Turning summer’s fresh fruit into a warm fall soup As the first day of Autumn has come and gone, I’m knee-deep in garden cleanup, preparing it for the long winter months ahead. Before removing the tomato plants from the garden, I picked the last tomatoes—the kings of the summer garden—and was inspired to make them into a warming fall soup to chase away the chill of the autumn air.
This version of tomato soup that I’m offering retains the tomato’s fresh flavor and will remind you more of a summer gazpacho, but it’s a warm, milk-enriched version that, when paired with good bread and a green salad, will be the star of a fall evening meal.
I started by washing the tomatoes and cutting off the stems. Then, I puree them in the food processor with no scalding water or peeling involved. I took two green and one red bell pepper from the garden and two small onions and processed these into a separate puree.
I covered the bottom of a stockpot with good olive oil and allowed it to heat before adding the pepper and onion puree. I sauteed this mixture for about five to eight minutes, constantly stirring to avoid burning. I then added the tomato puree and allowed it to come to a boil and finished it by turning the heat back to a simmer for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, I added whole milk until the bright red color turned to a golden orange, reminiscent of the turning autumn leaves, and reheated without allowing it to come back to the boil. Salt and black pepper to taste was all the seasoning required.
Fresh tomatoes, peppers, and onions combined with minimal processing, and a short cooking time allows the fresh tomato flavor to shine through, and wholesome milk adds a richness that helps warm the body and soul.
I hope you enjoy this rustic dish as much as I did, and I look forward to hearing from you about your fall activities in both the kitchen and the garden.
The kitchen fire crackled away this morning as I lingered
over both a cup of coffee and my plans for this week’s kitchen activities. The
cooler weather, along with the root vegetables and cold-weather greens I found
at the farm stand, has inspired me to enjoy more stews and soups on my table,
and this morning’s planning included how to do just that.
The Thanksgiving celebration also adds to my larder the
inevitable treasure of leftovers that I plan to make into one of my favorites—a
hearty turkey soup. Not only is homemade turkey soup delicious, but it is, I
believe, a great example of how the soup pot is the foundation of a well-run
kitchen. I’ll use the soup pot to take full advantage of the farm root crops
and greens and the remains of the holiday leftovers to turn all into a nice,
hot soup that will soothe my soul and my frugal nature.
The first step, after the celebratory Thanksgiving meal, requires
me to make sure all the leftover turkey and any soup-worth vegetables are
packed away. The next step is to pick any remaining meat from the turkey
carcass and add that to our supply of leftovers. Don’t forget to reserve any
pan drippings and/or broth from roasting the turkey, as these can all be used
in the soup as well.
I then take the entire carcass and place it in a stockpot
with a single onion cut in half, two carrots peeled and cut in half, and one
stalk of celery cut in half. I do not take a lot of time preparing these
vegetables as I am using them only to flavor the broth and will not be using
them in the final soup. Cover the contents of the pot with water, and when this
has come to a boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about two to three
When the pot of broth has finished its three-hour simmer on
the stovetop, allow it to cool, and strain through a colander to remove the
vegetables and turkey carcass. The remaining broth will be a rich and nutritious
base for this savory soup.
Now, with the broth completed, we can move on to the actual
preparation of the soup. I begin with two onions, four stalks of celery, and four
carrots that I clean and chop into bite-size pieces. These vegetables can be
sautéed in a preheated soup pot with a little olive oil until just starting to
soften. At this time, I add my turkey meat that has been chopped into bite-size
pieces, any vegetables left from the holiday celebration, and the farm stand produce,
which can include sweet potatoes, chard, spinach, turnips, carrots, and kale.
Also, frozen or canned corn is always a welcome addition.
I now add the broth and any saved pan drippings from the
roasting of the turkey, and bring the pot to a simmer. At this time, you can
add pasta, egg noodles, rice, barley, or lentils to enhance the already
flavorful and rustic soup.
