My darling Ivy, my friend in the cave

face-in-a-cave
Ivy

My darling Ivy, my friend in the cave. Don’t know when she got there. Don’t know why she would stay. The glint of her eye says she might once roamed free. But, she has no voice and could never tell me.

_______________________

Sometimes I see very cute faces in things, like last week when I was behind a Jeep without its spare tire. He had a really goofy smile.

But every now and then I see a freaky Cave Demon. GAH! Burn it with fire!

For your reading pleasure, see Jiangang Liu’s IgNoble Prize  for researching what happens to the brain when you see Jesus on a piece of toast.

Lemon Drop Marmalade

Small Tree, Adapted to Austin

This citrus is not a native to Austin. However, it is well-adapted to the central Texas region in that it tolerates our heat, cold, and varying moisture. It is also very unlikely to become invasive, which is a major concern when you introduce a non-native species to your yard. It’s cute, too. Why plant some blah bush or non-native decorative tree (stupid crepe myrtles) when you can have this crop plant be just as cute…and edible?!

The Lemon Drop is a kumquat-lemon hybrid. I think I read somewhere that the hybridization developed in south Texas. Kumquats do well here, too. I don’t think you’ll find as much use for a kumquat as you will a lemon drop, though. The lemon drop fruit is far more fragrant and much larger. And I always have felt that kumquats are “aspirational” fruits. Like, you buy it with all the hope in the world that this is the year you totally get kumquats and enjoy them. Yeah, then there they sit.

The recipe I have below should work for most types of citrus. This year, I had a sufficient crop and could experiment with methods of removing the bitterness from the rind while maintaining the texture of a true marmalade.

How to Remove Bitterness from Marmalade

And you if you are here searching for “How to Remove Bitterness from Marmalade,” I am sad to inform you that it’s too late once you’ve cooked it. Lost cause. You’ll need to give it to someone who likes the bitterness. Or find a use other than spreading it on toast. I’m certain you are disappointed to read this! I’ve been where you are. Oh man. Really. I even tried taking out some of the peels. And boiling/draining the remaining peels I used. Didn’t help.

Just start over with a new batch.

Now, if you are just having problems getting the marmalade to set, there are many ways to help that problem, and you can find good advice all over the place. But not for bitterness.

How to AVOID Bitterness in Marmalade

This I can help you with. I tried several methods of bitter-removal. Here are a few options:

  1. Slice fruit thin, perhaps with a mandoline. Soak for 2 days. My result? One year, I picked the fruit young and green. It had very little pith, so this worked fine to plump up the skin. The pith is the bitter part. Soaking a thick pith did nothing to remove the bitterness.
  2. Boil and drain the skins a few times. I read that on My Persian Kitchen. It helps, but I feel like when you totally remove the pith, you lose the texture. I also feel like I lost a some flavor.
  3. Grate zest off, squeeze out juice, chuck the pith. Have I made this batch yet? No. Why? This won’t be the texture of marmalade! Some kinda jelly or something maybe. I think I will make lemon curd.
    TL/DR version
  4. Cut off rinds (with a knife, not with a peeler or grater), keeping some pith on them. Slice rinds up thinly, and boil for 10 minutes. Drain. You will still have some bitterness, but it won’t be unbearable.

RECIPE/PROCESS

I don’t follow strict recipe guidelines. Sometimes, this results in disaster. Usually not. The most important thing is to FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS WITH THE PECTIN YOU BOUGHT. Yes, you can technically cook a marmalade without pectin. But we are removing bitter pectin here.

My preference is a tart jam/jelly/marmalade than doesn’t have a cloying sweetness. I’m not afraid of sugar, I just don’t like sticky, sweet jams. I use a low-sugar pectin and depend on my own taste buds. It’s a forgiving pectin, thank goodness.

1. SOAKING

Very helpful to cut down on cooking time. You can plop your fruit in a bowl for a couple of days to soften the peels. You can also slice your fruits up entirely and soak them in their juices–if bitterness is not a problem for you.

3. PEEL/GRATE/SQUEEZE

Again, depending on how you want this to come out, decide on how much pith to keep. You’ll need some for texture. Then squeeze your juice out.

RECIPE PROPORTIONS

I have read so, so many recipes with all kinds of proportions. 4 oranges EIGHT CUPS OF SUGAR. Criminy, Ina Garten. A good set requires a proper proportion of acid, sugar, and pectin. By using a low-sugar pectin, you have flexibility to avoid the sugar overdose. You will have plenty of citric acid, so no worries there. When you are cooking, use the lowest sugar amount recommended by the pectin manufacturer and bump it up from there if you can’t get it to set. Here’s the deal: This is not an exact science since you’ve probably removed a great portion of the pith, which contains the pectin necessary to make a good set.

