Event wrap-up

A nice crowd (was that 10 people?) participated in Sunday’s workshop on ketchup, mustard, and salad dressing. Even though Kraft and Heinz would like you to think these things are something only they can make, about half our folks had made at least one of these items before at home. It made me thankful, yet again, that we still have some traditions to preserve, and we aren’t starting entirely from scratch!

Download the workshop’s condiment recipes here.

Ketchup basics: Ketchup is made from concentrated tomatoes (simmered-down puree or even tomato paste) and seasoned with vinegar, salt, sugar, and a somewhat surprising blend of spices: cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cayenne, and sometimes onion and garlic. Two recipes are included in the downloadable recipe packet.

Mustard basics: The type of mustard seed you use really matters! Don’t use all brown or black mustard seeds; use some yellow ones as well. The darker mustard seeds have a more bitter flavor and can be overwhelming if used alone. Dried mustard powder can be used alone or with whole mustard seeds, depending on the kind of mustard you want to make. If using whole seeds, soak them overnight in water and vinegar so they’ll crack open when you put them in the blender the next day.

Mustard changes flavor a lot over time. The first day you mix it up, it might be too strong (hot and/or musky) to eat right away. Let it mellow a week or more in the fridge, and it’ll probably taste much better. An exception to this is mustard made from mustard powder and water or vinegar. If you want nose-searingly hot mustard, make it just before serving and don’t bother saving the leftovers. Like wasabi, it’ll singe your nose hairs but lose potency over time.

Salad dressing basics: Salad dressing is usually a variation on oil + vinegar + spice. Since oil and water don’t mix, you either need to constantly re-mix it, or find some kind of emulsifier (a substance that binds the water and oil together). Xanthan gum is commonly used to emulsify commercial salad dressing; we also discussed whether prepared mustard can help salad dressing stay emulsified.

Homogenized dairy and mayonnaise are both emulsions, and they can help emulsify other ingredients. Ranch dressing, for example, gets its sourness from buttermilk and yogurt or sour cream and its fat from mayo. (You can also leave the mayo out for a thinner, lower-fat dressing.)

A standard vinaigrette traditionally has two parts oil to one part vinegar – but you’ll want to use a tasty oil (like a good olive oil) for this. Participants also have made good dressings with 3:1 or 1:1 oil and vinegar. It depends on what you like, and how good your oil tastes. Classic French dressing is just a vinaigrette with paprika. The simple Honey French dressing in the recipe packet has equal parts oil, vinegar, and honey with some paprika and salt. The honey thickens it enough to be distinct from a vinaigrette, but it’s not so “ketchup-y” tasting as other “French” dressing recipes.

Folks made their own salad dressing and mustard concoctions at the end of class. some of them needed extra ingredients, or time to let the flavors blend. Folks, report back here with your results! I’ll re-post the recipes when they come in.

photo by Dan Bruell

The on-again, off-again, on-again tamale workshop was a huge hit! About 20 people packed into the back of Pilar’s Cafe while owner Sylvia Nolasco-Rivers and her mom walked us through making tamales from scratch.

The biggest surprise to me was that it is the masa (corn flour dough) that is the real focus of a good tamale – not the filling. I knew Sylvia and her crew make over a dozen flavors of tamales – from chicken and pork to black bean and even “Greek” tamales with fresh local greens, feta cheese, and kalamata olives – but I didn’t know that they make a different masa to go with the different types of fillings. Chicken tamales have masa made with chicken stock, pork tamales get pork stock, etc. The black bean tamales are even made with black bean “stock” – the saucy broth left after cooking the black beans for the casamiento (beans and rice). All the stocks are homemade from real ingredients – no bouillon here!

Sylvia makes a very “loose” masa. It looks like cake batter when you first mix it up, and it has to stand for at least one night in the fridge before you can scoop it and roll it into tamales. If you’ve ever bitten into a tamale and found it to be too dry, it’s because the masa was not mixed with enough stock and is simply dry and stiff. After standing for several hours, the masa should take on the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes. Masa will keep a long time in the fridge – a couple weeks at home, though Sylvia uses hers in under a week at the store.

Photo by Dan Bruell

Assembling the tamales is a little messy, but not too hard. You need a 12×10″ square of aluminum foil and a 6×9″ sheet of parchment paper. You can also use a cleaned square of banana leaf on top of the foil, if you like, though washing the leaves takes several changes of water and is very labor-intensive. Sylvia has stopped using them in her tamales because she’s concerned about the pesticides sprayed on the leaves. Many of her ingredients are organic, or at least hormone- and antibiotic-free, so she doesn’t want to ruin the health benefits by wrapping them in chemical-soaked leaves.

