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I would not be the cook I am today without this woman, my Grams. She was a city girl who left everything behind to move to a farm in the country. There she took care of her aging father-in-law, her new husband, helped with various animals and began to raise the children who started to arrive regularly. She cooked for the threshing crews who came through at harvest time and continued to cook right up until near the end of her 93 years.
Many of the recipes you are going to see on this blog came from her. She was a natural cook, not given to precise measurements. She was also fast. She could have a meal on the table quicker than you can get through some drive-throughs.
I have entered her cinnamon roll recipe in the Interflora baking challenge. She baked these for every family get-together and times in between. If I had a friend coming home from school she timed them so they were still warm when we got off the school bus.
Happy Grandparents Day Grams, miss you.
When I was a kid on the farm the hot, humid August days became even steamier with the sterilizing of jars and the canner going full blast through multiple shifts a day. Even the freezer items needed blanching so clouds of steam billowed continuously. My grandma and any helpers pressed into service battled to control the bounty of the garden and pack it into submission – green beans, zucchini, sweet corn and most of all, tomatoes. Bushel after bushel of tomatoes lined up on the back porch. These weren’t the pretty slicers from earlier in the summer. Instead these were burly linebackers that had fought toe to toe with storms and tomato worms all summer and had the scars to prove it. A few renegades showing tinges of green and orange stood along windowsills and steps to sunbathe until they were deemed worthy.
Some days it was hard to tell who won out,own as the kitchen battlefield was spattered a rich red. The thick air hung heavy with redolent tomato. However, the jars told the story, the women had again prevailed. Standing neatly in rows at attention on clean dish towels, caps shining, they waited for my morning inspection. One by one, little fingers tested the magic center button. Any telltale click and it was straight to the fridge. Those passing the test were dispatched to the musty, dark, cobwebby reaches of the cellar.
So luxurious now, so commonplace then, to sit barefoot as the smell of fresh cut grass drifted in, hedonistically packing away warm tomato slices and sweet corn kernels that popped at first bite. I’m happy to say that I still enjoy a bounty of tomatoes, in my own small way. I do not, however, can. I don’t have the equipment. So I’ve adapted my own method that I call flash canning. I scale down the recipes and instead of canning them, I put them in more temporary storage containers in the no man’s land at the back of the fridge. I let them age for a few months to blend the flavors, and then I move them to the front one by one until they’re gone.
Recently, when I had a backlog of tomatoes and a few leftover peaches, I made this batch of Sweet & Sour Fruit Relish. Since I often make Indian curries during the cold months, I added some fresh ground spices and fresh ginger so we can have this on the side. These fruit relishes are also great with plain roast chicken and grilled salmon.
Sweet & Sour Fruit Relish Recipe
Four cups chopped fresh tomatoes
Two large fresh peaches, peeled and diced
Three large fresh apples (I used some terrific Ginger Golds from Bardenhagens)
3/4 c. diced onion
1 T. fresh ground ginger
1 T. minced garlic
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. currants
1 c. apple cider vinegar
3 t. fresh ground spices (I used cardamon, allspice and coriander)
We love Indian food, so I chose compatible spices and ground them fresh. I don’t necessarily believe you need a lot of fancy kitchen equipment, but I do love the spice grinder! I store my whole spices in a dark cupboard, inside these little craft containers.
Combine all the ingredients in a large heavy pan. You can also use a crockpot if you don’t have time to watch it.
Stir occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom. Simmer on low heat for about two hours on a conventional stove or four-six hours in a crock pot. When the mixture has cooked down and thickened, spoon it into containers. I let it cool slightly and then put the tops on before storing in the back of the refrigerator.
Makes about five cups.
I used one large container and three small ones. The smaller ones are nice for hostess gifts.
This was our farm in its heyday (hayday?) – 80 verdant acres in the heart of the midwest. After this week, with the unexpected death of my uncle I can now count on one hand the people still around who called this place home. Hence, this blog, as my effort to preserve what remains.
I have never really known what to do at funerals, so I do what I always do when I am at a loss. I cook. Tomorrow I will be cooking foods from our past, foods that will comfort those of us who remain, the foods that define us as a family.
It is my hope, as you get to know my story through this blog, that you will be inspired to share your recipes and stories with me – those special foods that define your family. So I must be going, there are memories to be shared, cooking to be done. When I get back I look forward to sharing these dishes with you.