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Ah, spring! How thou dost delight the senses, and exhaust the resource of time. It has been well over the period I have set myself for a publishing schedule, but please note the above observation. I really do want to post about one of my favourite springtime treats, though; the lowly and lovely Rhubarb.
Rhubarb is one of those enlivening foods that burst upon the tongue with an invigorating splash. I’m surprised no-one has written a song about it yet. “Oh, Rhubarb, ’tis of thee, We sing in grateful glee; Long may you grow.” Anyway, it grows in large clumps; the leaves are poisonous; it looks like a medieval weed; but oh, how many delights can be created with the stalks of this weed. My rhubarb has always been of the green variety. I’ve tried the red, but I find typically it’s drier and less tart. It does look prettier, I admit.
My daughter wanted pancakes as I was trying to decide what to make with some of my first rhubarb; and this idea was born. Why not use rhubarb in pancakes? We add apples, blueberries, pumpkin; all kinds of things; why not rhubarb? So I added rhubarb. And a generous splash of
vanilla rum flavouring. I’m sure you’ve heard and perhaps experienced how some of the best concoctions are born out of mistakes. Well, this experiment was not one of those. I really wished I had checked the bottle more closely when I grabbed it from the pantry. But the pancakes looked pretty and tasted okay if I closed my eyes and pretended I was savouring vanilla instead of rum. As I closed my eyes, I thought, “You know what would taste REALLY good? Orange rind grated into these pancakes.” Next time I make them, I’m going to try that. I hope I don’t grate cheese into them by mistake.
Rhubarb typically is harvested in May and June. It should be stored in plastic in the fridge. Wilted stalks can be revived by sprinkling water over them before chilling in plastic.
Before using, wash rhubarb, and cut off the leaves and the bottom of the stalks where they curve inward.
Buttermilk Rhubarb Pancakes
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons white or brown sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons melted butter, shortening, or oil
- 1 teaspoon
rum,vanilla flavouring, or 1 tablespoon grated orange rind
- approximately 1 cup chopped rhubarb
- maple syrup for serving
- a pat of butter for serving
Heat skillet to 350°. Place a small dab of butter and/or shortening in the bottom of pan and swirl until it’s melted. Drop by 1/4 or 1/3 cup measures into the hot pan. If it doesn’t sizzle, turn up the heat. Drop rhubarb pieces on top of pancakes. Cook until the edges are browning, and the pancake is puffed, and holes are beginning to appear on the surface. Turn over and cook the other side until golden. Repeat process until the batter is used up. Keep finished pancakes hot on a platter in a 250° oven until they are all done. Serve with a dab of butter and a drizzle of syrup.
DirectionsMeasure flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar into a large bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well. Whisk egg in a medium bowl, and add buttermilk, melted butter or oil, and desired flavouring. Stir the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients just until mixed.
Heat skillet to 350°. Place a small dab of butter and/or shortening in the bottom of pan and swirl until it’s melted. Drop by 1/4 or 1/3 cup measures into the hot pan. If it doesn’t sizzle, turn up the heat. Drop rhubarb pieces on top of pancakes. Cook until the edges are browning, and the pancake is puffed, and holes are beginning to appear on the surface. Turn over and cook the other side until golden. Repeat process until the batter is used up. Keep finished pancakes hot on a platter in a 250° oven until they are all done.
Serve with a dab of butter and a drizzle of syrup.
Asparagus is one of those vegetables that I feel really only gained its rightful dues in the last few decades. At least it did in my life. We didn’t often eat it when I was growing up, although I remember Grandma having a patch beside us and then later we planted one in garden #2, or The Bottom Garden, as we called it. We had three large gardens to feed our big family. Garden #1 or The Top Garden ( the elevation of our lawn was higher there) held the peas, beans, carrots, lettuce, radishes, and other sundry experimental crops that we were trying. One year that was peanuts, another year it was watermelon, cantaloupes, celery, and so on. Garden #2, The Bottom Garden, was filled with potatoes, and a row of asparagus and rhubarb bordering the edge. Strawberries rotated between these two gardens. Garden #3, or The Shop Garden was a long narrow garden full of corn, out in town beside my dad’s store fixture business. Hence the name, The Shop Garden. Makes sense, doesn’t it? We were all about making sense back then.
Later, when I had my own garden, I realized how much work was involved in growing asparagus. The war on weeds was never-ending. One time I turned my head to stare into the science fiction eyes of a praying mantis that landed on my shoulder. I confess that he won the staring match. In warm weather those stalks grew like bamboo. Eiyiyiyiyiyi! I learned to let it grow until it was at least 8″ tall, then snapped off those that were as thick as my finger, with the heads still nice and tight, just above the greyish part at the bottom of the stalk. Then I stood them upright in a box with a bit of cold water in the bottom and stuck them into the fridge. If they were too thin, I let them grow to become lovely tall ferny fronds to use in bouquets.