I would suggest enjoying a bowl right out of the pot before
saving a couple of servings in the refrigerator for later in the week or for
lunches and before freezing the rest. This great soup is perfect for dinner by
the fireside or for a quick, hot, savory meal that will be required to get you
through December’s holiday preparations.
cool days of autumn have inspired me to fill my pantry to the brim in
anticipation of the coming holiday and winter season. My most recent endeavor is
an old Italian specialty that is easy to make and is a great addition to the
daily table. It’s also the basis for some special treats to share with friends
and family as we gather by the fireside to while away the dark days of winter.
Cotto, or cooked must, is an age-old condiment that, in its simplest form, is
the fresh-pressed juice, or must, of the grapes obtained during the wine-making
process. The must has been allowed to simmer at the back of the stove as it
reduces to one third its original volume. Although thick, syrupy, and sweet,
much like a grape preserve, the real magic begins when you fill swing-top bottles
and store them away in a dark, cool cellar or at the back of a pantry for weeks,
months, or even years. During this aging period, the thickened juice builds character
and complexity that can be filled with—depending on the variety of grapes you’re
working with—the flavors of figs, currants, cherries, raisins, or spice. This
is very similar to balsamic vinegar, as the cooked must is the basis of this well-known
condiment as well.
can use this treasure of the pantry as a traditional sweetener when combined
with honey or drizzled over cheese and meats as part of a rustic charcuterie
display. Also, try topping off a dessert, or use it as the basis for a flavor-enhancing
sauce for both meat or fish dishes.
would anticipate the most challenging part of making the Mosto Cotto will be sourcing
the juice or must. You could press your own grapes with a home wine press or a
simple potato masher. In addition to this process, a simple request of a local
winemaker will most likely result in one’s ability to obtain the juice as well.
Remember, this is the fresh unfermented juice of the grape and will often
include the stems and seeds that can be strain from the juice either before
processing or after cooking.
place the juice on the stove to simmer away for a few hours until it reduces by
at least one-half to two-thirds and has become syrupy and has a cooked aroma.
Place the reduced must into sterilized glass jars. (I prefer the swing-top variety.)
Store in a dark, cool location for at least a few weeks to a month. Remember,
as in many things, patience is a virtue, and the longer you allow the Mosto
Cotto to age, the more robust and complex this elixir becomes.
A well-stocked pantry is an essential element of a simple life well lived and the basis for kitchen success. Add this simple, historic, and made-it-yourself condiment to your pantry to share with friends and family or when you savor a few private minutes away from the worries of the world.
the heat and humidity of summer settle over the landscape, the vivid red of sun-ripened
tomatoes begins to peek out from among the green tangle of vines. And, in my
opinion, the greatest season of the year is upon us. Tomatoes ripened by the
summer sun are a gift, and one must do everything required to enjoy this short
but prolific seasonal delicacy. In addition to enjoying fresh tomatoes in
sandwiches, salads, and the all-American BLT, you can also capture this seasonal
flavor through canning. It’s a way to preserve a small but glorious bit of
summer’s essence after the season passes.
My tomato preservation and canning adventures from past years have included spaghetti sauce, whole peeled, and juice. This year, I was inspired to try a recipe that I found in Honey from A Weed, the culinary cult classic penned by Patience Gray during the middle years of the twentieth century. Ms. Gray, an Englishwoman, spent her life defining not only the path of women within the workforce and single motherhood, but also identifying and establishing many of today’s culinary trends, like seasonal cooking, fresh whole foods, and elements of the farm-to-table and slow food movements. This book recounts her life living and cooking in the Mediterranean, specifically Greece and the southern part of Italy. Patience not only weaves a wonderful story of her life and culinary experiences but also documents many simple and ancient recipes and techniques that support a close-to-the-earth lifestyle.
