Friday, September 20, 2013

Fresh Fig Galette

We planted a Chicago Hardy fig thinking this variety would do best here given the cooler mountain temperatures. And it has. The 5 year old tree has at least tripled in size this season and is loaded with fruit. But the problem is, the fruits really aren't very good eaten directly from the tree for some reason? They ripen quickly toward the end of the season, and get mushy and off-tasting quick. If you try to eat one before it's perfectly ripe, there is hardly a hint of sweetness and the texture is....just bad, but if you miss the window of just-right ripeness the sugars taste fermented. So instead of letting the wasps and ants have their way with them, I harvested as many as I could before they got too ripe, and sliced them and baked them into a galette as an experiment. Turns out, this is the way to eat this variety. They baked down perfectly, got a little jammy, and became sticky and sweet.  A butter crust with just a pinch of sugar is a good, flaky counter to the fig's baked-down gooeyness.
A very fine autumn treat!

Fresh Fig Galette:

*aprox 20 fresh figs, stems removed, quartered lengthwise
*2 Tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
*1 Tablespoon sugar

Butter Pastry: (makes enough for one large galette)
*1 1/4 cups organic flour
*1/2 tsp sea salt
*2 Tablespoons raw sugar
*8 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed
*3-4 Tbsp ice water

Preheat oven to 375.
Place flour, salt and sugar in a food processor fitted with a pastry blade. Blend. Add the cold butter and blend to a course meal. With blade running, slowly add the ice water one tablespoon at a time until dough forms. Transfer dough onto a floured work surface. Form into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap or parchment and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Remove from freezer and unwrap. Return to floured work surface. Roll dough to desired thickness, about 1/4 inch. Transfer to a baking stone or baking sheet. Trim edges to make a circle.
Arrange fig slices in a large ring toward the center of the dough, allowing 2 inches of free space between fruit and edge of the dough. Repeat within the first ring of sliced figs until dough is filled with arranged fruit. Fold edges of pastry dough over onto the 1st ring of arranged fig slices to create a crust. Continue folding until fruit is bordered by folded dough.
Sprinkle fruit with cubes of butter and sugar.
Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes or until pastry is golden. Allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Exploring The History Of Corn

This article appeared recently in the Asheville Citizen Times:

Written by

Teosinte (Euchlaena mexicana), the original wild grass cultivated into what we recognize today as corn, found its way into modern agriculture more than 7,000 years ago. Over thousands of years, Native Americans transformed this miniature version of maize through careful cultivation into today’s most prolific grain.
Comparative high yields to other grasses helped corn become a staple to native people, representing security during winter months. Suitable for storage and various applications, left whole or ground into cornmeal, corn has been, and remains, a central element to our nation’s history.
Its appeal comes as no surprise. As each row of tightly gathered kernels must be persuaded to forfeit its sweet juices with enough pressure to produce the perfect crunch, this sensation has become a mascot of summertime celebration. Then there is the matter of grits, rich with butter and cheddar and a turn of fresh cracked pepper, or skillet cornbread infused with wild honey and sage. A long history with this seductive grain seems inevitable.
Today, corn varieties differ from one to the next as greatly as mealy grocery store tomatoes compare to their heirloom cousins. Almost no comparison exists between varieties grown simply for quantity and those grown for quality.
As agriculture has gone from the hands of the individual to the hands of only a few individuals, mainstream corn varieties have been greatly reduced, pushing many into extinction. Most corn today is grown in massive quantity, ending up as corn syrup, corn oil, processed into ethanol, or used as silage for livestock.
These varieties are owned and seeded by large corporations with specific purpose, leaving scant room for genetic diversity, while lacking the protein and micro-nutrient content of their ancestors. Yet in the wake of this pattern, small producers are successfully breeding old cultivars. The renaissance of heirloom corn cultivation ensures the future for endangered varieties while giving diners the gustatory satisfaction our grandparents used to know.
Last season, I grew a plot of Painted Mountain Corn (bred for its cold hardiness and drought resistance). Peeling away its ordinary looking husk revealed a rainbow of fantastic, striated color. Originally bred by the process of open pollination from seeds gathered from Native Americans and homesteaders from more than 70 varieties of native corn, this harvest was among my most memorable. Butcher’s Blood, another variety gaining notice, also captivates with alluring hues and nutritional excellence. These varieties are not intended for classic picnic-cob eating, but can be milled into nutritious flours or coarse-ground as a flavorful base for cornbread or polenta. 
As far as sweet hybrid varieties go, Silver Queen is a personal favorite. Introduced to this white kernel variety while working on a farm during my teens, I recall a swarm of Silver Queen devotees piling ears into canvas sacks in such a frenzy, we had to stash a few crates in the back of the market truck to keep latecomers from uncontrollable grief. So sweet and tender, it could be eaten directly from the field.With the help of seed savers, heritage growers and motivated breeders, corn varieties of the frontier are making a steady comeback. Since the genetics of native corn also carry the advantage of greater natural pest resistance than commercial varieties, small-scale producers gain extra incentive to try heritage seeds.
Whether the crop ends up decorating an autumn entryway, or becomes a highlight for the Thanksgiving table, genetic diversity for corn’s future is in the hands of backyard gardeners. Grow a few rows and save the seed from your most successful ears. The rest is a matter of history.