Some of my longtime favourites include eating it raw (try it – it tastes like raw peas!); asparagus quiche; creamed asparagus with hard-boiled eggs over toast; asparagus roasted at 450° or grilled, (use thick stalks for these) tossed with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and sprinkled with Parmesan flakes; and asparagus wrapped in bacon or prosciutto, then grilled or roasted. Whatever you make, DO NOT OVERCOOK IT! Trust me, asparagus that has the life cooked out of it is a tragic thing, both in looks and flavour. It should still be a bright dark green when you’re done, and a little crisp. Wash the asparagus well, especially the heads, to remove the sand or ground. Cut off at least 1″ from the bottom of the stalks. If you’re boiling it, cook it in a skillet or something wide enough to accommodate the length of the stalks. Bring about 1 1/2 inches of water to a boil before adding the asparagus, then cook it uncovered. This helps to retain the fresh green colour, and deters overcooking. Cook in rapidly boiling water until they are all bright green, and you can just pierce them with a fork. Don’t add salt until you remove the asparagus from the water. Remove them immediately and place on a platter to hold in a warm oven until ready to serve.
More recently, I’ve been using them in salads and omelets. Recently, on a trip to the Outer Banks, NC, we stopped at a roadside stand and picked up asparagus. I knew it would be ready when we got home, but you know how it is – you always want what you don’t have right then, and I wanted asparagus! So one morning at our beach condo I made these open-faced breakfast sandwiches just for kicks, and they were good. Lucky you, you now get to make them too. In the evening I made a chefs salad and used the remaining lightly cooked and chilled asparagus in that. Locals, you don’t have to go to NC to get asparagus; I hear via the Martins grapevine that it’s ready at home, along with wild leeks and radishes. Yay! Spring is here!
Asparagus is okay, even good, if it’s thick, as long as it’s fresh and crisp. Don’t be afraid to buy thick stalks locally; they’re actually better for grilling that way. Really thin stalks are a result of very young or stressed plants, or overly hot weather, and can be stringy.
If you store the bunch upright with a little water in the fridge, it will keep up to a week without losing much flavour.
Asparagus, Ham and Egg on Toast
- 2 slices bread (I used sourdough)
- 2-4 slices old-fashioned ham
- 1/2 cup sliced sweet onion
- 8-10 stalks of asparagus
- 2 eggs, fried or poached
- sprinkle of cheese, your choice
DirectionsWash asparagus well and put 1 1/2 inches of water into a flat skillet with sides. Add asparagus when water is boiling. Remove when it is bright green and tender-crisp. Meanwhile, brown ham lightly in another skillet that was lightly brushed with butter. Remove and brown onions in the same skillet. Remove, and fry eggs lightly, still in the same skillet. Toast the bread and butter it if you wish. On two separate plates, layer 1 slice of bread, a few slices ham, onions, the asparagus and egg. Sprinkle with cheese and grind salt and pepper over all of it. Serve with sliced tomatoes or oranges, if desired.
Two things conspired to formulate this post. One: I had Egg Cheese whey in the fridge, and Two: I had volunteered to bring Bonnie’s Egg Bread to the Easter dinner with my husband’s family. This recipe is a tradition in our Martin family. It was made originally by my dear sister-in-law, Bonnie, but she called it Grandma’s Egg Bread, because it was one her grandma in the States used to make. Bonnie was tragically killed at the age of thirty-two in a fluke accident eighteen years ago, along with her husband, Sandy; my husband’s brother. She was a vibrant person who flung her whole being into everything she did. She and Sandy were wonderful parents for those six short years, and we still miss them terribly at our family gatherings. We recall and imitate Sandy’s most common greeting, “Hey, (insert name). God is good!” Everywhere he went; at work, at church, and at home; this was his salutation, and he lived as though he meant it. So we make this bread in memory of Bonnie, and reminisce about them, wondering what they would think of their three children all grown up into strong young adults now. In fact, their oldest son is getting married this summer! Another milestone reached.
