Plum Butter in a Slow Cooker

We were suspicious that our plum tree would not bear fruit this year, so last year I made enough plum jam to get us through two seasons. So when I was surprised by another bumper crop of plums, I had to think of a way to use them up. This recipe for blueberry butter inspired me to try to work up a plum butter.

When I was in college, I once had the great idea to make apple butter for cheap Christmas presents. It was a disaster. I had to move out of that apartment to avoid the splattery mess that I had made. Scarred from that experience, I was naturally intrigued by the idea of making fruit butters in a slow cooker instead of on the stovetop. There’s a lot of interesting suggestions out there, but I couldn’t find one for plum butter. I looked around, read a few different sources, and decided to come up with my own recipe. Using advice from Stocking Up on the processing part, I feel happy enough with the results that I’ll probably never make plum jam again. My plum butter is thick and spunky. I have been enjoying it on toast alone or mixed with fromage blanc.

Makes 4 cups of plum butter.

about 3 1/2 pounds of plums
1 1/4 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

  1. Wash plums, cut into halves, and pit. My plums were rather small. If you have large ones, you might want to quarter them, but I don’t think that it will matter in the end.
  2. Place the sugar and plums in your slow cooker. Stir. Leave this mixture to cook for 16 hours. Stir whenever you think of it. I began my butter about 7pm. I stirred it a few times and then left it unattended overnight.
  3. Add vanilla. Based on advice in Stocking Up, flavorings for fruit butters should be added at the end. Cinnamon might be a nice pairing here, but I decided mine was potent enough without it.
  4. Process in a hot water bath for ten minutes. For canning advice, go here.
  5. Remove jars to a flat rack to cool.

Recipe update (7/13):
I made this recipe this year with beautiful, juicy yellow plums. Because they were so wet, I found that cracking the crockpot lid open was essential. Lay a wooden spoon across one side to create a little vent for the moisture to escape. I also found that it took almost exactly 24 hours to cook down. I stirred often towards the end of the time. The plums were clingstone, so the pits were a little more difficult to deal with. I skimmed them out after it had cooked down a bit and wound up putting it through the food mill. I did this and let it cook for about an hour more. This was a lot more fussier than the original recipe, but had great results. Many thanks to all the commentors below who shared their experiments. 

Risotto Cakes, Featuring Green Garlic

What is green garlic?I want to be completely honest. This is a very fussy recipe. You won’t find yourself spontaneously making this some Wednesday night after work. However, it is a great dish to make for guests. All of the preparation can be easily done the day before you want to serve it. In fact, it’s actually better the day after you make it! These risotto cakes would make a fancy vegetarian main dish or work well as a refreshing side.

Green garlic is different from a garlic scape (though scapes would probably work very well for this recipe, too.) Green garlic is what you get when you prematurely pull up a garlic plant. It’s delicious and pungent and you’re lucky if you can pick up some at the farmers’ market.

For risotto-
olive oil
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch of white pepper
3 cups chicken broth or stock (or substitute veggie)
1/2 c. white wine (Try the ferryboat white.)

To finish-
small bunch of green garlic (about 6 stalks), chopped coarsely
1/3 c. Parmesan, grated
olive oil

  1. Get out two pans: one to warm your stock in, the other in which to create your risotto. Begin to warm your stock on low. Find your ladle.
  2. Heat 1 tbls. of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper. Add garlic and arborio rice and continue to cook for about two minutes. (The traditional way to know if your arborio rice has been sauteed enough is to look for a translucent edge and a white dot on the grain of rice.)
  3. Splash in your wine and stir. Scrape up the brown bits with your spoon.When the wine is absorbed, ladle in one cup of stock, and reduce heat to low.
  4. Keep simmering and adding stock, one cup at a time. Your total simmer time comes to about 25 minutes. Taste your rice for seasoning and to see if it is done. (If it is not tender, add a little more liquid, continue to simmer on low, and stiStir in the green garlic and cheese off heat.r.)
  5. Off heat, stir in your Parmesan and green garlic. Spray a baking dish or cookie sheet with olive oil and spread the rice mixture out to cool. Continue reading

Anytime Cake

Have a slice of rhubarb cake anytime.Here’s a light cake that is a wonderful dessert but can also pass as a breakfast treat.  I made it with rhubarb this time, but you could make it with any frozen  fruit that you have stored.

Last summer, my goal was to put away a lot more fresh produce than I had the year before. This goal was fresh in my mind when rhubarb, one of the first ‘fruits’ to appear at the market, came out. Consequently, I wound up with a whole lot of rhubarb hoarded in my freezer.  What are we waiting for?  It’s time to start using those delicious things in the backs of our freezers! Soon, we’ll have some fresh delights.

