Monday, July 27, 2009

Olde Tyme Techniques: How to Put Up Heirloom Field Peas for Winter

Got me some olde tyme country knowledge recently at my sassy elder cousin's house.

(Not just the lesson that you've got to have a separate beer fridge and coozie basket on your screened porch if you're really going to take summertime seriously -- which they do.)

This time around, I learned our family's generations-old method of "putting up" fresh summer field peas for the winter (that means freezing them), passed to my cousin by her mother, my heroic, super-rad great aunt Sue, who learned it from her mother growing up out in rural Kershaw County, SC, and so on.

I got these Dixie Lee field peas (3 lbs. worth) at our fancy little once-weekly, all-local farmers' market the other day.

Decided to put 'em up using the old ways.

(After saving out a few cups for my sassy summer succotash recipe, of course.)

If you've had fresh field peas*, which for some reason are completely unavailable in many parts of the country (the San Francisco area, for example, where I looked high and low to no avail), then you know that they are tasty, waxy little spring green morsels of low-calorie vegetable delight. There are a number of heirloom varieties: White Acre peas, Dixie Lees, Pink Eyes, Zipper peas, etc, most of which look like black eyed peas but are far less starchy with a lighter, grassier flavor.

Unless you've frozen your own, or know a local grocer who carries them frozen (big chains usually don't have the heirloom varieties), you can't get them in the winter. In summer, we usually get them at the big statewide farmers' market for about $4/lb., $15 for 4 lbs, and $28 for a bushel (8 lbs.), already shelled.

You have to do five things, really, to put up field peas for the winter (all while sipping an ice cold, cheap, light American beer, ideally):

1. Pick out the bad ones. Look especially for tiny little erums** that might be wriggling out of the peas they've colonized. (Happily, I haven't run into any yet, in three batches of field peas.)

2. Wash them twice in a basin of water, not just through a colander.

3. Blanch them; bring a big pot of water to a boil, then throw in your peas.

Leave them in there until the water starts boiling again.

4. Transfer the peas to an ice bath (half water, half ice) to stop the cooking, then drain.

5. Then bag and freeze them! Use freezer-safe bags, and not the slide lock kind. They don't seal as well.

My family uses quart bags, but I am trying out another method: flattening the peas (without mushing them) into a thin layer in a gallon bag.

I'll just break off however much I need when the time comes, then rebag the rest, like an old friend of mine does with chicken stock.

(Why? Cause I'm out of quart freezer bags and I forgot to get more at the store.)

Once you've popped those bad boys in the freezer, you're golden.

Or spring green, anyway.

Don't forget to reserve a cup or two for cooking this week! They'll keep about a week in the fridge.


Cook peas all the way by boiling them further til tender, 10-25 more minutes depending on the type of pea. Feel it out.

- summer vegetable succotash with sweet corn, fresh tomatoes, mild onions, fresh basil
- vegetable pot pie
- summer vegetable pancakes (bisquick pancake batter, corn, shredded zucchini + squash, diced jalapeno, shredded sharp white cheddar, field peas -- all veggies pre-cooked except for jalapeno and corn)

Um, I'm getting hungry. I will chat with you later. Please let me know if you have any other field pea recipes!

*I posted last year on butter beans, but I am a doof and didn't remember that down South, there is a difference between butter beans and field peas. Butter beans = lima beans and that sort of thing. Field peas are their own thing. There are lots of good pictures in that post, though! And some good info, even if my naming was a bit off. Whatever, I was tuckered from shelling my own crowder peas, dawg!

**Great Aunt Sue extolled the virtues of first examining an entire bushel of shelled peas closely, in small batches, looking closely for rotten bits and worms.

She disliked worms so much that she referred to them as "erums" so as to not gross herself out. Her husband Wilba noted recently, laughing, that putting up field peas with Sue was a real task, as she insisted on scrutinizing each pea individually.

"Each pea, girl. EACH PEA."

Friday, July 24, 2009

A-holes in NC Diss Hardee's B-Holes Commerical

Apparently, this Hardee's ad for their new fast food biscuit holes got pulled from NC broadcasts (or slotted in after 9pm) because it's a little too dirty. Sweet.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Food Nerd's Lifelong Dream Come True

If I wasn't a giant nerd before (and I was): I have, today, achieved a minor/enormous life goal.

I put all of my bulk spices into little glass bottles. ALL of them.

(Except the epazote. Sorry, epazote. I only use you, like, once a year when I make black beans.)

