Pumpkin Maple Scones

Combining the ingredients

Most mornings involve a cup of home-roasted coffeewith a bit of sugar and some goat milk and a steaming hot bowl of oatmeal that’s been cooked in goat milk. It’s creamy and doesn’t need much brown sugar. A touch of cinnamon makes it even better. On the weekends we always do at least one morning differently. While I love the oatmeal, it does get repetitive after awhile and I do like a change.

Rolled out and cut into wedges

Those mornings we sometimes make pancakes or waffles. When I’m feeling extra industrious I’ll make bagels or English muffins for eggs benedict. If we have bacon or sausage in the fridge we make biscuits and gravy. Sometimes I don’t have as much time or energy though so I go with something a bit easier. Scones fit this bill. Unlike bagels and English muffins, they don’t have to rise.

Brush tops with maple syrup

Scones traditionally have a lot of butter, which is a treasured commodity for us so I didn’t really want to give up a stick for one breakfast. Cooked pumpkin, or winter squash is a good substitute for oils like butter. It’s also a good way to make a substitute if you want to eat a bit healthier. We have plenty of winter squash that we really need to use up so I went out to our storage area and grabbed a small one to bake. I simply cut the squash in half and scooped out the seeds. I put the squash cut face down in a baking dish and put a thin layer of water on the bottom. I put it in a 400 deg F oven until the squash was fork tender. The time will vary depending on the size and type of the squash.

Baked up and ready go nom

Preheat oven to 425 deg. F

Sift together:

2 1/2 cups flour

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground allspice

pinch of ground cloves

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add:

1 Tbs maple syrup plus more

1/2 cup cooked pumpkin

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

In a circular motion blend the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a fork. If it gets too tough to mix you can use your hands to combine. The dough should be pliable. I use medium eggs so if you’re using large eggs you’ll end up with a wetter dough. Add a bit more flour if the dough is sticky.

I decided to make small scones so I divided the dough in half. Pat the dough into a ball and then on a well floured surface roll it out to 3/4″ thick. You’ll want it to be circular to make it easier to cut evenly shaped scones. One disc should make 8 scones. Place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet and brush them with maple syrup. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

These won’t have the crumbly texture or be as dense as you’re used to scones having probably because of the lack of butter. They are chewy and filling though and taste great plain or with just a bit of butter.


Makin’ Yogurt

I love yogurt. I try to eat it every day. The problem is, if you buy it, it can get pricey. So I did some online research and found a great way to get my daily yogurt for a fraction of the price.

What you will need:

1 gallon of milk (any type of milk you want to use)
1 cup of yogurt with live and active cultures – later you can use the yogurt you’ve made as a starter
Thick bottomed pot (large enough for 1 gallon of milk)
Candy thermometer
Sterile canning jars
Ice chest

Heat milk in pan to 120 deg F stirring constantly
Combine some of the heated milk with the yogurt and mix until smooth. Add mixture into the hot milk.
Put mixture into sterile jars and seal lids. Place the sealed jars into an ice chest filled with hot water that is between 110-120 deg F.
Leave overnight in ice chest or until gelled. Place jars in the refrigerator.

That’s it.
The texture will be different than what you buy at the store because it doesn’t contain gelatin, modified corn starch or other added gelling agents. If you want a thicker, Greek style yogurt you can strain it. Place a large coffee filter in a colander, put the yogurt in the filter, place colander over a bowl and place in fridge. Leave overnight.

You can add fruit to the bottom of the jars or mix in sugar and vanilla extract for flavoring.

Shirred Eggs

This is my new favorite way of eating eggs. It’s rich and salty and flavorful. Can you ask for anything more?

1/4 tsp butter
2 Tbs Cream (I skim the fresh cream off of our goats’ milk)
2 eggs
Salt and Pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 deg F
2. With the butter, grease a ramekin
3. Put the cream in the ramekin and then break the eggs into the cream. Gently move the yolks toward the center.
4. Top with salt, pepper and chives. You can also add cheese if you’d like as well.
5. Bake for 12 minutes. You want the center still a bit jiggly while the edges can be pulled away from the side of the ramekin.

Viola! You’ve got shirred eggs.

Roasting Your Own Coffee with a Popcorn Popper

Coffee. I can’t be functional without it. I hate to say that, but I must admit I have an addiction. My husband, Tom, and I took on a challenge to not buy food at the grocery store or restaurants for a year. That also meant no more chain coffee shops. I had to find an alternative.

