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How to tell when peaches are ripe

August is National Peach Month, and I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

The bad news: the squirrels ate all the peaches from our backyard tree. The good news: Glenn Cook from Cider Hill Farm explained how to tell when peaches are ripe. (Wish I had known this sooner, because I might have gotten to my peaches before the varmints did.) Here’s what he said:

Peaches are harvested by ground color and swell. Ground color is the color under the red blush, which goes from green to light green to yellow when the fruit is mature. The swell is the filling out of the cheeks in the last day or two before it is ready to pick. Peaches put on a lot of size in the last few days before harvest. Peaches picked for long haul shipping and storage are generally picked a few days sooner than we would, to make them more firm and durable, but they often will not develop their full flavor and juiciness. If picked correctly, they will be firm with just a little give when pressure is put on them, but will ripen to a juicy softness in just a day or two. In our area, mid season peaches tend to have the best flavor, which we harvest from early August to the end of that month. Peaches can be kept in the refrigerator for about two weeks.

And here’s another tip, straight from the Spiker’s kitchen: Fruit flies just love peaches. We usually have three or four different fruits in our home test kitchen at any given time, but when peaches are on the counter they are also on the fruit-fly menu. So as soon as we bring peaches home (from Cider Hill or any other local orchard), we bag ’em in gallon-size zip bags. And as soon as they are just-right ripe, they go into the fridge.

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Set up a Shrubbuffet for New Year’s Eve cocktails and mocktails

ChampagneShrubCocktail

Looking for a fun and festive addition to your New Year’s Eve menu? While everyone is waiting to ring in the new, you can treat your guests to the new and refreshing combination of Spiker’s Shrubs paired with the Champagne or Prosecco of your choice (or Perrier for a designated driver special). Just set up a bar with the bubbly on ice, and an array of Spiker’s Shrubs. Tie a ribbon around a few tablespoons (use one-half to one tablespoon per glass), and your Shrubbuffet is ready for sipping, sampling, and toasting.

For a true Bellini, choose Spiker’s Peach Rosemary Shrub. Or spin out onto new territory by trying Tuscan Tangerine. We use the entire fruit — peel and all — in our Tangerine Shrub, so the concentrate carries with it not only the delightful citrus taste of tangerine but also a sophisticated bitter nuance from the oils in the peel.

Pineapple Basil, Apple Crisp, Pear Cardamom, and Cranberry Orange Shrub are also great options. Each of these shrub flavors changes your Bellini profile, and gives your guests additional reasons to raise a glass.

[box size=”large”]Make merry with mocktails! Don’t forget the non-drinkers (including designated drivers) at your party. Include chilled bottles of Perrier (our preference) and ginger ale and plenty of festive glasses, and let them enjoy the shrubbuffet too![/box]

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How to help your outdoor herbs thrive indoors

RosemaryPlantSo far, our area has dodged the bullets Jack Frost has been shooting elsewhere in the United States. The average first-frost date in our region of Massachusetts typically occurs anywhere from October 1 through 10. But we’re still waiting, and the balmy temperatures throughout this month have created a false sense of security.

Today, we decided to stop tempting fate and brought in the last of our plants: a 3-year-old rosemary pot and a small heap of thyme which seemed very happy in its terraced spot on the herb spiral. Both of these plants have inspired many wonderful meals as well as two our our shrub flavors: Peach Rosemary and Tomato Thyme. Although our home-grown herbs can’t be used in commercial products, we’re always happy to have a robust crop growing indoors to provide inspiration.

Thanks to the wise advice provided by The Herb Farmacy in Salisbury MA, we’ve been fairly successful wintering-over our outdoor herbs over the years. Here are some of the things we have learned.

ROSEMARY PLANTS

There are three key things to know about keeping potted rosemary alive and thriving:

Keep it cool: Don’t bring the outdoor plant into a warm part of your home right off the bat. It needs to be transitioned to prevent shock. The first transition spot can been anything from a garage to an unheated sun porch to a drafty attic. Even after letting the plant spend a week or so in its temporary quarters, look around for a room where the plant won’t freeze or be subjected to cozy heat. We keep our pot in the sun porch, right next to the back door. The room temperature never gets above 60 degrees, and the plant doesn’t even seem to mind getting a cold blast of outdoor air whenever the back door is open.

Keep it moist: Herbs that have delicate leaves can dry out quickly. Keep the pot elevated above a bed of pebbles to ensure drainage and also to create a moist microclimate. Also, mist the leaves every couple of days with spring water.

Keep it trimmed: A rosemary plant can turn dry and woody quickly. Frequent trimming stimulates new growth.

ThymePlantTHYME PLANTS

Due to their tiny leaves, thyme plants are notorious for drying out quickly in an indoor setting. However, they are also pretty fussy when it comes to being too wet. If you over-water a thyme plant, the base can quickly get soggy and rot. The solution:

When digging up a thyme plant, put it in a pot that’s at least twice the diameter of the plant. The extra soil will retain moisture better than if you were to put the plant in a container that’s more proportional to the size.

Surround the base with pea stone to help encourage drainage and to keep the lower branches from coming in contact with the soil.

Keep a plastic spray bottle handy and mist the plant regularly so that the tiny leaves will remain hydrated.

As with rosemary, keep the plant in a cool spot and trim often to encourage new growth. Even if you aren’t in the mood for the fresh herbs, you can dry them and store in a bag, or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and toss in the freezer.

PARTING SUGGESTIONS

If all else fails and you find yourself with a crispy crunchy herb plant, don’t throw it out. Instead:

Snip the branches and store them for use in soups. Or put them in a small saucepan, cover with water, and simmer on the back burner of your wood stove or stove top to keep a wonderful green scent wafting through your house. Throw in some chunks of lemon or any other aromatics you have left over from your latest culinary endeavor. Replenish the water level and keep heating until you no longer can smell the herbs.

 

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Quick way to remove ribs from kale, collards, and other greens

Behold the de-ribbed leaf. From here, chop or chiffonade the leaves, or steam them whole for stuffed and rolled recipes.
Behold the de-ribbed leaf. From here, chop or chiffonade the leaves, or steam them whole for stuffed and rolled recipes.

I love this time of year! Although sweater weather usually heralds the end of summer’s lush green colors, a whole new family of green is arriving at our table: swiss chard, collards, kale, and more.

When lightly cooked and splashed with any flavor of Spiker’s shrubs, the tangy, fruity accent delivered by the shrub pairs beautifully with the iron-rich depth of the leaves.

The only thing that used to discourage me from consuming a healthy quantity of greens was the tedious preparation involved in stripping out the thick ribs from the centers of the leaves. But one day while fumbling in the knife drawer for a cutting tool, my friendly pizza cutter shined up from the throng of blades and said, “Try me!”

And the rest is history. The pizza cutter was so efficient at stripping out the ribs that the prep was done in no time. All you have to do is fold a leaf vertically, trim off the base of the them, and then use the pizza cutter to closely shave away the rib. Voila! What remains is a beautiful leaf ready to be chopped, or steamed whole for use in stuffed and rolled recipes.

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