We ate a tree fungus for dinner a few nights ago. It may sound strange, but it was delicious! A friend brought over a large bag full of Laetiporus sulphureus the other night. It’s a mushroom that is commonly known as Chicken of the Woods or the chicken mushroom.
Apparently the growing conditions for Chicken of the Woods were ideal this year. I’d never tried it, but our friend assured us that she had tried it the previous night and suffered no ill effects, so we were game.
Chicken of the Woods grows on hardwood trees. It grows in layers, is orange/white in color, and can be as big as 10 inches across and weigh as much as 50 pounds. It dies back in winter but usually grows back in the same place every year. It should be harvested before it gets too old, as it can get tough.
It must be cooked before eating, and can be prepared much like chicken. Jim cleaned it carefully and cut out sections that appeared older. We sautéed it in oil (you can also use wine) and had it with salsa on a tortilla. It was delicious! Chicken of the Woods can be frozen without losing its texture, so we cleaned up the rest and now have a gallon bag full in the freezer for winter.
We love urban foraging, and I’m happy to report that our friend found this batch of Chicken of the Woods in an urban area. We grow nearly all of our own vegetables, but we haven’t really had a homegrown protein source, until now. Chicken of the Woods is high in protein and makes a nice meat substitute. Since trying it we’ve been on the lookout as we walk and drive around the city, looking for more!
We eat homemade pizza nearly once a week in the winter. I make my own crust and can pizza sauce with tomatoes from the garden. Canning pizza sauce is fairly easy, and if you are swamped with tomatoes and looking for something new to do with them, this might be for you. I find commercial pizza sauce kind of pricey, and I like the flavor of my own better, as well. Here’s an easy recipe for canned pizza sauce that I hope you will try.
Home Canned Pizza Sauce
Yields 6 to 7 pints.
12 to 14 cups cored, peeled paste tomatoes
3 medium onions
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
3 tablespoons fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon celery seed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon canning salt
6 to 12 ounces tomato paste
Prepare your water bath canner. Make sure your jars (pint) and lids are clean and put your lids in a small bowl of warm (not boiling) water. Your jars should be in simmering water to keep them hot.
Puree tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs together in food processor. You’ll have to do it in batches. Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT tomato paste.
Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened. This can take as long as 4 to 5 hours, depending on the type of tomatoes you are using. One thing about pizza sauce is that you want it pretty thick. If it’s runny, when you go to use it your pizza will be soggy. When the sauce is getting to close to your desired thickness, add as much tomato paste as needed to thicken it a bit further.
Ladle hot sauce into pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Carefully wipe your jar rims clean. Place lids and rings on jars and place jars in your boiling water bath. Boil in the canner for 25 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover and let canner sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars and place on a towel.
Let sit for about 24 hours. Check to make sure your jars sealed by feeling and looking at the lid, there should be no flex to the top. You can store these in a dark place for one year.
We’ve had a busy year getting settled into our new house, working hard to get our new homestead up and running. For about six months or so it’s seemed pretty frantic – setting up new everything – garden space, compost bin, clothesline, fruit trees, kitchen …
As all of you hard-core gardeners know, September is harvest time. We have pretty much everything coming in from the garden right now and we need to get it put up for winter. But in the midst of it all we broke down last week and took some needed time off. Getting away meant we had to walk away from the harvest work and caring for our fall crops. I lined up two people to help water while we were gone, and we picked and processed as much as we could the days before we left, but for the most part things just piled up.
We spent nearly a week at a lakeside family cabin far away in the mountains. Our only neighbors were the otters, eagles and loons. It did take us a day or two to get into vacation mode. I felt as if I had forgotten how to relax, if that’s possible. But in the end, Jim played lots of guitar and I read lots of books. We swam, biked and hiked. We cooked delicious meals and ate like kings with all the fresh produce we had brought with us.
Somehow I didn’t even get anxious about the garden. Well, maybe a little. But not much.
We came back on Saturday afternoon to discover that the green and yellow beans had gone wild, to say nothing of the bushels of ripe tomatoes we had to deal with. But, it was worth it. We managed to unwind and recharge for the first time in a very long time. No more breaks for a while as we continue to bring in tomatoes and start on the apples.
This year, as my birthday rolled around, I wanted to reprise last year’s ice cream cake recipe. But as the date approached, it became apparent that it would be way too hot to bake the bottom layer of an ice cream cake. I started looking around for a recipe that would satisfy – one with no baking at all! I finally found an ice box cake recipe and modified it to fit the bill.
This cake recipe was not cheap to make, in fact I am quite certain I could have bought a premade cake cheaper. But it sure does taste a lot better when you make your own, doesn’t it? Here’s the recipe in case you have a birthday coming up this summer and you don’t want to use the oven, but want something sweet and special.
