Friday, October 20, 2017

Moon and Stars Watermelons

     A serious up side to our move to from the west side to the east side of Washington State is the increased warmth and the resultant longer growing season.  This allowed me to grow watermelons in my garden for the first time since 1977.  I grew four different kinds.  One plant was a Sugar Baby, a type of small personal sized watermelon.  I grew that at Linda's request.  I have to confess that I am a little unclear on the concept when it comes to growing small watermelons on purpose.  I misplaced one of the seed packets so I'm unsure of the names of one of the varieties that I grew.  It was a nice round red-fleshed watermelon that ripened earlier than the others.  I also grew an orange-fleshed variety called Tendersweet.  Those melons were medium sized and were somewhat elongated.  However, the obvious  "Star" attractions of the watermelon patch were the red-fleshed Moon and Stars watermelons.  These were the last to ripen, but they were easily the largest melons.  That plant set two melons, the largest one weighing 34 pounds.  The reason for that name is pretty obvious.  The melons start out green striped, but at some point the skin turns darker green and lots of yellow dots appear all over the melon.  The yellow dots are the stars while the big yellow patch on the underside of the melon is the moon. They are really quite pretty watermelons.

     Moon and Stars is an heirloom variety.  Obviously it has seeds. Another trait of many of the older watermelon varieties is a much thicker rind than most modern watermelons.  Obviously some people considered a thick rind to be the sort of flaw that needed to be bred out of watermelons.  Anyone who has raised chickens would disagree.  Watermelon rind is my chicken's favorite treat.  I usually throw all of the watermelon rinds into the chicken pen. The following day the rinds are like curled up pieces of green paper.  The chickens peck out everything except the green skin.

Moon and Stars Watermelon

    Another benefit to a thicker rind is the possibility of pickled watermelon rind.  I remember my mother making pickled watermelon rind when I was a child.  This is a well known pickle in the South.  On the other hand, when the subject of pickled watermelon rind is raised, people from the North will often comment that they had never heard of such a thing.  I wasn't raised in the South, but my mother was.

    Recently my sweet wife gave me a special gift, a book entitled "The Joy of Pickling".  This book happened to have three different watermelon rind pickle recipes.  I tried out two of them.  The first recipe was called Gingery Watermelon Pickles and involved first soaking the peeled watermelon rind in pickling salt.  After a six to twelve hour salt soak, the pieces of rind are rinsed and cooked in a syrup seasoned with lemon, ginger, cinnamon, cardamon seeds, cloves, and allspice berries.  The second recipe was called Minty Watermelon Pickles.  In this recipe the peeled watermelon rind was first soaked in pickling lime (CalciumOxide) for eight to twelve hours.  After rinsing, the pieces of rind were cooked in a seasoned syrup containing the same seasonings as the first recipe.  The only difference was the addition of a sprig of mint to each jar before it was sealed.  Both recipes turned out well.  The primary difference was that the first recipe produced a somewhat soft pickle while second recipe produced a very crisp pickle.  I actually found the pickles made with lime to be a little too crisp.   I will have to try it again with a reduced time soaking in the lime water.

     My mother sampled the Gingery Watermelon Pickles and commented that they tasted very close to the watermelon pickles she remembered growing up in Arkansas.  However, the watermelon pickles she had as a child had more sugar and less vinegar.  I was surprised by this as there was a lot of sugar in the syrup used in each of the two recipes.

Gingery Pickled Watermelon Rind

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Mom's Very Well Used Cookbook

        My sister recently shared with me a cookbook my mother had given her.  It was a very well used cookbook that my mother had received as a wedding gift about 67 years ago.  The cover was gone so I don't know the name of the cookbook other than it isn't The Joy of Cooking.  I know that only because that was Mom's other "Go to" cookbook.   Of particular interest to me was the fact that the book contained 5 recipes my mother had added in places where there was a convenient amount of blank space.  That seems to me to be a very good feature in a cookbook, room to add additional recipes.  I thought I should preserve these recipes and some of the stories behind them.

      The first recipe is called quart relish.  This recipe came from Mrs Washburn, the mother of Glen Washburn.  My father met Glen when they lived in Rock Island, Illinois. They were both members of a local motorcycle club and became good friends.  Glen was a large man and owned his own heating and refrigeration business.  He lived at home with his parents until he finally got married in his thirties.  My mother indicated that his living at home wasn't a case of failure to launch, but simply a matter of taking care of his parents due to their limited income.  Glen Washburn had an incredible knack of showing up at my parent's home whenever my mother had just baked a pie or his favorite banana cake. His mother's quart relish recipe is a fitting memorial to their friendship.

      Quart relish gets it's name from the fact that the relish is made from a quart each of the seven main ingredients. The recipe for Quart Relish is as follows;

   Mix together  one quart each of ground Cabbage, Green Tomatoes, Onions, Unpeeled Apples, and Bell Peppers. (However, the apples should be cored)

    Press out the excess liquid and add one quart of vinegar, one quart of sugar, one tablespoon of mustard seeds, and one tablespoon of salt (obviously pickling salt).

   Mix all of this together and bring to a boiling point. Simmer for five minutes and pack into sterilized jars.   Makes approximately 5 quarts.

