the farmwives kitchen: pesto

It’s green, it’s garlicky.

It’s chunky and creamy at the same time.

And it’s good all winter long.

It’s pesto, and we love it.

My record-keeping has improved over the years, but I still lose track of exactly how much pesto we freeze to keep us going.  A LOT.

Here’s how we like to do that.

Cheese – blocks of hard cheese – Parmesan or the like.  Pecorino Romano works particularly well, in my opinion.  I cut the block into pieces, then process them in a food processor until they are fine, but not pulverized.  Put the cheese in it’s own bowl.

pesto cheese1

pesto cheese2

Nuts – Pine nuts are irrefutably wonderful, but it’s rare to find them affordable enough to churn out gallons of pesto.  So, lightly toasted walnuts are ok, though I sometimes get a bitter taste with them.  Brazil nuts are quite nice, and one year we were gifted macadamia nuts.  WOW.  Mac nuts are GREAT.  So, maybe mix it up – pulse them in the empty food processor until just right.  Again, not pulverized – just finely chopped.

pesto nuts

Garlic – Throw it to it.  I chop this separately as well, after I do the cheese and nuts, so I have an idea of what ratio to peel.

We use about: 1 cup cheese, 1 cup nuts, 4 (or more) cloves garlic. 

Basil – Picking basil leaves is a family affair.  If we were to do it while the basil was in its prime, it would be easier.  Usually, we wait until the end of the season and take apart whole plants at a time.  We pack the leaves into large measuring cups to get a picture of quantity.  Pack the trusty salad spinner for a quick wash and dry cycle, then buzz the basil in the food processor until pulverized.

pesto leaves

Then, lickety split, we combine: 4 cups packed basil leaves (before they were pulverized), 1 cup nuts, 1 cup cheese, and approximately 4 cloves of garlic.

We pour nearly a cup of olive oil into the mix, stir quickly and pack into pint or quart freezer bags, mashed thin for easy access later.  We do this part as quickly as possible so the basil doesn’t oxidize and darken.

finished pesto

Of course, we taste it as we go, the cheese salt on our fingers is irresistible, and the whole family basks in the intoxicating aromas of basil and garlic that permeate the house.  Sweet dreams of gnocchi and pesto in the long winter ahead…

pesto blended

right now: cottage cheese

One of my favorite, easy things to do with lots of fresh milk is make cottage cheese.

No cooking involved.  It’s so simple, and it’s one of those foods (like nixtamalized corn) that just feels like something I should eat.

Start with fresh raw milk, preferably from a cow you know.

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I leave mine in the jar, setting at room temperature until it solidifies.  Tilt the jar and you’ll see it move as one piece.  This usually takes about three days, depending on the weather.

I pour that out into a bowl, and cut the curds with a nice sharp knife.

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Then I pour a quart or more of boiling water into the curds and stir them with a wooden spoon.  The curds start to firm up some.  I let them set for just a couple minutes in the heat.

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Line a strainer with a cheesecloth and pour the curds and whey through.  Drain as long as you like.  Add salt and pepper and devour!

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Sometimes if it gets too dry, I put a little whey back in, or add a little fresh milk.  Kept fairly dry, this cheese keeps for a long while in the fridge.

The by-product, whey, can be fed to hogs, poured on a compost pile or used in various recipes.  We can talk about those later.

A gallon of milk makes about a quart of cottage cheese, a half gallon makes a pint, and so on.  I have no idea what would happen if you tried to do this with pasteurized milk – I just know it works with raw.

Enjoy!

nifty nixty

My paternal grandfather’s mother’s maiden name was Corn. Her family, as far as I know, were farmers in southern Ohio. I always like that simple name. Her son, my grandfather, was named Cornie. I’ve never heard the name anywhere else. My name, Coree, sounds like some derivative from my Grandfather, and Great-Grandmother, though no one has ever told me it is so. I haven’t passed anything like that along to my children (no Cornelias around here), but they certainly have a love of corn.

kids corn

last year’s corn maize

Who on this continent doesn’t have some kind of of sweet memory around family meals in summertime – slathering butter, salt and pepper, and chowing down on those steamy hot, sweet, messy ears? Lovely stuff, sweet corn.

Ah, daydreams of summer.  But I’m not talking about sweet corn today.

I’m talking about field corn. Grain. Folks call what we grow Indian Corn, or Rainbow Corn (for good reason), and it is one of thousands of cultivars (as many as 5,000 may exist in Meso-America alone) of open pollinated corn that has been migrating around North and South America for thousands of years. It’s also called Dent corn, which is a cross of Flour and Flint corn. There’s a dent in the top of the kernel (flour corns don’t have that).  Each landrace, each cultivar, has its own best qualities and traditional use.  A-maizing.