3. PROBLEMS WITH SETTING

Oh dear, yes. This is going to happen when you are taking out much of the naturally occurring pectin. You are going to have to test that marmalade after the first round of pectin to ensure you’ve got anything near a set. You may have to go ahead and add more sugar and pectin. That being said, it seems that letting the marmalade sit around for a couple of weeks really does help achieve a firmer set. Unless you have a soupy mix–that needs to be reprocessed.

4. MY MEASUREMENTS

My successful batch had 6 cups of juice, peels with some pith (boiled to remove bitterness) and 2 rounds of pectin + sugar. The first pectin application did not set. I can’t tell you exactly the amount of sugar to use–you have to read your pectin instructions. How many jars did this make? I can’t recall. I make small 4 oz. jars to give away and some pint ones, too. I don’t think marmalade would set well in a large quart jar.

5. OTHER INGREDIENTS

I have seen recipes which call for water as an ingredient. I don’t want my flavor or texture weakened, so a hard pass on the water. I also don’t add butter to my jellies/jams to control frothing. I skim froth off if it is a problem. I also saw a recipe with baking soda in it, and I am not sure how to take that. Spices? Sure, go ahead. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to try that. You might end up with a chutney if you put too much in. But chutney is good, too.

Foggy New Orleans (Christmas 2016)

Christmas Day in New Orleans this year was extremely foggy. I got to see fog creeping across the river and head to the downtown area. It was eery! And moved a lot faster than I thought it would.

I decided to take a few pictures of the bridge being completely covered in fog while I had the chance.

ih10-bridge-foggy-web
IH10 Bridge (New Orleans)

I focused on the foreground to add some interest and color to the scene for the second set of pictures I took. I had a hard time controlling the view since it was not easy to simply break a branch here in there. The terrain of the river bank was a it rough.  But I got a few I was satisfied with.

ih10-bridge-new-orleans-fog-web
IH10 Bridge (New Orleans)

More Moss!

Here’s some more pretty winter moss in Austin, Texas. I took these at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. 16 years in this city, and I never heard of the place until I was researching places to find fossils. My son has a science fair project, so….

I’d feel bad not knowing about the preserver but my husband is from Austin and never heard of it. I think we may need to get out more.

I “underexposed” (AKA exposed for the sun on the moss) these for a dramatic feel.
moss-in-light-web Continue reading “More Moss!”

Edible Landscaping: What to do with so many peppers?

Lemon Drop Tree: Marmalade

Small Tree, Adapted to Austin This citrus is not a native to Austin. However,  it is well-adapted to the central Texas region in that it tolerates our heat, cold, and varying moisture. It is also very unlikely to become invasive, which is a major concern when you introduce a non-native species to your yard. It’s cute, … Continue reading Lemon Drop Tree: Marmalade

Austin Tea Blend

Proportions 40% Turk’s Cap flowers 50% Bee Balm leaves 10% Mexican Tarragon Native Plants I have experimented with Turk’s Cap for a few years–with entirely mediocre results. I think this is finally a winning recipe. I treated it like a hibiscus flower and dried it for tea. All three ingredients are native to Texas. Turk’s … Continue reading Austin Tea Blend

Why limit your peppers strictly to the garden? There’s no reason why you can’t plant hot peppers as annuals in your landscaping beds. In Texas, they grow easily in the blazing sun and don’t having rampant pest issues. And they are perfect for xeriscaping.

The habanero pepper is a nice choice because of its cute, wrinkled bright orange fruits. That would be a nice addition to an ordinary flower bed. I also recommend the chili pequin bush, a Central Texas native, because it grows very happily in our climate and spreads, or volunteers, with ease.

IDEAS!

I’ve got practical uses for all hot peppers–other than using fresh in salsas. To a certain extent, you can substitute one pepper for another in most recipes. Now, mind you me, don’t go putting the same weight of habaneros in a hot sauce as you would jalapeños. Unless you like burning your innards!