Savory corn pudding

A devotee of slow cooked grits and skillet cornbread, savory corn pudding has become a family favorite. Sweet and creamy, with a herbaceous nod from fresh sage, this application bumps corn from side dish to main course.
4-5 cups sweet corn kernels, freshly cut from the cob
2 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons high-quality unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup local honey
3 fresh large eggs
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
Black pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place corn in dish. Set aside.
Whisk remaining ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Pour over corn. Bake until top is golden, about 35-40 minutes. Serve warm.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Holiday Apple Raisin Challah

Apples and raisins coated in honey and cinnamon are braided into this egg-rich dough for a sweet start to the Jewish New Year.  This recipe is worth the effort.

Holiday Apple Raisin Challah: 
Recipe sourced from

"The trick to making great challah is to add just enough eggs and oil to the dough so that it tastes rich and moist without becoming heavy and sticky. My friend Kathy Cohen gets it exactly right—her bread, stuffed with apples, raisins, and cinnamon, is the highlight of her annual Jewish New Year feast. For years, I'd count the days between slices, until I finally decided to ask for the recipe."

Apple Notes: There aren't a lot of apples in this bread, so you want a variety that really stands out. Therefore, green firm-tart apples, such as Granny Smith and Rhode Island Greening, are the perfect choice here.

Equipment: 2 large baking sheets, rimmed or unrimmed


For the bread
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon plus 3/4 cup (155 g) granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml) vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 cups (870 g) all-purpose flour
For the filling
  • 1 large firm-tart apple (about 8 ounces), peeled, cored, and cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup (65 g) raisins
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg yolk


1. Combine 1/2 cup warm water, the yeast, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a small bowl. Stir until the yeast dissolves. Let it activate for 10 minutes—the mixture should look foamy.
2. In the large bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment or with a hand-held mixer, beat the eggs at medium speed until blended. Add the oil, salt, and remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Beat until pale in color, about 4 minutes. Beat in 2/3 cup water, then add the yeast mixture. Beat in the flour 1 cup at a time.
3. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 2 minutes (or use the dough hook on your mixer for 1 minute at low speed). Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and put in a warm corner of your kitchen to rise. I like to use my (unheated) oven with the lightbulb on. You want the dough to double in size, which takes just about an hour.
4. Punch down the dough, rewrap with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let the dough rise for 30 minutes. It won't quite double in this time, but it will puff up.
5. Meanwhile, make the filling: In a small bowl, toss the apples with the raisins, lemon juice, honey, and cinnamon. Let sit for 20 minutes, then drain any liquid.
6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Divide each half into three equal parts, for a total of six pieces. Roll out each piece to form a 12-inch strand, then pat each strand down into a flat rectangle shape. Spoon a bit of apple mixture down the center of each rectangle, then fold dough over the filling, roll into a 15-inch rope, and pinch the ends tight.
7. Form the loaves: Put three of the apple-filled "ropes" on each baking sheet. Braid the ropes together (fold right rope over center, then fold left rope over center, repeat). Pinch at bottom. Repeat with the other loaf. Cover the loaves with kitchen towels, and let rise for 45 minutes.
8. Preheat the oven to 400°F and set a rack to the middle position. Whisk the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water and brush over the tops of the loaves. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake until the crusts are browned and the bread is puffed and light, 30 minutes more. Transfer the loaves to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes before serving.
Reprinted from The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Traverso; photographs © 2011 by Squire Fox. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Roadside Attraction

Hands down, one of the finest treats of the season. After pulling over on the side of the road to grab a jug of fresh pressed grape juice, I went back to the cooler for a few dixie cups to sip some on the way home. Never in my life have I had such a memorable beverage.  Thank you Bel Aire Farm!