From the Ground Up: The condiment cupboard
by Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan
We’ve been eating a lot of crunchy piccalilli lately that we made in the fall with the last of Georgeanne’s green tomatoes. This quintessential English condiment consists of onions, green beans, cauliflower and green tomatoes in mustard sauce. The classic way to serve it is with cold meat — a Plowman’s Lunch. This time of year, we’re reflecting on what other condiments we want to make in 2012.
Whether bought or homemade, carefully selected condiments stocked in your cupboard make a meal more interesting. Grocery stores have a wide selection — jams and jellies, mustards and sauces, comb honey, dried fruits, candied flowers, olives and pickles, chutneys and relishes, and syrups and salsas. These store in your cupboard until opened, and can be purchased or made at home.
Relish is easy to make. Ann made four kinds of onion relish this past summer to go with hot dogs and hamburgers. One of our favorite condiments to make is catsup using Shady Lady tomatoes from Georgeanne’s garden. Ann’s family in particular likes it with nut burgers, which are perfect with homemade dill pickles. The pickles are best made in the late summer and early fall. Easy to grow, pickling cucumber seeds are sown in early spring. In 2012, we’ll try old-fashioned bread and butter pickles.
Condiments can be sweet too. The Italian wild cherries in syrup, sold at the cheese counter at The Davis Food Co-op make dessert a special occasion. Sara Yost, the co-op’s self described “Cheese Queen,” says she loves them drizzled over a mound of mascarpone, the Italian mild, fresh, triple cream cheese made from cow’s milk with shaved chocolate on top. The cherries, which pair well with a sweet Brie cheese or on top of cheesecake, also go right into a drink sparkling wine or a Manhattan cocktail. If you put several in lemon-lime soda with ginger ale and pomegranate syrup (another must have in your condiment cupboard), you’ll have a Shirley Temple mocktail.
Georgeanne’s husband Jim has had a craving lately for mustard on sardine sandwiches. Tinned fish, such as sardines, anchovies and kipper snacks, make a handy savory item for the cupboard, and a delicious sandwich when combined with a homemade or specially purchased mustard. Ann’s aunt Myrna has a smooth, sweet mustard recipe that Ann now makes. In 2012, we’ll make some new mustard in time for an Easter dinner with ham. We’re thinking about mustard with cognac, or with orange juice and zest, or sun dried tomatoes, or dark beer with whole mustard seeds, or herbes fines, fine herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage. A few different kinds of mustard really spices up your condiment cupboard.
Ann keeps a batch of red wine vinegar going in her pantry and decants the vinegar into a bottle with some rosemary and garlic. All that is needed to make your own vinegar is a crock, some vinegar mother available at most beer making supply stores, and red wine. The vinegar goes into the salad dressing every night with a good, local, extra virgin olive oil. Yolo County produces about 20 different olive oils, so there are plenty to choose from for your condiment cupboard.
This summer Georgeanne fell in love with pickled peppers. She’s already ordered mild cherry pepper and pimento pepper seeds to start in her greenhouse. She likes to serve them as a first course with prosciutto, olives and Manchego cheese.
Whether you keep your own bees or not, having some combed honey or a honey pot in your cupboard adds a special touch to a winter plate of dried fruits and nuts.
We made quince chutney and fall fruit chutney last year and more are on our 2012 condiment list. We serve these with a cheese course or with an Indian inspired curry, especially a winter root vegetable curry.
February is the time for making marmalade with Navel oranges that grow so well here. Lemons preserved well in olive oil with salt. We love these as a condiment served with roast chicken, chopped with olives or as part of an antipasto platter. Our orange and lemon trees are loaded with fruit this year. Preserving them during these dark, cozy days before spring will bring a taste of winter straight out of the cupboard to our table on a warm summer day.
Aunt Myrna’s Mustard
Four ounces dry mustard powder, bulk
One and one fourth cup cider vinegar
One and one-half to three-fourths cup sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
Two to three half-pint jars with lids and rings
Putting It Together
Place a double boiler, with water in the bottom, on the stove without heat. Place the dry mustard (powdered) in the top of the double boiler. Pour the vinegar on top of the dry mustard. Add the sugar. Mix the sugar with the mustard and cider vinegar. Turn on the heat. Adding one egg at a time beat each egg in thoroughly using a wire whisk or immersion blender. Keep beating after all the eggs are added until the mixture thickens (this takes about 5-10 minutes.)
Pour the hot mixture into hot, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving one-half inch at the top. Heat the lid and rings. Wipe the rim of the jar clean, place on the lid and screw the ring on tight. When cool, check to ensure the lid has sealed by placing your finger on the lid. It should not bounce back. Then place the jars on a cool, dark shelf to age in your cupboard or pantry for at least three weeks before using. Refrigerate when opened. The recipe works well when doubled.
Makes 2-3 half pint jars.
(Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan are coauthors of the forthcoming book, “The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook, Tasting California’s Small Farms,” (April 2012.) Co-leaders of Slow Food Yolo, they have a consultancy, Evans & Brennan, LLC, specializing in farm fresh food in school lunch. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.)