Category Archives: preserved foods


Things to do with baby black walnuts

I have a thing. A colour thing. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a visceral reaction to all things pigmented. Much like when around someone you love you want to shower them with hugs and pet their hair (if I’ve ever petted your hair absent-mindedly now you know why), with colours I want to roll around in them. You know, like a dog does with mud, or a cat does with catnip or like the poet Rumi did with God. It’s usually red and majorelle blue. Occasionally it’s terracotta and magenta. The other day it was something green.

My friend Emily and I had made nocino. It was a fun afternoon inspired by chancing upon some early baby black walnuts (which, for the record, are no longer early, and if you act swiftly you might still catch them). She’d tasted it and loved it; I had not. But given their abundance, my undying love of cooking with wild things, and despite my skepticism over something so vile smelling could eventually taste good, we jumped in. Which is where the green comes in.

Lovely readers, this stuff is stunning. Within a few hours of mixing the ingredients together, the jars, if set along a window sill, will cast a shade of green so unearthly upon your space that you too will want to roll around in it until all that’s left is an alien-coloured splotch on the tablecloth. I restrained myself and stared instead, for hours on end.

We’re supposed to wait at least 6 months to taste it, so I’ll be sure to come back and tell you guys how it is (possibly tugging along a hangover while I’m at it). But in the meantime, if you’d like to make it too, here’s what to do:

Go and find some black walnut trees, and gather as many of the little baby fruits as you can. (for information on how to find and ID black walnuts see Butter’s lovely post on it HERE)

Pick up a big bottle of vodka, some sugar, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla.

Clean out some big mason jars.

And then in 6 months, when the nights are drawing long, and a chill has set in, we can all gather in a big interweb living room by an ifire and have a nocino party. Sound good? Thought so…


From David Lebovitz

Per every 30 green walnuts, quartered

1 litre vodka

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 sticks cinnamon

10 cloves

1/2 vanilla bean

1 lemon zest (use a potato peeler)

Put all the dry ingredients in a big jar, and pour the vodka over the top. Shake (once the lid is on), then set aside. You’re supposed to shake it every day, but according to Emily, it’s nicer if you only shake it every few days. And you don’t have to twist my arm to remember to do less. Leave it in a cool dark place for 2 months, then strain and bottle. It’ll be ready to drink after 6 months, though I’ve heard that the older it gets, the nicer it gets… 


Pickled Watermelon Rinds

I like watching people test for good watermelons, because it makes them look crazy. I know this, because I do it, and people look at me like I’m crazy. I learned the knocking technique from an Israeli woman who claimed to be the ‘queen of vegetables’, who would bustle around the grocery store, knocking on watermelons until she’d delightedly find the right one (about which she’d then shout across the store in her loudest voice, deafening those around her and embarrassing those who were with her).

I started doing it tentatively, and then enthusiastically, and now I end up teaching a couple of people how to do it each time.

It’s easy. All you do is put the watermelon to your ear, and knock on it like you’re knocking on somebody’s door. Knock like it’s a business meeting, not your sleeping neighbour. And listen for a dull throb, not a high pitched ding. The dullest throb you find is the watermelon for you. And then teach somebody else how to do it, because they’ll be looking at  you like you’re crazy. Conversely, you could just start replying to said watermelon, and you might clear a space for yourself in the line…

Pickled watermelon rinds have caught my curiosity for a couple of years, but I was always too lazy to make them. Then, when I was visiting Butter in Boulder, we went to The Pinyon- one of the restaurants she forages for, and on their {gorgeous} menu were pickled watermelon rinds. So we ordered them, and I ate the entire jar, and fell asleep thinking about them. Most recipes for pickled rinds use just the white part, but at The Pinyon, they leave some of the flesh attached. And I tell ya, I’ll never do it any other way- having that little bit of deliciousness is crazy good, and it means you don’t need to specifically find a watermelon with big white rinds.

They’re easy to make. Ridiculously easy. And delicious. Ridiculously delicious. Crisp, tart, sweet, wateremelony. Great served with a rare steak and a glass of wine. Great in a sandwich with chicken and arugula. Great on their own or with cheddar when you’re wandering aimlessly into the kitchen in the afternoon trying to figure out what to do next.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

1 large watermelon

2 cups cider vinegar

2 cups water

1 cup sugar


Using a vegetable peeler, peel the watermelon as best as you can. Cut it in half first (so it doesn’t roll all over the place) and go at it. For hard to peel parts you can use a paring knife, but try to use a peeler as much as possible so you get as much rind as possible.