When Tom and I were in the UK on our honeymoon one of the things that struck me was just how good the coffee was at all the Bed & Breakfasts we stayed at. It wasn’t bitter like the coffee you get here. It was smooth and nutty with hints of caramel. When we got back home I was all of a sudden extremely disappointed in my options. So I started doing research on how I could possibly recapture that flavor here while also avoiding the grocery store and chain coffee shops. While I haven’t reached the exact flavor I have come pretty close by roasting my own coffee. I can get the green beans from a specialty store (which still follows our no groceries rule).

I researched coffee roasters. They aren’t cheap and from reviews it seems that most of them are very short lived. Then I found out that you can roast coffee in an air popcorn popper. Yep, that’s right, an air popcorn popper. We have an old one, that has, well, seen better days as you can see. It’s also probably 20 years old, back when they made things to last. The bright yellow plastic has now turned brown from heavy use. But so far it’s been going strong for nearly a year.

The one thing you have to make sure when buying an air popcorn popper to roast beans is that it rotates when heating because you want the beans constantly moving. With newer poppers you’ll probably burn it out in about 6 months with regular use so I always stick with buying them at thrift stores where they are a dime a dozen. Another option is you use a stovetop popcorn popper. If ours burns up we’ll probably just switch to that style.

You can get beans online from different retailers or from some homebrewing retailers. I recommend getting a sampler pack for your first time. The number of varieties of beans is mind boggling and they all taste different – sometimes drastically different. So find a place that offers 1lb samplers. There’s nothing worse than buying a 5lb bag of beans only to learn that you can’t stand the taste of it.

Roast coffee outside, seriously. Why roast outside? Because it is incredibly smokey and the popper blows the chaff from the beans all over the place. I try to catch as many as I can in the metal colander but it can only do so much. The photos were taken on my stove under the hood because it was too cold that day. My popper takes extra long to roast coffee if it’s cold out, so it’s faster and easier to roast under the hood and then clean up the chaff afterward. Not to mention it also helps save the wear and tear on my poor old popper.

What you will need:
Green coffee beans
Air popcorn popper
Metal colander preferably one with a wire bottom but I don’t have one of those so I just use this one
Pot holders if the popper gets hot
A box fan set on it’s back face so that the air is blowing up. I put mine on a metal patio table that has a perforated top.

How you do it:
1. Depending on the size of your popper put about 1 cup of green beans in it. The beans should just reach the top of the rotating “drum” inside the popper. Turn on popper. Never ever leave the popper unattended. It gets really hot and can very easily catch on fire. Don’t let this scare you though. As long as you are attentive you shouldn’t have an issue.
2. The beans will begin to make a popping sound. This is called the “First Crack.”
3. You will notice that the popping sound slows and stops for a little bit. When it starts to pop again this is the “Second Crack.” You will notice that this popping has a slightly different sound than the first crack. This is when you need to really pay attention. At this point it’s called a “City Roast.” I prefer to roast 30 seconds into the second crack. You can roast it all the way to an Espresso roast but it will change the flavor. I find the lighter roast helps keep away the bitterness. It takes us about 8 minutes to roast the coffee from star to finish. It will probably vary depending on your popper. The longer you roast you’ll also notice the beans become shiny. This is because the cracking sound is caused by the beans creating fissures that release the oils from inside the bean.
4. Unplug the popper and with the pot holders carefully, but quickly, pour the beans into the colander. Be careful! The beans are around 450 deg F.
5. Put the colander on the fan and swirl beans. You want to cool them off as quickly as possible, otherwise they will keep roasting.
6. You will notice now that the beans have expanded about 50%. Put them in an unsealed jar and let them sit overnight to rest. This allows them to release built up gases.
7. Only grind your beans right before you use them. You spent all this time roasting them you don’t want to ruin it by grinding them ahead of time.

Viola! You now have your own home roasted coffee. Enjoy it!

Sourdough Pancakes

Working at Ass O’Clock in the Morning (TM) has its good points and its bad points. I work a job that has rather…unconventional business hours, and our shifts are either 5:45am-1:45pm or 1pm-9pm. As a staunch diurnal, I have opted for the former of the two; trading those luscious hours of sleeping-in for the glory of being OFF WORK when most people are barely getting back from their lunch break. Still, sometimes getting up VERY VERY EARLY is tough.

My alarm rings (shrieks, screams, grates, wails, and other such sounds of annoyance) at 4:45am. For those of you unfamiliar with such times, 4:45am is a thoroughly ungodly hour, in which the only appropriate actions are dreaming, drooling, or getting home from pulling an all-nighter somewhere glamorous. Nevertheless, I drag myself out of bed. I don something that I pray will look semi-professional by the light of day, do my makeup by braille, and am out the door by 5:20am. If Rick is not home, I stumble out into the back yard to open the door and let out the chickens and ducks, who cluck/quack in protest at the cold wind and interruption of their sleep.