Anytime Cake (with rhubarb)

1 stick butter, unsalted
1 cup sugar
3 eggs from happy chickens
1/2 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. AP flour, plus more for dusting fruit and pan
3 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups rhubarb or prepared fruit*

*If you use rhubarb, you’ll swear that you taste citrus in this cake, which is a pleasant illusion. To prepare the rhubarb: wash, peel away any extra-tough strings, and cut into small pieces. This can be done before it goes into the freezer bag. For other fruits, prepare them as you would for a muffin. Use berries straight from the freezer – no need to thaw.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. (This cake mixes up so quickly that you’ll be done before your oven is ready, so think ahead.) Prepare a 9-inch round cake pan. Butter it and dust with flour.
  2. Cream the butter and the sugar until fluffy, using an electric mixer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition.
  3. Gently beat in the dry ingredients.
  4. Add the milk and vanilla.
  5. Pour about 2/3 of the batter into the prepared pan, leaving the rest in the mixing bowl.  Dust the fruit with flour and toss until coated, then add it to the remaining batter. Mix. Pour this batter and fruit mixture onto the batter that is already in Rhubarb cake, just out of the oven and smelling good!the cake pan. (This procedures will keep your fruit from falling to the bottom and sticking to the pan.)
  6. Bake for 40 minutes.
  7. Cool in pan for about five minutes and then invert onto a rack.

Serve warm or room temperature anytime of the day. A little sweetened whipped cream or vanilla yogurt is lovely.

If you’re looking for more great rhubarb recipes, you might check out Orangette.

Eat food. Mostly at home. Sometimes out.

No farms, no food.This blog is about eating close to home, but most Americans eat out – in fact, many rarely cook.  Despite all of our personal efforts at home, modern life sometimes dictates that we eat out too. Fortunately, restaurants are beginning to engage in a dialog with their customers about where the food on their menu comes from and in some cases how it came to be.  But like any other single sentence conversation, their current attempts leave a lot to be desired.

The Problem

Sentences like

“We use local and organic ingredients whenever possible.”

“We source many of our ingredients locally.”

“Proudly serving Oregon Country Beef.”

are popping up in likely and unlikely places.  But what do these statements really mean?

Some months ago, we ate in a small cafe on the Olympic Peninsula whose menu devoted an entire page to discussing their involvement in local food.  It was winter and though the menu had a subtle seasonal feel to it, I started to worry when I saw green peppers and olives in various dishes.   I was interested in a hamburger, so we asked: where is the meat from?  After some guessing by the waitress she headed back for more information – the verdict: a food service company.  What about the eggs?  She wasn’t sure – they were delivered, she thought they were local.  I regret that we didn’t walk out.

While on vacation in Northern California last summer, we were often drawn towards delicious sounding seafood at restaurants which lauded their use of local ingredients.  But the best most staff could determine was that the box said “Pacific” – not encouraging.

Even restaurants that seemed to “get it” sometimes disappoint.  We revisited a local favorite which prides itself on the quality of its ingredients.  Previously we were always pleased by the large number of excellent Washington and Oregon cheeses on the menu – but on our last trip all but a single cheese hailed from Europe.

Am I asking too much?  I’m willing to make some compromises.

Continue reading

Review: Spinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub in Victoria, B.C.

We recently spent a beautiful day in Victoria, British Columbia.  A small, but convincingly metropolitan area on the agriculture rich Vancouver Island, Victoria promised to afford an excellent lunch.  The only question was where?  After some searching, I stumbled upon Spinnaker's Brew PubSpinnaker’s Gastro Brewpub.  With a name like that who could resist?  Of course Spinnaker’s brews their own beer – but they also advertise using sustainable seafood, local organic produce and for dessert they make their own truffles.

We arrived a little before noon and were seated promptly.  The menu was surprising in all the right ways: clearly labeled seafood (based on the recommendations of the  Monterey Bay Aquarium), long list of farms sourcing materials, the word “local” on most key ingredients, hand-made pasta dishes and some amazing sounding wood-fired pizzas.  The menu even had a pasty of the day – during our visit it was Swiss chard and chicken.  Despite the variety, they stuck to a small number of careful choices in each category.  After a solid perusal of the menu (and sending the waiter away twice), we settled on a British Columbia Halibut Fish and Chips, a large Mixed Green Salad, a soft pretzel to start and a glass of a local cider to wash it down.

The meal started with a fresh baked, yeasted pretzel – served with a side of mustard.  A little light on the salt, but otherwise a solid pretzel.  The mixed green salad was nicely presented, topped with long curls of celeriac and beet.  A dressing made from their house made vinegar brought an excellent brightness to the greens.  Comparing to the menu on their website, they’ve clearly adjusted this salad based on the seasonal availability of ingredients.

The fish and chips were fantastic.  The chips were clearly a high quality potato, crispy on the outside but no hint of greasy after taste.  Salad, cider, fish and chips - yumCombined with their house-made malt vinegar, there was little more one could ask from a chip.  The halibut was a generous portion, breaded in a yeast batter that was smooth and not overly crunchy, but like the potatoes without the heavy oil taste so common in fried foods.  (Clearly the staff at Spinnaker’s know how to set the temperature on their deep frier.)  The fish inside was moist and delicious. To complete the offering, a house made tartar sauce was provided on the side – excellent!  Not much of a cider drinker, I can’t comment reliably on the cider – but given the rest of the meal I have no doubt their brew is excellent.

As the restaraunt got busier, service started to falter a bit – getting refills on water was difficult, but the food more than made up for any mild inconvience.The crowd tended towards the upper end of the age bracket, and the atmosphere was very eclectic – loud pub music set against a more traditional dininig area.  But, if you care about food and are in Victoria, I feel confident that Spinnaker’s will please will you.