Wild grapes are kind of a pain to work with — each individual fruit is more than half seed and skin, so you need to collect a lot in order to do anything with them. Picking the fruit from the stems is tedious and requires many hands, or many hours. Still, I love their decisively sour character, their subtle musk and saturated, grape flavor. And gathering them is often a small adventure, requiring climbing trees or braving vine-choked thickets, basket in hand, just as the autumn leaves begin to turn.
I'm inclined to deny autumn an early start. But as peak produce season shifts into foggy nights and cool, dewy mornings, I've been processing summer vegetables with undeniable urgency. In the last week, I've canned tomatoes and kimchi-kraut, and partnered with friends and neighbors to squirrel away dilly beans and salsa, too.
On Sunday, a girlfriend and I made this spicy, fresh-flavored pico de gallo, using garden tomatoes and garlic, plus poblanos and onions that I grabbed from Putting Down Roots Farm at Chelsea farmers market last Friday. It's fab the moment you make it, so ladle some off and enjoy it right away. But given a few days to develop, the salsa's flavor deepens to a tart, extra-spicy (and extra-healthy, probiotic) mélange.
For folks who are new to making their own fermented foods, this is a really nice newbie recipe. Unlike kimchi or even sauerkraut, it's a snap to make, and the resulting salsa is familiar and accessible to every palate.
Once you've fermented it at room temperature for several days, stick it in the fridge. It'll last about a month, for continued summer-y enjoyment, even after the first frost.
Many drinkers stick to clear, clean liquors like gin or vodka when the weather is hot. But with ample ice and a shot of tart fruit, whiskey can make a cocktail as light and refreshing as any greyhound or gin fizz around.
A few months ago, Stonecutter Sprits released its Heritage Cask Whiskey According to co-owner Sas Stewart, it's "distilled like bourbon, aged like Irish whiskey and finished like Scotch." Whatever the process, it's a smooth, woody spirit with a vanilla nose and notes of dark fruit and clove, with an off-dry, spicy finish.
Since the bottle retails for about $60, I like to savor it as a sipping whiskey. But it also makes a fine cocktail.
Making pesto is one of summer's most joyous pleasures. It's a snap to prepare — the recipe below takes 15 minutes — and eating it is always a special treat.
I'm a fan of the classic Italian blend of basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and Parmesan. But taking that recipe as a basic equation — green leaves + (garlic) + oil + nuts + (something creamy) + (a splash of citrus) + salt — opens up endless combinations of deliciousness.
So ask yourself: What green leaves do I have on hand, and what would they combine well with?
Ever meet a dilly bean you didn't love? Well, you can pickle peas, too. One of my girlfriends made lactofermented snap-pea "pea-kles" last summer, and they're still flavorful, crispy and sour a full year later.
So, with a few pounds of extra sugarsnaps on my hands, I threw some into jars with fresh onions from Cedar Circle Farm, a little wild chamomile (also called pineapple weed, this grows all over my driveway, and in compacted soils everywhere) then covered them in salty maple brine.
Lactopickling is super simple — my pea-kle ordeal took about 30 minutes including boiling and cooling the brine — but it's critical to follow a few important rules.
After spending the holiday weekend visiting family in New York, I returned to a garden overgrowing with kale and broccoli rabe and bushing basil that demanded picking. The thing about leafy greens that need picking is this: If you don't pick now, you'll have less to pick later. So I picked and picked and picked, half-wondering what I'd do with so much roughage.
Then I remembered a recent conversation with my cousin, who reminded me that kale can be tenderized with a bit of rough handling, so I ripped up a bunch, and twisted and squeezed it. With some chopped herbs and a splash of oil and vinegar, a hearty, summery salad was born. And, if you're one of the hundreds of Vermonters who receives piles and piles of kale in your CSA share, you can make it tonight in 10 minutes or less.
If there's one thing my kitchen garden does really well, it's grow herbs. Like clockwork, thyme blooms around the summer solstice, sending up charming little columns of flowers that seem to last for weeks. To eat, these blooms are somewhat milder than the leaves, tender and sweet, with light tannic notes (thyme is, after all, a woody herb) and a hint of licorice.
Radishes are a book-end vegetable, one of the first freshies of spring, and one of the last veggies standing come fall. I love the crunchy little roots served fresh or in salad, and they're fab on the grill or sautéed. And don't get me started on the greens, which make a fine pesto base or spinach substitute.
I planted some in mid-April (remember how it snowed just a few weeks ago?), and expected to harvest them this week and next. But following several 80-degree days and Sunday's rain, they bolted yesterday afternoon. I saved a few, but mostly I got a sink full of greens, since the plants had converted their bulbous roots into flower stalks in a single day.
This morning, I took a bunch of those greens and cooked them into a fluffy, frothy frittata with fresh herbs, asparagus from 4 Corners Farm and a handful of cow's milk "feta" from Neighborly Farms, over in Randolph.
After a cool spring, summer mushroom season is finally here. I've been too busy to hit the trail myself, but if my Instagram feed is any indication, it's been a bumper year for morels. Last weekend, a friend of mine stopped at his usual morel spot on his way home. It was devoid of morels, but he did find a huge cluster of chicken of the woods, and grabbed enough to share. Lucky me!
Last night, I bathed the fungi (along with some oyster mushrooms my mom brought over) in a slap-dash marinade for 15 minutes, then passed them off to the grill man, who charred them briefly for a sumptuous supper side.
My marinade was simple — a splash of olive oil, a bigger splash of beer (I was drinking an IPA from Harpoon Brewery, but anything with some flavor — white wine, rosé or cider — would work), and a little salt and garlic. Also, this would work with other types of mushrooms, so you could use a portobello or even some big button mushrooms, if you're not into or can't get the wild stuff.
After high school, I took a year off before heading to college. I spent most of that time screwing around in the Northeast Kingdom and working for the Appalachian Mountain Club, deep in the White Mountains. But in spring 2002, I flew to Europe. I traveled and worked on farms, mostly in Italy.
There, life on the road — and, of course, the old Italian farmers and WWOOF-er weirdos I lived with — taught 18-year-old me a few things about eating and cooking.
First: The best meals often consist of sturdy bread, handmade cheese and charcuterie or fresh pesto. Second: When cooking, most dishes require just a couple quality ingredients — and a bit of salt. Combine them with care and don't fuss about it too much!