** Note: it is still very, VERY dark at 5:20am. It kills me to know I am actually up before the chickens (though there is possibly nothing so endearing as a sleepy hen. Really). **

Truth be told, I love my job. I love the freedom afforded to me by working the hours I do. Getting home at 2pm gives me ample time to take care of housework and prepare food and even have some down-time before the boyfriend and roommate get home. I get to work in the garden during daylight hours. I miss commuter traffic completely.

Sadly, though, it really puts a dent in my breakfast-foods consumption. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve never been much of a breakfast eater, but I do have a major soft-spot in my heart for breakfasty-type foods. So I try to make the breakfasts I *do* have be a little bit special.

I got a sourdough chef from my friend Alanna a few years back, and have somehow managed not to kill it completely. The learning curve (starting as a novice) of keeping a chef alive was steep, and for a time it was very hard to remember to feed it. But it was also kind of fun: sourdough (and other yeast/bacterial cultures) are kind of an underground trade, with people handing off jars and giving “babies” to each other in little bottles and baggies. It’s like being in an elite club, and when you’re in, it’s mighty addictive.

Because my go-to bread recipe does not call for sourdough (though I certainly use it from time to time for added flavor and lift), I’ve had to find creative uses for sourdough start to keep from having to pour it down the drain. Alanna gave me an awesome sourdough cracker recipe that I LOVE. My sourdough cinnamon rolls are to die for. I can now make a pretty decent sourdough-based pate brisee for galettes. But by far the thing that I use my sourdough chef for the most is good old fashioned pancakes: fluffy and light, but with that telltale tang that lets you know this ain’t no boxed batter-mix, these delicious pancakes are perfect with butter and syrup, a pile of fresh fruit and plain yogurt, or (as Rick likes them), a big scoop of organic peanut butter.

However you like to dress them up, these pancakes are a perfect tool in the homesteader arsenal: keeping cultures (sourdough, yogurt, vinegars, kombucha) is a great way to be self-sufficient and produce on-the-cheap many things that can be quite expensive in stores (have you SEEN the prices on kombucha recently? Because *I* have). Taking the time to feed these little buggers will guarantee you a lifetime of delicious, fresh food at the drop of a hat.

These pancakes make a healthy, stick-to-your-ribs meal with very little in the way of mess or tricky ingredients, and are guaranteed to satisfy just about anyone, come breakfast-time. And if you need some starter, well, I know a gal.

Sourdough Pancakes
Note: the night before you are going to make these pancakes, mix about 3/4 c of flour with enough water to make something resembling thick cake batter. Add a large spoon full of sourdough start, and cover it. I use a recycled plastic yogurt container because the lid keeps out the dust without pressurizing the start as it rises. Over night, this should double – or triple – in volume. If your starter has been in the fridge (dormant) for a long time, give it a good 24 hours and another feeding to “wake it up” before you use it.
1 1/2 c sourdough start, stirred down (about 2 1/2 or 3 c if still risen)
2 Tbsp sugar or evaporated cane juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
4 Tbsp melted butter (I usually use half butter and half oil)
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp water (warm but not hot)
optional: up to 3/4 c fresh fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix the sourdough start with the salt and sugar. Then whisk in the egg and butter/oil until they are thoroughly combined. I like to keep my sourdough start about the consistency of a thick cake batter, which is perfect for this recipe. If the mixture (with egg and oil added) is still very thick, I sometimes add as much as 1/4 c of milk to thin it out. Otherwise the pancakes can get a little…overwhelmingly doughy.

At this point, I add any berries, chopped fruit, or nuts to the batter. My personal favorite is tossing in a handful of wild huckleberries (which I keep frozen and don’t even bother to thaw before tossing them in. They cook just fine while the batter rises in the skillet).

In a separate small cup, stir the baking soda in the warm water until it dissolves. Add this to the bowl of batter and stir lightly, just until it is homogeneous.

Let the batter rise slightly (no more than about 5 minutes), and then it’s ready to use. Scoop the batter out onto medium-hot greased skillets or a griddle, and cook the first side until the bubbles in the batter pop and don’t immediately close up again. That means it’s time to flip!

The second side shouldn’t take more than about 20 seconds, unless your batter is very thick.

