Thursday, October 24, 2013

Animal, Vegetable, Jalapeno!

The current selection for this round of Cook the Books, the online foodie book club, is a wonderful non-fiction narrative, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by bestselling novelist Barbara Kingsolver, husband Steven L. Hopp, and daughters Camille and Lily. We will be reading this book until November 25, 2013, after which time bloggers may submit a post that outlines their thoughts about the book and a dish that they have cooked up which is inspired by its pages.

I am one of the co-hosts of Cook the Books, and I picked this title for us all to read as I really enjoyed it when it first came out in 2007. I have long been a Kingsolver fiction fan and some of the elements in this book, like the author's interest in small family farms and an appreciation of seasonal foods, were themes in her earlier novels, especially Prodigal Summer.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the tale of one year spent diligently adhering to a food philosophy that limited items on the Kingsolver-Hopp family table to ones that were raised, grown or foraged on their own or in their local community. This deliberate food experiment started after they moved from their long-time home in Arizona to an old family farmhouse in Kentucky. I really enjoyed reading and now re-reading their forays into intensive gardening, turkey raising, cheese-making and canning, as well as Hopp's sidebars about farming practices, nutrition and biological topics, as well as Camille's wonderful recipes. The prose also relates the family's "pain" when figuring out how to cut out non-local edible delights like coffee, chocolate (the horror!) and citrus, not to mention how to deal with monotonous eating during the larder-scarce month of March.

While I have had a vegetable garden for most of my adult life and enjoy canning, freezing and drying my harvest, I am not as devout a locavore or self-reliant grower as I'd like to be, so reading this book was good motivation to get back into some canning. We have had a warm autumn here in upstate New York and only just had a hard frost last night. I had been cutting up and freezing most of my bodacious 2013 pepper harvest through the past several months, but Kingsolver's book gave me the kick in the butt to can up some pepper relish.

I only had one jalapeno pepper plant, a gift from a gardener friend, but it really pumped out the hot peppers!  I just cleaned out my pepper plants from the garden this past week and took the opportunity to make some Jalapeno Relish with these pungent little beauties and the last of my garden tomatoes.

I mostly followed this recipe though I didn't have enough cilantro from the garden to make the 2/3 cup called for in the recipe so my jalapeno relish is redder rather than greener. I also made sure to bring the relish to a boil before packing into the hot jars (omitted from the recipe in the link), which is an essential step for home canning. I had enough jalapeno harvest from this one prolific plant for two half-pint jars and a little extra which I refrigerated and which we have "relished" on pasta and roasted potatoes. The relish has lots of flavor and a nice kick, too!

I also pulled in some of the other pepper harvest before our frost this past week and got a gift of some other peppers from a friend. The sweet peppers in this rainbow photo are on the left. The ones on the right are some fire-in-the-hole hot peppers that require gloved hands and a taste for heat: Hot Paprika (small squat red ones), Padrone (green poblano type), long red cayenne, yellow Lemondrop, and those green-to-orange Paper Dragons, which are ferociously hot like habaneros.

As noted above, the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle round for Cook the Books continues through November 25, 2013. Feel free to join our book club regulars by submitting a post of your own. Details back on the Cook the Books website.