  1. Give them away to neighbors/coworkers/whoever. Seriously, this is the most efficient way to get rid of them. Not very fun, though. But it builds goodwill. :/
  2. Habanero Hot Sauce! Chile Pequin Hot Sauce! 
  3. Jalapeño jelly. I think I go through 1 jar a year. My coworkers and friends appreciate the gifts, though.
  4. Habanero jelly. I’ve seen recipes for making jelly with straight peppers. I haven’t tried that yet. I prefer to mix them with fruit, especially peaches.
  5. Pickling. My preferred method of preserving peppers.
  6. Fermenting. Not as gross as it sounds, I swear! If you’ve had Tabasco, you’ve eaten fermented hot peppers. Here’s a recipe from a home cook.

Eat the landscape: Pickled Peppers

Hot peppers are the perfect small bushes for hot, sunny areas where other plants may not survive. Habaneros are especially cute in the fall because they have orange fruit for your traditional fall color. It can be in short supply here, flaming sumac aside. It is reported that you can eat the fruits of the flaming sumac, but I haven’t tried them yet.

Wait for me to try the flaming sumac fruits, and see if I live to tell the tale before you go do it. If I have posted an unfamiliar native plant in my recipes, I assure you I have eaten it repeatedly with no ill effect. Then I give it to my son to eat and see what happens. He’s my first-born, and thus, the experimental child.

how-to-pickle-peppers
A colorful mix of peppers and onion on the left and pickled habaneros hiding on the right.

For this giardiniera recipe, I used the puny green bell peppers I managed to grow this year, jalapeños that turned red on the bush, and store-bought onions. The smaller jar contains pickled habaneros.

An Austin restaurant, Azul Tequila, serves a red onion-habanero pickle with their carnitas de puerco dish. I love it, and it is easy to make.  You don’t have to process that pickle dish to use it. YES, EASY PICKLE. You can make this “quick pickle” by soaking the onions and peppers in vinegar for a few hours before serving.

For canning purposes, you’ll have a few more steps. After years of pickling, I have come up with a flavor profile I prefer, but I am not going to throw that at you. My one piece of advice for flavoring is to mix water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a proportion you find tasty. Then pick your choice of herbs/spices. If you don’t like vinegar, you must use another type of acid to lower the Ph. People have actually gotten botulism from home-canned goods.

Then again, some people are gross and leave the Thanksgiving turkey out all night on the table and make soup of it in the morning after the cats gnawed on it. (True story from a friend whose in-laws do not follow proper hand washing technique…and more! My friend did not eat the soup.)

Please, please boil the jars for at least ten minutes. But not the lid with the wax ring. You boil that, you weaken the seal when you put it on your finished product. Anyone who tells you otherwise is working with out-of-date information. Hot, soapy water will clean them sufficiently. No bumpy/jagged edges for the glass, either.

  1. A 3:1 vinegar (does not really matter which kind) to water ratio. Or more vinegar if you like it.
  2. Salt to taste. We aren’t fermenting, so it’s not that important. Only Kosher salt!
  3. Sugar to taste–or none. I like to take the edge off the vinegar with it.
  4. Spices/herbs like mustard seed, peppercorns, or dill. It’s really up to you and the herbs and spices you prefer.
  5. Tightly pack your veggies, and pour the hot brine on them. Leave a bit of space (1/4 inch or so) between the filling and rim. Wipe rim dry with a dampened towel.
  6. Put the lid and band on, and boil for at least 10 minutes. Take out, let cool before storing.

I’ve never had the seal not “pop” shut. But if a jar doesn’t pop shut after a couple of hours, do not store the jar. Process with a new lid.

I have overfilled jars before, which I notice when I put the lid on, try to close the jar, and hot brine overflows. WHOOPS.  Just dump some of the brine out, wipe the rim and lid, and close it again.

 

Chile Pequin Recipe: Eat the Landscape

chile-pequin-recipt
Ingredients for a chile piquin hot sauce–Tabasco style.

 

I’ve dried these in the oven before for ground red pepper. You can also wait for them to dry on the plant. Then you cut the stems and shake the peppers off. 

You can pick the green or red peppers and use them in salsa–however you’d use a hot pepper.

There’s a lot of educational stuff below the recipe. Read it if you are interested in using more of your landscape for food. You probably should read it because, you know, zombie apocalypse. You’ll need this information when that happens.

Ingredients

  1. 1/2 cup chile pequin peppers (AKA Chile petin, Bird pepper, Turkey pepper)
  2. 1/2 cup onion
  3. 1.5 tbsp. minced garlic
  4. 1 cup vinegar
  5. Salt to taste

 

RECIPE (Go see Emeril Lagasse for a better explanation.)