Sourdough pancakes can get pretty rubbery if they sit and get cold, so I’d recommend keeping a towel over the plate of finished pancakes, or sticking them in the oven where the ambient heat will be held in. Of course, usually we have people grabbing them out of the skillet before I can even GET them to a plate, so maybe it’s not such a problem after all.

Serve these pancakes alongside some fresh homemade yogurt, some lemon curd, or just a sprinkling of powdered sugar: heaven.

Basic Egg Custard

When I was in 7th grade, my parents signed a form giving permission for me to participate in a raffle put on by my science class. The prize? Tiny baby chicks from our egg-incubation study. I am sure my folks were skeptical. Chickens? We lived in suburban Santa Cruz. People didn’t have chickens in our neighborhood.
But for some reason (perhaps owing to some spectacularly melodramatic pleading on my part?) they signed it.
It is possible that they’d done the math and figured the likelihood of my winning (8 chicks in a class of 35 kids) was slim. Maybe they thought saying yes would save them from having to break my heart and statistics would win out. Boy were they wrong. Only a few parents signed the forms, and I came home with not one but TWO tiny balls of fluff that afternoon.
Like any good 7th grader, I immediately informed my parents about the various duties we would all be expected to perform as new chicken-parents. Namely, I would be in charge of their socialization and upbringing (read: cuddling, playing with) while my parents would make sure the darling little things stayed alive (read: building coop/run, feeding, mucking coop, etc).
These two (named Rikki and Lucy) were the first of many chickens I would raise through my teenage years. I can’t say that I was a very good homesteader (wait, am I still allowed to use that word?), nor was I particularly interested in having chickens once they got past the fluffy-and-cute phase. I’m sure that most of the hard work was actually done by my folks, who tolerated my flights of fancy and let me go on pretending I was Laura Ingalls. Until, of course, they informed me that Laura “wouldn’t have gotten to eat sugar cereal, living out on the prairie and all”.

Still, though, I look back on that first day as a chicken-owner as the beginning of something pretty big. We now have chickens and ducks and a yard that provides a good amount of the fresh produce we consume. Would I be the person I am today if I hadn’t won that raffle in 7th grade? Who knows…maybe my parents DID know what they were getting me into when they signed that form, after all.
note: until I started raising chickens, I did not know eggs were seasonal. When the days get shorter, egg production slows and even stops in most birds, and we have made the choice to let our girls rest instead of installing artificial lights to keep them laying.
I can make do without a lot of things. I like to think of myself as pretty handy in the kitchen, and it generally takes a lot to really trip me up. However, when the chickens stop laying for the winter, it really throws a wrench into my plans. I LOVE fresh eggs.
Knowing what I know about the poultry and egg production industries, however, I will no longer support “farms” that de-beak or otherwise mis-treat their birds. So when free-range eggs come off the shelves, well, we make do. It’s not fun. I do not like it. But we go without.
This basic no-frills custard is the first thing I make when I have too many eggs. Think of it as a celebration: the ladies are back in business!

Basic Egg Custard
3 c milk (I use 1% or 2% for this recipe. Some people really like the silkier, richer flavor of whole milk or cream in a baked custard, but I have always liked this recipe a little lighter)
4 fresh eggs, cracked and scrambled lightly
3/4 c evaporated cane juice (or other light-colored granulated sugar)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (use powdered if you can’t get the fresh stuff)

Find a baking dish (a casserole dish, ramekin, glass bowl, or pyrex cake pan would be fine, here) that will fit completely inside a larger high-sided pan. Place the smaller pan inside the larger pan: there should be space on all 4 sides. You’ll be filling this space with water once the pans are in the oven (making a water bath for the custard ensures that it comes up to temperature more slowly and the heat is distributed evenly, preventing the eggs from seizing and becoming grainy or rubbery).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl (sometimes I do this directly into the baking dish), combine the milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Do not add the nutmeg yet. Whisk until the eggs are completely combined and the sugar does not settle to the bottom of the bowl. Pour the mixture into the smaller pan. Sprinkle the nutmeg over the top of the mixture (it will float) and carefully place both pans in the oven. Using a pitcher or container with a pour-spout (I use my tea kettle for this), add warm water into the bigger pan until it is more than half-way up to the level of the custard mixture.

Bake this for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center of the custard comes out clean (it will seem wet, but there will be no egg on it).

This custard is delicious hot, but is probably my favorite breakfast of all time when it’s served cold the next morning. Ma Ingalls would approve.