Don’t overfill the tamales; an egg-sized ball of masa, spread out with a dimple in the middle, is about right. Add some salsa and whatever fillings you like, then roll it up. This video shows the tamale-rolling process far better than I could explain.

After we made our tamales, we sampled some that had been cooked already, along with cortido (pickled cabbage salad) and horchata (an amazing sweet beverage with cinnamon and morro spices, reminiscent of chai but totally dairy-free). Snack time also gave us time to talk – we learned how horchata is made (and wow, is it totally worth $4/cup!) and about Sylvia’s plans to add an espresso bar to the cafe, with horchata lattes and spicy mochas. Yum! Sign me up.

Sylvia will probably be teaching more classes in the near future. She’ll announce them in her newsletter (sign up by calling the store at 734-929-4161) and when I learn of them, I’ll alert you to them here, too.

cabbageLast Sunday, we learned how easy it is to make homemade sauerkraut. I forgot my camera (again…) but the inimitable Ilex over at Homesteading in a Condo recently posted a photo essay of how she makes kraut. I refer you to her excellent guide to making sauerkraut, and make a few notes here about how we varied the process slightly.

Holly has beautiful, vintage sauerkraut crocks, and she makes several gallons at a time. If you are not blessed with such crocks, or want to make smaller batches, all is not lost! Canning jars make excellent small-batch kraut containers – use either quarts or half-gallon wide-mouth jars.

You can either salt the shredded cabbage in a bowl, tossing thoroughly to mix, or layer cabbage and salt right in your crock or jar. In either case, every few inches you need to stomp the cabbage and thoroughly bruise it. This gets it to release its juice, which will combine with the salt to make the salt brine that preserves the cabbage. Shred, salt, stomp. Shred, salt, stomp. That’s about all there is to it.

When you get to the top of your container or run out of cabbage, you want to make sure the kraut is submerged under brine. In a canning jar, I get great results by tucking a whole cabbage leaf into the jar, tucking it down around the shredded cabbage, to make a “stopper.” Then I put a quart-sized freezer bag into the neck of the jar and fill the bag with brine (2T salt to 1 quart water). Make sure the bag fills every crevice and holds the cabbage under the brine, and top with a loosely-sealed plastic lid.

Some other thoughts:

  • A 3-4 pound cabbage makes about a quart of kraut.
  • Use a total of 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of salt per quart of kraut. Measure it out beforehand and sprinkle it in evenly as you go.
  • More salt preserves better; less salt tastes better. As long as you keep the cabbage submerged and the top on (but not tight), you can usually keep the kraut from getting moldy.
  • Mold or “scum” (usually kahm yeast) is not dangerous, but it doesn’t taste good. You can safely scrape it off (taking a layer of kraut with it, if the gunk isn’t free-floating) and the rest of the kraut is OK to eat.
  • You can season kraut. Try:
    • 1-2 Tbl Caraway seeds
    • 1-2 Tbl mustard seeds plus 1-2Tbl prepared horseradish, dispersed evenly throughout the kraut
    • Add red pepper flakes, shredded carrots, shredded daikon, scallions, and ginger for a kimchee-like salad (this works great with nappa cabbage, and may need some additional brine)

Also, you don’t just have to eat your kraut straight. Try these:

  • Crumble and brown sausage with a diced onion. Add shredded cabbage and kale, a diced tart apple, and cooked diced potatoes (boil them with a lot of salt!). At the last minute, stir in about a cup of kraut and just heat it through. Top with cheddar, if you’re feeling decadent.
  • Add well-drained kraut to potato pancakes.
  • Mix 1/4 c. kraut or pickle juice, 1/4 c. vinegar, 1/4 c. salad oil, and 1 Tbl prepared mustard. Mix together and use as salad or slaw dressing.

appleTurnoverWe had a small, fun group for our apple turnover class, led by J.J. Jacobson (the Culinary Curator) on October 11th. Turnovers, for the uninitiated, are a buttery, flaky crust wrapped around half a peeled, sliced apple, spiced with cinnamon. Sort of a hand-held pie, but the crust was a revelation (at least to me). Far easier to work with than pie crust – more elastic and forgiving. Beats me how this works, because the ingredients and methods look very similar to pie crust (though we used all-purpose rather than pastry flour).They tasted amazing – truly the best baked-apple-pastry thing I’ve ever had.

