It has been going on for several weeks now: daily baskets of cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, trombonsino squash, broccoli, beans, scallions, okra, and more, left like abandoned babies in the mud room and kitchen. I seem to be finding myself awash in a veritable cornucopia of vegetables, particularly since you, dear readers. are not coming to our aid by buying them.
As my defense in dealing with this annual glut, I am lucky to have as my guide “Keeping the Harvest” by Nancy Chioffi and Gretchen Mean, (Storey Publishing, 2002). Its subtitle: Discover the Homegrown Goodness of Putting Up Your Own Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs.
On the cucumber front, I am putting up ball jar after ball jar of pickles: some dilled, some spicy, some sweet, some garlicky; some whole, some spears, some tiny cornichons.
I also have pounds of small cucumbers soaking in a brine bath in a largish crock, which will eventually become salt-cured pickles. So easy to do actually: add enough salt to a container of water that an uncooked egg floats and you have the brine, drop in the cukes, and slightly supplement the salt for a few days. Allow the cukes to stand immersed until they turn an olive green, and you will have pickles that are crisp and tender with a pleasant acidy, salty flavor.
This method is the route to preserving all kinds of vegetables, including among others, cauliflower, radishes, turnips, and cabbage, and is, of course, the way to sauerkraut as well. Brining is actually a method of fermentation by which bacteria change the sugars of the vegetables into lactic acid, which (along with the salt) prevents spoilage organisms from growing. It can be traced back to the ancient Chinese.
While brine curing is an age-old method of food preservation, and thus fits in with our quaint, old fashioned ways, we are not averse, despite our Luddite tendencies, to using our Cuisinart as a way of dealing with the rampant, almost grotesquely phallic trombonsino squash that intrude almost daily. A squash that is low in water content, the trombonsino, we find, when grated, is ideal for squash fritters. So we are currently grating, bagging, and freezing enough of the trombonsinos to get us through the winter. Our favorite squash fritter: Turkish kabak mucveri; see recipe below.
To fend off the tomato invasion, I have taken to cooking pans of damaged tomatoes into sauce, bagging, and freezing them (the goal our usual 60 pounds to get us through the winter). So far we have a good start towards that goal, since the peculiarly changing weather, in terms of moisture and temperature is causing an inordinate amount of split skins ,making many of them unsaleable, and hence candidates for sauce.
But whether we achieve this goal or not is questionable at this point, since the excessively wet and humid weather has created the conditions for some kind of tomato blight that, while not killing the vines, has held them back from their usual orgy of late summer production.
And … we have added drying to our arsenal of vegetable preservation. Given our sun starved summer, sun drying is definitely out this year. I did, however, manage to reduce the last few pounds of our fava beans to a tiny pint jar by drying them in an oven set on very low temperature, its door ajar for two days. For the rest of our drying, we rely on sunless areas with good air circulation. In the farm attic, we have bunches of dill drying, soon to be followed by bunches of basil. In the garage, our bunches of garlic are pretty well dried and ready to go up to the attic for storage.
Mark, in his innate ingenuity, has discovered that his clothes closet in our loft in Lower Manhattan, is ideal for drying herbs, and at this season, amongst his suits, ties, and shirts you are likely to find hanging bunches of herbs. So if you run into him in Manhattan in his city duds and he gives off whiffs of sage, the aromas of thyme and rosemary, and even a hint of mint you will know why.
So, dear reader, if you would like to save us from this bounty of the harvest preservation mania, please buy up some of these Turkana Farms vegetables, some to be eaten fresh, and maybe even some to preserve. Yes, Mark and I feel it is time for you to make your enjoyment of our vegetables not only virtual, but actual.
KABAK MUCVERI: from “Classic Turkish Cookery,” Ghillie Basan (Tauris Parke Books, London & New York, 2005)
2 lbs trombonsino or zucchini squash, grated with their skins
1 large onion. chopped or sliced
4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed with salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons plain flour
8 ounces beyaz peynir (Turkish white cheese) grated, or you can substitute kasseri (Kashkaval) or mozzarella
large bunch of dill, parsley, and mint, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon of kirmizi biber (Turkish red pepper) or you can substitute schezuan pepper flakes sauteed in a dry frying pan ’till dark
salt and freshly ground pepper
sunflower oil for frying
Sprinkle the grated squash with a little salt, leave them to weep for 5 minutes, and then squeeze out the excess water.
Heat the olive oil in a shallow pan and fry the onion, garlic, and squash until they begin to take on a bit of color.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the flour to a smooth batter. Add the cheese, herbs, and kirmizi biber.
Season with a little salt and pepper.
Beat in the squash mixture while still warm.
Heat a little sunflower oil, just enough to cover the base of the frying pan.
Drop a spoonful or two of the courgette mixture into the oil and fry ’till golden brown on both sides.
Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot or cold with yoghurt.