Spiced Persimmon Bread

I wrote last week about the farmer’s market, and about how I am trying to be more responsible about using the produce I bring home before it goes bad. I am happy to announce that we have made some very good changes to our kitchen paradigm, and have significantly reduced our produce waste. I am still struggling with a bit of hoarder’s complex (I HATE running out of things, so I don’t use them “just in case” I need them later. Then they go bad, and I wonder why it keeps happening), but I’m getting better about respecting/appreciating the freshness and being more intentional about meal planning.

I also wrote last week about my delight and surprise that someone still had crisp fuyu persimmons available in February (they are generally a fall/early winter fruit). When we went back again this weekend, they were still there, in all their beautiful orange glory!
There are two types of persimmons that we see at the markets:
Fuyu: squat, tomato-shaped fruits with edible skin. They are to be consumed when they are hard (like an apple). Their flavor is mild and sweet, but not cloying or syrupy. Their flesh is crunchy and great for eating raw, slicing into salads, drying into persimmon chips, or baking into tarts.
Hachiya: these heart-shaped fruits are larger than their cousins, with a more elongated shape. They are very bitter and tannic when they’re firm, but become pudding-like and VERY sweet when allowed to fully ripen. Many people like to eat these fresh (cut in half and scooped out with a spoon), or frozen like a sorbet. The skin of the hachiya is not generally edible – it gets very papery as the fruit ripens.

I’m all for using hachiyas in this recipe, but I generally shy away from them in favor of the fuyu when I’m shopping (especially since Rick HATES the squishy ones). It’s a texture thing. I do, however, sometimes enjoy the “over-ripe” fuyus that get soft and sweet, becoming much more like a hachiya. Someone get me a spoon!
These late-season fuyu persimmons are starting to get a little thick-skinned, and they are smaller than the ones I saw this year during peak-season, but they are sweet and crisp and delicious nonetheless. I grabbed about 5 lbs of them, planning to prep and freeze them, as I’m sure they won’t be around much longer.
Getting them home, I halved them and removed the stems/caps. I then peeled the skin off (I am much more efficient with a good paring knife than I am with a peeler, but you could go with whatever way is comfortable). I then diced the fruit into roughly 1cm cubes, placing them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. An hour in the freezer got them nice and solid, and then I put them into freezer-safe gallon bags for storage.

(Why the baking sheet step? I find that flash-freezing fruits and vegetables on sheets and THEN storing them keeps them from all sticking together. This way when I want to use them, I don’t have to thaw out the whole bag; I can just measure out the amount I need and thaw that.)
Of course, I saved 1 cup of the diced fruit fresh for making persimmon bread!
I love that this recipe uses yogurt (a quick sweep of banana bread recipes online suggested that this was a low-fat alternative to the more common oil or butter). Personally, I don’t care about the fat content (my banana bread recipe uses both butter AND cream cheese), but I thought the acidity and tang of the yogurt would bring out some of the sweetness of the persimmons and add a depth of flavor. Additionally, the spices are noticeable but not overwhelming: fuyu persimmons have a rather delicate flavor that I wanted to make sure I highlighted, and didn’t overpower.

This bread is dense and moist with chunks of soft persimmon (which almost seems candied) flecked throughout. It is guaranteed to please even the staunchest of “EEEW PERSIMMONS ARE SLIMY” critics. Try it. It’s fabulous.

Spiced Persimmon Bread

(makes one 9 x 5 loaf)
1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 c organic brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 c plain yogurt
1 c mashed or diced persimmons (about 3 or 4, depending on size)
1 egg
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease (butter) a 1.5 qt /5 x 9 pan. I like to use my pyrex loaf pan for this so I can see the sides of the loaf as it bakes.

Pick out a few ripe persimmons. Peel and dice them into 1 cm cubes (if they are very soft, just spoon them out of the halved skins and mash up the pulp so there are no overly-large chunks). Put these into a mixing bowl with the egg, yogurt, oil, and vanilla. Stir to combine.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder/soda, and the spices. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir until they are fully incorporated.
Pour this batter (it should be fairly thick) into the greased loaf pan and put it in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (keep in mind that if you get baked persimmon on the toothpick, it might not look totally clean. This is OK – you’re checking for batter, not persimmon goop).
When the loaf is finished cooking, allow it to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then turn it out of the pan and allow it to cool further on a wire rack. If you like your breads moist, place a dish towel over the top while it’s cooling to keep the steam inside the loaf.