The variety of corn we grow, called Daymon Morgan’s Kentucky Butcher, came from our friend Susana up in Kentucky. The plants are tremendously tall and vigorous. On a really good year, we sometimes see three ears on a plant. They hold up well in drought (we had a bumper crop last year when almost everything struggled). And the ears are just gorgeous. My meticulous Fellow Man is fond of sorting them by color, admiring the variations of strip and solids, playing with selection for the next season. Each year, as we appreciate the harvest and select the ears we like best, I think that there’s really nothing new under the sun. People have been doing these same things, probably with these same feelings of enjoyment and wonder, for a great long time.

bluered stripe

There’s much we don’t know about the ancient history of the Americas, but it has become clear to most archeologists now that the people who settled North and South America “way back when” left out of their previous homes prior to the Neolithic Revolution (a.k.a. Early Agriculture). They didn’t bring their own seeds. So, 10,000 years ago, the people of the Americas made agriculture for themselves. A few thousand years later, they made maize, which we now call corn. (In the fifteen minutes of quiet before I fall asleep, I’ve been reading Charles C. Mann’s book 1491.  It is an excellent read, and I’m grateful to him for much of the information in this post.)

Teosinte, corn’s closest wild relative, bears almost no resemblance to modern maize. A whole ear of teosinte is less nutritious than one kernel of modern maize.  Geneticists have been duking it out for decades over how on earth the Indians orchestrated the transition. Historians have agreed that no matter HOW it was done, it is an accomplishment. “Arguably man’s first, and perhaps his (just as likely hers I think) greatest, feat of genetic engineering.” said Nina V. Federoff, of Penn State University in 2003. And native peoples have abundant fascinating stories about their connection to corn – a very important connection.

teosinte

teosinte and ‘modern’ maize – thanks google

What doesn’t often get said about the relationship of the people of the Americas and corn is the importance of the nixtamalization process. Nixtamalizing corn changes the amino acid profile, making B vitamins and Niacin available and essentially making corn into a complete protein. Nixtamalized corn, along with beans and avocados, formed the dietary basis of the Meso-American civilization, which was at its peak at least if not more technologically and scientifically advanced and populated than any other civilization of its time. Without the nifty nixty process, folks who eat LOTS of corn develop particular deficiencies, such as pellagra (niacin deficiency). Miserable stuff. Post-1492, as European explorers exported the wonder-food maize around the world, nixtamalization didn’t often follow them, and the results were evident.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE cornbread, but it turns out the Daymon Morgan kernels are so large that they don’t easily grind in our Nutrimill grinder. So, to make cornmeal, we have to crack the corn in a simple hand grinder, then baby sit it to make the small pieces pass through the electric mill. Nixtamalization has given me a good, no, GREAT, way to work with our corn whole. And even better, nixtamal takes corn to another level. I instinctively want to eat a lot of it. The kids feel the same way, and they munch it down as soon as it comes from the pan. Can’t beat that!

Here’s how to nixtamalize corn:

Take one pound of field corn, preferably from your own garden, or a grower you know, and soak it in lots of water overnight.

soaking corn

Drain the water, put the corn in a pot, and add fresh water in abundance (2 to 1, water to corn).

Add either ½ cup sifted untreated hardwood ash (if you have it), or 2 Tablespoons pickling lime.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook it for a long time. Our friend Sandor says three hours – stirring from time to time.

The skins will begin to loosen. When they begin to slough off, remove the pot from heat and begin to rinse. The whole mix will look really gross now, but smell nice.

gross corn

Rinsing is a water intensive process. Run water through the pot until all the little skin particles and gross cloudy liquid is gone. As soon as the water is cool enough, plunge your hands in there and squeeze and scrub the kernels to help them along. The rinse water should come clear. The kernels should be chewy soft.

changed corn

corn, transformed

This maize is hominy. It can be eaten just as it is, sauteed in butter as a chewy grain (nice with eggs). I’ve ground it in a food processor and made good little corn cakes from it. We’ve also dried it in a warm oven and ground it into masa. I’ve not perfected my masa tortilla process yet, but thoroughly enjoy tortillas with half and half flour and masa meal.  There are thousands of years worth of recipes to explore.

nixty corn

Nixtamalized maize is also the foundation for many corn ferments. I won’t comment on them now because I haven’t explored that realm yet, but it’s definitely the direction I’m going. I’ve taken these nixtamalizing directions loosely from Sandor Katz and his excellent books. Please look at them for more great ideas. I’m particularly looking forward to playing with fermented nixtamal and cocoa.

hominy

I have purposefully restrained myself from discussing genetic modification in this post. Maybe some other day. For now, suffice to say that thousands of years of skilled observation and care have created maize, and so many other important foods. It’s perfectly possible for that good work to continue without the help of gene-splicing agri-scientists/businessmen. Please support growers who use non-genetically modified crops. Eat more corn.  Vote with your plate.

If you would like to grow some of our Daymon Morgan seed (we’ve been saving it for about 6 years now), we will gladly sell you some. Contact us.