Friday, September 26, 2014

Honeycrisps Still the Champs!

It has been honeycrisp season for a few weeks now. I definitely have my favorite local food finds. Strawberries. Peaches. And HONEYCRISPS! For years we have been getting them from Kistaco in the East Liberty Farmers' Mkt. Cooperative on Saturday mornings. My husband picked some up for us a few weeks ago. But those are long gone. I foolishly made applesauce with them! We should have just eaten them all out of hand. There are lots of methods for making applesauce. In the magazine Living this month there was a nice description as well. That particular recipe does not seem to be available online yet. One thing "Martha" suggests is leaving the peel on the apples (since you have to run them through a food mill anyway) to get a pinkish color to your applesauce. This worked in our applesauce, so I would recommend it.

Just today, though, I bought the best tasting Honeycrisps I have ever had. No lie. Sturges Orchards again! Six apples for $7.00, FYI. This time I found a Sturges Orchard stand in Hampton on Duncan Avenue in a parking lot across the street from St. Ursula's Church. They are there Fridays from 12-7, which is great for me, as doing anything but focusing on my kids between 3:30 and 7:00 is nearly impossible.
See? I couldn't wait to eat one of them and try it out. I was going to take just one artful bite, but I couldn't resist devouring the whole thing. Tomorrow Sturges will be in the Strip District at the Pittsburgh Public Market on Penn Avenue and 24th. They also had peppers, tomatoes, corn, and many other varieties of apples.

If you want to do pick your own apples, which I would highly recommend, there are many local places you can go. If you want Honeycrisp, I read on their website that Triple B has Honeycrisp that you can pick. I believe they are only open on the weekend for pick your own, though. If you want a "no-frills" orchard, Norman's Orchard in Tarentum (near the Pittsburgh Mills Mall) has been suggested to me. It looks awesome and I hope to go there soon. Maybe to pick pears. 

We (my daughter, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, niece and nephew) went to Simmons Farm yesterday. I picked a half bushel (for $17.50) of a mix of Golden Supreme, Ida Red, and Jonagold. Of those, the Jona Gold are my favorite. I now have an entire veggie/ fruit drawer in the fridge filled with apples! They had puh-lenty of fruit available to pick and lots and lots of low-hanging fruit. Even still, we wanted to climb and reach. It's more fun that way.
Simmons also had other "homegrown" vegetables and fruits available in their store, as well as many from away, plus a hayride which takes customers to a playground for $10.50 per person. They also have pick your own flowers, which I didn't get to try. Apparently on weekends they have fried Twinkies and the like, but not on weekdays. Just in case that's your kind of thing. 

Last night I made fruit leather with four of the picked apples. 
  • Core and chop four apples, but leave the peel on. 
  • Cook them with a little water (1/4 cup?) over medium to medium high heart for about fifteen minutes until they are soft. 
  • Even though the recipe did not specify it, I squeezed in about 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice (most of the juice from half of a lemon). My thinking was that the mixture would not brown if I did so. 
  • I also added a chopped up peach and some italian/ prune plums that I happened to have, just to keep things interesting. 
  • After all is soft, pass the mixture through a food mill. 
  • I used the disk I have with the smallest holes. 
  • Then stir in 1/4 cup of honey. 
  • Next, put the mixture on the fruit leather tray of a dehydrator. From 4:00 p.m. until 5:30 a.m the next day, the leather dried at 125 degrees. 
  • At that point, I peeled the leather off the fruit leather insert and flipped it over. 
  • I then dried it directly on the dehydrator rack for another seven hours. 
  • I think I spread the puree on too thickly. You're only supposed to spread it 1/8 of an inch thick.
  • You can also dry the puree in a low oven (200 degrees) on a cookie sheet lined with a non stick baking mat, foil, or parchment under the mixture. After 3-4 hours, if the leather is easily peeled off the tray and not too sticky, you should flip the leather and continue drying another hour or two until it is not sticky. You can also dry it in the sun (although I imagine that's a bit of a gamble here in Pittsburgh). 
  • At that point, I cut it up into wedges, wrapped in in plastic wrap, and put all of the wedges in a Ziploc bag. 
  • This can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six weeks.

I have not heard the verdict from the fruit leather lovers of the household yet.

Obviously we will all eat the Honeycrisp out of hand, but what do I do with the rest of the apples? Pie, of course. These apple scones. My sister-in-law tried this Apple Oatmeal Crisp and said it was very popular in her household. She also mentioned she didn't use the white sugar topping that is mentioned in the recipe because it didn't need it. Please send me your suggestions and your favorite way to use, eat, and store apples!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sturges Orchards and Peaches

As I mentioned previously, I have heard from many farmers that they were not able to grow peaches this year due to the cold winter and the uneven temperatures over the summer. In the past we have gotten many of our peaches from Paul's Orchard at the East Liberty Farmers' Market. This year I was told that he does not have his own peaches or nectarines but is instead getting them from Chambersburg. I spoke to someone at Simmon's Farm who confirmed that she thought no one west of the Alleghenies has their own peaches. Chambersburg and Gettysburg peaches can be delicious, I know.