Peanut Butter Chocolate Ice Box Cake
1 package (14 to 15 ounces) chocolate sandwich-filled cookies
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons half and half
1 tub (8 ounces) frozen whipped topping, thawed
8 fun-size peanut butter cups, chopped
1 milk chocolate bar (1-2 ounces), chopped
Line 9-by-9-inch square pan with waxed paper. Remove filling from cookies and discard. Crush chocolate wafers into crumbs using a food processor. Add melted butter and stir to combine. Press into pan using a spoon to compress crust firmly.
Whip cream cheese, peanut butter, vanilla and half and half together using mixer at medium speed. Add whipped topping and beat into batter until completely mixed. Add chopped peanut butter cups to batter. Stir well to combine and place filling into prepared crust.
Sprinkle chopped chocolate bar on top for garnish.
Freeze for at least 1 hour. Store in freezer.
Before you plan to eat it, bring it out for about 10 minutes or so to soften up. Enjoy and don’t worry about the calorie count!
Growing cucumbers seems to be feast or famine for us. We had complete crop failure three years in a row, then a bumper crop. This year is just so-so. The plants are getting killed by cucumber beetles and just aren’t thriving. We used seeds we got for free, which could be part of the problem, I don’t really know.
Luckily it doesn’t take a whole lot of cucumbers to make pickles. My last jar of 1,000 Island pickles ran out a few weeks ago, just in time to harvest enough to make a new batch.
Making pickles is a good introduction to canning and you can use fresh produce from the garden or farmer’s market. If you have even a couple extra cucumbers and are anxious to have a new canning adventure, this recipe is for you. I got it from my mom who has been making it for years.
1,000 Island Pickles
2 quarts sliced cucumbers
1 1/2 green peppers, sliced
1 heaping cup sliced onion
3 tablespoons pickling salt
2 1/2 cups vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
Place cucumbers, peppers and onion in large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Add enough cold water to cover. Let sit for 3 hours. Rinse well.
Prepare water bath canner. Make sure jars and lids are clean and put lids in small bowl of warm (not boiling) water. Jars should be in simmering water to keep them hot.
Heat vinegar on stove with seeds and sugar. Bring to boil and add cucumbers, onion and pepper. Return to a boil and stir in turmeric. Remove from heat.
Remove hot canning jars from water bath and ladle pickles into jars. Make sure to include enough liquid to totally cover pickles. If you don’t, they will get slimy in your jars at the top. Leave about 1/2-inch headspace. Place lids and rings on jars and place jars in your boiling water bath. Boil in canner for 15 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover and let canner sit for 5 minutes. Remove jars and place on a towel. Let sit for about 24 hours. My yield was about 8 half-pints. Enjoy!
Inundated with summer squash this year? Have you resorted to dropping off yellow squash and zucchinis at your neighbors’ houses? Here’s a way to use up some squash that’s delicious and simple. No canning equipment is needed for this recipe and they keep in the fridge for about a month.
Summer Squash Refrigerator Pickles
Yields about 2 pints.
3 cups sliced summer squash (yellow or zucchini)
1/2 cup sliced onion
1 large sliced bell pepper (yellow, red or green)
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
If you have one, use a food processor to slice up your summer squash so the slices are uniform. You want them thin but not paper thin. About what you’d expect for commercial pickle slices. Put sliced squash, bell pepper and onion into medium to large size bowl. Sprinkle salt over top and stir. Let sit (covered) for 1 hour at room temperature.
Rinse squash/peppers/onions in colander with cold water until completely rinsed.
In large pot, bring sugar, vinegar, mustard and celery seed and ground mustard to a boil. Pour in squash mixture and return to boil. Remove from heat. Cool and ladle into jars. Refrigerate for 24 hours before serving. Stores in the refrigerator up to 1 month.
About as far back as I can remember, summertime meant berry picking. We had special long-sleeved shirts that were just for picking. They protected our arms and if they got stained it didn’t matter. We each wore a belt around our waist with a bucket tied to it so we could pick hands-free. I don’t have any idea how many berries I picked on those August days, but I do remember it was hot out there!
Not much has changed in the way of my picking methods. I have a light-weight pair of pants now that is pretty much exclusively for berry-picking and a few yogurt containers I’ve poked holes through for a string so that they slip on my belt.
An old family friend owns a large blueberry patch where we’ve picked for many years. He has early, mid and late berries, so in a good year they start coming ripe about mid-July and go through early September. I went out this week and picked 19 pounds in just over two hours.
Blueberry picking is relaxing and rewarding. This week it was just me, the blue jays and the bees out there in that beautiful, open field. And now we have enough berries for some winemaking and maybe a few muffins. I do hope to go back out to pick again next week, this time to get some for my parents and in case we decide to up our wine production.
I had the berries frozen just a few hours after I picked them. I put them in zip-locked freezer bags, weigh and label each bag and freeze them up. I never wash as the patch isn’t sprayed and the berries are clean as can be.
I hope you, dear reader, are able to get out to a blueberry patch this year. It will nourish your mind, body and soul!