 T. curry powder

2 T. tumeric

2 t. cinnamon

2 t. cloves

2 t. allspice

1 c. salt

 

I used red vine vinegar, but red, white, or cider vinegar will do.  Using authentic garam marsala for the  curry powder and fresh spices from local Indian stores added an extra layer of richess and discernable spice to the final product.

 

Instructions:

 

Wash tomatoes and onions.  Slice the tomatoes crosswise and cut the slices into halves or quarters, depending upon the size of the opening of your canning jar.  (I used small green tomatoes, which I sliced and quartered into small enough pieces they could be used for relish.)  Slice and cut the onions in the same manner.  Place in large, non-reactive crock or container.  You can use the crock of your crockpot, a casserole dish, or something similar.   Mix the salt through them.  Place a clean dish towl over the top of the crock and let them stand overnight.  The salt will draw out excess moisture from the tomatoes.

 

In the morning, drain the liquid from the crock.  Add water and a couple of tablespoons of vinegar, and let stand 15 minutes.  Drain again.  In a large, non-reactive pan, combine the vinegar, sugar and spices.  Bring them to a boil.  Add the vegetables, turn the heat down and simmer slowly for five minutes.  Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

 

How do you process pickles?  Please read and follow the instructions below.  It is vitally important to follow the directions carefully to avoid food spoilage, ill health or even death.

 

Preparing Canning Jars and Lids:

 

First, the equipment.  If you’re planning to do canning in the future, invest in some specialized equipment which will make the processing easier.  You can find a set of jar lifters, magnetic wand, wide-mouth funnel for sale at local independent hardware stores, occasionally at OSH, and on-line.  When I first started out, I was able to make do with the non-specialized utensils I had at home.  I’ve come to appreciate that magnetic wand and jar lifter, though, when it comes to getting those heated lids and cans out of the water.

 

Start with clean canning (also called mason) jars free from cracks or nicks.  These jars have a two part lid.  There’s a lid and a separate screw band.  You must have a new lid each time.  Jars and screw bands can be reused if they are in good condition, but used lids will not create the vacuum seal necessary to create a shelf-stable product.  You cannot substitute other jars for boiling-water canning; they are not designed to withstand the temperature and make a vacuum seal.

 

You’ll need either a boiling-water canner or a large cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid which is large enough to hold the jars the recipe will produce.  The canner will come with a rack which keeps jars from touching each other and elevates them from the bottom of the canner so the boiling water can circulate freely around them.  If you are using a regular cooking pot, use a round cake rack or something similar.

 

You must heat the jars before filling them.  Some people will put the jars in a 150 degree oven.  I place them in a large pot, cover them with water, and place the covered pot over medium heat until the water is hot.  I put the lids in the hot water for five minutes or so before using them.  It’s not necessary to put the screw bands in the heated water.

 

Filling and Processing the Jars:

 

Remove a jar from the hot water.  Ladle or pour the ingredients into the jar.  Do not fill to the brim.  Leave one half inch of space between the contents and the lid.  Make sure there are no air bubbles trapped between pieces of food.  Insert a small plastic spatula and gentle move it around the interior edges of the jar and gently move the food.  If air bubbles are released, check headspace and add more liquid or solids to bring the level back to ½ inch.  Remove a lid from the hot water.  Center it on top of the jar and apply screw band.  You don’t want to screw the band on too tightly, just until it feels tight enough when checking with your fingertips.  Place filled jar of food on rack in canner.

 

Once all the filled jars are in the canner, check water level.  There should be an inch of water above the jars.  Cover the canner and bring the water to a boil.  This recipe calls for a 15 minute processing time.  You’ll start timing once the water has reached a slow, steady boil.  At the end of the processing time, turn off the heat and remove the lid.  Wait at least five minutes to remove the jars.  Place them on a flat surface.  In Southern California, I don’t have to worry about having a kitchen counter so cold it’ll cause the hot jars to crack, so I’ll place them on an out-of-the-way part of my kitchen counter.  Others use cooling racks or cutting boards.  Once you’ve removed the jars, leave them alone.  Let them cool for at least twelve hours.

 

After the jars have cooled, remove the screw bands and check the seal.  A properly sealed lid curves downward.  You may replace the screw bands lightly (I do) or not, as you choose.  If a jar has not properly sealed, refrigerate it.  The contents should keep under refrigeration for several weeks.  Store sealed jars in a dark, cool place.  After processing, these French Green Tomato pickles will keep unopened for up to a year.   If you’ve followed these steps correctly, the jars will be safe to eat.  But remember to check each individual jar for signs of spoliage before using it.  If the lids are buldging or there’s any leakage, don’t take the risk.  Toss the jar.  The lid should remain tight and resist slightly when first opened.  Keep opened jars in the refrigerator.

 

Approved food preservation guidelines for canning pickles and other items can be found at The National Center for Home Food Preservation, http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/ .  It is a wonderful resource, and I encourage you to use it.

 

Katie Malich has never met a county fair she didn’t like, and is looking forward to more Eat Real Festivals.

 

www.culvercitysymphony.org

2 Comments

  1. This was a wonderful event. I heard on KCRW last week that there is now a UC Extension program for canning and preserving, which trains you to be a Master Preserver, much like the master gardener program.

    I hope that this turns out to be the first annual Eat Real Festival, and that we have many more in the future.

  2. This was a great event and could not have been more timely for me… having just finished reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollen. (Highly recommended – provides a whole new perspective on “organic”.) All vendors were extremely friendly and did not mind at all my questions about where their ingredients came from, etc. The location seemed perfect and I hope it recurs there every year.

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