   I would like top add a few editorial comments.  This recipe is elegantly simple. The only thing difficult about making this or any other relish is grinding up the vegetables in a meat grinder. Note that the instructions didn't include water bath canning of the finished product.   When my mother was a young housewife, this type of open kettle canning of jams, jellies, and pickles was common.  Since the relish contains a fair amount of vinegar and sugar,  chances are good that it would keep well without water bath canning. I don't ever remember any of Mom's quart relish lasting long enough to go bad. All the same, I would recommend processing the finished relish in a water bath canner for ten minutes.   I have not used this particular recipe although I have eaten a fair amount of quart relish over the years.  It is quite tasty and the recipe is worthy of recording for posterity.  My sister and her daughters recently made a batch of quart relish and I was a fortunate recipient of a pint.  I haven't opened it yet only because the flavor of most pickled products improves if one has the patience to wait three weeks after the pickles are made before the pickles are eaten.

    While we are on the subject of relish I think we should list Green Tomato Relish as the second recipe.   I made this relish just a few days ago and I was very pleased with the results.  It came out very close to the store bought sweet pickle relish that I love to put on hotdogs.   Mom was fairly certain that she got this recipe from her grandmother, Lillie Etta Heiskill, the wife of Enos Henry Sinor.   The Sinors were subsistence farmers in Baxter County, Arkansas.  They raised most of their own food in a one acre vegetable garden and as my mother put it, "They weren't the kind of people who wasted stuff."

    I too had a large vegetable garden this year, although I don't think it was anything close to an acre.  It was probably closer to a quarter of an acre. That is still a fairly large garden by today's standards.  I planted about ten tomato plants and they produced profusely.  In anticipation of frosts in the not too distant future, I started pulling up the tomato vines for the compost pile and harvesting the tomatoes, ripe or not (mostly not).   I ended up with three five gallon buckets full of green tomatoes.  Some of them I plan to store and let them continue to ripen.  However, that isn't a workable strategy for 15 gallons of green tomatoes. Therefore, I was very happy to give the green tomato relish a try.  Between the green tomato relish and three other green tomato pickle recipes I've tried, I'm now down to a mere ten gallons of green tomatoes ripening in my shop.

         Green Tomato Relish

   1 cup of salt ( pickling salt of course)
   1 gallon green tomatoes
   1 gallon ground cabbage
   1 dozen medium onions, ground
   1 dozen sweet peppers, ground
   12 to 16 hot peppers, ground (according to taste).  I only added a few JalapeƱo peppers, partly because I only had a few hot peppers on hand and partly because I don't like really hot food.
   6 cups of sugar (or more)
   2 teaspoons of powdered dry mustard
   1 teaspoon of ground cloves
   1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
   1 teaspoon of ground turmeric
   1 teaspoon of celery seed
   1/2 gallon of vinegar.

   Add the salt to the ground tomatoes and let stand.  (The instructions didn't indicate how long to let the salted ground tomatoes stand.  I simply ground up the tomatoes first and let them stand while I ground up the other vegetables.)
   Drain the remaining ground vegetables in a cloth bag.
   Drain the tomatoes.
   Mix the drained vegetables with the tomatoes.
   Add the sugar, mustard, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric and vinegar.
   Boil five minutes.
   Add the celery seed.
   Pour while hot into sterile jars and seal.
   Makes approximately 20 pints.

Green Tomato Relish

     I have a few comments to make about this recipe.  Note again the absence of water bath canning in the instructions.  I processed my relish in a water bath canner for ten minutes.   Also note that most recipes from the 40s and 50s made large volumes of finished product.  Big families were more the rule then.  Also, while this recipe is not complicated, the grinding is a bit of work.  My feeling is "In for a penny, in for a pound."  If I'm going to the trouble of getting the meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer dirty, I'd rather do it for 20 pints of relish, rather than for a mere five pints.  Besides, the relish turned out so well that we will probably end up giving some of it as gifts.   If I don't make 20 pints, there may not be enough relish to last me until the next time I have a serious surplus of green tomatoes.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

An Adventurous Trip to the River.

      A few days ago (I believe it was Monday) Linda and I took two visiting grand children to Leslie Grove Park in Richland. It is a nice park on the Columbia River in the north part of town.  The purpose of our visit was to give Natalie (9) and Conner (7) a chance to cool off playing in the river.  As we arrived at the park I noticed the wind had picked up a bit. As I blew up an air mattress (shaped like a sea turtle) I was questioning the wisdom of letting the kids play at the river with this much wind. I knew there was no diplomatic way to be the wet blanket. Just as I was about to tell the kids that it was too windy, I looked down river and saw a big blur that was heading our way. It was like the sandstorm scene in the movie Hidalgo on a smaller scale.  You could see lightning and rain coming our way.

     The front hit about ten seconds later as the wind changed almost instantly from about 15 mph to 40 mph. We were running to the car as we were pelted by sand from the nearby beach volleyball courts. Shortly after we managed to get the kids and our stuff loaded into the car the deluge hit. Richland gets less than ten inches of rain in a year so it is a very rare occasion to see serious rain.  Instead of an afternoon at the river we settled for a bit of an adventure and a trip to Wendy's. 

     Our granddaughter Natalie is a serious cat lover and has been trying hard to win the affection of our somewhat grumpy cat, Mrs Buzz Saw.  It is a source of serious frustration to Natalie that Mrs Buzz Saw spurns her efforts to make friends. It irritates Natalie all the more that I generally ignore the cat, who responds by showering her affection on me. I'm not the one who dispenses kitty treats. I'm not the one who feeds her or calls "kitty kitty".  Yet I'm the person Buzz Saw follows around when I'm working outside. When I sit down to watch a Mariner game the cat always comes to me when she wants to be petted.   Natalie has made an effort the past few days to try pretending she didn't like cats. She was hoping some aloofness would help draw the cat to her. Sadly, she just couldn't pull it off. The cat seemed to recognize that Natalie's apparent apathy towards cats was insincere.