Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Homemade Blueberry Pie

Given the unending heat and humidity, it may not feel like it in San Diego, but the end of summer is closing in on us. There's always one day around this time that--for me, at least--marks the end as the quality of the light changes. I think of it as "football season sunlight." It's the hazy light I associate with going with my family to my dad's favorite outing: USC football games. The day I experienced that light for the first time this year was last Wednesday and I mentioned it to my mom, who was over cooking with me in anticipation of a story I'm writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune's food section on Rosh Hashanah dishes. Outside my kitchen window, looking out on my patio, it seemed there was a filter over the sun instead of harsh glare. I always miss the idea of summer--it's supposedly lazy days and the vacations I never take--but, to be honest, I love autumn. What I do miss--really miss, in fact--is summer produce. The watermelon and peaches and big juicy tomatoes, and berries.

This evening I'm going to a potluck dinner party and was asked to bring dessert. I decided to bake a pie and thought, well, if summer is coming to an end, how about a blueberry pie as a send off? Fresh blueberries are still in abundance and I bought several pints. This, too, ties back to my dad. He adored blueberries. I think he would have loved this pie--even if he probably would set aside the crust, something he never much liked and that totally mystified me. I love a great pie crust.

Anyone who reads San Diego Foodstuff or who knows me knows how much I love baking pies--and, unlike my dad, how curious I am about different kinds of crusts. So I thought I'd change up my usual crust just a little. I scouted around online and recalled that vodka can make a crust flakier. I had some vodka in the freezer so I added that to the crust, along with a little sugar, salt, and fresh lemon juice, as well, of course, ice water.

For the filling, I combined the fresh blueberries with the usual: lemon zest and lemon juice, along with cornstarch to thicken it. But instead of granulated sugar I opted for brown sugar to lend a deeper flavor. And instead of cinnamon, I added a wonderful pie standby of mine: Divine Desserts fennel pollen blend.

The rest went along the usual way. I made the top and bottom doughs, formed them into discs, wrapped them in plastic and refrigerated them for a couple of hours. When you make the dough be sure you don't overwork it. You want striations of butter throughout to help make a flakier crust.

Before you start rolling the dough for the pie plate (and try to use a deep dish pie plate), make the filling. Just combine all those filling ingredients. The mixture can sit a bit and macerate while you roll out the dough.

Roll out one at a time, leaving the other to continue to chill in the fridge. Make a circle larger than the pie plate, then using your rolling pin, lift and set it into the pie plate. You'll want to trim the overhang to about 3/4 inch over. Save the excess dough and set it aside. Fill the pie with the blueberry mixture, then roll out the other dough disc, place it over the filling, and trim that overhang. Then you'll pinch and crimp the edges.

Brush the top crust with the egg wash, then cut slits into the crust to let steam out while the pie bakes.

That's it! Now it goes into the oven to bake. You'll start out at high heat for about 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature while it bakes another half an hour or so. Check at the 30-minute mark to make sure the pie isn't burning. If it's getting a little too brown but not ready to remove, cover it with a piece of foil.

Once you remove it from the oven, place it on a rack to cool before serving.

Oh, and that leftover dough? Form it into a small disc and wrap it up for the freezer. You can use it to make a small tart later just for yourself--perhaps with apples for fall.

Blueberry Pie
1 deep dish pie
(printable recipe)


4 cups AP flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 sticks (1 ½ cups) cold European-style butter cut into 1-inch chunky pieces
¼ cup chilled vodka
¼ cup ice water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

6 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed with stems removed
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup cornstarch
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon Divine Desserts fennel pollen blend