Serve warm with whipped cream, or slice and serve cold. This bread is also a spectacular breakfast/tea snack when it’s sliced, toasted, and buttered.
note: I haven’t tried it, but I’d bet this recipe would make a killer pumpkin bread (maybe with some sunflower seeds or walnuts?) or carrot bread (with golden raisins). I’ll let y’all know if I get around to trying it. I mean – after all, I have GALLONS of persimmons to go through first!

Pear-Ginger Buttermilk Scones

I love kitchen gadgets. LoveloveloveloveLOVE. The weirder and more obscure, the better. I have cabinets full of ricers, garlic slicers, mallets, weird whisks with funny bits for extra fluffy foams. I love my hand-crank pasta machine. I want an extruder.
My stand mixer? We have an understanding that makes room for the boyfriend, but otherwise are unwaveringly devoted to one-another.
(Yes, I am anthropomorphizing my appliances. Deal with it.)
So when the opportunity came up to make massive use of my roommate’s seemingly discarded apple peeler/corer/slicer, I jumped at it. I made SO MUCH FOOD. Apple butter. Pear butter. Dehydrated pear chips. Faux-membrillo (using apples and pears instead of the more traditional quince). All the peels and cores went into vats for home-made cider vinegars. But then I happened upon a few small, perfect pears I had plucked from a tiny tree at my boss’ house while we were gathering apples (which mostly went to a friend for cider-making…the rest got incorporated into the recipes above).
These pears needed a more delicate approach than just cooking them into oblivion or drying them into crispy snacks.

They were just so pretty and small and sweet – I wanted to show them off a little more. Unfortunately, my original plan (for pear-ricotta-rosemary galettes with a sourdough pate brisee crust) fell through (no sourdough starter prepped, no ricotta at the house, only 1 hour before work), and these scones happened instead.
But there are still many more pears. Galettes will have to wait for my next day off (and I will, of course, post the recipe once I have some pictures to go with it).
The scones came out fabulously – the perfect size to have one or two with tea. They were moist, with the sweet aroma of pears, but not so sweet that they wouldn’t stand up to a toasting and a slather of salted butter. Hearty and nutty from the whole wheat flour, and just a little bit tart from the buttermilk in the dough.

Pear-Ginger Buttermilk Scones
(makes 16 small squares or 8 one-serving wedges)
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 c unbleached white bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp grated ginger (or 1/2 tsp powdered, if you don’t have fresh)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 Tbsp sugar (plus more for sprinkling on top)
5 Tbsp butter, cold, cut into cubes
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
roughly 3/4 c buttermilk (plus more for brushing on top)
1/2-1 c raw pears, cut in 1/2″ cubes
Note: the secret to making delicious light, fluffy scones is to handle them as little as possible while still fully incorporating the ingredients. That said, I tend to like my scones a little more on the bready, dense, hearty side. If you like a lighter scone, cut down on the whole wheat flour and use white pastry or all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, and DON’T MOLEST YOUR DOUGH. Really. The more you manhandle it, the less delicate the resulting scones will be.

Peel and core the pears, and dice the fruit into small chunks. If you are not using the pears right away, leave them soaking in a nice bath of citrus juice and water so they do not oxidize and become unsightly. I used my handy-dandy apple peeler-corer-slicer for this bunch of pears, and then just cut the rings into bits – easy as pie. Mmmmm, pie.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, sift together the flours, salt, baking powder, and dry spices. Add the sugar and ginger, then the butter, using your hands (or a pastry cutter if you are squeamish) to rub the flour into the butter until the whole mass is consistently crumbly.
Toss in the pears and the vanilla, and then (gently) work in the buttermilk just until a shaggy dough forms. Depending on the moisture of the pears and what kind of flour you use, you may need a little more or less than 3/4 c to accomplish this. You can let the dough sit for a few minutes to soak up the buttermilk’s moisture for easier scone-formation in the next step, if it seems a little dry.

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and shape it into either a rectangle, square, or circle (I like a square, as it is easy to divide into 16 pieces without too much math or planning). As you are shaping, press the dough into a solid form, but refrain from over-working. Cut the dough into individual pieces, and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet with enough space in-between that they will not touch when puffing up in the oven.
Brush your scones with more buttermilk, and sprinkle the tops with coarse sugar.

Bake at 350 degrees for about about 20 minutes, or until they are springy to the touch and just beginning to brown on top. Serve warm with a small dollop of whipped cream, a thin spreading of lemon curd or pear butter, or just eat them with no accoutrement at all.

Pears Pears Pears!!!