Cut the half in half. Then, delicately, cut out the flesh, leaving about an inch of red flesh attached to the white rind. Then, slice the flesh-deprived quarters into 2-inch-wide strips. You’ll have a little triangle left over. Slice each of those strips into thin strips that are 2-inches long. I made all of mine about 2 milimeters wide, but you can go thinner than that if you prefer them less crunchy.

Now you have a pile of strips of watermelon rinds, stuff them into jars, however you want. You can be pretty about it or quick about it- I did some of both. The pretty ones have been given away, the quick ones are being devoured by the day…

Bring the water, cider and sugar to a boil. Remove from the heat, and start ladling the liquid into the jars filled with watermelon. The liquid must be boiling hot. Put the lids on- they should seal (if not, eat those ones first). Wait for them to cool, then refrigerate.

I’m sure you can pressure can these so that they’re shelf-stable but I figured we’d go through them all so fast it wasn’t entirely necessary. If giving them away as gifts, a little ‘please keep refrigerated’ label probably wouldn’t go amiss though.


Yucca syrup

I was out wandering in the hills at sunset the other night. The clouds were rolling in from the Pacific below me, blotting out most of the signs of civilisation.

And I climbed- up to the area that I call the dragon’s back, though it has another name that is much more boring. I much prefer to pretend that I’m clambering along the spines of some great big slumbering beast that could take off at any moment. Up at the top, the sandy rocks create these perfect seat spots, where you can watch the light go red, and the clouds rushing and turning, and feel the wind whip your hair around your face, and pretend to be alone even though there’s a big big city down there somewhere…

As I was walking up there, this aroma kept hitting me. Like grapefruit and lemon blossoms and sugar had a flowery baby. And I’d stand there in the middle of the trail sniffing at the air wondering where it was coming from. I happened upon a yucca plant close to the trail as I came around the corner. They’re everywhere here at this time of year- when you look out over a landscape you can see their tall white blossom-covered stalks standing out like alien sentinels, standing on guard.

And honestly, I had no idea that they smelled like this. I’ve seen them all the time. I knew that they were edible in entirety- I remember having a conversation with a Cahuilla Indian who told me that they’d dig up the root and build an underground fire pit and roast them for about 24 hours until they were sweet and soft, and that it was the most delicious thing ever. But it had never appealed to me; I was always much more interested in plants for medicine than for food. Until I smelled them.

What I wanted was to capture that smell. That delicate blossomy smell that made me want to roll around in a spiky plant like my cat does with catnip. The only recipes I found were savoury. I assume because the flowers taste slightly bitter, and have a meaty texture to them that would be awfully nice in savoury things. But I wanted something sweet. Because if you can’t tell by now, I have a sweet tooth.

I figured that if I started a syrup then I could do any number of things with it. Like drizzle it on french toast, or stir it through vanilla ice cream, or over fruit salad. So that’s what I’ve done. Since I’ve been getting into this whole alcohol thing lately, I think I might try some sort of cocktail with it. Maybe even tonight. I apologise in advance for anything funny that I say on twitter between now and tomorrow morning…

This couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve got the yucca blossoms, that is. Try and pick fresh young ones, as the older ones tend to collect bugs and get very sticky. And try and pick them from a short plant because that’s much easier- though you can always just pull the stalk towards you and pluck them off that way.

Yucca syrup

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

4 cups yucca blossoms

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Place the blossoms in a mason jar, and pour the syrup over the top. Cover and let sit for a couple of days. Strain and bottle. This should keep in the fridge for over 6 months, as the sugar is a great preservative.


Prickly Pear Jelly

Prickly pear cactus grows all over the Southwestern US. It’s a big, beautiful plant, and the whole thing is edible, once you remove the thorns. In Mexico it’s as common to eat as eggs, but here it’s a relatively unknown food item, except in Mexican communities. In Mexico it’s called ‘nopales’, and the fruits are called ‘tunas’. I was delighted, when we were in Mexico for my birthday, to see it on the menu almost everywhere. The nopales leaves are fantastic medicinally– they’ve been shown in medical studies to reduce blood sugar levels, which is really helpful for diabetics. Unfortunately you’d have to drink about a gallon of nopales juice per day to get the full medicinal benefits…

My mum lives in an area that is covered with prickly pear plants, so a few weeks ago when I was visiting, I dragged her and my little sister out on a tuna-hunting mission. And I’m so glad I dragged them along, because my mum had the clever idea of handing me rubber gloves on the way out the door. My previous method, which, now that I think about it was most inconvenient, was to take my shoes off, put my hands in the shoes, and pull the tunas off that way, rubbing them back and forth between my hands to get all of the fuzzy prickly bits off. This was problematic for 2 main reasons:

1. Walking barefoot around cacti= I must be missing brain cells. Yes, I’ve stepped on thorny bits. Yes, it hurts like hell.