Egg Wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk


1. In a large bowl stir together flour, sugar, and salt. Toss in butter and using your fingertips, lightly coat with the flour mixture. Then quickly rub butter into flour mixture to get pea-size pieces.
2. Mix together in a small bowl the vodka, ice water, and lemon juice. Then drizzle over flour and butter mixture and mix together with a fork until it starts to get a little shaggy looking. Then use your hands and knead briefs just until the dough comes together. If it’s still dry, add a little more ice water.
3. Gently form the dough into two ¾-inch discs and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least two hours or preferably overnight. You can also put them in the freezer.
4. When you’re ready to make the pie, preheat the oven to 425°. Make the filling by combining the blueberries, lemon zest, lemon juice, cornstarch, brown sugar, and fennel pollen blend in a large bowl. Stir gently but thoroughly to make sure all the blueberries are coated. Set aside.
5. Pull one of the dough discs from the refrigerator. Flour your surface and roll out the disc into a circle large enough to drape over your pie plate. Place the dough into the pie plate and trim the edges to 3/4-inch over the pan. Refrigerate while you roll out the second dough disc.
6. Pull the pie plate out of the refrigerator and fill with the blueberry mixture. Place the second crust over the blueberry filling and trim.
7. Gently press the crust edges together and tuck the dough under the edge of the bottom dough. Crimp the edges by gently pushing the index finger of one hand into the edge of the dough and your thumb and index finger of your other hand, going around the edge of the pie.
8. Quickly make the egg wash by whisking the egg and milk together. Brush the top crust with the wash. Then score the top crust several times to let steam release.
9. Place the pie on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350˚ and bake another 30 to 40 minutes until the crust is a golden brown and the juices are bubbling.
10. Remove to a wire rack and let cool before serving.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Clairemont Produce Cooperative Builds Meals and Community

On the second Saturday of each month a dozen or so home gardeners who live in San Diego's  Clairemont community begin to gather around 9 a.m., bulging bags and baskets in hand. They're bearing the fruit of their labor to share with one another. The group, the Clairemont Produce Cooperative, or CPC, was started in 2011 by Lisa Raggio, who hosts the monthly exchange at her hilltop home. She got the idea for it around the time of Los Angeles' "Carmegeddon," thinking about how ridiculous it was that people today are so dependent on cars to have the basics on hand, like food. And since few people can grow everything, wouldn't it be nice to get neighbors together to share with one another.

"I wrote an article in the Clairemont community newspaper about this idea and invited people to meet me at the local Starbucks. Ten people showed up."

Raggio, who works in marketing at Graphic Solutions, publicizes CPC at the annual Clairemont Garden Tour and Clairemont Family Day.

Members John and Joan Brosnan, who have lived in Clairemont for 24 years, just learned about CPC last spring at the garden tour. "It's a neat way to share what we grow, learn tips for growing and dealing with insects, and see what people are growing," the couple, who finish each other's sentences, said. In their garden, they grow butternut squash, tomatoes, cantaloupes, banana peppers, green beans, herbs, and a variety of fruit trees.

At the August meeting, the offerings gradually expanded into an impressive bounty of figs, tomatoes, grapes, lemons, eggplant, mint, rosemary, both Cuban and Italian oregano, chilies of all kinds, bay leaves, kale, summer squash and zucchini, radishes, string beans, and even eggs. Someone brought sweet pea seeds and peas to plant, with instructions. And there was a brown paper bag filled with milkweed pods for people to take to attract butterflies and bees.

Spread along Raggio's outdoor grilling counter, the produce eventually is divvied up equally among the participants who can then do some trading if they'd rather have more or less of something. Over the course of the morning they enjoy refreshments Raggio puts out and chat about their garden experiences, the produce they've grown, and recipe suggestions and tips.

Four times a year the group holds potlucks with speakers. Among the group are master gardeners, but they've also had Farmer Bill of City Farmers Nursery in to speak. Member Michelle Innis gave a shitake mushroom presentation earlier in the year.

Another member, Sue Gerson, isn't the family gardener. Her husband is. But he has another standing commitment on Saturday mornings so Gerson, who says she's the harvester and cook, attends. "I saw a notice about it six or seven years ago in July," she said. "We live near Mesa College and grow a lot of stuff on our multi-level hillside. Today I just brought cherry tomatoes and rosemary. Usually I bring dates but they've dried out now.

"It's a community thing," she added. "I like the idea of a neighborhood community group where we grow our own stuff and it's all organic.

Raggio sends out an email at the beginning of the month to members, who need to RSVP so she can then send a final head count to recipients so they know how much to bring.

"The best part is we learn about fruits and vegetables not in the market. The rare ones. And we learn from one another how to grow them. There's such diversity in what's grown and brought here, thanks to the various microclimates here, not to mention that everyone's garden gets different light exposure," Raggio said.

"Then there's the community part of it," she added. "There are no nicer people than people who grow."

If you live in Clairemont and are interested in joining the CPC, contact Raggio at j.raggio@att.net. Do you know of another community produce cooperative in San Diego? Let me know about it!