It’s definitely fall here (after all of what, like 17 days of summer? What gives, San Francisco?) and the pears on the tree in the backyard are filling out beautifully and starting to ripen.
Yesterday as I was out feeding the ducks and tending to the garden, I noticed a few pears starting to fall (one barely missing Mr. Dottie, who was mirroring me around the yard to make sure I didn’t do anything crazy like try and take their food, or, you know, breathe – he’s very protective). When the pears start to fall, it’s time to harvest. Well, actually, it’s PAST time, but it’s an excellent indication of the immediacy of the situation.
Knowing there was not time to lose, I dropped everything and went to work harvesting the first bucket of pears before I lost any more to the wind, rain, and inevitable decomposition of fresh fruit. When this process begins, it all happens VERY quickly and if I want to have pears to eat (and not just worm-riddled snacks for the chickens to peck at), I have to strike while the iron is hot. Or, that is, while the pears are still on the tree. And there are still plenty on the tree – but at least I’ve started the process.

One of the most well-received food items I have ever given away is just straight-up dehydrated pears. I cut them into thin slices, give them a dip in water (that has some lemon juice or citric acid in it to prevent browning), and line them up in my dehydrator trays. In about a day (depending, of course, on the weather, the thickness of the pear slices, and how ripe they are), I have delicious chewy pear chips that are the perfect hiking/trail snack, excellent for julienning and adding to granola or morning oatmeal, and make a lovely addition to a gift basket of canned and baked goods.

For dehydrating pears, I like to use them a bit under-ripe (this is also good because I can avoid most of the bird/bug problems by picking them off the tree when they are still hard). The pears yesterday were perfect – almost no holes or bruises, very large sweet fruit, and perfectly firm. I pulled out the 4 or 5 largest and ripest from the pile, and proceeded to slice and prep them for dehydration.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I prepped too many pears…having forgotten that I had shattered one of my dehydrator trays in a frenzied fit of cleaning about a month ago. What to do with a few cups of semi-ripe sliced pears? They wouldn’t keep long enough to wait for free space on the dehydrator, and besides, there MUST be a recipe I’d wanted to try back when pears were nothing but a lovely dream and the world was filled with cherries and apricots…
And then it came to me – a skillet cake. A spicy, dense cake cooked over a layer of sauteed fruit, butter, brown sugar, and rum and turned out like a flan onto a serving plate. Everything from start to finish cooked in one pan. Yes, this is what pears were MADE for.
I immediately went to work, looking up several recipes to get basic proportions for the cake batter, and then basically made it up. I knew it would be OK – after all, how do you go wrong with pears in rum?
…but oh, I didn’t know how right I’d go.
(In fact, I was so unsure of this recipe that I didn’t even take pictures of the cooking process. Mea culpa. Hopefully the pears-in-dehydrator images and a couple of mouthwatering pictures of the finished cake will tide you over!)
The resulting cake was moist and dense and spicy, with delightful texture from the corn meal and oats, and a sweet (but not too-sweet) layer of pear and blueberry over the top. A perfect homage to fall (and a great cuddle-up-and-drink-tea kind of snack, too)!
Spiced Pear Skillet Cake
**note: to make this cake, you will need a skillet or other dish that is safe to use on the cook-top AND in the oven. This means no plastic or rubber grips, handles, etc. If you do not have a pan of this kind, you can make the WHOLE thing in the oven in a cake pan – just melt down the fruit mixture in the oven and stir frequently until the sugar syrup starts to bubble and caramelize. Then add the batter and put it back in the oven to cook. All that said, get yourself a good dual-purpose skillet. They are mighty handy.**
for the fruit topping:
2-3 medium pears, ripe but firm
1/2 c berries (I like blueberries or huckleberries here, but I bet cranberries would be good too)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 c brown sugar
2 Tbsp dark rum
for the cake batter:
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c coarse-ground cornmeal
1/2 c rolled oats (use the old fashioned kind, not the “quick” ones)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp salt (more, if you use unsalted butter)
1/2 c brown sugar
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 – 3/4 c milk (enough to make a thick-but-spreadable batter)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Wash the pears and cut them into manageable pieces (about 1/2″ to 1/4″ thick, either in wedges or flat slices), removing any seeds, dark spots, and core-bits.
In a large (14″ or so) oven-safe skillet, combine 1/2 c brown sugar with 2 Tbsp of butter and 2 Tbsp of dark rum. Allow this to melt and combine until it begins to bubble wildly and caramelize a bit. Toss in the pears and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the pears are just starting to soften slightly. Sprinkle in the berries, and remove the pan from the heat.
Combine the flour, oats, corn meal, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large mixing bowl (you can do this one by hand. As much as I love my stand mixer, sometimes it seems silly to bring it out for a simple batter, and this is one of those times). In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 c milk, 3 Tbsp butter, vanilla extract, and 1/2 c brown sugar. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and mix until just barely homogeneous. You can add a bit more milk if it seems crumbly or hard to spread out.
Pour this batter over the fruit (still in the skillet), and spread it over the top until the fruit is completely coated with the batter. Depending on the size of your skillet, this might be a fairly thin layer of batter, but don’t worry – it puffs up considerably in the oven.
Bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour or until a toothpick/knife inserted in the center comes out clean (remember if you poke too far down, you’ll get fruit goo on it – don’t mistakenly think this is batter and over-cook your cake – it should be firm, but moist).
Remove the pan to a cooling rack (remember that any skillet handles you are used to using on a stove top will be VERY HOT from being in the oven. Use protection!) – allow the cake to rest for 10 minutes before inverting onto a large serving plate.