Home-made bread rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with olive oil, shared – with a flask of wine – between working people, can be more convivial than any feast.
old-world approach toward tomato preservation intrigued me, and I was not
disappointed by the simple technique and the unbelievable results that it
produced. Once again, quality ingredients combined with a simple approach and
light hand within the context of the process results in a product that satisfies
and contributes to the joy of living a good life.
have outlined below my slight adaptation of the original recipe as recorded by
Patience but believe the results will not disappoint.
½ bushel of very ripe plum tomatoes. Wash them thoroughly in cool water, and
place whole in a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and cook
until the tomatoes are soft; then cool.
cool, process the cooked tomatoes to remove the seeds and skins; this will
produce a rather thin, pulpy tomato puree. I use a commercially available
tomato processing device, but a food mill or chinois could work just as well.
and sterilize glass canning jars, and place into each a slice of onion and a sprig
of garden-fresh basil. Bring the processed tomato puree to a boil, and ladle
into your prepared canning jars, leaving appropriate headspace. Wipe clean the
rim to assure a good seal.
the filled and capped jars to the specification required of your canning approach—either
water bath or pressure canner. Many online and print resources are available to
aid you with processing times for both methods.
½ bushel of plum tomatoes produces approximately 6 quarts of a very fine
quality tomato product that will become a pantry staple and the basis for many a
delightful sauce, soup, or casserole.
the warm, sunny days of summer fade into the cool days of fall and dismal days
of winter, you can open your pantry door for a little reminder of the summer
past, its goodness, and the promise of spring to come.
is often the key to perfect satisfaction, and without a doubt, a simple pasta
toss of seasonal vegetables prepared with a light hand is a simple delight.
evening, while taking a late stroll through the garden at Cow Hill Cottage, I
found the first sugar peas of the season hanging thick on the vine. These sweet
jewels of early summer, combined with the last of the spring asparagus, was all
that I needed for a perfect Sunday supper.
recipe is required; I chopped the asparagus into bite-size bits and threw the
peas and asparagus into a pan for a quick sauté in olive oil until just soft
but with a slight bite remaining (al dente). Into the sauté pan I added the
pasta directly from the boiling pot, al dente as well, and combined the mixture
with copious amounts of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, a large knob of butter,
and, of course, salt and pepper.
I sat on the porch enjoying my meal and the early summer evening, I could only
reflect on how the very best of life often can be found within the context of simplicity—like
a seasonal pasta in a life well lived.
simple, tasty pasta dishes have you thrown together lately?
past week I spent a good amount of time traveling the byways of Central Pennsylvania
as I enjoyed a week of vacation in pursuit of one of my many interests—fly
I fished a few days in the northern tier of the Commonwealth on the Pine Creek and its tributaries, Slate Run, Little Pine, and Cedar Run. During the latter part of the week, Scott Bubb, the Winemaker at Seven Mountains Wine Cellars, and I whiled away the warm spring days fishing the famous Penns Creek.
my travels to and from various fishing locations, I could not but notice the
proliferation of rhubarb tucked at the edge of almost every garden that I passed.
In fact, I would venture to guess that rhubarb may be one of the most popular
garden plants in Pennsylvania. I myself have a large plot of it in the corner
of the kitchen garden at Cow Hill Cottage.
has a storied history. It’s an actual lesson in human history itself within the
context of mythology, natural healing, and culinary culture. First documented
as a medicinal plant in China as early as 2700 BC with the root used as a
laxative, it traveled via the silk road into Europe and eventually to the
British Isles. Also, one cannot exclude from this discussion the view of the
early Persian Culture that the human race itself sprung from the lowly rhubarb
a culinary point of view, rhubarb has a long tradition of being the basis for
many a sweet dish, with Strawberry Rhubarb Pie and Stewed Rhubarb being two of
the most common. But from an Eastern European point of view, it was often
paired with meats and other savory dishes. In fact, the tradition of its use in
sweet desserts is so ingrained in the American culture that the United States
changed rhubarb’s classification from a vegetable to a fruit in the late 1940s.