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Join My Fermentation Journey

If you know me you know that for years I've been making pickles, mostly dill pickles. I never really thought of it as "fermenting." But I recently researched and wrote a story on fermenting vegetables for the San Diego Union-Tribune which will appear on August 15. It was then that I realized that fermenting was exactly what I was doing.

Thanks to my friend Curt Wittenberg, who has been my guru through this, I decided to branch out and pickle other vegetables using a salt brine. (Pickling with vinegar is just pickling.) And that's what I started this afternoon with a simple quart of vibrant purple cauliflower, a pretty red and yellow stripped bell pepper, huge jalapeños, and lots of garlic cloves. I kind of had the makings of a giardiniera so I thought I'd use the seasonings for that: black peppercorns, dried oregano, celery seeds, and red pepper flakes. No olive oil, though.

And, by the way, this is the perfect post-farmers market shopping project. Do it with your kids or grandkids. Hey, it's a science project!

I had forgotten that several years ago I had contributed to a Go Fund Me for a little company called FARMcurious that was creating a fermenting set, with lids, stoppers, and airlocks. The set locks out air--and mold and yeast--and provides an escape for carbon dioxide. As a funder, I got one and put it in my garage--and it just became part of the landscape of the shelves. But no more. I pulled it out and was almost ready. But in interviewing Curt I realized I needed two other tools I didn't even know existed (I had jars): glass fermentation weights, to make sure the vegetables stay covered by the brine, and a vegetable tamper, which you use to cram as much produce into your jar. I ordered those from Cultures for Health, and they appeared yesterday--yes, on a Sunday!

Now I was ready.

The process is simple. Chop up the vegetables to the size you like. Make a salt brine. Make sure everything you touch--from the jar to the fermenting set to the tamper to the weights--is perfectly clean. Then start filling the jar. Add your spices first, then the vegetables. You can layer them by vegetable type or mix them up. I layered these. Tamp them down. Then add the brine. Top with the weight (and carefully pull out any little random pieces of vegetables or spices. Screw on the lid of the fermenting set. Set it out on your kitchen counter, away from direct sun, and let science do its work.

That's it. If you don't have a fermenting set, no worries. I never used one before and have been making pickles for seeming centuries. Instead use a clean lid and "burp" the jar, meaning slightly loosen it and then tighten it again once a day for the first few days. This lets that carbon dioxide escape.

Here's a quick note from Curt about the proportions for the brine and vegetables. In short, it's kind of improvisational. It depends on the size of the vegetable pieces and their density. So, he suggests having an extra bottle or bottles in different sizes in case there's overage. You can always rummage around your fridge and add more vegetables if you didn't prepare enough for another quart jar. And save any excess brine to add in case some bubbles out of the bottle or to add after you remove your pickle pebble and want to start sampling.

After a few days or up to 12 days (I'm going for five days, at Curt's advice, given the hot weather), unscrew the fermenting set and replace it with a regular screw-on lid and refrigerate. Then eat! Add these to a sandwich or a cheese or charcuterie platter--or just snack on them.

So, here we are on Day 1. I'm hoping: A) No mold develops and B) It tastes terrific. I already know that those vibrant colors of today will fade but with luck/science, the colors will be replaced by big flavor.

Stay tuned...

Fermented Giardiniera
Adapted from Curt Wittenberg's Lacto-Fermented Mixed Vegetable recipe
Yield: 1 quart
(printable recipe)

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Approximately 1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
6 black peppercorns
4 or more peeled garlic cloves
1 cup cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 red pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 large jalapeños, thickly sliced

To prepare brine, warm 3/4 cups of water, add salt, and stir to dissolve. Add 3/4 cups cold water to bring brine to room temperature.

In a quart jar add the oregano, red pepper flakes, celery seeds, peppercorns, and the garlic cloves. Fill jar with vegetables, leaving about 1 ½ inches of headspace. Pour brine over all, just covering the vegetables and leaving the headspace.

Cover jar with lid and airlock, if using, or tight lid. Ferment at room temperature for 3 to 12 days. If using a tight lid, be sure to burp the jar by slightly loosening the lid and then tightening it again daily for the first few days of fermentation.

Once the vegetables have developed the desired acidity, move them to cold storage.

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