Serve this cake warm or cold – it would be lovely with a bit of whipped cream or sweetened creme fraiche, or a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a drizzle of honey, but is amazingly flavorful and rich all on its own.

Fig and Whiskey Muffins

Yesterday when I was getting off work, I had NO IDEA what I was going to blog about today. NO IDEA. I was getting worried, and had decided to go to the little corner market by my house after work to see if anything inspired me.

…turns out I didn’t get that far.
There is an amazing fig tree a few blocks from my work, right between the fueling station and the Muni stop. It has been covered with hundreds of rock-hard green figs for months now, taunting me every time I walk by it (in fact, one time I thought it had finally ripened, but I realized that the fig I thought was ripe was only squishy because I’d tested it too many times while walking by).
Well, I must wait no more. They are finally ACTUALLY ripening, turning purple and soft and fragrant; swelling to unimaginable size (no, really – they’re monstrous), and they are mine for the picking.

Obviously I was not prepared for this exciting find, so I dug some empty plastic bags out of my purse (which had previously held my sammich and snackables for the day, and would now protect my valuables from that awful sticky fig latex), and got started. In a few minutes I had picked the largest and ripest figs, totaling about 3 or 4 lbs of fruit. The rest I would leave on the tree to ripen.
You know, so I can eat them later.
I missed the Muni, but that’s OK. We must sometimes allow foraging opportunities to dictate our schedules, or we will miss out on the beautiful bounty that is offered to us. Remember always – nature waits for no bus.

There are a million recipes online for how to use figs. Someday I will try them all. Last night, in fact, I marinated some in balsamic vinegar and wrapped them in bacon, grilling them until crisp. And yes, they were very good (though they were soggy before I got where I was going with them – next time I’ll cook them right before serving).
But today I wanted to make something different. Something easy to eat and less messy. Maybe…muffins. Yes.
I have an awesome banana bread recipe that calls for cream cheese and whole wheat flour in the dough. I adapted that batter to these muffins, and I think they are actually fairly tasty (though next time I will use those stupid paper muffin tin sleeves – they ALL stuck to the pan).

Fig and Whiskey Muffins

makes 12 large muffins, or 24-30 mini muffins

to prepare the figs:
1 Tbsp butter
1 c diced figs
2 Tbsp whiskey (I used Jameson, but anything you like to drink is fine)
2 Tbsp honey

Sautee the figs in the butter until beginning to soften. Add the whiskey and honey, and let it cook until the figs absorb the liquid and look a bit like a glaze or a jam (depending on their ripeness, they will still be lumpy).
If your figs are very ripe, skip this step, use raw diced figs, and just add a bit of whiskey and honey into the batter (mine were *almost* there but still a little firm, so I thought I’d soften them up a bit before baking).
to prepare the batter:

5 Tbsp butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese
1 c sugar (evaporated cane juice)
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 c prepared figs
1/2 c nuts (walnuts are delicious with this)
1/4 tsp cardamom or ginger, powdered, optional.

Mix all ingredients (except figs and nuts) until fully incorporated. Fold in the figs and nuts, and spoon the batter into WELL GREASED muffin tins (or use the paper sleeves – they really are a godsend). Fill the muffin cups up about 2/3 of the way full only – the batter will rise quite a bit.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until they feel springy to the touch and are beginning to brown.
Serve them on their own, or with a bit of fresh whipped cream (maybe with some honey or cardamom in it, hmmm?), or toast them and serve with butter. The fig flavor is mild and sweet – these are a great snack, breakfast, or dessert!
These are very delicate muffins and are prone to breakage (as pictured), but are mighty tasty nonetheless. Muffin sleeves, man.
Gotta use them.