How to preserve the harvest, even if it comes from the grocery store (Recipe: pear chutney)
Every year in May, Candy and Dave drive down from Boston to help me prepare and plant the herb garden.
Every Monday morning in summer, before sunrise and before my first cup of coffee, I toddle out into the garden in my pajamas and cut handfuls of herbs. After I wrap the cuttings in damp paper towels, Ted delivers them to Boston in what we've come to call our very own "herb CSA."
Every September, Candy and Dave return to harvest, cook, dry and freeze the fruits (and herbs) of our summer garden into pantry items we use all winter.
This year, on harvest day, we put up two types of pesto, mint jalapeño syrup -- and the hottest chutney this side of anywhere.
An early cold spell nearly did in the basil, which is the most tender herb in my garden, so our first priority was to pull out all of the remaining basil and make as much pesto as we could. Then, for fun, we tried something new, a sage-pecan pesto I found on Kalyn's Kitchen. Both pestos went into the freezer.
From another favorite blog, Grow.Cook.Eat, we made a mint and jalapeño infused simple syrup to freeze and use as a base for jelly, lassi, ice cream, fruit salad or mojitos. You can leave the mint in, or strain it out and freeze the clear syrup.
The best of the herbs went into the drying screen. It's nothing more than a large window frame (recycled, of course), with two pieces of screening. One piece of screen is stapled to the frame. The other, stapled at the top, allows us to sandwich the herbs in between the layers.
After the herbs are spread out on the fixed screen, the other layer rolls down and gets tacked to the frame with push pins. I stand the frame up on end on the porch, protected from the rain, so air can circulate around the herbs and dry them completely. It takes three weeks for the herbs to dry. Then they're packed into glass jars for use throughout the winter.
While Candy and I were processing herbs, Dave harvested and made chutney from the remaining pears on our two pear trees.
The kitchen smelled wonderful as the aromas of fruit, spices, pepper and vinegar mingled with the fresh scent of basil and garlic.
Everything we made this year can be made with herbs and fruit from the supermarket. You can play with the ingredients, but don't leave out the friends, who are absolutely necessary for a perfect harvest day.
Delicious on turkey sandwiches, this chutney also makes a wonderful accompaniment to any Indian menu. I dare not tell you how many crushed red peppers went into the chutney in this photo. (Can you see the steam rising?) In a counterintuitive move for me, I've taken it down about 50 pegs on the heat scale from our friend Dave's original recipe. If your pepper flakes are very fresh, or very hot, cut the amount even more. Makes 6 pints.
32 oz distilled white vinegar
32 oz cold water
1 cup fresh ginger root, medium chopped
2 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more or less taste
1 cup currants or dried cranberries, roughly chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
14 cups fruit, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (pear, apple, mango, plum, etc., but not citrus)
In a large (8- or 12-quart) stock pot,combine vinegar, water, ginger, red pepper, currants and sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Add the fruit, and continue to simmer for 1 hour, until the fruit is translucent and the liquid syrupy. Pack into sterilized jars. Preserve in a water bath canner, or refrigerate for 2-3 months.
(Note: if you are planning to refrigerate without canning, replace the metal lids on mason jars with plastic screw-top lids. This will keep the acid in the chutney from eroding the metal top. The plastic replacement tops are available wherever canning jars are sold, but must be purchased separately. )