I have had my eye out for some rad spice containers for years. I knew I wanted them to be:

- multitudinous
- possessing of character
- basically free

And I was not going to puss out and buy them from Williams-Sonoma or some such. No way.

So last week, while my buddy Blalock was visiting from SF, we dropped into the sketchtastic His House thrift store out on Augusta Highway, on our way to get a late BBQ lunch out in BFE.

Sitting there in the kitchen bric-a-brac section was a Keds shoebox full of these sweet, 1930's-1940's vintage glass spice jars by "Crystal Food Products, Watseka, Ill. 60970" (note the old state abbreviation).

I gathered them up and went up to the surly gentleman running the cash register for a price check.

In my most hushed inner nerd voice, I thought, "Please be five dollars for all of them. Please don't charge me a buck a piece. Please please please pleasepleaselaselappleasepleee..."

"That box there? That'll be three dollars."

3 bucks! Not $3 each. $3 for all 24 of them! Sweet.

Ran them through the Fisher-Paykel (eco-cycle, duh), dried them well and rubbed the funk off of the copper-plated screwtops. Then spent the morning funneling in all of my dried herbs from Mom's garden (after pulverizing them in my mini food processor) as well as the bulk herbs and spices I'd stockpiled recently from Rainbow Grocery in SF.

It took FOREVER.

Not wanting to waste an opportunity to swan dive straight into the nerd zone, I made sticky labels to put on the jars for which I had no correlating spices. I don't stock caraway seed, so now it's a ground clove bottle, and so on.

(Yes, I made the label text a dark olive green in a pretentious font [Gungsuh -- ??] and cut out each and every one from a sheet of Avery 2"x4"s.)

I'll admit, I already had 10 generic glass spice bottles that I pilfered from my Mom's house months ago for my heavy-hitters like fennel seed, coriander, chile flakes and white pepper.

Today I graced these with nerdy, printed labels as well, so that each time I regard them on the shelf or use them in dish, I can praise myself for being so terribly organized.

Total spice organization: it's a long-term dream come true. Like, for the last 12-16 years or so. Now that I've made it happen, I can only imagine the food nerdish shenanigans into which I might descend next.

Til then,
P.S. Today I looked up my vintage spice bottles on eBay just to be self-congratulatory, and they go for $21 to $69 for a set of 24. My friends, believe this: I am full to the brim with flea marketer self-satisfaction.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tomato Tarte Tatin: This tomato pie kills it!

Tomato season means tomato pie. In this case, a repeat of a visually stunning NYT recipe with which I fell in love last year.

I made this yesterday for a family dinner party, and it was wholly devoured by vegetarians and carnivores alike! (After dinner, JJH, my cousin Emily, and I scavenged scraps from the near-empty serving plate like ravenous tomato vultures.)

Presenting yet again:

Caramelized Tomato Tarte Tatin!

Click here to see my original post, with recipe and cooking notes, from a September 2008 edition of The Yum Diary!

It's a fairly easy recipe, 90 minutes front to back, piled with:
-summersweet cherry tomatoes
-salty kalamata olives
-fresh thyme
-and caramelized vidalia onions
-on a buttery, puff pastry upside-down crust.

Frozen, prepackaged puff pastry is the key!

photo: TB

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Most Beautiful Ruins in America

Stopped to see the famous ruins of Old Sheldon Church on a recent trip to Beaufort, SC.

If it looks familiar, you might have seen it in The Big Chill. (Or in person, if you're lucky.)

It's one of the absolute oldest.

Some of the vaults *are* actually among the oldest in the state.

Others are still tended, in full-blown (creepy) Confederate fashion. 

Plenty of mouse tunnels in the foundation...

...But it's no challenge to get inside.

JJH, a seasoned stonemason, pointed out that the mortar between each brick was rife with tabby, a lowcountry building material made from crushed up oyster shells.

Nice place for a sunset.

(Although the once-yearly public service, held the second Sunday after Easter, is supposed to be quite something.)

Such a spiritual afternoon pairs well with a trip to downtown Beaufort, a sweet little port city featured in the tepid Barbra Streisand film The Prince of Tides.

Specifically, it calls for a trip to Hemingway's...

One heck of a great dive.

What's better than a happy hour game of dominoes?

Especially when the terrace you're enjoying is topped by this.

A stint on a waterfront porch swing doesn't hurt.

Time to go home. On the way, a different kind of ruin. This one, an old gas station at one of the Bowman exits off of I-26.

Even the nastiest leavings look lovely on a stormy summer day.

photos: TB