  1. Get a kid to harvest the red berries of the Grand Chile Pequin. This will cost you a few additional dollars for allowance. But the tedium you avoid is worth a 5 note. I don’t use the green berries because they aren’t as fragrant.
  2. Emeril’s recipe: He says 20 serranos or tabascos. Depending on your love of spiciness, get 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of the pequin peppers.
  3. A clove or two of minced garlic. I also mush mine with the knife and some salt. Mom taught me to do that.
  4. A half of a medium onion. He says to slice thinly. It hardly matters because:
  5. Sautee for 3 minutes. Put 2 cups of water in and cook down for about 20 minutes until the liquid is gone.
  6. Blender. With a cup of vinegar. He said to use white vinegar, so I did. I doubt something untoward will happen should you use white wine vinegar. BUT WHO KNOWS. I live dangerously.
  7. Sieve it. Then do it again. And again. And again. Until you’ve got more of a liquid than a thick Pepper Smoothie.
  8. Put in a sterile (boiled 10 minutes) jar. Lid. Put in fridge for at least 2 weeks. Because Emeril says so.

_______________________________________

ALL THE GOOD INFORMATION

Chile pequin is an excellent landscaping bush for scorching, dry locations. And you can eat the berries. Well, peppers. Those suckers are hot! I prefer to plant bushes that serve a dual purpose. Either feed me or some animal around here–or be gone. You can’t just sit here looking pretty!

Being a native plant, the piquin has done swimmingly through both the droughts and the rains. It’s found throughout the Americas. If you are in a northern region, it would probably be an annual. But I don’t know that for sure! It dies down to the ground here in cold winters. (Yes, it does get cold in Austin. Not Minnesota cold, but enough to kill most tropical/sub-tropical plants.)

There aren’t a whole heck of a lot of recipes for some of the native landscaping plants you can find in Austin. (winecups…they tell me at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center that you can eat the tubers. Huh.)

But these are chili peppers. Seriously. This is easy. Mash ’em. Fry ’em. Put ’em in a stew. <<<—waaaiiit. That’s taters. That’s the speech Samwise Gamgee gives to Golum. Wrong plant. WAIT AGAIN. Those capsicum annuums are members of the potato family.

 

 

 

 

Low Sugar Black Spanish Jelly

Recipe

  • 4 cups of fresh grape juice
  • 1.5 Tbsp of low sugar pectin
  • 2/3 cup of sugar
  • As always, sterilize your jars in boiling water and then process them in a boiling water bath.
  • Consult the Kerr, Ball, and Martha Stewart websites for more detail on ingredient quantities.

In Austin and much of Texas, you can add a grape vine to your landscape without it looking out of place. There’s no one way to grow a grape vine. You can put in a trellis and have it climb up. You can head prune. So many ways to grow them. The important factor being that you trim heavily when the vine is dormant in the winter.

wp-image-91327597jpg.jpg
Not the most spreadable of the jellies I have made.

I tried a low sugar pectin this year. I was cautious with the addition of pectin and sugar, but there were lumps I still had to remove. I think my reduced grape juice had a fair amount of pectin to start. Last year I just cooked the grapes down to a butter without pectin.

Anyhow, the flavor is better than usual jelly. It’s tart like a Fruit Roll-Up but not as chewy.

wp-1470859864770.jpg
Zinfandel grape vine

As you can see from the picture above, it’s easy to add a grape vine to a landscape. Some are more productive than others. I have had remarkable luck with the Black Spanish vine in most years. The hotter and drier, the more fruit it makes. It does well here because it is a native vine to the South.

That being said, a single zinfandel vine alone can make enough to fulfill your backyard grape needs. Black Spanish vines make sparse grape clusters, so you would do well with 3-4 vines. (I should tell you that I take a hands-off approach for native plants. I’m sure with careful viticulture that you would get better clusters.)

You have a choice here if your your yard is small. There are costs/benefits to both vines. We had an extraordinarily wet spring, which ruined the zinfandel crop. The Black Spanish produced as always. But in most years, I would just need the one zinfandel vine. You are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Whichever decision you make, be assured it will as right as it is wrong.

An additional note: You can eat the zinfandels from the vine. Black Spanish grapes are too tart and the skins too thick for table eating. Both clusters will have unripened grapes on them. That’s just the way it is. Chuck the green ones.

wp-1470861455650.jpg
Black Spanish makes a near-black jelly.

Or if you have zero interest in canning, you can walk out in the yard and eat the grapes off the vine while they are still warm from the hot summer sun. You can spit the seeds right into the lawn. Composting!