As I twist and braid the ropes of this bread together, another memory surfaces. I was the oldest of seven girls (yes, you read that correctly; SEVEN!), and from the time our hair was long enough, it got braided into two braids. There were also two boys, but thank goodness, their hair didn’t require braiding. On Sunday morning, Mom would be busy getting the baby ready for church, and combing the little toddler’s hair while Dad peeled and sliced many pounds of potatoes for the Sunday dinner of scalloped potatoes with sausage: one of our favourites. It was also an easy meal to prepare for up to thirty potential diners, since we rarely knew who would be showing up for dinner after church. We two oldest girls would set up our makeshift hair salon in the washroom; each of us braiding a younger sister’s hair as she perched on a low stool in front of us. We became masters at braiding; not too tight, not too loose, but just right. We heard squawks of displeasure or discomfort if it wasn’t just right. Then we piled into our big station wagon and trundled off to church, all spiffed up, with our braids swinging jauntily.
I muse how the rising of the bread is so symbolic of this Easter season where we commemorate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was “punched down” into death, only to rise again in three days, undefeated by the ultimate enemy. Without that life-changing event, we would have no hope of ever seeing Bonnie and Sandy again. With it, we as separate people are braided together in a common love; knotted tightly together at each end.
See why I say baking bread is therapeutic for me? Look at all the memories that just this one type of bread unleashed!
I use fresh eggs that are picked up by Pullets Plus at local farms and then delivered to us at Martins Family Fruit Farm, all nicely cleaned and graded. These eggs, used with the whey drained from the Egg Cheese, combine to make one of the tastiest breads ever. Its soft, slightly sweet golden interior and glistening seeded crust will look stunning in a basket on your Easter table. It’s a rich, almost Brioche-type of bread, perfect for a special occasion.
Eggs should be stored in the fridge for optimum freshness, especially after being washed. As it is with apples and peaches, the bloom, which is the shell’s natural protective coating, is removed when they are washed. I learned this a couple of years ago, and was intrigued by the similarity to apples.
When the dough has doubled in size, usually about 60 to 90 minutes, punch down and cut into 6 (or 9, for the smaller loaves) even portions. Roll each portion into long ropes, about 1 1/2″ thick for the large loaves and 1″ for the small, and 16″- 20″ long. Pinch 3 of them together at the top, and begin braiding loosely, pinching them together again at the bottom. Tuck the top and bottom underneath the braid a little. Repeat with the remaining ropes. Grease large baking sheets and place each braided loaf in the centre. I like to use greased parchment paper on the pans to keep the egg wash from sticking. Cover and let rise again until doubled. This second rising will probably only take half an hour if your kitchen is warm. Preheat oven to 350° F. While oven is heating, uncover the loaves and brush them with the egg wash. Sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds. Bake the loaves for approximately 25 minutes until they are a deep golden colour. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire racks. Slide a metal lifter under the loaves to loosen before removing from the pans. Cool completely before slicing. I slice them into 18 – 20 pieces. Yields 2 large or 3 small loaves
Bonnie's Egg Bread
DirectionsTurn oven light on to provide a warm place for the bread to rise. Heat milk or whey until steam begins to rise. Measure the oil, sugar, and salt into a large bowl. Add milk or whey and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Let cool until the mixture is warm, not hot. Whisk the lightly beaten eggs into the warm liquid. Stir the yeast into 2 cups of the flour, and whisk the flour into the liquid. Continue adding the flour, a cup or 2 at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition. When the mixture is too stiff to stir easily, turn it out onto a thickly floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour into the bowl and you should be able to scrape out the dough fragments that cling to the bowl. Add them to the dough and continue adding, folding, and kneading in the rest of the flour until you have a dough that is smooth and soft, but not sticky. Sprinkle a little more flour in the bottom and sides of the bowl to keep it from sticking. Shape the dough into a round ball, and put it into the bowl. Toss a bit more flour on top of the dough. Cover with a large plastic bag or a slightly moistened tea towel and place in the oven with the light on or another warm, draft-free place to rise.
When the dough has doubled in size, usually about 60 to 90 minutes, punch down and cut into 6 (or 9, for the smaller loaves) even portions. Roll each portion into long ropes, about 1 1/2″ thick for the large loaves and 1″ for the small, and 16″- 20″ long. Pinch 3 of them together at the top, and begin braiding loosely, pinching them together again at the bottom. Tuck the top and bottom underneath the braid a little. Repeat with the remaining ropes. Grease large baking sheets and place each braided loaf in the centre. I like to use greased parchment paper on the pans to keep the egg wash from sticking. Cover and let rise again until doubled. This second rising will probably only take half an hour if your kitchen is warm. Preheat oven to 350° F. While oven is heating, uncover the loaves and brush them with the egg wash. Sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds. Bake the loaves for approximately 25 minutes until they are a deep golden colour. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire racks. Slide a metal lifter under the loaves to loosen before removing from the pans. Cool completely before slicing. I slice them into 18 – 20 pieces.