Stonefly Café, we feature local rhubarb as a unique wine produced by Seven
Mountains Wine Cellars, and it’s the basis for our Rhubarb House Churned Ice
Cream and Rhubarb Cream Brulé.
those of you who want to add this storied perennial to your garden, I give you the
following basic cultivation and harvest tips:
to plant. Choose a variety that suits your climate. Ask a
knowledgeable person at your local garden center or greenhouse for the best
local varieties. Or, follow the long-held tradition of sharing planting
materials, and ask a neighbor or fellow gardener to allow you to have a start
from their plot.
to plant. You can plant rhubarb crowns in early spring or in the
fall when the roots are dormant.
to plant. Rhubarb grows best in climates where the ground freezes
during the winter. It likes full sun and well-drained soil. Allow adequate room
when planting as rhubarb plants can measure up to 4 feet wide and tall.
to plant. Prepare a large hole, about the size of a bushel basket,
and fill almost to the top with rich compost or rotted manure. Place the crown
in the center and cover with 1 to 2 inches of manure and compost. Mulch with 2
inches thick of straw, compost, or shredded bark.
to maintain. Give the plants lots of water, as this is key to producing
tender stalks. Apply a generous layer of manure around the plants annually to
assure a bountiful harvest, and maintain a good mulch around the base. Dig and
split the rhubarb roots every five or so years while the plants are dormant in
early spring or fall.
to harvest. Give rhubarb one growing season to establish, and then
begin harvesting in the second year. Once the stalks are 12 to 18 inches long,
cut at the base. Leave at least half the stalks on the plant each time so they
continue to add growth. The typical harvest period is 8 to 10 weeks from April
favorite rhubarb cake recipe follows, along with several tempting toppings.
What’s your favorite rhubarb recipe?
2 tsp Soft Butter
1 Cup Sugar
2 Cup Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Baking Soda
½ tsp Salt
1 Cup Buttermilk
2 Cup Rough Chop Rhubarb
¼ Cup Flour
¼ Cup Sugar
2 tbsp Melted Butter
½ Cup Butter
¾ Cup Sugar
½ Cup Evaporated Milk
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Cream Butter and Sugar
Beat in the Egg
Add remainder of dry cake ingredients
Add the Buttermilk
Fold in the chopped Rhubarb
Fill a well-greased 9-inch square cake pan.
Combine streusel topping ingredients and sprinkle over cake batter in pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 to 45 minutes.
Vanilla Sauce: Combine
the Butter, Sugar, and Evaporated Milk and bring to a boil, cooking and
stirring 2 to 3 minutes until thick.
continues to march forward at Cow Hill Cottage, and the gardening chore list
grows each day. I find myself lingering later and later in the garden not only to
meet the demands of the season but because of the warm sun and attractions of
spring. The lilacs are in bloom and their aroma, as well as their visual show, discourage
any thoughts of me leaving my garden chores early.
preparing seed beds, I found a nice stand of dandelions within the wood chip
paths between the raised beds. These common plants, considered by most to be
the scourge of the well-manicured lawn, are both a curse and a blessing. As a
weed, they are difficult to eradicate, but from a culinary point of view, they are
a key ingredient in both the food culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch as well as
the traditional European peasant.
have been a part of the peasant’s diet for hundreds of years, providing sustenance
during lean times and a basis for tonics and medications. Within the context of
the local Pennsylvania Dutch culture, the consumption of this bitter herb has always
been associated with the celebration of Holy Week and Easter as well as a tonic
for spring fever.