The recipe is after the cut!


Apple tastingSept. 26th was Apple Day at the Grange.* This is an annual event that features all things apple. Inside, we had an apple-themed bake sale. Apple-rhubarb pie, a variety of apple cakes, apple baklava, and any number of cakes and cookies with applesauce in them. There was also an apple tasting – 15 or so varieties of apples, both fresh and dried crispy, many of which I’d never heard of before. And finally, some craft activities and displays (including one on food preservation methods that I set up).

*We’re talking the real Grange here, the Pittsfield Union Grange, not the new restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor.

Making apple sauce and butterOutside was where the real action was happening: a demo of making apple sauce and apple butter, and the make-your-own-cider activity. The apple sauce was made in batches throughout the day and doled out in paper cups to anyone who wanted them. We probably sauced 50 pounds of apples for sampling. Follow the cut for a visual tour of how to make your own apple cider! (more…)

tomato CanningSeptember saw two tomato canning workshops with Preserving Traditions: one at our original Ann Arbor / Pittsfield Grange location, and the first-ever event at our West Bloomfield / Westacres location! Here are the reports…

Sept. 13, at the Grange

Over a dozen canners turned out to learn the basics of water-bath canning, converting many pounds of tomatoes into sixteen quarts of canned chopped tomatoes. In a rarely-seen event, the tomatoes chopped exactly filled the jars available, which exactly filled the two canning kettles we had on the stove! Y’all have been warned, it never works out that perfectly at home. 🙂

The next Ann Arbor event will be Apple Turnovers on October 11th.

Sept. 20, Westacres

cannersThe Preserving Traditions-West Bloomfield Tomato Canning event was a hoot!  We ended up with 4 enthusiastic canners from 4 different experience levels.  One participant was fairly proficient at canning, one was an “ex-canner”, another had only made jam and the last was completely new to the whole canning experience.  The approach was very laid back with much support and input by all attendees,complete  with active discussions!  One conversation revolved around why our mothers learned to can from *their* mothers, but didn’t pass that knowledge to us.  Why was that?  Was it because of too many memories laboring over a hot stove in a summer kitchen that lacked air conditioning?  Were our mothers the result of the convenience food era, that canning was considered “backward” or unsophisicated?  Our “ex-canner” spoke on behalf of our mothers, and confirmed that these reasons could have very well lead to the broken link between generations.  However, with use of the commercial kitchen at the Westacres clubhouse we had lots of room in which to work, a relativity cool kitchen that didn’t need the aid of air conditioning and best of all great company that made the task all the more enjoyable!

Our October 18th event will involve making no-knead bread and saurkraut.  Won’t you join us?

All together now...
“All Together Now…” – photo by Dan

The final tally on Sunday’s salsa canning extravaganza was 52 pints of salsa! We started with somewhere around 70 pounds of tomatoes (from our gardens and Tantre Farm), 5 pounds of onions, numerous peppers, a fat bunch of cilantro, and other miscellaneous ingredients and ended up with three different batches of salsa. It tasted fabulous on some Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory chips.

Even better was the conversation throughout the 5-hour session. Farm schools, the changing nature of fraternal organizations, the challenges of getting edible gardens into parks (the neighbors think vegetables look “weedy”), and more. And we even had an event photographer – see photos from this event and others (and add your own) on the new Preserving Traditions Flickr Group!

And did I mention the mid-session yoga break upstairs on the dance floor?

For those wanting to recreate this salsa – the recipe was:

  • 7 quarts of diced, seeded tomatoes (about 10 pounds)
  • 4.5 cups of diced, seeded peppers (a combination of sweet and hot to your taste; try 1/2 c. jalapenos to start)
  • 5 cups of diced onion
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups bottled lemon or lime juice
  • 2 Tbl salt
  • 2 Tbl ground cumin
  • 2 Tbl ground dried Mexican oregano
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro

Combine all ingredients except the cumin, oregano, and cilantro. Bring to a boil and simmer 10-15 minutes. Add herbs and spices and simmer another 20 minutes or until it’s cooked down to your desired thickness. Ladle into jars and process 15 minutes in a water-bath canner.

Next event is Sept. 13th, when we’ll be doing another intro to canning workshop with tomatoes. Details coming soon!

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