However, I am here to tell you that unless someone is lying to me (and I REALLY don't think they are), there is a local farmer who has his own peaches, and they are fantastic. Sturges Orchards. We have been getting these all summer. They are $7.00 for a quart (about 5-6 big peaches), and they are absolutely, consistently delightful. I've never had anything but a juicy, sweet peach, and not one even slightly mealy, ever. We have been buying their peaches at the Pittsburgh Public Market in the Strip District on Saturday mornings
and at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel on Wednesday afternoons (open from 3:00-6:00). They are also at several other markets.

Find their schedule on their Facebook page:

We have also bought a lot of other terrific produce from them including Zestar apples (a hybrid variety similar to Honey Crisp), apple cider, berries, and more.

Personally, I like my fruit as close to plain as possible. Over the summer I have been really enjoying peaches for breakfast with my yogurt. Or, in this case, Brownie Batter Pancakes with peaches, blueberries, and hemp seeds in addition to the yogurt.
Another delicious way to enjoy your peaches is in a parfait. I wish I had photographed it, but I didn't. We layered peaches (and blueberries) with whipped cream and this graham flour crumble. We also used the Smitten Kitchen's method of adding sour cream or creme fraiche (also mentioned in the graham recipe above) to make the whipped cream so that it held up over time. 

We also made this peach-blueberry cobbler from an old Cooking Light magazine. It was absolutely spectacularly delicious. Sorry if I'm violating copyright law here, but the recipe is not posted online. I hope you can read this recipe, but please let me know if you can't, and I will type it in.
In the recipe it mentions that the peaches should be peeled. I found this idea a little daunting at first because I have read that you need to score the peaches, boil them, put them in an ice bath, and then peel them. Instead, I just sliced the peaches and peeled them raw. I guess I was lucky and the skins let go very easily. Sort of like peeling a banana. 
I took advantage of the easy-peel peaches and froze a bunch so that I can make parfaits, yogurt breakfasts, cobblers, and who knows what else when no more peaches are available.
In the meantime, I will probably just eat them plain. See you at the Sturges Orchard booth! Do you have any suggestions or thoughts about local peaches? Please share in the comments!

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Local Food Day

It's been a long time since I have written in this blog, but it occurred to me today that I have been eating local for many years now, I still enjoy it, and I still have things to say about it! I am also hoping that maybe there are others out there who might read the blog and add useful insights through the comments, as I also still have a lot to learn and figure out. I took a little break with the blog while I worked full time as a teacher, but that is no longer taking all of my time. Or any of my time, actually.

 Today was a very "eating local" type of day from morning through night. The day began with straining the chicken broth that I had made overnight in the crockpot. We had bought a whole chicken cut up from the Miller Farm at the Farmers@Firehouse market in the Strip District. With the leftover bones and parts, I made chicken stock overnight in the crockpot. Now it is sitting in plastic tupperware containers in our freezer.

After my shower and breakfast, I started work on the salsa. I use a recipe from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, "Fresh Vegetable Salsa." I got the tomatoes from Brenckles organic farm at Farmers @ the Firehouse. It's now canned (in pint jars) and ready to go (away -- until tomatoes, etc. are no longer available).
Shortly afterward, when I remembered I had blueberries on a cookie tray in the freezer, I transferred those to a plastic freezer bag. Those were $4.00 for a very full pint, again at Farmers@Firehouse. It is apparently a great year for blueberries because it is so cool and wet. I can't remember blueberries being available so late! I am happy to take advantage and keep eating them as long as it takes.

Later that day, we went to another of my favorite famers' markets, the one in East Liberty, sponsored by CitiParks. It is such a great market filled with so many wonderful growers and food providers. 
I stopped at many of the booths and spent A LOT of money. Some things I bought were: peaches, from Paul's Orchard, but apparently they have none of their own this year and are getting theirs from Chambersburg; eggs, shallots, and peppers (jalapeno, sweet banana, Hungarian hot wax), from Bluebird Organic Farms; zucchini, pickles, plum tomatoes, and garlic from Harvest Valley Farms; baby kale from One Woman Farm; ground beef from Logan Family Farms; plus cookies, bread, and chips. 

For dinner we had a bruschetta made from tomatoes from Brenckles, red onions from the same, and garlic from there too. 
That went on top of these burgers from Logan Family Farms.

 We also had a very simple baby kale salad that was something like this recipe. This picture here, is NOT of a baby kale salad, just in case you were wondering.

While I was between tasks making dinner, I grated zucchini in order to freeze it for later. I put it in muffin tins so it would be in manageable sizes. Once it's frozen,  I can transfer it to freezer bags. I just love to make things with grated zucchini like breads, frittatas, turkey burgers, meatloaf, stir fries, sauces, zucchini-crusted pizza, and more that I haven't discovered yet. I haven't done this before, but the plan is to later, like say in January, thaw the zucchini "muffins," squeeze out the extra liquid, and cook with it.

Back when I started this blog, there were very few resources around for people trying to eat local in Pittsburgh, eat seasonally, preserve, can, and the like. Now it is something that many, many people do, care about, and share. I hope to continue to add to the information out there in some useful way and find out more as well. Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!