I was young, one was often encouraged to make sure you had eaten your dandelion
as, without it, spring fever would prevail. We were reminded, with much amusement,
that spring fever was a result of all the iron in your body turning to lead and
being deposited in your behind.
spring, I have managed to enjoy this culinary tradition twice and believe I
have both prevented spring fever and lightened my step a bit.
greens like dandelion are often served with a Sweet and Sour Bacon Dressing,
with hard boiled eggs, chopped spring onion, and sometimes fresh garden
radishes. In my family, we prepare the Sweet and Sour Bacon Dressing more as a
gravy to be served over boiled potatoes that often serves as a side dish to fried
country ham. Both are delicious, and I encourage you to experience both.
to the foraging of the greens, please gather them in an area that has not been treated
with chemicals of any type, and be sure to wash the collected greens multiple
times in fresh water to assure all grit and dirt have been purged. Manually inspect
your crop, discarding any stems or other debris.
have often heard that the greens become increasingly bitter as they grow larger,
and the production of the familiar yellow flower is rumored to increase this
bitterness as well. I myself do not find this to be the case, but when considering
the salad version, I would think that the younger greens would be preferred over
the tougher, more mature ones.
providing my recipe for this simple country dish and hope that you find it as delicious
as I do. Also, I believe I will sleep better tonight knowing that I have done
my part in helping you to keep spring fever at bay and the lead from your
on low heat ½ lb. of medium-diced smoked bacon until the bacon is just beginning
to become crisp. I find a cast iron fry pan and a very low and slow approach is
the secret to this part of the recipe.
the bacon has crisped, sprinkle five to six tablespoons of flour over the bacon
and stir into the rendered bacon fat to make a smooth roux, cooking for a few
minutes to assure no raw flour taste remains.
Add together ½ cup cider vinegar, ½ cup of sugar, 2 beaten egg yolks, and 1 cup of water, and mix well. Add this mix to the bacon and roux in the fry pan over medium heat, stirring well until thickened.
seasoning with salt and pepper.
approximately 2 cups of the clean dandelion greens to the pan, turning the heat
off so that the greens wilt slightly.
over hot boiled potatoes and serve with a thick slice of fried ham of your
choice. I myself prefer a smoked country-style sugar-cured ham.
you have a variation of this recipe or some fond memories about eating wild
greens, I’d love to hear from you.
rhythms of the natural world serve as our constant companions throughout this
journey we call life. When living a simple lifestyle, immersed within the meter
of the seasons, we often find this essential connection to our natural world more
poignant when experiencing spring’s renewal process.
essential element of this seasonal renewal is the spring tonic.
have asked my neighbor and friend Sue Burns to share with us her knowledge of
the herbal and natural healing world. I find Sue’s perspective on herbal,
holistic, and natural health to be firmly based within a context of thoughtful
consideration and practical advice.
introduction, Sue’s bio follows, and I hope that you will enjoy her insight
into the seasonal rituals of the spring tonic as much as I have.
is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant and Certified Holistic Health
Educator. She holds degrees from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Clayton
College of Natural Health, and Hawthorn University. Through the Mt. Nittany
Institute of Natural Health, she participated in an herbal studies program
under the direction of Jennifer Tucker. For seven years, she was the Nutrition
Educator for Curves Fitness Center in Mifflin and Juniata Counties,
facilitating weight management classes and healthy living workshops. Before
retiring, Sue offered holistic nutrition consultations and classes via her
business, Nourishing Journeys. In addition to her family and friends, the joys
in her life include cooking, reading, and travel. She lives in Reedsville with
her husband Rich. They have two grown daughters and three grandchildren.
Spring Tonic Season Dandelion,
Nettle, and Burdock, OH MY!
spring-cleaning bug bit me recently. In response, I began purging post-dated
items from our food pantry, a chore with no reward except the smug assurance
that our spices are now arranged in alphabetical order and that five-year-old
sleeve of crackers from a Christmas gift basket no longer litters a shelf.
haste of wanting to finish this mundane task, I knocked a small rectangular box
to my feet. Ah, yes, I smiled, looking at its contents. This was surely a message
from Mother Nature and her emerging spring season, for within the container was
dandelion root tea! The perfect spring elixir to chase away my sluggish cabin
fever. It was time to put the kettle on.
was sipping and savoring the earthy blend, I recalled fond memories of early
spring days many years ago. My grandfather lovingly tended a large, organic
vegetable garden long before it was trendy to do so. The first greens to emerge
from the corners of the lawn and between the rows of onions and peas were
tender dandelion leaves. Some gardeners call them weeds, but my grandfather called
them “delectable.” He taught me how to harvest the delicate leaves carefully. I
would then tote them into their kitchen and, with the help of my grandmother, proudly
serve them as the “spring tonic” that she touted was “good for what ailed you.”
out, my grandmother was right.