Yields 2 large or 3 small loaves
This is the time of year that you first begin to see action in this orchard of ours. It begins in a state of ugliness that leads to an abundance of beauty in another month or so. The action happening these days is that of pruning the trees of their surplus branches so that the warm sun can hit every single bud and turn it first into a blossom, then into an apple. Here’s an interesting tidbit: the fruit buds actually form in June of the previous year. The pruning typically begins while there is still snow on the ground, as there was a few weeks ago when I took this picture. The snow is gone now; honestly, it is!
People are often surprised at how heavily the trees are pruned, but it is critical to have each part of the branch exposed to the sun for optimum ripening and healthy growth of the apple. You see here our team of pruners, two experienced ones and two new apprentices. They come from Trinidad and Jamaica to help us from March to October, and we are very grateful for their help! It delights my heart to hear their happy chatter in the orchard as they work.
After harvest in the fall, the apples are stored all year in special controlled atmosphere storage that you will learn about as we go along. I will give you snippets of information because A) it’s easier for you to digest, and B) I plan to write for quite a while, so I can’t tell you everything at once, can I?
My recipe today is a simple one to go with that egg cheese that I’m sure you’ve all made by now. Right? Of course; right. It is one I watched my Grandma make, who lived beside us all the years I lived at home. She was a tiny little lady who loved children and we loved her. She was an adventurous gardener and cook who liked to try new dishes. She knew every bird, tree, and flower in the woods behind us, and I learned from her which mushrooms were edible, and which ones were poisonous.
You simply cut a firm yellow or green apple like Golden Delicious or Crispin (also know as Mutsu) into thick wedges. This is what is known as “schnitz” in Pennsylvania Deutsch. I use one of those handy-dandy apple slicers that cores the apple and cuts it into wedges in one fell swoop. We carry nice sturdy ones at our store at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. You melt butter in a pan, add brown sugar, the apple wedges, a generous dash or two of cinnamon and fry on medium low heat until the apples are all gooey and carmelly and starting to soften. They taste wonderful on egg cheese, pancakes, ice cream, or just on their own. Do try them!
Always, ALWAYS store apples in the fridge or somewhere equally cold. They will keep six to ten times longer than at room temperature.
Grandma's Fried Apple Schnitz
DirectionsMelt butter in a large electric or stovetop frying pan on medium heat. Wash apples, but do not peel them. Add brown sugar to the pan and stir into the melted butter. Remove the core and cut apples into thick wedges (about 6 per apple). I like to use my apple corer and wedger for this. Toss them into the pan with the butter/brown sugar mixture, sprinkle them with cinnamon, and stir them gently so that they are coated with the mixture. Fry on medium heat, turning them periodically until they are gooey and golden; soft but not mushy. This takes 5-10 minutes, depending on the firmness of the apples. Serve over egg cheese, ice cream, pancakes, or all on their own.
Today I’m donning the ruffled bonnet of Little Miss Muffet. Because the Easter season is just around the corner, I must introduce you to the delicacy that every Waterloo County Mennonite worthy of the name eagerly looks forward to. In actual fact, it’s one of those foods that people either love or hate; but I, and most of my household, are in the love camp. Notice I said MOST. This delicacy that I present to you most reverently is an offering from our German heritage; Egg Cheese, aka Easter Cheese, or in Pennsylvania Deutsch, Oya Kase.
This humble cheese is made largely with milk and; you guessed it; eggs. The texture is like a firm, curdy cottage cheese. It is made only for the month surrounding Easter. It’s not that it couldn’t be made any other time, but there’s something really cool about eating something only once a year. I mean, how special would it be if you could eat chocolate bunnies all year long? Right. Exactly. Now get this; you eat it with maple syrup, REAL maple syrup, poured over it. That’s the clincher, right there, folks. For some people it’s simply an excuse to eat maple syrup by the spoonful. You can eat it any time. I’ve had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and at break time too. It is beautifully versatile! As a matter of fact, it’s so versatile that I’m never sure how to categorize it. Maybe I should slot a Heritage Recipes Category and stick it in there. What a great idea. Thank you for mentioning it.
There is a lot of maple syrup produced in our area. If you drive around these Waterloo County roads on a clear, sunny, just-above-freezing day, you will see clouds of smoke billowing through the trees in woodlots. That, my friends, is someone cooking sap in their sugar shanty. Don’t you just love that term? Sugar shanty. It rolls off the tongue so wonderfully. Much more elegant than sugar shack.