2. Sometimes you get prickly bits stuck in your shoes and don’t see them. Then you put your shoes back on. See above.

With thick rubber gloves on, the tunas come right off, and the little fuzzy thorns don’t get you. You can also rub them back and forth in your hands before throwing them in the bag. I collected as many as I could. The bag was heavy. Nobody else would carry it, and I felt like Sisyphus all the way home.

When you get home with your bag full of prickly pears, dump them straight in the sink, and don said rubber gloves again. Rub each one with a cloth, under running water. The prickles will all come right off. Like I told my sister, it’s not the little pricks you need to worry about…

Check out that COLOUR!! *swoon*

This jam is amazing. It’s sweet and slightly tart. It’s got a fresh flavour slightly remniscent of watermelon or Jolly Ranchers. It’s amazing. And unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before.

Prickly Pear Jelly

makes approx 3 8-oz jars

6 cups prickly pear fruit, mashed (peeled first, then mashed)

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice

3 tb pectin

1 tb calcium water (both come in the pomona pectin packet– if using a different pectin, follow directions according to packet)

The prickly pear fruit is filled with seeds, so first off it’s necessary to strain the seeds out. Do this by pressing the mashed fruit through a sieve. You’ll have a bright pink liquid. About 4 cups of it or so. Bring it to a boil, and add the sugar and lemon juice. Boil for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Preheat the oven to 500, and put in the jars you’ll be using (without the lids). Once the jelly is room temperature, pour in the calcium water and pectin, and bring back to the boil. Remove from the heat, and immediately spoon into the boiling hot jars. Seal, and process in boiling water for ten minutes.

By the way, my friend Butter just wrote a post about tunas too. Check it out here!

This post is shared at Real Food Wednesday and Pennywise Platter Thursday.


Beet and Tomato Relish

I planted beets, and then forgot about them. This is why I don’t have a blooming vegetable garden– I get sidetracked by things, forget about them, they wither and die, or else turn into bitter monsters, either way, I render many things inedible.

I don’t know what happened with these beets.

Or what turned them into such mutants.

All I knew was that I needed to find something to do with them… and fast.

Luckily, around the same time, I noticed that the tomatoes I had bought last week were getting really squidgy. I went to Louisville for the week to visit some friends, and on return found that the Hedgehog had eaten nothing but toast while I was gone. All of those beautiful tomatoes were going to go to waste unless I found something to do with them!

And then I remembered, in my favourite preserving book, a recipe for a beet and tomato relish. I was missing a few ingredients, but, never fearing improvisation, I made a few substitutions. This stuff is delicious on toast with cheese. Or with roast chicken. Or set out at a table with mixed meats and cheeses for a late lunch. And I think in a few months, it will make a good present for the holidays too…

Beet and Tomato Relish

Adapted from the River Cottage Preserves Book

Makes 6 4-oz jars

2 1/4 lbs tomatoes

2 tsp salt

6 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1/4 cup olive oil

2 jalapenos (or any spicy chili pepper)

2 1/4 lbs beets

1 cup sugar (I used sucanat)

1/4 cup red wine

1/2  cup apple cider vinegar

1/8 cup balsamic vinegar

1 red onion, chopped

2 oz mustard

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the beets on a baking sheet, and drizzle with a wee bit of olive oil. Roast them in the oven until the skins have blistered and blackened– usually 1 1/2-2 hours.

Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes in half, and place them on a baking sheet, with the juicy bits facing up. Cover with salt, olive oil, garlic, and chopped jalapeno, then roast in the oven for 1 hour. Remove, and allow to cool slightly, then press the whole lot through a sieve into a bowl. It will take a while, but eventually you’ll have a beautiful, slightly spicy tomato puree in the bowl, and a mass of skins and seeds in the sieve.

When the beets are out of the oven, and cooled slightly, peel off the skins. They should come off really easily. Then put them through a food processor, or blender, until they’re either grated or coarsely chopped into little pieces (but NOT pureed).

Preheat the oven to 500. Put in the cleaned jars that you will be using (Not with the lids).

In a heavy bottomed pan on the stove, bring the sugar, vinegars, onion, and mustard to a boil, for 5 minutes. With the heat on medium, add the tomato puree and cook for 3 minutes, then add the beets, and cook for ten minutes. Remove from the heat, and remove the jars from the oven. Spoon the relish into the jars, scoot a spatula around the edges to remove air bubbles, and screw on the lids. Once cooled, check the seals– if they are sealed properly then they will keep in a cool place for up to 1 year.