Many years following my dandelion-plucking
days, I found myself once again foraging for “spring tonic” herbs while part of
a class of novice wild crafters expertly guided by herbalist Jennifer Tucker. This
time, we were on an expedition for not only dandelion but also nettle and burdock.
Jennifer explained that the pesky weeds of nettle, burdock, and dandelion are actually
powerful, detoxifying herbs. Concentrated in both their leaves and roots are
high levels of healing nutrients. Oh my!
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
In addition to giving our energy
level a boost and restoring our immune system for overall health, dandelion can
reduce blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. Dandelion wards off
inflammation while its root gives our liver a much-needed spring cleaning.
learned the hard way to identify nettle. Although its leaves resemble plants in
the mint family, its telltale sting is not forgotten; thus, wear gloves when
harvesting. While its leaves are harsh, the healing benefits from this herb are
nothing but soothing. It is nettle I reach for when feeling run down or a bit
frazzled. Due to seasonal allergies, the month of August is bearable for me
only because nettle is my daily companion. I also depend on its anti-inflammatory
properties to help with the aches of arthritis. Traditionally, nettle’s key
uses are that of a detoxifying and cleansing herb, and it combines nicely with
burdock and dandelion as well.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
According to medical herbalist
Andrew Chevallier, “burdock is one of the foremost detoxifying herbs in both
Western and Chinese herbal medicine.” Similar to dandelion, burdock also has
anti-inflammatory properties. It also cleanses the liver, gall bladder, blood,
and kidneys. Burdock is a great lymphatic and adrenal gland stimulator. With a
tuned-up lymph system, we build a stronger immunity. Burdock is a great defense
against chronic urinary tract infections and kidney stones and has antibiotic
and antifungal properties. Rarely is burdock used on its own. Often it is
combined with other herbs, such as dandelion, to balance its strong cleansing
If you are feeling confident and are seeking an adventure in the flora and fauna of your area, you can forage for spring tonic herbs. Both the leaves and roots can be used, making these plants very versatile. For details of harvesting and preparing, check out the resources of Rosemary Gladstar and Susun Weed for step-by-step advice.
if you want the benefits of these herbs without the digging, you can easily
access these herbs at your local health food store or online. For the most part,
they will come in the form of teas or dried herbs. Tinctures are great and
readily available, too. I find them to be a quick and easy formulary for
getting your tonic “on the run.” In addition to decoctions, tinctures, and
teas, and except for fresh nettle leaves, the herbs mentioned in this article can
be eaten fresh as a side dish or in smoothies and soups. Fresh nettle leaves
must be cooked first to remove the “sting.” It is also important to harvest
your herbs from areas free from chemicals and pesticides.
are some retail sources that I like for spring tonic herbs:
you have your herbs, it is time to steep a comforting and healing brew. Here’s
Spring Tonic Tea
1 Tablespoon each of:
Red Clover Blossoms (optional)
Begin making a decoction by
placing the burdock and dandelion roots in a saucepan; add one quart of water;
bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the herbs from the liquid.
Place the fresh dandelion
leaves, nettle leaves, and red clover blossoms into a quart jar.
Pour the strained hot root
decoction over the fresh herbs and steep for 30 to 60 minutes. The longer it
steeps, the stronger the tea. Enjoy hot, at room temperature, or iced. This is
also delicious blended with fruit juices.
grandma’s wisdom, spring means more than a time to clean out our pantries. It
is also time to put the kettle on and “come clean” from the inside out.
Another bit of wisdom: It is wise to consult
your health care provider before using herbal supplements. Be especially
cautious if you are taking prescription medication as there may be side effects.