Anyhow, in cold climates, maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots before and during winter. In early spring, as temperatures begin rising during the day, the starch converts to sugar, which rises in the sap. The sap is collected from the trees as it starts rising through taps that have been drilled in to the trunk. A question often asked is, does this hurt the trees? Nope; it doesn’t. Our neighbours have a slab they cut from a tree that was several centuries old, and in the rings you could see the vertical lines through the rings where it had been tapped at many different points in its lifetime. The wood grew back together completely each time. It’s pretty neat to see. Oh, what stories that tree could tell! Then this sap is boiled until the liquid condenses to a thick, delicious amber syrup. Our son-in-law has a sideline maple syrup business, and I kid you not, he produces some of the area’s finest stuff. We sell a pile of it at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. He says it has to do with the soil components in the New Hamburg region. I think he’s being modest.
By the way, locals, would you like a pretty little drive? Ian and his partner, James, are hosting an open house today and next Saturday, March 25, so check them out at Ian Roth’s Maple Syrup. He can tell you a whole lot more about the process.
Maple syrup should be stored in a cool place, and refrigerated once opened.
FUN FACT: When Ian and our daughter Tamara became engaged four years ago, the New Hamburg Independent announced that the “Maple Syrup Man is marrying the Produce Princess”. I love small towns.
Now let’s make the egg cheese. It’s easy to do; there are just three main things to watch for.
- Don’t let the milk burn! This is kind of critical.
- Let the curds separate until they look like big globs of scrambled eggs
- Let the cheese drain thoroughly, or you will have a floating island on your plate (not the good kind, like the fancy dessert by that name).
*You can use 2% milk, but whole milk produces a smoother, creamier egg cheese.
WATERLOO COUNTY EGG CHEESE
DirectionsHeat milk on medium-high in a very large stockpot, stirring frequently to avoid scorching, until it begins steaming and swelling. Try not to let it come to a full boil, although it’s not the end of the world if you do. While it heats, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and salt. Pour the egg mixture slowly into the hot milk, stirring all the while. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover with a lid, stirring every so often. When the milk separates and curds rise to the top, remove the lid and stir frequently until the curds look like large chunky scrambled eggs, and the liquid (whey) is a nearly clear pale gold. Remove from heat. Place a large piece of cheesecloth into a sturdy colander over another large pot and carefully pour or scoop the entire mixture into it, allowing the whey to drain through. Smooth the top with a spatula. Let it sit and drain for about an hour, pressing the top periodically to squeeze out excess whey. When it stops dripping from the bottom, tip the cheese onto a large plate. Cover and chill. Slice and serve with maple syrup. In recent years, we’ve discovered that adding fresh berries or fried apples to our servings elevates this traditional treat to new dimensions of delight!
*You can use 2% milk, but whole milk produces a smoother, creamier egg cheese.
Hi, I’m Rose; and this blog is a dream come true for me. I’m so grateful for my techie daughter’s help in making this happen!
As long as I can remember, I have delighted in creating food for my loved ones. My first job was at a local bakery, which I quit once they started getting in machines to shape the bread, because I love pretty much every step of the bread-making production. To this day, bread remains one of my favourite forms of baking.
Years later, I married my handsome apple farmer, Steve. We would go to market with our family to sell local produce at our Martin’s Family Fruit Farm booth, along with the apples that we grew. I’ll tell you more about that in my posts as we go along. In order to introduce new or little-known products, I would bake a goody that incorporated it and hand out little samples along with the recipe. A plethora of fresh meats, produce, and dairy abounds in our area, and I love to use it in my cooking. We have an on-farm market at our orchard, so I am blessed with great abundance at my fingertips all year. This is the history behind the title of my blog, and I am excited to continue sharing through this new format.
My favourite people to cook for are the aforementioned handsome farmer, our four grown children, plus three lovely people who voluntarily joined our family through marriage, and one darling little grandson, whose toothless grin could melt a heart of stone.
My husband and I both come from a long line of great cooks, whose recipes I intend to pass on to you. I love hearing how recipes come to play a part in a family’s heritage, don’t you? As I stated in my bio, we love to travel, so some of the recipes will have exotic flavours shining through. Whatever form it takes, this blog will feature fresh, usually local and seasonal products; although I do love citrus, chocolate, coconut, and avocados too. Oh, and did I mention coffee? Please, let’s have a moment of silence. Thank you. So forgive me if I sneak in some faraway treasures at times.
I am so excited to share the “scoop” on our area’s bounty. Let’s get cookin’.
Here is what you can expect from my posts.
- a featured product with information on its use, storage, and production
- a recipe featuring said product
- a story or memory regarding the recipe
- photos of the finished product, including any tricky steps